Thursday, 31 May 2007

Jewish Mother, RIP

Q: Why do Jewish Mothers make great parole officers?
A: They never let anyone finish a sentence.

Why aren’t Jewish Mother jokes funny any more? A book by Professor Joyce Antler, You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother, attempts to explain why one of the most dominating icons of 20th-century American popular culture has died.

In the current issue of the Jewish daily The Forward its arts and culture editor Alana Newhouse reviews this well-researched and insightful analysis of the stereotype in popular culture and others among a new crop of books about the Jewish Mother:

Known in some circles as a figure of generosity and deep warmth, in others as the skilled practitioner of toxic enmeshment, the Jewish Mother was acknowledged, here and abroad, as the symbol of over-involvement in children’s lives. She was also known for her chicken soup.

The Jewish Mother is survived by her neurotic yet high-achieving, dependent though viciously ungrateful, sexually repressed yet rapacious, impossible-to-satisfy son and her primped and posed, nose-jobbed and outfitted, long-suffering-yet-somehow-exactly-like-her daughter (both well-fed); innumerable books, radio serials, television shows, movies, songs, articles, nightmares not to mention more jokes than Egypt had locusts; the field of American stand-up comedy, born of those locusts; Guilt, her lifelong companion; the word “Feh”; thousands of appreciative psychoanalysts; and several acquaintances from her stint at The Dayenu Home for Aging Stereotypes, including Sassy, Overweight Black Mom and Finger-Snapping Gay Best Friend.

…The Jewish American Mother, like all caricatures, derived from certain real-life phenomena. She emerged at the beginning of the last century, when millions of Jews uprooted themselves from Eastern Europe and set out to create new lives, and lifestyles, in America. Most had spent decades living under the constant threat of pogroms, terrifying attacks in which rioters set upon homes, synagogues, even whole towns with murderous rage. (That Fiddler? He was on the roof for a reason.) They were traumatized, and many — women in particular—brought with them to this country a deep-seated protectiveness for the well-being of their family members.

…But the Jewish Mother’s career recently hit a rough patch from which she seemed unable to recover… Many real-life American women today are actually parenting like the stereotype, earning denigration as hover mothers, helicopters, smother mothers and more. The stereotype isn’t a stereotype any more: We’re all Jewish mothers now.

So that’s one reason why jokes about them are no longer funny. For more explanation, you should read the rest of this warm and witty essay. The paragraph about Philip Roth’s Portnoy is a particular joy.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

How Long, O Lord......?

Several of my more devout friends have complained that Other Men's Flowers, while purporting to be a veritable compendium of literary reference, is curiously deficient in biblical quotations. As a first step towards putting this right, I print here the last of all the antediluvian stories, which appears in many places on the internet, usually uncredited. The original version was written by Keith Waterhouse:

And God said unto Noah, Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and the length of the ark shall be 300 cubits. And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee.

And Noah said, Sign here, and leavest Thou a deposit.

And the Lord signed there, and left He a deposit.

And Noah was 600 years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth.

And the Lord said unto Noah, Where is the ark, which I commanded thee to build?

And Noah said unto the Lord, Verily, I have had three carpenters off ill. The gopher wood supplier hath let me down - yea, even though the gopher wood hath been on order for nigh upon 12 months. The damp-course specialist hath not turned up. What can I do, O Lord ?

And God said unto Noah, I want that ark finished even after seven days and seven nights.

And Noah said, It will be so.

And it was not so.

And the Lord said unto Noah, What seemeth to be the trouble this time?

And Noah said unto the Lord, Mine sub-contractor hath gone bankrupt. The pitch which Thou commandest me to put on the outside and on the inside of the ark hath not arrived, and the plumber hath gone on strike.

Noah rent his garments and said, The glazier departeth on holiday to Majorca - yea, even though I offerest him double time. Shem, my son, who helpeth me on the ark side of the business hath formed a pop group with his brothers Ham and Japheth. Lord, I am undone.

And God said in his wrath, Noah, do not thou mucketh Me about. The end of all flesh is come before me; for the Earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the Earth. How can I destroy them with the earth if thou art incapable of completing the job that thou was contracted to do?

And Noah said, Lo, the contract will be fulfilled.

