Tuesday, 30 August 2005

Shall we dance?

The boat we were on last week held 1,750 passengers and 980 crew. Some of the latter had titles like Chief Engineer, Bosun’s Mate, Master at Arms, Deck Ratings (30 of these) and there was even a Captain.

Many of these gallant fellows no doubt sprang from five generations of fine old sea-faring ancestors, but among the remainder of the crew were many whose skills must have been of quite a different kind: Casino Staff (16), Cocktail Pianists (2), Barkeepers (17), Chefs (101), Florists (2), Waiters/Waitresses (183), Salon/Spa Staff (20), Dancers (10), Receptionists (13)…..
…..and Gentleman Hosts (6).

These men were generally tall, distinguished, of sober mien and impeccably dressed, giving the impression that they might have accepted their appointments merely to supplement their senior officer’s retirement pay—though, come to think of it, few officers of staff rank would have the necessary foxtrot expertise. Anyway, they were not instantly recognisable as gigolos.

Sunday, 28 August 2005


Yes, nice holiday, thank you.
Samuel Johnson said that going to sea is like going to prison with the chance of being drowned, and a hundred years later Dickens wrote that passengers ate in "a hearse with windows”, and that for lunch there might be "a dismal spread of pig’s face, cold ham, salt beef” or perhaps "a smoking mess of hot collops”, and dinner would be “more potatoes and meat” climaxed by "a rather mouldy dessert of apples, grapes and oranges”.

Sea-going is rather more pleasant these days, and very little pig’s face is offered on board.

The person, or possibly the two people, who would like to see 64 holiday photos, mostly of us sitting at tables eating or drinking, will find them HERE.

Friday, 12 August 2005

Pining for the fjords

No more posts for a couple of weeks.
We are going in a sort of floating Harrods to the North Sea, particularly the crinkly bits of Norway for which Slartibartfast got an award.
I imagine that Arctic hardships are not on the agenda, but it seems that there may be other hazards. Our pre-sailing information brochure devotes two whole pages to Novovirus Gastroenteritis, telling us exactly what to do when the vomiting and diarrhoea start.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

After-Christmas Party

Regular readers of Other Men's Flowers - three or four people log on to it almost every month - know me well and are aware that most of what I write is not to be taken seriously; others who have come across the blog by accident when they are looking for something else may not realise this. More than once I have been taken to task for irresponsibility, or disrespect to some cherished institution, and have had to say: no no, I didn't really mean that, it was supposed to be a joke. Perhaps I ought to preface each post with a Seriousness Rating: 10 points for absolutely no kidding, 9 for touch of irony here and so on down to 0 for this piece is total hogwash.

On one occasion some years ago my levity led to a major misunderstanding. A film company I had been in contact with invited me to a post-Christmas party. The invitation said that they were closing down from December 20th to January 6th, described the various (fictitious) ways in which their directors were planning to spend Christmas, and announced that they were holding “a small and extremely informal party for a number of hand-pickled guests on 17th January….if you would care to join us we would be diluted to see you….Please do not drive as the smoked cheese sandwiches we will be supplying are notoriously strong...

All very light-hearted and it was nice of them to invite me. But I replied:
Dear Sirs,
Thank you for your letter, from which I note that your directors and staff, like those in other trades similarly unaware of the need to combat the industrial challenge of the Far East, are, on the pretext of observing a religious festival, stopping work for no less than seventeen days in order to indulge in activities which sound to me to be highly improper if not actually offences under the Public Order Act of 1904.
In these circumstances there seems little point in giving you advance notice of our own Christmas shut-down period, which will run from 4.30pm on December 24th to 8am on December 27th.
Thank you also for your invitation to a party on 17th January. I am obliged to decline it partly because I shall be away that weekend but mainly because, in my experience, such “extremely informal” parties tend to be occasions for unseemly horseplay or, at the very least, behaviour of a questionable nature.
Yours sincerely

A reasonable response to such a letter would have been Get lost, you pompous git, but the recipient was a gentleman, and after Christmas he replied, with much forbearance:
I am extremely sorry if our light-hearted Christmas note offended you, as your letter seems to suggest. That was certainly not our intention. No-one is more conscious of the importance of Christmas as a religious festival than I am and I would be most upset to feel that anyone had any doubts on that point.
For the record, we stopped work for seventeen days because we have been so busy over the last twelve months that most of our staff have had no time to take a summer holiday.
Our party, which we are sorry you are unable to attend, is certainly not an occasion for horseplay of any kind. We have simply found from experience that a light-hearted invitation is more appreciated by most of the people we have the pleasure with than the conventional printed text sent out on most similar occasions.
I apologise if we have caused you any offence and send you our good wishes for the coming year.
Yours sincerely

This, of course, made me feel ashamed, and I responded immediately:
Dear John,
Your letter was a charming one, and I am really very sorry that I put you to the trouble of writing it.
The invitation was a breath of fresh air amid the dreary stuff which arrives at Christmas and my reply was intended to be in similar vein. Although it is some time since we last met, it simply didn’t occur to me that you might remember me, if at all, as a person likely to be offended by the offer of free booze and a good time.
I would like to ask you to bear me in mind the next time you throw a party but from your second letter it sounds as if you expect your guests to behave with the utmost decorum, so I might not fit in. I should tell you that now, in the evening of my days, I am always grateful for the chance of watching a bit of unseemly horseplay, let alone joining in.
Oh, and what I wrote about our own shut-down was not strictly accurate: I myself took an extended break legless in a pub in Dorset, and some of my staff haven’t come back yet.
Yours sincerely

Back came a gracious letter forgiving me and promising to invite me another time, so it all ended happily.

Monday, 8 August 2005

Role model

According to the Sunday Times, Muammar Gadaffi reveals in his autobiography that he was was a Scout for seven years and drew early inspiration from Baden-Powell. It is clear from these photos that he didn't get the hat or the moustache quite right.

Saturday, 6 August 2005

Another damned, thick, square, book…

“…always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr Gibbon?"
This was the Duke of Gloucester’s less than gracious comment upon receiving the second volume of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from the author in 1781.

D and F of the RE does go on a bit, but actually Gibbon was not particularly prolific; the output of top scribblers is of a different order. Other Men's Flowers (mine, not Wavell's) now contains 70,000 words, which I thought of as serious labour until it was pointed out to me that this is only the length of a shortish novel and that Georges Simenon wrote 220 novels, sometimes at the rate of one a fortnight.

He also claimed in his autobiography to have had sex with 20,000 different women but this is a suspiciously round figure and must have been mere guesswork. There could hardly have been time to ask their names, let alone note them down, so that precision was impossible: if anyone had made a careful check it might well have been discovered that, for example, the big redhead in Amsterdam had been counted twice. Odd that such a man should have created the most contented husband in all detective fiction, though Mme Maigret had to put up with his fits of abstraction, his long hours away at the Quai des Orfévres and his smelly pipe, her only reward being his appreciation of her cassoulet and choucroute.

But I digress; this post was supposed to be about prolific writers. Among those I admire are the dramatic critic, essayist, novelist and diarist James Agate, who liked to tot up his output by the million words, and of course Samuel Johnson. In the years before he became modestly famous and comfortably off, he scraped a living from translation, biography and every kind of hack journalism: in poor health, in a squalid garret by the light of a single candle, he often churned out 10,000 words a night. Now that really was serious labour.

Thursday, 4 August 2005

Hold the mung beans with fenugreek

We had some vegetarian friends to dinner the other day and gave them pasta with mushrooms and butternut squash.

It was really rather nice and I thought perhaps I might become a veggie.

Then I remembered the piece of rib we'd had the previous week and thought...

...no, I mightn't.

[A friend has just given us a recipe for a Paraguayan snack called entrañasitas, which are little patties made from bull's guts which you dip in blood sauce. Must try these next weekend, if our butcher can get the right sort of bull's guts.]

Tuesday, 2 August 2005

Versatility in the Ice Age

Phones which take pictures are only one modern example of things which serve more than one purpose; the Garlic-and-Butter-Bean Purée which can also be used for grouting the bathroom is another. Often, neither function is performed particularly well.

It is difficult to say whether this would have been true of the artefact recently discovered in south-western Germany, but anyway it shows that dual-use items were common 28,000 years ago. Such implements, or rather tools, must have been a real boon to the busy prehistoric man (or woman) who was suddenly struck by an urgent need to do a bit of flint-knapping, as they used to call it.