Oct 19th

In times of trouble..put the kettle on!

By jackie v


 I have just received a text from Donald Much-Humper. He and his wife, Sherry, have said goodbye to a Russian boy and his Mama after 3 weeks. It has gone well. Donald did the activities and Sherry did the teaching. All seemed very satisfied with this solution.


At Heathrow, Donald noticed that he could hardly lift the suitcases. He wondered what the Russian Mama had bought that would weigh the case down so much. He knows better than to question a Russian Mama whose husband had links to the ex KGB. Keep walking! No talking!


Sergei is 13 but going on 65 with regards to interests. He accompanied Donald most afternoons to the Allotment and helped him paint the shed and cultivate the potatoes and tomatoes. The strawberries it would appear, were not ripe yet. He had been studying with Donald on a Hometuition Course where he lives with his Tutor in a full Immersion Course with Lessons. Previously, he had done this in New Zealand, but the Russian Mama had declared Auckland to be devoid of culture and fashion!


“There is a huge Black Market for Marmite right in the centre of Moscow, dont ya know!Moscow! “


Mama meanwhile went out with Sherry and trolled around the shops in Brighton; Chichester and Guildford.

 . Sherry declared one night over dinner, “there appears to be a lot of flexing of American Express” . Platinum, of course!




Anyway back to Check in.    Donald couldn’t lift the suitcase, without the assistance of a rather nice boy from the Aeroflot Counter!  The pair of them lifted it and both grew rather red in the face.  It was, as you can imagine, well over the limit and then some!    Did she want to empty some of the content out or pay the extra.  The Platinum card was produced with a flourish.   They paid the extra!


Back home over Horlicks and Rich tea biscuits, Donald and Sherry wondered what was in the case to make it so heavy.  “ Did they ask her to open it?” asked Sherry.


“ Not a bit of it, “ said Donald, as he purposefully dunked his Rich tea into the Horlicks


“ I shall write to her then” declared Sherry “ its all rather odd and added to that she has left all of her clothes behind in the spare bedroom!”


Fast forward to a week later


“ I have a reply from Olga” ( Russian mama of Sergei) ) and you wont believe it “


Sherry was almost beside herself with excitement


“ Well come on, Old Girl, spill the beans!” ( this is English slang for tell me all your news, at once!)


Well, the reason why the suitcase was so heavy is because she filled it with jars of Marmite


“ Marmite?” repeated Donald. “Did you said, Marmite?”


“Indeed, I did, Donald. Apparently she can go home and sell it there. There is a huge Black Market for Marmite right in the centre of Moscow! So that explains why she left all of her clothes behind. She completely filled her suitcase with Marmite. All sizes as well”


Donald and Sherry looked at each other. “ There is nowt so queer as folk” and Donald scratched his head. “ Fancy a cuppa, Old Girl?”


“ Indeed I do, “ said Sherry. “… and don’t worry, our next student is from China, so it will be a walk in the park” and with that she went and put the kettle on, as all British do in times of worry




Jul 26th

Transport for London and the Congestion Charge

By Mary B

Transport for London and the Congestion Charge

Did you know you could pay the Congestion Charge without even needing to – and Transport for London will not allow you a refund.


On Friday (the day is important) I drove to London. I used my satnav to direct me to an address in North East London. My route should not have taken me anywhere near the Congestion Charge area.


However, as so often is the case, the satnav had a fit. My satnav is actually my mobile phone running Google Maps, which I, mostly, find excellent. We lost the GPS signal as we drove through the Blackwall Tunnell. I should have just driven straight north on the A12 but as a slave to my satnav I followed directions which seemed rather strange after GPS was re-established. I saw signs to the Isle of Dogs and seemed to be heading towards Tower Bridge – now that’s just not right, I knew that much. I ended up driving through all sorts of tiny back streets and was really, completely lost. I kept seeing signs for the Congestion Charge and I knew I didn’t want to get into that…….at one point I thought I had turned right just before it started, but I couldn’t be sure.


Eventually I navigated myself out of this mess and found my destination. The day went off successfully and by the time I came home the traffic was so bad that Google Maps took me way off east to the M25 and over the Dartford Bridge.

I was busy on Saturday and so it wasn’t until the early evening that I knew I had to pay my Dart Charge. This charge must be paid by the day after using the Dartford Crossing or a penalty is issued. I then spent considerable time trying to determine whether or not I had entered the Congestion Charge area. As I didn’t fully know where I had driven it was impossible to tell. It was also too late to ask for help from the Transport for London office which by this time was closed.

My decision was to play safe and pay the £14 for Friday and then on Monday ask the nice people at TfL whether I had actually gone into the Congestion Zone or not – and if not, well, I’m sure I would get a refund, after all, they can’t charge for something that didn’t happen – can they……..

