24th March – Happy Birthday John

The observatory on the summit of the Pic du Midi, 60k to the west of Montréjeau, is clearly silhouetted against a clear blue sky. It’s going to be a great day for skiing. Sunshine, snow, faux filet and frites for lunch, a pichet of vin rouge and may be a chocolat chaud or two (adding a shot of quelque choses from a hip flask when the waiter isn’t looking) …

Happy BirthdayI’m dreaming. Something heavy lands on my ankles and I open my eyes to find a 6kg tabby pressing his nose into my face, demanding breakfast. It’s 6.45am. The sun is streaming through a chink in the curtains, but we’re not in the Pyrenees. The cat is now stomping about on John’s legs. His brother is wailing by the bedroom door. John shows no sign of wanting to greet the day. He turns over and the cat lands on the floor with an unceremonious thud. Resistance is futile. I drag on my dressing gown and go and find them some food before they wake my mother.

My cousin and my great-aunt are coming to lunch today and I need to get up anyway. It’s John’s birthday and lunch is as close as he will get to a birthday party. If I had asked him in advance who he would most have liked to invite, I doubt he would have thought of Leslie. It doesn’t matter. Leslie and Roz have, of course, come to see Mum, not John, but they have the great advantages of being good company and enjoying their food.

Leslie is my mother’s accountant. He is also a member of the British Long Distance Swimming Association and the (rather eccentric) Serpentine Swimming Club in Hyde Park. Readers in the UK may have seen Leslie in a recent advertising campaign by The Times: a swimmer in Speedo trunks and a black swimming cap, diving into the Serpentine on a cold winter’s day. You can’t see Leslie’s face in the photo, but knowing his reputation as a trencherman, there was no mistaking the slightly rotund midriff. John and Leslie get on well. Indeed, they had, very nearly, been business partners.


When John retired from the Met Police in 2001, he had the idea of setting up an IT consultancy. It didn’t seem such a bad idea. We both had backgrounds in computing. Hell, we met on a computer course, after all! John spent the last few years of his service rolling out a London-wide crime reporting system and was pretty handy when it came to pulling computers apart. I built databases. My first lesson in hands-on computer maintenance came in 1994, when John took the lid off our brand new desktop and stuck the end of the vacuum cleaner in it. We nearly had a “domestic”! But two days later, when our receptionist’s computer packed up, I won a lot of Brownie points by whipping off the lid and swapping her hard drive with another from a similar machine. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. By 2001, I was working as a Network Administrator for a medical communications company.


Anyway, all this is by the by. Where was I? Ah yes, our brief foray into IT consultancy …


Our first potential client was referred to us by a friend. Mr Prakash was a plastic surgeon. He was interested in installing a network in his office and, specifically, needed a database to store digital photographs. We needed someone with an expert knowledge of computer networks. And that’s where Leslie fits in.


John and Leslie duly agreed to meet Mr Prakash at his very swish Harley Street consulting rooms. The door was answered by an extremely shapely pair of bristols, the owner of which promptly announced that she was one of Mr Prakash’s most grateful patients. In case you hadn’t guessed, Mr Prakash specialised in breast enhancement.


Having admired the secretary’s assets, our dynamic duo went on to view the offices and discuss the relative merits of Novell and Windows NT. Mr Prakash then came to the subject of the storage of his photos and choice of a digital camera, and pulled out a large album of “before and after” photos of his work. Reading between the lines, things went steadily downhill from there …


Sadly, “Rynne Associates” never did get that contract and, as it happened, we were both offered other jobs shortly after. Nevertheless, as far as John and Leslie were concerned, the abortive venture served to cement a lasting friendship.

Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

To: The Edmunds, the Rooneys, the O’Rynnes, and the O’Sanfilippos

From: O’Stoughton

 A little Irish humor:

 Murphy told Quinn that his wife was driving him to drink. Quinn thinks he’s very lucky because his own wife makes him walk.

Reilly went to trial for armed robbery. The jury foreman came out and announced, “Not guilty.” “That’s grand!” shouted Reilly. “Does that mean I can keep the money?”

Mrs. Feeney shouted from the kitchen, “Is that you I hear spittin’ in the vase on the mantle piece?” “No,” said himself, “but I’m gettin’ closer all the time.”

Slaney phoned the maternity ward at the hospital. “Quick!” He said. “Send an ambulance, my wife is goin’ to have a baby!” “Tell me, is this her first baby?” the intern asked. “No, this is her husband, Kevin, speakin’.”

“O’Ryan,” asked the druggist, “did that mudpack I gave you improve your wife’s appearance?” “It did surely,” replied O’Ryan, “but it keeps fallin’ off!”

How do you recognise a Dubliner on an oil rig?
He’s the one throwing crusts of bread to the helicopters…

And finally:

A Texan walks into a pub in Ireland and clears his voice to the crowd of drinkers. He says, “I hear you Irish are a bunch of hard drinkers. I’ll give $500 American dollars to anybody in here who can drink 10 pints of Guinness back-to-back.”

The room is quiet, and no one takes up the Texan’s offer. One man even leaves.

