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Topics - Gyppo

I'm re-reading one of the very early stories by Jack Higgins, Hell Is Always Today,  and came across a sentence which jumped off the page as being absolutely perfect as it stands.  Totally 'fit for purpose'.

One of the characters has just complimented a young woman, and as result...

'She smiled right down to her toes.'

No fancy adjectives or adverbs thrown in to pad it out, or 'explain' it.  Just the plain words.  He leaves the reader completely free to draw on parallels from their own memory bank of special smiles and bring the moment to life.

I've seen that smile a few times, and it totally ignores the logical physical impossibility of a smile that big.


The Bar & Grill / The car which wouldn't die.
December 09, 2022, 10:43:38 AM
Cars are funny things.  There was one doing the rounds in Looe which had at least four new owners each year.  It was an Austin  - model unspecified - made in the year(s) when they provided full passivation of the bodywork before painting, and when both undercoat and paint were noticeably thicker.  So it stood up to the Cornish seaside weather exceptionally well.  It had never been stored in a garage, although it may have enjoyed a car port once or twice.  There was about 250,000 miles on the clock.  One of the local garages took an almost paternal interest in making sure it was fit enough to pass the annual MOT test.

In theory it was an 'Old Farts' car, a boring old saloon, but countless local lads bought it cheap, learned to drive, and then sold it on.  The last I heard, a good few years ago, the motor had finally died but someone else had recently rolled a compatible donor car - a write off in insurance terms - so a fairly new motor went into the old car and it continued to serve as a training vehicle.

One interesting side effect was the Cornish - who often drive like lunatics - treated the 'learner car' with surprising gentleness.  I think none of them wanted to be known as 'the young bugger who finally killed it off'.

I've often speculated on just how much money changed hands over the years.  Probably a hell of a lot more than the original price all told ;-)

I only found out about it because a workmate owned it for a couple of months until he passed his test and bought something with a bit more 'Go' in it.

If it still exists it's probably old enough now to be 'Tax Exempt', which will make it even more desirable for impoverished young drivers.

   The Curse Of A Literal Mind
        (Which is often a blessing for writers.)

   When I was a kid we were camping for a few days at Copythorne, in the The New Forest.  My 'somewhat feral' godmother lived about half a mile up the road and Mum told her where to find us.

   When Olive  turned up  we were all sat on the grass around the primus stove - we never had camping chairs - waiting for the kettle to boil.  Olive, who always liked to pretend she was tired, looked a little put out because there was nowhere specific for her and her daughter to sit down.  But when you're young and supple the ground is seat enough.  Lumps of log and wooden boxes only appear if you're in one place long enough.

   "Hello, Olive,"  said Dad.  "Pull up a blade of grass and sit down."

   For years afterwards, until I made the mental connection with 'pull up a chair', I assumed this was some kind of rural ritual and religiously pulled up a blade of grass before plunking my bony little arse on the ground.

   Mum and Dad smiled at this 'funny little habit', but never asked me why.

   My life has been, and still is, full of this kind of instant misconception, although my adult brain cycles rapidly through other possibilities and - usually - works out the correct meaning through the context.

   This swift appraisal may be why, I didn't accept the literal offer when I unexpectedly visited an old workmate at his bakery in Salisbury.  He greeted me with a cheerful "Bloody hell, look what the wind's blown in.  Come on in, piss in the sink and make yourself at home."

   Legend has it that they once had an apprentice who took this at face value on his first day.

The Bar & Grill / Motor-Gob Syndrome.
December 08, 2022, 11:15:16 PM
The last few days I've been increasingly glad that I don't have a television.  But I occasionally watch a few bits of 'News' on you tube.  Sometimes it is truly fascinating stuff and I wish I had a transcript to read later.

Why is it that the 'celebrity' so-called 'experts' on almost every subject appear to be deaf, or mentally incapable of hearing anything except their own voice.

