Monday, 28 February 2005

Scamming the scammers

Amazingly, or perhaps not, the 419 scam, which started in 1989, is still going strong, and people are still falling for it at the rate of around twenty a week, bringing in around $1.5 billion a year for the estimated 250,000 scammers.

Happily, scambaiting also flourishes, in no small measure due to the splendid work of an Englishman whose website will tell you all about this salutary sport, with reports of successful scambaits providing hours of happy reading.

In recent months I haven’t had many invitations to accept 40% of millions, but one sent to me the other day caught my fancy:
Attention Dear,
It is my pleasure to write you after much consideration since I can not be able to see you face to face, at first.
I am Mr Kone Kommoh and my Father was A limited liability cocoa and Gold merchant in South-Africa . Before his death after his business trip to Abidjan-Cote d'ivoire to negotiate on a cocoa business on 6th of February 2003 a week after he came back from Abidjan, he was assassinated with my Mother by unknown assassins which my Mother died instantly but my Father dead two week after in the hospital, on that faithful afternoon I didn't know that my Father is going to leave me after I lost my jovial and intelligent Mother.
But before he gave up the ghost it was as if he knew he was going to die He, my Father (may his soul rest in perfect peace) he disclosed to me that he deposited the sum of 10,000,000.00 eur..…..

…and then on with the usual stuff about sending him my bank details. I suppose this version would strike a chord with anyone who also had a jovial and intelligent mother.]

Saturday, 26 February 2005

A bit nippy

We’ve just had a cold spell, in some places BELOW FREEZING, with some snow; this caused a few small inconveniences, mostly affecting people in remote areas (which are inconvenient to live in anyway) but has been a major news story, with hourly bulletins and clips of children throwing snowballs. The BBC provocatively asked residents of places which get really cold – Canada, the northern US, Scandinavia, Russia – what they thought about this, and they were happy to comment with amazement or amused contempt. They sounded like Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen trying to trump each other with tales of extreme hardship lightly borne: “Of course, we had it cold, we used to DREAM of the thermometer going above minus 28”.

They are quite right: the piece in my local newspaper with pictures showing a light dusting of snow (which disappeared in 12 hours) under the headline Town shivers in Siberian snow storm deserves to be laughed at by those who spend three months of the year shovelling six-foot heaps from their garden paths and driving with casual skill on solid ice.

But there are two things that should be pointed out to those who really know about hard winters. First, being blessed with a fairly equable climate, we enjoy complaining about our weather with wild exaggeration on those days when it turns out less than perfect; on hottish days in the summer there are headlines beginning PHEW!

Second, and more important, we are far too sensible to waste money maintaining fleets of snowploughs and so on which will be used only for a few days each year or possibly not at all. Better, surely, that we should put up with occasional minor irritations and having to listen to the bitter complaints of children (and their teachers) who are forced to take brief extra holidays when their schools close down. And we are well accustomed to trains running late and overturned tankers causing tail-backs on the motorways, even when there isn’t any snow.

Perhaps it is true that we could take some inexpensive measures to protect ourselves better. We could, for example, equip our police with those rather fetching fur hats with ear flaps, like the one Frances McDormand wore in Fargo; but what is de rigueur in rural Minnesota would surely look out of place in, say, Dorking, and since our police are rarely seen walking about they don’t really need them.

Anyway, what happens here when our weather turns cold certainly does not show that we are an effete and disorganised lot; inhabitants of cold countries should recognise this, bless their frost-bitten little toes.

Thursday, 24 February 2005

The Gendarmes again

A few months ago, in a rather confused post which arrived at Offenbach’s song Les Deux Gendarmes by way of musings about South Pacific and the US Marines, I quoted its first (English) verse. In an email last week an old friend tells me that he has been unable to find the other verses anywhere on the net, though no doubt they are there somewhere.

This friend and his wife, for reasons best known to themselves, went to live in Western Australia some thirty years ago; they didn’t tell me they were going, and the email was the first I have heard from them since then. However, I do not bear grudges and, as my regular readers know, Other Men's Flowers has always been mindful of the desperate need for intellectual sustenance of people living – if that is the right word – in places such as Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Dumbleyung, Wooramel Roadhouse, Pinjarra and Jerramungup, and constantly strives to bring a little colour and excitement into their drab, miserable lives. Here, then, are the lyrics in full:

We're public guardians bold yet wary
And of ourselves we take good care
To risk our precious lives we're chary
When danger threatens we're not there
But when we see a helpless woman
Or little boys who do no harm…
We run them in, we run them in
We run them in, we run them in
To show them we're the beaux gendarmes (bis)

When young men like to make a riot
And punch each other’s heads at night
We are disposed to keep it quiet
Provided that they make it right
But if they do not seem to see it
Or give to us our proper alms…
We run them in, etc.

