Justinius the Comedian (814 – 839)

Justin of Corfe was a comedian from what is now Dorset. He called himself Justinius because it harked back to the ‘cool’ Roman occupation of Britain. He also dressed only in black because he also thought it was ‘cool’. Most people who knew him thought he was a complete twat, but they did laugh at some of his jokes.

He travelled through the kingdom of Wessex for about six months, moving his one-man comedy show from village to village. He gradually gained a following of nervous but happy fans. They were nervous because Justinius made his career out of lampooning the King and Royal Family.

He used jokes such as: –

 ‘What do a horse turd and the King have in common? They both stink and have many annoying parasites buzzing around them all day.’

  ‘Once upon a time there was a fair and just king…no, do not laugh. I said stop laughing…I already told you this was a fairy tale, did I not?’

  ‘What do you get if you cross a chicken with an ass? Prince Cerdic.’

 ‘When all else fails, take your problem to the King, because at then you can be laughed at and patronised by the highest authority in the land.’

 He called himself an ‘underground’ comedian to differentiate himself from the common jester-style comedian who wore silly clothes and made weak jokes using puns on words (he insisted his all-black attire was not at all silly).

King Egbert went to see Justinius disguised as a commoner to see what all the fuss was about. The King was quite comfortable with the idea of satire and a certain level of poking fun at the kingdom’s leaders. He had conquered Mercia some years earlier and felt his kingdom was secure. He was, however, disturbed by Justinius’ quite personal themes. He was also disturbed at the ease with which his subjects dissolved into laughter when his manhood was questioned.

Given Justinius’ growing popularity, the King summoned him to his court to have a quiet word and offer some wise advice about his future. Justinius chose to ignore this advice. King Egbert summoned him once more to reinforce the advice he had previously given. Justinius replied that he could not compromise his art just because the authorities were pressuring him.

Egbert suggested that he was being unreasonable and that his head was not in the right space. The King ordered this remedied by having it removed and put in the space he thought best. This happened to be in a coffin.

King Egbert made a proclamation that he had no problem with underground comedians and was not an unreasonable sovereign, provided of course that such comedians were at least six feet underground. He laughed so much at his own joke that he had a seizure and died, giving Justinius the last post-mortem laugh.

The Winter of Our Discontent

A bit of a blast from the past, I wrote this a couple of years ago, but it still seems relevant every year …


The Winter of Our Discontent

 Now is the winter of our discontent
Since  all of our financial systems are bent
And austerity measures become the new vogue
It’s banks, not traders, that have gone a bit rogue.

Out slick politicians make speeches and spin
Unable to admit to the trouble they’re in
Unable to see much past coming elections
In denial of looming share market corrections.

So now here we are in winter’s embrace
No heating, no pensions, no financial grace
While Greece drags us down and America dithers
I think I’ll drink wine as my pension fund withers

…and dies.

Quivering Edward (1579 – 1611)

Edward Duckworth lived in Sludgeby, a town on what is now Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. This was a mining area and Edward was keen to see if he could do something to help the industry, which was very rudimentary at that time.

He became an alchemist and devoted his life to finding a safe and effective mining explosive. He was certain that there would be health benefits due to the reduction in the amount of backbreaking labour. The longevity of a miners’ working life would also increase, provided they used the explosives appropriately.

The origin of his nickname ‘quivering’ is not clear, but is likely to be a result of his numerous brushes with death. These left him burnt and scarred, without much hair, and with hands that would not stop shaking. He also walked with a limp, a result of the number of times he had been blown out through the window of his small house. He had a haunted look in his eyes, both of which had a nervous tick, and spoke with a permanent tremor in his voice. It was common knowledge that his nerves were shot and that he was permanently as tense as a virgin on her wedding night.

The local townsfolk were so worried about his experiments and the explosions that often accompanied them, that they persuaded Edward to do his work in an underground cellar which they had constructed for him. For a while this worked, and all that the local residents experienced were muffled detonations and a few tremors causing some minor breakages.

In the summer of 1611 Quivering Edward (in between trying not to shake too much that his pint of ale would spill) told the publican of the Old Barley Mow that he was close to a breakthrough. He was confident that he would soon have a liquid that miners could safely use to blow-up mineralised seams of rock. He went off to finish his work in high spirits.

The explosion that followed flattened Sludgeby. It was heard as far away as Burslem to the north and Lincoln to the east. It was a clear evening and the mushroom cloud was visible for at least twenty miles in all directions.

When King James the First heard of this event he quickly designated the whole of the surrounding area a royal hunting reserve. This meant that it was out of bounds to most people. This area is now Cannock Chase. He then sent in some soldiers to make sure that all remaining traces of Sludgeby were removed. The King was heard to say that he did not want anybody chancing on anything that could result in any similar explosion any time in the future. The idea of whole villages disappearing in a pillar of fire was not part of his idea of an orderly country. He also ensured that the name of Edward Duckworth was expunged from all records to prevent anybody else getting dangerous ideas about mining and alchemy.

Many conspiracy theorists think that Quivering Edward was kidnapped by the King and put to work on weapons of mass destruction, but there is no evidence of this.

Overdosing on Expertise

This is something I posted some time ago in another inmcarnation – but I think it is still true…judge for yourself.


How much expertise do we need?

 When a person becomes an adult, they start having to take responsibility of their lives, at least one hopes that they do. In years gone past, the pace of change was not such that taking responsibility related to an ever-changing landscape where innovation and advancement happened on a weekly basis. However, in our modern world, the increasingly globalised markets, along with the advent of the world wide web, has exponentially increased the rate of change and speed of communication. Change and expanding choice have become an ever-present part of society. This brings its own problems.

The large number of options now available, for many things, requires the consumer to do a lot of research and become relatively proficient in evaluating what is on offer. For instance, if a person wants to buy a new washing machine they now have numerous manufacturers to choose from and numerous stores selling washing machines at different prices. They might also feel obliged to consider other factors such as environmental impacts, the type of labour conditions in the factories that make the machines, and whether it is made within the country of purchase. This all takes time.

Other larger purchases may take more time. Deciding which company you are going to have provide various types of insurance is of concern to many, as is the provider of the mortgage on a house, or the type of superannuation fund that is best for them. With the breadth of choice now available this is a complex and time-consuming activity. As all those who have read mortgage contracts and insurance policies know, trying to evaluate what is actually being provided and the potential pitfalls is a challenge in itself when reading one, let alone trying to compare a variety of such documents. If you have the money, then you can get a professional to look at this for you, but then again, which professional to choose?

With a greater emphasis on people providing their own retirement fund, we are now being asked to become proficient in the assessing investments in the Stock Market. Becoming an expert on the financial markets is not something that happens quickly and yet more and more of us are being asked to make decisions on investments and superannuation. The current Stock Market turmoil is taking its toll on many institutional investors and funds, and one can only speculate about what it is doing to self-funded retirees and those who are nearing the time when they are set to retire.

Of course, the experts also tell us that we should review all of our major financial commitments on a yearly basis. Is our house and car insurance still the best? Should we be considering changing our bank or mortgage provider? Is our health insurer as competitive as it should be? Perhaps our car and/or computer is out-of-date and in need of upgrading. Are we getting the best deal on our telecommunications? All these things are changing at a rapid rate and we are all being asked to keep up.

But, in addition to spending all our time delving into these big financial commitments and purchases, there is a need to do even more research. The nutritional value of some of the food we buy at the supermarket is doubtful, so should we take any notice of the non-stop advertising that assaults us on a daily basis? And do we need to know what those numbers relating to additives mean? A trip to the shops becomes a matter of looking closely at the labels to see if there are any dubious additives included, or whether the weight or quantity has been reduced while charging the same price. This lengthens the time needed to get the job done.

I haven’t yet mentioned the environment. We now need to consider our carbon emissions, our water use, whether we should recycle what we consider waste, and the carbon footprint of everything we buy. This is not a bad thing, in fact it is very good to consider these things and act accordingly, but after considering much of the above, it becomes yet one more call upon our time to research what we should be doing.

The modern media and internet are constantly bombarding us with conflicting views about what we should be doing and how we should be doing it, giving us yet more urges to go and do research.

I have only covered choices relating to singles or couples. For families there are numerous additional choices that have to be made.

Why is this so? Perhaps it’s because we lack trust in the professionals now, or maybe it’s because governments are now giving us freedom to make our own decisions. The free market might be to blame, or perhaps it’s our own insecurities that we are somehow not getting ‘the best’, whatever that might be. And there is the potential for people to feel guilty about not having ‘the best’, as if somehow this makes them inferior.

