Saturday, 28 February 2009


No 12 in an occasional series of extracts from The Postcard Century

June 1957: D. Underwood in Blackpool to Miss Vosper in Plymouth: Hope this suits, gosh some of them I wouldn't dare post. Having a grand look around, the hotel is lovely & a nice crowd of people here...
A good gag with a built-in alibi (the brush hanging on the wall) in case of trouble with the local Watch Committee. School of Donald McGill although the artist remains anonymous.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

The 44th-to-be meets the 43rd

I am enjoying The Audacity of Hope. It cannot have been easy for Obama to find truthful but nice things to write about his predecessor, but he attempts, initially with success, to do so. Here he is describing his early visits to the White House:

"Both times I had found the President to be a likeable man, shrewd and disciplined but with the same straightforward manner that had helped him win two elections; you could easily imagine him owning the local car dealership down the street, coaching Little League, and grilling in his backyard—the kind of guy who would make for good company as long as the conversation revolved around sports and the kids."

Admirably, Obama restrains himself from adding "...and thus well qualified to be the leader of the most powerful nation on earth". But he goes on:

"There had been a moment during the breakfast meeting, though, after the backslapping and the small talk... that I witnessed a different side of the man. [He] had begun to discuss his second-term agenda... the importance of staying the course in Iraq and renewing the Patriot Act, the need to reform Social Security and overhaul the tax system, his determination to get an up-or-down vote on his judicial appointees—when suddenly it felt as if somebody in a back room had flipped a switch. The President's eyes became fixed; his voice took on the rapid, agitated tone of someone neither accustomed to nor welcoming interruption; his easy affability was replaced by an almost messianic certainty. As I watched my mostly Republican colleagues hang on his every word, I was reminded of the dangerous isolation that power can bring..."

Delicately done.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Ladies of the night, etc.

Looking for old posts to recycle, I was grubbing around among those I had written in 2004 when I came across a rather feeble and facetious piece about what Sainsbury's call their staff, in which I had written en passant that calling prostitutes "sex workers" seemed to me a bit silly. The post was not interesting enough for re-cycling, but surprisingly it had evoked over two thousand words of fascinating and erudite comment from several ladies, none of whom, as far as one can tell, were prostitutes, and what they said is certainly worth another look, containing as it does a great deal of information of value to glossarists.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Nuisance call

"It's The Wild again"
John Donegan, 1987 (The Best of Punch)

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Blessed are the cheesemakers

I suddenly had this thought: Why have I never written anything about American cheese?

Perhaps not all of my readers would find this among the most engrossing of topics, but then neither are funny hats, or obscure religious observances, or comic songs of the nineteenth century, to all of which I give earnest attention from time to time. And publishing a piece about American cheese would be one more step towards the attainment of an aspiration which has long been close to my heart: the establishment of OMF as an internationally respected compendium of all human knowledge to which anyone may turn in search of enlightenment, guidance or spiritual sustenance.

So, here, with acknowledgements to the mighty Oxford Companion to Food, is an authoritative summary of the subject:

Two American cheeses which claim to be original are Brick, a whole-milk cheese with an elastic texture, and Liederkranz, developed at the end of the 19th century by Emil Frey, a dairyman of Swiss origin, to replace the German cheese Schlosskäse; in fact it was better. Originally made in New York State, it is now popular throughout the USA and its centre of production is in Van Wert, Ohio; it is an orange-skinned surface-ripened cheese with a strong aroma, a mellow taste and a creamy centre.

Other American cheeses are are mostly versions of European ones, especially American Cheddar, which was first made in New England early in the 17th century, and was being exported to England by the end of the 18th century. The Cheddar technique, adapted to a greater or lesser extent, now produces numerous varieties, including Colby, Colorado Blackie, Coon, Cornhusker, Herkimer County Cheese, Longhorn, Monterey, Sage (or Vermont Sage), and Tillamook.

