Monday, 30 April 2007

Analyse This!

Thanks to my pal Hackstaple, I was alerted to the story doing the rounds at the moment about the Dorset baker who was hauled over the coals by her local Trading Standards department for selling Robin Tarts. These delicious-sounding, sweet confections have a marzipan effigy of a robin on them, apparently - but not a trace of the bird in the actual ingredients.

Ivan Hancock, Dorset county's trading standards manager, is quoted as saying:

"The fact is that a piece of food needs to be properly described so that the consumer can tell what it is.

There's nothing wrong with using other names but it must be accompanied by the true name of the food.

Consumers have the right to know what is in food."

Personally, I think the same process of labelling should be applied to the brains of (at least some) Trading Standards Officers.

Where will it all end? I was reminded by a post in Crofty's estimable blog, of the delights of the Yorkshire Curd Tart.

When I consumed these in my youth, it never for a minute crossed my mind that they might contain the minced up remains of northern Iraqis who had travelled to our fair county to sacrifice themselves for the good of the White Roser's.

It's political correctness gone mad!

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Ticket to Ride

Just occasionally, the internet reveals a little wonder or two that gets your mind thinking.

A Canadian couple have (apparently) discovered a battered, old, green double-decker bus hiding in California. Since they found it, they've nurtured a dream of buying it and restoring it.

Call me an old romantic fool, but it was on top of a green double decker bus that I first caught the eye of the future Mrs Blunt. She was a little slimmer in those days, of course - nowadays I doubt she'd even be able to squeeze up the stairs. Time takes it's toll on all of us, I'm afraid.

Perhaps it was that memory which led me to making a (small) donation to help Matthew and Sue reach their dream?

The Tower of Babel

As I stumble blindly down the superhighway of the internet, I never cease to be amazed by the tools that are out there to make life easier for us writers.

I recently came across Babelfish and Google Translate, two web tools that endeavour to provide translation of pages. Thomas Hamburger Jnr even suggested I might install these tools here on my blog.

Well, I have news for him. I've tried them out. I took this introductory passage from his own blog:

Esteemed Reader,

Harry McFry inhabits that twilight world somewhere between family history and forensic genealogy. The dull drizzle that always accompanies him as he moves about his hometown seems to sum up the stale, solitary lifestyle of someone held in the thrall of their ancestors' lives.

I sincerely hope, for your own sake, that you have kept yourself free from this same, insistent desire to know 'just one more fact'. Thank you for your patronage.

Thomas Hamburger Jnr

and translated it, via Google Translate, into German - with this result:
Geschätzter Leser,
Harry McFry bewohnt diese Dämmerungwelt irgendwo zwischen Familiengeschichte und gerichtlicher Genealogie. Der stumpfe Nieselregen, der ihn immer begleitet, während er über seine Heimatstadt umzieht, scheint, den verjährten, alleinen Lebensstil von jemand aufzusummieren, das im thrall der Leben ihrer Vorfahren gehalten wird.

Ich hoffe herzlichst, für deinen eigenen Grund, daß du dich frei von diesem selben gehalten hast, hartnäckigen Wissensdurst „gerade eine weitere Tatsache“. Für dein Patronat danke.
I then input this German text into Babelfish, to see what it made of it in English. Here's what came back:
Estimated reader,
Harry McFry inhabits this dawn world somewhere between family history and judicial genealogy. The blunt drizzle, which seems always accompanied it, while it moves over its hometown, that fell under the statute of limitations, to sum all one life-style of someone which is held in thrall the lives of their ancestors.
I hope herzlichst for your own reason that you kept yourself free by this same, persistent knowledge thirst a "straight further fact". For your patronage thanks.
For the sake of the planet, I trust that our political masters don't rely on these tools in their dealings with the people who live abroad. I shudder to think how the world would end up, if that were the case.

Just for the minute, then - no thanks, Thomas.

Friday, 27 April 2007

The thread got better...

I am delighted to report on the recent recovery of the Caption Competition - to the extent that it has now left quarantine. It may, however, still be infectious, so you are advised not to contribute anything too funny. I will continue to report on its progress.

