Friday, 3 May 2019

Flying Visit Flies Again!

Pavlov's dogs have been notified, and are in training. 

Hello! Remember last year, when I and my fellow idiots from Souvenir Programme went on tour? Well, we had a lovely time and we miss it... so we're doing more dates this autumn!

It's the same show - well, nearly - as last time, hence the same title and poster... but all new venues.

And what are those venues, and also the dates, and do you have ticket links by any chance? Well, I've very glad I pretended you asked me that, because I have all those things, and here they are!

Sat 7 September   Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle
Sun 8 September   City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds
Mon 9 September   Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Thurs 12 September  Parr Hall, Warrington
Fri 13 September   The Lowry, Salford Quays
Sun 15 September   Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple
Mon 16 September   The Lighthouse, Poole
Fri 20 September   The Forum, Malvern
Mon 23 September   Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury
Thurs 26 September   Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
Sat 28 September   Charter Hall, Colchester
Thurs 3 October   Marina Theatre, Lowestoft
Sun 6 October           Tivoli Theatre, Aberdeen
Tues 8 October   Palace Theatre, Westcliff-On-Sea
Thurs 10 October   Beck Theatre, Hayes
Fri 11 October           G Live, Guildford
Mon 14 October   The Lyceum Theatre, Crewe
Tues 15 October   Playhouse, Whitley Bay
Weds 16 October   Harrogate Theatre, Harrogate
Sun 20 October   The Hexagon, Reading
Tues 29 October   Leas Cliff Hall, Folkstone
Sun 3 November   The Grand Hall at Scarborough Spa, Scarborough
Mon 4 November   The Octagon, Sheffield

Cor. That'll keep us busy. So, if you'll be in any of those places then, or if you could be with a bit of organisation, come along! There will be red trousers, forgetful goldfish, kirates, brand new stuff... and an exclusive Patsy Straightwoman interview with Arthur Shappey. Hooray!

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Emu's Difficult Second Album

Just in case you enjoy fairly difficult crosswords: I have written a fairly difficult crossword. It's the Listener puzzle on page 54 of the Saturday Review section in today's Times.

It's also available in printable form from the Times Online site, but behind a paywall.

Lastly, it looks very much like this:

If you're new to the Listener, it's slightly different to a normal cryptic crossword, in ways I explain in a bit more detail in the post I wrote last time I had one published, here. 

Friday, 15 March 2019

The Spiegelhalter Gap.

In 1923, after the success of Selfridge's and Harrod's department stores in central London, a Mr Wickham decided to build his own on the Mile End Road, in the East End. Accordingly, he engaged an architect to design him something suitably imposing, with neo-classical columns and a clock-tower and so on, and bought up all the shops in the location he had his eye on.

Except one. Mr Spiegelhalter, the jeweller at number 81, couldn't be persuaded to sell up. Mr Wickham couldn't force him to... but he also had no other location in mind, and had already bought many of the other shops. And so, when Wickham's Department Store finally opened, it looked like this:

Both buildings - or is it all three buildings? - are still standing today (Spiegelhalter's, by the way, outlasted Wickham's as a business by a good twenty years). However, they are currently being renovated into a swish new development complex called 'Dept W'. In an odd case of history repeating itself (and a less odd case of developers not understanding the value what they have) the developers intended to knock down Spiegelhalter's, and turn it into an entrance way. But after the sort of local protests and campaigning that would almost make me proud to be British, if anything could this month, they have been persuaded to keep it. The new building will now look like this:

Long live the Spiegelhalter Gap.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

"You have been in Afghanistan, nhi-ka"

Wonderfully, the Tariana language of the Amazon has different grammatical tenses that indicate where you got the evidence for what you are saying: Whether you saw it, detected it non-visually, were told about it, inferred it... or assumed it. 

So, according to the fieldwork of the linguist Alexandra Aikhenvald, here are five ways to report on the culinary activities of your father's younger brother:

Nu-nami karaka di-merita-naka
My younger uncle is frying chicken' (I (the speaker) see him)

Nu-nami karaka di-merita-mha
'My younger uncle is frying chicken' (I smell the fried chicken, but cannot see this)

Nu-nami karaka di-merita-pida-ka
'My younger uncle has fried chicken' (I was told recently)

Nu-nami karaka di-merita-nhi-ka
'My younger uncle has fried chicken' (I see bits of grease stuck on his hands and he smells of fried chicken)

And my favourite:

Nu-nami karaka di-merita-si-ka
'My younger uncle has fried chicken' (I assume so: he gets so much money he can afford it, and he looks like he has had a nice meal)

Image result for harland sanders
My younger uncle.
Aikhenvald goes on to say that Tariana speakers use the second of these tenses when reporting their dreams, since they did not really 'see' them. Unless... they belong to the highest caste of shaman, known as yawi, whose dreams are taken to be true. (Yawi are also believed to be capable of turning themselves into jaguars. So I suppose I can see why you'd let them tell you their boring dreams.)

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Charles Darwin menaces an iguana.

Picture Charles Darwin conducting his research on his world-changing expedition to the Galapagos islands. Do you imagine him serious and scholarly, or youthful and enthusiastic? I bet what you do not picture him doing is spending an afternoon repeatedly throwing an iguana into the sea in the name of science. The same iguana.

A marine iguana, for once not being bullied by Charles Darwin.

He did, though. From his Journal of the Voyage of the Beagle:

It's an arresting mental image, isn't it? I would love to know how many times 'several' is. Surely at least six. Nor had Charlie finished playing tricks on lizards:

I hope these two iguanas were related. 'You'll never guess what happened to me today!' 'Wait, wait, me first...'

Tuesday, 12 February 2019


Some names recorded for fields in England, with explanations.

Eight Day Math - meadow requiring eight days to mow.
Pasty Crust - field with brittle soil.
Handkerchief - small field
Seldom Seen - remote field
Australia - ditto
Happersnapper - 'enclosure with a wicket gate'
The Psalms - 'land on which the psalms were recited during the bound-beating ceremony'
Rumps and Buttocks - 'alluding to convex configurations'

And a selection from my favourite category: 'Derogatory names for unprofitable or unfertile fields.'

Famish Acre
No Man's Friend
Labour in Vain
Raw Bones
Rats' Castle
Bare Arse
Thin Porridge

All these from the excellent dictionary 'English Field-Names', by- in a piece of extraordinarily on-the-nose nominal determinism- John Field.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Twenty-Four Things - Thing Sixteen

He seems nice. 

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Signing off

I was wondering why British convention is to end a letter to someone whose name you don't know - i.e. one that starts 'Dear Sir or Madam,' - with 'Yours faithfully'. How can you be faithful to someone you've never met?

Well, it turns out to be a contraction of what was for centuries the standard valediction to letters, some version of:

'Believe me to have the honour to remain your faithful and obedient servant'

Sometimes, between friends, it got shortened to something like this, from John Wilkes:

Also, I believe it was considered good style to try to end your letter in a way that made your name the object of the last sentence. Here's Lord Chesterfield having a bit of fun with it:

But how did they end letters to people to whom they didn't feel in the least faithful, humble or servile? Well, generally, they just said it anyway, because it was meaningless boilerplate. I gather there's a song in Hamilton about that (No, I haven't seen Hamilton yet. Yes, I know I should). 

But not always. Here's Richard Savage in 1735, writing to a member of the Irish nobility of whom he is... not a fan. 

Friday, 4 January 2019

John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme News

Hello! I should probably have said this before, but Radio 4 are currently repeating Series 6 of JFSP at half past six on Thursday evenings, which means you can listen to them again on iPlayer here, at least for a bit.

But perhaps you don't want to listen to sketches from 2016. Perhaps only brand new sketches written in 2019 will satisfy you. In which case... lucky old you, because I'm delighted to say that Series 8 will be broadcast in the spring.

But perhaps you can't wait till then, or perhaps you want to see if the cast's silly voices come out of equally silly faces (Spoiler: Yes. Yes, they do.) In which case.... luckier still old you, because the random ballot for tickets to the recordings in Broadcasting House is now open (though only for the first date so far) and you can apply here.

But perhaps you don't like leaving things up to random ballot; or perhaps you only like seeing sketches that were written earlier that very same afternoon, performed by actors who read them for the first time 45 minutes ago. At most. In which case... luckiest of all old yous, because the cast and I are doing semi-secret try-outs of brand new material at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone, and tickets are available here.

But perhaps you couldn't care less about my sketches; or perhaps you could, but are annoyed that two of these four things are happening in London, where I live; instead of where you live, where you live. In which case... truly you are the unluckiest of old yous. In recompense for your distress, please accept this silly doodle of a castle.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Knowing your limits.

Happy New Year!

This is Adlai Stevenson, the American Democratic politician and two-time unsuccessful presidential candidate upon whom Peter Sellers partially based his performance as President Muffley in Dr. Strangelove.

In 1949, when Stevenson was Governor of Illinois, a bill was proposed in that state to restrict the movement of domestic cats, in order to protect rare songbirds. Stevenson vetoed the bill, with this judgement:

"I cannot agree that it should be the declared public policy of Illinois that a cat visiting a neighbor’s yard or crossing the highways is a public nuisance. It is in the nature of cats to do a certain amount of unescorted roaming. Many live with their owners in apartments or other restricted premises, and I doubt if we want to make their every brief foray an opportunity for a small game hunt by zealous citizens—with traps or otherwise.

We are all interested in protecting certain varieties of birds. That cats destroy some birds, I well know, but I believe this legislation would further but little the worthy cause to which its proponents give such unselfish effort. The problem of cat versus bird is as old as time. If we attempt to resolve it by legislation who knows but what we may be called upon to take sides as well in the age old problems of dog versus cat, bird versus bird, or even bird versus worm. In my opinion, the State of Illinois and its local governing bodies already have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency."

I wish he'd won.

(Bonus Stevenson fact: when he was considering whether to run for President a third time, the Russians approached him secretly and offered him assistance. He told the ambassador who made the approach that he considered it "highly improper, indiscreet and dangerous to all concerned", and promptly reported it to the sitting President, his political enemy. I mean, obviously that's what anyone would do. I don't know why I even mention it. )