Monday, 10 August 2015

The more things change, the more you go "Oh no, not this rubbish again"

So, welcome to the first official posting in this blog's new guise as The View from Pudding Island and already with this post's title I realise I seem to have got off to a slightly grumpy start.

The thing is I thought that having lived in Greece for the last three-and-a-bit years with only occasional visits to England it would be a good opportunity to highlight what changes I noticed had taken place in "the old country".

Unfortunately I haven't been out and about as much as I would have liked so when not reading or sleeping - and lately I've found myself doing an awful lot of those - I've been watching TV. That has been my window on the world.

In Greece we had no TV. We had the capability to watch DVDs and we could watch TV in cafés, but watching the tube just never featured in our lives and I didn't miss it one little bit. I should point out Mrs C didn't always agree with me on that point.

Having shunned TV in Greece I have embraced it here in the UK. It's my new best friend, but like all best friends sometimes it does go on a bit. Leaving aside general programming, some good, some bad and more of which maybe another time, my view of my native land and the wider world is formed generally from news programmes.

Oh lord, it's depressing. It's generally people doing horrible things to each other, or wanting to do horrible things to each other, and a bunch of gurning tossers who have been around for ever all going on about what they would do to stop horrible things. So that's the news which is occasionally interspersed with cute stories about ageing pandas which resolutely refuse to reproduce.

The other snapshot I get of Britain is through TV advertising. If the news is what people think you ought to know then advertising is what people want you to know, but only so you'll part with large sums of money. Gambling, money lending and ambulance-chasing solicitors are some of the mainstays of TV advertising these days, plus occasional ads for people with either diarrhoea or constipation. In advertising circles this is probably regarded as an each-way bet.

I realise I have got off to a slightly dyspeptic start with a title for the post which could be applied to the blog itself, but bear with me, I'll try to lighten up as I go.

For those who missed it last time, I thought I'd explain one more time why the blog has changed from The View from the Olive Grove to The View from Pudding Island. Quite simply, I changed locations - Greece to the UK - and Pudding Island was writer Laurence Durrell's rather disparaging title for Britain. While it may be a bit snippy, it's still quite funny and I do love a good pudding. So there, I will almost certainly never seek to explain this again, but just to help clarify matters below there is a picture of Pudding Island and also one of jelly, I love jelly.

I didn't want to leave you without a bit of music so here's Changes by David Bowie. It seems quite fitting as there are a lot changes going on in my life at the moment.

  • "Satellite image of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in April 2002" by Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC - Cropped from: Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - 
  • "Rainbow-Jello-Cut-2004-Jul-30". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons -

Friday, 7 August 2015

Only slightly more frequent than Halley's Comet

I know, I know, it's been a while since my last post. In fact, it's been more than two months. What can I say? It wasn't meant to be like this.

In that time we have moved back to the United Kingdom and got our house sorted out, all of which took time. For much of that period we have been without the internet both in Greece and in the UK and don't forget that I am also naturally indolent.

To compound these admittedly fairly weak excuses, since my return to the UK I have found I have what for the time being I shall refer to only as "health issues". The precise nature of these is still being determined, but they have been a distraction.

Anyway, we now have the internet at home - hooray! - and to distract me from my other distractions I feel I should get back in the blogging saddle, as it were.

Much has happened over the last two months. When we left Greece, the banks had been closed and the rest of Europe seemed to be waiting for the Greek economy to stop circling the plughole and finally disappear without trace down the drain. That hasn't quite happened, but Greece and its economy are still on the critical list and likely be to be so for a long time.

Here in Britain politicians on all sides seem intent on showing they can be tough on migrants trying to get through the Channel Tunnel to seek asylum status in the UK. As ever the "who can be the nastiest" competition seems to be going the Conservatives' way. They have plans to introduce legislation which will make it illegal for landlords to rent property to people who do not have the proper status to be in the UK. A friend pointed out that this was not that different to laws used by the Nazis in pre-war Germany to make life impossible for Jews. Sometimes the Tories do seem determined to embrace their reputation as the Nasty Party.

Having said that, Labour have been coming up with some spectacularly stupid ideas, not least of which is that the French government should pay compensation to the UK for migrants who get through the tunnel. What a great idea, alienate the government at the other end of the tunnel by demanding money from them and then expect them to cooperate with you in dealing with this complex problem. In case you're wondering I don't have an answer to the problem, but then I'm not the prime minister, nor am I leading the opposition.

The title of this posting referred to this blog's recent lack of frequency. I think I can do better than post at the same frequency as Halley's Comet which is visible from earth every 76 years, just so long as I can combat my natural indolence. That also brings me to the blog's title. Some of you may remember that I felt that on my return to the UK I could no longer keep calling it The View from the Olive Grove. For sure when I look out of my house here in Devon I definitely don't see any olive trees.

So what to call the blog? I had one or two useful suggestions from friends, but being the pig-headed type that I am I wanted to come up with my own answer. Eventually I settled on The View from Pudding Island. The reason for this is a bit hazy, but basically writer Laurence Durrell, who had a strong connection with Greece, used the term Pudding Island to describe Britain, a country which he hated although he was technically British. I certainly don't equate myself with Durrell, nor do I hate Britain, although I suspect that like a lot of Brits I have a fairly ambivalent view of the country of my birth. In a more positive light, Britain does have some great puddings. So, The View from Pudding Island it is, hopefully starting on Monday. See you then. I'll be spending much of the weekend tinkering under the bonnet trying to give the blog a new appearance.

As ever, I like to finish with some music and for this post I have chosen Sloop John B by The Beach Boys. I wanted to use it for a post before we left Greece but circumstances intervened, however, it's too good a song not to use, so here it is.

Monday, 25 May 2015

A rumbling in the Garden of England

Having spent much time in Greece over the last three years I have grown used to the occasional earth tremor. Nothing too serious, but still surprisingly unsettling.

So imagine my surprise on my current trip to the UK to experience a 4.2 magnitude tremor while staying in my mother's home in Kent, the county also known as the Garden of England.