When Moderators Get Mad!

Readers of my recent post on the role of Moderators in internet forums will doubtless be interested in some further developments on the site in question.

To the sound of egg-shells being crushed under size 9 boots, another Caption Competition has been the subject of the Moderators' attention.

I do need to declare an interest at this point, as the photograph was posted in this instance by none other than my brother, Colin Blunt. Those who are aware of the history of our family will know that there is no love lost between my older sibling and myself. Our mutual hatred and dislike has developed over a number of years, and our contact with each other has been very much at the level of the occasional (not always even annual) Christmas card.

Nevertheless, it's a brave man who accuses Bill Blunt of walking away from an issue. As I am not strictly on speaking terms with Colin, I cannot at this stage say that he knows that his photograph has been 'quarantined' for examination by site Moderators. In that sense, it hasn't been the subject of posts being removed or anything quite so severe. It is merely unavailable for viewing.

So, I can only speculate why this apparently innocuous photograph has been (hopefully only temporarily) removed.

Is it that the hairstyles sported by these dashing young boys are offensive?
Does the policeman's cheeky grin give a less than serious impression of our wonderful constabulary?

There is a suggestion - and it is only that - that this picture of a stadium fire at Leeds United in the 1950's might bring to people's minds the terrible tragedy that happened at Bradford in the 1985, and that it may therefore offend the sensibilities of some people.

I have lived, I must confess, a relatively benign and sheltered life. Perhaps, though, I am luckier than I thought. I have always been able to separate out fantasy from reality: to laugh at things while still showing a proper respect for people who might have been more unfortunate than myself.

And though it may have been a year or two since he sent me a Christmas card, I know the same holds true of my big bro, too.

At the end of the day, it will have to be you, the reader who judges this. But I hope it won't take the wisdom of Solomon to do so.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Memories of Mentoring

As a young cub reporter on the Stockport Herald, I was very fortunate to be taken under the wing of the then editor, Wally Green. Wally was of the old school of journalists: hard-bitten, sometimes terse, but a man with printer's ink in his very veins.

Wally it was who taught me the value of never using four words when you could get away with five - "Especially if you're being paid per word, son" he used to say.

The words of Wally Green came to mind when I heard about an American chap who is trying to win a competition to be paid to 'Blog For a Year'. Imagine that - some fancy entrepreneur has offered up this fabulous prize, and all people have to do is vote for whoever they think should win it.

Young Ben Spark has turned Wally Green's wisdom on it's head. Every day, for some considerable time now, he has posted a 'Picture A Day'. If a picture paints a thousand words, then Ben has already written War & Peace. His photos are often thought provoking, as good art should be.

So Ben has had my vote every day for the last two weeks. He still has some way to go to overtake the current leader, so I know he'll appreciate any help you can offer him. Five seconds a day of your time could make Ben a very happy man for a year.

If you want to help Ben (and everyone needs a Wally Green sometime in their life) all you need to do is click here and vote. Early and often, is my best advice to you (just like with that Fuel My Blog logo you've got to click, to the right - or so Jasper tells me).

Cafe Society

It is easy to form the impression that journalists of my generation have spent an inordinate amount of time propping up the bar in pubs or private members clubs. While that may well be true, it's worth remembering the role of the humble coffee bar in helping power the presses of England.

As someone who started his career in the 1950's, I fondly recall afternoons spent over a 'frothy coffee' in the Cafe Bango, an establishment that has gone the way of the Doctored Dog, I'm afraid. At least one of my favourite haunts from my days in Preston is still very much alive and frothing.

Of course, time has moved on apace since those days. We live, apparently, in Cafe Society. Hardly a high street is without a Starbucks, a Costa Coffee, a Caffe Nero or a Coffee Republic.

I am of the generation that remembers Coffee Republic in the days before the coup. There may have only been one newspaper in the rack, and the choice of coffee was rather limited, but at least the owners of Coffee Dictatorship guaranteed to deliver it to the table on time.

What price progress?

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

All things in moderation (except moderation)

Although this is my first attempt at a blog, I wouldn't wish to pose before you as an internet virgin. Pretending to be something he isn't isn't something that has ever appealed to Bill Blunt. So I can admit, then, that I have had some prior experience of the web. I have visited sites the world over in my ceaseless quest for entertainment.

I have always been indebted to my old pal, Thomas Hamburger Jnr, for introducing me to one particular site which aims itself at family historians. I'm not much one myself for raking over the coals of my family closet. I'd much rather leave the skeletons where they are, even if I did do a couple of commissioned articles for What Family History Website Magazine in it's heyday, and it's sister publication Who's The Daddy? A fee is a fee, after all.

Anyway, I digress. The site I refer to is which has, in the past few years, attracted some 44,000 members. Now, there are quite a few sites out there for budding genealogists. Enumerator has started an admirable attempt to catalogue these at his new blog GenBires Networking.

But not all family history chatrooms are the same. Like any family, they can be a bit difficult. What has always set Rootschat aside from similar sites of its nature is the sheer, unmitigated helpfulness and friendliness of (almost) every last one of its members. They'll go out on a limb for you, sometimes spending hours looking up resources for people - total strangers, mind you - who have a query.

Just recently, however, I posted a thread on the Totally Off Topic board at Rootschat, wondering whether our PM, Tony Blair, might be shortly to announce his resignation. I didn't seek to make any political point (which is, you will recognise, quite unlike me).

Within a day or two the post was 'pulled' by a so-called Moderator. I received a curt and to the point message from them saying 'No politics on Rootschat, even on the Totally Off Topic Board'.

Hmm - that got my dander up a little, I don't mind telling you. Especially since I recalled the same 'Moderator' had been seen posting their own scurrilous views about their local council on another thread about the Government's proposed Road Pricing Scheme.

This seemed very much to me like a case of someone telling me to "Do as I say, not as I do". So I thought I'd have a little fun by posting a caption to the above picture, which was another thread I'd started earlier. This time, my caption (and one or two others) was pulled without even the grace of a message from whichever 'Moderator' did it.

This may seem like small beer - and of course it is. But the wider point of how some people, when invested with a little authority, seem to let it go to their heads, is one that I would like to make.

Don't get me wrong. Rootschat is still a fine community, despite the actions of one or two supposed 'Moderators'. I'd still recommend it (although perhaps I might be forgiven if my recommendation is less hearty than it previously was).

Anyway, for the record, here's the Caption they didn't like (and I paraphrase, because obviously it isn't there any more):

"No, I'm sorry son. Your mother is just too laid back to be a Rootschat Moderator. We need people who are on the ball, constantly vigilant. If not, before we knew it we'd have people making comments like this."

I do hope this won't put potential visitors off visiting Rootschat - it's not designed to. Instead, I'm merely trying to highlight the petty, thoughtless minds that some people bring to that all-important role of internet moderation.

Monday, 23 April 2007

It's More Than Academic

I cannot tell you my dismay at discovering that my recently-rediscovered friend, Professor Julian Syngen-Smythe, has been the subject of a vitriolic attack by a fellow academic via the pages of his blog.

Not content with perpetuating a bitter feud that has graced a number of historical journals, Dr Reginal Wabb-Nesperton appears to have spilled his venom onto Julian's new foray into the internet.

Personally, I find such bitterness distasteful. Not for me the internecine hatreds that academia seems to go in for so frequently.

Yet I cannot stand on the sidelines and watch someone of Julian's character be dragged through a pool of vomitic smirch. So let me be the first to defend him. There will be some, I am sure (gossips, scandal-mongers and fishwives, the lot of them!) who will point to those halycon days that Julian and I spent at the Amsterdam Festival of Rubberwear back in the 70's as evidence, somehow, that I am biased. I quite forget, now, how we both happened to be there. He, I think, was researching an article on Sexual Fetish Through the Ages for one of those glossy, top-shelf magazines that were around in those days. You know the sort - slightly out of focus shot of a maiden bathing herself in a river. For my part, I had been asked to cover the emergence of sexual rubberwear manufacturing as a major employer of ex-cotton workers in the Colne Valley for the Burnley Times. Just because we spent many an hour comparing notes on the internal architecture of a number of brown cafes does not mean I have compromised my integrity.

