Wednesday 31 January 2007


Come Oscar night will it be Dame Judi or will it be Dame Helen? Always supposing, of course, that the Academy Award for Best Actress doesn’t go to Penélope Cruz, Meryl Streep or Kate Winslet...

Having just snapped up a Golden Globe, Helen Mirren seems to have a royal start with her performance as HMQEII in The Queen over Judi Dench’s turn as the acid-tongued, lesbian schoolteacher in Notes on a Scandal.

Time will tell…

Hollywood folk (and Americans in general) are - as one would expect of a Presidential nation - devoutly fervent royalists!

When, however, it comes to handing out the gongs, actors representing British monarchs have not fared too well.

Of course, Dame Judi famously won Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1998 for playing Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love while, in the very same year, Cate Blanchett didn’t win for playing Queen Elizabeth I in the film --- Elizabeth!

Mind you, the portrayals of the same monarch by Dame Flora Robson Bette Davis, Jean Simmons and Glenda Jackson in, respectively, Fire Over England, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Young Bess and Mary, Queen of Scots didn’t even get nominated - although Vanessa Redgrave as the aforementioned Scots Queen did, at least, find herself in the running for an Oscar even if, when it came to the vote, she got the chop.

Of course, Charles Laughton did win Best Actor Award in 1933 for his kingly performance as Queen Elizabeth's father in The Private Life of Henry VIII, although subsequent royal contenders Robert Shaw, in A Man for All Seasons, and Richard Burton, in Anne of the Thousand Days, failed to grab the Oscar crown just as, in the latter film, did Geneviève Bujold’s Anne Boleyn.

Among the Henry VIIIs who were not even accorded a nomination were James Robertson Justice in The Sword and the Rose and Keith Michell in Henry VIII and His Six Wives as well as both Montagu Love and Charlton Heston who donned the beard and codpiece for versions of The Prince and the Pauper.

A queen who most definitely made the Academy grade was Katherine Hepburn: despite having been ignored in Mary of Scotland, the divine Kate triumphed as the indomitable Queen Eleanor in The Lion in Winter - albeit having to share the coronet with Barbra Streisand’s Funny Girl - although her cantankerous consort, Henry II (Peter O’Toole), failed to succeed to the throne.

Other unsuccessfully nominated monarchs include Judi Dench (again!) this time as Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown and Helen Mirren (again!!) on this occasion as Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George, a film that similarly failed to yield gold for Nigel Hawthorne in the title role.

As for Laurence Olivier, he failed to win at playing the king in both Richard III and The Chronicle of King Henry the Fit with His Battel Fought at Agincourt in France - though doubtless out of sympathy for his having produced, directed and starred in a film with one of the longest titles in movie history, the Academy did give him an honorary award!

Other totally un-nominated royals include Ralph Richardson's George III in Lady Caroline Lamb, Alec Guinness’ Charles I in Cromwell and assorted Queen Victorias including Irene Dunn (The MudLark), Mollie Maureen (The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), Margaret Mann (Disraeli) and the great Anna Neagle in Victoria the Great.

Amd what about all those Richard the Lionhearts (popping up to give a cameo in Robin Hood movies), not to mention several dozen King Arthurs?


Historically, the odds would seem to be against Dame Helen and Mrs Wingsor; but, who knows, with a little help from Saint Diana, The Queen may yet prove the ruler’s exception to the rule!

Tuesday 30 January 2007


When we were in Venice recently, I realised that if one were going to choose a facial feature to represent the Venetians, it would have to be the eyebrow. Eyebrows in Venezia are a constant source of admiration and wonderment.

There is an Italian tendency to be dark-haired and hirsute and - whilst some, usually elderly, gentlemen sport tangled outcrops above their eyes that are occasionally long and thick enough to constitute a single thorny hedgerow - the common consensus appears to be that eyebrows demand constant tinkering and tailoring.

It is a process that takes its artistic inspiration from Venice’s proliferation of bridges and eyebrows tend to lift, arch and double-span the human face much as their masonry counterparts cross the City’s canals with varying degrees of height, breadth and steepness.

From the elderly Contessa with her lacquered mane of silver hair and her outsize Dolce & Gabbana spectacles to the wasp-waited youth with his low-slung Versace jeans and Missoni scarf, from the Prada-wearing, jewellery-jangling socialite tottering across uneven flagstones on perilous heels to the crisply pressed, white-jacketed waiter delivering Bellinis in Harry’s Bar, eyebrow maintenance is de rigeur.

