Fringe Box



Diary of an Ockhamite

Published on: 12 Aug, 2022
Updated on: 3 Nov, 2022

Tony Edwards who entertained us with his regular Life in Solitary column during the pandemic is back with this new Diary of an Ockhamite, a light-hearted collection of observations from his Ockham viewpoint…

Barnum’s balloon brolly

I’m expecting to raise a cool couple of million quid by auctioning off an umbrella at Sotheby’s later this year. It’s not, of course, just any old umbrella. It’s the brolly used by Barnum the bear when he jumped from a hot air balloon for charity back in 1988.

Barnum’s brolly jump

To be honest I hadn’t realised its value until I read about Buzz Aldrin’s white jacket fetching £2.3 million at auction a few weeks back. OK, Buzz’s jacket was worn on the historic moon landing in 1969, so that takes a bit of beating. But Barnum’s brolly was the not-so-hi-tec device which ensured the brown bear’s safe descent from a balloon hovering 50 feet above Esher Green at the time.

And, let’s face it, Buzz had been training for his moon landing for years while Barnum was totally unprepared for his epic jump; his only previous experience being when he fell off a bedroom stool.

“One small step for a man but a giant leap for a small bear,” Barnum famously declared to the press and crowds of onlookers at the time. But he has never jumped from a hot air balloon since.

You might like to know that Barnum’s epic brolly jump raised around £4,000 for Tadworth Court children’s charity in Epsom.

Sixties excess revisited

Monday found me clutching a large Scotch and nostalgia at The Coach & Horses. The celebrated Soho watering hole of journalists and writers was almost empty when I dropped in just after six o’clock for a quick one prior to grabbing a cab to Waterloo. Working from home has, apparently, called time on the traditional pint after work in many areas of London.

Back in the bad old days of serial excess it was not only accepted but expected that journalists would nip out to their local pub at lunchtime for a quick sharpener or two – and again at around five-thirty.

Some, like legendary lush and fabled columnist, Jeffery Bernard, nipped out at mid-morning and stayed out until after midnight, downing large Vodkas and smoking for England at both The Coach & Horses and The French House. He always said he drank to drown his sorrows but that the bastards had learned to swim.

Yet he magically managed to pen the celebrated weekly Low Life column for the Spectator – a column he described as a suicide note in weekly instalments. And when, after a deluge of doubles, his fingers could no longer locate all the keys on the faithful electric typewriter he called Monica, the magazine would simply print the apology “Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell”. Columnist and novelist Keith Waterhouse later wrote the play of the same name with Peter O’Toole playing the title role on stage.

The play brought both fame and notoriety to Jeffrey Bernard who later announced that he’d been commissioned to write his autobiography and that he would be grateful to anyone who could tell him what he was doing between 1960 and 1974.

It’s said that if you can remember the so-called swinging sixties, you weren’t really there. Well, I most certainly remember them and I’ve got some yellowing press clippings to prove I was there. Right now, however, I’d be pleased if I could remember where I put my car keys.

Lazy days in August

Wednesday (August 10) was National Lazy Day and next Monday (August 15) is National Relaxation Day. And if you think that sounds like a bit of unnecessary duplication, you’re probably right.

They are just two of the UK’s hundreds of “special” days listed for us to enjoy – 365 days a year. Yes, that’s right. There’s at least one special celebration day every day – and that’s official. So I decided to check out the details of these two August days of supreme sloth and inactivity and try to establish what we are meant, or not meant, to be doing to get into the spirit of things.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to contact the organisers who’d probably be a bit too laid back to explain anyway. Perhaps they’ve started their celebrations early so, if you want to take part, I suggest you simply chill out and do absolutely nothing all week.

But then it’s back to work by Thursday (18th), which is, of course, National Pinot Noir Day, when you’ll be expected to drink quite a lot of wine if you choose to participate.

Sweet dreams guaranteed

John Paul Getty once famously said: “My formula for success is rise early, work late… and strike oil.” Casting aside his anti-eco advice about oil, it’s clear that he subscribed to the early-to-bed, early-to-rise, makes you healthy, wealthy and wise philosophy.

And there’s a lot of medical evidence to support it too. A survey published last week claims that the majority of us go to bed at around 10.43pm but that we get only an average 6 hours 28 minutes sleep a night.

Former PM Harold Wilson

Most of us think we don’t get enough sleep, blaming anxiety for keeping us awake so, if you are the anxious type, you might like to take a tip from former Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

He once told me that his formula for banishing anxiety and sleeping like a baby was simple. “If I think the problem can be solved, I tell myself it’ll be best to go to sleep and wake full of energy to resolve matters in the morning,” he said. “But if I suspect it can’t be solved then I might just as well get some sleep because there’s nothing I can do about it”.

But, as some will probably recall, he sometimes appeared to be half asleep – like the time he put a lighted pipe in his pocket and set fire to his jacket.

Models in the making?

I’ve just discovered that 28-year-old Cara Delevingne is worth about £32 million. And, no, I’d never heard of her either but it turns out that she’s Britain’s highest-paid model with an annual income that dwarfs the earnings of supermodels like Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.

As someone who’s booked many a model for a broad spectrum of photo shoots over the years, I’ve reached the conclusion that they’re all massively over-paid and, quite frankly, not worth the money.

Edwards ‘modelling’ for free

It seems to me that we’re all potential models – every last one of us. All you need is a functioning body and an expression of total boredom on your face. Indeed, I once retained a London cab driver for an hour’s modelling after one of the male models I’d booked failed to turn up.

And the cabbie didn’t charge a fortune either – asking only for what was on the clock. I think it as about £25 including tip, which was a lot less than the missing model would have charged.

On another occasion when the model was taken ill, mid-shoot, I even ‘modelled’ a couple of sweaters for the cameras myself – for zilch. (See pic). I was, of course, a bit younger back then and I’m not so sure I’d have the necessary patience today.

But if you fancy having a bash at this modelling lark in your spare time, may I suggest an agency which specialises in models of all ages, shapes, and sizes. And I happen to know they’re currently auditioning for interesting new faces.

Please don’t be put off by their name – The Ugly Agency. (Go to:

Welcome water news

A big round of applause please for Affinity Water who’ve sent me an e-mail to confirm they’ve no plans to introduce any usage restrictions this year. And there was more positive news too.

“We’re working hard to help save water by fixing leaks on our network, 24/7, investing in our metering programme, and improving our infrastructure for the future with plans for a new water treatment works at Sundon, Bedfordshire,” they said.

With most of our lawns now a sorry shade of brown, the letter was signed by a positive-sounding Joe Brownless.

The name game

I have a confession. I’m not who I say I am – haven’t been since I switched my Christian names around to produce a better-sounding by-line for the career in journalism which beckoned somewhere in between my late teens and early twenties.

Tony Edwards had a clear ring to it, more positive than the more docile and muted Keith Edwards. One bursts into life like a shot from a cannon while the other merely seeps quietly and apologetically into the world, unnoticed; the equivalent of a slow puncture.

And so Keith Anthony Edwards became Tony Edwards, although I’m not sure my parents ever thought it was more than an inconsequential phase in my life and would pass like a skin rash or a touch of ‘flu.

But I’m not alone in switching Christian names. Alexander Boris Johnson did the same thing as did Rachel Meghan Markel and David Jude Law. Gordon Brown was a James and Paddy Ashdown switched from Jeremy.

The switch very probably set them on their various career paths. Some go further and adopt an entirely new name like Archie Leach who changed his named to Cary Grant, Robert Zimmerman who opted for Bob Dylan, and Maurice Micklewhite who launched his career in films as Michael Caine.

But I’d definitely consider yet another re-arrangement of my names if I’m ever honoured for services to something or another. Sir Edward Keith has a certain majesty about it, don’t you think? [Dream on, what’s yer name. Ed.]

How do you spell “Rong”?

I discovered that spelling wasn’t quite as easy as it looked when I was about ten. I’d written a heartfelt love letter to my girlfriend – Sandra something or another – which I handed to her during morning assembly.

Sandra accepted it with a coy smile and my spirits rose but swiftly dived again when she handed it back during the lunch break with my spelling mistakes circled and corrected – in red.

Turns out that she had fallen for a boy in the year above mine and this was her way of breaking off our short-lived affair. I never spoke to her again.

But I was reminded this week that even modern spell check systems are far from infallible when a note I was writing to a colleague called Angus Cundey was auto-corrected to Anus Cuddley. I doubt he’d have been impressed if he’d received it.

And a friend tells me she recently received an e-mail to say that her grandmother was a homosexual when, in fact, she was home from hospital. The computer auto-correct is all too often an embarrassing problem which has spawned quite a few books on the subject including Damn You Auto-Correct and The Big Book of Auto-Correct Fails. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sandra something or another wrote the software.

No need for a head – or feet

Getting ahead in art

I‘m absolutely useless at drawing people. The bodies and legs usually turn out OK but a chimpanzee with a spray gun would probably make a better job of the faces.

The good news, in this brave new creative era, is that it’s now OK to simply draw the body and not to bother with the head. You just leave it off and explain things away with a message to the viewer saying you’re standing too close.

One of my sons recently presented me with such a picture. It’s a print of a large bird. I’m not sure what sort of bird it is because it doesn’t have a head but it demonstrates how the new wave of headless art works.

Thought for the day

If you’re getting tired of chasing your dreams why not ask them where they’re going and hook up with them later?

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Responses to Diary of an Ockhamite

  1. David Roberts Reply

    August 13, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    Thirsty pilgrims will wish to note that the Soho Coach & Horses haunted by the legendary Norman Balon, London’s rudest landlord, is the pub at 29 Greek Street, not the ones at 2 Old Compton Street or 1 Great Marlborough Street.

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