I knew straight away what it was, but that still doesn't stop you wondering if there's more to come. There wasn't but this relatively insignificant seismic event still made plenty of copy for the following day's TV and newspapers.

We are fortunate not to have suffered anything catastrophic such as was experienced recently in Nepal, but much was still made of the tremor. As any reporter knows, sometimes you just have to work with what you've got, even if the material is a bit thin.

I'm trying to blog when I can, but I shall be a bit peripatetic over the next few weeks so the service might be a little erratic. AND I've still got to sort out the name change, which will probably also entail a bit of a redesign of the blog. Not exactly a seismic shift for my blog, but still a time of change.

Anyway, I'm in Devon now - on the other side of the country - and the sun is shining, a walk beckons, I think.

For a musical finish, I thought a little bit of Dr Feelgood doing Rolling and Tumbling would be quite good.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Thank goodness for those old guys

I've not been a very good blogger recently. It's a combination of a post A to Z Challenge slump and a certain amount of turmoil on the domestic front as we get ready to leave Greece to return to the UK.

My blogging "slump" might also be termed laziness and is overcome by pulling my finger out, but the turmoil takes a bit more working through.

I am beset by doubts about what we are about to do and, to be honest, my only response to those doubts is to plough on and hope that all will be well in the end.

But sometimes even that tactic can struggle. This morning, for instance, we were drinking coffee with friends in a harbourside café. It didn't take long before people started pointing out - I was among them - that the weather in Devon, might not be conducive to such outdoor gatherings. And that led to me wondering just what on earth I thought I was doing leaving Skopelos.

So what a relief it is to learn that such thoughts are nothing new. Romain brainbox Seneca the Younger, who lived from about 4BC to 65AD, offered some pretty incisive thinking to a friend who moaned that after a recent journey he didn't feel things had improved.

Seneca the Younger, although he's looking a
bit worn around the edges here.

In his no-nonsense way, Seneca told his friend: "You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate.

"What pleasure is there in seeing new lands? Or in surveying cities and spots of interest? All your bustle is useless. Do you ask why such flight does not help you? It is because you flee along with yourself. You must lay aside the burdens of the mind; until you do this, no place will satisfy you."

So while Seneca's advice will not lead to me staying put in Greece, it will encourage me to "lay aside the burdens of the mind" or at least recognise them for what they are. I know the reasons for our move are the right reasons, even if we have to experience a bit of angst along the way.

I wanted to put some music with this, but was struggling to find something I felt would fit and then I remembered Sit Down by James. I think it goes well with Seneca's talk of fleeing along with yourself and having to lay aside the burdens of the mind.

Postscript: I am still trying to come up with a name for this blog to be used after I return to the UK. I had a moment's inspiration in the middle of the night recently only to discover that there was already a blog with that name. As Mr Micawber said: "Something will turn up".

  • Picture of bust of Seneca: CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 11 May 2015

It's not Berkeley Square, but it'll do

One advantage of not sleeping well  - actually some may say the only advantage - is that getting up in the middle of the night enables you to hear the nightingales singing.

They don't only sing at night, but it's easier to hear them in the quiet of the olive grove at 3am. It's a beautiful song. According to the RSPB the "high quality song is a fast succession of high, low and rich notes that few other species can match". I think that about sums it up.

Although the famous song suggests that A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, you'd have to doubt that anyone would have heard it above the roar of traffic in the West End of London, even 50 or 60 years ago.

Be that as it may, it's a good song and a fitting one to end this post.

  • Picture by Nachtigall_(Luscinia_megarhynchos).jpg: J. Dietrich derivative work: Bogbumper (Nachtigall_(Luscinia_megarhynchos).jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 9 May 2015

All things must pass


Nothing lasts forever. Always an ambiguous phrase in my view. Do we mean that there is nothing which will last for eternity or do we mean that what we term nothing does, in fact, go on forever. In my typically equivocal fashion I suppose I mean both.

In this instance what will not last forever is my time here on Skopelos. After a lot of thought and soul-searching we have decided to return to the UK. There are a number of reasons for our decision, but most are bound up with our family.

While there is not always a lot I can do for my family when I am in the same country as them, there is virtually nothing I can do for them when I am on a remote Greek island about 1,500 miles away.

In addition, I will admit to feeling increasingly jaundiced about my life here in Greece. In Greek mythology the lotus eaters were a race of people on an island whose primary food was the narcotic fruit and flowers of the lotus. This resulted in them leading lives of peaceful apathy. Sometimes I feel that is what my life has become here.

I cannot pretend that I am not fearful about the future. Is returning to the UK the right thing to do? How will we manage? What will we do?

Also I know that Mrs C is less struck on the idea than I am. After a recent sojourn in the UK she returned to Skopelos complaining bitterly of the British weather. That is not her only concern about life in the UK, but it is one I understand. Also she will miss her beloved garden which she has worked so hard to create. I am troubled that she will be unhappy away from this beautiful island.

In her typically pragmatic fashion she has assured me that returning to the UK is something we will have to make work: no use whingeing and wringing our hands, we'll just have to get on with it.

Since coming to the decision to return to the UK there has been a General Election resulting in a Conservative government. This fills me with some foreboding, but then I am currently living in a country where foreboding is the default setting as it continues to lurch towards seemingly unavoidable economic doom. What will be, will be, wherever I live.

Today is my birthday, which is usually regarded as a cause for celebration. Still here, still above ground, not completely moribund, and yet I am writing this post which is more than a little woeful. I am sorry to be sombre, but today it is the way I feel. I'll cheer up later. I suppose I should take some consolation from the title of this post. All things must pass, nothing lasts forever.

I will get over this, but in the meantime, as is my usual practice with this blog, I'd like to finish with some music. I have chosen the very beautiful, but also rather mournful 1st movement of Elgar's Cello Concerto.

