Fringe Box



Life in Solitary: Can You Smiz?

Published on: 5 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 7 Feb, 2021

Tony Edwards

The Lockdown Diary of Tony Edwards

Let’s All Get ‘Smizing’ Behind the Face Masks

I’ve suddenly realised that smiles have effectively been banned from public places now that the law demands we wear a face mask whenever we’re out and about.  

And, sadly, it’s not a law that’s likely to be repealed, revoked or rescinded any time soon so we’ve probably seen the last of those friendly, cheerful, reassuring grins from passers-by for the foreseeable future – replaced by soulless, anonymous squares of gauze hooked around our ears.

Those playful chuckles, infectious laughs, and flirtatious pouts, along with the sweet, endearing, compassionate smiles, will now be seen only by consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes while the pandemic persists.  So it may be a good idea to learn the art of “smizing” – that’s the official word for smiling with your eyes.

The leading expert on the subject was top neurologist Guillaume Duchenne who famously declared that genuine smiles come from the eyes rather than the mouth and that if the upper part of the face doesn’t move in the process, you’re looking at a fake smile.  Genuine smiles are known as “Duchenne” smiles, after the great man, and will be greatly enhanced by “squinching” – lowering your eyelids to slightly squint.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that smizing and squinching are catching on fast.  Indeed our very own national treasure Joanna Lumley says she’s already mastered the art.  “I do extra-special, crinkly eye smiling at people,” she says.  “It’s a new skill I’ve recently developed”.

Spike Milligan – smiling with his eyes

But if you’re in need of something to smile about before practising your smize or your squinch, you might like to cast your eyes over a special poem about smiling penned by the late, great Spike Milligan.

It’s called ‘Smiling Is Infectious‘.

Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the ‘flu.
When someone smiled at me today,
I started smiling too.
I passed around the corner
and someone saw my grin.
When he smiled I realized
I’d passed it on to him.
I thought about that smile,
then I realized its worth.
A single smile, just like mine
could travel round the earth.
So, if you feel a smile begin,
don’t leave it undetected.
Let’s start an epidemic quick,
and get the world infected.

Hair Apparent

I think I’ll grow a ponytail.  Not that I want one; I don’t. Honest.  I’m not impressed by Karl Largerfeld, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and a long list of celebrity men who’ve taken to scragging their excess hair into elastic bands to form a swishy tail.

It’s just that I haven’t had a hair cut since late October so it’s been more than three months now and, with lock-down set to last another month or more, I’ll be tripping over my silvery locks long before James from the Clay salon can think about sharpening-up his scissors, re-opening his doors, and get snipping again.

I really should have squeezed-in a trim during December, before the latest lock-down, but trying to get a hair cut just before Christmas was like asking for an Ocado home delivery slot at short notice. No chance.

And it won’t be any better when the latest lock-down is lifted and the barbershop waiting lists stretch into late Spring.  So I’ll probably go for the Joe Wicks alternative – not so much a ponytail as a “man bun”.

Joe – TV’s lockdown body coach – scrunches his hair into a small bun on the top of his head, following a style set by Paul McCartney, David Beckham and Jude Law.

OK, it’s not the perfect solution but when your hair is midway between Rasputin and Rapunzel, the man bun seems to be a reasonable option until I get it cut, when I might have the shorn hair woven into a toupe for my fast receding hairline.

But while my hairline recedes, the hair in my ears and up my nose seems to be growing longer and stronger by the day. I used to cut the hair in my nose once every 10 years or so.  Lately, it’s once a week.

They say that evolution makes these curious changes to protect the human body, but I’m just wondering what nature has in store that’s going to need so much extra hair up my nose to deal with it. Maybe it’s to provide the raw material for a transplant on my hairline. I’ll keep you posted.

Barbara Cartland’s Favourite Room

The recent news that Sarah Ferguson has penned a “petticoats and passion” novel for Mills & Boon, titled “Her Heart for a Compass”, reminded me of the undoubted queen of romantic fiction, the late Dame Barbara Cartland, who wrote well over 700 romantic novels in her life-time and sold over a billion copies worldwide.

I once interviewed her for a series I was writing on “The Most Important Room of the House” which, she’d decided, was the bedroom so we spent an hour or so talking about why her boudoir at Camfield Place, near Hatfield, Herts, was her room of choice.

We were about to take photographs of her seated on the bed, where she often dictated her bodice rippers to one of her team of secretaries when she suddenly announced that she’d changed her mind and now decided that the kitchen at the mansion, previously owned by Beatrix Potter, was the most important room after all.

She spent another hour explaining why, but I left with a less racy story than I’d originally hoped for.

Barbara Cartland’s “autobituary”.  Her life and times in the pink

We met again a few months later, on a cold January morning, at a press photocall at London’s Savoy Hotel.  I’d also invited Michael Winner, Henry Cooper, Norman Tebbit, Richard Attenborough, and Vera Lynn, but none of them seemed very keen to brave the cold and step outside for daylight press photographs – apart from Dame Barbara, then in her 90s, who duly ushered everyone out to the Embankment Gardens with all the natural leadership of a headmistress on school sports day.

After lunch, and as something of a parting gesture, she handed me 46 sheets of hand-typed paper, bound together with her trademark pink ribbon. It was labelled “The History of Barbara Cartland and How I Want To Be Remembered” and was, in effect, her obituary which she regularly handed it out to media hacks to make sure they’d get their facts right when the time came.

The last and first rose

The First and Last Rose of the Summer

I photographed the very last rose of last Summer ‘2020 in my garden this week.  It’s managed to survive through months of torrential rain, high winds, thick snow and heavy frosts and so, with some justification, seems to qualify as the first rose of Spring 2021 as well.  Barbara Cartland would have approved of its delicate shade of pink.

Doth This Lady Protest Too Much

I’ve been following the US media trail of Kamala Harris, the new Vice President of the USA, since her inauguration.

She’s made a point of highlighting her anti-racist, anti-sexist credentials while, at the same time, telling anyone who’ll listen how she is a woman of colour, the first black and Asian woman to be a Vice President, and a new role model for “all the little girls” in America – all of which seem to have little or no relevance to the job in hand but which have an ironic tinge of both racism and sexism about them.

And she’s not big on serious media scrutiny either if a recent “tough” TV interview, in which she touched on such burning issues as her taste in comfortable shoes, is anything to go by.  I hope things improve as the word is she could be the next President of the United States after Biden.

Born to Be a Brain Surgeon?

While the media continues to focus on our medical professionals and the on-going battle against Covid 19, I’ve been reminded of a girl called Anne Orton who was just two-years-old when she told her mother she wanted to be a surgeon.  The tiny tot from Chessington had asked her mother to explain a TV news item about a baby who’d received life-saving surgery before announcing that she, too, was going to be a surgeon when she grew up.

Just five but thirsting for medical knowledge.  Anne Orton with Phyllis George

Fast forward three years to her fifth birthday when she wrote to me asking if I could arrange for her to meet up with a brain surgeon. At the time I was running a project which gave kids the opportunity to meet their idols and, while most wanted to meet pop stars and actors, Anne was desperate to talk with a top surgeon about a career in medicine.

So I duly introduced her to Phyllis George, a brain surgeon at The Royal Free Hospital in London – the first woman to be elected Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons.  Like Anne, Phyllis had wanted to be a surgeon from her infancy and the two of them had an instant rapport.

Phyllis quickly discovered that Anne preferred reading medical manuals to children’s books and seemed to be familiar with the names of most of the surgical instruments when they carried out some mock surgery together in one of the Royal Free’s operating theatres. The hospital made Anne a special operating hat and gown for the occasion.

Anne would be around 40 today and I’ve often wondered if she ever achieved her dream of becoming a brain surgeon or whether she changed her mind and travelled a different career path.  Perhaps she still lives in Surrey? I’d be interested to know.

Child’s Play Politics

I once beat a school friend in a best-out-of-three set of “Paper, Rock, Scissors” and he duly handed over his best marble.  Robert Hutton wasn’t happy to lose the highly-coloured glass bauble in a playground bet, of course, but that’s what we’d agreed – and eight-year-old kids never snitched on verbal agreements back then.  After all, I’d have forfeited my catapult if I’d lost to him so our playground politics had a genuine code of conduct and sense of fair play.

Swapped for a marble

Soon after I swapped Robert Hutton’s marble for Peter Williams’ champion ‘conker’, a shiny horse chestnut hanging from a bootlace, with high hopes of smashing all the other championship contenders to smithereens.

Unfortunately, my conker proved to be too brittle and was KO’d in round three by a worthy opponent.  We learned, as kids, that you can’t win ’em all and not to grizzle and blame your mates when things don’t go your way.

But when EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and other EU officials threw their toys out of the pram last week, threatening to block exports of vaccine from the EU to the UK and closing the border with the Republic of Ireland in the process, a somewhat shocked world discovered that the EU could be dangerously unreliable playmates and very bad losers.

Eight-year-olds like Robert Hutton and Peter Williams would have booted them out of the gang back in the day.

Grown-up Politics

While on the subject of politics and politicians, you may be interested to hear a story told to me this week by a friend.

His son had failed at everything so he told him; “You will now marry the girl I choose.” The son said; “No”.

So he told him the girl was Bill Gates’ daughter. The son said; “Yes”.

So he called Bill Gates and said: “I want your daughter to marry my son.” Bill Gates said; “No”.

So he told Bill Gates; “My son is CEO of the World Bank.” Bill Gates said; “OK”.

So he called the President of the World Bank and suggested that his son should be CEO. The President said; “No.”

So he told him; “My son is Bill Gates’ son-in-law.” He said; “OK”.

And that’s how politics works –  with the practice of promoting morons into positions of government.

Today’s formal jacket evolved by…

Well-suited with a “Redundant” Buttonhole

Fashion “experts” this week predicted the demise of the formal jacket –  as a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic and the adoption of more casual styles for ‘home-working’.

So you may be interested to know how today’s formal jacket evolved in the first place.  Like most of today’s formal men’s clothing, the formal jacket is merely a minor adaptation of military clothing – in this instance, the military tunic.

By simply turning-up the collar and closing the lapels of today’s jackets, you will re-create the military tunic, with its stand-collar, of the past  You will also see why today’s jackets still have a seemingly redundant buttonhole on the wearer’s left lapel.  Originally it would have accommodated the top button of the tunic.

… turning-down the collar of the military tunic and turning-back the lapels

While on the subject of fashion history, I can reveal that the black school jacket at Eton was first introduced when the school went into mourning for George III in 1820 – and never came out.  Some fashion pundits say this isn’t true but I was personally assured it is by no less an authority than the great fashion historian James Laver, one-time keeper of the prints at the Victoria & Albert Museum, who famously created a guide to female fashion “Time Lines”.

Indecent –  10 years before its time.
Shameless – 5 years before its time.
Daring – 1 year before its time.
Smart – Current Fashion.
Dowdy – 1 year after its time.
Hideous – 10 years after its time.
Ridiculous – 20 years after its time.
Amusing – 30 years after its time.
Quaint – 50 years after its time.
Charming – 70 years after its time.
Romantic – 100 years after its time.
Beautiful – 150 years after its time.

Horror Stories

The world-wide Covid virus will present special problems for novelists.   Pre-2020, stories about a deadly virus with a world in fear and mankind in turmoil, would have slotted neatly into the “Post Apocalyptical Fiction” genre.

‘Gromit’ could play Matt Hancock

A year down the line and they will be found on the “Current Affairs” shelf in bookshops and libraries.  Makes you wonder what new science fiction scenario writers will come up with to top the Covid-19 horror story we’ve all been living, for real, for nearly a year.