So on Monday morning I duly called the Transport for London office – and waited for around 15 minutes before getting through to someone. The lady on the other end of the line told me they had no facility to tell whether or not I had driven into the Congestion Charge zone. I would just have to wait and see if I received a Penalty Charge Notice. I told her that it was for that very reason I had decided to pay. “Oh well” she said, in a rather smug voice, “Well, if you’ve paid then that’s your decision and there is no refund available.” Apparently, if I waited 48 hours I could find out if I had driven into the Congestion Zone. I explained to her that I thought the system was very faulty if it took payment from people whose cars had not been into the Congestion Zone. She confirmed that the system had been the same since it was set up in 2003 although they were working on a ‘live system’ because at the moment there is this delay.

I decided this sort of approach was just not acceptable. I told her I was making a complaint and I would like to speak to her manager. After another long wait I was told that her manager was not available and would only tell me the same as she had told me. That might be the case, I agreed, but I wanted to escalate this issue and I therefore wanted to speak to someone with higher authority. She assured me her manager would phone me back. Two days later I am still waiting for that call.

I decided to try Transport for London again today (Wednesday). I called and got straight through to a charming man called Jo. I explained my situation and he was sympathetic. He took some time to explain the tools that are available on their website to check whether you have entered the zone or not. I explained to him that it was difficult to use the tools when you don’t know where you have driven. TfL are quick enough to issue their PCNs (Penalty Charge Notices) but obviously not prepared to help those who get lost or confused.

He gave me the number of the Enforcement Operatives but I knew what would happen when I spoke to them. Sure enough, they are only prepared to confirm that you have driven into the zone and that you will be receiving a PCN for £130. Apparently no one is able to tell me if my car did not go into the Congestion Charge Zone. This is outrageous and totally unacceptable, given the technology that TfL employ. It seems to me they are all too quick to take our money and not so interested in accuracy or fairness.

It is true that if you pay your PCN within 14 days you get a 50% discount, but, as I explained, £65 is a lot to pay out of a state pension……

So, am I mad to expend any more energy on this?

I feel it is an outrageous situation and that the system is biased against those of us who live outside London and don’t know our way around. Also, I find that as you get older it also gets more difficult to take in all the signs when you are lost and panicking……  I believe the signage relating to the Congestion Charge is also less clear than it used to be. There used to be big C’s on the road so you knew exactly when you had driven over into the zone. They don’t appear to exist any longer.

I don’t suppose TfL will be very sympathetic but as pensioners, most of us cannot afford to pay penalty charges of £65 too often, and it bugs me that I might well have paid my £14 for no reason at all, and no one is prepared to help me establish the truth.




Jul 9th

Curio Bay New Zealand and the Hoiho Penguin

By Sandy H

Curio Bay is a coastal embayment in the Southland district of New Zealand

best known as the site of a petrified forest some 180 million years old


Luck was on my side, the tide was out and I had the chance to explore the bay and the petrified stumps and logs that scatter the bay.

It was an incredible feeling touching something that is 180 million years old.....

The bay was deserted,  and I was standing gazing up above at a beautiful rainbow all was quiet and peaceful.

Suddenly some young lads began calling to me,  they were up above me on the cliff top,

"excuse me excuse me"  they called....


I turned and there right beside me not five metres away stood the most magnificent

Hoiho,  A yellow eyed male penguin.

He was standing so close to me on the rocks I think I could have reached out to touch him.  But new better than to do that.

I had no idea he was there,  I stood very still and quiet so as not to frighten him.

He shuffled his body and turned his back to me.

These were very pecious minutes and I knew I had to move slowly but quickly out of his way.

My last look at this beautiful bird and slowly I moved....

He began calling to his mate,  she came waddling across the rocks towards him.

I moved again,  eventually she waddled up to him and away they went, across the rocks into the safety of their hideaway.



The Hoiho Penguin


Several hoiho or yellow eyed penguins nest in the area around Curio Bay/Waikawa

They are one of the rarest penguins in the world with an estimated total population in New Zealand of between 6000 and 7000

The population has declined because of the clearance of coastal forest in which penguins nest.

They are also affected by introduced preditors, such as stoats, ferrets and dogs.

Which may disturb their nests.

Eggs are laid in September/October and both parents incubate and help rear chicks.

Birds usually leave the nest for the sea early morning, returning late afternoon/early evening.

The Hoiho is an endangered and unique species: a living symbol of the Caitlins.

Distinguished by its distinct yellow eyes and headband, the hoiho is a shy loner and a forest dweller.

Its Maori name imitates its shrill call and translates to 'the noise shouter'


These penguins have excellent eye sight and hearing and are easily frightened.


