Friday, 25 May 2012

Tony 1931-2012

This is the blog of Tony.  Had blogging been invented twenty years earlier it is likely this would have had a deleterious effect on his career progress.  As it was, it had a beneficial effect on his retirement.  Tony passed away at home on 25th May, 2012.  Details of his funeral and where donations can be made can be found at:

We have no plans ever to remove this blog.  Tony left a small number of unpublished posts.  We may publish these in future if it seems right.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Message for Waldstein

For many years it was believed that Beethoven's Piano Sonata No 21 in C was named after one of his patrons. It is true that Beethoven did dedicate the work to Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein of Vienna, but it acquired its popular name for quite a different reason.

The composer had a very dear friend called Mr Waldstein. They had both studied counterpoint with Johann Albrechtsberger in 1795 and kept up a relationship by correspondence for some years. By 1804, however, Beethoven had started to make a name for himself while his friend's career had faltered, and, perhaps through jealousy, Waldstein had stopped replying to Beethoven's letters. This hurt Beethoven deeply, and in the sonata he wrote in that year he included a coded message in the first movement, intended as a gentle reminder.

It was a plaintive melody, GFEDC, DEFGF, and it meant "Oh, Mr Waldstein, why don't you ring me?"

Sadly, there is no record of him ever getting a response.


Sunday, 15 April 2012

A bit of flavour

When staying away from home I used to be an enthusiastic Full English man. Sitting down to make a choice among twenty items, knowing that whatever you have will make no difference to the cost, was a inspiring way to start the day. At a really good hotel you don't even have to choose: you can order the lot, starting, say with two poached eggs and finishing with kedgeree (omitting silly hash browns, of course, nothing English about them). I was once encouraged by a helpful waitress not to regard kippers and black pudding as alternatives but to have them both, before the bacon, fried bread, mushrooms and sausage.

At home all this is too much bother, and anyway is bad for one's health, so over the years I have found simpler breakfasts suit me better. Some of the healthier options are not too bad: a slice or two of a new white loaf, lightly toasted, spread (sparingly, as it tells you on the pot)with salted creamery butter and Patum Peperium,The Gentleman's Relish, Est 1828,  or, thickly, with taramasalata (the kind with smoked salmon in it is good) are quite acceptable.

But looming over the breakfast scene is the horror of cereals. It's not that there is little choice; every supermarket has a whole aisle of colourful boxes, containing fifty varieties of the stuff: some consisting of polystyrene, some of dust with bits in, called muesli, some which degrade to a brown sludge when you add milk, some tasting of straw and some made almost entirely of sugar. There is one called Grape-Nuts, invented in 1897 by C.W. Post, a competitor of Kellogg, containing neither grapes nor nuts. This was part of the Jungle Rations which were given to American soldiers from 1939 and in WWII, as if they didn't have enough troubles: it is like eating gravel.

However, I have recently discovered a way of making a plateful of breakfast cereal almost edible: choose a bland and harmless one and, before you put in the milk (or, better, crème fraîche), add a tablespoonful of lemon curd.  

This will not actually be very nice, but it's not as disgusting as anything else you can do with cereal (like the dreadful gritty buns suggested by the manufacturers of All-Bran).  


Tuesday, 10 April 2012


"Just what we need, darling, do stop and get a couple!"

Easy to see why the poor fellow looks so glum.
They often fall off on the terrible roads but there are few cars so there's very little demand for the things in Azerbaijan.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Ten Questions: 101-110

101   The Andean and California are two species of what?

102   What links Louis Armstrong, Oliver Tambo, John Lennon, George Best?

103   What's the lowest prime number consisting of consecutive digits?

104   What is the English title of the old song known to the French as "Les adieux du soldat"?

105   "The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small..." Translated from what language, and by whom?

106   Which country is the fastest-growing exporter of kosher products on earth?

107   How many silloths in an ephah?

108   What is

109   Who is this? Clue: This photo was taken in 1965 when he was in disguise, aged 37. Two years later he died.

110   "The best things in life are free”. Why might chiropodists interpret this as a piece of professional advice?


Friday, 30 March 2012

A cool word

One of the pleasures of getting older is hearing the next generation but two still using quaint out-of-date slang like cool, with it and so on, thus showing themselves to be just as old-fashioned now as they once told us we were.

It is pleasant to find them occasionally using words which they believe to be modern but which we know to be around a hundred years old. Here’s one, its use and origin comprehensively explained in the OED:

def, a.
Excellent, outstanding; fashionable, ‘cool’.
slang (orig. U.S., esp. in African-American usage).
Forms: 19- def, def', irreg. deaf. [Prob. alteration of DEATH n., originating in the non-standard Jamaican English pronunciation and spelling def, and the use of the word (in both forms) as a general intensifier (see quot. 1907).