I'm now worrying that this is all getting much too gloomy so we'll have one more bit of music which will be much more like how my birthday ought to be.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Reflections on the A to Z Challenge

My second A to Z Challenge completed and a bit like getting home from a very frenetic party, everything seems very quiet now.

I enjoyed it, made some blogging friends and was constantly surprised at the various ways people approach blogging and the A to Z Challenge.

I'm speaking only for myself, but I think it makes good sense to write as many, if not all, of your postings before the event begins. Seriously, it's so much easier. I know some people like to wing it, but in my book preparation pays off.

Having said that, what I found difficult, last year and again this year, is trying to visit a good range of other blogs. I had some I went back to again and again, but missed out on many others.

In no particular order, blogs I enjoyed included: Angels Bark, which provided a musical extravaganza; Smidgens, Snippets & Bits, which had some useful life lessons for us all; Brits in the USA, which gave us a rollercoaster ride in novel form; The Odd Particle [Re}View, which lived up to its name; and That's Purrfect, wasn't the internet invented for stuff about cats?

There were many other blogs I looked at and liked so IF I do this again next year, I'm going to come up with a strategy for more meaningful visits to other blogs. Don't know what it is yet, but I'll think of something.

That's about it, really. Other than to say a big thank you to Arlee Bird and everyone else who helps with the organisation of this event.

I like to finish my blog postings with a bit of music and this song from Nat King Cole sprang to mind when I was wondering what might be fitting for my "Reflections" post. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Z: All here in black and white

Can it be possible that we've made it to the end? Today is the letter Z in my list of reasons to be cheerful. I'll be honest with you, I've enjoyed doing this, but by this stage it would be fair to say my Z reason to be cheerful could be just that I've got this far.

However, that might leave you feeling slightly shortchanged so my real reason to be cheerful for the letter Z is the zebra.

Zebras leave me feeling cheerful simply because they exist. I've never seen one in the flesh, but they are striking looking animals that are genuinely pleasing to the eye.

A horse of a different colour OR a zebra?
Apparently, it used to be believed that zebras were white animals with black stripes, but embryological evidence now shows that the animals' background colour is black and the white stripes are additions. The phrase that sprang to mind there was "if you say so".

Anyway, zebras are definitely once seen, never forgotten creatures. And they make me cheerful. What doesn't make me so cheerful is that contact with modern man has put the numbers of some types of zebra at risk. Sometimes I despair.

That's it, I can't go on. I'm worn out. If you've stuck with this from A to Z I hope you've enjoyed it or at least found it interesting. I've enjoyed doing it, but now I just want to stare in to space for a while.

All that remains is for a piece of music. I hunted around and found this by Magnetic Fields, it's called Zebra so fits the bill even though it's not exactly about zebras. I liked it, see what you think.

  • Question: What would your letter Z reason to be cheerful have been? 

* Zebra picture by André Karwath aka Aka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Y: Not lacking in substance

We're only just around the corner from the end of this year's Blogging from A to Z Challenge and my choice for a Y reason to be cheerful has come as something of a last-minute surprise, if only to me.

As I have said, I enjoy doing crosswords so my weighty Chambers Dictionary is never far away and I'll admit I was having a bit of a struggle coming up with my letter Y reason. Consequently I took to leafing through the dictionary when I came across a word which has really impressed me.

Are you ready for this? My letter Y reason to be cheerful is ylem. Yes, I know, it's a remarkable word, isn't it? What's that? Oh, you want to know what it means. If you already know what it means, I apologise if I seem patronising.

There ought to be some ylem out there somewhere.

Well, ylem is "the original substance from which, according to some theories, the elements developed".

I am seriously offering this as a reason to be cheerful on at least two counts. Firstly, I like it that there is a word - only four letters - which defines something potentially so massive, and secondly I like the concept that there could be an original substance from which the elements developed.

It's a bit like the question of the chicken and the egg: which came first? Before there were elements, there was ylem, but please don't ask me what there was before ylem.

I worked hard for you in coming up with some music to go with this post. Karlheinz Stockhausen wrote a piece called Ylem and there is a song called Ylem by a group called Dark Fortress. Appropriate the music might have been, but these A to Z postings are meant to be reasons to be cheerful and neither piece of music grabbed me. I'm being polite here, they made me want to put my fingers in my ears. So instead we've got something from They Might Be Giants called Meet the Elements. It's a little bit twee, but just seems a bit more fitting.

  • Question: Be honest now, were you pleased to find out that there is a word to describe the original substance from which "according to some theories" the elements developed or did you suddenly have the word "WHY" rattling around your head? You should know by now where to post your comments.

* Picture by Souricette-du-13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

X: I can't see clearly now

Ah, the letter X. Horse racing fans might regard X as the Becher's Brook of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For sure there are a surprising number of words in the English language that begin with X but how many of them can I say are reasons to be cheerful?

Despite this, X has to be gone through. Our journey from A to Z takes us through X. We've seen off Q and we've still got Z, but by then I'll be so relieved to have made it I'll probably latch on to any word that begins with the letter Z.

But back to X. It's quite straightforward, my letter X reason to be cheerful is X-rays. Discovered by Rontgen in 1895, X-rays have a variety of uses. I suppose two that many of us come in to contact with are for medical purposes enabling doctors to see inside us (note the non-technical description) and for security reasons at airports.

X-rays mark the spot.
I am dreadfully nosy and quite happily look over the shoulder of the X-ray machine operator to see what they can see in the baggage as it passes through. Fortunately, I've never seen anything illicit, that would be a bit too scary just as I'm about to board a plane, but I'm still fascinated by what people do carry in their bags.

So that's X-rays. As a child I was intrigued by the adverts for X-ray specs, which claimed that purchasers would be able to see through clothing. Phwoar! How much did I want a pair of those remarkable specs? Needless to say, my parents were never going to give me money for such frivolities and I never had the necessary cash so all was not revealed.

If I had been able to get a pair of X-ray specs, in my imagination it would have been like the short video that goes with this post's music offering. I'm not entirely sure of the name of any of it. It's labelled X Ray Glasses.

  • Question: Were you lucky enough to get a pair of the X-ray specs I so much wanted as a child? Did they work? Please say they did and tell us what you saw in the comment section while at the same time bearing in mind that this is NOT an adult content blog.
* Picture of X-ray scanner by User:Mattes (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 27 April 2015

W: Who ate all the pie?

Food has featured on and off as a reason to be cheerful in my Blogging from A to Z Challenge and, as I have said earlier, we should all be grateful if we have food to eat. Sometimes we should be just a touch more grateful and definitely cheerful if we have some food that is, as gourmets probably never say, "super yummy".

For that reason, my letter W reason to be cheerful is walnut pie, which in Greece is called καρυδόπιτα. Pie by name, but cake by nature, this is, as the name suggests, made from walnuts. The cake is left to steep in a very sweet syrup. I warn you now, a diet food it is not.

Walnut pie with obligatory scoops of vanilla ice cream.

The picture above shows walnut pie as I like it to be served, with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. The glass contains a generous helping of 5* Metaxa brandy - 3* and 7* are also available. I think the brandy does a good job of helping digest what is by any standards a mighty calorific intake.

Sometimes people I am with suggest it might be a good idea to share the walnut pie and ice cream. Well yes, it might be a good idea, but with foods that fall in to the aforementioned super yummy category sharing becomes difficult.

Rest assured that once you have eaten a portion of walnut pie you become like an anaconda that has swallowed a goat and needs to lie still for a few days. Marathon runners load up with carbs on the eve of a race by eating pasta, perhaps they should consider walnut pie instead.

I haven't been able to find any songs specifically about walnut pie and some of the songs I did find about pies seemed to use the word in a rather euphemistic and sexual way. I tell you, some people are obsessed. Anyway, I found a much better compromise, namely The Four Tops singing I Can't Help Myself (Sugar pie, Honey bunch).

  • Question: Where do you stand on the issue of sharing desserts? Is it a vile abomination that should be stamped out now or actually a really lovely idea (do you think the people at the next table would mind if we shared their desserts as well?) Answers, as ever, in the comments section.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

V: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's economic recovery man

The choice of my letter V reason to be cheerful could be construed as cheating, but in the A to Z Challenge the end sometimes has to justify the means.

So the letter V is for Varoufakis, the surname of the Greek finance minister. The reason this is cheating slightly is that in the Greek alphabet his name starts with the letter β which as a capital letter looks like this, Β, but is pronounced as a V as in victory. Hence, Yanis Varoufakis in the Greek alphabet comes out as Γιάνης Βαρουφάκης.

Ever since he became finance minister following the elections in January this year, he's made quite an impression. He seems to be quite a straight shooter when it comes to saying what he thinks, he clearly knows his way round economic theory and he's got a shaven head. Oh, and let's not forget he doesn't wear a tie and sometimes does wear a leather jacket.

That's Mr Varoufakis, to you.

Bizarrely, it's his appearance that seems to earn Mr Varoufakis most attention from the media. Certainly he does cut a striking figure next to some of his anaemic-looking counterparts from other European countries, some of whom look as if they're never happier than when they're telling someone else off for not keeping all their banknotes in pristine order.

There has also been the issue of whether or not he suggested that Greeks should "give the finger" to Germany over the euro crisis. This is something he denies having done and I see no reason to doubt him.

Whether he and the rest of the Greek government can steer Greece away from economic disaster remains to be seen. He wouldn't be the first bright person to find himself beaten by the massed ranks of whingers and nitpickers. Even so, I wish him good luck, as things stand he and the rest of the government and the Greek people are going to need plenty of it.

I chose an Ian Dury song to go with this post. It celebrates the clever people there have been in human history, but I should point out there is a very modest amount of swearing. I hope this won't spoil your enjoyment of what is a good song.

  • Question: Do you think Mr Varoufakis should wear a tie or is that completely missing the point? Let me know in the comments section.

Friday, 24 April 2015

U: Worth it for the map alone

My letter U reason to be cheerful could arguably have gone under the letter T, but at this stage in proceedings I'm intent on getting the job done, so U is for Underground, the subterranean rail system in London.

To be honest the Underground, often known as the Tube, is a bit skanky in places. It's old and some of the stations have seen better days. Also quite a bit of it is above ground, but we don't need to worry about that.

To me it's the Underground and it's a good way of getting round London, particularly if you can avoid rush hour, and it has one absolutely brilliant aspect which is particularly why I chose it for the letter U. The London Underground has one of the best maps ever produced in the history of maps.

I like maps, in fact, my letter M could have been maps, and while there are many superb maps out there which I would never tire of looking at, the Underground map is a masterpiece. The important thing about it is that you understand what it tells you and it doesn't matter in the slightest how that information relates to the physical geography of the city you are travelling around.

This is Transport For London's latest version of the
Underground map. 
There are versions of maps showing the Underground, particularly in its early days, and some of them are quite wonderful, but I'm going to have to avoid giving in to my inner map geek if I am ever to get to the end of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

In some respects the obvious song to go with this posting is Down in the Tube Station at Midnight by The Jam, but it's not the cheeriest of songs. Instead I've gone for The Underground Train Calypso by Lord Kitchener (not the British field marshal). The recording is a bit scratchy, but I like it.

  • Question: Do you like the London Underground  and, in particular, its map or does it leave you feeling you might end up in completely the wrong place and never see daylight again?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

T: Don't worry, I'll puzzle it out

My letter T reason to be cheerful is probably also a reason for other people to be cheerful because it shuts me up for a while. It is The Times Jumbo Cryptic Crossword.

I realise some people might feel that should be under C for Crossword but it appears in The Times on a Saturday and so it's a T.

I love cryptic crosswords and it has taken me years to get anywhere near being reasonably good at them. The Times Jumbo Cryptic is far and away my favourite. It's on a 23x23 grid and it's tough enough to make me strive without being so difficult I lose interest.

Now that's what I call a jumbo crossword.

