Monthly Archives: November 2003

Bagels and doughnuts are approximately the same shape.

So the other day I was at home making myself some bagels. What I mean of course is that I was toasting the bagels and applying a variety of appropriate jams, jellies, butters (including peanut) and so on rather than I was actually making the bagels from scratch. While I was in the process of this I was asked by an inquisitive minded soul why it is that bagels have holes in them. At the time I made light of it saying, “well you may as well ask why do doughnuts have holes in them”. But unfortunately they replied asking me why doughnuts have holes “for that matter”.

At the time, in the back of my mind, I knew there was an answer lurking. I knew that somewhere in my mind was the answer. But I couldn’t remember it. So instead I talked about how you lay out the dough in a loop and that’s what makes the hole. But they saw through my plan. And so now, for them, and for everyone else. Here is the answer to the question. Remember, if you want the answer to a question then you can always ask me, there is a handy link on the left there.

Well first I’m going to talk about doughnuts. Mainly because they are older. In fact scientist have even found prehistoric doughnuts. And that despite knowing that it was almost certainly the Dutch who brought them to America, and that at that time there were no holes. There is no firm fix on an answer as to who actually invented the hole. But there is one prevailing story, and it’s the story of Hanson Gregory. Captain Gregory was partial to doughnuts and he liked to nibble on them while at the helm of his ship. And apparently, so the legend goes, on a dark and stormy night the waves became very fierce and so the Captain had to grab the helm with both hands. Having nowhere to hold his doughnut he places it on one of the handles of the wheel. After the storm had calmed Captain Gregory was so impressed with his invention that he ordered the ships cook to prepare them that way always. And so the doughnut with a hole was invented.

It’s complete rubbish obviously, but it is – sadly – the best story we’ve got. Now a theory that I’ve never seen written down anywhere but seems much more plausible is that the doughnut shape is based on the bagel shape. While doughnuts had been made for many more years than bagels the holes in doughnuts actually seem to appear after bagels have been invented. Bagels and doughnuts are approximately the same shape. They are both made by the same people (bakers – or at least they used to be). It seems much more plausible that somebody made a bagel shaped doughnut and the idea caught on.

So where does the bagel come from then? Well I’m glad you asked, because for this we have proof. In 1683 Jan Sobieski, the King of Poland, liberated Vienna from invading Turks. Afterwards he decided, quite rightly I suppose, to have a victory parade through the streets of the city. He was so popular that people swarmed up to his horse and tried to touch his stirrups. In fact so many people touched his stirrups that it became a culturally iconic thing. People would talk about if they managed to touch his stirrups that day. A local baker, not wanting to miss out on a trick, designed a new bun in the shape of the King’s stirrups. And that bun, distorted in shape over time, is what we now know as the bagel.

Anyway so I’m pretty sure it’s making us cold blooded.

Some of you may know that these articles are all written in advance. At least I think I mentioned it in a previous article. It’s generally about a week ahead. The main aim of this is so that I don’t suffer any publishing mishaps and therefore fail to publish anything on a particular day. Well clearly it hasn’t quite worked as from time to time an article fails to appear for a day. But they always turn up eventually.

For some reason the day I’m most usually late on is Monday. I’m not exactly sure why this is but a team of miniature Sherpas are currently planning an expedition into my brain. At least that’s what it feels like. I’m sick and not in a “man-‘flu” kind of way either. Of course I would say that wouldn’t I.

Anyway the reason I mention the articles being written is because I noticed something very weird about an article that I wrote around a week ago. Which in fact is yesterday’s article Bob… Great Sir.. Clearly I was beginning to go down with this thing then because one of the characters mentions briefly, and never refers to it again, that he has a head-cold. The subconscious is an odd thing.

Anyway the reason I mention my illness is not to try and garner sympathy. But simply to try and help direct some of the science research into colds and ‘flu. I think it’s possible that these two viruses are desperately trying to turn us into crocodiles.