When people are training to be phoneline Samaritans they are told you have two ears and one mouth.  So listen at least twice as much as you talk.  (It's really not a bad guideline.)

But the 'talking heads' seem to spend all their time talking over each other, or pursuing  their own agenda no matter what questions are asked.

I watched part of a segment where Piers Morgan and three guests were all babbling away simultaneously and I turned it off.

It was like swimming pool sounds, all jumbled and meaningless.

Is this meant to be informative?  If so it failed totally.  Is it meant to be entertainment?  If so it failed again.  Is meant to piss me off?  If so it succeeded totally.

Debate and dialogue are a two way street.  What I saw tonight was a collection of Motor-Gobs, each powering ahead regardless.  Individually they may nice, or at last interesting -  people.  Collectively they're a waste of time.

They may - just may - have had something worth saying, but it was like trying to read a badly written typescript, full of errors and spurious spaces, typed on odd sized sheets of paper with a faded ribbon.


The Bar & Grill / The half-hard dog ;-)
December 08, 2022, 10:06:27 AM
The view from my office window is ever-changing, ever-fascinating.

The dog walkers and their animals fascinate me at times.  Now the weather is colder - this morning the grass was stiff with frost and the pavements were white - the girl who normally romps by in her shorts and a t-shirt was well wrapped.  But her dogs - she walks several - were still relying on their natural coats.

However, one man has decided his dog needs an extra coat.  This is a light pink affair, and it looks somewhat incongruous on a black dog.

The dog, quite clearly, is not too impressed.  Today it has managed to shrug it halfway off .  The owner, stomping along ahead of his dog on a long lead, either hasn't noticed or doesn't care.

The coat is hanging down one one side, like the caparison of a medieval warhorse, almost touching the  ground.  The raised edge runs along the dog's spine.

From one side there's a cossetted pet, protected from the elements.  On the other side there's a well-hard dog, untroubled by the frost.


The Bar & Grill / Advertising language. Really?
December 06, 2022, 09:21:30 PM
    You never know what's going to drop into your letterbox.

    I know that advertising language  and the desire to be different can lead a copywriter down some twisted pathways, but...

    'Improving the architecture of toppings.'  ;-)

    And it may just be me, but a blue burger?

    Amongst the list is a burger with a 'charcoal black' bun.  In which case maybe they need to shoot the photographer or printer.You cannot view this attachment.

I generally write my longer posts in my word processor and then cut and paste them into the posting box here, but for short posts I often don't.  I've been a bit fumble-fingered of late and this leads me to ask...

Is there, or did there used to be, a built in spell-checker on this forum?  If yes, where has it gone?

If I was still teaching classes I'd print this out as a poster.

Left click to enlarge.
The Bar & Grill / "Grandad's Giant Peach!"
December 02, 2022, 10:48:51 PM
We went into the woods to cut some holly for Christmas decorations.  When we got back I found dogshit on one of my sandals and a sizeable spread up one leg of my trousers.  I guess this came about because of lifting my legs higher to step over brambles and other obstructions. 

So I stood in the kitchen, taking my trousers off to put them through the washing machine, along with an extra helping of soap and a large splash of Dettol.  As I was feeding them in through the washing machine door I heard laughter behind me.

"Grandad...  Your underpants are falling down."

I've got both hands occupied, trying to get the shitty trousers into the machine without smearing anything onto the door or the front of the machine.  There's nothng I can immediately do to stop them slowly sliding down.

"Well, you don't have to stand there and look.  Go out into the hallway or something."

"But it's funny."

"Go away."

"Mummy!  Come and look.  I can see Grandad's Giant Peach."  The little madam was loving it ;-)

By then the trousers were inside the machine so I was able to reach back and curtail my underpants' inexorable slide before they revealed too much.

Two hot washes later I felt the trousers were clean enough  to hang them out on the line.  But I did another totally empty hot wash with another generous helping of soap and even more Dettol.