They are universally shaved, shaped, cut, cropped and cultivated, trimmed, tapered and truncated, extended, extrapolated and espaliered, pruned, plucked and prinked and, sometimes even totally demolished and recreated with pencil line or paintbrush stroke.

© Brian Sibley, 2007; Image: © David Weeks, 2007

Monday 29 January 2007


Browsing in the bookshop of London’s Royal National Theatre last week, I noticed a new display of the Works of Alan Bennett including CD's of Mr B himself reading extracts from his Diaries, plays written for Thora Hird and his version of The Wind in the Willows. There were also SIGNED COPIES of the book-of-the-film- of-the-play, The History Boys and the paperback edition of Untold Stories each inscribed in Bennett's neat but miniscule hand.

A memory instantly returned from eighteen months ago (apologies to those who read it the first time!) when the door-stop sized hardback edition of Untold Stories had just been published and was - as now - being sold with the author's signature.

An elderly theatre patron hovered by the table, clearly debating whether or not the necessary outlay of £20 for a SIGNED COPY was justified.

His wife joined him. “Well,” she asked, “are you going to buy it?”

“I don’t really know,” he replied hesitantly, opening one of the books at the title-page and closely scrutinising the autograph.

Then, replacing the book on the stack he said, in a line worthy of Mr Bennett himself:

“No... I don’t think so… it’s a very SMALL signature…”

Sunday 28 January 2007


“Sir,” Samuel Johnson famously remarked to James Boswell, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

That may have been the case back in 1777, and even thirty years ago, the younger version of me would have agreed since I regularly spent as much time as I could exploring London life…

Then I began to lose my affection for the old place and in recent years have settled down into a determined frame of mind that either Dr Johnson was amazingly wrong or else London (or, more likely, me) had changed beyond all recognition…

So, we’ve tended to go our separate ways, London and I, and then the other evening - plodding along the Embankment on my way to meet my friend Irascible Ian for the World Cinema Award 2007 at the BFI (my regular Saturday night venue in the days of my youth) - I was stopped dead in my tracks by the most glorious sunset of thundery, purple-grey clouds rent by shafts of golden light...

I stood for twenty freezing minutes admiring a glorious vista of the ancient (the Palace of Westminster) and the modern (the London Eye) and realized that suddenly - and, who knows, maybe only briefly - Dr Johnson and I were in harmony once more.

[Images © Brian Sibley 2006]

Saturday 27 January 2007


I was surfing the web the other day, looking for some images by an artist named David Hall who had worked at the Walt Disney studio in 1939 creating conceptual art for an early, abandoned film version of Alice in Wonderland.

Hall’s exceptional drawings (quite unlike the style of the eventual 1951 film) were exhibited in the recent exhibition Il était une fois Walt Disney at the Grand Palais in Paris and I was especially glad to see them again because, twenty one years ago in 1986, I had put together an edition of Lewis Carroll’s story, illustrated with Hall’s artwork - a book that has since totally vanished without even leaving a grin…

Now, while surfing, I happen to stumble into The Pancake Parlour, an Australian restaurant chain whose web site is, bizarrely, stuffed with information and images relating to Alice.

There are at least 22 pages - but it’s not easy to track them all down! - and one is dedicated to the work of David Hall.

As I read the accompanying text, I began to feel a curious sense of déjà vu… As it happens this was not entirely surprising since it was an edited, unacknowledged lift from my book!

“There’s glory for you!” as Humpty Dumpty remarked.

Anyway, today just happens to be---

The 175th Birthday of Lewis Carroll.

It was the friendship between Carroll’s alter ego - the mathematician, logician and cleric, the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson -and the children of the Dean of Christ Church - and, in particular, Alice Pleasance Liddell - that inspired the telling of the now world-famous story on a boat-trip up-river from Oxford 145 years ago, on 4 July 1862.

In an acrostic poem at the end of the Wonderland’s sequel, Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There (1872), Dodgson commemorated both the event and his muse…
A boat beneath a sunny sky

Lingering onward dreamily

In an evening of July -

Children three that nestle near,

Eager eye and willing ear,

Pleased a simple tale to hear -

Long has paled that sunny sky:

Echoes fade and memories die:

Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise

Alice moving under skies

Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,

Eager eye and willing ear,

Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,

Dreaming as the days go by,

Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream -
Lingering in the golden glream -

Life, what is it but a dream?

Carroll revisited the question in the final stanza seventeen years later in another - this time, double - acrostic on the name of Isa Bowman, the young actress to whom the author dedicated his epic tangle of a novel, Slyvie & Bruno...
Is all our Life, then but a dream
Seen faintly in the golden gleam
Athwart Time's dark resistless stream?

Bowed to the earth with bitter woe
Or laughing at some raree-show
We flutter idly to and fro.

Man's little Day in haste we spend,
And, from its merry noontide, send
No glance to meet the silent end.
I was Secretary of the Lewis Carroll Society when, in 1982, I was party to the extraordinarily convoluted and expensive process that was involved in having a plaque in memory of our author placed in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his birth. The words chosen for the stone came from that second acrostic and were, for the Dean and Chapter, highly problematic.

In the end, the clergy acquiesced - accepting, perhaps, that Dodgson was saying that earthly life is but a transient prelude to Eternal Life

That was, heaven help me, twenty-five years ago, and yet I still remember the delight (and the nervousness) that I experienced in reading the following extract from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland during the service of dedication…
`Wake up, Alice dear!' said her sister; `Why, what a long sleep you've had!'

`Oh, I've had such a curious dream!' said Alice, and she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about; and when she had finished, her sister kissed her, and said, `It was a curious dream, dear, certainly: but now run in to your tea; it's getting late.' So Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been.

But her sister sat still just as she left her, leaning her head on her hand, watching the setting sun, and thinking of little Alice and all her wonderful Adventures, till she too began dreaming after a fashion, and this was her dream:--

First, she dreamed of little Alice herself, and once again the tiny hands were clasped upon her knee, and the bright eager eyes were looking up into hers--she could hear the very tones of her voice, and see that queer little toss of her head to keep back the wandering hair that WOULD always get into her eyes--and still as she listened, or seemed to listen, the whole place around her became alive the strange creatures of her little sister's dream.

The long grass rustled at her feet as the White Rabbit hurried by--the frightened Mouse splashed his way through the neighbouring pool--she could hear the rattle of the teacups as the March Hare and his friends shared their never-ending meal, and the shrill voice of the Queen ordering off her unfortunate guests to execution--once more the pig-baby was sneezing on the Duchess's knee, while plates and dishes crashed around it--once more the shriek of the Gryphon, the squeaking of the Lizard's slate-pencil, and the choking of the suppressed guinea-pigs, filled the air, mixed up with the distant sobs of the miserable Mock Turtle.

So she sat on, with closed eyes, and half believed herself in Wonderland, though she knew she had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality--the grass would be only rustling in the wind, and the pool rippling to the waving of the reeds--the rattling teacups would change to tinkling sheep- bells, and the Queen's shrill cries to the voice of the shepherd boy--and the sneeze of the baby, the shriek of the Gryphon, and all thy other queer noises, would change (she knew) to the confused clamour of the busy farm-yard--while the lowing of the cattle in the distance would take the place of the Mock Turtle's heavy sobs.

Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.

How many children - of all ages! - have, in almost a century and a half, had their eyes made bright and eager with that "dream of Wonderland of long ago"? A goodly few, I reckon...

Thanks, Mr Dodgson - and...
Happy Birthday!

[Illustration of Lewis Carroll from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, designed and illustrated by Barry Moser]

Friday 26 January 2007


I was recently writing about the proliferation of urban myths on the Internet. Just a day or two later, I received - for the umpty-umpth time - another of these stories.

It goes like this…
Wishing to encourage her young son's progress on the piano, a mother took her boy to a Paderewski concert. After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her. Seizing the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall, the little boy rose and eventually explored his way through a door marked "NO ADMITTANCE."

When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that the child was missing. Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway on stage.

In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano, and whispered in the boy's ear, "Don't quit! Keep playing!"

Then, leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child, and he added a running obbligato. Together, the old master and the young novice transformed what could have been a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative experience.

The audience was so mesmerized that they couldn't recall what else the great master played. Only the classic, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.
Them comes the added-on homily…
Perhaps that's the way it is with God. What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy. We try our best, but the results aren't always graceful flowing music. However, with the hand of the Master, our life's work can truly be beautiful. The next time you set out to accomplish great feats, listen carefully. You may hear the voice of the Master, whispering in your ear, "Don't quit! Keep playing!" May you feel His arms around you and know that His hands are there, helping you turn your feeble attempts into true masterpieces.
And then the requests to “pass it on”, though thankfully, on this occasion, without veiled threats of what will happen if you don’t:
Remember, God doesn't seem to call the equipped, rather, He equips the 'called’. Life is more accurately measured by the lives you touch than by the things you acquire. So touch someone by passing this little message along. May God bless you and be with you always! And remember, "Don't quit! Keep playing!"
There are on Google no fewer than 647 links to this story or to a similar one in which the tune played is not Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, but Chopsticks.