Cryptic crosswords have their own language and conventions and even when you know them a good clue can successfully sell you a dummy until suddenly the penny drops and you realise you've been looking at the clue in entirely the wrong way for the last half hour.

As I hinted earlier, sit me down with The Times Jumbo Cryptic and I'm happy as the proverbial sandboy and won't cause any trouble for ages. Sometimes I'll need to keep going back to a crossword over several days, other times - and this doesn't happen very often - I can complete the Jumbo in somewhere between one and two hours. I think on those occasions the setters have decided to make sure people like me don't get too discouraged and I am sure there are people out there who can do it much faster than that. Lest I get carried away by this, I should point out that the record for correctly completing the normal Times cryptic crossword is about five minutes.

One of the weird things I really like about crosswords is that sometimes you can face an apparently unsolvable clue which you put to one side for a while only to find that on coming back to it you can see exactly how to solve it. Is it presumptuous to think that my brain carries on working on the clue in the background while I go about my other everyday tasks?

There aren't that many songs about crossword puzzles but this one is as near perfect for my requirements as you can get. I think it's called the Crossword Puzzle Song and it's sung by Jennie McGuinness.

  • Question: Do you like crossword puzzles, particularly cryptic ones, or do you think "Why does that saddo waste his time doing that sad thing, what a loser?"

* Crossworld puzzle picture by Autopilot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

S: It's the bard, innit?

I have chosen William Shakesepeare, the Bard of Avon and top notch playwright and poet, as my letter S reason to be cheerful, but I also offer him as a reason to be in awe of what another human being has done.

Shakespeare lived for just over half a century and by the time he died he'd written so many extraordinary plays that even if he'd only come up with one or two of them we would still probably be talking of him with some reverence.

I realise I might be making some cultural assumptions here that Shakespeare means as much to people around the world as he does to me. I am intensely proud that I come from the country of Shakespeare's birth, but, let's be honest, that's for no good reason. I didn't write the plays, that was done four centuries ago, and I'm not even that knowledgeable about his work. Even so, Shakespeare...what a guy.

A porcelain figure of Shakespeare which I
suspect doesn't look much like him.
Did Shakespeare just get a lucky break that meant his plays would continue to be performed down the centuries or did he somehow produce work that, even in this digital age, manages to make us think about something other than ourselves.

No guesses as to which side of the argument I go for, but even Shakespeare cynics must be a bit impressed that people still find enough in his work to make it worthwhile to stage his plays in so many weird and wonderful ways. And I haven't even mentioned the sonnets yet.

While there may be some debate over whether Shakespeare wrote everything that was attributed to him (I think he did, it's just easier that way) there is no doubt that our debt to the slightly mysterious man called William Shakespeare is one we are likely to keep on paying for centuries to come.

Shakespeare has inspired all sorts of music and songs down the years, but I like To Be Or Not To Be by BA Robertson which with some slightly wonky rhyming manages to pack in lots of references.

  • Question: Shakespeare: perfect playwright or balding bore? What do you think? Tell me in the comments section below.

* Picture of Derby Porcelian figure of Shakespear from Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

R: This feisty singer brings good cheer

Only little, but robins punch above their weight in being my R reason to be cheerful. The European robin, which is the one I'm familiar with, has the most delightful song and looks cute as anything, which is no doubt one reason why it appears on so many Christmas cards.

There have been calls for Britain to adopt the robin as its national bird and frankly I think that's a good idea. Robins are actually widespread through Europe but when I see one here on Skopelos it always makes me think of Britain.

R is for robin.
Robins may well have a song to bring cheer to everyone and make ideal subjects for Christmas cards, but their jolly appearance should not mislead us. The birds are extremely territorial and will engage in fierce fighting with rivals. Conversely if they see you gardening they are quite likely to get close in the hope that you will disturb some juicy grubs for them to eat.

That robins have a special place in the hearts of Britons is surely shown by the 16th century rhyme The North Wind Doth Blow.

"The north wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He'll sit in a barn and keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing, poor thing."

You see, even back in the 16th century people worried about robins.

Quite a few songs about robins that I could have chosen, but in the end I went for Rockin' robin by Bobby Day. The song will be familiar to many because of the cover version by the Jackson 5.

  • Question: Do you think the robin should be the national bird of Britain or should we choose something with big wings, talons and a hooky beak that can rip flesh? Let me know in the comments section  below.

* Picture of a robin by Poco a poco [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 20 April 2015

Q: You're a special woman, Brenda

Q, arguably one of the trickiest letters in the A to Z Challenge, but it's got to be done, so here goes, and it's another woman who has made a big impression on me..

I'm not being facetious when I say that my reason to be cheerful for the letter Q is none other than the Queen. That is MY queen, the monarch and head of state of the country I come from, the United Kingdom.

Yes, I think Queen Elizabeth II is a reason to be cheerful, even if sometimes she does look a little glum. And why have I referred to someone called Brenda in the title of this post? Readers of the magazine Private Eye will know that Brenda is their less than respectful nickname for the queen. Sometimes it seems very fitting. Sorry, your majesty.

Princess Elizabeth serving her country during the Second
World War. This picture was taken in 1945, seven
years later she was Queen.

Some people who know me may be a little surprised that I have warm feelings for a non-elected head of state, but I think she does a difficult job very well. She was only a young woman when she came to the throne, several years before I was born, and she continues to show grace and dignity when sometimes she must long to say: "Oh do shut up" or worse.

People from countries where their head of state is elected may feel slightly superior at the idea that they get to choose, but we live in times when political candidates' success depends very much on the amount of money they can gather for campaigning. That money comes from vested interests and if their candidate is successful there will presumably be some returning of favours. To what extent you might regard that as risking corruption I leave to you.

I'm definitely not trying to say that voting is wrong, but you can't guarantee that you'll necessarily get the best person for the job. The selection process that takes place before you even go to put your X in the box next to a name could easily winnow out some good candidates and leave some real duffers to go before the people.

Anyway, I digress. The UK struck lucky with the Queen, but let's be honest, we've had some well dodgy monarchs in the past and one in recent history who didn't even want to do the job. And we have absolutely no idea what the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, will be like. After all, he's on record as talking to plants. As I don't wish to end up in the Tower, I would merely observe that talking to plants is a charming eccentricity. It's only if you believe the plants talk back that you need to seek help.

So there we have it. Q is for Queen.

What music could go with this? The National Anthem? No, a bit of a dirge. I know, how about Queen singing Don't Stop Me Now. I'd like to think that occasionally Queen Elizabeth wanders the draughty corridors of one of her palaces singing this at the top of her voice. Unlikely, I grant you, but it would definitely qualify as a reason to be cheerful. If she did I expect she'd actually sing Don't Stop One Now. 

  • Question: Have you ever met the Queen? If so, did she ask you "Have you come far?".

* Picture by Ministry of Information official photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

P: Hello Dolly!

What better reason to be cheerful could there be than knowing that Dolly Parton is in the world? Seriously, I kid you not, I think she is a wonderful human being and I am not being remotely sarcastic or sniggery about it.

Dolly Parton receiving the Woodrow Wilson Award
for public service.

She is a prolific songwriter, has had innumerable hits, and has appeared in successful films, but above all that I think she is a genuinely nice person, something I freely admit I have no way of proving. I apologise now if I appear to gush, but I confess that I am more than a little smitten with Dolly Parton.

Her family were, to use her own words, "dirt poor" when she was growing up but her talent shone through and she became the Country music superstar she is today. More importantly she didn't forget her roots and has done much to bring employment to the area she grew up.

In addition, she has launched several charitable initiatives including Dolly Parton's Imagination Library in which participating children receive one book a month from birth until they enter kindergarten.

The reasons to be cheerful about Dolly Parton go on although I suppose one reason for me not to be so cheerful about Dolly Parton is that I will almost certainly never meet her. Probably just as well, I fear that if I did I'd blush alarmingly.

Dolly Parton has, as we know, had many hits which could go with this post, but I've chosen something completely different because I've been dying to use this piece of music on my blog for ages and I'm determined to shoehorn it in somehow. Seize the opportunities when you can, hence Country Girl by Primal Scream.

  • Question: Have you met Dolly Parton? If so, was she as nice as I think she would be? If she wasn't, I'm not sure I want you to tell me. Oh go on then, but don't be too nasty about her.

Friday, 17 April 2015

O: "The richest gift of heaven"

Bearing in mind the name of this blog there should be no need to guess what the O reason to be cheerful is going to be. Yes, it's the olive tree.

The quote for the title of this post came from Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. He said: "The olive tree is surely the richest gift of heaven" and you don't have to know much about these remarkable tree to think he might well have had a point.

I do genuinely live in an olive grove. All told my landlord has about 250 trees and he lavishes great care on them, in return for which he gets olives, oil and firewood. Rest assured that if he did not look after his trees they would not yield their bounty. Granted he might get a bit of firewood, but by looking after the trees he can even ensure that the firewood will continue to replenish.

Olive trees have been playing a part in human life for thousands of years. They get a mention in Greek mythology, the Bible and even Shakespeare. And let's face it, olive trees probably weren't a common sight in 16th century Warwickshire.

The view IN the olive grove.

Anyone who has gone down a supermarket aisle, looked at the range of olive oils on offer and thought they were rather expensive should first spend some time on the olive harvest. I have done and it's hard work and I'm not just saying that because I'm some sort of workshy fop, although I am.

Olives can be picked when green for processing in to green olives. I know that sounds obvious, but bear with me. Or you can wait for them to ripen until they become a purply-black which can then be processed in to black olives. There is a whole range of methods for processing olives so the above description is simplistic to say the least.

And then, of course, there is the collection of olives for pressing to get oil. While in some commercial groves there is machinery which collects olives, the traditional way is basically to either knock them from the tree or let them fall in to nets. Then you bag them up, get them pressed and hope that your olives will yield that glorious green peppery oil that is so wonderful you only have to drizzle some over good bread and you've made a delicious meal.

In two paragraphs I've made it all sound quite straightforward. Sadly, it is not and this autumn/winter just gone, when there was expected to be an olive harvest - they come every two years in this part of Greece - a combination of olive fruit fly and heavy rain wrecked the harvest. The problem was not just confined to here, but occurred throughout the Mediterranean. The result of this is that prices have gone up.

So this is a reason to be cheerful, but also to be thankful for when things go well and a bit more accepting when they do not.

I've found a nice film about the importance of the olive tree. It also happens to show a little bit of how olives are harvested. It's in Greek, but don't worry there are English subtitles.

I've struggled to find a song about olive trees apart from one in Chinese which I'll confess I wasn't very keen on. As a result I've chosen Harvest for the World by the Isley Brothers, which is a fine song and seems to share some of the sentiments of the film about olive trees.

  • Question: Olive oil, an essential item in your kitchen, or are you perfectly happy with a dollop of lard? Also, if they press olives to make olive oil, how do they make baby oil? Tell me more in the comments section below.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

N: Nobody chooses to be ill

The letter N in my reasons to be cheerful Blogging from A to Z Challenge takes us, as you no doubt realise, just past the halfway mark.

If you're still jogging along with me I'm really pleased - in fact, it's another reason to be cheerful - and I'd just to like to remind everyone AGAIN that I welcome comments. The opportunity to comment on each blog post is at the bottom so give it a go.

So far, I don't think I've come up with a particularly political reason, but all that could change with N which is the National Health Service of the United Kingdom.

I absolutely and utterly believe that the NHS is a reason to be cheerful and one that we in Britain are in danger of letting slip through our fingers. Set up in 1948, the NHS provides a comprehensive range of healthcare the vast majority of which is free at the point of use having been paid for by taxation.

The best explanation I can think of for the rationale of the NHS comes from Labour politician Nye Bevan, who was Health Secretary at the time the NHS was founded.

He said: "Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community."

