The most extraordinary news has emerged from an archaeological dig in Wiltshire. In a known site of ancient Stone Age habitation, scientists have found a piece of fully refined aluminium sheet in a seam of sediment known to be at least two million years old. What is even more extraordinary is that some characters, apparently in English, have been detected engraved on its surface. Part of the inscription is missing, but what has been so far deciphered appears to say “Golgafrincham B Ark”
Researchers trying to find out what this means have concluded that Douglas Adams may have had some inside information, and his great work “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” might, as many have suspected, actually be a work of historical fact.
The story, thought to be just amusing whimsey, but now proved to be reality, went something like this: the inhabitants of the planet Golgafrincham, in orbit around a distant star, put the story around that the planet was doomed. The details were unclear, but either a swarm of twelve foot piranha bees, or an enormous mutant star-goat were going to destroy the planet.
Three great space arks were planned to transport the inhabitants to a safe haven. The first ark would contain the great scientists and artists – the achievers. The third ark would be filled with the people that actually made things and did the work. The second, or B Ark, would contain all the middle men – telephone sanitizers, hairdressers, advertising account executives and Daily Telegraph journalists (oh, alright, I made the last bit up). Anyway, the B Ark was despatched first because, to quote Adams: “It was important for morale to feel that (everyone else) would be arriving on a planet where they could be sure of a good haircut and where the phones were clean …”
This all took place two million years ago, and by a freak of probability, the B Ark crashed on to prehistoric Earth. The cavemen living there at the time were overwhelmed by the Golgafrinchams, and, as a result, the population of Earth today has evolved, not via a three billion year development from single-cell organisms, but from a set of telephone sanitizers, hairdressers, advertising account executives and Daily Telegraph journalists (yes, alright, I know, but the metaphor is too good!).
It explains so much; Margaret Thatcher, B****t, Donald Trump, the One Show … As Arthur Dent observed ruefully “All through my life I’ve had this strange uncomfortable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was …”
Many people enjoy messing about in boats. Unfortunately, the old cliché remains true, a boat is a hole in the water into which one pours money.
My father felt the boating urge, and he solved it reasonably economically by buying a second-hand inflatable two-man canoe. I was detailed as crew for the inaugural voyage, and the River Thames was chosen as the venue, being our local waterway.
We lived in Ealing, so the method chosen for the first stage was to roll the boat up in its bag, and take the 65 bus to Kew Bridge. There, we alighted and walked down to the tow path on the Middlesex side of the river. The boat was inflated and launched, and with some difficulty we got in, canoes being not very stable at the best of times. The tide must have just turned because the water was high but definitely flowing downstream.
We paddled out into the river, allowing the current to take us. Naturally, we were not wearing life-jackets, and I doubt whether my father realized the danger of the current sweeping us against obstructions. The tidal current in the Thames can reach three or four knots, and in those days there were many moored barges in the river with wide, raked bows – ideal for trapping and swamping small boats.
But all was well. We paddled past Oliver’s Ait (or Island), under Kew Railway Bridge and along Mortlake Reach to Chiswick Bridge, and then under Barnes Bridge past Chiswick Eyot and so to Hammersmith. Here, my father wisely decided to terminate the voyage, and we landed either on the tow path or at one of several pontoons in the area. The journey was just over three nautical miles, and had taken somewhat longer than an hour. The boat was deflated, rolled up into its bag, and we took a bus from Hammersmith back home to Ealing.
Some time later, Father bought a small outboard motor and rigged it up on the stern. I had no further trips in the canoe, but my father and mother had a great deal of fun with it. And against all the odds they managed to avoid drowning themselves, health and safety not being a major concern. They took the canoe out off Southsea – next to busy Portsmouth Harbour – and were warned by a official harbour launch that they were in danger of being swept out to sea by the falling tide. On another occasion, they were in Dieppe, paddling around in the harbour there, and wondering why the French were shouting at them, only to realize that they were in the track of the arriving cross-channel ferry from Newhaven …
In the autumn of 1965, the band went through a fairly rough patch. We had been living in a hotel in Rome, but because our bookings at the Piper Club had ended, our income evaporated and the inevitable happened. Fortunately, after a night spent in the van near the Rome zoo, when we were woken up by roaring lions at 4 am, we were taken pity on by another English band resident in Rome, The Rokes. They had a large apartment on the Via Cassia, and provided us with some temporary accommodation. There was an insufficient number of beds, so I spent two months sleeping on a marble floor with two cushions, one for my head, and one for my hip …
Some time later, we managed to get work in the north of the country, and we moved to Modena where, as I have mentioned before, I shared a room in a seedy hookers’ hotel with our drummer Speedy.