Clearly this is a story that is more important in terms of its message than its veracity, for it exists in various versions endlessly retold by people who obviously feel no need to concern themselves with the trifling matter of whether it is ‘true’ and well as ‘TRUE’…

Curiously, it would mean as much as a story if it were simply about a child and any, unspecified, concert pianist. The adding of Paderewski’s moniker (particularly in an age when it is no longer a household name) does nothing except add supposed authenticity.

Or, perhaps, points us in the direction of the REAL story…

It is ironic that the first Google entry on this story is to be found on, under the title Paderewski and the Little Pianist and debunks the legend as follows:
There is no evidence this ever happened… Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) was a Polish pianist who gained worldwide fame and was very popular in the United States.

Paderewski experts say the story may have been inspired by a poster during World War II that promoted a meeting in support of the Polish Relief Fund. Paderewski is said to have organized the meeting.

The poster included a sketch of Paderewski next to a boy at the piano.
The boy was carrying his belongings wrapped at the end of a stick and was called ‘Johnny the Wanderer’.
Having read this, and with Google's help, I tracked down that poster on Polish Music Newsletter, a site which confirms that Paderewski did, indeed, organize the Mass Meeting for the Polish Relief Fund at Madison Square Garden in March 1940, and reproduces the souvenir programme for the event showing the Maestro clearly encouraging ‘Jasio-wędrowniczek’ (Johnny the Wanderer) as he sits at the keyboard.

Incidentally, the title on the sheet music - ‘POLAND’S NOT LOST’ - is the first line of the national anthem, Dąbrowski's Mazurka.

Without taking anything from the underlying message of this Internet fable, I find it fascinating that the myth remains reliantly more potent than the fact…

Maybe that, in itself, is a fable of our time...

Thursday 25 January 2007


On our recent visit to Venice we visited the Joie de Vivre exhbibition of pictures by Pablo Picasso currently on show at the Palazzo Grassi until 11 March.

One of the fascinating revelations of this exhibition was the way in which Picasso would begin a study for a painting with a very naturalistic image and then - through a series of drawings - would reduce it to something that was little more than an abstraction or ideogram of the original subject.

I was very intrigued by the process - showing as it does that Picasso fully understood all the rules of art before ever setting about breaking them - and was, therefore, interested to discover that, in 1955, the French film director Henri-Georges Clouzot decided to record Picasso creating twenty artworks on a specially designed transparent canvas that would allowing the camera - and the viewer - to follow the way in which Picasso added, removed or changed elements in the composition until he was satisfied.

The resulting film, The Mystery of Picasso, is now available on DVD and here, as a trailer, is one of the paintings in which a bull and a bull-fighter (recurrent motifs in Picasso's work) emerges from a few geometric shapes and then pass through a series of complex metamorphoses before reaching completion.

Wednesday 24 January 2007


There was a cat - a pitifully pampered pet - who, if you had looked at him, you would have said had that smug, self-satisfied look of a cat who had got the cream. And, indeed, he had.

In truth, he got the cream every day - and twice-a-day on Sundays, high days and holidays!

But, after a year or two of lapping up the cream and licking out the bowl, he rarely if ever relished the experience as he had once done when he was a kitten.

The special treat was now a commonplace event; the privilege, a right; the surprise, expected. And so, eventually, the Cat who got the cream looked less and less smug and self-satisfied and increasingly sated and bored with life.

Other cats - those who haunted dingy alleyways and seedy rubbish tips, living on rotting fish-heads and the rancid dregs from beer cans - had always envied the Cat who got the cream.

But they were rather less envious - and realised the true price of a saucer of cream - when their mollycoddled contemporary died, long before his time, of coronary heart disease resulting from an exceptionally high intake of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

© Brian Sibley 2006
Read more of my Likely Stories

Tuesday 23 January 2007


I'm still valiantly waging the waistline war and progress is very slow and none too steady... However, I recently ran across some research that maybe the REAL ANSWER to the struggles of us fatties hoping to avoid an untimely heart-attack.

