Friday, 20 September 2013


I should have been allowed to write a feature about the nascent Wikipedia in 2003 or so, but my boss looked up a few things that should be in an encyclopedia and couldn't find them, and that was that. It has been a long time since I tried to find anything on the site that it might reasonably deal with and drawn a blank. Maybe I could start a googlewhack-style craze?

Ten minutes ago I sat down to link to these pictures of a mansion which hasn't been touched for 30 years. I assumed that the former owner, Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji, who was knighted for using his massive wealth in the allied cause during WW1, would be a colourful sort of character, and that I could quote bits of his Wikipedia page to prove this. No Wikipedia page. Wikiwhack!

I am sure I could find obituaries, certainly in the real world, and I'd like to, but I am incredibly busy and I'd be surprised if it ever gets up the priority list.

On the other hand, Kenneth Gandar-Dower. A friend of mine wrote about him for a book on touring cricket clubs. He was a rich youngest son, multi-blue, aviator and explorer. He played an unorthodox game of tennis, based on fitness (nickname 'the undying retriever') and an even more unorthodox game of real tennis, a game he threatened to break by volleying too much. His real sport was fives.

When he got back from Africa in 1937, he brought a dozen cheetahs with him and started racing them at Romford. On the upside, he disproved the then-held belief that nothing was faster than greyhounds. On the downside, it never really worked because the cheetahs didn't care enough about chasing the hare. (It's like a metaphor about capitalism.)

K G-D took photographs of gorillas, helped the Kenyan government relate to its native population and was sunk to death by the Japanese.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

surprisingly bond

1. Tall Tales is next WEDNESDAY (not Thursday). It is a very important Tall Tales for Warhorses of Letters fans. Apart from anything else, a Special Mystery Guest will be providing a Warhorse-themed earworm. Email talltalesnight at gmail for details. (Does this method of defeating email gathering bots work? I don't know, but we don't get much spam at the TT account, so we're going to keep doing it.)

2. The fact that William Boyd will be writing the next Bond story is more interesting to me than ever, now I have started reading the Bonds. Here is a passage from You Only Live Twice. Bond is supposedly dead, and this is from his obituary:

The nature of Commander Bond's duties with the Ministry, which were, incidentally, recognized by the appointment of CMG in 1954, must remain confidential, nay secret, but his colleagues at the Ministry will allow that he performed them with outstanding bravery and distinction, although occasionally, through an impetuous strain in his nature, with a streak of the foolhardy that brought him in conflict with higher authority. But he possessed what almost amounted to 'The Nelson Touch' in moments of the highest emergency, and he somehow contrived to escape more or less unscathed from the many adventurous paths down which his duties led him. The inevitable publicity, particularly in the foreign Press, accorded some of these adventures, made him, much against his will, something of a public figure, with the inevitable result that a number of books came to be written around him by a personal friend and former colleague of James Bond. If the quality of these books, or their degree of veracity, had been any higher, the author would certainly have been prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.

I didn't expect this, and I was delighted by it.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

philby pere

Kim Philby's dad St John was also a spy. Philby's Partridge is named after him and he immortalised a couple of women he fancied in the scientific names of other birds. Gordon Corera says in MI6:

St John Philby was an oddity, a member of the imperial establishment who had begun in the Colonial Service in India but ended up converting to Islam and receiving as a second wife a slave girl from King Ibn Saud.

This is a cracking rant about commentators glibly saying that sportsmen from hideous backgrounds have 'character issues'. I have spent two days watching gifs of Tyrann Mathieu chasing down Jared Cook and punching the ball out of his hand when the guy behind him has already given up. It might not be noticeably amazing if you don't watch American football, but I just love watching Mathieu play.

This is the dark side - what happens when the hideous background produces a really bad guy.

Friday, 6 September 2013

happy news, diet fans!

Michael Fischbach has found that some people's intestinal bacteria seems to play a role in keeping their weight down: “I’m very excited about this,” he added, saying the next step will be to try using gut bacteria to treat obesity by transplanting feces from thin people. 

I frankly find this less surprising than this from Denmark's public broadcaster, which makes The Killing: DR's series acquisitions executive Karre Schmidt said: "Midsomer Murders is a benchmark in television entertainment and (has been) Danish viewers' favourite programme for more than a decade. "It's an honour and a thrill for us to be able to contribute to the series' distinguished line of murder victims and police detectives," she said.

I'd never heard of the Uluburun shipwreck for some strange reason. I went for the cobalt, I stayed for the oxhide ingots. My favourite thing, though: the two duck-shaped cosmetics boxes in ivory, which sound like the sort of thing Sara Wissenger would give Josh in The West Wing.

I think Me Cheeta is a fantastic novel, one of my favourites written in the last few years - really super until somewhere near the end and then appreciably better than that all of a sudden; I like the fact that James Lever is well-hidden online; I really want to know what he's working on next. His review of Freedom is spectacularly good.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

a skoffin!* a skoffin! fetch my silver buttons!

I am back from holiday. On the whole, I prefer holiday. I am in the British library. I do a little wander around Humanities 1. Most of the books in here are catalogues, but there's the odd thing that's worth a browse. Oh, I think, A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts - that's worth a look. I open it. The first entry I read is:

Minocane or Homacane A creature found in English heraldry, half-child, half-spaniel.

Gosh. I hurry back to my seat and google minocane looking for pictures. To my disappointment and relief, I can't find any. However, the third hit is Minocane - a name for cute babys (sic).

Children are cute. Spaniels are cute. Still.

The book (by Richard Barber and Anne Riches) is very deadpan, and slightly odd in tone generally. Other early highlights include the opening illustration of a man in a lobster's claw and the entry:

Wayzgoose Neither fabulous nor a beast, though it sounds like both: the printers' name for their annual union (or 'chapel') outing in the nineteenth century.

I kind of hope this was added by the printer and Richard and Anne never noticed it.

* A Skoffin is an icelandic sort of basilisk which you can only kill by aiming another skoffin's glance at it (which kills both of them so don't do this with your favourite skoffin) or by shooting it with a silver button engraved with a cross.