David Parkin works out a few problems

FAREWELL then Barry Humphries, one of the great entertainers of our time.

The Australian comedian, actor, writer and artist died last week aged 89 and the tributes on TV, radio and in newspapers and online underlined what a great talent he was and how fortunate we all were to experience it.

Dame Edna Everage was one of the greatest comedy creations.

Perhaps the biggest compliment to Humphries is that whenever I saw “her” I never once thought about it being a man dressing up as a woman – she was a personality in her own right.

I loved the way Humphries talked about her in the third person and treated her career almost parallel to his.

Lots of comedians have attempted to satirise the Royal Family, but Dame Edna was the only one who ever got away with taking the mickey out of them to their faces.

And they loved it.

Witness our now King “laughing like a drain” as my Dad used to say, when Dame Edna sat down in the Royal Box during a Royal Variety Show and was then handed a card by a flunky.

“They’ve found me a better seat,” she said, before gathering up her gladioli and shimmying away.

I was fortunate enough to see Barry Humphries perform on stage a few years ago.

He brought his one man show to Leeds to perform at the historic City Varieties Music Hall.

Of course, it was anything but a one man show because we were joined by several of his creations.

As well as Dame Edna, there was the boorish, toothy diplomat Sir Les Patterson and he brought back another character he had originally created in the 1950s.

Sandy Stone was an elderly Australian man who mused about life in the suburbs of the Australian city of Melbourne.

He appeared lonely and sad and slowly over the length of the performance, it emerged his daughter had died at the age of four and his wife had then suffered a breakdown.

As Sandy Stone slumped in his chair, emotionally drained by these memories, an empty pushchair rolled across the stage.

As Humphries delivered this powerful and emotional performance, I knew I wasn’t the only member of the audience in the City Varieties that evening who wiped a tear from their cheek.

The Australian columnist Peter Craven commented that Humphries in his Sandy Stone persona could “reduce an audience of young unbelieving cynics to tears with material that might have been written by James Joyce – delivered with wan, uncomprehending wonderment”.

Very true.

How many performers can make you life and cry, almost at the same time.

Yes, Barry Humphries was a very special talent.

One that will not be replaced.

ARE you currently struggling with the “cozzy livs”?

When I read these words on Linkedin the other day I assumed it was something to do with outgrowing a bathing costume.

But no, apparently this is the shortened, “trendy” new way to describe the cost of living.

I get that we give nicknames to people and things that we like, but does describing the cost of living as “cozzy livs” make it any more palatable?

Perhaps the Bank of England chief economist Huw Pill should have used the phrase this week when he declared that British households and businesses “need to accept” that they are poorer and stop seeking pay rises and pushing prices higher.

No surprise that his comments drew plenty of criticism, particularly in the media, who pointed out his £190,000 a year salary and previous role with the investment bank Goldman Sachs.

It echoed the words of his boss, Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey, who earns an annual salary of half a million quid, last year lectured British workers that they shouldn’t ask for big pay rises to try to stop prices rising out of control.

The pair seem unaware that when you are trousering a big salary, lecturing those who earn a lot less and who are really struggling with the pain of the rocketing cost of living, does come across as a tad hypocritical.

And perhaps also when Bailey is the man who ultimately holds responsibility for trying to keep inflation in check.

He’s not covered himself in glory these last 12 months and seems as uncomfortable articulating his thoughts on inflation as he does in trying to control it.

And his chief economist hasn’t exactly helped matters either.

I’m sure better people than me have suggested, that for Bailey, it is a bitter Pill to take.


TALKING of doing your sums, did you see that Rishi Sunak has gone into bat on behalf of the often much maligned discipline of mathematics?

The Prime Minister has set out plans to make every school pupil in England learn maths until they are 18.

He says that the country must change its “anti-maths mindset” and begin to see numeracy as “a key skill every bit as essential as reading”.

A group of mathematicians, education experts and business chiefs will be set up to advise ministers on what pupils aged between 16 and 18 need to study and whether a new qualification is needed to deliver it.

The UK is one of the least numerate countries in the OECD group of developed nations.

More than eight million adults have numeracy skills below those expected of a nine-year-old, while around one-third of pupils fail to pass GCSE maths.

It is estimated that the problem costs the economy tens of billions of pounds a year.

So well done Rishi Sunak for trying to do something about it.

Whether it is a real campaign that lasts or just an electioneering flash in the pan remains to be seen.

As someone with a CSE grade 1 in maths (it is as good as getting a C at O level, I’ll have you know) I never really enjoyed or understood maths at school.

And with everyone carrying around a phone with a calculator on it, when was the last time you saw anyone do a calculation in their head, or by scribbling sums on a scrap of paper?

In fact, when was the last time that you walked into a bar and ordered more than one drink and didn’t have to wait for the person serving you to calculate the price through the sales till?

I was going to call it a cash till, but when was the last time anyone bought a drink, or anything, with cash.

Actually, my Mum pays cash for her Daily Mail at the local news agents on a Saturday morning.

And before you judge, she would like me to make clear that she only buys it for the weekly TV listings.

Nobody appears to be able to do sums “in their head” any more.

Forget maths at school, the only time I ever felt I had a good grasp of mathematics was when I worked in a hotel bar in Derby when I was 18.

The hotel was on a well known route into the city used by groups of ladies on hen parties ( I wanted to day hen dos but I couldn’t work out if it is hen do’s, hen does or hen dos and I’ve just wasted 10 minutes of a Friday morning trying to Google it to find out).

These cavorting groups covered in glitter, feathers, deely boppers, ‘L’ plates and carrying various inflatable items, would make their way from bar to bar like roaming herds of majestic wildebeest traversing the waterholes of the African savannah, until they arrived at a city nightspot such as the Pink Coconut, Slick Chicks or Confettis.

When they arrived in the bar you were behind you had to be light on your feet and quick of mind in order to be able to satiate their thirst.

Forget these mathematical geniuses who can easily tackle the Riemann Hypothesis, I was then as sharp as any of them.

I could work out the price for 17 Taboo and lemonades and a Dubonnet and Coke in my head in a matter of seconds.

And I’ve lived to tell the tale.

Have a great weekend.

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