This is a painting by my good friend and renowned local Gloucestershire artist Sally Williams. It seemed apt given that we’ve had the ‘Beast from the East’ upon us over here in the UK. Why is it that journalists insist on giving weather a title? I don’t remember the dreadful winter of 1964 being given a name.

As usual for us everything, apparently, grinds to a halt and there is panic buying of bread! The present storm is said to arrive with more ferocity ( that is east winds ) in the next few days. I’m in London at present and there is indeed snow here too, which is very unusual. Sledging in Hackney not known to be popular before this.

If you have been forced to stay inside and partake of endless cups of tea, then why not take a look at some more of Sally’s work on this site: Looks good on the wall

She’s there with a few more artists and you can buy prints of selected pieces there. I have always been a fan of her work, it deserves wider exposure. Exposure? Apt word for these freezing days. Stay warm.


16. Load! Aim! Fiiiiiiiiire!

The Battle of Scarborough, from Our Own Correspondent.

Roadworks on the A171 Whitby road had sent the Ang Gonnaseckian Army coach driver on a roundabout route, so roundabout in fact that he had come back on himself, turned right at the lights, followed his nose, made another right at the Mill Inn, Harwood Dale, got in a terrible tangle after that in Dalby Forest and somehow managed to find himself heading straight into Scarborough up Racecourse Hill from the Ayton direction.

“That way, down there!” shouted a few of the more sensible passengers, and the bus turned south towards Seamer. “Hanger right again!” they shouted at the end of Dicky Harper’s Lane, but the driver was not so hot on lefts and rights and turned the other way, east towards Scarborough.

“Right! Right!” they screamed at the end of Stony Haggs, so he went left, heading directly for the Nosepipe HQ in the DIY store on Seamer Road.

“Left! Left!” they cried at The Mere, and to everyone’s relief the coach driver turned right and headed up Oliver’s Mount. Phew. They could get on to the Filey road and thence south to freedom. They didn’t see the Nosepipian look-out, in the crow’s nest on the Hispaniola galleon floating on The Mere. But he saw them.

On top of Oliver’s Mount they ran out of diesel. The Army got out of the bus and looked at the view, and very pretty it was. The only drawback was the large and comparatively businesslike Nosepipe Army now arranging itself in neat patterns in the valley below.

How splendid their squadrons looked in the sunshine. How impressive were their flags and banners, waving confidently in the sea breeze, and how disciplined their movements as they placed themselves in battle formation. The sounds of fife and drum floated up and struck terror into the hearts of all who heard it.

The Ang Gonnaseckian Army, a paltry, frightened, pink-sandalled remnant of what once had been a fearsome fighting force, watched in horrified, paralysed fascination as a double line, each of 250 archers, marched up the hill to within firing range.

The front line knelt, and the back line stood. At a shouted command from a small girl, they all strung arrows, drew back, and aimed.

“FIRE!” shouted the girl and, with a tremendous throbbing and hissing, 500 bowstrings sent 500 brand new and extremely sharp arrows whizzing at lightning speed towards the poor, dismal, self-hypnotised Ang Gonnaseckians.


Potato time, and what’s in a name?

Time to get the seed potatoes for the plot. I go to a brilliant little nursery where the choice is massive and the guidance on what to grow is also great. I’ve tried a few in my time on the plot but last year’s success encouraged me to go with a similar selection.

Potato Head?

I’m hoping for good results from International Kidney which is my new potato choice. second early is Jester which did very well for me last year. There’s huge satisfaction from digging up perfect spuds, it’s like finding big golden eggs in the ground. Equally it’s a grim business when something else has had a dig around your gems and you can tell instantly by how light they are, the inners having been chomped.

Kingmay was one of my main crop choices. It says it’s a waxy spud which will be a change from what I grew last time, which was a version that fell apart in boiling but mashed beautifully.

I could not resist Blue Danube, simply for the colour. Red plants seem to do better for me and discourage the little creatures that want to get there first.

I resisted Arsenal, I need to steer clear of chips.


15. Not so fast, Macdonald.

Our latest episode of Nicky Tams the King of Nosepipe
as told by Gordon Thorburn and illustrated by myself



Not so fast, Macdonald.

You still haven’t had your Meringue Test.

Macdonald scampered up the alleyway which had all the stacks of bathroom tiles. Even running as fast as he was, he still noticed what yucky colours they were.

Reaching the end of the vile tile pile aisle he turned into the next one, which was given over to free demonstrations of the fingernail care kits which were being sold cheaply that week.

Soon he reached the end of the nailfile style trial aisle and, without looking, ran straight into Offer of the Month, which was garden furniture. He tripped over a sun lounger and dived, spread-eagled, onto a shiny white plastic table with an umbrella sticking out of it. The table tipped and slid him onto a shopping trolley, which rolled forward towards a huge glass-fronted cupboard full of power tools.

Precisely at that moment, a Nosepipe soldier was trying out a cordless belt-sander. He had the button pressed in, the one that keeps it going without the trigger, so when the trolley hit him in the back and made him throw the belt-sander in the air, it was still sanding when it came down and landed on Macdonald’s bottom.

The coarse grade sandpaper was through his light cotton strides and his boxers in an instant, and in two instants it had removed the first five of his seven layers of bum-skin and was accelerating up his back. The pain brought his brain into sharp focus. He leaped off the trolley but ran into a huge stack of ten-litre buckets of Brilliant White vinyl emulsion, matt finish. An avalanche of these fell on his head.


The last picture in his mind as he slipped into oblivion was of Tracy. She was walking towards him, smiling and licking her lips, carrying a small tray. On the tray was a tea plate. On the tea plate were… oh no! Two enormous Meringues!

So, Macdonald thought. Goodbye to all that. Goodnight, Vienna. This. Is. It. And he fell back, dead to the world.

You can’t enjoy a good Meringue Test with an unconscious person and so Tracy wandered off. When Macdonald came to, he was alone. Silently he crept towards the exit, where he pressed the No Sale button on the till. The drawer opened and Macdonald was able to whip enough sponduliks to set himself up in a little business.

He hitched a few lifts up the high road and the low road and across the Wolds to Hull, where he opened a cafe near the docks and set about trying to make a name for himself. He tried all different sorts of food to sell. There was ox kidney coated in white chocolate. Kippers with Edinburgh Rock sauce. Mars Bar porridge chow mein, and his greatest disaster, mashed potato with pickled baby-goat’s eyeballs, which he called ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’.


Then, one day, he got confused while making a minced meat pie. He put the beef through the mincer twice by mistake, then rolled it out flat thinking it was the pastry. He cut rounds out of it with his pastry cutter, then got confused again and put the rounds to cook on a griddle thinking they were drop scones.

Oh well, Macdonald thought, when he saw what he’d made instead of the minced meat pie. It was nearly lunch time, so he found a few salady bits and a pickled gherkin, and put them with this minced beef patty thing inside a big flat bap. He dolloped some tomato ketchup on the meat, closed the bun and took a bite of this most novel creation.

Caramba, thought Macdonald, as he ate it. Caramba.

14. The spy who shoved me.

Our latest episode of Nicky Tams the King of Nosepipe
as told by Gordon Thorburn and illustrated by myself



Can Macdonald pass the Meringue Test? 

“I was King Canoe’s batman, manservant or valet, Your Majesty,” declared Macdonald after he arose, giving every word as much weight as he could. “Even as we speak, the King is a prisoner. Outside this very headquarters. He is tied up. In a sack. In the passenger seat of an MG.”

“What kind of an MG might that be?” said King Nicky Tams the Easily Led, who had a knack of going straight to the most unimportant point.

“It is a red MG TC, Your Majesty,” replied Macdonald.


“What, with wire wheels, leather seats and a wooden steering wheel?” Nicky Tams could hardly contain his excitement.

“Exactly so, Your Majesty. It also has a walnut dashboard, proper black knobs and switches, and chromium trim around the dials.”

“Brrrrummmmm, brrrrrummmmmm!!!” said Nicky Tams, already seeing himself touring his new country in this magnificent vehicle and forgetting that there were one or two little difficulties to sort out first.

Time for Tracy, thought Tracy.

She sent two guards to grab the blubbering, sack-headed King Canoe from the MG and had him locked in the Ladies. With a hostile glare, Tracy then turned on the manservant.

“Are you a spy?” she asked, penetratingly, of Macdonald. “Don’t lie to me. We have our own very special way of dealing with liars. We give them…. The Meringue Test!”


“Might I enquire as to the precise nature of…. The Meringue Test?” asked Macdonald, seeming to be very laid back but with his knuckles showing white as he clenched his fists in terror.

“You will be taken from here to a Place of Testing, where you will be given Two Large Meringues!” cried Tracy, her voice shrill with power and peril. “Such Meringues as these are blindingly white, utterly tasteless, and tremendously crisp and fly-away. They are horribly over-sweetened with sugar and saccharine and are filled with disgusting artificial cream.”

“My mother, Queen Scary Mary,” said King Nicky Tams rather wistfully, “used to make really nice sticky meringues. We used to call them Tuesday meringues. She made them on Friday, we ate them on Saturday, and they were still stuck in our teeth on Tuesday.”

“Quite so, Your Majesty,” said Tracy with an irritated little sigh. “But these. These are…. Shop Meringues. Made in Filey.”

The only sound was a deep gulp from Macdonald. Tracy turned to him with a viperous gaze.

“And,” she hissed “the test is this. You have to eat them, both of them, WITHOUT LICKING YOUR LIPS.”

Macdonald turned pale. He trembled from top to toe and his left nostril twitched in fright. His desperate eyes scanned the DIY store for a Fire Exit. He couldn’t see one. With a ghastly cry, like a howling beastie on a midnight marsh, he shoved Tracy out of the way and ran for it.

Batman lives in Sheffield, well he would would​ n’t he?


There I was in Walkley, which is on a hill in Sheffield. Everything seems to be on a hill in Sheffield, which perhaps explains why the roads seem to slip and result in probably more pot-holes than anywhere I’ve ever experienced. The only vehicle that might survive this is likely to be a batmobile. There it was, parked at an angle to the hill to prevent slippage.

I was there to help son Joe open his brand new coffee shop. He’s a bit of a coffee freak so this is a bit of a dream come true. He’s pretty adept at the customer service bit too, with an easy manner and a great line in patter. He can “talk for England” about the beans or his other favourite subject: “Hip-Hop”, which I believe is a sort of music as we oldies say.

It’s a tiny little coffee bar on South Road in lovely wind-swept Uptown Walkley, and if you are in the area then go in and say hello, but talk about the weather or anything except coffee, or you’ll be there for days. While you are there then why not partake of one of their brilliant sandwiches too, I had one on the way back from Yorkshire yesterday. I slept for half an hour afterwards, to get my breath back for the onward journey. His chef Max makes the sandwiches and they are a work of art. You can see more about them at their website : joespresso

It’s what you might call an understated website: Who, what, where!

If you are on Facebook, then take a look out for them there too.




So there you have it, a snack for Batman and Robin, right there just around the corner from their place in Walkley, and with a good strong cup of coffee, they’ll soon be flying again.



13. The haggis on Burns Night.

Our latest episode of Nicky Tams the King of Nosepipe
as told by Gordon Thorburn and illustrated by myself





The haggis on Burns Night.

He’s a quick thinker, Macdonald, but is Tracy quicker?



When King Canoe had stopped running about and panicking after hearing the news of the invasion, Macdonald put a call through to the General Officer Commanding, Ang Gonnaseckian Army. The young private soldier on the switchboard was able to relay the call to the General’s personal wireless operator, who was crouching behind a bush by the 13th tee of the Scarborough South Bay golf course.

“Put the General on, soldier. General, sir? I have His Majesty the King for you,” said the scheming manservant Macdonald.

“General,” said the King. “The Nosepipians have invaded. They are, as we speak, eating saucers of whelks on the seafront and refusing to pay. See to it.”

And so it was, after a very fast back-street ride in a jeep by the General, that the remnants of the once proud Army of Ang Gonnasec boarded a clapped out old bus on the parade ground at Burniston Road barracks and drove off northwards, away from the town and the invaders.

As they headed across the moors they threw their bobble hats out of the windows and sang dirty songs about King Canoe who, at that moment, was crumpled up on the floor at Castle Howard, crying his eyes out, having been kicked hard in the dangly bits by Macdonald.

The untrusty manservant then put a sack over the King’s head, tied his hands together, and forced him at finger point into the MG TC. With the top fastened down, Macdonald drove as fast as he could from Castle Howard to Scarborough.

Coming in on Seamer Road, past four huge metal sheds selling fitted kitchens, six huge metal sheds called garden centres and eight huge metal sheds selling DIY stuff, Macdonald saw the Nosepipe flag flying over the DIY metal shed nearest the town. Clearly, this had been taken over by the invaders and set up as their HQ.

“How clever of them,” thought Macdonald. “So easy to do. Those places are always completely empty of people.”

The Nosepipe flag, by the way, was a Dormouse Argent Rampant in Gules, with the motto Balenae In Fossis Ululant.

This – a silver dormouse on its hind legs against a red background, with the Latin for The Whales are Howling in the Ditches, had been thought up years before by King Nicky Tams The Genius, who was so clever that nobody could understand him at all.

Macdonald parked the car, flashed his Dennis the Menace Fan Club membership card at the sentry and marched in, demanding to see whoever was in charge.

In front of him he could see a boy, sitting on a canvas chair and wearing a crown. Standing beside the boy was a girl. Macdonald looked at both of them and realised instantly that although the King was the King, the girl – whoever she was – was in charge. This, he could see, would require tact, sensitivity, charm, diplomacy, and a lot of slimy, greasy, belly wriggling creepishness.

Macdonald dropped onto one knee and bowed his head, as he’d seen the knights in armour do in the old black and white films.

“My liege,” he said.

“Your what?” inquired King Nicky Tams, who had not seen the same films.

“His liege,” whispered Tracy. “You are his liege.”

“Oh, right,” said Nicky Tams. “Right.”

There was silence for a minute or two.

“What’s a liege?” said King Nicky Tams.

“He is submitting to you as his King and liege lord,” whispered Tracy into the Royal lughole. “Say, ‘Arise Good Sir Knight’, and then I’ll try and find out what the creep is after.”

King Nicky Tams cleared his throat and looked as haughty and regal as possible.

“Arise, good Sir Creep,” he said. “And what are you after tonight?”

12. But first, call out the Guard!

Our latest episode of Nicky Tams the King of Nosepipe
as told by Gordon Thorburn and illustrated by myself



They don’t want to come out because of their pink uniforms.

We need to go back a while here, to before Canoe was King. It had long been the tradition in Ang Gonnasec, as in most countries with Kings, that the young males of Royal Blood should spend some time in the armed forces. In Ang Gonnasec, this usually meant two years in a crack regiment in the army – as an officer, naturally, not a corporal or anything like that.

A crack regiment is not, as you might think, one that has cracks in it. Oh no. Quite the opposite. A crack regiment is an absolutely superduper one in which all the officers and men are hard nuts. The officers are slightly mad and have nothing at the backs of their eyes. The men have very short hair, tattoos on their bulging arms and huge chests, and can say rude words without moving their lips.

When the young Prince Canoe reached his 18th birthday he was sent to do his two years of soldiering in the crack regiment called the King’s Own 12th/13th Throat Slitters.

They made him climb up massive dangly nets and scramble over high walls, and swing across deep muddy rivers on a rope which he always let go of, because his weedy arms were too feeble to support his great fat flabby body.

He had to crawl through long tunnels, with the Sergeant Major shouting at him and throwing in Thunderflashes to hurry him up.

Prince Canoe was most unhappy. He wanted to go home. When he asked if he could, the Sergeant Major gave him 500 press-ups to do. After the press-ups, Prince Canoe decided he’d better write a letter to his father.

Canoe’s father was a small, smart, extremely straight laced and upright sort of a man with a neat moustache called King Osbert. That’s the man who was called King Osbert, not the moustache.

In shaky writing after 500 press-ups, the demoralised Prince Canoe wrote:

Dear Papa, I hate it here. I can’t do anything I like doing, and I can only do things I don’t like doing. It isn’t fair. Please forgive me about the chocolate egg you had bought for Mama’s birthday. I didn’t mean to eat it. It wasn’t my fault. Please let me come home and I’ll always be good, and I’ll be nice to the servants.

Your ever loving son, Canoe (HRH).

In the Olden Days, there used to be post collections and deliveries several times a day and so Prince Canoe had his reply in a few hours. He opened the envelope in a dizzy moment of hope. His father would save him. He’d soon be going home. Hurray! This is what he read.

Dear Son and Heir,

Please do not bother me with such a lot of chicken-hearted drivel. Are you a Royal Prince, or what? Brace up, boy! It’ll make a man of you and get some of that weight off.

To show you that I am not entirely deaf to the entreaties of my own flesh and blood, I am arranging to have you transferred to a different regiment.

Your loving father,

Osbert Rex.

Prince Canoe thought “Good-oh. Catering Corps, here we come,” but he was wrong. King Osbert had decided that the original regiment was not crack enough and so had him re-enlisted in the 42nd Highland Gut Scrunchers. These were the boys whom none of the other regiments would go anywhere near. They were the hardest of the hard.

They knew neither fear nor pain but they could make nothing of a great wobbly lump of Royal lard. They were delighted when the King, thinking that a cavalry regiment might be the answer, moved the Crown.

Prince to the East Riding Light Pulverisers, based in Pocklington.

A veil must be drawn over Prince Canoe’s attempts to play polo with the other cavalry officers. Suffice it to say that word got around and soon there wasn’t a polo pony within a hundred miles of Pocklington that would allow Canoe on its back.

The Pulverisers even tried to get him on a Suffolk Punch, seventeen hands and a real warhorse, but it had a nervous breakdown and finished up pulling a milk float in Driffield.

Eventually the two years was up and Prince Canoe could leave the army. He immediately began planning his revenge. The faint smile on his lips turned into a broad grin when he heard that his father, King Osbert, had died in very strange circumstances.

The King had been out on official duties, opening the new waffle shop on Scarborough North Bay Promenade, when the weather had turned cold. The metal of his crown – gold, naturally, and an excellent conductor – began to contract, squeezing his head tighter and tighter.

This would not have mattered normally. He could have said something to one of the people there who would have poured a kettle of hot water on his head and prised the crown off.

Unfortunately the King was eating a King Prawn Tikka Masala waffle at the vital moment. He tried to speak with his mouth full, a prawn went down the wrong way, and Osbert became the first and only member of his family to die from the combined effects of Coronetal Constriction of the Temples with King Prawn Tikka Masala Waffle Asphyxia.

Needless to say, a special paving stone was carved from Shap granite, showing a crowned prawn sitting on a waffle, and you can see it to this day outside where the Corner Cafe used to be.


Hardly had the old King been lying five minutes in the family vault than the young King had his revenge on the army. He proclaimed that henceforth all regular and volunteer-reserve soldiers would have to wear a new uniform, which consisted of a powder-blue woolly hat with a pink bobble, a pink and white shell suit with a King Canoe logo on it, pink and powder-blue striped socks, and open-toed pink plastic sandals.

How he laughed when he thought of all those macho he-men having to wear such a uniform. But they wouldn’t wear it. Apart from a few no-hopers with nothing else to do, they deserted in droves. Many of the better ones ended up as mercenaries in the army of the Kingdom of Nosepipe.

Macdonald knew all about this and he rightly guessed that staying with King Canoe in the present emergency would make his chances of survival slim, rather less than those of a haggis on Burns Night.