All that is really neither here nor there, however. I merely wanted to use my new platform here on these pages to lend my support to Julian. And to rubbish Wabb-Nesperton, who is a second-rate purveyor of popularised history in the Sunday supplements and who is distinguished at the moment by not having a single reference to his work on Google. That very fact, it has to be acknowledged, speaks volumes!

If you can't stand the heat...

Jasper tells me that the competition over at Fuel My Blog for a new 'widget' is hotting up nicely. So much so, that he wants to have another bowl at this particular wicket. He's not a bad son, all things considered, and I've been increasingly surprised at his creative energy.

"Pa, your blog needs a good going over," he said to me this morning. "The design looks a bit lame, and getting an overhaul from those fine people at Better Business Blogging is probably the best chance you'll ever get to sex up your blog."
The more I surf the blogosphere, the more I think he may be right.

He also tells me that my blog has now entered the Top 100 at Fuel My Blog - Number 87 as of today, apparently - even if the newly emergent GenBires is breathing down my collar.

If true, then I am proud to wear the 87 shirt alongside such a musical giant as Rodney Atkins (currently in the same position at's Top 200 albums) and the atomic number for francium, which is apparently an extremely unstable radioactive element of the alkali metals.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

A Grand Day Out

I'm not a one for advertising. Not for me the shallow promotion of consumer goods, people or places. But I'm not afraid to share with the world when I've had a good experience. And today is a case in point.
Mrs Blunt took it into her head that we should take a Sunday drive across the Pennines. Somehow, we ended up in the pleasant, North Yorkshire town of Reeth.
I can't remember how long it is since I was in that neck of the woods, but the wonderful scenery thereabouts fair took my mind off Mrs B's usual (rather dire) conversation about her mother's lumbago.
Eventually, we had to decide on a place to eat, and there was no shortage of places to choose, I can tell you. In the end, we decided on The Kings Arms, a hostelry that not only served Black Sheep Ale, but also promised much in the way of Sunday lunch victuals.
We were not disappointed. Should you ever find yourself in the environs, you could do far, far worse than sample the roast lamb, potatoes, parsnips and cauliflower they serve up there - accompanied with one of the tastiest Yorkshire puddings you'll ever come across. All served up by some of the loveliest and friendliest people you'll come across.
10 / 10 to The Kings Arms, then. And if this is an advert, then I'm not worried. I know what I like.

The Wasted Money of Marketing

When I was a young cub reporter in Stockport, I remember the day my editor at that time, Wally Green, took me aside to discuss a recent report I'd written on a house fire. "Blunt!" he said, "Your writing is like advertising. And you know what they say about advertising?"
As a young, wet-behind the ears journalist, I didn't - but I was keen to learn.
"They say that 50% of the money spent on advertising is wasted. But no-one's sure which 50% it is."

I took it as the kind of mercurial compliment a person of Wally's brusque nature might hand to an up-and-coming writer of the new generation.
It was while I was reflecting on the new campaign by the Tripe Marketing Board that Wally's wise words came to mind. On paper, it looks like a sound strategy: tripe sales have been in steady decline in the UK since 1953. Year on year slippage has reached such a level that there is hardly a butcher left in Oldham now who stocks the stuff.
It's a tough one to crack. I discussed the dilemma with my son, Jasper, over a pint or two of Black Sheep Ale at a hostelry not far from Saddleworth the other day.
"Pa," he said, "it won't work. I'm from the generation that thinks the Welfare State was invented expressly so I would never have to eat tripe."
He may well have a point. Still, as someone who has fond memories of early married life with Mrs Blunt, and our Saturday afternoons boiling up the unguous mass of white blubber in a foul-smelling kitchen, I couldn't help but feel nostalgic for the passing of tripe.

Let's hope that the billboard campaign cooked up by the boys at the TMB works then!

