Tuesday, 28 February 2006


Adrian Leppard, assistant chief constable of Kent, has said that the £50 million raid on the cash depot in Tonbridge "had been planned and executed with military precision". Clearly, he has never been in the army.
Or perhaps he has, and is being sarcastic. He has also said "I've got no doubt in my mind we will catch these people", so he may believe that the apparent success of the robbery was only temporary, and that the operation was actually an FCMBU.
But note that at midday today, 28th February, there are only just over three days left to try for a bargain.
[Later note: This was a link to an item offered on eBay: 50 million pounds in used banknotes, complete with an illustration of the pile, with a note to the effect that it would interest someone who wouldn't ask too many questions. Last time I looked there were around twenty bids, with the highest £100,000 or so and then, after leaving it there for four days, dozy eBay woke up and killed it. All good clean fun.]

Sunday, 26 February 2006

Private journal

So how many copies of Prince Charles' personal, highly confidential, journal did he send round?
According to the Observer, "only 14 people read it". On the other hand, according to today's edition of the ever-consistent Sunday Times, "Charles circulated about 100 of these journals to close acquaintances" (page 7), they were "passed round the office before being distributed to up to 70 friends, associates and even transient acquaintances" (page 15), or they were "widely and chaotically distributed to as many as 40" (page 16).

Well, never mind about all that. On the subject of the prince's desire to have his views widely known (or not, as the case may be), it is a matter of some concern in government circles that there has been no response whatsoever from either Clarence House or Downing Street to the serious question I raised publicly as long ago as May 2004:

Eligibility regulations for the "gov.uk" web domain state that "Registration is limited to UK government departments and agencies, local government bodies... and other associated and non-departmental public sector organisations. It is not for use by individuals".
So why was"www.princeofwales.gov.uk" accepted for registration, eh? Did the Clarence House Webmaster Royal nip in quickly before the regulations were laid down, or did Mummy send Black Rod on his behalf to knock on ICANN’s door?
Or perhaps this is just Charles saying: if that Blair person carries on like a royal, then I’m jolly well going to be a government department, so there.

Friday, 24 February 2006

No need for thermals

Can anyone doubt that the Punjab Rural Olympics are much more fun than all that chilly sliding around in Turin?

Wednesday, 22 February 2006

Nora Batty and the poets

…A dream of love to warm the winter nights
A draught of wine to end the summer days…

When my sister telephoned me to ask me if I knew the origin of the title of the world’s longest-running TV comedy, now in its 26th series, I didn’t hesitate to name a poet. Clearly, Last of the Summer Wine must have been inspired by some lines like the above, which might have been written by Shakespeare if I hadn’t just made them up. On the other hand, there is something a bit Donne-ish or even Herricky about the words, so I was prepared to be proved wrong.
I certainly was: it seems that the title of the series was invented by its creator, Roy Clarke.

Monday, 20 February 2006

Bonking in Turin

It has been reported that bonking has a new meaning: hitting an object really hard with your snowboard.
Rubbish! This meaning is exactly as old as me, that is to say quite old: the Oxford English Dictionary has it (not specifically referring to snowboards) as the primary meaning of the word, dating it from 1931.
Its secondary meaning, the one which came to your mind when you saw the title of this post, did not develop until much later: its first printed use is recorded by the OED in a quotation from 1975.

Saturday, 18 February 2006


"Mother, I want you to meet Father"

[Nicolas Bentley did the drawing]

Thursday, 16 February 2006

Not Very Interesting Facts No. 275

Here’s a picture by the distinguished American photo-journalist Ed KASHI.

The town of KASHI in Xinjiang, SW China (pop.174,570) was once an important trading post on the Old Silk Road.

At the KASHI Ashram in Florida they teach an eclectic mix of the deep spiritual wisdom of all times and places.

The astronomer and mathematician al-KASHI (known popularly as Ghiyath al-Din Jamshid Mas'ud al-Kashi) died in Samarkand in 1429.

Finally, and least interesting of all, KASHI was invented in La Jolla near San Diego in 1983. It became popular after being served at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and is now marketed by Kelloggs. Made from seven different grains, it combines all the characteristics of puffed wheat and grape-nuts, that is to say it tastes like a mixture of polystyrene, birdseed and gravel, and is absolutely disgusting.