I feel very fortunate to have seen one so close and hopefully unintentionally did not frighten him too much.



Sep 1st

Treasured Moments Last a Life-time  

By Maureen J



 Since arriving here in Sri Lanka events have been tumbling over each other as one day kaleidoscoped into another. After the amazing birthday party just a few days after our arrival, we had a memorial celebration for three kind and generous people who died some time ago but were responsible for many generous acts during their lifetimes. It was simple, solemn and sincere with seven Buddhist priests in their saffron robes creating a huge splash of colour and adding an aura of great reverence as they sat in a row of high-backed chairs quietly fanning themselves with traditional fans shaped like giant pepal-leaves while the senior monk spoke about the deceased and uttered prayers to which the small family gathering responded. Mind, by European standards, a family of forty-eight descendants of the surviving matriarch would be pretty unusual, and hardly considered small.

Last Saturday we all set off on a family pilgrimage to Kotaragama Temple set on the top of a mountain that was accessed through dense jungle surrounding the slopes of the mountain. Thousands of other pilgrims had the same idea. Many went on foot and climbed up as well as down on the single stone track. I was among others who were taken on a newly concreted road in specially adapted four-wheeled drive safari-jeeps designed to ferry a seemingly endless stream of pilgrims up, then returning for more after carrying others down.

Once there, I have to admit, it was too crowded for me. I had to ask to be taken down almost as soon as we got up. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of claustrophobia in the crowd milling around as they ascended and descended steep stair cases to get from one level to another. The viewing platforms afforded magnificent views but much was obscured by a heavy mist.

We eventually returned to the very comfortable motel until the evening when we went to a second temple at nearby Sithulpauwa. This was smaller but exquisite. Set on top of a smaller mountain we were able to climb up the huge rock that formed its base.

This rock was itself an amazing phenomenon because it was possible to see the swirls of mud that had helped make it millions of years ago. The rock was part of a massive mountain range that stretched as far as the eye could see; like the humped backs of so many undulating giant elephant covered with jungle greenery.

Once on top and standing on the level, meditation-area, it was possible to view all the paths leading out of the jungle to the lake which lay at the foot of the rock and behind the temple. We were rewarded with sightings of two elephants coming to drink as well as watch them enjoy a dust bath, and to capture all on camera for the record.

Returning to our motel via the jungle reserve, we were thrilled with sightings and photographs of peacocks and hens; wild boar and monkey families, as well as an elephant with his head and trunk inside the doorway of a single-decker Leyland bus. The drivers of these vehicles sit directly opposite the doorway and as our car went round the bus we witnessed a very nervous driver getting ready to vacate his seat, (wild elephants can be temperamental) but all was well, the great beast was simply scrounging some tit-bits and the bus soon caught up with us – and I had another once-in-a-lifetime photograph.



Aug 26th

Fact, Fiction and the Internet

By Maureen J



I’m slowly simmering in the heat while trying to gather my thoughts into a cohesive whole after two weeks spent in a whirl of events.

The main one, the reason for my being here in Sri Lanka, was the ninetieth birthday party for my dear friend Wimmilawatte, the matriarch of a forty-nine strong family comprising children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. It took place at the five-star Galadari Hotel in Colombo; a beautiful setting with food to match. There must have been over a hundred different dishes that included sushi-type bites and canapés to curries, various rice dishes, sambals, cakes and sweet desserts with as many attendants as there were dishes ranged like sentinels behind each platter ensuring none ran empty. When it came to the birthday cake and the blowing-out of the candle-bearing numerals, I found myself included with a second cake complete with candled numerals marking my eightieth birthday last May and a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ too. I was so overwhelmed and mesmerized by the whole affair I forgot to take photographs of the banquet; something I hope to remedy when I make a return visit before returning home to UK.

Currently I’m sitting on an upstairs shaded balcony with a fan on full blast. The breeze is just playing through the arches and the palm trees are swaying like Honolulu beauties. Sri Lankan woodpeckers, bluebirds, and blackbirds have been skitting around with the odd little squirrel-like creatures doing trapeze acts along the telephone and electric cables.  The air-conditioning at night is a blessing in the bedroom. The food is sublime. I’ve just eaten a sliced fresh sun-ripened mango and drunk the juice of a king-coconut sipped through a straw to wash it down.

I have also met the two young men with whom I have exchanged short messages on Facebook; fellow students of one of my friend’s great grandsons; they are all preparing for their A levels next year so speak perfect English. Proof indeed that fact is stranger than fiction and the internet enables people everywhere to communicate anywhere in the world.