Consider the following FACTS...

1. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the English.

2. The Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the English.

3. The Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the English.

4. The Italians drink a lot of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the English.

5. The Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than the English.

To which the obvious CONCLUSION is:

You can eat and drink whatever you like --- it's speaking English that kills you!

Monday 22 January 2007


It’s Monday morning which, when I was young, meant WASHDAY! Nowadays, of course, any day and every day is a potential washday but, back then, it was definitely Monday’s job.

As a kid, I grew up in a cottage with an outside washhouse where my mother did the washing (on a Monday) in a dolly-tub (which had to be laboriously filled with buckets and buckets of hot water) using a posher-stick (as we called it) or (as it’s probably correctly named) posser, which you had to pump up and down in order to provide the necessary grime-releasing agitation!

Here’s a picture of a posser currently for sale on eBay and for those to whom all this is gobbledegook here’s how Wikipedia defines the object:
A posser was historically a tool used for possing or mixing laundry while hand washing it. Possers come in various forms, there is usually a vertical pole with a handle bar at the top but the base can be conical, with three (or more) legs or sometimes a flat disk. As hand washing has been replaced by electric & mechanical washing machines the words & implements have fallen into disuse.
Words like ‘historically’ and phrases like ‘fallen into disuse’ are alarmingly apt to make one feel not so much old as ancient! But that’s how life was in the early 1900s (I jest, of course! I mean the early 1950’s): Monday was washday and Friday was bath-night.

You knew where you were back then! We had clear orientation-points in our lives - which is, maybe, why I never seem to know what day it is anymore!

Anyway, mention of bath-night brings me to the eagerly awaited announcement of---


Here’s a reminder of the picture for which I was soliciting captions - with a new (pretty direct), Valentine’s-Day-cashing-in slogan.

There were twenty-six entries (with a few people - principally David - having more than one go!) and several recurrent themes such as soap, taps, plugholes and, of course, Brokeback Mountain, which probably inspired Ginch Gonch’s campaign in the first place.

Knowing several of the entrants and sharing a bed with one of them, I decided to ask my good friend Polkadots & Moonbeams to do a bit of impartial, unbiased judging from a totally anonymous listing.

I have to say, she laughed a lot at your inventiveness and cheekiness but finally leaned towards those of you who had approached the photo as if there were some logical (as opposed to sensual) explanation!




"I still say some kind of sail would be in order."



"Water shortage? Is that what they told you, too?"


DAVID with:

“If it's going to get across the lake, then we should start nearer the water.”

Well done, all of you! Your modelling contracts with Ginch Gonch should be with you shortly - or even briefly!

And my thanks for all the submissions, which I offer now (in alphabetical order of contributors) for your passing amusement:


"No," he said testily "that's NOT my foot."


"Look, you want water in this bath? You get it. I went last time."

"What do you mean you don't know where you left the razor?"

“I told you, light the fire, move the bath over it; and then get in.”

“You left the towels, where?”

“Now we've opened this tin can, what next?”

"Are you sure you auditioned for Brokeback Mountain?"

“If this is meant to be shelter, I think the other way up would be more effective!”

"Are you sitting on the plug, or…"

“Pah! Agents? They said I'd get a chance to show what I'm made of - useless!”

“I think the director said ‘Show off the briefs’, not ‘Take off the briefs’!"

"Can we just try a Civil Partnership?" [One of my favourites... Ed.]

“If it's not water in the bottom of this tub then why is it distinctly moist?”

“Fine, now neither of us are sitting at the tap end… just how are we meant to get water in this thing without taps?”


“Your big TOE?”

“Never mind Brokeback - it won't be the only thing!”


"I thought YOU had the soap?"

From GILL:

"When I said I liked bubbles in the bath, that wasn't what I meant!"


The guy on the right: "This Brokeback Mountain body-double gig is giving me terrible cramp!"


"Trust ME to get the plug end!"
"Actually, there isn’t a plug!"

"Didn't I see you yesterday at the underpants shoot?”

"You mean I've been out here for three hours, stuck in this, just to become another of Brian's screensavers?" [Another of my favourites... Ed.]


"Water shortage, my a***!"

And, finally, two submissions from ROB that, regretably, were received after the judging had taken place:

Caption: Two men in a bath. Just a thought - or is that too obvious?

Thomas and Tarquin couldn't agree about whose turn it was to get the water from the lake.

One final thought on this curious advertising campaign: I was interested to discover that there is also an alternative heterosexual version of this ad which, unfortunately, I am only able to partially download...

If, however, you go to the Ginch Gonch home page, you’ll find the picture of the lads regularly alternating with this one of a guy and a girl in a tub clearly having a fun time sharing the soap.

In fact, in marked contrast, the chaps look positively UNhappy. So, is this, perhaps, a subliminal “Gay = Unhappy” message - or did they simply think that two men having bath-time larks would be just too shocking for the public to cope with?

Who knows? But the more I look at that picture of the boys from Brokeback, the more miserable they seem to be. Regular reader, JEN, put her finger on it when she wrote to say:

“They don't look any happier than Wilfred Brambell did when he dropped the pickled onions in the tin bath in Steptoe & Son!”

And, as you can see, she is right!!

Sunday 21 January 2007

A LOAD OF B****!

I am constantly intrigued by the way in which misinformation circulates on the internet and, for the most part, survives intact and unchallenged.

Such items range from endlessly repeated accounts of scams and viruses that have long been authoritatively denied to urban legends that do no more harm than any of the shaggy dog stories or hoary old jokes that used to be passed around by word of mouth in the days before the internet.

Yet, what remains curious is that the internet itself - the medium which circulates such material - often carries the very information that can debunk or defuse such stories - if anyone bothered to check them out!

For example, take the following e-mail that I received recently and which may well have turned up in your Inbox - possibly more than once!
Mouse Balls & Mouse Ball Inspector

I don't know how they wrote this with a straight face. This was a real memo sent out by IBM to its employees in all seriousness. It went to all field engineers about a computer peripheral problem. The engineers rolled on the floor! Especially note the last couple of sentences.

If a mouse fails to operate or should it perform erratically, it may need a ball replacement. Mouse balls are now available as FRU (Field Replacement Units). Because of the delicate nature of this procedure, a replacement of mouse balls should only be attempted by properly trained personnel. Before proceeding, determine the type of mouse balls by examining the underside of the mouse. Domestic balls will be larger and harder than foreign balls.

Ball removal procedures differ depending upon the manufacturer of the mouse. Foreign balls can be replaced using the pop off method. Domestic balls are replaced by using the twist off method.

Mouse balls are not usually static sensitive. However, excessive handling can result in sudden discharge.

Upon completion of ball replacement, the mouse may be used immediately. It is recommended that each person have a pair of spare balls for maintaining optimum customer satisfaction. Any customer missing his balls should contact the local personnel in charge of removing and replacing these necessary items.

Please keep in mind that a customer without properly working balls is an unhappy customer.
There are versions of this story that are prefaced by the use of the word “allegedly” but this storyteller feels no obligation to question the veracity of the tale being told. In fact, quite the contrary, the set-up makes it clear that what we are being told is true: “This was a real memo sent out by IBM to its employees in all seriousness.”

Now there’s nothing any of us like more than a good joke and this is a good joke. But does it necessarily become any better for being TRUE rather than invented…?

Search for "Mouse Balls" on the excellent myth-busting site, and you will find the version above plus the following information:
The IBM "Mouse Balls" memo is one of the oldest bits of internet jokelore. Examples of it show up in USENET archives as far back as 1989, and scarcely anyone who had an e-mail address back then escaped without receiving this in his inbox more than once, which certainly drops it into the long-beard category with a loud thud.

Was this a real memo? "Real" in the sense that someone at IBM actually wrote it and distributed it to field service techs, perhaps, but it was always intended as an occupational in-joke; it wasn't a "serious" memo that some hapless supervisor inadvertently worded as a hilarious tour de force of double entendres.

The memo has remained remarkably unchanged through the years. As the piece has been passed from hand to hand through cyberspace, a few alterations have been made to the text (the "Please keep in mind that a customer without properly working balls is an unhappy customer" zinger wasn't in the original, and today's "Any customer missing his balls should contact the local personnel in charge of removing and replacing these necessary items" used to be "Any customer missing his balls should suspect local personnel of removing these necessary functional items"), but for the most part what turns up in inboxes now is fairly close to what was being circulated more than a decade ago.
What is fascinating - if perhaps predictable - is that greater access to information doesn’t necessarily guarantee greater dissemination of TRUTH.

Still, as Pilate asked…

[Illustration: Worth1000]



In case you missed it among the comments to yesterday's blog, SUZANNE solved LISA's word puzzle! Hooray!

