ONCE or twice a year the column is invited to share a room - on licensed premises, invariably - with a group of trainee journalists.

There is no instructional role. Rather it is a re-working of the old Charles Atlas jest: "You too can have a body like mine (if you're not careful".)

It would have happened again last Thursday evening - an upper room gathering in the Red Lion - had not we been waylaid in the downstairs bar and remained there two hours later.

His audience thus captive, someone handed over a little card which his young son had been given after treatment for a minor head injury at Whitby Hospital.

Issued by the Scarborough and North East Yorkshire Health Care Trust, it offered sensible advice on signs, symptoms and safeguards. ("Discourage the child from playing active games, including computer games and watching TV.") In these head banging days, however, the guidance which most may seek was on the back cover of this NHS publication (see below): "Had an accident? Injured? You may be entitled to compensation.

"Call a specialist solicitor for free advice now..."

FROM Stockton, meanwhile, Ken Spearen sends the true story of the North Carolina lawyer who insured a box of expensive cigars against, among other things, fire.

Before even paying the first premium, he'd smoked the lot and then filed a claim because the cigars had been lost "in a series of small fires".

The insurers refused to pay; the lawyer sued and won. Though the judge agreed that the claim was frivolous, the insurance company had failed to make clear what it deemed "unacceptable fire" and was ordered to pay him $15,000.

After the lawyer cashed the cheque, the insurers had him arrested on 24 counts of arson - with his previous claim used against him. He was convicted of intentionally burning insured property and, hoist by his own exploding cigars, is serving 24 months imprisonment.

FURTHER education (cont). in extolling the Christmas best seller Schott's Original Miscellany, last week's column referred - as Ben Schott does - to Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles 1971 LP.

Both John Milburn in Chester-le-Street ("a long time admirer of your fastidious research") and Kevin O'Beirne in Sunderland point out that the record was issued in 1967.

"I can't say that I ever cared for it," adds Kevin - e-mail address igorfrankensteinsoundlab.co.uk - and also recalls that the famous cover was parodied "to good effect" on We're Only In It For the Money, a 1968 LP by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

The latter, though not the former, is available on mail order from the Sound Lab. The other 8,999 facts in Schott's masterwork are doubtless unimpeachable.

WITHOUT reference to the gentleman who captains the Brainless Britannia B 5s and 3s team, the column on August 16, 2000, reported on an endangered species called the dingy skipper.

It's a butterfly, colonised near the former railway sidings in Shildon - habitat hitherto of the grimy train spotter.

"It's drab and grey and looks just like a moth. I admit it doesn't sound very lovely," said Ian Weller, butterfly recorder for Durham and Northumberland.

The dingy skipper might further have been threatened, trampled underfoot even, had the 2000 steam cavalcade gone ahead. Ian had punched the air at news of its cancellation.

Last week it was revealed that the £12.5m dualling of Scotswood Road in Newcastle will need major amendments because the dingy skipper flew by first. A scheme to double the size of a civic amenity site at Walbottle, up the road, has also been cut back because tippers might disturb the skippers.

"It's a bit dingy, small and brown but it really is a nice butterfly," says city council ecological officer Andy Goodman.

Whatever the name, the dingy skipper is clearly a leading light: the lepidopterous equivalent of the great crested newt.

FROM dingy skipper to Barney's Bull, to which - "as buggered as Barney's bull" - last week's column trepidantly referred.

Though it was the first time we'd come across the beast, Barney's best seems to be damn near ubiquitous.

John Briggs in Darlington finds him in Dauber, one of John Masefield's salty poems... Rib up like Barney's bull and thick your neck Throw paints to hell, boy; you belong on deck

...in a review of a Peter Corris novel ("more trouble than Barney's bull"), on a genealogy website ("his sheets more mixed up than Barney's bull") and in Max Miller's song about Mary From the Dairy.

I said "Mary, I'm no fool, "You can't milk Barney's bull"

That's when Mary from the dairy fell for me.

That's that one by the horns, anyway.

TALKING Teesdale before Christmas, we noted the ancient way of counting sheep. The ever informative Willis Collinson in Durham offers insomniac one-to-tens from Wales, Borrowdale, Kirkby Stephen, Nidderdale and Teesdale, augmented by Malcolm Raine in Byers Green whose grandfather was a shepherd in Weardale.

"It's been verified by my brother in Harrogate," adds Malcolm.

Wales: Un, dau, tri, pedwar, pump, chwech, saith, wyth, naw, deg.

Borrowdale: Yan, tyan, tethera, methera, pimp, sethera, lethera, hevera, devera, dick.

Kirkby Stephen: Yan, tahn, teddera, meddera, pimp, settera, littera, hovera, dovera, dick.

Midderdale: Yain, tain, eddero, peddero, pitts, tayter, layter, overo, covero, dix.

Teesdale: Yan, tyane, tethera, methera, pip, razer, ceasar, cattera, hoara, dick.

Weardale: Yan, tan, tither, mither, pip, teezer, leezer, catsa, laira, dick.


FULLOCK, in Teesdale meaning to thump, also featured in that little twang bang. When Ian Forsyth was growing up in 1950s Houghton-le-Spring, however, fullock was "the equivalent in marbles of a no ball - a shot not flicked cleanly out of the clenched fist but pushed or thrown."

The only marbles terms which the column can remember are "nowts" and "everys", apparent opposites but inviting explanation.

Were there are any others? Or any rules? Do kids still play marbles? (And whatever happened to Lady Docker?)

FINALLY, the diligent will recall that almost half a page of last Thursday's paper was given over to a mistake in the Superbrain quiz.

What, we had asked, was Cushy Butterfield's father called - and other than Mr Butterfield, we asked the impossible.

It's her cousin, as Tom Purvis in Sunderland neatly pointed out, who's immortalised in the song: He's a big lad and a bonny lad

But what was his name;

Yet he fathered Cushy Butterfield -

Well, he got the blame.

Though the story protected the question setter who traduced a Cushy number, it's time to own up: it was I.

That the column may gain half a mark for grammar is - as they may rarely say in the outpatients' department at Whitby Hospital - no compensation whatever.

That the column may gain half a mark for grammar is - as they may rarely say in the outpatients' department at Whitby Hospital - no compensation whatever.