No? You don’t believe me? First it makes you not want to eat very often. Also it turns you a rather interesting shade of green. Your eyes and nostrils start leaking big sloppy crocodile tears. And here’s the clincher, you become completely cold blooded. Whatever the temperature of the room you react to it immediately when you’re sick.

You start off being cold so you pile on another blanket. Then you’re burning up. The answer is that whil;e it seems like our bodies just can’t decide what they want, in reality we’re just unable to regulate for ourselves. Suddenly we have to consciously estimate how many blankets equals 28 degrees C. It’s something we don’t usually do. Which is why we’re so rubbish at it.

Anyway so I’m pretty sure it’s making us cold blooded. But perhaps it’s not a crocodile.

So what do we have, cold-blooded, sits around moping, eats lots of toast. Hmmm? If one of you says “men” I’ll be very upset.

Note: I thought this would be better than “Alex Andronov is Away”.

Bob… Great Sir.

“Listen Bob, I have a head cold, I have a man down the street making chainsaw noises, and I’m running out of time. So don’t make me add you to this list of complaints at the next meeting.”
“Yes sir. Okay… Um the figures for this week are looking… Sir, I have to ask…”
“Is he just making the chainsaw noises with his mouth or ..?”
“Sir, it’s just on my mind now and I’m not sure I’ll be able to fully concentrate on this presentation until this is all, you know, cleared up.”
“Well okay.”
“Great Sir. You’re not going to regret this.”
“I didn’t know how the sound was being produced. I could just hear a sound. It could have been a motorcycle revving for all I know so I simply said that somebody was making the same sound as a chainsaw so in case it wasn’t a chainsaw I would still be covered.”
“What? You mean you don’t know? You couldn’t look out of the window to check?”
“I did look but it was out of sight from that window.”
“Out of sight of the window? Sir, with all due respect, there are other windows.”
“Bob! You’re now on my list.”
“Yes sir, okay… Ummm… The number for this week look very promising… sir?”
“I noticed that the guy with the chainsaw noises wasn’t names in your list. Is that general policy or..?”
“I didn’t know who he was Bob.”
“I see. Maybe we should get back to these numbers?”
“Yes. Maybe we should.”

Hmmm. Well…

“Tony is sitting there, no… by the bar. He’s got that coat on. And he’s got two drinks. A pint and a measure of something clear.”
“Oh yea,” Stephen says, “I see him.”
“Well,” says Sarah – regretting the subject ever came up, “we used to go out… I guess.”
“You guess?” replies Steve, “what does that mean?”
“Well, we went on a few exploratory dates. I was never sure if we were going out or not.”
“You went out. If you go out, then surely, you’re going out?”
“No way.”
“Well then. Explain it to me.”
“Well let me ask you this. Are we going out?”
“Hmmm. Well…”
“Well exactly.”
“But we just met.”
“So? By your definition we’re out, therefore we’re going out.”
“But. There should be an amendment.”
“Yeah. You know. A sub-clause.”
“Of what?”
“Well, if you’re on a first date it shouldn’t count.”
“But what about this then?”
“Well be quiet for a sec while I explain.”

Stephen suddenly realised he like the way that Sarah had said “sec”. He was quiet. She went on.

“Well what about if you met for something else? Say like just something, but not a party, and then you decided to just go on to dinner?”
“Hmmm. You met ‘out’.”
“But then you stay out. You don’t ever go out.”
“That’s a puzzler.”
“Well. Yes.”
“So it that what happened between you and Tony?”
“Yeah. Sorta.”
“Okay. We met in the car park picking up our kids and we got chatting. A common friend who hadn’t revealed that she knew both of us showed up and started chatting too. We got her to take our kids with her and we went to dinner.”

There was suddenly a lot of silence at the table.”

“What? What’s up.”
“Oh. I just didn’t realise you had kids.”

