Saturday, 27 February 2010

Maiden names

Women born with these names were later known by their husbands' surnames. Who were they?

(Those marked * became much more famous than their husbands.)

1 Sklodowska (1867-1934)
2 Betts* (1919-2002)
3 Roberts (1925-)
4 Mackamotsi (1873-1910)
5 Hozier (1885-1977)
6 Doud (1896-1979)
7 Mayson* (1836-1865)
8 Stevenson* (1810-1865)
9 Winklmayr (1949-)
10 Goulden* (1858-1928)
11 Heath* (1964-)
12 Heelis* (1866-1943)
13 Miller* (1890-1976)
14 Le Breton* (1853-1929)
15 Stephen (1882-1941)
16 Nehru* (1917-1984)
17 Mabovich* (1898-1978)
18 Earnshaw* (1879-1964)
19 Bamber* (1899-1970)
20 Hughes (1932-1963)

This is a difficult and fairly pointless exercise, since most of their fathers were obscure and uninteresting, and few would recognise their names. Their daughters' married names are mostly very familiar, but hardly anyone would be able to match more than two or three of them with their maiden names.

Here is a list in random order of each of these women's claim to fame: crime writer, head of state, children's author/illustrator, politician, FLOTUS, poet, another politician, wife of statesman, mistress of a royal, another head of state, political leader, physicist, writer on household management, novelist, political activist, yet another politician, first wife of magnate, another children's author/illustrator, murder victim, feminist novelist/essayist.

This won't help you much.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The widow's hat

No 27 in an occasional series of extracts from The Postcard Century

October 1909: Is this anything like your hat? I am better again today but rather busy. Yrs .MTF.
Lehar's operetta The Merry Widow swept Europe after the Vienna preview in 1905 and with it the fashions it inspired, notably the headgear described here as Mode 1909, which was more an event than a hat.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

What immortal hand or eye could frame thy tearful apology....?

Grumio has announced that he is calling a press conference at the O2 Arena to apologise to his family, his friends and their children, and his country for having eaten some of George's pork pie in 1978 when George wasn't looking.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Sunday, 14 February 2010


On this day in 2006 I wrote about the three third-century martyrs with this name but omitted to mention the interesting fact that that the martyrdom of one of them was accomplished by scraping him to death with oyster shells. Anyway, not much is known about these saints and the modern practice of coming over all soppy on February 14th has nothing to do with any of them.

For this reason I do not find this festival as depressing as most of the others we are obliged to observe. Who could resent being given tokens of love, provided they demonstrate not merely affection but also good taste and knowledge of one's inclinations? Thus, this year's offerings gave me much pleasure: a little book of unhackneyed quotations (e.g. "You will understand that I should like to say many fine and striking things to you, but it is rather difficult, all at once, in this way. I regret this all the more as you are sufficiently great to inspire one with romantic dreams of becoming the confidant of your beautiful soul...." - Marie Bashkirtseff to Guy de Maupassant, 1884). Rather well put, I thought.

And there were chocolates (praline and truffle). I had three for breakfast, together with a Metformin tablet.

They were of course heart-shaped, an accepted symbolism on these occasions. But nowadays the conventional heart is not the only way of representing the organ: Froog, the Beijing bon vivant, discovered some other charming examples, including these, alleged to be anatomically correct.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Answers from the experts

The Guardian has a long-running feature called Notes & Queries in which readers send in questions on a range of topics, some frivolous and some recondite (this kind are often answered by world experts who disagree with each other). The one I sent in years ago was one of the less serious ones:
Is it true that there was once a distinguished Hollywood actor named Gustav Von Seyffertitz?
(He adopted an even more intriguing screen name.)

The query was answered clearly and authoritatively: Yes, there was.

The feature has spawned several paperbacks and is still running. A couple of months ago a fairly serious question:
Do any other animals, apart from humans, experience adolescence?
....evoked this admirable answer from Somerset reader Judy Crosher:

Yes, sheep do, but it's shortlived. For a few weeks the lambs skip and play, keeping well in sight of Mum. Then suddenly they seem altogether more muscular. The look in their eye changes. They escape under gates and over hedges, and hang about in small groups on the corner of lanes. The stance is unmistakable: huddled, heads together, mostly backs to the road and casting surly glances over their shoulders at passers-by. As a former teacher I have a strong urge to tell them off. Then, one morning, it's all over; they're back in the field, chewing monotonously.

Monday, 8 February 2010

On the train

"I'm just ringing to let everyone know I'm an arsehole..."
Private Eye

Friday, 5 February 2010

I'll see you in Hell, Pachelbel

It's shamefully lackadaisical to publish a post consisting of nothing more than a couple of YouTube links, but one of these little films is charming and the other is funny. Millions have seen them; I recommend them to anyone who hasn't.

Some may find the Thai commercial for Pantene a touch trite and mawkish but it is unquestionably a stylish piece of film-making. If you feel ashamed of having enjoyed such a thing, see a different take on the music.