In any event, keep an eye out for “Covid 19” – the movie, which will probably start shooting directly they’ve written a suitable ending and they’ve found actors to play Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak and Nicola Sturgeon.

My cast would be:
Boris Johnson – James Corden (Gavin & Stacey)
Rishi Sunak – Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire)
Matt Hancock – Gromit (Wallace & Gromit)
Nicola Sturgeon – Jimmy Crankie (The Crankies)

TV Presenter Repeats

I’ve invented a new armchair game to alleviate occasional boredom during the ever-depressing TV news and weather bulletins.   All you have to do is tot up the number of times the news or weather presenter repeats a particular, sometimes meaningless phrase during their bulletin.

Take Sally Williams, for example.  She’s the ITV weather girl who regularly reminds us that our weather is “out there” with comments like.  “It’s been wet and windy out there today but we can look forward to a drier day tomorrow out there when we’ll see some occasional sunshine out there.”  My top “out there” score count for Sally was eight in a single weather forecast.

Others to watch out for are:

  • Andrew Marr (The Andrew Marr Show – BBC)  – “Sorry to interrupt.” (Which he clearly isn’t).  I lost track of how many times he said it last Sunday morning.
  • Jo Coburn (Daily Politics – BBC) – “We’re running out of time.” (Meaning please stop talking).
  • Jon Snow (Channel 5 News) – “I mean”.  It’s a meaningless phrase which he uses at the start of almost all his questions.
  • Charlene White (ITV News) – “What was it like?”  A somewhat juvenile question when a more probing line might be more appropriate.
  • Lucrezia Millarini (ITV News) – “I’ll have to stop you there.” Her phrase of choice to round off an interview.
  • Piers Morgan (ITV Good Morning Britain) – “I just need an answer – yes or no.” (Directed mainly at Cabinet Ministers).
  • Robert Peston (Political Editor ITV News) Not so much what he says, but how he says it.  Described as a “verbal slug” with a “strangulated diction”. Tot up the number of elongated pauses between words.

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Responses to Life in Solitary: Can You Smiz?

  1. John Pitt Reply

    February 5, 2021 at 9:01 pm

    I commend Dragon for publishing solitary Tony Edwards’
    brilliant column. It’s more penetratingly and deservedly
    well written than anything else I read in any other local
    or even regional UK newspaper.

    A wonderful mix of sardonic wit and a revealingly perceptive and amusing narrative.

  2. Lynn Smith Reply

    February 6, 2021 at 11:48 am

    Thanks, Tony for another highly amusing lockdown diary.

    Just like you, my hair after 15 weeks of growth, is out of control. My husband has threatened to turn me upside down and use me as a mop for the kitchen floor.

    Not too sure where the handle will go.

  3. John Perkins Reply

    February 6, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    I implore Tony Edwards not to go for a “man bun”.

    It’s not a good look, unless one is a member of the Ocaina people striding the Amazon basin, spear in hand. Even then it also requires a pair of firm lower buns (nobody wants to see a soggy bottom).

    A ponytail is an even worse look. We all not what we see when we lift one of those.

    I recommend pet hair trimmers, as bought for our old cat when he became too stiff to groom himself properly (no, he wasn’t dead). Using the widest spacer (18mm) it’s possible to give oneself a trim superior to any ‘pudding basin’ short-back-and-sides.

  4. Harry Eve Reply

    February 6, 2021 at 9:44 pm

    I took Tony Edwards advice and practised “smizing today when I received my first covid jab. I have no idea how well I smiz and hope the nurse was not alarmed. Excellent work being done by all at G-Live supporting well-prepared logistics.

    And a great poem from Spike Milligan – a timely reminder of a genius, sadly departed.

  5. RWL Davies Reply

    February 9, 2021 at 2:17 pm

    The law emphatically does not demand “we wear a facemask whenever we’re out and about”.

    This “brilliant column” should get its facts right.

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