In the morning I looked at my sandals, still out on the doorstep, and decided they were worn-out enough to just chuck them in the waste bin rather than clean them off.

Time to break in a new pair, which were waiting in the cupboard because I bought three pairs of my favourite style and make when they were on a very special offer a couple of years back.

   My Grandaughter went to the doctor to have a vaccination recently.  Prior to this event she'd been vehemently saying 'nobody's going to stab me in the arm'.  But she's seen her Mum go through with it, despite a real fear of needles, and decided it would be alright.

   On the day they arrived at the surgery and she rolled up her sleeve ready.  Being what we always called 'a brave little soldier' back when we had mass injections at school ;-)

   The nurse cheerfully told her she didn't need to do that because it would be administered with a nasal spray.  She doesn't like sudden changes of plan and nearly went into a full-on autistic refusal to play by the new rules.

   Her Mum calmed her down and explained to the nurse that an autistic little friend of hers, about the same age, had been given the jab because he 'couldn't stand people messing with his nose'.

   The nurse said it was 'surgery policy now.  Everyone under eighteen gets the spray.  It's either this or nothing'.

   So she grudgingly accepted the spray.  (I think our little rebel is slowly starting to learn which battles are worth fighting.)

   I asked her later how it felt.

   "It was bloody vile, Grandad.  Like having curried snot forced up my nose."

   "It was disgusting.  But Mum took me for a milkshake afterwards to get rid of the taste."

   Making It Look Easy

   Imagine three young men, not quite twenty, sleeping in a little touring caravan at a campsite in Devon.  It's a bright summer morning, and the van's already getting hot.  We're all still pretty well hung over from the night before

   We're woken by the sound of someone struggling to back his caravan into the space alongside us.  The poor sod is making a real balls of it as I pull open the curtain and watch for a few seconds.  The other two are also watching.

   The driver is a chunky red-faced guy, wrestling with the steering wheel as if he hates it and every time he tries to back up the rear wheels of his car are lifting and spinning on the dew-laden grass, engine revving wildly.  Let's just call him 'Chunky', for convenience.

   Roy, the driver of our trio of rogues, is nearly pissing himself laughing.  "Do you think I should go out and back it in for him?"  At this point Roy has only six hours of van towing experience himself, from the overnight trip to Devon.  But he never lacked confidence, no matter how misplaced.

   Chunky's wife is obviously giving him grief.  We can't hear her above the engine noises, but her chin is bouncing up and down like one of those old fashioned ventriloquist's dolls.

   After a particularly angry looking exchange the back door opens and a younger girl, who we assume is his daughter climbs out and stands alongside.  Whether she's supposed to be guiding him or has just bailed out in self preservation we never discover.

   She's bloody gorgeous.  Slim, long black hair, brown eyes, stretching the travel kinks from her body, and still half asleep after their night trip.

   Ox-Man, who quietly fancies himself as something of a lady killer, makes some comment to this effect and reaches for his shirt, starting to get dressed to help out and introduce himself

   I slide into my jeans and step out, barefooted, shirtless, long hair all over the place liked some teenage Mowgli, walk over, and tap on Chunky's window.

   He glares at me, presses on the accelerator again and once more  lifts the back wheels.

   "You need to release the caravan brake."

   If you don't know caravan brakes have a purely mechanical 'over-run' mechanism which kicks in when you stop quickly, or when you're rolling downhill to stop the 'tail wagging the dog'.  The latter is very disconcerting.

   Behind me I hear Ox-man saying to Roy, "Bloody hell.  Like a greyhound from the slip.  Looks like Gyppo's seen a girl he fancies."

   Chunky glowers at me but pulls forward a bit.

   I unlatch the brake, wind down the jockey wheel until the hitch lifts clear, pop the connecter for the lights, and just wheel the van backwards away from his car.  There is a slight downward slope which helps, but isn't enough to make it run away from me.

   I line it up alongside ours and asked the daughter if she knows where the 'winder' is.  With an amused smile she takes it out  from a clip built into the tow bar.

   "Is this what you need?"  I wind down the jacks at the back to get it roughly level.

   I get grudging thanks from Chunky, a very judgemental look from the mother, and a bigger smile from the daughter.  They quickly chivvy her inside the van.  Perhaps too much teenage testosterone for that early in the morning ;-)

   By this time the other two have emerged from our van, a bit more properly dressed, and are  making noises about 'getting some breakfast'.

   Over the bacon and eggs Ox-Man, six foot four and built like a junior Schwarzenegger, chides me gently.  "You didn't have to make it look so bloody easy.  It would probably have impressed her more if you'd strained just a little."

   "But it was easy.  Like a lot of things when you know how."  Why make a show of strength and effort when it isn't needed?  I was always annoyed by the 'showy grunters' at work..

   That night, in the pub on the campsite, they kept their daughter on a very tight rein.  Couldn't stop her smiling though, or talking to me at the water tap the next day.   

   Turns out the car and van were both hired just for the holiday, and that Chunky, purely by virtue of his longer drive down from Yorkshire, had only few more hours towing experience than Roy ;-)

I am currently smiling to myself at the mental image of our Mayor and the Council ceremonially kneeling down en-masse and paying homage to the 'bin lorries', rather like Arabs facing Mecca.

Why?  One of those ambiguous sentences which can be read in more than one way.  My italics.

We are currently experiencing a high number of staff absentees due to sickness and holidays. In addition, there is the ongoing challenge of recruiting staff who are qualified to safely drive and load the refuse collection vehicles which many Councils are facing.

The Bar & Grill / Song Lyrics can be bloody dire.
November 20, 2022, 08:41:39 PM
As 'word people' we can't help noticing some truly egregious examples in songs.  Sometimes they're a forced rhyme which makes you groan.  Such as...

"...dont go out into the rain 'case you might melt, Sugar.
The weather's miserable, and you're so kissable."

I always thought that was one of the worst, but today I stumbled across something even more bizarre.


    I stumbled across this song  when I was looking for a couple of older links.

    The title?  'Every time you undress, I hear symphonies in my head.'  Overly poetic, sure, but the video suggests it's a bizarre reality

    The lyrics are dire, the voice is awful, but the accompanying video is insane.  Pretty mundane until about the forty four second mark.

    This could well explain the falling birthrate ;-)

If you have a wide and varied vocabulary you will instinctively use words which some readers will see as pretentious, and they will feel the writer is showing off.  As writers we're probably happy enough to take a few seconds to 'look it up' when we meet an unfamiliar word.  other readers may be irritated by these interruptions to the flow of the story.

This is not a suggestion that we should 'dumb down' our writing, but a question for my fellow writers.

I am currently re-reading a series of books, and as I'm reading them almost straight after each other I've noticed the author has one word he uses in nearly all of them.  Occasionally several times in the one book.

Etoliation or etoliated.  Used to describe faded or time worn signs and buildings, and occasionally the landscape around his main charcter.

Look it up if it's unfamiliar to you.  In a gardening context you may be well aware of the effect, even if you've not encountered the word.

It's a good word, but perhaps not always the best one to use when faded or sun-bleached would maybe be a better match to the sentences around it.


I find I use fortuitous perhaps more often than is appropriate when a simple lucky would be quite sufficient.  If I find it leaping off the page when I read through the first draft sometimes I change it.  Not always.

My question ...

Do you have a favourite 'fancy' word which jumps out at you from your own work?

The Bar & Grill / Magic Mushrooms' in the kitchen?
November 19, 2022, 08:19:45 PM
    I am not the only one in my family who re-purposes things to serve another useful purpose ;-)

    My eldest lass had a loose door handle on her kitchen cabinet which kept pulling off and was pretty much beyond repair or 'bodging'.  What she did have however were some decorative wooden 'magic mushrooms  from another project.