The Rokes were booked as an act in a theatrical review in Milan, and we went along to give them moral support. They were very good on stage, quite as good as many celebrated English bands of the time. Afterwards, some of us met up in the bar at the hotel where they were staying. Somehow, a policeman joined us. He may have been part of extra security drafted in because of the foreign ‘cappelli lunghi’ (long-hairs), and was there to preserve order. He was a pleasant fellow, very amiable, and quite unlike some of the hostile members of the constabulary with whom we had occasionally come into contact.
We were having some trouble attracting the attention of the waiter, when our friendly policeman unholstered his sidearm – a Beretta automatic (James Bond’s preferred weapon) – and made as if to fire it into the air. We were all highly amused, and wishing to entertain us, he removed the magazine and passed the gun around for inspection. It was the first (and last) time I had ever handled a firearm. He then removed the bullets from the magazine, and solemnly presented one to each of us as a keepsake,.
I kept that bullet for years, but it became lost when my parents’ house was sold. I still remember the big grin on the policeman’s face as he pretended to fire into the air, and we did eventually get served.
Apparently this is “10% of the total assets of the UK banking sector …” and is a conservative estimate, and by the way, financial services contribute(d) £72 billion in annual tax revenue to the exchequer. “This is not project fear, it has already happened …”
Now here’s a thought: we were always told at school that the Conservative Party was the party of capital, banking, industry and investment, so I suppose that this move has not come as a horrifying shock to The Mogg and his minions, acolytes and running dogs, who know all about capital and how to use it.
If that is the case, are we (the people) entitled to an explanation as to why ‘project leave’ never warned us that this would happen? Or is it just the simples case that if you have capital it can just as well work for you outside the UK as in, and f*** the national tax revenue? We need to be told.
Radio 4 is serializing a biography of Walther Gropius, the architect and sometime lover and husband of Alma Mahler. Their love life was ‘steamy’ to say the least, and commenced while she was still married to Gustav Mahler.
Interested, as I’m a great fan of Gloomy Gustav, I did some Googling and came across a song that the humourist Tom Lehrer had written about Alma. He had seen her obituary in the New York Times which he described as “… the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary it has ever been my pleasure to read.”
Alma had three husbands and numerous lovers, and Lehrer celebrated these in his song, of which the second verse made me hoot:
The first one she married was Mahler
Whose buddies all knew him as Gustav.
And each time he saw her he’d holler,
“Ach, that’s the Fräulein I must have!”
Their marriage, however, was murder.
He’d scream to the heavens above,
“I’m writing Das Lied von der Erde,
Und she only vants to make love!”
The Oxford English Dictionary, an organ I have had reason to criticise in the past, but one which, nevertheless, provides us with an Aladdin’s Cave of treasures of the English Language, defines trump as follows: “A thing of small value, a trifle;”, noting that its origin is Scottish.
Trumpery, is: “Deceit, fraud, imposture, trickery.”, with a note that its use is obsolete … Then: “Something of less value than it seems …” and, “Showy but unsubstantial apparel. Worthless finery.”
My mate Paul comments that continental quilts will stop working after 29th March. I do hope not …
I recall the very first time I came across these excellent items of bedware. It was 27th or 28th May 1965. The band was in transit to Rome in an old 15 cwt van to take up a month’s residency at the Piper Club in that city; it was the first time that any of us had been outside of England, and needless to say, none of us spoke any other language than English.
After Belgium, we were travelling through Germany, suppressing hilarity at the Ausfahrt (exit) signs on the Autobahns, when shortly after coming into the state of Baden-Württemberg in the south of the country, a red light lit up on the dashboard. This was serious, because it meant that the dynamo (alternator in later years) was no longer charging the battery. We took the next Ausfahrt, and drove into the city of Ulm.
Ulm, as I learned later, is famous for at least two things: it has the tallest church steeple in the world – 530 feet – and is the birthplace of Albert Einstein. We knew nothing of that at the time, and heading for a garage, we soon learned the German for the fault with our van: it was Lichtmaschine Kaputt! The Germans were very decent and accommodating, but it was late afternoon, and we would have to come back tomorrow to pick up the repaired van.
We found our way to the central square of the city, and a very helpful girl in the tourist information hut found us a hotel for the night. It was an inn really, and we caroused with the locals – all of an age such that they must have been involved with the war, over only 20 years before – but of whom none seemed to bear us any ill will. On the contrary, we played a hilarious game with them, consisting of clucking like a chicken on hands and knees, and ducking ones head between the hands of the opponent, who tried to catch the opponent’s head between clapping hands. It sounds absurd but it was most amusing, and quite difficult to do.
Come bedtime – our rooms cost us 7 Deutschmarks each, (exchange rate, 10 Deutschmarks to the Pound) – we were seriously confused, assisted no doubt by the beer we had consumed. Anyone who has travelled in Austria or Germany knows that hotel beds are made up with the bottom sheet and pillow, but with the continental quilt usually folded in half at the foot of the bed. And so it was, and we had no idea what to do with it.
I was detailed to find out. I went downstairs, and finding the landlady, who knew as much English as I did German, I managed to get her attention by the expedient of taking her by the arm and dragging her up to our rooms. I pointed to the beds and signalled incomprehension; she understood and showed us how to use the quilt.
Apart from the beds, the other thing that intrigued us were the lavatories. In those days, the standard German lavatory bowl was arranged, how shall I say, back to front, with a ‘ledge’ at the back so that the results of using said item could be ‘inspected’ before they were flushed away … Funny, how something so basic could cause such consternation when first encountered.
The next day we picked up the van with a brand new Lichtmaschine and went on our way. It was a most instructive interlude. The very pleasant evening we spent with the locals in that inn in Ulm, who were as friendly as one could have wished, did generate one memorable trope: long before Fawlty Towers, we had coined the phrase, ‘For God’s sake, don’t mention the War!’
But they were all so generous and uncomplicated. I have had a soft spot for Germany and the Germans ever since.
17.4 million British voters voted ‘leave’ in the referendum, so why aren’t we leaving? Theresa???
The problem is that the brilliant Oxbridge-educated ‘experts’ who authorized that event just forgot to ask: ‘What sort of leave?’
Leave the single market? The customs union? The free movement of people? Oh, and by the way, what about the Irish border? – an issue that really has been kicked down the road for best part of 100 years.
It is this conundrum that has split both main political parties, and no wonder! God knows what is going to happen.
Beam me up Scotty ...
In 1986, President Reagan ordered the bombing of Tripoli, Margaret Thatcher authorizing the use of British bases for the raid. There was a subsequent reticence among US citizens to visit Europe following this – and of course the various terrorist atrocities in Europe that had precipitated the action.
At the time, I was visiting the USA fairly regularly on business, and on BA flights back to Britain, British Airways organized a quiz among the passengers, the prize being a return flight on Concorde between the USA and London in order to encourage Americans to fly to Europe.
Well, I won one of those quizzes, and I received a letter from BA to say that the prize was either a return trip to New York on Concorde for one, or a return trip for two, Club Class, to a US gateway city.
I agonized for a short while, quite a short while, asking BA if they would concede Concorde one way for two, but finally settled for the Club Class tickets. My wife and I flew to San Francisco, and I used some Advantage Club miles to travel on to Honolulu. We had a wonderful holiday there one Easter.
Some years later, I was travelling back to the UK again from San Francisco – flying Club Class, as the company allowed in those hallowed days. The aircraft pushed away from the jetway, only to return almost immediately. There had been a bomb threat, and the flight was delayed for six hours while the luggage and aircraft was searched.
Finally we got underway, but were able to fly only to New York, since otherwise the crew would have exceeded their flying time. At New York the First Class and Club passengers were separated from the rest, and I was aware that we were queuing at a check-in desk. They flew us home from New York on Concorde.
I remember only a few things about the trip. It was very noisy at Mach 2, the food was excellent, the service was great, and although I honestly do not recall the acceleration at take-off, the deceleration on landing at Heathrow was as though we had run into a sand-bank. It took 3 ¾ hours to fly back, and it was an experience I will never forget. What a truly wonderful aircraft Concorde was, and what a brilliant engineering achievement of the British and French engineers responsible.
Today's Daily Telegraph entitles its letter page "It's the hell of a mess of the EU that B********s had voted to escape", together with a lovely colour picture - that regrettably, and for copyright reasons I cannot reproduce - entitled: '"Push him under the molten pitch": a manuscript illustration for Dante's Inferno (1440)'. The picture shows several demons at work with forks and rakes pushing the damned beneath the pitch.
The various letters appended illustrate nicely the balanced and liberal views of that splendid organ:
"More than 17.4million people obviously think it [the special place in hell] looks preferable to the place they've been stuck for the last 45 years ..."
"I suspect a much hotter place in hell's reserved for unelected dictators ..."
And my favourite:
"If Mr Tusk would like to know what hell would be like in Europe, he just needs to reflect on how it was the last time the Germans ran it ..."
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs