Sunday, 30 August 2009

Try it with cornflakes

Japanese knotweed, fallopia japonica or sachalinensis, has arrived in the UK and established itself over the last few years; huge and costly efforts are being made to eradicate it and there are even proposals to introduce an insect from overseas which might act as a predator and eat the invader.

This seems very risky. Supposing this evil foreign bug takes a fancy to one of our honest British plants, and we woke up one morning to find the country denuded of runner beans, delphiniums or even oak trees?

It might be better to consult the ever-useful Oxford Companion to Food, which notes in its article on Knotweed: "The young shoots make a pleasant vegetable, whose acidity can be tempered by the addition of a little sugar in the cooking. Or, they can be steamed and made into a purée, which can in turn serve as the basis of a sweetened cold soup. The mature stems, peeled, can be treated like rhubarb and it is even possible to make jam or a pie from them".

The trouble is that all this sounds pretty unappetising and it is hard to imagine that people will chomp their way through enough of the stuff to make any substantial inroads into the hundreds of acres of 2-metre shoots already growing. I suppose the TV chefs will have to tempt us with it, demonstrating Knotweed à la Japonaise, Barbecued Knotweed Kebabs or even Knotweed Crumble.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Shamed by your English?

Or, "Does your English let you down?". These are alternative headlines to the longest-running ad in newspaper history. It was placed in national newspapers, often on the front page, in 1963, and has been appearing regularly ever since. The text claims that the answer to the problem posed is to take a correspondence course in speaking and writing from a company based in Cheshire.

It was, and still is, hugely successful: the course has been taken by 400,000 people. The original ad was based on one written—rather well, it has to be said—by an American copywriter and has remained virtually unchanged; the publishers tried different versions, but none proved as effective as this one. It is, quite properly, headed Advertisement, but clearly many readers take it as editorial because it reads like a newspaper article and uses typefaces matching the newspapers in which it was published.

Perhaps that is a little bit sly, but it is hard not to admire the ad, which is basically a simple and honest one for a worthwhile product, and has outlived the greatest marketing campaigns of our time. It would be interesting to know how much the content of the course has been updated over the years; it may not have changed very much, for a piece of good English written half a century ago—like the ad itself—will still read well, give or take a few changes in fashion.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Uncle Stephen reassures us

In a current TV commercial for a car insurance company we hear the warm, avuncular voice of cuddly old Stephen Fry telling us: "...we're not on any price comparison websites, oh crumbs no...".

Is it excessive cynicism or just common sense that makes us wonder what reasons the company could possibly have for this abstention, other than their fear that comparison would not favour them?

Monday, 24 August 2009

One thousand up

What to publish for the millenary* post in Other Men's Flowers? How about some pointless statistics such as that every month for five and a half years around fifteen Omfposts (as aficionados call them) have been published, each month's batch containing on average 4,151 words, 14 links and 8 pictures, and eliciting 22 comments?

No, those figures are all quite accurate but not at bit interesting; better to list a few Omfposts which typify the style and content of the blog. Here are some:

The Story of Ginger Biscuits;
A frank account of an embarrassing experience I had in 1958;
Twenty-five questions about obscure Victorian novels, with answers;
Something scurrilous about a well-loved national figure;
Some thoughts on people who profess enthusiasm for the Tory party or Jesus or homeopathy;
A rude limerick in Portuguese;
A selection of witticisms lifted without acknowledgement from the works of Frank Muir;
A review of a play which I very nearly went to see last week;
Key paragraphs from Schopenhauer's Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung;
Some notes on ringworm from an article in the British Medical Journal, August 1925;
A nice photo of a man in a funny hat;

These are imaginary, but all are typical, and redolent of the profound superficiality, the careful insouciance, the consistently erratic approach and the gentle Schrecklichkeit which have made Other Men's Flowers essential reading for top international Leichenbegleiteren ever since it started publication in January 2004. The list itself gives a good idea of the blog's flavour, so I will leave it at that: THIS IS OMFPOST 1000.

[*i.e. one-thousandth, not to be confused with posts about millinery (women's hats), of which there are many among these.]

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Euskaraz badakizu?

No, you probably don't. There's not much point in anyone asking you this question, because it is unlikely that you are one of the handful of adult foreigners who have ever managed to master the Basque language.