 I fully accept that the NHS is a costly and flawed organisation which needs to be improved, but I find it difficult, not to say impossible, to accept that privatisation in its various forms is the way to bring about that improvement. Some may call it the introduction of private enterprise, I would describe it as finding ways to make money out of other people's misfortune.

While I would lay much of the blame for this approach in the NHS at the feet of the Tories, it has to be said that previous governments of all political persuasions have done little to enhance the NHS. The infamous private finance initiatives imposed on the NHS have, in my view, been a colossal disaster, resulting in NHS money going to banks and equity investors rather than being used on patient care.

I know many people, in my family and elsewhere, who have benefited from NHS treatment and I suspect there is a growing possibility that in Britain we are at risk of taking the service for granted. Thanks to the NHS the time when falling ill was not only a worry in itself, but also led to the added burden of trying to pay for treatment, is becoming a receding memory..

Nye Bevan has been dead more than half a century, but it would be a crying shame if another quote from him came to be applied to us now. "No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means." Let us hope that never comes true.

We might need a bit of music to cheer us up after all that, so here's Dr Feelgood performing Down at the Doctor's. I'm fairly certain it's not about a medical appointment, but never mind, eh?

  • Question: What would you do to improve the NHS?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

M: Our beautiful neighbour

We're half-way through the A to Z Challenge. If you've been keeping me company since the letter A, thank you and well done. If you've only just shown up, you really don't know what you've been missing. Just a reminder you can follow by email or by signing up, there are buttons to do both at the right-hand side. Also I do like comments, leave them below.

So, today's reason to be cheerful features in poems, songs and plays and is sometimes accused of driving people a little potty.

Yes, M is for moon, the earth's natural satellite. A few people have actually made it to the moon - I will have no truck with those who think the moon landings were some sort of stunt - but the rest of us can only admire from afar.

Buzz Aldrin on the moon, 1969.

And what a beautiful neighbour we have. It is no surprise to me that in ancient times some people felt the need to worship the moon.

While I wouldn't go that far, I would admit to having fallen under the enchantment that moonlight creates. To walk in the olive grove here or anywhere where street lights will not intrude and to have moonlight as your only illumination is a magical experience.

While some see a face in the appearance of the full moon, I'm with the school of thought that sees a hare or rabbit up there. You have to turn your neck slightly, but it's definitely there.

As I said at the beginning the moon features in many songs, so which one to choose to end this post? After much hunting around I chose Billie Holiday singing Blue Moon. More moonlit magic.

  • Question: What's the most magical thing you've ever done in the moonlight? Tell me in the comments section.

* Moon photograph by NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

L: Hg, Cd, As, Cr, Tl, Pb

Congratulations and aren't you a smarty pants if you recognised that the title of this post uses the chemical symbols for heavy metals.

That is because this letter's reason to be cheerful is a form of heavy metal, namely Led Zeppelin. Contrived? Moi?

The Zeppelin LZ Hindenburg catching fire
on May 6, 1937 at Lakehurst Naval Air Station
 in New Jersey.

I would argue that strictly speaking Led Zeppelin are not classic exponents of heavy metal, there is a lot else that goes on in their music, not least a lot of fiddly, jiggly folk music. Even so, when they do turn the volume knob up to 11 they are a powerful force and are cited as influences for many heavy metal bands.

I think the reason I like them is because it's not all heavy, heavy, there is that folk music influence alongside blues music and a lot of psychedelia.

I liked Led Zep before I liked punk music and although blokes with long hair and loon pants were supposed to be the antithesis of everything that punk music stood for I liked Led Zep all the time I probably wasn't meant to.

Long since disbanded, Led Zep still mean something to me, which surely is a reason to be cheerful.

The piece of music I've chosen to go with this post is, not surprisingly, by Led Zeppelin, but maybe not the most obvious piece. It's called Down by the Seaside and there's a bit of a country music feel to it. See what you think.

  • Question: Do you think Led Zeppelin are heavy metal? Do you care? Does putting labels on music make the slightest difference?

* Picture of a burning Zeppelin by Gus Pasquerella [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 13 April 2015

K: A man who put the right words in the right order

To be honest, as I always try to be, this reason to be cheerful was something that I probably didn't think much of as a teenager. But then, and not meaning any disrespect to teenagers, what do they know?

So today's reason is John Keats, the Romantic poet who managed to achieve all he had to do in just 25 years. Yes, one of the English language's most famous poets was only on the planet for a mere quarter of a century.

I had to study Keats' poetry at school and, I'll admit, some of it I really didn't like. "Too long, too complicated, too full of poetic words" was probably how I reacted. Fancy that, a poet using poetic words. Anyway that was  Hyperion and Endymion dealt with.

But what I did like were some of the odes, so thank goodness for being made to study Keats' ode To Autumn. You know the one: "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness/ Close-bosom friend of the maturing sun" and so on and so on.

The definition of poetry I most like is that it is "the right words in the right order". That is why good poetry is so quotable and, I suppose, why bad poetry looks like junk.

Here's some of Keats' poetry, namely On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer which I thought was appropriate seeing as I am in Greece. I can't guarantee you'll like it, but give it time. I think the thing with poetry is not to go at it like a bull at a gate. After all, although Keats only managed 25 years on the planet, we don't have to rush what he left us.

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Keats wrote this in 1816 when he was 20. He had only five years to go, not that he'd have known it then, and it's very grown-up stuff. Keats contracted TB and was advised to go a to warmer climate. He headed for Rome where he died. He was buried there and at his request his tombstone does not bear his name, but does state: "Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water."

No name: Keats' grave in Rome.
I haven't been able to find any songs about Keats, but instead here is Poetry in Motion by Johnny Tillotson. It's got rhymes and stuff so it is almost poetry. The accompanying video shows some nifty dancing, too.

  • Question: Do you like the poetry of Keats? Do you like any poetry, or is it all a load of tosh? Think carefully before you answer this one because I will judge you based on your answers. 