There were four people selling whistles and luminous dummies.

The other day I was, strangely enough, required to stand in Wembley Park train station for about 15 minutes.

Now on this particular day the popular beat combo Blue happened to be playing at the stadium. While I was standing in the station a number of fans passed through the ticket barriers., And right outside the station they were being exposed to the raw capitalist market at work.

There were four people selling whistles and luminous dummies. Now clearly there were two groups of two sellers and these two groups were competing with each other.

They both had the same types of whistles for sale for £1. But the dummies were a different situation. One had all the dummies hanging off of his arm flashing away and was selling them for 31. But the other group had them in their original “hygienic” packaging. These dummies were for sale at £2.

The question I had was twofold. 1) would the more hygienic dummy be worth the extra £1 – Answer: No, they reduced their price pretty swiftly. 2) Would their patter about hygiene harm sales of the whistles. Neither group were selling whistles in packaging despite also having to put them in your mouth – Answer: No – Clearly None of these people cared about hygiene at all.

Moreover I was struck by this point. How many of the customers cared about the music if they were happy to make their own noise the whole way through?

Diomede became depressed.

Now that France have made their exit from the Rugby World Cup I can exclusively rehash the story of Diomede.

Now I don’t read the sports pages of the newspapers but I realise that some of my readers might so I would like to apologise in advance if you were already aware of this sad, and tragic, story.

Diomede is a coq. And this is not a pejorative statement. It’s not that I don’t like him, quite the opposite in fact he seems rather nice, it is in fact that he is a male chicken. In fact Diomede was the French Rugby team’s mascot.

While the team would practice he would run up and down like a poultry line man. He enjoyed the teams successes and he commiserated during the teams failures.

In fact Diomede was more than just a mascot to the teams he was, in some circles, considered to be the teams secret weapon. It worked this way; whenever the team practiced the team member who did the least well would be assigned, by the coach, to chicken cleaning duty.

But within their cunning plan lay their undoing. Diomede became depressed. The only time people would come to see him was to clean him, and when they came they were always upset with themselves – and yes, Diomede too. Their own failure made Diomede feel like a failure.

Now luckily one of the French team was a farm hand and had noticed Diomede’s upset. He reported it immediately to the vet who prescribed lots of rest and a return to the wild. The French player wouldn’t go. So Diomede did instead. With Diomede retired there was a lack of consequence for bad performance in team practice, and this may have directly affected the French teams performance in the World Cup.

But there is another aspect to the story which has the French supporters suggesting, you guessed it, fowl play. When the French team travelled to Australia they were not allowed to take their usual mascot with them for health reasons. Diomede was an Australian coq. And there is rumour that he threw his game.

You’re dying.

“Life is hell, most people are bastards and everything is bullshit.” So said George Black, father of Conrad Black (Lord Black of Crossharbour – the greatest gothic name for a Lord ever – currently just about proprietor of the Daily Telegraph), right before he had a seizure and fell through a balustrade and down some stairs.

It’s a story that may well be mentioned a few time this week, as Lord Black suffers from a few “problems”. This leads me to the subject of famous last words. Some people do them and some people don’t. And it’s not just a function of how you die.

The thing about famous last words is this. Most really famous people die young. They manage to snuff it before they embarrass themselves. And generally if you die young you die unexpectedly. The unexpected death is not terrible conducive to “famous last words”. Lots of infamous last words. JFK said “That’s obvious” in response to a comment that everyone in Dallas love him. Saying “that’s obvious” while somebody shoots you is not generally regarded as smart. Although in reality it’s more unlucky than stupid.

There have been lots of good ones through the years. Loads of them. But imagine the situation. You’re dying. You know you’re dying. Do you keep saying the phrase you’ve settled on every time you feel a bit faint?

Imagine saying something great, then going “you know what? I’m feeling a lot better.” Just before you snuff it. You would be so embarrassed.

There is one famous last phrase that particularly appeals to me even though I’m not sure about the sentiment. Although I certainly am if he was talking about it’s modern form. I shall leave you with it.

Nurse: (Adjusting the pillows) Is there anything still troubling you?
Patient: Yes, country music.

Well… You’re right. Really?

“I’m not sure we should see each other anymore.”
“You know that’s the same thing you said when we split up.”
“Yeah I know.”
“Well… I know this sounds harsh but I know of meant it. Why are we still seeing each other when I said that the main problem we had was that I wasn’t sure if we should see each other anymore?”
“You’re right.”
“Really?” He looks hopeful. As if he’s got away with something.
“Yes you’re right, that is harsh.” She looks crushed, but she keeps talking, “I thought we could be friends.”
“Well yeah. So did I but, it just didn’t… I mean I’m not sure if it can… you know… work.”
“But… but…”
“Look, I’m moving on. It’s something I’m going to have to do. I have to take this time. You know. For myself.”
“I can’t?”
“I’m sorry.”
“No you’re not.”
“No. You’re probably right. I’m not.”

The Thebans’ Sacred Band were the first army to beat the Spartans.

I’ve always been interested in the fact that gay people are not allowed in the military. Now here, and in this context, I am referring by “gay” to homosexual people*, rather than happy and bright people.** Although it would appear that the Army does have a specific problem with happy people. In the end, almost universally , most people who join the army seem to become quite boring. Just look at Iain Duncan Smith***

The thing is that it wasn’t always like this. Whereas we assume that gay rights are something that have arrived recently in fact they have merely been restored recently. Most of the blame for the destruction of gay rights stems pretty squarely from Victorian Britain.

In fact by barring gays from the military the army have routinely missed one of the greatest tactical advantages available to them since ancient times. IN fact it has recently been restored by allowing women back into the army. A prejudice that has been running even longer.

One of the first professional armies on record had had a tactical brainwave so striking that you really wonder why it isn’t available today.

All of the men in the Thebans’ “Sacred Band”, their professional army and therefore their best troops, were gay. All of them. And there were always an even number of troops because, you guessed it, the sacred band was made up of couples.

The theory went that while it was considered an incredibly shameful thing to desert your army it would be even worse to desert your lover. And also, you can imagine, it would make you fight a lot harder if it could save your lovers life.

The Thebans’ Sacred Band were the first army to beat the Spartans. At which point the Spartans huge go began to fail a little bit. Which just goes to show what a general can do when he thinks laterally a little bit.

I just wonder why nobody is doing this today?

* One of my great aunts once told me at a party how much she hated gay people. Why, I asked, did she hate them so? She replied that it was because she could no longer use the word “gay” the way she had as a child. It upset her deeply and was something she felt very strongly was their fault.

** This is not to say that being homosexual is mutually exclusive of being happy and bright. In fact you can do both at the same time.

*** Iain Duncan Smith is the former leader of Britain’s conservative party. He was universally considered dull and humourless. The only exciting thing was his attempt to emulate Franklin Delanos Roosevelt by naming himself IDS.

You won’t listen.

“My bedroom had a chandelier in it,” the old man announce all of a sudden, as though it made a point.
“Why is that relevant?”
“It just is.”
“Because I’ve earned the right to say my peace.”
“But it’s so annoying.”
“You are just incredibly annoying.”
“If only you listened to me perhaps you’d learn something.”
“Granddad, Honestly, we do nothing but listen to you day in and day out.”
“You don’t listen to me. You hear me, as a drone or something but you are able to completely ignore you.”
“We don’t.”
“You do! This is the first time in years that we’ve actually spoken ‘to’ each other rather than ‘at’ each other.”
“I’m not sure that’s true.”
“It is. You won’t listen. And usually I think that I deserve to be listened to. But today I thought of something.”
“I never listened to my grandfather either, so I don’t see why I should expect you to do something I never did.”