Sometimes our duty’s extramural
Then little butterflies we chase
We like to gambol in things rural
Commune with nature face to face
But when we go back to our duties
Refreshed by Nature’s holy charms…
We run them in, etc.

[You can hear a bit of it HERE
, if you go down to Samples and click on 15. Or, if you thought it was by Gilbert and Sullivan, look HERE.]

Tuesday, 22 February 2005

Etre ou ne pas être

According to a new book called Shakespeare Goes to Paris by John Pemble, the French rejected Shakespeare for several hundred years because of his vulgarity. Even the Anglophile Voltaire believed that the plays offered “a few pearls in an enormous dungheap”. In the nineteenth century translators not only bowdlerised the texts but rewrote the plots: Malcolm took republican vows and Romeo and Juliet lived happily ever after.

It is hard to believe, but it seems that words like mouchoir and fraise were too coarse to be uttered in the Comédie Française, and it would be interesting to see how the translators dealt with Shakespeare’s really bawdy lines.
It is true that even perfectly respectable demotic utterances in English rarely translate well into French, but occasionally the attempt provides a felicitous result, though I’m not sure that I believe that a cowboy’s first line on entering the saloon – “Gimme a shot of red-eye” – appeared in the film’s subtitle as “Un Dubonnet, s’il vous plait”.

James Thurber, in a marvellous essay on sub-titled Westerns and French pulp thrillers of the twenties, gives several examples: in an old W S Hart movie which in Paris became Le Roi du Far-Ouest the hero, insulted by a drunken ruffian, turns on him and says, in a grim, laconic way, “Et puis, après?”

[Click picture for biography of W S Hart]
But one of the happiest moments occurs in a book about Billy the Kid: two strangers turn up in a small Western town and their actions arouse the suspicions of a group of respectable citizens, who call on the sheriff to complain about the newcomers; he listens gravely for a while, gets up, buckles on his gunbelt and says, “Alors, je vais demander leurs cartes d’identité!

Thurber said that few things, in any literature, ever gave him a greater thrill than coming across that line.

Saturday, 19 February 2005

Don’t bother with this weblog

There are several ways of keeping your blog private by making it so unattractive that no stranger who comes across it by chance will linger a moment to read it, but will hastily move on to something else. One way is to have the text very small, in dark grey on a black background, and to ensure that the title and description are either cryptic or misspelt or contain obscenities, or all three. Another is to have it play an awful midi file of a tinkling piano when it opens. These techniques are very popular, but the trouble is that using them could mean that no-one you know will want to read your blog, and you might not even want to read it yourself.

Another approach is to include a number of images so totally devoid of interest or significance to the casual reader that his eyes will glaze over as soon as he sees them. These might include pictures of your cat doing something cute, or of yourself in a funny hat, or of un-named people sitting round a table having a good time.

But the real interest-killers are your HOLIDAY SNAPS, especially those that show some magnificent vista or fascinating sight – the Taj Mahal by moonlight, say - partially obscured by members of your family wearing silly grins.

I have over three thousand of these held ready to post in order to repel hoi polloi over the coming years. Thirty of them are HERE.

Thursday, 17 February 2005


Whenever the government offers some well-meant and probably sound advice to the public, someone is sure to make a disapproving comment about the Nanny State, forgetting that most nannies were wise and kind. But not all, perhaps:

Little boy kneels at the foot of the bed
Droops on the little hands little gold head
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dare
Christopher Robin is having a swear:
God rot Nanny, I know that’s right
Wasn’t she hell in the bath tonight?
She scrubbed my back with a celluloid duck
O God, let Nanny fall under a truck…

Tuesday, 15 February 2005

Hove Constituency Labour Party is reaching out to the world…..

……or so it is announced on a website devoted to the political scene as viewed from this Sussex seaside resort. Whether the world is ready for this initiative, and what the global effect will be, is not yet clear.
Hove, like its neighbour which they describe as “less-glamorous Brighton”, has long been a favourite spot for those intent on a weekend of illicit passion. This is widely known, so on such occasions suggestio falsi as well as suppressio veri often comes into play, and couples arrange for their postcards to be sent off from quite a different town.
Otherwise……..people will say we’re in Hove.

Sunday, 13 February 2005

Short and sour

An attractive souvenir of the wedding of the year is selling well.
Among all the cooing headlines about the occasion, one stood out by its terseness and acidity (i.e. its pith and vinegar). The London Daily Star said, simply:
Two boring old gits to wed.

Friday, 11 February 2005

Cold, wet and miserable

I cannot swim. When I was growing up in wartime the beaches had barbed wire on them and the swimming pools were either empty or storing water to be used for fire-fighting, and by the time all that was over I was too effete to want to immerse myself in cold water which either smelled of chlorine or was salty, had waves in it and consisted of diluted sewage.

But my strong distaste for aquatics generally goes back much earlier, to the pre-war year when I suffered this traumatic experience:

We lived in London so this was probably my first experience of the sea. Clearly, I didn't like it much, but what established my hatred of it forever was the uncaring attitude of my two older sisters to my obvious distress. Later I forgave them, but the damage was done.

Nowadays, of course, I no longer have a feeling of deprivation or envy as others splash about joyfully; I don’t mind watching them for a while as I sit in the shade on some palm-fringed beach with a tinkling glass in my hand, so long as there is no question of getting wet.

Tuesday, 8 February 2005

Writer's block and other problems.

HERE'S some good advice on how to deal with incessant queries from aspiring writers.

Monday, 7 February 2005

Diamonds in the dross

Few people really enjoy scrabbling about with their bare hands in heaps of evil-smelling and possibly toxic substances in the thin hope of finding a valuable pearl, or poring through a discoloured tome written in mediaeval Icelandic in case it might contain some revelation which will astound the world.

So it is with blogs. If you come to one after it has been going for some time, you will not want to delve into years of archives just to see if there is anything worth while buried among all those acres of turgid prose, most of which will be out of date and probably wasn’t worth reading in the first place.

But with Other Men's Flowers you can save time: just go to the complete list of posts by clicking here, where their contents are described. Even then, of course, you might not find anything of interest.

Saturday, 5 February 2005

Max Schmeling

Schmeling was world heavyweight boxing champion from 1930 to 1932. In 1936, he knocked out Joe Louis, unbeaten in 28 fights, in the 12th round of a non-title bout. He had not been popular with the Nazis, having spoken against Hitler's persecutions and defied the Führer's order to replace his Jewish-American trainer, but after his victory he was feted in Berlin.

In 1938, the champion Louis beat him in two minutes and four seconds of one of the most savage onslaughts ever seen in a prize ring. Five months later Schmeling sheltered two Jewish boys in his apartment during Kristallnacht, when the Nazis instigated public violence against German Jews.

Later he was the only top German sportsman to be drafted into the Wehrmacht, and after the war became a well-respected and popular businessman in Hamburg.

He has just died aged 99, probably the only living person to have spoken with Franklin Roosevelt, Hitler, Al Capone, Pope Pius XII and Marlene Dietrich.

Thursday, 3 February 2005

Mixed bag for breakfast

My newspaper this morning presented me with the most wearisome frontpage headline.....

New IRA threat to peace process

.....and, on an inside page, the most frightening picture.....

.....but the BBC struck a comforting note with a story of great significance. Green tea, indeed!

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Might as well give up…

As we heard the other day, the mood among the board members of the London 2012 Olympic Bid is generally one of defeatism.

It is ironic that it is the Parisians who have caused this, for when the word first appeared during the first world war there was, so the story goes, some discussion among the forty allegedly immortal members of the Académie française (the lowercase “f” is correct here) about whether the equivalent French word from which our word derives* should be included in their dictionary.

Some argued that it should not, on the grounds that such a thing could not exist in a French context. This seems illogical, for they do list many other words which they might want to consider as un-French concepts, for example sadomasochisme, though in popular parlance they dissociate themselves from such a practice by calling it le vice anglais**.

Perhaps after the recent announcement defeatism will also be attributed to us by the French, but for the moment the new ninth edition of the Dictionnaire de l’Académie française simply has:
DÉFAITISME n. m. XXe siècle. Dérivé de défaite.
Manque de confiance dans l'issue victorieuse d'une guerre et, par ext., dans le succès d'une négociation, d'un programme de gouvernement, dans le succès électoral d'un parti ; le fait d'exprimer cette opinion et de miner la confiance en la victoire.

*And we also get morale from the French, first used by us in the modern sense in 1831.

**Whatever goes on at English public schools, this is quite unfair, the eponyms being the French Marquis de Sade and the Austrian Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.