* Picture of Keats' grave by Piero Montesacro (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 11 April 2015

J: Shake, wobble and roll

Back to eating for this reason to be cheerful. And also, in a sense, back to childhood. J is for jelly.

A glow in the dark jelly.

It's probably just as well at this stage to do a bit of what Wikipedia calls disambiguation. The jelly I am referring to is the slightly wobbly, gelatinous fruity concoction which is a must at children's parties, especially if served with ice cream. I am not talking about what I understand Americans call jelly, which I would call jam. There, is that clear?

Having said that, it has been pointed out to me by Mrs C that if a British person made jam and strained out the fruit pieces the product would be called jelly rather than jam. It's confusing up to a point, but I suppose the thing to bear in mind is that we are talking about nice things to eat.

In my book, jelly must taste strongly of the fruit it contains and its consistency must be just so. Not too firm, not too runny. It should also be the case that if the jelly was made in a large bowl from which portions are being served the spoon taking the jelly from the large bowl ought to make a farty sound. As I said, jelly is something I associate with children's parties, so it puts me in an immature frame of mind.

Probably only one bit of music that should go with this post and that's It Must Be Jelly Cause Jam Don't Shake Like That. 

  • Question: Do you like jelly? If not, what food must a children's party have to be successful? 

* Jelly picture by Jellorama (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 10 April 2015

I: Going off the rails for Ivor

I'm not sure to what extent my letter I reason to be cheerful is based solely on childhood memories as opposed to being something I like and find charming even now. I'm not even sure that matters.

Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present Ivor the Engine. If ever I'm feeling a bit confounded and knocked about by life then just sit me down in front of an episode of Ivor the Engine and I'll soon feel a lot better.

Yes, for those who don't know, Ivor the Engine is a children's animation about a small green steam locomotive who lived in the "top left hand corner of Wales".

The animations were the creation of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin and were delightfully low-tech. The noise of Ivor going along the track was made by Oliver Postgate with his mouth. This has the advantage that all of us who have watched Ivor the Engine can have a go ourselves at making the same noise. Hours of fun, as you can see.

It might suggest dreadful insecurities on my part that I find Ivor the Engine so comforting, but in a world where evil people do evil things and then gloat about it, the chance to immerse myself in a world where all problems are gently resolved, often with a cup of tea, is one I accept gratefully.

See whether Ivor the Engine calms you down by watching this episode.

Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin also made another children's animation that I particularly like, namely Noggin the Nog. This tells stories about Noggin who is basically a kindly Viking king.

I love the theme tune to Ivor the Engine, which features a nice bit of bassoon, but I thought I'd like to put something a bit more raucous as the music to go with this post. I've chosen 5:15 by The Who. Anything less like Ivor the Engine than The Who's brass-heavy blast about a pilled-up Mod heading for Brighton on the 5:15 would be hard to find, but it's a great song.

Question: Do you like steam trains? If you know about Ivor the Engine and Thomas the Tank Engine, which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments section.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

H: Let's have a big hand for Handel

I suppose strictly speaking what I am offering today as my letter H reason to be cheerful is not Handel himself, but the music he composed.

However, let's not be picky. We wouldn't have one without the other so hooray for George Frideric Handel, who was born in Germany but spent most of his life in England where he cranked out music at a prodigious rate.

George Frideric Handel and wig.

I suspect I fall in the category of people who say: "I don't know much about (INSERT SUBJECT HERE), but I know what I like."

In this instance, I don't know much about Handel's music, but I know the bits I like, probably because they're the bits I have heard most often.

So rather than waffle on about what a great bloke Handel was I'm just going to offer some of his music. Bearing in mind that I didn't want to put up very lengthy pieces of music it was a bit of a toss up between the Hallelujah Chorus and Zadok the Priest. I chose Zadok because I think it is a more subtle demonstration of the power of the human voice.

The piece has been performed at every coronation of a British monarch since 1727 when it was first performed at the coronation of George II. This particular version is performed by the Academy of Ancient Music and the AAM Choir and I think is quite wonderful. To anyone who is reading this and thinking "Oh no, religious music and it's for a boring old king or queen" all I would say is put that from your mind and surrender to the power of the piece.

Question: Do you like Handel's music? Would you have chosen Zadok the Priest or something completely different? Tell me in the comments.

* Portrait of Handel by Balthasar Denner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

G: Hello, my hairy relative

Look in to the eyes of a gorilla - preferably a living, breathing one right in front of you - and you will surely come to the conclusion that you and the gorilla share at least some common ancestry.

And that, at least as far as I'm concerned, is a real reason to be cheerful. We should count ourselves lucky to share some genetic links with these noble, impressive animals.

I have looked gorillas in the eye, but before you run away with the idea I am some sort of David Attenborough or Dian Fossey, I should point out that my close encounter with gorillas was at Howletts, the wild animal park in the Kent countryside.

A gorilla deep in thought.

It might be that in an ideal world there would be no gorillas for me to meet in the wilds of Kent, they would all be in Africa living long and happy lives. But this is a far from ideal world and all types of gorilla are classified as Critically Endangered. At Howletts and its sister park at Port Lympne, also in Kent, there have been 130 gorilla births which presumably indicates that the animals feel "at home" enough to reproduce successfully.

As I said earlier, in an ideal world the gorillas would all be having a high old time in their natural habitat and in that sense this reason to be cheerful is also a reason to be sad because by far the biggest threat to gorillas is humans. There is a big trade in their meat and deforestation drastically reduces their habitat. In addition, they fall victim to the Ebola virus.

So, while I might look a gorilla in the eye and feel privileged to share some ancestry, he might look at me and wish that I and all my kind would just leave him alone.

Anyone who was reading my Blogging A to Z entries last year and who is blessed with a retentive memory might recall that I expressed admiration for The Kinks. Not much wonder, because they have written tons of good songs including Apeman, which seems an obvious, but dare I say brilliant, choice to go with this posting.

  • Question: Have you ever been able to be close to a gorilla? Tell us more in the comments section, we want to know.

 * Gorilla picture by Dozyg (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons