Thursday, 29 January 2004

Try the new pachyderm size

At one time, I remember, it was all quite simple. You just picked up a packet of cereal or bar of soap, or whatever it was, and if you proposed breakfasting or washing in a really big way you chose a large packet of cereal or a large bar of soap.

Then some bright young man in advertising realised that this was no way to sell things, and the Monster Size was born. I had always had the impression that monster was a noun, but presumably the idea of a monstrous bar of soap has undesirable associations, suggesting a huge, evil, Quatermass sort of thing with warts, bursting out of its packet and overcoming everybody with its carbolic miasma. This is definitely not what the public wants when it buys a bar of soap, so Monster Size it has to be.
Since then the position has deteriorated further. Nowadays, practically anything consumable – disinfectant, cigarettes, indigestion powder and so on – comes to us in sizes named in such a way that comparison is impossible without looking for some 6-point type that says 120g or whatever.

When I was quite young I had worked out the exact significance of Large Sizes. They were, I realised, different from Small Sizes because there was more in them; in short, they were bigger. When I reached the age of economic awareness I also came to understand that they cost more, and yet, in a way, less.

This knowledge stood me in very good stead for many years but is now quite useless. I simply have no idea whether the Family size or the Economy Size is the one to go for. I know that the Jumbo Size must be pretty big, but how does it compare with the New Double Size? To make matters worse, the good old Small Size seems to be fighting a losing battle against the Trial, Handy and Pocket Sizes.

The development of the idea, it seems to me, has gone quite far enough. The trouble is, the possibilities are by no means exhausted. No manufacturer, as far as we know, has yet introduced a Goliath Size, a Grand Canyon Size, or a Czar of All The Russias Size. And, if my unpractised brain can toss these out, how many hundreds more will the bright young men in advertising produce? Trying to keep track of them is a Man-Sized problem.

Monday, 26 January 2004

Sheep and computers

My son co-produced The Graduate in the West End a few years ago and when I was checking the net for reviews of the Jerry Hall recast I came across one in Spanish. Google provided a computer translation:

Critical did pebre to model Jerry Hall after their theater debut.
No matter how hard empiluchó, the ex- ones of Mick Jagger did not convince to the critical with its performance. The American supermodel Jerry Hall dazzled to the British theater critical with its beauty, but most of them it was than contented less with his performance in "the graduated one". "you do not let your work regulate, Jerry", it said the newspaper to him Daily Telegraph after assumeing the role of Mrs. Robinson carried out in the cinema by Anne Bancroft in 1967 and in the London theater by Kathleen east Turner soon year. Hall took off everything for a scene in which it must appear naked in the shining night of debut, made Tuesday. In order to support moral to him, in this occasion they attended its ex-husband, Mick Jagger, and its son James, of 14 years. In spite of the critics of the press, the producer Sacha Brooks was of very good spirit the morning of Wednesday.

So the computer gave "bellwether" for "leading lady". Brilliant!
There must be something about computers and sheep. We all know the one about the back translation from the Russian of "hydraulic ram" coming out as "water-sheep".

(This isn't Jerry Hall, it's Kathleen Turner, her predecessor as Mrs Robinson)

Friday, 16 January 2004

World class nosework

It has been reported in the papers once again that, as a publicity stunt, someone is attempting to push a peanut across London with his nose. This is commented upon as if nose-pushing small objects along were a newly-invented activity. Not a bit of it: many years ago Beachcomber regularly chronicled all the major contests organised by the Welsh Nasal Pea-Pushing Association.

But clearly the sport is nowadays in decline, when an amateur attempt at an simple urban run with an easily-nudgeable object makes news. Back in the thirties, such giants as Evans the Hearse and "Iron-Nostril" Balzarotti were fighting it out in rugged mountain terrain. Balzarotti's Snowdon record of two hundred and thirteen hours, four minutes and twelve seconds has never been challenged.

Thursday, 15 January 2004

Mrs C

Talking of names, I wonder how many people know that Dr Crippen's wife, before being Cora Turner and adopting the stage name Belle Elmore, had been born KUNIGUNDE MACKAMOTSKI

Wednesday, 14 January 2004

Screen name

While browsing through Halliwell's Who's Who in the Movies I came across the details of a "Dignified German character actor in Hollywood films" (actually he was Austrian) called GUSTAV VON SEYFFERTITZ. Now this is quietly amusing, but then, almost thrown away, there was the note that he acted under the name of G. BUTLER CLONBLOUGH.