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Happy Birthday Ma'am

Few would accuse Bill Blunt of being a royalist. Legion are the times I've railled on the printed page about the excesses of our Royal Family.

Yet it's (one of) our Queen's birthdays today. So Happy Birthday, Ma'am!

At 81, she still keeps herself busy, even if the sycophants at the Daily Telegraph might have overstated the case a little in their leader article today:

The Queen will have a quiet day at Windsor Castle today to mark her 81st birthday. Most people of her age spend their days quietly the whole year. But the Queen, in addition to her daily engagements at home, is to make a state visit in the first week of May to the United States, 50 years on from her first, when Eisenhower was President.
If truth be known, very few 81 year olds are spending their days quietly nowadays. Dorothy Evans, of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire is a case in point. If the reports are to be believed, she has spent a considerable portion of the decade in the regular harassment of her neighbours. That doesn't strike me as someone sitting quietly at home.

I am also indebted to Chris Dunham, for pointing out another error in the same leading article.
This year's visit is for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, the first permanent settlement in troubled Virginia, a state named after the Queen's ancestor Elizabeth I.
Maybe the leader writers at The Telegraph know something we don't about the (famously virgin) Elizabeth I? Or maybe they need a lesson from Thomas Hamburger Jnr about the true definition of 'ancestor'? It's a shame he no longer writes his articles on genealogy for the Birkenhead Beagle, as I imagine he would have had a field day with that story, even if he would baulk at Wikipedia's suggestion that our Royal Family are some kind of species of bacteria.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

The Wonders of the Web

One of the wonders of this thing called the internet, is that it occasionally throws up (sometimes, quite literally) people from your past.

Imagine my delight, then, when in a moment of idle Googling I came across an old acquaintence of mine from many years ago: Professor Julian Syngen-Smythe. I first encountered Julian during a rather heated discussion in the Doctored Dog in Stockport - a hostelry which has, alas, since made way for a portion of a rather large shopping centre. At the time, he was then a mere post-graduate, visiting Manchester University to give a series of lectures on a set of diaries he had found, purporting to tell the life of a victorian aristorcrat of the unlikely name of Lord Likely.

We became firm friends, and it was only the arrival on the scene of Mrs Blunt, some years later, and our subsequent removal to Oldham, that led our friendship into abeyance.

What a pleasure, therefore, to find that he is still active. If only I hadn't cancelled my subscription to The History Book Club, maybe I would have recognised that he had published widely on a range of historical subjects? Better still, I could have had them at quite a substantial discount.

I am, nevertheless, pleased to see that he is actively embracing modern technology, and that he has his own blog. More power to his leather-padded elbow.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Of widgets

My youngest son, Jasper, has been continuing to monitor what he calls the blogosphere and promoting my new blog enthusiastically amongst his friends. He says they find it 'post post ironic', which I take as a compliment.

He reports that, for about an hour on Tuesday, my blog even made it into the coveted Number 1 slot in the News & Politics category at a site called Fuel My Blog. While checking, he noticed that the site is running a competition to design something called a widget. He is nothing if not game, so he's e-mailed his own contribution through to Thomas Hamburger, who has assured me it will accompany this posting.

Jasper has kindly assigned the widget to me, so that if I win, I get the prize of a blog consultation from Better Business Blogging, and the chance for the winning widget to feature on Fuel My Blog's site in the future. Thomas Hamburger has checked out Mr White's site, and assures me a good once-over of my blog is just what it needs.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

A Setter of Trends

I see from this report from the Office of National Statistics, mentioned in passing by the BBC, that my son Justin is something of a trendsetter.

He's one of an increasing number of children who are resolutely refusing to fly the nest. In my day, we couldn't wait to leave home, such was our desire to explore and experience the world beyond the boundaries of our narrow life.

Nowadays, apparently, it's positively unusual for youngsters to move on. The high cost of independent living, their inability to boil even an egg, and a life cosseted by Play Stations, TVs and even fridges in their bedroom mean they're more than a little reluctant to make the leap.