    With a bit of fancy string,  a small screw-eye, and a toggle on the inside of the door this was her quirky solution.     

     I suspect this temporary fix may last several years.

    Left click to enlarge.

The Bar & Grill / Something to ponder...
November 18, 2022, 08:32:52 AM
As writers we often maintain the childhood tradition of 'imaginary friends'.  Well,that's how it seems to non-writers when our characters also beocome part of our everyday lives.

Here, from 1974, is a song about a young lady who, possibly, took this to a whole new level.

This is storytelling disguised as song ;-)

Poet's Corner / Voices On The Wind.
November 14, 2022, 08:44:29 PM
Voices On The Wind

Occasionally it truly happens.
You hear your name on the wind,
and you fight it.
Wishful thinking,
a guilty conscience,
acoustic tricks,
a psychological aberration?

Recognising the voice
your sane self says ignore it.
If it's the dead calling
you acknowledge their hold,
their place in your memory,
and then let them go.
It seems to satisfy them.

When it's a long-lost friend
you can ignore the prompt,
or reach for the phone,
or pen and paper
and try to reopen contact.

The weeds on the pathway
may have grown too long,
the easy route lost to time.

Occasionally it works.

The Bar & Grill / As always. Lest we forget.
November 13, 2022, 10:24:54 AM
That time of year again.
The Bar & Grill / Low noise fireworks
November 05, 2022, 05:53:23 PM
If the weather gives me a chance.  Half an hour will do.

Low noise fireworks, lots of pretty colours but not much louder than the muted pop of a silenced .410 shotgun.

You cannot view this attachment.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm truly equipped to live in this bloody century.

My mobile phone died yesterday.  A complete black screen.  Nada.  Zilch.  Zero.

Even the rarely used torch setting did nothing.

This seemed a bit ironic as I'd only just answered a question on Amazon about this same phone for someone who was thinking of buying one.  But life's like that, sometimes.

I put it on charge and left it alone for a couple of hours.  When I got back I flicked the torch switch and the the light worked.  But that was all.  No menus etc.

I unplugged it and the torch stopped working.

"Right, you little bugger, let's troubleshoot."

If the light only works when it's plugged in, maybe the battery is dead.  Seemed a reasonable assumption.  Time to break out the voltmeter.

Battery wasn't dead, in fact it was disgustingly healthy.  But the torch function still remained resolutely off.

"Yes....  Fish out the manual."

I have a cardboard folder full of these.  I occasionally thin out the ones for appliances which I no longer own.

The Doro manual  is very tiny print, and late last night I really didn't feel like struggling with it.

This morning I rechecked the battery.  Still good.  Still a black screen of death and no response from the buttons.  Resolved to catch the next bus down town and visit the phone man.  I know he'll try and sell me another - and far more complicated - phone, but if it's a simple fault he'll fix it there and then.

With just under an hour until bus time I made a coffee and sat looking at the recalcitrant phone.  Re-read the manual, which is easy enough to read in daylight, even with my shop-worn eyes.  I decided to go right back to the very basics, and if necessary do a 'factory reset'.

But this requires you to open the menu and visit the settings.  Kind of impossible with a black screen.

So I went back a bit further still to the initial start-up instructions on that little slip of paper with the tiny print.  And there was the answer.

To turn your Doro On/Off.

It dawned on me that I have never turned it right off since I got it.

I pressed the appropriate button  and held it down, and my phone burst back into life.

Everything was there, the battery was fully charged, etc.

I must have accidentally 'pocket dialled' the on-off button.

That has now been nailed in place at the top of my mental checklist if it dies on me again.

Looking back it may well have been turned off by a mischievous corner on my Kindle when I slipped it into the same shirt pocket.

Or perhaps they were colluding just to wind me up ;-)