When I had finished thrashing about, moaning and drumming my heels on the floor, there came into my mind a picture, crystal clear and colourful, of a meeting of Gustav, his family and his associates, probably taking place at Big Lou's Bagel House and Loxery on Wilshire and Canyon. He has called them together to ask for their ideas for a screen name which would trip off the tongue more easily than the one he came from the Fatherland with, but by midnight they have got nowhere, and the suggestions are becoming increasingly desperate: Scorpion de Rooftrouser? Syd Von Maxoff? J. Cornelius Whoops? Molonay Tubilderborst? Arthur "Mad Fred" Dettmold? ...and so on.

Suddenly from Agnes, his agent's secretary, a quiet, mousy girl, comes an excited whisper: "How about G. BUTLER CLONBLOUGH?".

Oh, the cries of delight! "Of course!" "Why didn't you think of that, Abe?" "Goldwyn'll love it!"

And then, later, Gustav - or rather G. Butler as we must now call him - to Agnes: "Gee, Miss Blatnick! Without your glasses your eyes are... kinda... well, cornflower!"

The rest is history: the Oscars, the Hollywood Wedding of the Year, how Agnes, in her excitement, throws up over her bridesmaids (the Glutetsky Sisters, a top close-harmony group) and how after a few years their lovely children Wilmington, Prodinda and Wotan make distinguished careers for themselves in, respectively, forestry, juggling and biogenetics.....

Tuesday, 13 January 2004

Actors and actresses

We use author and poet rather than authoress and poetess, but until fairly recently it was permissible to distinguish persons who act by gender. Now, it seems, not, and style guides tell journalists to stick with actor.

There is tradition of women who appear on the stage being known as actors. From Pepys’ Diary, 27 Dec 1666: “Doll Common doing Abigail most excellently, & Knipp the widow very well, & will be an excellent actor, I think".

But Fowler (1926) has three columns of typically elegant and thoughtful prose on Feminine Designations and includes actress in a list of established feminine titles. The 1968 Burchfield revision rambles a bit and ends "...The whole question of gender sensitive, verging on explosive. All possible 'solutions' introduce uglinesses or new inconsistencies or leave false expectations in their wake. Ours is an uneasy age linguistically". This is unhelpful.

Perhaps there are some ageing female actresses who like to be so called (though apparently not Judi Dench or Diana Rigg) but younger ones generally don’t. Let my thespian (thespienne?) daughter-in-law, who has been in everything from The Oresteia to The Bill but is still young, have the last word: She says actress has acquired a faintly pejorative tinge, and wants people to call her actor, except for her agent, who should call her often.

Saturday, 10 January 2004

In the very first row of the second-raters

That was where Somerset Maugham, in his autobiography, placed himself. Perhaps that was a little presumptuous, as was the tribute to him that appeared in Punch at the time of his 80th birthday, when he was sunning himself like an old lizard in the south of France:

As I bask in Antibes and in honour,
I consider the works of my pen
Which have made me in one long lifetime
All things to all literate men:
A Stevenson told of the facts of life,
A Kipling shorn of his creed,
The rich man’s Marie Corelli
The poor man’s André Gide.

Friday, 9 January 2004


The photo is of Che Guevara in disguise. It was taken in 1965 when he was preparing to travel outside Cuba incognito to foment revolution in other countries. This famous one of him in a black beret had been taken five years earlier.

This is the answer to the question asked HERE

Thursday, 8 January 2004

Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky

Here are two extracts from notes about Beethoven in The Record Guide, by Edward Sackville-West and Desmond Shawe-Taylor. The book was published in 1951, and the recommendations for the best (78rpm) recordings now seem very quaint, but the essays on composers are wonderfully concise and perceptive:

“…Discussion whether Beethoven or Mozart is the “greater” composer are fruitless, since both are supreme examples of the two opposite types of artist which Nietzsche first distinguished. Mozart is essentially the Appolonian, the classic whose deepest and saddest utterances can never take a form that is not shapely and rounded; while Beethoven is the Dionysiac, the blows of whose gigantic hammer and chisel are still visible on the marble of his noblest masterpieces.”
[How about Gielgud Appolonian, Olivier Dionysiac?]

“…For some time the two most popular composers have been Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. This simultaneous enthusiasm for two very different artists, one unquestionably of the first rank, the other unquestionably not, is so curious as to be worth investigation. What have they in common, and why do their messages seem so important to our tormented world?

The clue perhaps lies in that word “tormented”. ….In a chaotic and hostile environment some people turn to those artists who created exquisite beauty within an accepted framework of religion or social life…….but the majority seek for a kind of art which springs from conflict, questioning, disorder resolved into order.
Both Beethoven and Tchaikovsky wrestled all their lives with what they called Fate; to put it crudely, Beethoven conquered, while Tchaikovsky succumbed......”