The question, you will remember, was:

"What is the only English word when the first letter changes from lower to upper, BOTH the meaning AND the pronunciation change?”

And the answer?

polish / Polish
I really ought to have guessed this as I vividly remember my drama teacher at school, Harry Thorne, making us perform a terrible old music hall routine in an end-of-term show...

FIRST MAN [Coming on stage and singing in a funny (i.e. foreign) accent]:
Kiwi, Kiwi, Cherry Blossom, Nugget,
Kiwi, Kiwi, Cherry Blossom, Nugget,
Kiwi, Kiwi, Cherry Blossom, Nugget...

SECOND MAN [Coming on stage and interrupting]: I say, I say, what do you think you're doing?

FIRST MAN [Still in silly accent]: I'm-a singing in-a POLISH...

Anyway, well done, Suzanne! Although I do think Lisa’s 'clue' that "One of the words will make you lose weight, but only if indulged in excessively,” was, frankly, a bit misleading!


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Saturday 20 January 2007


erhaps you missed it, but the other day Lisa at Brainwash Cafe left a perplexing puzzle among the comments and I’ve been puzzling over it ever since….

Here it is:

"What is the only English word when the first letter changes from lower to upper, BOTH the meaning AND the pronunciation change?”

A plea for an answer only brought this additional clue:

“Hint: the word has 6 letters and begins with letter ‘p’... and YES, one of the words will make you lose weight [this was prompted by my recent blog about pasta], but only if indulged in excessively…”

All solutions welcome. But I have to warn you I can’t give you the answer tomorrow (or in the foreseeable future) because, at the moment, I really don’t know it!!

Friday 19 January 2007


Life is full of curious little fortuosities, isn't it? The picture below landed in my mailbox only hours after I posted yesterday’s blog!

As if in contradiction of my remarks about models managing to rise above the ludicrous circumstances in which photographers place them, comes this image of two young men who appear to have found themselves in an incredibly uncomfortable (not to say compromising!) situation - and really do look rather less than thrilled.

What I want to know is what is going through the minds of these hardy cowhands?

Is the guy on the left perhaps saying, "Right! So it's not actually plumbed in, then?"

Or maybe the chap on the right is asking, "What do you mean, 'That's the loofah'?"

So, gentle readers, it is now----



All entries will be published so long as (in keeping with the bath-time theme) they are reasonably clean or make sensitive use of dashes and asterisks!

Thursday 18 January 2007


When my friend 'Scrooge' reads today's blog he will, undoubtedly, be the first to point out that I always seem to be looking for an opportunity to post pictures of gentlemen in various states of undress --- invariably under the flimsy pretext of making some shallow observation about the use of sexual innuendo by the advertising industry!

He has, you might say, got me banged to rights as This Blog or That Blog make abundantly clear!

So, this time, I’ll spare you the essay and just post these two (before-and-after?) photographs from a recent, trendy black-and-white, glossy magazine photo shoot…

…and leave you add your own comments!

PS: If I was going to make an observation (which, as I say, I’m not) it would be that one really does have to tip one’s hat to models who manage to carry off such potty assignments and still manage to look as though they were doing something rather more dignified!

For those of you not used to visiting my daily Window Gazing blog, today might be as good as any to check out a photograph I've entitled Sacred & Profane. After all, it's as well get this kind of thing over with in one go, don't you think?

Wednesday 17 January 2007


“You drive me CRAZY!” screamed the Female Bear. "I mean C R A Z Y ! ! You lounge around all day doing nothing, saying nothing and then snore and fart all though the night! And what happens when I point out that we’ve nothing in the cave to eat? You go out fishing, are gone for hours and hours and hours on end and catch what? NOTHING! Or you go off looking for honey, are missing for what seems like days and come back with what? NOTHING! Apart from a mass of bee-stings that you spend the next week scratching to death! And if I so much as even open my mouth, utter even the merest word of complaint, suggest that your behaviour is less than perfect, you stomp about, growling and grumbling like the proverbial bear with a sore head! Oh, but my mother was right! I was a FOOL to have ever gone into hibernation with YOU!

The Male Bear said nothing; he simply picked up a very large rock and brought it down on his mate’s cranium with a sickening, skull shattering---


“There!” he said with what might have been a growl or could have been a laugh as he shambled out of the cave and off into the woods to join his mistress, “Now I’m not the only bear with a sore head!”