This is apparently related to no other language, except perhaps one of the lesser Hungarian dialects. It has a congested look to it, being technically described as agglutinative and polysynthetic, and it is full of Xs and Zs making frightening words like Lerdokiztatu, Edantxar and Xintexuketa.

One must think in an altogether different way to talk Basque, for each transitive verb has fourteen different forms; one word means she gives it to him, another they give it to us, another you give it to them, not to speak of the words for she will give it to us or you would have given it to me or even, for all I know, it might have been given by us to her.

It is an ancient, puzzling and nerve-wracking language but powerful and flexible enough to express even to most recondite of concepts, such as Nire aerolabangailua aingirez beteta dago (My hovercraft is full of eels). The unambitious could always just memorise a few phrases for use in emergencies, like Non dago komuna (where's the lavatory?)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

More things to put in your ear

Most of us remember fondly the final, poignant episode of the World War I Blackadder series in which it was made clear that walking around with a pencil hanging from each nostril would be unlikely to get you excused from going over the top to be shot, though it may have worked for some.

When it comes to pushing things into your ears, there is a whole range of objects which can be deployed to achieve a variety of aims. Other Men's Flowers has already dealt in detail with two of the principal ones, here and here; in the first case a modest function is fulfilled and the second is amusing in a quiet way but completely pointless unless you believe in qi forces and other magic.

In this blog I aim at encyclopedic coverage of every aspect of modern life so I am pleased to be able to report on yet another therapy which works wonders when you shove something in your ears. This also requires firm faith in the preposterous: it is called Hopi Ear Candling.

The Hopi tribe have repeatedly requested the manufacturers of the candles sold for this purpose to refrain from using their name since their healing practices do not include any such thing as ear candling, but their plea has fallen on deaf ears (presumably full of wax of one kind or another), and much money is made by selling the things with the assertion that lighting one end while the other is in your ear canal will improve your health. Medical research has shown the procedure to be both ineffective and dangerous.

There is a website called healthypages which has a forum where proponents of alternative medicine can entertain one another with anecdotes about their experiences. Not all of these are encouraging; here, for example, a lady from Ireland reports, with no apparent remorse:

I finally got to do some ear candling on my husband last night. I used the Biosun ones and was really looking forward to his reactions. Immediately after the treatment he got very irritated. Now he has told me that he had nightmares all night, have not gone into the details of these as yet. While I think this is a good sign and he is releasing blocked emotions, he is not too impressed. I used them to relieve sinus and to give him a nice relaxing treatment, I doubt if he will allow me to do this again. Has anyone any ideas on this or had similar experiences??, must go now as I can hear a lot of clattering and swearing in the kitchen.

Yes, I bet. She may need to try out her skills with aromatherapy, reflexology and Hot Stone therapy to save her marriage. Or perhaps a crystal will quieten the poor fellow; crystals will cure anything. Another lady posts in the forum: Is there a crystal that can be placed near walls to help with noisy neighbours please can anyone help? She gets a very sensible answer from someone who suggests asking them to shut up, but then spoils it by recommending getting hold of a piece of haematite and ...when you have found somewhere quiet and secluded, grip the stone tightly, focusing all your anxiety and uncertainty onto the the stones shining surface....then imagine the stone shrugging off the problem of the noisy neighbour with sublime confidence!

Haematite, you see, is used by mineral and crystal healers in their rituals for treating blood-related illnesses such as haemophilia, anaemia, heart, kidney and liver diseases, cardio-vascular weakness, menstrual cramps, and nose bleeds. They also recommend it "for use in treating the stress of jet lag, birth and surgery, tumours, insomnia, leg cramps, nervous disorders and fevers. Haematite was also a Native American remedy for pimples, alcohol abuse and dental problems".

Was? Did they find out that it didn't work, or are they all nowadays smooth-skinned moderate drinkers with flashing smiles who no longer need to carry lumps of rock about?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

First of many

No 22 in a series of extracts from The Postcard Century.
July 1906: see I have got you a P.C. like you wanted writes EC in Faygate to Mrs Vine in Newdigate, places local to Britains's first major road accident. On the Kent fireman's outing everyone wanted to sit on the open top of the double decker. When the brakes failed the bus lurched out of control and ten were killed.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Summer eating

At this time of year the magazines are full of ideas for tossing dreary salads and burning stuff on the barbecue, trying to excite us with beautiful photographs of depressing food. Isabella Beeton, though well aware of the importance of eating what is appropriate to the season (in her day you had to), saw no reason to limit the choice just because the sun is shining.

Here are her suggestions for a week of Plain Family Dinners for 6 in July:

Sunday: 1. Julienne soup. 2. Roast lamb, half calf’s head, tongue and brains, boiled ham, peas and potatoes. 3. Cherry tart, custards.

Monday: 1. Hashed calf’s head, cold lamb and salad. 2. Vegetable marrow and white sauce, instead of pudding.

Tuesday: 1. Stewed veal, with peas, young carrots, and potatoes. Small meat pie. 2. Raspberry-and-currant pudding.

Wednesday: 1. Roast ducks stuffed, gravy, peas, and potatoes; the remains of stewed veal rechauffé. 2. Macaroni served as a sweet pudding.

Thursday: 1. Slices of salmon and caper sauce. 2. Boiled knuckle of veal, parsley-and-butter, vegetable marrow and potatoes. 3. Black-currant pudding.

Friday: 1. Roast shoulder of mutton, onion sauce, peas and potatoes. 2. Cherry tart, baked custard pudding.

Saturday: 1. Minced mutton, Rump-steak-and-kidney pudding. 2. Baked lemon pudding.

A little heavy for our tastes, perhaps, and vegetable marrow with white sauce doesn't sound much fun for a pudding. It's all a bit dull, but this is only for the family so there are no guests to impress. Much more interesting is Isabella's menu for a dinner party of eighteen:

First Course
Soup à la Jardinière, Salmon Trout and Parsley-and-Butter. Fillets of Mackerel à la Maître d’Hôtel.

Lobster Cutlets, Beef Palates à la Italienne.

Second Course
Roast Lamb, Boiled Capon and White Sauce, Boiled Tongue, garnished with small Vegetable Marrows, Bacon and Beans.

Third Course
Goslings, Whipped Strawberry Cream, Raspberry-and-Currant Tart, Meringues.Cherry Tartlets, Iced Pudding.

Dessert and Ices

And very nice too. But goslings for afters? My first thought was that these must be some kind of joky sweet in the shape of a bird, made out of sponge cake and fondant icing, but the dictionaries have no mention of such a thing; the OED gives 1: A young goose 2: A foolish inexperienced person 3: A catkin or blossom on a tree.

Perhaps they were real baby geese, fried in butter and eaten as a savoury: you pick them up by the head, dip them in anchovy sauce, pop them whole into your mouth and crunch them up. Yum!

Mrs Beeton's great work was originally published in 24 monthly parts and then as a bound volume in 1861. The meals she writes about seem a bit excessive to us, but it would be another forty years before the Edwardians began serious gormandising with 24-course dinners.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Tough questions

Professor David Colquhoun has been looking at the examination set in January this year by the University of Salford, which was intended to lead to a BSc (Hons) degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine (Acupuncture). You can find all the questions in a .pdf file here

Here are some taken, word for word, from the exam paper. If you've got a pen and paper handy, try jotting down your answers to them:

Jing/body essence is vital to the maintenance of life. In 100 words, explain the role of Jing plays in the cycle of human life.

In the "liver wood overacting spleen earth", explain it in detail.

In Chinese medicine, anger is associated with liver and the suppression of anger causes liver qi stagnation. Explain your understanding of the statement in 100 words.

If you feel that all this is the sort of thing that the late, great Ted Wragg used to call "world-class meaningless bollocks", then you will be happy to know that the University of Salford has at last tumbled to that fact and closed this and their other courses in similarly idiotic subjects. Several universities are busy shutting down their worthless degrees in alternative medicine, now that the ridiculousness of what is taught has been exposed. They have been shut down entirely at the University of Central Lancashire, and even the University of Westminster is working on closing them.

So it will soon be very difficult to find any place of learning which provides a course enabling you to become a Bachelor of Silly Rubbish (Hons).

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Outstanding value

Global recession has clearly brought out the Dunkirk spirit in us, with ordinary people putting their noses to the grindstone, shoulders to the wheel (not like this), best feet forward, thinking caps on and all the other sternly heroic things we British do in difficult times, unlike lesser breeds who just sit around saying how terrible it is.

The other day I saw a splendid example of the drive, ingenuity, courage, inititiative and sheer grit which make us what we are. Driving along a main road I passed a row of houses; in one of the tiny front gardens there were two little tables and half a dozen chairs of assorted design, and leaning against the wall a carefully-written sign offered BACON SANDWICH AND CUP OF TEA 99p.

There appeared to be no customers and if I had not already been invited elsewhere to lunch I would have pulled up and supported this brave venture. As it was, I just drove past, worrying about the profit margin and the sadness of the proprietor if no-one at all ever stopped.

Monday, 10 August 2009

If you live in Spain...

My extreme reluctance to immerse myself in water except when it's in a bath, lightly perfumed and at exactly the right temperature, goes back a long way and was due to some wickedly cruel treatment I received as a child. I never felt that I missed anything much by this but I can see that nowadays the inability to swim, a great distaste for the ambiance of pools, and even a low threshold of boredom for the beach would be a social handicap to the young.

So I am happy that my seven-year-old grand-daughter has not inherited my lack of enthusiasm for aquatic activity.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Breaking on the wheel

One doesn't hear much about this nowadays, but according to The Companion to British History it was a method of capital punishment popular mainly in continental Europe, though occasionally used in Scotland until the 17th century.
The condemned was tied saltire-wise across a horizontal cartwheel and slowly rotated while the executioner progressively broke his bones with an iron bar. It was sometimes mitigated by an early fatal blow called the coup de grâce.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Lessons from the past

It is not surprising that a party which thinks so highly of traditional (i.e. nineteenth-century) values should want to introduce a Victorian flavour into our educational system, if not to the extent of bringing back the cane, or learning by rote, or dunces' caps for the low achievers, of course (though no doubt some party members would enthusiastically support the re-introduction of these).

The Tories have a plan to highlight allegedly failing standards in education by setting up an online library of past examination papers going back to Victorian times. It is not clear how this will raise standards, but at least it will show today's schoolchildren just how lucky they are not to have been born a hundred and fifty years ago.

Here are some sample questions to give an idea of the sort of things their forebears were expected to know:

If six children working nine hours a day can sweep fifty chimneys in a week, how long will it take ten children to sweep seventy chimneys of the same size? (You may not use your abacus.)

Should children who walk more than twelve miles to school be excused drill? If so, what cleaning tasks should be given them instead?

Religious Studies
"Naphtha the Jebusite was a more godly man than Rehoboam the King of Judah." Discuss, illustrating your comments with not less that THREE passages from the Book of Joshua.

Où sont les neiges d'antan?

(a) Who was in whose what, and how many miles awhat?
(b) Cap'n, art thou sleeping there below?

Write 100 words on FOUR of the following: Basutoland, Mesopotamia, Cochin-China, Bohemia, Hohenzollern-Hechingen, Dahomey, Wallachia.

Social Studies
Explain in 200 words the social benefits of ONE of the following: workhouses, transportation to the colonies, the death penalty, press gangs

Food Technology
Give your recipe for TWO of the following: Boiled Griskin of Pork, Kedgeree, Jugged Hare, Gruel, Roast Haunch of Venison, Barley Soup

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The apotheosis of Sarah

My friend Eric, a legendary guitar-playing fly-fishing law professor in Greensboro, NC, quoted AlaskaReport last Sunday as announcing that Todd Palin and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin are to divorce:
"Multiple sources in Wasilla and Anchorage (including a former Palin staffer) have confirmed the split. A National Enquirer story exposing previous affairs on both sides led to a deterioration of their marriage and the stress from that led to Palin's resignation as governor of Alaska last week. The Palins were noticeably not speaking to each other for most of last Sunday's resignation speech in Fairbanks. Sarah ditched Todd (MSNBC) right after the speech and left without him. Sarah removed her wedding ring a couple of weeks ago and will move with her children to Montana, where she recently purchased land".

Eric's prediction for the next chapter in this never-ending saga: hundreds of Palin believers move to her new Montana compound, where they form a messianic cult, The Church of Christ Ubetcha. Repeated confrontations with federal tax authorities lead to a Ruby Ridge-like stand-off. After a tense week, President Obama offers to have the Palin cultists over to the White House for a beer. Attempting to show empathy with the Montana cultists, Obama chooses a Moose Drool. The cultists, in a nod to birther conspiracy theories, all choose Tusker.