Saturday, 3 January 2004


I stole the title of this blog and the Montaigne quotation from a book published in 1944, written by Field-Marshall Viscount Wavell, GCB, GCSI, GCIE, CMG, MC, when he was serving as commander-in-chief successively in the Middle East, North Africa and East Asia, and later as Viceroy of India.

It's an anthology of all the poems he had ever learned by heart, interspersed with some witty and erudite comments; it includes some slabs of rather turgid poetry but is mostly a delight, containing as it does much of the memorable verse that one vaguely knew and which is enjoyable to re-discover and declaim.

Among the many that I liked are an assault by J K Stephen on two popular literary giants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which ends:

..When mankind shall be delivered
From the clash of magazines,
And the inkstand shall be shivered
Into countless smithereens:
When there stands a muzzled stripling,
Mute, beside a muzzled bore:
When the Rudyards cease from kipling
And the Haggards ride no more.


Thursday, 1 January 2004

Carol Concert

The season of goodwill is over, and gentlemen can now stop resting merry until the next glad tidings of comfort and joy arrive and it starts all over again. Damon Runyon takes a more jaundiced view than most:

Personally, I am thinking that this Wenceslas is not such a guy as I am wishing to give the large hallo to, and, though I do not want to appear an aggressive character, his ever-loving page seems to me to be asking for a poke in the smush every time he opens it, and the same goes for this old peasant too, though he does not say much, being more occupied in loafing around nicking bits of firewood and hoping it will rain cheeseburgers.

The reason I am leading off in this way is that last Wednesday I am having to attend some function where many citizens are fondly garping at their offspring while these offspring pay much attention to this Wenceslas and other guys who are doing such things as watching flocks. Now I am not denying that these guys are doing a great job with their flocks and all, but what I am not understanding is why many guys and in particular dolls are given the misty eye by listening to such things, while personally it leaves me as cold as a Republican convention, which believe me is very cold indeed.

So I am sitting there with these kids ding-donging merrily on high and all the time wondering why I am not in Batty’s Bar with Scissors Pavlovsky and other solid citizens and their dolls who could not tell St. Agnes’ Fountain from a packet of soda-mints but who know a lot more stories than this guy Wenceslas and all these shepherds put together. Maybe it is just that I am an unworthy character, but it is a well-known fact that many guys and dolls who get all steamed up over First Nowells and such are very slippery customers indeed, and would sell their grandmothers to the old clothes man just like anybody else.

Answers to Again Twenty Questions

41   ...Goering has two, but rather small
Himmler has something simmler
And poor old Goebbels has noebbels at all.
(WW2 song)

42   I'll be loving you, always
With a love that's true, always.
When the things you've planned
Need a helping hand I will understand, always...
(Irving Berlin, 1925)

43   d)

44   BOX
(voice box, black box, Boxing Day)

45   Guyana

46   Cocaine

47   25

48   Wikipedia

49   The French Lieutenant's Woman
(John Fowles)

50   The Bride of Frankenstein
(James Whale, 1935)

51   Self-raising flour

52   Black Beauty
(Anna Sewell)

53   Martello towers

54   Cadillac

55   Catch-22

56   Zips

57   Coffee beans, part-digested by civets

58   America's Cup

59   Cheese (a mould)

60   It
Cold Cape Cod clams 'gainst their wish do it
Even lazy jellyfish do it,
Let's do it, let's fall in love (Cole Porter, 1928)

Answers to Ten Questions

81    The Koran (chapters)

82    Subscriber Identity Module

83    The Order of the Garter

84    All buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris

85    Vanessa

86    Armadillos

87    Ethel Merman

88    Ulysses
James Joyce

89    K
5 points

90    Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'étendard sanglant est levé
La Marseillaise


Answers to Another Twenty Questions

21    What is love? 'Tis not hereafter
Present mirth hath present laughter
What's to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty
Then come and kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff doth not endure.
Twelfth Night

[Love is also not several other things, according to some versions of 1 Corinthians 13] 

22    An anthology of verse compiled by Lord Wavell.
(or, see here)

23    Rodney King being beaten by police.

24    The Suez Canal.

25    For Witherington needs must I wayle,
As one in doleful dumpes
For when his legs were smitten off
He fought upon his stumpes.
The Ballad of Chevy Chase

26   That she couldn't lunch that day
Miss Otis Regrets (Cole Porter)

27    ...Trees where you sit
Shall crowd into a shade
Where'ere you walk: Semele (Handel)

28    You can't trust a special like the old-time coppers
When you can't find your way home.
My old man says "Follow the van..." music-hall song made famous by Marie Lloyd

    Stockholm syndrome.