The bottom line is that we are being asked to become experts on areas that are the preserve of those who have spent many years learning to become professionals. And yet, despite this, we are still corralled into feeling obliged to have significant knowledge of these areas. This all takes time. And so much time can be spent on these things that we fail to find enough time for ourselves.

Getting ‘the best’ may, in fact, involve reclaiming time for ourselves rather than spending inordinate amounts of time trying to learn everything about everything. In terms of mod-cons and services, in the long term ‘the best’ cannot be bought anyway, because everything is constantly evolving and changing.

It surely must be time to re-evaluate all of this, and realise that life is something to be enjoyed rather than something to be endured.

Enjoy Your Existence

I spent two years exploring for gold and diamonds in Western Australia in 1993 & 1994. I was paid well to do it and had two of the best years of my life. This was a lot of fun.

Some would say I was lucky, but this wasn’t luck; this was a clear choice that I had made back in 1992 when I was in the UK. It was a conscious decision to dump the prospect of an office-bound existence for the foreseeable future and go to see what lay out in the middle of nowhere in a different country. And anyway, are we not duty-bound to spend some time simply enjoying our existence rather than succumbing to the relentless demands of modern life?  Think for a minute about what we often take for granted. What we never really appreciate because of all the static that fills our lives.

Consider how many planets there are. Trillions I expect, or an even bigger number – astronomers probably have this number at their fingertips give or take a few billion here and there. Consider the chances of finding life on them – very slim indeed, millions or even billions to one. Consider then how lucky we are that our atoms have managed to organise themselves into coherent beings, irrespective of how you believe that has happened.

So there should be no feelings of guilt when having a lazy day in the back garden enjoying the feeling of the sun on your skin, or listening to the wind rustle in the leaves, or simply being able to daydream. Keep away that nagging feeling that you should be doing something else that has been deemed productive! What is productivity anyway? This takes a bit of training, but I can attest that it is very possible. This is certainly not wasting time, despite what some may say.

Spend some time marvelling in the fact that a very thin layer of ozone is stopping you being fried on the spot that you sit. Be amazed at how thin the atmosphere really is, and that without its accompanying magnetic field you would be exposed to the solar wind – and die very quickly. Spend some time thinking about the structure of the planet that provides this magnetic field and the relatively thin layer of cool ‘crust’ that protects us from the internal heat of the planet. We live a relatively fragile existence and are here against all probability – probably.     

Forget concepts like being ‘productive’, being ‘time-poor’, or even the whole concept of wasting time, after all time is yours to do with as you wish. Physicists suggest that time might not be absolute after all – who knows what lies ahead; it might already have happened. Don’t forget how lucky we are to exist and be able to use our senses to enjoy the world. Don’t get too caught up in the office politics, the guilt that you don’t exercise enough, or even, dare I say it, the environmental challenges we are facing. Life is about more than this, much more. We could be hit by an unknown meteor next year or next month, so spend some time thinking about what you can take with you when you go.

Unfortunately, you can’t take anything with you, and that is the point. The only thing that can be of any use when you’re lying on your deathbed (other than being able to reverse time – I’m sure aforementioned physicists are working on this) is your experience of life. And we only get one go at it. One go, that is all. So don’t spend too much time dreaming about what you could do if you could only free yourselves of your self-imposed chains, use some of your precious time to do that which you can or that you have always wanted to do. However, ask your partner first, they might get a bit of a shock if you suddenly call them from half way up Mount Everest.

I firmly believe that a wasted life is one that you haven’t enjoyed, so make sure enjoy it as much as is possible. Put modern society into its proper perspective; there will always be people telling you how you should live your life, but you are the only one that can make the decisions. Also, remember that old adage – time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. If you do this then life will seem a lot more enjoyable and a lot less like hard work. I always remember this no matter what the situation, because when you’re travelling and out of your comfort zone, life can seem just a little bit tough at times.

My Funky Bassline


It was a steamy summer’s day and I had a tortured soul,

I was being persecuted by the gods of rock’n’roll.

I had a funky bassline imprinted on my mind,

It was trying to escape; there was someone I had to find.


I went looking for the Funkster, the only man around,

Who could help me add this rhythm to a groovy little sound.

There was nothing else to do that could ease my suffering brain,

And release that little beat that was driving me insane.


On my way down to his joint I maintained exclusion zones,

With my unexploded rhythm vibrating through my bones.

And I got the strangest looks from other people on the street,

As I walked the paving stones with a syncopated beat.


When I reached his place he asked me, ‘How can I help you man?’

And I said ‘I’ve got this funky bassline and I need a helping hand.’

‘No worries mate,’ he told me, ‘I’ll see what I can do,

It’s a crime to find a bassline and fail to follow through.’


 So he sat me on his couch and I hummed my funky music,

And his face lit at once and he said, ‘YEAH, I can use it!’

He left the room for hours, but then when he returned,

He played me the result, a CD that he’d burned.


He’d mixed guitars and drums with my groovy little bass,

And my syncopated rhythm had finally found its place.

But no sooner had I left him, I was once again afflicted,

With a catchy little bassline, it seems that I’m addicted.


I hear music all the time and it comes from everywhere

And new rhythms make me nervous and it doesn’t seem quite fair,

That I get funky tunes appearing, and the Funkster soothes my soul,

And I’m fated to be tortured by the gods of rock’n’roll.


I slumped by a lively mountain river in the murky evening light. We had climbed 1500 metres in three days. Our guide for the Snowman Trek, Pema, assured us that he would keep a close eye on us. And he did have a portable pressure bag if anybody became too sick. The books say you should only climb 300 metres in one day, but this is not an option at the beginning of this trek.

 Three days walking had brought me here, each one bringing a worse headache. It had been a long, hard slog – everybody was stooped, using walking poles for support. Thankfully, I would soon have the luxury of a campsite where I could spend a day acclimatising to the altitude. Perhaps half-an-hour and I’d be there.

One look up the valley reinvigorated me. The snow on Jhomalhari sparkled, vibrant against a still, clear sky. It was a beacon in the late evening gloom as all around the smaller mountains prematurely stole heat and daylight. Trekkers looked up at the magnificence, ‘Wow!’ I hadn’t seen them smile all day. We were all grateful for any opportunity to stop and rest.

That day I had passed people dry-retching because of the altitude; pale and weak they struggled on. There was no quitting without a good reason – a really good reason. All of us had paid to be tortured so. This was the trek to end all treks according to everyone I had talked to; the trek of a lifetime. The best trek in the Himalaya.

People die up here at 4000 metres. The altitude causes their bodies to seep water into their skulls, squeezing their brains, or into their lungs, stifling their blood. Experience has shown me that my body does the former. My headache starts as a dull pain at the base of my skull. It then crawls up and over my brain to a point behind my eyes, increasing in intensity as it goes, enveloping me in throbbing discomfort. That day my brain had been clamped, and some malign being was turning the screw every five minutes. Painkillers do not work. Pema gave me Diamox, which he said would help me get rid of the fluid.

I lay awake that night with my head propped up in a vain attempt to relieve the pressure. But my headache was getting worse, taking over my world. Jhomalhari loomed over me, unseen, like a stupendous tombstone. People die up here at 4000 metres; they go to sleep and never wake up.

I made it through to the next day; it felt like quite an achievement. That morning I sat in a chair eating a deep-fried sandwich, gazing up at the ever-present Jhomalhari, its peak some three kilometres above me.  The Bhutanese cook assured me that this food was good for my endurance, if not my heart. The residue of my headache persisted, but the sun now shone down on me. There was nothing to do for the day but sit listening to the rumble of invisible avalanches, watching the mountain play tag with the ephemeral wispy clouds that tickled its peak, and continue to acclimatise. Perhaps later I’d visit the ruins of the nearby 17th century fort, but that would be the limit of my exertions.

Eleven high passes lay ahead of me, six of them over 5000 metres: three weeks walking through the most beautiful scenery in the world. I’d soon find out how well my body would cope. Pema said altitude sickness could strike without warning, strike at any time, but that I should now be over the worst of it.

A week later some members of our Bhutanese support crew were still suffering the effects and being treated, like me, with Diamox. At the same time a group one day behind us on the trail reached Chebisa. This is a gorgeous village nestled comfortably in a lush valley beneath a splendid waterfall. A 42-year old American woman was part of the group. Her lungs clogged, stifling her blood. She went to sleep and never woke up. This was the trek of a lifetime. A trek to end all treks.

%d bloggers like this: