In the beginning...
The Case of the Left-Handed Kipper
The Patently Obvious Blandford Clamp
Amphibidexterity - or how to get a handle on frogs

I had a left handed kipper the other day. You might think of kippers as being symmetrical, but they aren’t. After all, one half has the back bone and the other doesn’t.

Now, the person who fillets the herring must be handed – and I expect he always holds his knife in one hand and the fish in the other – and they are always the same way round, so he always fillets his kippers with the backbone on the right or the left, as the case may be. So, in order to make a kipper with the backbone on the other side you would have to do everything the other way round, so that knife and fish are reversed and the kipper that is produced is the mirror-image of the other kind.

The reason that I noticed it was that I, like the kipper-filleter, am a creature of habit. I arrange my kipper on the plate with the tail on the left and that normally means that the half without the backbone is nearer me – which is the side I eat first, from left to right, from tail to head.

I was a little non-plussed the other day, therefore, when I was faced with a kipper that didn’t obey the rules, the tail was on the left but the backbone was nearer me and everybody knows that you can’t eat the half with the backbone first. (Well, you can’t, can you?). I tried turning the plate round so that the backbone was away from me but then the head was at the wrong end and you can’t eat a kipper from head to tail; the flesh just doesn’t lift off the skin properly. So I tried working from right to left but that meant playing a forehand stroke rather than a backhand if you see what I mean or I would have had to swap knife and fork over; anyway, it was no good it just didn’t taste the same. The whole gastronomic experience was disrupted. In future I shall ask my supplier to ensure that I get only right-handed kippers and save all the breakfast time torment.

I’m surprised Conan Doyle didn’t beat me to these observations; I can just see it now: “The Case of the Left Handed Kipper”.

“Observe, Watson: from the lingering smell of oak smoke and the fact that the fatal thrust went from left to right I deduce that we are looking for a left handed kipper filleter who hasn’t yet had his breakfast”.

“Astounding, Holmes, now would you be so kind as to pass the tomato ketchup?”


Years ago I used to live and work in Blandford Forum in Dorset where I had the good fortune to work with a colleague, called Tim, who also became my friend;  twenty five years on we still stay in touch although he now lives in the West Country I am in Scotland. One day he  produced some funny little clip things that he had acquired in a box of old screws from Blandford Market and challenged me to say what they were. They were like little calipers, made of plated brass with a tiny ratchet mechanism so that they could be clamped tightly round any cylindrical item (such as a pen, for example). I can remember how we puzzled over what they might be. We thought about devices for docking sheep's tails or even removing other portions of  their anatomies, but they seemed too well made and too expensive  to be something you applied and left in place until it fell off (ambiguity entirely intentional). We also mused on various gruesome medical applications but nothing quite seemed to have the cast-iron ring of conviction about it that would make you say, "Ah! That's what it is!"

Anyway, being the persistent sort of chap he is,  Tim has carried one of them around in his briefcase ever since, occasionally asking people if they knew what it might be. Recently, one of his Contracts officers deduced that a small number on one side might relate to a patent and on searching the register: `Bingo'.

 There it is: "Improvements relating to clips or clamping devices more particularly for use with hair waving appliances"    Applied for : 7 Feb 1929, Published 10 Jun 1930, by Eugine Francis Suter.

 Tim emailed me to "put my mind at rest after all these years". Ah, if only he knew how many sleepless nights those Improvements relating to clips or clamping devices have cost me.



I have lately made a lot of progress at the bottom of the garden. The rhododendron thicket (also known as the mangrove swamp) has almost all been torn down, cut up, piled up, and will, if it ever stops raining long enough to let it dry out, eventually burn up while I stand by, indulging my pyromania, and poking it with a stick – the fire that is, not the pyromania.

 All this activity has been disturbing the wildlife, however. Yesterday I was sitting on the garden bench, mopping the sweat from my brow and enjoying a well-earned cup of tea when a tiny frog came hopping by. Obviously only just past the tadpole stage he was heading out into the wide green yonder without a backward glance. I feel there ought to be scope for a joke about leading “a frog’s life” in this somewhere but I can’t quite put it together – suggestions on a postcard, please, if the Muse inspires you.

 I saw an even bigger frog disappearing into a hole in the bank a few days ago and there is another good one that lurks behind the coal bunker. This is the green and yellow, common or garden frog, of course, (froggus mundanus horticulturis) as Linnaeus so memorably named it. They grow to a good size here but not to compare with my experience in France many years ago where I saw a man eating frog. (This old joke had long been thought to be extinct but has recently emerged from extended hibernation in the Highlands of Scotland where its revival is being seen as an unexpected side effect of global warming. The last known specimen before this was recorded in the Radio Fun Annual of 1953 . A spokesman for the Scottish Society For The Preservation Of Old Jokes, Mr Max Welton-Braes said that the species was widespread in the days of Music Hall but much reduced of late. This particular specimen was last seen heading south for the pantomime season where it is to be hoped that a frosty reception at the Glasgow Empire will soon send it back into hibernation.)