The report makes salutory reading:

In 2006, 58 per cent of men and 39 per cent of women aged 20 to 24 in England
lived with their parents. This is significantly higher for both men
and women than in 1991.

National Statistics: Social Trends No 37
Well, I have news for the trendwatchers. Julian is coming up to 42, and shows no signs of forsaking Mrs Blunt's regular fare of toad in the hole on a Friday night. No amount of financial inducement has altered his position. As he sees it, he has a life tenancy in the attic room at Blunt Mansions, and he's not about to surrender it easily.

Perhaps if the right woman comes along - and we live, Mrs Blunt and I, with that constant (if slowly diminishing) hope - he will be tempted away. Until that time comes, I suppose I must just accept that, in the words of the '60's legend Bob Dylan, 'The Times They Have A Changed'. But it doesn't make it any easier.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

For the oldest swinger in town

My son Justin has been on at me for some time to 'get with it', to embrace the modern technology and buy an MP3 player.

Personally, I don't see the point. I've got all the music I need in my extensive CD collection. Why I would want to replace it - probably at huge expense - with a new format, I can't for the life of me conceive. I have yet even to see MP3 music for sale in shops, ayway.

Yesterday, however, I found myself in the unusual position of actually buying such a player. Not for myself, you understand, nor even for young Justin. Instead, it is destined to be used by my grandmother, Ethel Blunt.

At 102, her arthritic hands make it somewhat difficult to change the tapes in her cassette player. She's also (more than once) become convinced that she's broken the darned thing, when all she's done is accidentally press the 'pause' button.

I considered a little CD player for her, but, I fear, the same difficulties would present themselves. Then, following a discussion with Justin, we agreed that perhaps the MP3 player is just what she needs. No tapes to change, no CDs to fumble with. Just 250 carefully selected tracks that (Justin tells me) me, we simply have to 'rip' and 'burn' to the player. She'll then just have one button to press, and she can be away in a world of her own.

And therein lay our dilemma. Her eyesight (she claims) is not so good - although she can spot a bit of fluff on the carpet at twenty feet, when she wants to). So we were looking for an MP3 player that could easily be used by a centenarian. The bigger the buttons - and the fewer of them to press - the better.

As we toured the shops in our quest, yesterday, Justin reminded me more than once that our search was counter-intuitive. The whole point of MP3 players, he said, was to contain the maximum amount of songs in the smallest amount of space. He was right. Virtually every model we inspected looked like it might be a key fob of some description.

Anyway, we finally hit upon one that looked like it might fit the bill. It was in Music Zone in Sunderland, where the disbelieving sales laddie shook his head more than once when we explained what we were after.

For those of my readers with aged relatives seeking a similar solution, I can commend to you the Prolectrix 1GB MP3/4 Player - just a shade under £45. I'm not sure that Prolectrix is a particularly big name in the world of audio technology, but I see that they also produce a line in Epilators, described as working "like a pair of large tweezers... the 36 discs rotate and twist bunches of hairs together, plucking them from the roots". I shall have to pass the news on to Mrs Blunt.

It's a brave man who accuses Bill Blunt of being a technophobe. I liked this little gizmo so much, I might even buy one myself. It will be sad to see the CD go the way of the old 33rpm record, I suppose. But you can't stop progress!

Saturday, 7 April 2007

The Losing of the Plot

Much as I admired the musings of my former colleague, Thomas Hamburger Jnr, on the darker side of genealogy in the Birkenhead Beagle, I must confess that I don't know what's going on in his latest Harry McFry mystery.

Whereas with the Hartshorn case I pretty much had it sussed after the first few chapters, I find that I have reached chapter 70 without the foggiest clue as to who stole Laurel McFry's family.

Mrs Blunt has her own theory, which she is keeping close to her (rather ample) chest. As for me, I wish I knew. I'd like to believe it was the butler, but this particular character has yet to make an appearance.

What's going on, and why on earth is Lillian Blyth so obsessed with this Jonathan Harcourt character, anyway? If he's dead, he's dead. It's your fault for living so long, woman!

