Ian Whybrow

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August 28th 2013 Sort of Back

August 28, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

August 28th 2013  Sort of Back

Just back from an island-hopping cruise in the Med, I am still on Turkish time and partly for that reason wide awake at four o’clock in the morning. I had always hoped that Les, my dear, funny chum for fifty years, would be around to send me off with a few kind words when my time was up. Very sadly, very annoyingly, very quietly, very bravely he died last Friday. Now I shall have to speak for him at his funeral. I can’t see myself getting through it with much self-control, but knowing that he would have found the strength to pull himself together, I must have a go.

There were several remarkably self-sufficient, gutsy and determined widows travelling on the ship with Ann and me. They’d be able to cope with the challenge. Even so, words formed in my head in the dark today that I should like to pretend are about them.  The words palely recall Gerard Manley Hopkins’s verse about a nun’s desire to take the veil. Of course, mine are not about widows but about me.


Cruise Widow

I have desired to go to sea

With cheerful people to look after me.

And we shall drift from port to port

Without a thought.



Amelie, our little granddaughter knows better than I do how to cope with tragedy. Her mother handed her the phone so that Am could have a word with her grandmother to whom she hadn’t spoken for a couple of weeks.

“What is your news for me?” asked Ann.

“Well, my news is that Hermione’s womb was hanging out,” said Am. “But luckily we found a man who knew how to chop her head off.”

It’s true about the mouths of babes and sucklings.  Hermione was, it may be necessary to point out, one of her family’s three pet chickens.


August 7th 2013 Soot and Stinkbombs

August 7, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Up at five o’clock. Couldn’t sleep. I must stop reading the papers.


I thought fracking was bad, and Gibraltar

Sudden Oak & the shortage of houses;

But now there’s the Archers to worry about

Stem-cell bergers, fatbergs & red trousis.


Only kidding. That was just a little displacement exercise. I can barely give a monkey’s about any of these things – but there’s plenty of other stuff to fret about. Poor old Les, for a start…

While the rest of the gang went for a walk over Hergest Ridge and thence to Hay, I waited in for Mr Lillington, the sweep. It turned out to be rather fascinating. I told him about the jackdaws that we discovered had dropped two yards of debris down the sitting room chimney when we first bought this house. “Ah. People think they go away when you get the fire going,” he said with a tilt of his head. “But they loik a bit a smoke. Fumigates their feathers, see?” A chartered accountant by training, Mr L was inspired by an ex- Chief Inspector of Police to head off in this new direction twenty years ago, when he moved out of Birmingham and re-rooted himself in Mansel Lacey. A lot more chimneys round Herefordshire than in Brum, see? Normally, things go quiet for sweeps in July, apparently – but the mad weather has thrown everything out of kilter. He’s sometimes had to do 14 chimneys in a day. But February-March time, when there’s no call for rod, dust-cloth or vacuum cleaner, he’s always got the accountancy to fall back on.

I was rewarded for staying home with a chocolate caramel tart. Teddy had spent his pocket money on stink bombs, so we had to get Tom next door to take all the interested parties (six children) away to some distant corner of the lane to give everybody a proper whiff of them. They returned, looking contemplative, like bibbers who had just been to a slightly disappointing wine-tasting – and played three a-side badminton for hours which was – to judge by the appreciative screams and shouts, far more fun.

August 5th Stair-rods, Deflation, Zombies and other Hazards of Recreation

August 5, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

I happen to have a load of old stair rods in the garage. Just in case one or two of my younger readers are unfamiliar with the kind of rain we have been getting for two days here in Marcher Country, this picture may give you a clue. I have arranged them in an artistic, Duchamp-like manner with several items of Sporting Equipment. The working-title of this piece is:

Rains Stops Play.
Half of my grandchildren have decamped, though not without leaving a sodden tent up on the lawn for me to dismantle and restore to its rightful owners in time for their camping holls in Cornwall. I am apprehensive about this. We had a heck of a palaver on the landing just trying to get the air out of the blow-up mattresses.
While the kids were all here, they were temporarily zombified by our fascinating video collection. Ann scours all the local charity shops for such diversions. These have the unfortunate side-effect of provoking certain uncalled for remarks. Out of the mouths of the ingratitudinous babes and sucklings I have nursed, like vipers, in my bosom comes: “Grandad, why have you got such old-fashioned dvds?”