Cf. DEATH a.2 The form in quot. 1979 is often interpreted as being a use of DEF a., and is in fact spelt def in many later transcriptions of the song, including that in L. A. Stanley Rap: the Lyrics (1992). However, in the original published lyrics, the word is spelt death, although the pronunciation on the recording itself is indistinct. This song, one of the most celebrated and influential hip-hop records and one of the first to enjoy international commercial success, may in part account for the enduring use of def within the genre and the strength of its association with hip-hop culture.An alternative derivation def' in quot. 1982.]

[1907 W. JEKYLL Jamaican Song; Story lxviii. 171 ‘I never do him one def ting,’ a single thing. ‘Def’ is emphatic, but is not a ‘swear-word’. 1979 G. O'BRIEN et al. Rapper's Delight (song, perf. ‘Sugarhill Gang’), Someone get a fly girl, gonna get some spank and drive off in a death O.J.] 1981 W. SAFIRE in N.Y. Times Mag. 18 Jan. 6/3 Deaf [sic] a mispronunciation of ‘death’ is the current superlative. (In topsyturvytalk, death is the liveliest and baad-baaader-baaadest is the equivalent of good-better-best.) 1982 in S. Hager Hip Hop (1984) 89 A sureshot party presentation... Thurs. January 21... ‘Aanother def' bet’. 1986 Village Voice (N.Y.) 4 Nov. 24/2 ‘It's Yours’ T LA Rock and Jazzy Jay (Partytime, 1984) Here's the first def jam that made the others possible. 1992 Buffalo (N.Y.) News 23 Aug. G1/2 No self-respecting teen-ager in Buffalo who wants to be def listens to the bubble-gum music on classic hits radio. 1996 V. WALTERS Rude Girls xiii. 277 Yeah, that's a def idea. 1999 Y (S. Afr.) June 75/2 Premier's ‘New York State Of Mind Pt II’ is def, the bombest joint.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

An old trick, but a good one

There comes a point in life when one has ceased to acquire major new skills, and but still have some which need to be perfected: getting out of bed without falling over, for example (or indeed doing anything without falling over).

Many of the skills which I have retained are of very little practical value to me now. Will I ever again need to stand properly to attention? I could, if necessary, because I remember very clearly the instructions for doing it, which I never saw written down but only heard bawled: Headup-chinin-chestout-stomachin-heelstogether-feetatanangleof45degrees-thumbsinlinewiththeseamsofthetrousers-standperfectlySTIW! It’s probably done differently nowadays.

Something else I could still do if asked was rarely called for even at the time. It was called Rest On Your Arms Reversed, and it went like this:

On the appropriate commands, you sloped arms, then presented them (more fun doing this with a sword, but that's another story).

You are now in this position, only in a different sort of uniform (unless you were in the Royal Scots Fusiliers) and without the bayonet, for reasons which will become clear. (Also, the position of his right foot isn't quite correct: it should have been crashed down at a slight angle so that its heel was tucked into the the instep of the left.)

Then comes the tricky bit: on the command Rest...etc., you rotated the rifle forwards through 180 degrees (first moving it away from you to avoid giving yourself a nasty knock with the butt) until the muzzle rested on the toe of your left boot. Then, slowly, one at a time, you made a big circle with each arm, following the hand with your eyes until they (your hands, that is) were clasped over the end of the butt with your elbows still sticking out. Finally, in one quick move, you dropped your elbows and bowed your head, reverently.

How you got back from this position I have quite forgotten. But given a hint or two about that, and a short Lee-Enfield, I would love to play a small part, if called upon to do so, in the obsequies of some royal person, for that is the kind of occasion when this manoevre is—or used to be—carried out. A misty autumn day with a slight drizzle, the Dead March in Saul, the black-draped coffin on the gun carriage....... Great!


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Scalpels over the Ruhr

Earlier this month I had an operation and a few days in hospital. I did not expect an especially jolly week but I was not nervous, because what had to be done to me was not at all life-threatening, though everyone knows that there is always some risk with operations: if something goes wrong, even little things such as having a mole removed, say, can leave you crippled for life, while clumsy work on an ingrowing toenail can kill you. Anyway, I felt it was unlikely that the sort of emergency that crops up frequently in TV hospital dramas would arise in my case, with cries of "Quick, nurse, intubate!" or, from a worried anaesthetist, a quiet "I say, he's gone rather a funny colour...".

They decided to give me an epidural. I'd had one of these years ago, but on that occasion I also had a general anaesthetic; this time I was fully conscious throughout so that during the operation I could listen to the conversation of the theatre staff, a rare privilege.

They had all courteously introduced themselves to me as they bustled about in the ante-room but I can remember only a couple of the names; there seemed to be at least three surgeons, an anaesthetist, two or three other men whose function I forget, and two female nurses.

From the way they chatted to each other it was clear that here was a happy team with mutual respect; their discussion was of course serious but lightened with an occasional quip. They were not as persistently jokey as some proctologists and colo-rectal surgeons I have encountered, but when you think of where the latter spend their working lives it is not surprising that they acquire huge repertoires of funny stories to get them through the day.

After the introductions the head honcho asked the team to gather round and then proceeded to give them a pre-op chat. None of the team were old enough to have been WWII bomber pilots, but the general tone was very similar to a Wing Commander's briefing, though using different words to describe a very different sort of operation:

Right, settle down, chaps, smoke if you want to.
Tonight, it's Dortmund again. We're going over in two waves: I shall lead the first and Squadron Leader Wilmington the second. The first will drop
incendiaries and the second 5,000-pounders.
Keep your eyes open for fighters as soon as we're over Germany, and there'll be heavy ack-ack over the target.
Weather will be......

...and so on. It was all most interesting and impressive. I would have liked to have joined in with questions or helpful comments, but I was too shy.

[Of course, smoking would not have been allowed in the theatre; you can't, anyway, when you're wearing a mask.]


Thursday, 15 March 2012

A frank and honest report

A despatch from a remote spot from which few journalists have been able to file copy is likely to be accurate, particularly when it is written by someone who has no interest in embroidering his experiences or departing in any way from the whole truth.

Christopher Hitchens' latest report will therefore be widely accepted.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Free OED, but you have to wait

I have written many posts about the mighty Oxford English Dictionary, and this one described a way of getting access to the online version for nothing.

There is another way: simply sign up to the OED Word of the Day and you will be emailed daily with a link to the dictionary's entry for a word or phrase which, for one reason or another, is considered interesting. A recent example is Ps and Qsthe etymology of this is uncertain, and the OED lists seven possibles, likely or unlikely.

But does this mean, I hear you cry, that they will email you the entries for every one of the OED's 600,000 words and 3 million quotations? Well, yes, they will, but it will take them over 750 years, even if there are no new entries (the last quarterly update noted that 1,200 new words and meanings had been added).    


Monday, 5 March 2012

Drained crystals

Watching re-runs of lousy old TV dramas is hugely enjoyable: it is fascinating to see which of them can give nostalgic pleasure and which are even worse heaps of rubbish than one remembers them. Fortunately many contemporary reviews are available on the internet so that it is possible to see what the critics thought of them at the time 

For example, there is a comprehensive archive of Clive James' writing on TV between 1972 and 1982. This is what he had to say about Star Trek

On Star Trek (BBC1) our galaxy got itself invaded from a parallel universe by an alien Doppelgänger toting mysterioso weaponry. These bad vibes in the time-warp inspired the line of the week. ‘Whatever that phenomenon was,’ piped Kirk’s dishy new black lieutenant, ‘it drained our crystals almost completely. Could mean trouble.’

In our house for the past few years it’s been a straight swap between two series: if my wife is allowed to watch Ironside I’m allowed to watch Star Trek, and so, by a bloodless compromise possible only between adults, we get to watch one unspeakable show per week each. (My regular and solitary viewing of It’s a Knock-Out and Mission Impossible counts as professional dedication.)

How, you might ask, can anyone harbour a passion for such a crystal-draining pile of barbiturates as Star Trek? The answer, I think, lies in the classical inevitability of its repetitions. As surely as Brünnhilde’s big moments are accompanied by a few bars of the Valkyries’ ride, Spock will say that the conclusion would appear to be logical, Captain. Uhura will turn leggily from her console to transmit information conveying either (a) that all contact with Star Fleet has been lost, or (b) that it has been regained. Chekhov will act badly. Bones (‘Jim, it may seem unbelievable, but my readings indicate that this man has … two hearts’) will act extremely badly. Kirk, employing a thespian technique picked up from someone who once worked with somebody who knew Lee Strasberg’s sister, will lead a team consisting of Spock and Bones into the Enterprise’s transporter room and so on down to the alien planet on which the Federation’s will is about to be imposed in the name of freedom.

The planet always turns out to be the same square mile of rocky Californian scrubland long ago overexposed in the Sam Katzman serials: Brick Bradford was there, and Captain Video – not to mention Batman, Superman, Jungle Jim and the Black Commando. I mean like this place has been worn smooth, friends. But the futuristic trio flip open their communicators, whip out their phasers, and peer alertly into the hinterland, just as if the whole layout were as threateningly pristine as the Seven Cities of Cibola. Star Trek has the innocence of belief.

Another example is this piece on Kenneth Griffith's documentary about Jesus:

During the course of his career as a maker of documentaries, this compact but variously gifted Welsh actor has been intense about such figures as Napoleon and Cecil Rhodes. Now he was after even bigger game — Jesus Christ. Retracing the journey of the Magi, Kenneth landed in Iran. Immediately he was thrown out. As usual Kenneth interpreted this rejection as an Establishment plot. Kenneth is convinced that the Establishment, everywhere, is out to get him, stifle his voice, ban his programmes, etc. 'I certainly have automatic high velocity RIFLES!' he shouted sarcastically.

Nothing daunted, Kenneth joined the Magi's trail at another point. Ruins of ancient cities trembled in the heat. A caricature stage Welshman darting abruptly out of doorways, Kenneth blended obtrusively into the scenery. He has a high visibility factor, mainly because he is incapable of either just standing there when he is standing there or just walking when he is walking. Standing there, he drops into a crouch, feet splayed, arms loosely gesticulating, eyes popping, teeth bared in a vulpine snarl. Walking, he makes sudden appearances over the tops of small hills.

Kenneth can ask you the time in a way that makes you wonder how he would play Richard III, so it can be imagined that when discussing Jesus he was seldom guilty of underplaying a scene. 'Jesus', he whimpered, ramming his hands deep into his pockets and staring sideways into the camera, 'was... a Jew.' In possession of this and much similar knowledge that the Establishment would like to ban, Kenneth kept moving through the desert, aiming the occasional slow karate chop at a rock. 'Of course all truth', he confided to the camera and a surrounding mountain range, 'is dangerous to all Establishments.' But even while saying this he was positioning himself on top of a particularly inviting mountain. Kenneth's version of the Sermon on the Mount was delivered to all points of the compass.

Spinning, jerking, ducking and weaving, he made you realise just how it was that Jesus attracted so much attention. As the son of a Nazarene carpenter Jesus would have remained unknown. It was by carrying on like a balding Taff madman with St Vitus's dance that he got his message across. 'Blessed are the MEEK!' shrieked Kenneth, climaxing a programme to which I unhesitatingly award, for the second time in the history of this column, that most rarely conferred of all television trophies, the Tin Bum of Rangoon.

This is classy writing. I read all James' TV pieces in the Observer when they first appeared and they are worth re-reading now. A comment in another article he wrote on Kenneth Griffith has stuck in my mind: "Griffith, if called upon, could do Gone with the Wind as a one-man show, including the burning of Atlanta if someone would set light to his socks."

On the evidence of his TV reviews and some of his literary essays—which are also in his archive—Clive James is witty, clever and erudite. But not particularly wise: years ago, he wrote a mawkish and fawning piece as an obituary (entitled, grandly, "Requiem") for Princess Diana, with whom he was besotted, while acknowledging that she was unstable, a liar and occasionally a fruitcake on the rampage; he was hugely impressed that she had enjoyed his company on many occasions, and had accepted his invitation to lunch. 

Oddly, at the same time he was describing Prince Charles as "a man as good and honest as any I have ever met", and expressing agreement with the view that he will make a great king.

He has a sharp eye for pretentiousness but not his own: Private Eye once devoted a whole Pseuds Corner to him, a rare distinction.


Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Ten Questions: 91-100

91    Who was said to have been lovely as Peer Gynt?

92    How do you say "Hamlet, I am thy father's ghost" in Afrikaans?

93    When did Lancelot first appear?

94    What four words mean (roughly) "tiredness" and all begin with the same letter?

95    What flew before the girl could go into the garden?

96    In 1961 Rous, then Havelange, and since 1998, who?

97    Clint Reno, Vince Everett, Danny Fisher, Chad Gates, Lucky Jackson. Who were they?

98    Who is the only divorced US President?

99    Which Antipodean town is named after the wife of Sir Charles Todd?

100  Why, according to the French Foreign Legion, is there no black pudding for the Belgians?


Earlier questions are HERE

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Essential sugar pills

Self Help Homeopathic Remedy Kit for Friends & Family

Ainsworths Essential Remedy Kit contains 42 remedies in 30C potency in 2g vials (approx 35 doses per vial). The remedies are made with sucrose pills. The kit comes in a beautiful dark green plastic box with sturdy hinges and includes a 72 page instruction booklet.

The remedies included are:
Aconite, Allium Cepa, Ant Tart, Apis Mel, Argent Nit, Arnica, Arsen Alb, Belladonna, Bryonia, Calc Carb, Calendula, Cantharis, Carbo Veg, Chamomilla, China, Cocculus, Drosera, Euphrasia, Ferrum Phos, Gelsemium, Hepar Sulph, Hypericum, Ignatia, Ipecac, Kali Bich, Lachesis, Ledum, Lycopodium, Mag Phos, Merc sol, Mixed Pollens, Nat Mur, Nux Vom, Passiflora Co, Phosphorus, Pulsatilla, Rhus Tox, Ruta, Sepia, Silica, Staphisagria, Sulphur

Cost: £43 (plus £2.50 P&P)

Now there's an attractive offer: all that for little more than a pound a remedy!

While this advertisement doesn't say what these things are actually good for, you can no doubt find that information in the 72-page instruction booklet. Ainsworths have to be very careful about what they claim for fear of being found to be contravening the regulations of the Advertising Standards Association, which now apply to advertising on the web as well as in leaflets and on packaging. The ASA is already investigating many false claims made by homeopaths relating to the value of their products as a "cure", as a "remedy", or "for the relief of" named conditions.

However, one claim which may be made with absolute confidence by vendors of homeopathic preparations is that they do not cause undesirable side effects: they cannot, for they contain no active ingredient whatsoever. One third of a drop of some original substance diluted into all the water on earth would produce a remedy with a concentration of about 13C.

Those in this kit are all at 30C dilution, the "potency" advocated a couple of hundred years ago by the inventor of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, for most purposes. On average, this would require giving two billion doses per second to six billion people for 4 billion years to deliver a single molecule of the original material to any patient. So you don't need to worry about whether it is the Belladonna or the Lycopodium that you need to ease your distress, for none of the little vials contain any of the exotic ingredients listed; you can swallow the whole contents of all 42 vials in one go: they will do you no good, and no harm either, though it is never advisable to consume so many sugar pills at one time.

[HERE is an explanation of "potentization", and other terms used by homeopaths.]


Monday, 20 February 2012

Mr Rudson and all that lot

One of my grand-daughters has lived in Spain since she was a toddler. Her name is Meadow, but she can't help that. Now nine years old, she is very bright and as near bilingual as it is possible to be.

The other day her mother said to her, "What are you going to do about your homework?". Meadow's response was, "I don't know, but [singing] what are we going to do about Uncle Arthur?"

Apparently she watches Upstairs, Downstairs on TV with her mother every Saturday morning; I do not know how many of the 68 episodes they have seen so far.

Meadow does not visit England very often, but great efforts have been made to keep her familiar with things English, and it has struck me that watching this old drama, creaky though it may be, will give her some insight into events in her native country between 1904 and 1930, and the zeitgeist of the period.

Later she will work out for herself that England isn't quite like that any more and perhaps never was.

[Last night's ITV showed the first episode of the second chunk of the continued series of UD, all about the Munich crisis. Not bad, but suffers by comparison wth Downton Abbey.]


Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Lock up your ferrets

I have never been greatly interested in ferrets. Cheery little fellows, I grant you, but lacking the gravitas of your typical weasel or the diffident charm of a couple of British stoats—both called Arthur—to whom I tried teaching a few simple tricks, without, I have to say, much success.  

But a letter published in my local paper a couple of weeks ago introduced me to the fascinating world of ferret distemper, the existence of which I had never before suspected:

I am a ferret owner and member of a group of owners on Facebook who have been discussing the issue of ferret distemper.
I have also been very careful with mine by not letting them out as I am aware of this distemper outbreak. I know it's not mentioned specifically in our area but things like this have a habit of spreading very quickly and easily.
There are still people walking out with their ferrets, maybe some who just haven't heard about the outbreaks. Not all ferret owners will be on Facebook.
So, if you know a ferret owner who knows nothing about this outbreak, please pass on the details. It could be in all innocence wiping out animals before very long if no warnings are to go out.

I am posting this because I feel that OMF should give the warning wider publicity;. Also, I have never actually seen anyone walking out with a ferret but if I do I shall not hesitate to accost him (or her) and point out the irresponsibility of her (or his) actions. As we all know, even those of us who are not on Facebook, this type of distemper affects dogs as well as ferrets; it can be fatal or lead to many nasty conditions such as vesicular/pustular lesions on the abdomen, and we all know how painful they can be.


Friday, 10 February 2012

Let Them Eat Bread

A few months ago we wanted to have a major decade-related family birthday celebration, but our favourite caff couldn't accommodate a party of nine, so we chose another local one, also Michelin-starred. I will call it The Gannet, for that was not its name.

Last week there was an exchange of emails:

Me to The Gannet
Will you please take our names off your mailing list. We shall not be visiting The Gannet again.

The Gannet to me:
Yes, of course we will remove you from our mailing list, right away. I am so sorry to hear that you won't be visiting The Gannet again, may I please ask why?

Me to The Gannet:
Well, yes, as you ask, I will tell you.
Last year my wife and I booked a birthday dinner for nine family members. We had some email correspondence with you beforehand, and consulted all the guests so that we were able to tell you exactly what everyone wanted for each of the three courses. We also ordered the wine and, to facilitate the service, provided name cards and a table plan. It was an enjoyable evening, and we had no complaints about the dinner or the service.
However, we had asked if there could be a few black olives and some amuse-gueules on the table when we sat down, and in your reply you wrote:
"...With regard to the amuse [sic] and black olives unfortunately they are neither things that we offer. We do however offer our chef's freshly baked bread, which at the moment is a warm fruit bread served with chestnut honey and butter. This is served to you once you are seated."
In other words, "...It's not what you want that matters, but what we intend to give you"; some such observation was made to me by several friends who heard the story. It was a very small thing that we were asking; the fact that, given more than a week's notice, you could not be bothered to get a jar of olives and put them in a couple of bowls shows an inflexibility and lack of eagerness to please quite unacceptable in any restaurant, let alone one of the top rank, and a customer proposing to spend five hundred pounds on a meal might well be dissatisfied.
As for the amuse-gueules, if your chef is unwilling to make them, or has never heard of them, so be it, but warm fruit bread and honey is no alternative.
Had we not already gone to some trouble in asking our guests (some of whom were coming from overseas) to order in advance from your menu, we would have cancelled the booking and gone elsewhere. As it was we merely resolved not to come again, and it was only recently, when I noticed your newsletters piling up in my junk mail folder, that I thought of asking to be removed from your mailing list.

The Gannet to me
Thank you for the feedback. We’re glad that you enjoyed the overwhelming majority of your experience at The Gannet.
We do not usually serve an amuse bouche or olives at The Gannet, it is out of keeping with the offering for which we have become renowned. Our pre-meal offering is complimentary and very well-received. We were offering our warm bread, chestnut honey and butter as an alternative to olives, and something more in-keeping with The Gannet's British philosophy and values. Had we known your predilection for black olives, we would, of course, have supplied them.
We’re disappointed you weren’t able to embrace The Gannet experience in its totality. The Gannet is purposefully an informal, relaxed restaurant. We remain committed to serving excellent local produce to a community passionate about food served with imagination and flair. As a kitchen, service team, family and business, we work incredibly hard to ensure visitors to The Gannet enjoy their experience, it is a commitment unrelated to the lining of our guests’ pockets.
It’s a shame the absence of an amuse bouche left you so down in the mouth and that you no longer wish to receive our newsletter especially as it continues to put a smile on the faces of those that receive it.
Me to The Gannet
Thank you for your email explaining why you were unwilling to give us what we had asked for.
To say that a few olives are "out of keeping" with your British philosophy and values is fatuous; if you reject everything foreign then you should not have "crème fraîche" on your menu. Merely leaving off the accents is not enough: you should call it "sour cream"'.
We do not have what you call a "predilection" for olives: we asked for them because one of our guests was an eight-year-old girl who lives in Spain and loves them; it had occurred to me that they would keep her amused while we had our pre-dinner gin. I did not think it would be necessary to explain this, imagining that a simple request for such a trivial thing would be enough.The absence of any hint of apology, and the patronising and generally arrogant tone of your response, makes me certain that our decision not to "embrace The Gannet experience in its totality" was a wise one.

I am not a complainer by nature, and am normally sympathetic towards the failings of those whose task it is to please the public. But here was a perfect example of the wrong way to handle a complaint, and I could not let this incompetent idiot get away with it.
Of course, it really wasn't worth the bother of writing at that length, or indeed at all. However, this exchange began last weekend, when I was snowed in and there was nothing much on TV.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

As Shakespeare would have put it...

Those who had nothing better to do and followed the link in the answer to question 40 of Another Twenty Questions will have learned a great deal (perhaps more than they really wanted to know) about The Hokey-Cokey (or -Pokey).

Here's some more about it; one of the the Washington Post's Style Invitational contests asked readers to submit "instructions" for something (anything), written in the style of a famous person. The popular winning entry was "The Hokey Pokey as written by William Shakespeare":

O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin:
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wilde release from Heavens yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl.
The Hoke, the poke -- banish now thy doubt
Verily, I say, 'tis what it's all about.

[Wikipedia's fairly comprehensive entry briefly mentions Larry La Prise, one of the many people who have been credited (if that is the right word) with devising the Hokey-Cokey. Whether he did or not (similar dances and lyrics dating back to the 17th century have been found) it was said that when he died in 2002 his family had great difficulty with the funeral: they put his left leg in the coffin, and it was all downhill from there….]

Monday, 30 January 2012

Ten Questions

We face many years of austerity, and savage cuts in support for many of our cherished institutions will be necessary to ensure the survival of the coalition government. Keen as always to support official policies, Other Men's Flowers is taking the lead: the Board of Editors has decided to make an immediate 50% cut in our much-loved Twenty Questions feature. Here is the first of the newly truncated series:

81    What do 114 suras make?

82    What does the SIM in sim card stand for?

83    "Honi soit qui mal y pense" is the motto of what?

84    What links Jim Morrison, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Chopin?

85    Which girl's name was invented by Jonathan Swift?

86    Other than humans, which animals can carry leprosy?

87    Which Broadway star's marriage to Ernest Borgnine lasted 32 days?

88    Which novel is set on 16 June 1904?

89    What's the only Scrabble tile with a value not shared by any others?

90    Against whom is the bloody standard raised?


Earlier questions are HERE

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Lesser-known Rudyard

Most Englishmen have no problem in meeting with with Triumph and Disaster, and are fully aware not only that the female of the species is more deadly than the male, but also that East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. Few realise, though, that some of Kipling's seemingly high-flown pronouncements are actually ironic or even sarcastic.

A poem he wrote in 1919 is called The Gods of the Copybook Headings. Hardly anyone nowadays has any idea what the title means; you will have to look here if you want to find out what a copybook is, and even then it is not easy to understand exactly what the sly old devil is saying. It could be that he is making a plea for common sense, but perhaps he is pouring scorn on traditional values.

One verse has given us a colourful image in its third line:

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man

There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire

But there is a reason why I have been reminded of these fusty old verses. Let us, holding our noses, turn to the paranoid commentator Glenn Beck, conspiracy theorist, rabble-rouser and darling of Fox News and the loony right. He used the last two verses of the poem in a video trailer and read the entire poem except the final lines on air in his broadcast on October 7, 2010, making an attempt to explain it in terms of today's politics and his own beliefs.

If, on November 6th, one of the possibilities facing the US is realised, he will have a powerful friend: Glenn Beck is a Mormon.


Friday, 20 January 2012

A triumph for the FSM

Austria has long been regarded as a reactionary society, so it is splendid news than an Austrian man has, after a three-year struggle, won the right to wear a colander on his head for his passport photograph. Well done Niko Alm of Vienna, who has struck a blow for Pastafarians everywhere!

Those unfamiliar with Pastafarianism should read the note in Wikipedia which explains how its clever and effective argument underlines the absurdity of Intelligent Design and the preposterous creed of creationism.


Sunday, 15 January 2012

Still around

Last month the Sunday Times published a two-page article in which Lord Snowdon and his son Viscount Linley paid extravagant compliments to each other. Linley noted "a certain elegance" in everything his father did, illustrated by anecdotes such as the one recounting how he turned away a workman who had come to fit a chairlift because he wasn't sporting a nice tie.

A few years ago a biography of Snowdon was published by Anne De Courcy, describing him in comparable terms. Reading a book review can often provide a better experience than its subject ever could; a perceptive and witty review of a rubbishy biography of a rubbishy person can be thoroughly enjoyable.  Here are some snippets from Catherine Bennett's delicious review of Snowdon: The Biography, by Anne De Courcy, which tell you all you could possibly want to know about the book and the man:

has worked for Lord Snowdon all his life almost works in this hagiography. In a little world populated by England's most ghastly and dim, he again appears to enormous advantage: abrim with style (of a sort), charm (if you like that kind of thing) and energy (mainly for sex). It is worth remembering, of course, that in this context the same would apply to the average tomcat.
....When, to his enormous satisfaction, the priapic photographer (then called Antony Armstrong-Jones) made it into the royal family, it was easy for this spoiled little pixie, with his extra-tight drainpipes and mesmerising bouffant, to be mistaken for a much-needed corrective to the snobbery, stupidity, and stolid sybaritism of the nation's top inbreds. Simply by being a society photographer, as opposed to a titled nothing, Snowdon was able to portray himself as an arty free spirit, almost an intellectual, under whose tonic tutelage, it was imagined, the Windsor troupe might evolve into a more acceptable, near-human subspecies.
...The most iconoclastic thing he ever did, as a royal, was to wear polo necks instead of ties, a level of democratic endeavour that proved eminently acceptable to his in-laws, who soon discovered that they preferred the dashing, yet reliably subservient, Tony to foul-tempered Princess Margaret.
...The exact nature of the qualities that captivated Princess Margaret, her family, Snowdon's legions of ill-treated lovers and, most recently, the author of this dazzled tribute, remains, even after 400 pages, obscure. Loyal De Courcy passes on reports of an extremely large penis, but that can hardly account for Snowdon's effect on Prince Philip. Or, later, on Christopher Frayling, rector of the Royal College of Art, who said Snowdon was "the best provost we ever had".
Was it wit? None is recorded here. Young Snowdon's speciality was nasty practical jokes, such as putting dead fish in girls' beds. It was the grown-up Snowdon's, too: "they would sortie out to the houses of neighbours they knew to be out or away", De Courcy hilariously reports, of the earl and his chums, "and rearrange all the furniture".
...Looks, then? As irresistible as Snowdon may have been in the 50s and 60s, and even the 70s and 80s, it hardly accounts for the posh old shagger's continuing appeal, not only to the author of this homage, but, incredibly, to an attractive young journalist, Melanie Cable-Alexander (by whom he fathered a child)
....Although De Courcy tries valiantly to generate admiration for various artistic and charitable triumphs, her efforts are continually nullified, not by her obvious partiality, but by yet more evidence of Snowdon's awfulness, as volunteered to her, exclusively, by himself. There are reasons, De Courcy shows, why Snowdon should have emerged so deceitful, manipulative and cruel; so mean, boastful and silly. His father sounds silly too. His mother more or less ignored him until he bagged Margaret. He had polio as a child, leaving him with a dodgy leg. Then again, you'd think that half a century of adulation, plus a family, experience and a bit of maturity would eventually even things out. On the contrary. It is only, one suspects, because he is using a wheelchair that Snowdon does not, even now, creep out of a night to plant dead fish or rearrange people's furniture.

I suppose I've taken rather more than snippets, but it's still worth following the link and reading the article, if only to learn about the wedding present for him and Margaret for which British servicemen's pay was docked by sixpence apiece, and why his mother was called Tugboat Annie.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Blessed is the cheesemaker

In a speech delivered at the LSE, Malcom Turnbull gives an Australian's view of China and refers to the assumption by Americans they will always be the strongest, richest and cleverest nation on earth. He goes on to suggest that there is evidence of a growing sense of inadequacy, and the realisation, not limited to Americans, that the rest of the world is becoming outclassed by China: "Nobody who has visited Shanghai could be unimpressed".

Well, yes. But the experiences of many of the expatriates who have lived and worked in China for some years may cause them to give a wry smile at the "cleverest nation on earth" bit, having found incompetence, mendacity, inflexibility and general stupidity and lack of sense among many—or even most—of the clients and employers they encounter. The miseries of being an expatriate trying to make a living in China are described by Froog with justifiable anger.

But there is another side to the Chinese character. In the blog of an American globetrotter called Heather I came across an account of the achievement of a young Chinese man called Liu Yang who went to France to study management, fell in love with cheese, learned all about it and became a cheese maker. Now he is single-handedly introducing cheese culture to Beijing with his artisanal cheeses, handmade in his workshop. Although most of his clients are expatriates, he is slowly winning over Beijing locals. Heather's blog has a link to a Mercedes-Benz ad in which he talks about his business.

Clearly Liu has enormous energy, initiative, determination and sheer ability. Of course he is only one out of 1.3 billion, and there must be several hundred millions in China who lack all these qualities and resemble those Froog has encountered, but there must also be tens of millions who could one day do the sort of thing that Liu Yang has done.

This is an inspiring thought. Or perhaps a frightening one.


Thursday, 5 January 2012

Streisand, Poe, Sturgeon and Arkell

The first is an Effect, the second and third are Laws and the fourth is a Response: all these are familiar to users of the internet. They have been described by Wikipedia or the Oxford English Dictionary as follows:

The Streisand Effect: This is a primarily online phenomenon in which an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely. It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence inadvertently generated further publicity. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters, to suppress numbers, files and websites. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, often being widely mirrored across the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.

...The term was coined after Streisand, citing privacy violations, unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and for US$50 million in an attempt to have an aerial photograph of her mansion removed from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs. Adelman said that he was photographing beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the government-commissioned California Coastal Records Project. As a result of the case, public knowledge of the picture increased substantially; more than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month. 

Poe's Law: Named after its author Nathan Poe, this is an Internet adage reflecting the fact that without a clear indication of the author's intent it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between sincere extremism and an exaggerated parody of extremism. Its core is that a parody of something is by nature extreme. That makes it impossible to differentiate from sincere extremism.

A corollary of Poe's law is the reverse phenomenon: legitimate fundamentalist beliefs being mistaken for a parody of that belief. A further corollary, the Poe Paradox, results from suspicion of the first corollary. The paradox is that any new person or idea sufficiently extreme to be accepted by the extremist group risks being rejected as a parody or parodist.

Sturgeon's Law: A humorous aphorism which maintains that most of any body of published material, knowledge, etc., (or, more generally, of everything) is worthless: based on a statement by Theodore Sturgeon, usually later cited as ‘90 per cent of everything is crap’, typically used of a specific medium, originally science fiction, and now frequently also of information to be found on the Internet.

The aphorism was apparently first formulated in 1951 or 1952 at a lecture at New York University and popularized at the 1953 WorldCon science fiction convention.

The Response of Pressdram to Arkell: An unlikely piece of British legal history occurred in what is now referred to as the "case" of Arkell v. Pressdram (1971). The plaintiff was the subject of an article [in Private Eye] relating to illicit payments, and the magazine had ample evidence to back up the article. Arkell's lawyers wrote a letter which concluded: "[My client's] attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of your reply."

The magazine's response was, in full: "We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr J. Arkell. We note that your client's attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off."

In the years following, the magazine would refer to this exchange as a euphemism for a blunt and coarse dismissal: for example, "We refer you to the reply given in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram". As with "tired and emotional" this usage has spread beyond the magazine.

(There is also Godwin's Law, but this is not so much a law, more an adage or a memetic tool.)