One might also mention Philadelphia cream cheese and, if one must, the products manufactured and sold worldwide by Kraft Foods Inc, which include Real Kraft Cheddar Canned Cheese.

There is much, much more to be said about American cheeses but I think I will stop there. Quite possibly, I will never return to the subject.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Message of Peace

No 11 in an occasional series of extracts from The Postcard Century
August 1951: Peggy writes to Ian Morris and Betty Trowbridge in London W4 from the Eastern Sector of Berlin: Arrived safely in Berlin on Thursday despite everything. Plenty to do in Berlin. Situation here is highly encouraging. We were warmly welcomed by the German people, We are NOT starving.
This trio, politically immaculate in gender and ethnicity, come from a Sovexport film. Peggy is attending the 3rd World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace. She has fallen completely (and understandably) for the party line as announced in the card’s title, the special issue stamp, and even the slogan postmark: ‘Youth: Unite in the Struggle for Peace against the Danger of a New War’. Ten years on, to the day, from the posting of this card, the Berlin Wall will be newly in place.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Who played the part?

Here are the names of twenty-three fictional characters who appeared in films, and two who appeared on TV. Who played them, and in what? (The first two were played by the same actor, and so were the last three.)

1 Jedediah Leland
2 Holly Martins
3 Joel Cairo
4 Rufus T. Firefly
5 Tony le Stéphanois
6 Kate Bridges
7 J J Hunsecker
8 Tom Hagen
9 Laura Jesson
10 Elvira Condomine
11 Walter Neff
12 Jerry Lundegaard
13 Buck Turgidson
14 Arthur Wilson
15 Travis Bickle
16 Max von Mayerling
17 Elaine Robinson
18 Agatha D'Ascoyne
19 Addison DeWitt
20 Zoltan Karpathy
21 Ben Yussuf
22 Mr Kobayashi
23 Roy "Mad Dog" Earl
24 Fred C. Dobbs
25 Charlie Allnutt

It is unlikely that even the most ardent of cineasts (the OED calls this a quasi-Anglicized form) will happen to remember exactly the same names as I have, so a score of ten or above suggests a youth happily mis-spent at the cinema.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Cranky is as cranky does

...whatever that means. Interesting word, cranky; when it was applied to me in a blokeish blog the other day, I did not take offence, for in one of its senses it is entirely appropriate.

The OED treats it as two separate words. The first has several meanings:

cranky, a [A comparatively modern formation, covering a group of senses that hang but loosely together...]

1 Sickly, in weak health, infirm in body

2 Out of order, out of gear, working badly; shaky, crazy

3 Of capricious or wayward temper, difficult to please; cross-tempered, awkward

4 Mentally out of gear; crotchety, ‘queer’; subject to whims or ‘cranks’; eccentric or peculiar in notions or behaviour

5 Full of twists or windings, crooked; full of corners or crannies.

My friends know that my rude health, gentle diffidence, simplicity and sweetness of nature make the epithet totally inappropriate to describe me, and will recognise that it is only in its second sense that this word sums me up:

cranky, a (dial.) Brisk, merry, lively, disposed to exult
1837-40 HALIBURTON Clockm. (1862) Most of the first chop men cut and run, as they always do in such like cases, considerable cranky.
1886 S.W. Linc. Gloss., Cranky, merry, sportive. How cranky the boy is! he's full of quirks and pranks. [In dial. Glossaries
of Sussex and Hampshire.]

[Then there is curmudgeon. This calls for a post to itself, perhaps next month.]

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Harri Tudur

The Tudors provided five sovereigns who reigned over us, one after another, for 118 years. The first, Henry VII, was perhaps the cleverest, and certainly the most hard-working man to wear the English crown, his son was the most colourful, and his three grandchildren were successively a sickly and short-lived boy, an excessively devout woman whose only achievement was to make the English the undeviating enemies of Rome for three hundred years by publicly burning at the stake three churchmen and three hundred humble Protestants, and finally one with the body of a weak, feeble woman but the heart and stomach of a king, who gave her name to an age.

The founder of this royal dynasty had a very poor title to the throne and seized it by force of arms, then by his cunning, industry and skill held it without more executions than were strictly necessary for nearly a quarter of a century, ending the Wars of the Roses and leaving England with a modernised government and legal system, richer and happier than it had been under his predecessor Richard III.

So it is unfair that he has been less celebrated on stage and screen than his flashier descendants. Shakespeare was a propagandist for the Tudors but gives Henry VII only walk-on parts, and in TV and films he scarcely features at all. There was an excellent six-part 1972 TV series called The Shadow of the Tower which did him justice, but it made little impression and was never repeated, and, as a (literally) crowning insult, in Olivier's Richard III Henry pops up at Bosworth Field played by Stanley Baker, an appropriate casting for a Welsh tough, but ruined by giving him a silly auburn wig.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Diplomatic humour

In 1960 a book was published containing 53 photos of Peter Ustinov masquerading as assorted diplomats addressing the UN. Here are some of them from the section called A Small Joke...

"In the immortal words of Millard Fillmore..."

"...her waist was extremely narrow—but I digress..."

"The story I have told you is full of humour. When I have finished laughing at it, I will explain it point by point.

"From childhood was taught wisdom of veiling emotions. Western delegations think I content. Only secretary read my fury and shake like autumn tealeaf."

"In this connection, an anecdote springs somewhat laboriously to mind..."

"A joke seems in order..."

Thanks to Grumio for giving me a copy.

Friday, 6 February 2009


I was recently described online as follows: ...The cranky old so-and-so is a bit of a cheat in some ways, since many of his posts simply reprint amusing pictures, or quote from other blogs or newspaper articles (or dictionaries or encyclopedias)...

This seems fair comment except for the word cheat; I have never attempted to conceal the fact that much of OMF is not original but second-hand, and have frequently reminded readers of this, occasionally even going so far as to credit my sources.

Sometimes I like to quote someone else's quotation. The critic James Agate wrote several million words in many books and theatre reviews, as well as keeping a diary called Ego which was published in nine volumes. A high proportion of this was not written by him at all, but consisted of lengthy quotations from a variety of sources. One diary entry notes that Mrs Patrick Campbell, a famous actress in the early years of the twentieth century, complimented him thus: " I did so enjoy your book, James. Everything that everybody writes in it is so good".

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Bunbury in London

On January 31st 1939 there was a revival of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Globe Theatre. The doyen of English theatre critics at the time had this to say about the cast:

Mr Gielgud, rightly aiming at the humourlessness of John Worthing, conveys a sense of dudgeon... probably the part is unplayable, for how to reconcile humourlessness with the invention of that brother?... Miss Joyce Carey's Gwendolen and Miss Angela Baddeley's Cecily... are not more consciously inane or unconsciously dewy than any other ingenues in any other comedy... And now let me say that the farce comes to full flowering in the persons of Miss Margaret Rutherford's Prism and Miss Evans's Lady Bracknell. Of Miss Rutherford I must be content to say that she could not miss perfection if she aimed wide of it, while to do Miss Evans anything approaching justice would require a whole essay... As long as she is on stage one has no doubt about anything except the relative grandeur of Lady Bracknell's upholstery, and those two hats in one of which swans nest while in the other all the fowls of Rostand's Chantecler come to roost.

In Anthony Asquith's film made thirteen years later the performances of Margaret Rutherford and Edith Evans were, happily, preserved for all time, but the ingenues had to be replaced, for they were hardly dewy, even in 1939: Angela Baddeley was 35 then (and in 1971-75 became Mrs Bridges in all five TV series of Upstairs, Downstairs), while Joyce Carey was 41: in 1945 she was the station buffet attendant Myrtle Bagot in Brief Encounter who flirted decorously with Stanley Holloway ("I'm sure I don't know to what you're referrin'... ").