In Praise of the Tunnock

In an age when nostlagia suddenly seems a thing of the past, it's always pleasant to chance upon a product which hasn't succumbed to the twin evils of advertising and spin.

Step forward, then, the Tunnock's Caramel Wafer. This honest-to-goodness biscuit has always known where it was at - has never sought the limelight, but has, instead, soldiered on until it has captured the hearts (and palates) of a new generation.

This wonderful confection of glucose syrup, sugar, sweetened condensed milk, invert glucose syrup, vegetable oil, flavour, emulsifier, soya lecithin, cocoa solid, milk solids, vegetable fat, yet more soya lecithin and flavouring, wheat flour, sodium bicarbonate and salt is enough to bring colour to the cheeks of even the most anaemic schoolboy - as it's logo proves only too well.

Unlike the Kit-Kat, the Curley-Wurley and countless other sweets, the Tunnock's Caramel Wafer can proudly boast that it is 'Still Original Size' - which, for the record, is about 1 inch wide, 4 inches long and around 3/4 of an inch thick.

What's more, the Tunnock makes the (not easily disprovable) claim that 'More than 4 Million of these biscuits (are) made and sold every week'.

A quick dash to the calculator suggests that, in a typical year, this means that some 208 Million of the little wonders are scoffed - or an average of 3.4 for every man, woman and rosy-cheeked schoolchild in Britain.

I've just done my bit by wolfing down three in the last hour. Don't let Tunnock's down, folks - keep the averages up by making sure you have at least one or two this week.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Core Blimey!

I see that a campaign has been launched to designate a part of New York City as 'Little Britain'. Apparently, New Yorkers feel they'd like to have an area of their fine metropolis that, in the way their Little Italy has come to be a haven for Italianophiles, will resonate with all things British.

On paper, the idea does seem to have legs. The idea that Brits, when visiting the Big Apple, might find a safe harbour, is a sound one.

I suspect, when our American cousins think of Britain, they imagine a small state where everyone (at least the women) wear the latest outfits designed by Twiggy, we all drive minis and where we drink copious amounts of tea.

The reality, however, is much different. I trust they will not be alarmed to find that the Little Britain they create is merely a microcosm of their own fair nation. So Americanised have we become, that we are now much more likely to be dressed by GAP, to drive a huge 4x4 and to be sipping, even if a little self-consciously, from a plastic beaker of foamed milk and a shot of coffee.

It got me thinking about what 'being British' really means. It's a brave man who accuses Bill Blunt of not being a patriot, but I fear that any notion of Britishness has long gone - if, indeed, it ever existed.

Still, if it makes them happy, I'm pleased to add my still, small voice to the campaign. I shall have a word with Thomas Hamburger Jnr, too, to see if I can't persuade both him and his fictional creation Harry McFry to lend their support. Harry looks to me like the kind of guy who would look for the first 'British' pub he could find whenever he was abroad.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

We were barking for them

Ever since I 'retired' from journalism, there has been a constant stream of visitors to the door of Blunt Mansions anxious to find the secret to the elixir of my writing style. At one point, my articles featured on the syllabus of a northern university which I do not need, here, to name.

When confronted with some nervous student, and asked the inevitable question 'Of what have you been most proud in your life, Mr Blunt?' I invariably replied that it was my time at the Birkenhead Beagle which gave me most pleasure.

Thomas Hamburger Jnr has featured the Beagle prominently in his griping new mystery story about the missing family of Laurel McFry, on which I have written earlier.

Few outside of Birkenhead may have heard of it, but the Beagle was renowned for its strapline 'We're barking for you!' Over the years, it boasted the writing talents not just of Thomas Hamburger and myself, but also of Johnny Mercer and Frederick C Marple - both men remembered for their acerbic pens.

The Birkenhead Beagle is probably best known for it's achievement, in October 2001, of managing to produce more editions in one day than any other UK national or regional daily paper. What herculean efforts were required to achieve such a record can only now be guessed at. From the first edition at 8am, through to the final at 4pm, the Beagle can truly be said to have left it's mark on the streets on that day.