Tuesday, 14 February 2006

Be my love

Editing of Wikipedia’s page on St Valentine's Day has been temporarily disabled as a result of recent vandalism, but the page is still there and has these two jolly pictures which illustrate respectively the sacred and the profane aspects of 14th March.Actually the sacred aspect doesn't really amount to much since practically nothing is known about any of the three third-century martyrs called Valentine, and it was not until a thousand years later that one of them became associated with romantic love after the troubadours had invented it.
Around a billion Valentines are sent every year; 85% of them are sent by women, though I don't see how anyone knows this.
In Korea, there is a Black Day, held on April 14, when males who did not receive anything for Valentine's Day gather together to eat Jajangmyun (Chinese-style noodles in black sauce). This does not sound tremendous fun but is presumably some kind of consolation and better than moping around at home eating the glutinous rice called (no kidding, ask a Korean) yuksik.
Modern chefs apparently do not think highly of Valentine's day meals: "Every conceivable pseudo-romantic cliché... pink menus... dragging the rusting heart-shaped cutters and moulds from the smelly plastic tub under the sink where they sit neglected for the other 364 days of the year... couples so engrossed in each others' radiance that they forget to leave a tip... the staff laying bets on which customers will be the first to have an argument..."
The head chef of a two Michelin-starred restaurant agreed that "the evening can leave a nasty taste in the mouth", which is certainly not something you hope to get from a meal which has cost you as much as two flights to Paris. But perhaps he was thinking of himself and his staff and not the customers: people in the catering trade are clearly not strong on romance.
Rather than helping to line the pockets of these curmudgeons it would be better to stay at home and prepare an appropriate dinner for your inamorata(o). Don't bother with oysters—the idea that they are an aphrodisiac was later found to be a misunderstanding: it is the brown bread, butter and lemon juice that has the effect. The dinner described in my previous post would be a good choice.

Sunday, 12 February 2006

Posh Nosh

In the years before they liked to be called actors, successful actresses led the kind of life in which flowers and champagne played a major part. This is reflected in the following recipes, which were among those contributed by four hundred actresses to The Stage Favourites’ Cook Book, published in 1923:

Truffes au vin de champagne
Brown one or two slices of veal and of ham in melted bacon fat in a casserole; cover them with peeled truffles and add a bouquet garni, salt, pepper and a layer of peeled and roughly chopped mushrooms. Then cover with thin slices of bacon, moisten nicely with champagne, put on lid and allow contents to cook very slowly till tender, when serve with its own sauce strained and skimmed.

Salade des Roses
Gather half a pint of fresh pink scented rose-petals, pick them over carefully to see they are perfectly fresh, then add them to half a pint of thick cream and bruise them with a wooden spoon. When cream is delicately flavoured and fragrantly scented, pile up some large sound hulled strawberries in a crystal dish, sprinkle them with castor sugar, strain over the juice of a lemon and pour over two glasses of sherry or chablis. Whip the cream and pile up rockily on top.

[I should think these would go well together in the same meal, as a main course and dessert, perhaps adding as a starter my own Herring with Gin and Dandelion Sauce.
Both the recipes also contain hints about how to handle your guests: on arrival, moisten nicely with champagne, but if it flows too freely then to restore order at a later stage you may have to bruise them with a wooden spoon.]

Friday, 10 February 2006

In Scotland they can say Not Proven

So, after nine years, one trial, two appeals, two retrials and five million pounds for our learned friends, Sion Jenkins has been acquitted of murdering his foster daughter Billie-Jo by beating her to death with an iron tent spike. There are some who still believe him to be guilty, but these are simple-minded people who cannot put out of their minds the facts that he is has been shown to be a violent and abusive liar and that there is no other suspect: shame on them.

We live less than a mile from where the murder took place, and in 2003 a TV company hired our house for a week to shoot some of the scenes for a play about the case. I was warned that this can be an unpleasant experience, but we did not find it so: the cast and crew were agreeable people (the actor who played Jenkins was a well-known heart-throb) and it was fun to watch it all happening; the money wasn’t bad, either.

Sadly, the play hasn’t been shown and now it probably won’t be. This means that, like my operatic career, my life in television is over before it could begin. During the shooting of a scene in the road outside the house I inadvertently wandered into shot when returning home, and was shouted at by the director. Now I shall never get the plaudits I would have earned for my subtly underplayed performance in the role of Man With Sainsbury’s Bag Crouching Behind Pillar.

