Friday, 30 September 2011

Twenty Questions

These are suited to people with ragbag minds. Some of them are dreary, some obscure and some merely silly (I mean the questions, not the people who can answer them; well, I suppose both, really).

The first and last questions are very silly.

Three correct answers is a good score, five is outstanding, ten is a lie.

1    Who was in whose what and how many miles awhat?

2    The Watsons is an unfinished novel by which author?

3    Which feature started to appear in Mayfair streets in 1958?

4    What links David Bowie, Rod Steiger, Telly Savalas, Michael Palin?

5    Which monument lists 558 generals of the first French Empire?

6    Piedmont white and Perigord black are prized varieties of what?

7    Traditionally, who would wield an estoque?

8    Who were liberated on March 3rd 1861?

9    Where are we treading, brothers?

10  What, according to Noel Coward, are just around the corner?

11  37 in Europe, 38 in the US: what?

12  Methuselah plus Salmanazar equals what?

13  One hundred agorot make what?

14  Where was Ferran Adriá head chef?

15  What's a caret?

16  Pertussis is better known as what?

17  What afflicted London from 5-9 December 1952?

18  The dandy Eustace Tilley is the mascot of which magazine?

19  Capten, art tha sleeping there below?

20  Where, by whom and when was the game known as Ragamadolio or Tumble-cum-Trivy played?

Answers are HERE

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The brilliance of engineers

I consider myself fortunate to have failed dismally, twice, in my half-hearted attempt to get a degree in Mechanical Engineering, for I know I would never have been any good at it However, this has not in any way affected my admiration for engineers, which has not been shared by many of my countrymen since Victorian times when Brunel and his peers were working wonders. The Germans have always respected engineers and allowed them to distinguish themselves with an appellation, so if I had graduated and gone to live in, say, Stuttgart (where they invented the automobile), I could have called myself Herr Ing. Heinrich Fußboden, though this is not actually my name.

It was not to be. But even now, after a career in which engineering featured not at all, I still think how nice it might have been if I could have made things like this; full instructions are given so anyone who wants to can do so, though not me.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A major feat

It is difficult to list groups of unpleasant people in order of detestability, classifying them from the utterly wicked to the merely sleazy. Everyone has his own idea about which are the worst: double glazing salesmen, pornographers, Tories, evangelists, bankers, homeopaths, muggers? Which of these most deserve to meet an unpleasant end?

I am not sure where I would have put rustlers; a certain romance about their crime still clings from the days when you could be hanged for it, though it's no joke for Farmer Giles, struggling to keep his farm going in difficult times, being robbed of some of his precious animals by townie gangs: a nasty surprise for him to find them gone after he has spent a long night wrestling with Defra and EU forms, but nowadays, of course, he is likely to be the CEO of a mammoth corporation with plenty of staff to do the paperwork, make the insurance claims and even look after the sheep.

I was amazed to learn that, according to the BBC and the always readable Farmers' Guardian, thieves recently stole 579 ewes and 901 lambs from a field in Lincolnshire.

Someone who knows about sheep (and rustling?) says that two articulated trucks and a number of men and dogs must have been involved, in the dark. The noise! And the people! It may have been a thinly populated area, but didn't anyone tumble to the fact that something was going on?

Then there are the crooked shepherds, slaughtermen, butchers, vets and officials who must have had a hand in the huge operation. This was a major crime, and it is to be hoped that one of the villains will grass and that the whole bunch will go inside, but one cannot help feeling some sneaking admiration for the highly competent and hardworking gang who carried it out.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


Tasting menus in restaurants, basically a lot of little bits of stuff served consecutively, apparently became increasingly popular during the recession of the late 2000s and early 2010s. It is hard to imagine why, because now they are usually aimed at the well-heeled, not at those suffering from the economic decline of those years.

In 2008 I described a couple of such menus offered in San Sebastian, and how an intrepid (or foolhardy) journalist just managed to eat them both in a single day.

Earlier this year my friend Grumio took some friends to the American equivalent in California. Here is the menu:

Often a tasting menu gives you no choice, you eat whatever turns up, but in this case you can choose one dish from most of the nine courses; in the case of the Maine Lobster Tail there is no alternative, but they probably don't get many complaints about that.

The wine list comes on an iPad which isn't a bad idea, but choosing wines by the bottle to balance nine courses would not be easy, so wise guys take the sommelier's choice by glass.

The price mentioned is in US dollars, though they don't actually say so.

Grumio tells me they didn't spurn the supplements ("Who turns down the foie gras, ever?") and the bill for four was 2000.  American dollars, of course: what other currencies are there?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The New Germany

No 34 in an occasional series of extracts from The Postcard Century
January 1934   From Louis Landsberg in Aachen: Thank you for your kind Christmas wishes. I read in the newspaper that these postcards are being exhibited today and tomorrow in relation to the past years work of new structure of Germany. I hope it will be of some use to your collection - there is only a small amount being issued so I think it will be a rare specimen... It was pretty hard to paste up these two stamps neatly. The one pfennig stamp was issued in December. How are you? Your girl? Everybody?
This anniversary card of Hitler's  year-old chancellorship was hot off the press and Hitler makes his first appearance on a stamp. The control exercised over all the semiotics of power, masterminded by Goebbels, already marked Hitler out as in a different league of dictatorship from Mussolini who only made one philatelic appearance in Italy (and then on a stamp which also features Adolf Hitler). The Brandenburg gate in Berlin retains its symbolic appearance at the end of the century.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The skull on the mantelpiece

N.F. Simpson, who recently died aged 92, wrote a play called The One Way Pendulum; I have treasured lines from it for years, including these:

"What's it for?"

"Oh, it's a memento mori. Supposed to remind you of death."

"And does it?"

"No, damn thing hasn't worked since we got it."