Apr 8th

Buying a Cow

By Colin L

A farmer had been taken advantage of several times by the
local car dealer. One day, the car dealer informed the
farmer that he was coming over to purchase a cow.

The farmer priced his cow as follows:

* Basic cow........................... $499.95
* Shipping and handling................. 35.75
* Extra stomach......................... 79.25
* Two-tone exterior.................... 142.10
* Produce storage compartment.......... 126.50
* Heavy-duty straw chopper............. 189.60
* Four-spigot/high-output drain system. 149.20
* Automatic fly swatter................. 88.50
* Genuine cowhide upholstery........... 179.90
* Deluxe dual horns..................... 59.25
* Automatic fertilizer attachment...... 339.40
* 4 x 4 traction drive assembly........ 884.16
* Pre-delivery wash and comb............ 69.80
* Additional dealer adjustments:....... 300.00

TOTAL LIST PRICE (Including options): $3143.36

Mar 30th

From: News Thump

By Colin L

National Express unveils new ‘bullet’ coach

NAtional Express bullet coach

National Express are to unveil a high-speed link that could see its coaches travel from Leeds to London in as little as 36 hours.


The new limited stop service will leave Leeds on Thursday mornings and arrive at London Victoria just a day and a half later, travelling via Harrogate, York, Sunderland, Retford, Norwich, Lowestoft, Herne Bay, Dover, Hastings, Worthing, Brighton, Croydon and 28 other towns.


“This shaves nearly five hours off our previous record,” said National Express Group CEO, Simon Williams.


“Customer feedback told us journeys could be a little drawn out – that’s why the ‘bullet’ now has a top speed of 41 mph and only stops twice in Grantham.”


Other features of the luxury service include an on-board toilet designed for travelers who are small enough to climb through a cat flap and an app that counts down the 2,160 minutes until you arrive in the capital.


“National Express continues to fly the flag for high speed commuting in the modern world,” added Mr Williams.


“We won’t be satisfied until we’ve brought this journey down to under 24 hours – and that could happen as soon as 2022.


“Anything from the snack trolley?”


Mar 30th

From: The Daily Mash

By Colin L


UMBRELLA users have announced that everyone else must get out of their way.

The wet weather is causing umbrella owners to block pavements and endanger eyes with their cumbersome rain canopies, then make a huge fuss about ‘shaking it out’.

Office manager Martin Bishop said: “When my umbrella is deployed it’s clearly a signal for other pedestrians to move aside, by leaping into traffic if necessary.

“Umbrellas give you certain rights above other citizens, such as being allowed to barge into them and poke them in the face, which would be assault if you did it with a stick.

“At your destination you are obliged to cause a massive palaver as you frantically ‘shake out’ your umbrella.

“Umbrella users are also entitled to leave them to dry in inconvenient places, such as office corridors or someone’s desk full of paperwork.”

Sales executive Donna Sheridan said: “I favour a stupidly large green-and-white golfing umbrella which I insist on using in even the tiniest amount of rain, as if it’s acid and I might melt.

“But people can be so rude. Today I poked someone in the face and he didn’t even apologise for getting his skin cells on my lovely brolly.”

Mar 16th

From: The Daily Mash

By Colin L

car tunnel 425x265

AN UNDERGROUND road between Manchester and Leeds will disprove the theory that all tunnels have a light at the end of them, it has been claimed.

The planned tunnel under the Pennines is expected to culminate only in a grey, lightless haze at both ends, rendering a key metaphor forever unusable.

Dr Henry Brubaker of the Institute for Studies said: “Manchester and Leeds have both been entirely covered with dense cloud since the Industrial Revolution, populated by bone-white denizens for whom ‘hope’ is the only taboo four-letter word.

“Travelling 18 miles under the Pennines only to find yourself in exactly the same drizzled gloom you left behind will break people, psychologically.

“This tunnel could be as important as the Large Hadron Collider, but instead of discovering subatomic particles it will further our knowledge of misery and despair.”

Leeds resident Donna Sheridan said: “A tunnel with Manchester at the end of it isn’t a tunnel. It’s a missile launch tube.”

Mar 7th

From: The Daily Mash

By Colin L

bus lane 425x265

BUS lanes mean that Soviet Russia is still alive and well in Britain today, a motorist has claimed. 

Nissan Qashqai driver Nathan Muir believes bus lanes, which give large numbers of low-paid workers priority over entrepreneurs, essentially mean that Lenin has won.

He continued: “The Red jackboot, shaped like a bus, stamps on the fingers of wealth creators again and again.

“I see that bus, loaded with grinning children like China’s Cultural Revolution, sail past me each morning and I know the war is over, and the West has lost.

“I don’t mind taxis, they’re Thatcherite. Cyclists remind me of the Viet Cong.”

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