© Brian Sibley 2006
Read more of my Likely Stories

Tuesday 16 January 2007


Here's some more helpful dietry advice which I pass on in the hope of helping others desperately trying to fight the flab and banish the bulge...

This is a new diet on which - if you follow the SIX EASY STEPS - you are ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEED to loose weight!

It is called...


And this is how it works...

1: You walka pasta da bakery.

2: You walka pasta da sweet shop.

3: You walka pasta da ice cream stand.

4: You walk pasta da restaurant.

5: You walka pasta da table and fridge.

6: You lose weight!

Monday 15 January 2007


Mr Jobs and his chums at Apple are always introducing the New Thing, the Lastest Innovation and this week it was Apple TV...

...and the iPhone.

Apple are the ultimate marketeers of our age. We all want the latest Apple gadget long before we've thought whether or not we really, truly need it!

Actually "want" isn't a strong enough word; "desire" or even "lust for" would be nearer the truth.

It's a bit like the Queen-turned-Witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs...

Witch: All alone, my pet?

Snow White: Why... why, yes, I am, but...

Witch: [Sniffing] Mm-hmm. Baking pies?

Snow White: Yes, gooseberry pie.

Witch: It's apple pies that make the menfolks' mouths water. Pies made from apples like these.

Snow White: Oh, they do look delicious.

Witch: Yes, but wait 'till you taste one, dearie. Like to try one? Go on. Go on, have a bite.
Yes, just one bite and you're a goner!

Anyway, talking of Miss White, I've got an apple product that Apple haven't come up with yet --- The Apple Watch!

And, look! The apple goes round!

Sunday 14 January 2007


My secondary school - being a Sec. Mod. - only taught French to the kids in ‘A’ streamed classes and since I was never an ‘A’-stream pupil I never learned to Parlez Français!

This was a disappointment in only one regard: the school library contained all the ‘Tintin’ books in French - a smart move by an enlightened headmaster who saw it as a way of encouraging those ‘A’-streamers to revise while reading the amazingly exciting exploits of the best boy-adventurer ever!

As a lover of comic art, I used to pore over those books, trying to follow the stories without being able to read the ‘speech bubbles’.

It was some time before I discovered that Belgian author and artist Hergé’s books were also available in ENGLISH! After that, I was able to enjoy The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Shooting Star, King Ottakar’s Sceptre, The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham’s Treasure, Destination Moon, and the rest of Herge’s 23 books featuring Tintin the intrepid boy reporter and his dog Snowy, or Milou in French.

The series also introduced what is now several generations of fans to a fascinating pantheon of evil villains and eccentric friends such as the Thompson Twins (the frightfully English duo of bowler-hatted detectives), Captain Haddock and Professeur Tryphon Tournesol - or to us, non-French speakers, Cuthbert Calculus.

Rounding off our recent lightning visit to Paris was a chance to see an excellent exhibition at the Centre Pompidou devoted to the work of Hergé.

Born Georges Remi in 1907, he adopted the pseudonym Hergé from a reversal of his initials ‘R G’. The exhibition traces Tintin’s career from his first adventure Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, which began serialization in the pages of the children’s magazine, Le Petit Vingtième on January 10, 1929 through to Hergé’s preliminary drawings for his final, 24th, book left unfinished at the time of his death in 1983.

As the exhibition shows, Hergé was not just a comic book artist (though he was a supreme craftsman of that medium with his ability to master the “trick” of “a clear, steady line”), but also a novelist - albeit a graphic novelist.

His painstaking attention to research and detail - a significant feature of his work from the seminal story The Blue Lotus, in the writing of which he had been encouraged by Chang Chong-jen a young Chinese sculpture student who became friends with Hergé while studying at the Brussels Académie des Beaux-Arts.

The portrait that emerges of Hergé is of a man who discovered his vocation very early in life - his first childhood pictures were drawn in comic book format - and who pursued his art with a passion to the extent that when making his drawings he would be so energised and intensely involved in his work that the pressure with which he applied the pencil would often cut right through the paper!

My favourite anecdote gleaned from the exhibition is this recollection by Hergé of his early artistic endeavours: “One day, a pupil took my drawings and showed them to the head teacher Mr Deschamps. He looked at it with a disdainful frown and told me: ‘You will have to produce something different to be noticed.’”

And much - perhaps everything - that one needs to understand about Hergé’s success is found in a statement that he once wrote about his creations: “I love my characters, I believe in them. To me, they are real people. I think I would react they way they do if I found myself in the identical situation in which I place them.”