Thirty minutes later the same gentleman who left shows back up and taps the Texan on the shoulder. “Is your bet still good?” asks the Irishman.

The Texan says yes and asks the bartender to line up 10 pints of Guinness. Immediately the Irishman tears into all 10 of the pint glasses, drinking them all back-to-back.

The other pub patrons cheer as the Texan sits in amazement. The Texan gives the Irishman the $500 and says, “If ya don’t mind me askin’, where did you go for that 30 minutes you were gone?”

The Irishman replies, “Oh… I had to go to the pub down the street to see if I could do it first.”



A little 10-year-old girl was walking home, alone, from school one day, when a big man on a black motorcycle pulls up beside her.

After following along for a while, turns to her and asks: “Hey there, do you want to go for a ride?”

“NO!” says the little girl as she keeps on walking.

The motorcyclist again pulls up beside her and asks, ” I will give you a big bag of candy if you hop on the back.”

“NO!” says the little girl as she hurries down the street.

The motorcyclist pulls up beside the little girl again and says: “Okay, I’m feeling generous today! I’ll give you a big bag of candy AND a handful of quarters and if you will just hop on the back of my bike and go for a ride with me.”

The little girl stopped and turned to face him and loudly and sternly tells him, “Look Dad, You’re the one who bought the Honda instead of the Harley! So ride it by yourself!”

March 12th – Feel the love

I am feeling a bit sorry for myself today. I have shingles … again. It is unattractive and uncomfortable and I have been given a five-a-day course of anti-viral horse pills that may, or may not, stop it spreading and have already upset my stomach. Shingles and an upset stomach. Outstanding.


On the other hand, having a potentially contagious disease does give me an excuse to avoid hugging people. Specifically, it presents me with a water-tight cop out this weekend when my sister comes to stay. One of the many criticisms Sarah has levelled at me over the years is that I don’t show enough affection, ergo I don’t hug her. She is probably right. As a family, I don’t think we were great huggers, and I particularly detest being hugged by bossomy old ladies with more facial hair than Bill Oddie, or trying to ‘hug’ the boney thorax of my skeletal sister without actually breaking anything. When greeting friends or relatives of either sex, the social air kiss is just soooo much less embarrassing. Mwah darhling! And now, of course, having spent so much time in France, John and I habitually greet friends with a kiss on alternate cheeks, which takes some of our non-Francophile friends by surprise and can be hazardous. Right side first. Ooops!


Likewise, I was initially taken aback by the American man-hug. But there is something simultaneously comradely and affectionate about this very masculine embrace – often combined with a slap on the back between two men or a kiss on the cheek between a man and a woman. This is no perfunctory greeting reserved for the tribal elders, but a genuine recognition of brotherhood. Even between men and women, while the the potential to take advantage of physical proximity undoubtedly exists, the power and duration of the hug is generally directly proportional to the closeness of the friendship. Anyway, so natural is the gesture, that any exageration tends to be more flattering than offensive. Away from home, such a hug bestows a reassuring sense of belonging, of being part of the club and, as such, I am a fan.


Anyway, back to the present and my current role as my mother’s housekeeper. We’ve just seen my aunt off on the 10.55am Yarmouth ferry. Now I need to remake the guest bed for my slightly potty sister, who arrives tomorrow. The utility room already looks like a Chinese laundry, so I am faced with the dilemma of whether or not I really need to change the sheets. Auntie says not. She only stayed one night and it is, in her opinion, perfectly acceptable to ask Sarah to sleep on the unused side of the double bed. On the other hand, my sister drives us all round the bend and doesn’t always get the warmest of welcomes from our mother, so I am inclined to make a special effort for her. It worked last time. Peace and harmony are the names of the game where the two of them are concerned. This time, however, the dice are loaded against me. It is Mother’s Day on Sunday and Sarah has baked a cake …


In fact, Sarah has very probably baked several cakes. She is nothing if not a perfectionist. Mum’s lemon sponge birthday cake took several attempts. For weeks beforehand, Sarah’s friends, relatives and workmates were presented with beta versions. Dozens of cookery books were consulted. Recipes were chosen and modified. Advice was sought from friends. The butter was creamed, the eggs were beaten and the batter was baked. But, time and time again, the finished cake was found to be too rich, too sweet, too heavy, too sharp, too, too …


In the event, Sarah’s cake was a triumph: a mini masterpiece covered with a delicate white glacé icing, decorated with little gold sugar stars and a white rose from her own garden. It tasted delicious and we told her so, but the hospital had stolen her thunder. There was another cake! Or, to be more precise, as my sister arrived habitually late and well after teatime, there HAD BEEN another cake. A rather large one, actually. But all that was left now were some chocolate crumbs and a bit of squishy icing. Nevertheless, with all the hype surrounding the making of Sarah’s lemon sponge, we could hardly leave it, could we? Well, yes we could. With the best will in the world, there is only so much birthday cake one can be expected to consume in the space of two hours. There was a bit left over and Mum made the fatal error of suggesting that it be offered to the nurses. Cue frilly lips and tears before bedtime. Feel the love …