Wednesday, 8 February 2006

Holy hats

The Danish cartoon of Mohammed wearing a bomb on his head was crudely drawn and not in the least funny, a good enough reason for not publishing it apart from other considerations. I see that Iran’s best-selling newspaper intends to “retaliate” by publishing cartoons satirising the Holocaust, and we can be sure that these won’t be up to much either. And, of course, they are unlikely to evoke much anger or even surprise in the context of the known views of some of Iran’s leaders on the subject, any more than anyone gets into a lather now about David Irving’s lunacy.
I suppose the idea is to see whether the Western press reprints the cartoons: if they do, why? and if they don’t, why not? But to raise these questions it would have been better to have chosen an equivalent insult, one better calculated to inflame non-Islamic sensibilities: pictures of Jesus doing something really ridiculous, say, or of some leader of the Christian church wearing one of the spectacularly batty varieties of hat which clerics affect; a few are described here, though not illustrated.
Here’s a friendly image of religious headgear, drawn by Nicolas Bentley.

[Bentley was also marvellous with nuns, as I shall show in a later post.]

Monday, 6 February 2006

Neologism needed

Matisse called this rather hectic painting Luxe, calme et volupté, a line in Baudelaire’s mystical poem L’Invitation au Voyage.

How regrettable it is that we have no euphonious equivalent to volupté! The double-hissing voluptuousness is unpleasant to the ear, so we have to say, clumsily, voluptuous pleasure, or sensual delight.
But our language constantly changes, and English words are infinitely transmutable. Those of us who care about such things might by a determined effort be able to remedy this deficiency, and I shall stop writing now and give some thought to how we could do so: there is a log fire tonight and a comfy armchair awaits: while I think, I am going to have a nice bit of volupt.

Saturday, 4 February 2006

GSOH can be a handicap

Some years ago the Japanese president of the international organisation I was working for asked me to employ in my office a young executive—let us call him Kenji—who was being groomed for promotion. The idea was that he would come over from Tokyo for a year to improve his knowledge of English, learn something about European ways and generally gain experience which he would find useful in his career.
I was also told that I should help him to acquire an English sense of humour. It seemed to me that this would be difficult and probably not of much help to him in climbing the Japanese corporate ladder, so I resolved not to make a conscious effort with it.
Kenji was an intelligent and agreeable young man and very quickly adapted to English customs; his command of the language soon became more than adequate. I found him a flat, he bought himself a car so that he could have some sort of social life and in general he fitted in happily; he also fell in love with one of my daughters (who wasn’t interested).
He travelled with me within England and on the Continent and enjoyed working in my office. Obviously he had a good time, and although he looked forward to seeing his parents again he was in no hurry to go back.
By the time he left I realised that he had become more Anglicised than would be good for him in a Japanese context, and I was right: somehow he had picked up a delicate sense of humour which would inevitably mean that he could see the funny side of things which in Japan are not to be laughed at.
I was never actually told that I had corrupted Takeshi by encouraging him to become attuned to our frivolous ways, but it later became clear that on his return he was a great disappointment to his employers. I heard that his attitude to work had become unacceptable (probably he didn’t like seventy-hour weeks and no holidays) and that he was insufficiently respectful to his superiors. This did not mean that he was bolshie, of course—no Japanese sarariman could ever be that—but he may have occasionally allowed a hint of unseriousness to show in his demeanour.
So he never rose to high office in the organisation, and later left it for a different job, itself a very un-Japanese thing to do. I lost touch with him later so I never knew whether he finally achieved the success that his abilities warranted. I hope so, but anyway I like to think that the memory of his relaxed year in Sussex sustains him through tougher times in Tokyo.

Thursday, 2 February 2006

Shaggy dog story

The illustrations which have appeared in Other Men’s Flowers lately have been rather dreary, so for a nice change here is a picture of a Pyrenean Mountain Dog (a rather up-market kind of St. Bernard).

The late Bernard Levin told the (true) story of a splendid incident during a performance of Carmen by the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company in Bournemouth. In the middle of the smugglers’ scene a gigantic specimen of this breed belonging to one of the officials wandered on to the stage; it was a friendly beast and had the run of the building of which the theatre was a part.
Many of the audience who were unfamiliar with the opera thought it was a part of the scene and were charmed; others who knew better were doubtless even more charmed. The dog eventually roamed downstage opposite the conductor where it became hypnotised by the baton, which by then was being used partly to conduct the music and partly to try to shoo the beast away.
Unfortunately, he was used to having people throw sticks for him to fetch and was convinced that the baton was about to be thrown. When it wasn't, the dog became cross and emitted a series of mournful barks. These, when added to the cries of 'Piss off!' which the understandably irritated Carmen (who had been surreptitiously trying to kick it to no avail) was contributing to the uproar, finally persuaded those in charge to bring the curtain down.
And not a moment too soon, I imagine, except for those who would have loved it all to have gone on for hours longer.