And Lo, it was not fulfilled.

And Noah said unto the Lord, The gopher wood is definitely in the warehouse. Verily, and the gopher wood supplier waiteth only upon his servant to find the invoices before he delivereth the gopher wood unto me.

And the Lord grew angry and said, Scrubbeth thou round the gopher wood. What about the animals? Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the Earth after his kind two of every sort have I ordered to come unto thee, to keep them alive. Where for example, are the giraffes?

And Noah said unto the Lord, They are expected today.

And the Lord said unto Noah, How about the unicorns?

And Noah wrung his hands and wept, saying, Lord, Lord, they are a discontinued line. Thou canst not get unicorns for love nor money.

And God said, Come thou, Noah, I have left with thee a deposit, and thou hast signed a contract. Where are the monkeys, and the bears, and the hippopotami, and the elephants, and the zebras and the hartebeests, two of each kind; and of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female?

And Noah said unto the Lord, They have been delivered unto the wrong address, but should arriveth on Friday; all save the fowls of the air by sevens, for it hath just been told unto me that fowls of the air are sold only in half-dozens.

And God said unto Noah, Thou hast not made an ark of gopher wood, nor hast thou lined it with pitch within and with-out; and of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort hast thou failed to bring into the ark. What sayest thou, Noah?

And Noah kissed the Earth and said, Lord, Lord, thou knowest in thy wisdom what it is like with delivery dates.

And the Lord in his wisdom said, Noah, my son, I knowest. Why else dost thou think I have caused a flood to descend upon the Earth?

[ But it must have been all right in the end, because otherwise they could never have made this film]

Sunday, 27 May 2007

O lambent flame

In 1951 the 28-year-old Peter Ustinov got the part of Nero in Quo Vadis. He was required to sing a lament to the burning Rome and, as it was a big-scale production and the director Mervyn Leroy was, with reason, unsure of Ustinov’s vocal talents, they sent him to a distinguished professor at the Rome Opera House who had been offered a substantial financial inducement to give him three singing lessons. The account of how they went has been told many times, often by Ustinov…….

He delivered to me the pith of his first year’s singing course in a single lesson:
“Always, as I tell Gobbi, always breathe with the forehead.”

I wrinkled my brow as though it contained a small pulse. He was enchanted. Never, he informed me, had any pupil been quicker on the uptake.

At the start of the second lesson, he asked me what I remembered of the first lesson.
“Breathe with the..?” he asked
“Forehead” I replied.
“Bravo!” he cried, “What a memory! Really fantastic”.

Now followed the second lesson, containing all I would learn in the second year, in concentrated form. “As I tell Gobbi, think with the diaphragm,” he said.

I adopted a constipated look, which seemed to me the outward proof that my diaphragm was wrapped in thought. I set the pulse going in my forehead at the same time.

“My God, it’s fantastic, fantastic! One at a time, yes, perhaps, but both together, so soon! Fantastic! What a talent!”

Before the third and final lesson he decided on the usual refresher.
“Da capo,” he said “Breathe with the…?
“Bravo! Think with the…?”

And here followed the third and most difficult lesson.
“As I say to Gobbi, always, in all circumstances, sing…with the eye!”

I came away as enriched musically as the professor had been enriched financially, and whereas those who saw the film might not have guessed that I was thinking with my diaphragm or indeed breathing with my forehead, I fear it was painfully obvious that I was singing with my eye.

[In later years, of course, Ustinov was able to display his talent as composer, tenor, soprano, bass and as a variety of instruments, notably in the one-act opera Die Zauberposaune and in Three Depressing Love Songs: from Spain, The Story of the Girl Who Always Fell for the Wrong Bull; from Russia, The Song of the Peasant Whose Tractor Has Betrayed Him, and from Norway, The Story of the Gnome Slighted by a Dilatory Troll.]

Friday, 25 May 2007

Voices over

A dozen tactful phrases used to intimidate voice-over artistes:

Mmm, very good. Can you do it like Michael Palin?

Well, we did want Felicity Kendal, but she was too expensive.

That was great. Do you have any other voices?

Can we lose the Pakistani accent? Oh you’re Welsh. I am sorry.

Didn’t you used to be an actor?

Can you make it sound more real?

Over by a second, I’m afraid, and it’s rather rushed, so could you go quicker but sound slower?

Do you think you could breathe a bit less?

We’ve still got point three of a second to play with, actually. You can spread it over the whole read if you like.

Do you always sound like that?. Oh, I see. I thought you had a cold.

We thought it might be fun if you all just absorbed the concept and then improvised.

It’s quite simple, just try to imagine you’re a beefburger.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

The Father of the Bride

As the father of the bride I would now like to reply to the best man’s toast and propose the health of the happy couple

This indeed is a proud day for me. I have often dreamed of the moment when Marlene would come to me and say ‘Daddy, I’m in love with George Witherspoon. He’s been promoted to manager of the bank and now he wants my hand in marriage’. As things turned out George Witherspoon married the chief bridesmaid but then you can’t have everything. What we do have is Rodney, and it is with humble pleasure that I welcome him to our family circle. We represent a number of honourable professions in my family. My father is a respected retail tobacconist, my brother is a distinguished solicitor and as you know I have the honour of being the manager of a well-known grocery shop. We have not had a window cleaner in the family before and I sincerely welcome this new blood.

It’s true that Rodney has had some bad luck lately and is temporarily out of employment owing to that unfortunate misunderstanding over Mrs Parkinson’s jewellery. I myself entirely accept his explanation that the brooch and necklace must have fallen into his pocket when he knocked them with his chamois leather. In any event my brother assures me that Rodney has a good chance and that he is likely to get off with a heavy fine, which will be my small wedding present to the happy couple.

They have a fine start in life—a fine home and fine prospects. My Marlene should learn a great deal from living in one room over a plumber’s shop, and of course it will be very handy if they ever think of getting hot water installed. Both Marlene and Rodney know that my house is at their disposal whenever they want a bath, and the sooner Rodney avails himself of the invitation the better.

Now I want to recall a conversation I was having with Rodney’s father in the vestry before the vicar separated us. Rodney’s father reckons that in the heat of the moment I referred to his son as a half-baked twit. Let me assure Rodney’s father that I never speak in the heat of the moment, particularly on such an auspicious day as this. The way I look upon it I am not losing a daughter but gaining a son. In fact I am also gaining a grandson. The credit for that is entirely Rodney’s. He admits it and she admits it and we won’t go into all that again thank you very much Rodney’s mother. I admire Rodney for the way he has stood by my Marlene. When the paternity case came up a lesser man would have skipped his bail. Not Rodney. He came all the way back from holiday in Dublin to face his responsibilities like a man, and also gave myself, my brother and my three sons an opportunity of visiting the great Irish capital.

Finally, before proposing the toast, I have a message from the catering manager about twelve fish-knives and a silver-plated cruet. He says that Rodney’s family will know what he means and that he is prepared to accept it as a joke if the missing items are on the table when we leave. Now I ask you all to charge your glasses, and be upstanding for the happy couple. Marlene—could you help Rodney’s father to his feet, there’s a love. The happy couple.

[Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall]

Monday, 21 May 2007

Next lines of poems

I’ve never liked poetry much. I find that anything which is not prose and doesn’t have a rhyme here and there, or go umty-tumpty-diddley-dum, somehow fails to grip, except for those poems which have some special significance for me, and most of these are not highly esteemed ones; as Amanda Prynne very nearly said, Extraordinary how potent cheap poetry is.

Many of the extracts below are from bagatelles: recitations, doggerel, mawkish ballads, trifling verse or just enjoyable tosh; the serious poems that are included are nearly all standard, over-familiar stuff. There is nothing here that is new or exciting, or which will hold the attention of lovers of poetry; most people will be able to guess where the words are taken from, even if they can’t remember the next line.

Everything quoted below has given me pleasure (if it had all been about real poetry I wouldn’t have bothered with typing it), so I make no apologies for the trivial nature of this exercise: you might, if you can put up with this sort of thing, try to recall the next line (the number of words required is in brackets), the name of the poem, and the name of the poet or poetaster (two are by Anon), and give yourself one point for each.

1 A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon (11)

2 Weave a circle round him thrice, and close your eyes with holy dread, (12)

3 Was none who would be foremost to lead such dire attack? (10)

4 All this the world well knows; yet none knows well (10)

5 But as it is . . . My language fails! (7)

6 "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all (10)

7 Full many a flower is born to blush unseen (8)

8 And thou, what needest with thy tribe’s black tents (8)

9 There was a young girl from Aberystwyth (9)

10 One short sleep past, we wake eternally (10)

11 They fill you with the faults they had (7)

12 I've a lover in the prison, doomed this very night to die (12)

13 Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace (10)

14 And the sweat is on thy brow, for he passes even now (9)

15 For the stronger we our houses do build (8)

16 We sat in the car park till twenty to one (9)

17 In the blithe and pleasant Spring-time (8)

18 Il n'y a beste ne oyseau, qu'en son jargon ne chante ou crie (13)

19 Did He smile His work to see? (8)

20 I sometimes think that never blows so red (8)

21 He took castles and towns; he cut short limbs and lives (9)

22 There are maidens in Scotland more lovely by far (9)

23 ‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty and sold for endless rue

24 For Witherington needs must I wail, as one in doleful dumps (12)

25 But for all his foolish pranks, he was worshipped in the ranks (9)


Saturday, 19 May 2007

Bad words

When I was in the army I encountered a sergeant called Foulmouth O'Houlihan; for a soldier to to acquire such a soubriquet was exceptional, for among us there were many whose normal speech pattern was based on sentences in which obscenities provided adjectives, nouns, adverbs and verbs.

He was a kindly man, and he had a little dog which he adored, though he never addressed it except in terms of the vilest abuse: C'm 'ere, ye * *, or I'll tear yer * balls off, he would say, affectionately. Then one day the dog was run over, and he was a broken man; he still swore, of course, but his heart wasn't in it.

I thought of him the other day when I was reading a compilation of supposedly outstanding blog posts. Several of them contained swearwords used in a way which suggested that the writer knew of no other way of emphasising a point or expressing contempt, or had never realised that they are best used sparingly rather than as mere garnish.

What a terrible waste of a powerful weapon that is! If swearwords are part of your normal vocabulary, sprinkled throughout your prose, what can you say when you are really angry or appalled or want to shock?

I like swearing but recognise that the effectiveness of the top three or four swearwords soon disappears if you use them often. So I do not say them to strangers, rarely in print, and only occasionally to (never at) my nearest and dearest. On these occasions it becomes apparent, because they know me, that I feel strongly about the matter under discussion, or else that it is for comic effect. Happily, most of them have a similar approach to the use of such words.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Drastic action by Xenu

When one imagines the sort of dangers that journalists in war zones face daily, it seems rather feeble of John Sweeney—who had at one time reported from Bosnia—to have a screaming fit merely because he was being shouted down by a nasty-looking Scientology spokesman and had been harassed and spied on by the organisation. However much contact with Scientologists may make your flesh creep, it’s not quite like having people with guns trying to kill you.

Of course we should all have some respect for the sincerely held beliefs of Tom Cruise, John Travolta and, according to the Church of Scientology, 120,000 people in this country, or at least make an effort to understand them before writing them off as inane drivel. So here is exactly what they believe; these are the astonishing facts revealed to the world by a science fiction writer called L Ron Hubbard in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1952:

75 million years ago an evil galactic war-lord called Xenu rounded up 13.5 trillion beings from an overpopulated corner of the galaxy, dumped them on volcanoes on Earth, then vaporised them with nuclear bombs. Their radioactive souls, or thetans, later attached themselves to human beings and are at the root of our personal and global problems today.

By whom these truths were revealed to Ron is not clear; I find it hard to see why Xenu himself would have confessed all in Phoenix, AZ, after waiting 75 million years, but then what do I know about the motivations of evil galactic warlords?

Anyway, there it is. If you want to know more about all this, further information is freely available from Scientology HQ. Well, perhaps not quite freely; I gather that fees may be payable if you are really curious.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Sooty of the Yard and Sir Stafford Crisp

It seems a pity to quote hoax entries in Conservapedia, the leading source of misinformation for the not very bright, because this increases the chances that they will be exposed before we have all had a chance to enjoy them. My own contributions, providing fascinating and totally fallacious details about the careers of such characters as Melzach the Jebusite and the modern artist Goswell Frand, were spotted and disappeared within a couple of weeks, and I am now banned from the site; quite right too.

However, the editors of this fatuous website are, typically, Baptist creationist sophomores; they are not the sharpest of reviewers and very unlikely to be readers of Other Men's Flowers, so I will recommend this entry which I came across today; it may have vanished even before I post this piece; in case it has, I reprint it here in full:

Detective Superintendent Sooty
Sooty was a notorious figure in Scotland Yard in the mid sixties, his colleague Sweep made a pun of his name referring to himself as "the new broom of the yard". Brought in to fight corruption within Scotland Yard, they were in fact nothing more than puppets of crime figure Harry Corbett. Their campaign in London sloganed "Let's get busy" was not successful, even for a spell. This was eventually brought to light after the infamous incident concerning Basil Brush, which subsequently led to their downfall.
In 1983, Sooty was charged with the murder of three left-wing agitators belonging to an organisation called the Rainbow Programme—Rod Burton, Jane Tucker and Freddie Marks. It is believed by some that they had become aware of his role in MI5's covert project to oust Harold Wilson from office. However, because no reliable witness could be found willing to testify, Sooty was acquitted. He retired to Bordeaux, where he had family, and died of a coronary thrombosis in 1987.

Sooty and Sweep were indeed the puppets of the much-loved Harry Corbett, who created them for TV in the fifties.

Basil Brush is an 18-inch fox who has been a part of British television culture for nearly 40 years. He was created by illustrator and animator Peter Firmin and actor Ivan Owen in 1963; the latter spent most of his life in a cramped box providing Basil’s voice and actions.

Rainbow was a highly successful children's TV puppet series which ran from 1972 t0 1992. The "left-wing agitators" were actually a popular singing/songwriting trio.

And here’s another, still there the last time I looked:

Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes (1883-1961) was a British economist who worked with Lord Beveridge on his landmark report on social service and also advised Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Stafford Crisp, modifying the latter's extreme socialist views, in the 1945-51 Atlee government. In the 1951 dissolution honours he became Lord Keynes of Wolverton.
The 1960s new town in Buckinghamshire is named after him. The town is famous for its use of concrete, (especially its concrete cows), its confusing road system, and its apparent abandonment of all aesthetic considerations in its planning.

Many of the spoof entries in Conservapedia seem to have been inserted by mischievous Englishmen, perhaps because they assume, quite rightly, that the editors are even more profoundly ignorant about England than they are about most of the other topics their website covers. After all, why should a Midwestern fundamentalist know or care that the economist Maynard Keynes died a year before Stafford Cripps became Chancellor, or that the new town was named after the existing village of Milton Keynes, which was in the Domesday book?

The reference to concrete cows might have raised doubts, but in fact this is almost the only accurate statement in the whole article.

Sunday, 13 May 2007


The OED says this is an arbitrary formation, probably related to hocus-pocus, hoky-poky. Other, more entertaining, suggestions are that it is from hokkani boro or hakk'ni panki, a term in the Romany language meaning the great trick, or from the Latin Mass: Hanc est meam panem, "this is my bread", used for anything magical or not understood, or even a duplication of hanky, referring to the way a conjuror flourishes a handkerchief to deceive the eye.

Anyway, the word in its first meaning, trickery or double-dealing, can be traced back to 1841, while in its second meaning, which the OED prissily defines as sexual activity or dalliance, esp. of a surreptitious nature, it did not appear in print until 1939, and then in a quotation from G B Shaw!

All this is rather dull, except to rabid etymologists, but here is something much more exciting:

Everyone who has come into contact with Japanese people knows that, to them, using a hanky in their presence is the equivalent of, well, think of the nastiest thing you have ever seen anyone doing in public. No need to learn all about chopsticks and the poisonous fugu fish, all you must remember while in Japan is: never let anyone see you blow your nose. No-one will look appalled if you do, they are much too polite, but you should be aware that in their minds will be the thought: I wonder how many of his other bodily secretions he wraps up in a cloth and puts in his pocket?

But, you may ask, how do the Japanese cope with occasional nasal catarrh? The answer is that they have two methods of dealing with it when it is just not possible to leave the room: both of them are, to our mind, utterly disgusting and I shall not describe them.

On the other hand, the device illustrated here (as No 114 in my Practical Hats series) is rather appealing and would be useful for managing a really heavy cold, but seems somewhat indiscreet for Japanese taste; perhaps they manufacture it only for export.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Watery Fowls

Episode 8 went out for the first time twenty-eight years ago; this was The Psychiatrist, in which Sybil Fawlty was so impressed by the medallion man’s “Pretentious, moi?”. Since then, the phrase has entered the language: Google finds 16,500 references.

Here is a new take on it:

"I may be pretentious, but you're jejune."

[John Leavitt: The Chronicle Review]

Monday, 7 May 2007


It is depressing to read the demented ramblings of those American commentators, both amateur and professional, who seek to justify the worship of guns. A journal for academics, The Chronicle of Higher Education (Washington D.C.) has published a number of cool and sane attempts to explain why this attitude is so widespread. In one of them, American psychiatrist Robert L Lifton writes:

The combination of mental disease and access to guns leaps out at almost everyone in connection with the Virginia Tech shootings. ...There is consensus that something should be done to intervene earlier in threatening forms of psychological disturbance, and as a psychiatrist I agree and also recognize some of the social obstacles to doing so. But while there will always be mentally ill people, a few of whom are violent, it is our gun-centered cultural disease that converts mental illness into massacre.

Indeed, I would claim that a gun is not just a lethal device but a psychological actor in this terrible drama. Guns and ammunition were at the heart of Seung-Hui Cho's elaborate orchestration of the event and of his Rambo-like self-presentation to the world. When you look at those pictures, you understand how a gun can merge so fully with a person that a man who makes regular use of it could (in the historical West and in Hollywood) become known as a "gun".

Emotions of extreme attachment to and even sacralization of the gun pervade American society, and commercial interests shamelessly manipulate those emotions to produce wildly self-destructive policies. Much has been said, with considerable truth, about the role of the frontier in bringing about this psychological condition. I would go further and suggest that American society, in the absence of an encompassing and stable traditional culture, has embraced the gun as a substitute for that absence, and created a vast cultural ideology we can call "gunism."

Paradoxically, this highly destabilizing object became viewed as a baseline and an icon that could somehow sustain us in a new form of nontraditional society. That new society was to be democratic and egalitarian, so that the gun could be both an "equalizer," as it is sometimes known, and also a solution to various social problems. That idea of the gun as ultimate solution reached a kind of mad absurdity in Newt Gingrich's recent suggestion that university killings be prevented by having students carry hidden guns into classrooms. The gun as ultimate solution has also played a significant role in American military misadventures in Vietnam and Iraq, and in our attitudes toward nuclear weapons (as gigantic "guns").

Saturday, 5 May 2007

What shall we sell?

It is a sound business axiom that an entrepreneur starting up a business must decide exactly what his aim is. In the retail trade this means identifying exactly what it is he wants to sell.

In an earlier post I described a silly shop whose owner had clearly failed to do this. Here, in a photo I took while on holiday in Pokhara years ago, is another example, though perhaps this business was not a total failure since we at least took advantage of all that was on offer, and others may also have had need of both items.

It may be that some similarly unlikely combinations of goods for sale are quite unplanned and merely indicate a hit-or-miss attitude, or possibly desperation, on the part of the vendor.

I once spent a day showing half a dozen Japanese visitors around the seaside town where I live; they were polite and appreciative, and interested in everything I told them, or at any rate pretended to be. They all clicked away happily the whole time, and one of them had a motorised camera with which he took thirty or so identical photos of a featureless and deserted stretch of shingle. As the day wore on I started to go out of my mind with boredom as we visited an exhibition of hand-made quilts at a church hall and walked about on the wind-swept pier.

We had done the Old Town and were strolling along a slightly decayed shopping street when we came across a shop, obviously on the point of going out of business, which displayed in its window some rather battered second-hand furniture, mostly sideboards. On top of one of them, at the front, was a stack of eggs, in cartons, labelled “EGGS”, with the price.

The visitors gathered around, clearly intrigued, and I felt obliged to make a comment. “Aha!, I said, “now this is very interesting. This is what we call an Egg-and-Sideboard shop. We have many of them in this part of Sussex, it’s a traditional kind of thing”.

“Mmmm-aaah!” they said, and click-click went the cameras.

I don’t think I feel guilty about this. It only confirmed their belief that we are a strange race, and it is unlikely that they will ever find out that I lied to them.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

The King of Clouds, afro style

Photographed over Laura, South Australia © Tina Moore
Actually what we have here is a fine cumulonimbus capillatus which was the April Cloud of the Month on the splendid website of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Here you can look at their 2,562 lovely photos for nothing, though I have paid the very modest fee and joined the society.

The site is the labour of love of Gavin Pretor-Pinney. I have just finished reading his magisterial book The Cloudspotters Guide, a witty and erudite compilation which looks at clouds from every point of view—technical, aesthetic, literary, historical and in art and poetry. I read it from cover to cover and found it hugely enjoyable.

It bothers me not at all that I have now completely forgotten the details of cloud nomenclature so clearly set out in the book, and still could not recognise a high-class cirrostratus if one appeared over my bed. I now look at the things in a new light: clouds are beautiful and fascinating.

And the best thing of all is that you can enjoy them for nothing, while recumbent, and without going anywhere or exerting yourself in any way. Aristophanes spoke a mouthful when he said clouds are the ‘patron goddesses of idle fellows’.

I share Pretor-Pinney’s view that blue skies are boring, and that clouds win every time; a long time ago I spent some time in Egypt and remember the joy of seeing them again after living for a whole year in a place where there weren’t any.

In the last few days we have had really beautiful weather and like everyone else I have loved it. But if the sky was always clear we would soon get very tired of it; I would, anyway. Some find continuous sunshine gives them infinite pleasure, and aspire to live in a climate where it seldom rains: these are the same people who talk of The Open-Air Life as if it were the most desirable way to live. If I had fancied this, I would have become a game warden or a postman. After all, civilisation began when Man went indoors.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Next lines of songs

I realise that I chose rather obscure First Lines and Last Lines and that some highly literate people were unjustifiably dissatisfied with their inability to identify more than a couple. This one is much easier.

Here are lines from 25 songs, sublime or ridiculous, profound or frivolous, sacred or profane, simple strophic ditties or a complex marriage of words and music, expressing delicate feelings or peasant vulgarity, first published in the 16th century or a few years ago: covering songs, in fact, from gamma to ut.

The only thing they have in common is that they can all be SUNG. If anyone doubts this I shall be pleased to demonstrate, asking only for travel expenses, dinner with wine, a small fee and no laughter please. On second thoughts forget the fee, I enjoy singing all these; none of them are by Andrew Lloyd Bloody Webber.

What you have to do, if the paint is now dry and no other excitements are in the offing, is supply the name of the song and the next line or lines (the required number of words is indicated). Give yourself one point for knowing the next line or lines, and one for the name of the song.

1 And the waters as they flow (6)

2 Peu m’importe si tu m’aimes (6)

3 The Sons of the Prophet are hardy and bold and quite unaccustomed to fear (15)

4 Though they said at the school of acting she was lovely as Peer Gynt (12)

5 Though I am nothing to her, though she must rarely look at me (13)

6 Where seldom is heard a discouraging word (8)

7 If you should chance to meet 'im, walking round the town (13)

8 Erreicht den Hof mit Müh und Not (7)

9 Our feelings we with difficulty smother (8)

10 Venite all'agile, barchetta mia (4)

11 Confound their politics (4)

12 Hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate (9)

13 She stood on the bridge at midnight, dreaming of her blighted love (12)

14 Here’s my definition, believe me dear brother (7)

15 But I struck one chord of music (7)

16 Oppressed so hard they could not stand (4)

17 Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days (7)

18 But as soon as someone kisses me (7)

19 When I went out for nuts and a programme (6)

20 If at those roses you ventured to sip (9)

21 If those lips could only speak and those eyes could only see (9)

22 Last night as I lay on my pillow, last night as I lay on my bed (15)

23 And the devil will drag you under by the sharp lapel of your checkered coat (8)

24 Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong (9)

25 Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer (7)

Answers are HERE.