30    The appearance of Halley's Comet

31    The Army all saluted as they marched along the road.
Was it the King? Or Kitchener?
No, it was Mr Toad. 
Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame 1908

32    Broke wind in her presence

33    Iron

34    Oscar Wilde

35    Miriam and Esther
Mother and sister of Ben-Hur
36    Algeria
(Sudan until it was split)

37    The General Belgrano
During the Falklands War.

38    Zoroastrianism

39    Food rationing in the UK

40    You do the Hokey-Cokey and you turn around, and that's what it's all about.


Answers to Questions 91-100

91    Mrs Worthington's daughter
Though they said at the School of Acting
She was lovely as Peer Gynt
I think on the whole
An ingenue role
Might emphasise her squint.
Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington (Noel Coward)

92    Allegedly: Omlet, ek is de papa spook, or ...ek is jou pa se spook

93    First introduced into the Arthurian tales by Chrétien de Troyes in the third quarter of the twelfth century at the bidding of his patron, Marie de Champagne.

94    lassitude, lethargy, languor, listlessness

95    Come into the garden Maud, for the black bat night has flown
1857 song (Tennyson/Balfe)  (I urge lovers of Victorian ballads to follow the link to see the picture and listen to this lovely song, sung with passion, as you would expect, by a Professor of Critical Musicology. It goes on a bit, but you can always switch off after the first stanza) 

96    Blatter
President of FIFA

97    Elvis film roles
Love Me Tender; Jailhouse Rock; King Creole; Blue Hawaii; Viva Las Vegas

98    Ronald Reagan

99    Alice Springs

100  The official march of the French Foreign Legion is called 'Boudin' (black pudding). This is a reference to the gear (rolled up in a red blanket) that used to top the backpacks of Legionnaires. The song makes repeated reference to the fact that the Belgians don't get any boudin noir, since the King of Belgium at one time forbade his subjects from joining the Legion (and adds "ce sont des tireurs au cul").

Answers to Questions 101-110

101    Condor

102    Airports named after them: New Orleans, Jo'burg, Liverpool, Belfast

103    23

104    "Silver Threads Among the Gold".
More details HERE, and HERE is John McCormac singing it. It ends with the most dispiriting line of any love song: Life is fading fast away... 

105    German. Longfellow.
Details HERE 

106    China

107    15 (or sometimes 6½)
Ancient Talmudic measure of capacity (of questionable veracity).

108    A site for sore eyes

109    Che Guevara

110    It is an anagram of “Nail-biting refreshes the feet"


Answers to Twenty Questions More

61    I don't want to join the army,
I don't want to go to war.
I'd rather hang around
Piccadilly underground,
Living off the earnings of a high born lady

62    The Waste Land

63    UK and USA

64    Barbarossa
(Common name, nickname, codename)

65   Bluetooth
(Harold Bluetooth)

66 The Great Fire of London

67 The South Downs

68 The use of Greenwich Prime Meridian

69 Andrea Jaeger

70 Stanley Baldwin

71 Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten

72 Venezuela

73 Euro banknotes

74 Subway

75 "Not"

76 Shirley Temple

77 101 Dalmatians

78 Neil Armstrong on the moon
(after "...leap for mankind")

79 All were adapted for Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.

80 Angus McPhee, at a Burns Supper on 25th January 1874.
(The answers to the other questions are not known)



Answers to Twenty Questions

1    Drake was in his hammock and a thousand miles away.
Drake's Drum, Sir Henry Newbolt.

2    Jane Austen.

3    Parking meters.

4    Played Pontius Pilate on screen.

5    Arc de Triomphe.

6    Truffles.

7    Matadors.

8    Russian serfs.

9    Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
      Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
Onward Christian Soldiers, Sabine Baring-Gould /Arthur Sullivan

10   There are bad times just around the corner
       There are dark clouds hurtling through the sky
       And it's no use whining about a silver lining
       For we know from experience that they won’t roll by.

11   Spaces on roulette wheels.

12   Nebuchadnezzar (wine bottle sizes)

13   One Israeli shekel.

14   El Bulli, Roses, Catalonia.
The restaurant was closed last July, to reopen as a creativity centre in 2014.

15   ^

16   Whooping cough.

17   The Great Smog.

18   The New Yorker.

19   Probably not.
       See Question 1.

20   In Windsor Great Park, by noblemen at the Tudor court, whenever the weather was too cold for seducing Bessie Throckmorton.