My own paltry contribution to that momentous day was to pen a few brief words for each issue - and I was proud to do so.

Alas, neither Johnny Mercer nor Freddy Marple lived to see that day. This post is, therefore, dedicated to them, and to their contribution to journalism over many years. Wherever they are now, I am sure they have a ready audience for their acid tongues.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Understanding the Internet, Part 1

Thanks to the offices of my good friend Thomas Hamburger Jnr, my blog is now well and truly 'up and running'.

I can't pretend for a minute to be an expert on the internet, or even the world wide web. For me, it's a fathomless ocean of storm-tossed ideas, tempting you hither and thither to go down avenues where the outcome is at best unknown, and at worst positively sleazy.

My youngest son, Jasper, seems to be much more clued up when it comes to navigating himself across the vast sea that the internet has become. He's been 'monitoring the stats' as he likes to put it - nosing around on my hard disk to generate a report on who's been visiting my blog since it was launched.

He seemed to quite enjoy the fact that someone apparently came to read my blog after searching on something called Google Blogsearch for the directory enquiry service, My recent posting about the Independent newspaper article regarding Swinging comes in at No 3 when anyone searches for on Google Blogsearch.

It was all a bit of a puzzle to me, until Thomas Hamburger explained that, in posting that piece for me, he'd kindly highlighted the Light of Bengal restaurant by linking it to an online page at'

Mystery solved.

However, from what Jasper tells me, the number of readers of this blog has been woefully low. No matter. The voice of Bill Blunt is not easily stilled: and neither is his quill!

It's a brave man who accuses Bill Blunt of being a quitter. This blog's staying! (And, following Jasper's sound advice, I intend to get more explicit when it comes to labelling my posts!)

Monday, 2 April 2007

The Green, Green Grass of Home

Yesterday was one of those glorious, spring days that make you glad to be alive. Birds singing in the trees, every last cliche present and correct.

Why was it, then that I had to spend almost three hours labouring mightily with a lawn-mower, giving the frontage here at Blunt Mansions its first once-over of the year? Mowing the lawn for the first time in ages is like making love to Mrs Blunt. It's easy to forget just what a soul-destroying experience it can be. At least I enjoyed the apres-mow cigarette, which is something, I suppose.

It seems that the lawn is a British icon. The gruelling experience yesterday has prompted me to pen Bill Blunt's Top 5 Tips For Looking After Your Lawn. I present them here for your consideration:

1) Pave it over
2) Let it grow into a wild meadow
3) Ask your friendly, neighbourhood US armed forces division to gently napalm it
4) Paint it with a thick, gloss paint
5) Allow it to be used as a mini venue for local off-roaders

I'm heading towards number one at the moment.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Sometimes you just wish they'd include a diagram...

Those fine people down at Aldi tempted me to purchase a so-called digital voice recorder yesterday. In it's tiny frame, it claims to hold as much as 155 hours of speech. According to my calculations, that's more than Mrs Blunt and I have spoken in our almost 40 years of married life.

The so-called 'instructions' included the kind of gibberish normally associated with a Babelfish translation.

ET-880 connect PC from USB, PC shows U disk after 2 seconds ... open to need file that you put it copy the record file of ACT format into your computer ... Converted WAV file that the player of offering of the operating system or support WAV too

Grappling with how to work the thing proved too much, in the end. I fear it may be destined for a return journey to Aldi, where it will doubtless be purchased by some young techno-geek who understands that kind of language.

That Pencil Tax!

I was pleased to receive a letter today from the office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, indicating that HM Govt had 'no plans' to introduce a tax on pencils.

Those who have followed the intricacies of the debate will realise that it has been by no means a foregone conclusion that such an iniquitous tax might be implemented.

Let us, therefore, rejoice! The people have spoken. The HB11, and its slightly weaker brother, the HB5, is safe.

For once, the mighty bastion of the state has taken heed. Let that be a lesson to the Whitehall mandarins. What might seem (on paper) to be a wonderful idea can so easily become bogged in a mire of controversy.

You have been warned!