Here, we have one zombie in the cocoon-phase and another who has taken the precaution, following a suspected nosebleed, of stuffing half a yard of toilet-roll up her nostril.

This morning we went in for a bit of dinosaur-work involving molds and plaster of paris on the kitchen table. Only after Amelie had somehow manoeuvred a tablespoonful of the stuff into her eye did we discover the article online , courtesy of The Pembina Trails School Division, headed


Among other alarming observations, including:

Serious burns can also result if plaster is placed directly
onto the skin. This is due to the exothermic reaction that results from the
hardening plaster…

comes the advice:

All students / staff are required to wear safety goggles to
prevent splashes from coming into contact with the eyes.

Thirty minutes of what we in ER call blind panic followed. But rest assured, the patient is, as we type, playing badminton in the rain.

All this has really got us wondering about the plasticine with a radio-activity symbol on the box.

August 3rd 2013 The Tooth Trick, the WI, Hoovering, Plum Pie and a Ministerial Lie

August 3, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

So. The secret is out. I know what my surprise is from Amelie and Ted’s camping holiday on the Ile de Rey. Their cousin, my granddaughter Fifi has been staying over with them. She had a tooth hanging on a string, a problem solved by Am, for it was she who came up with The Tooth Trick. It involved sneaking a toffee out of the souvenir-tin supposed to be reserved for me as a present – and popping it into Fifi’s mouth. A few chews and – Bingo – the trick worked; the gap in the front widened considerably. I have the evidence on a video emailed to me yesterday morning. Amazingly, Amelie resisted the temptation to take a toffee for herself. Such altruism must have its reward. She shall be showered with toffees when she turns up – along with my entire extended family– later on today.

Since the locusts were about to descend, I was despatched to attend opening-time at the Friday WI market in Kington and to tussle for fresh veg and cakes. In its little room at the back of a chapel in the High Street, this gathering of enthusiasts is always uplifting. They have a system requiring you to take a piece of paper on which the things you buy are written down by the ladies behind each table-section. You can then fill your bags without delay and present the chit to the two ladies at the door who tot it up in tandem and give you your change. I love the quiet modesty of these women who cheerfully give their time and gardening advice – for the fun of it. One of my special heroines is Mrs E R Powell whose pippier jams are sieved (It says so on the handwritten labels) out of deference to those who might find them too gritty – especially those who, like my mother, had to eschew the figs and blackberries that she loved as a child. (“They get under my plate, dear.”)



The Great I Am

Would never think of making jam.

My heart indites

Shy Mrs P who on these labels writes.

Yesterday, before the thunderstorm, there were thirteen peacock butterflies and crowds of fat bees on the clump of yellow daisy-like flowers – where there’s only a short hop to the buddeia. I’ve never seen so many. These things make one feel honoured. And in a flash, a little bunch of alliteratively connected delights in the garden formed themselves into a couplet worthy of … Godfrey Wynne, say…

A Garden Moment

Butterflies beetroot beans and bees;

I know of nothing more lovely than these.

Sadly, I couldn’t get my camera in position to verify this. But here are a couple anyway.

On my return home, while Ann dealt with (many) beds and prepared plum tarts, I was given custody of the hoover. I got a bit carried away, removing the brush and sucking up flies from the window-sills and cobwebs off the ceiling. Once I was in the vein, I actually moved our bed and had a look behind the bed-head and underneath. This is not something I commend to the beginner in this field.


I have today been hoovering round.

(Mine not to reason why)

And consequently I have found

Where woodlice go to die.

I leave the mummified woodlice to your imagination and offer you a picture of the tarts instead. Yum.
Turning off the hoover for a moment, I was reminded by Radio 4 of the dictum of Maria Miller, Minister for Sport and Culture, who thinks it perfectly reasonable that funding for culture should be dependent on guaranteed economic viability. She has got Art mixed up with sausages. I’m telling you, she’d be laughed out of Kington WI.

No, Minister!

Why must Art make money

In order to be viable?

D’you think Culture is a sausage,

Grillable and fryable?