Monday, 31 October 2011

Who's tops today?

One reason for not liking Hallowe'en much is that its feeble modern version has been imported from America (never mind about Walpurgisnacht and all that) and has come to overshadow our fireworks on November 5th. This good old British anti-Catholic festival (originally a pagan celebration) is much more fun than silly trick-or-treat and pumpkins, and gives us the opportunity of burning in effigy whoever we want to stand in for the Pope or Guy Fawkes (Nadine Dorries? Bashar al-Assad? David Tredinnick? Simon Cowell?).

Another reason is that it is condemned by some Christians who consider it a satanic ritual. Catholic parents are being advised to celebrate Hallowe'en by dressing up their children as popular saints instead of witches and devils: "...they should kit out their youngsters to look like St George, St Lucy, St Francis of Assisi or St Mary Magdalene rather than let them wear costumes that celebrate evil or occult figures", according to a campaign endorsed by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and at a season when people are expecting a knock on the door their accompanying parents can take the opportunity of doing some proselytising. This sounds like a splendid opportunity for a bit of fun for all the family.

But let Jesus and Satan fight it out over October 31st: a plague on both their houses, and a few days later we can commemorate the pathetic attempt of poor old Guy and his friends to replace King James 1st with a dynasty of Papists. Even those who dislike the Windsors would not maintain that we would have been better off had the plot succeeded.


Sunday, 30 October 2011

Another Twenty Questions

The mixture as beforequestions suited to people with ragbag minds. Some of the questions are dreary, some obscure and some merely silly.

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

21    What is love not?

22    What is Other Men's Flowers?

23    What did George Holliday videotape on 3rd March 1991 in LA?

24    What links: Lake Manzala, Lake Timsah, Great Bitter Lake, Little Bitter Lake?

25    Why must I wayle for Witherington?

26    What did she cry before she died, after lifting up her lovely head?

27    What are the trees where you sit going to do?

28    Whom should you not trust when you can't find your way home?

29    Which psychological condition was defined after a 1973 Swedish bank robbery?

30    Which astronomical event is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry?

31    The King, or Kitchener?

32    Why did the Earl of Oxford leave Elizabeth I's court for seven years?

33    Magnetite, hematite and goethite are ores of which metal?

34    Fingal O'Flahertie Wills were the middle names of which writer?

35    Whose mother and sister are cured of leprosy in a biblical epic?

36    What became the largest country in Africa this year?

37    The USS Phoenix at Pearl Harbour was sunk 40 years later under what name?

38    The Parsi people practise which religion?

39    What restriction was introduced on 8 January 1940?

40    What's it all about?

Answers are HERE

[Sources: Guardian Weekend, Ask a Silly Question (Goswell Frand), New Statesman, Wikipedia, The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, The Public School Hymn Book, The OED, The Washington Post, The Bible, etc.]


Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Our new destroyer

It used to be said that no ship, not even a warship, could be ugly....

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Making a note of it

I have never been plagued by superstitious obsessions: I do not feel compelled to avoid walking on lines in the pavement, or to wash my hands more often than is necessary. But there is one completely pointless thing which I have been forcing myself to do from an early age, and that is to record my activities, however uninteresting, in a succession of diaries.

Of course this can be a salutary exercise; what the great diarists wrote is fascinating to us all, and any diaries, however inept or fragmentary, can be helpful to biographers and historians, or at the very least interesting to the families or descendants of the writer. However, mine are not a bit like Tony Benn's, which he started in his adolescence and has added to every day since then, and which, full of rich insights into political events over all those years, now fill a whole room. Eight volumes of them have already been published, and they will provide nutriment for biographers and historians for years to come.

Nor are my diaries in the least like Boswell's, featuring crisp descriptions of amusing incidents such as his note on 13th April 1763 which begins: Did meet with a monstrous big whore in the Strand....

No, mine are never going to do me or anyone else any good, consisting as they do merely of curt lists of things I did or which were done to me. The only reason for my diaries' existence is the ridiculous feeling that somehow if I haven't recorded something then it never really happened. So I have been setting down no comments or observations or thoughts, just the bare facts.

The tone was set from the very beginning, with a few entries for the year during which I reached the age of eleven; these were along the lines of Went to library or Aunt L came to tea. Later in the year the entries became very sparse and after the entry for 4th May, which was Forget what did, there was a long gap.

Eventually the regular notes resumed their onward march of relentless triviality, but even in later years the entries were hardly more interesting, still with a flat, uninformative style which gave very little away. Day in Brighton with Charles R and Rosemary, for example. Why? Did we have a good time? Who were these people? No-one reading the diaries today, not even I, would be able to answer these questions, or would ever bother to ask them, and posterity certainly won't be interested.

Later on, of course, I did have some moderately interesting experiences in slightly exotic places, but reading my curt notes on them doesn't really bring them back to me: Almost spoke to Duke Ellington at Bangkok Airport is perfectly accurate but doesn't conjure up the excitement I felt during that historic non-encounter.

A few years ago I found that I was being reminded of the pointlessness of this mammoth effort every time I came across the box containing the collection of diaries of all sizes and colours, every one carelessly filled in, sometimes illegibly, and never subsequently glanced at.

I could never bring myself to throw away the scruffy old diaries, with their rotting elastic band round each decade's volumes, for I felt I ought to have all the facts at my fingertips if I suddenly needed to know when my uncle Horace had died or in which year it was that I fell off a narrowboat into the Oxford Canal.

Then, a year ago, I found that writing had become so difficult for me that I really couldn't keep on with the diaries. Happily I can still type quite well using a large-key keyboard, so I am typing them into something I grandly call a Journal. It continues with current entries, two or three a week, as boring as ever. I am also working laboriously backwards with some help from a daughter and a grand-daughter. I have now reached 1997; more than fifty or so of the old handwritten volumes still leer at me from their carton, awaiting transcription.

The thing that makes the labour almost worthwhile is that the Journal is in Excel so that I can search for names of people or places, or words like "lunch" or "film", to produce instant listings. With a couple of clicks I can find, for example, the titles of the thirteen films I saw in 1997. This is an illustration of the spectacular futility of the whole enterprise: about most of them I can recall nothing at all.


Saturday, 15 October 2011

By the mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed

Rotten of Hamlet to tease the silly old fool Polonius, getting him to cravenly correct himself and say that yes, it was like a weasel, or a whale...

Clouds are things which often look more like other things than many other things do. This is a picture of a cloud having a chat with a tree....

You can find HERE 31 pages of clouds looking like something else.

This is from the absorbing website of the Cloud Appreciation Society, of which I am proud to be member No 8,158. Our current newsletter confirms that we now have 27,827 members in 94 countries.


Monday, 10 October 2011


Some of my friends have noted that I have several things in common with pregnant women. It is true, of course, that I have never actually been pregnant or anything of that kind, but I do feel rotten most mornings and am disinclined to take up the pole vault. Also, like many an expectant mother, I sometimes have a sudden craving for some exotic comestible or extraordinary combination of foods.

My fancies are not dramatically perverse; no dill pickles with raspberry ice cream, or hot chocolate with minced ox kidney stirred in. Nothing like that; for example, it came to me the other day that what I hankered after at that moment was a snootful of Aalborg Jubilæums.

I am speaking of Danish akvavit. Nothing exotic about that if you live in Scandinavia, but it's not easy to find in leafy rural Sussex where I live. It's years since I used to sit all evening in a café near Copenhagen harbour with an old havnearbejder and his friends, a bottle of the stuff and a bowl of herrings between us, singing many a chorus of Det Var En Lørdag Aften and then perhaps a few rude verses of Den Sag Er Aldrig I Verden until some kindly politiman told us to go home.

But I can still remember the effect as the first tiny, bitterly cold glassful is knocked back: the aaah! of delight, the instant clearing of the nasal passages, and the feeling that you had been struck violently on the back of the neck by a large soft object. It has a mere 42% of alcohol by volume, but somehow it feels like more.

I suppose I could get a bottle on the internet, to have ready for whenever I am next overcome by a fancy for it.


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

It's the rich what gets the pleasure

The internet – particularly the blogosphere – provides great opportunities for sociological study. One can compare and contrast the aspirations, tastes and viewpoints of people from either end of every kind of spectrum – social, political, geographical - simply by reading what they write about themselves.

Take Top People, for example: what does Hugh Massingham-Bohun in Gloucestershire have in common with Edward Cabot Ames III in Massachusetts?

Is it the fact that both have a great deal of money, as does the Non-Top Person Luke Riemenschneider of Arkansas?  Other than that, nothing much, I suppose, except for the desire to tell the world about their lives in the mistaken belief that the world will find them of interest.

Actually, unlike most blogs I find these three are not particularly boring since the writers all seem to enjoy with gusto what they do; I am not envious of any of them, but some aspects of their lives sound as if they might be fun...


Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Total drivel

Heartwarming compliments on my post of 30th September have poured in from all over the world: such perceptive observations as "fatuous entertainment", "very silly man" and "pointless rubbish", as well as some rather critical comments, have made me realise that there is a demand for more of this sort of thing, and I shall not fail to provide further helpings, starting with Another Twenty Questions, to be published on 30th October.

Several readers were kind enough to write and tell me which of the first twenty they were able to answer correctly without googling. Top Guns among them were Grumio (London), Froog (Beijing) and dandd (Oregon), though none of these mighty intellects got into double figures. Still, congratulations; if there had been any prizes I would have awarded one to each of them.