Monthly Archives: January 2004

And suddenly my memory was triggered.

I found a note in my notebook, which is where I like to keep them, which said simply, “Alphabetti Spaghetti Inventor”.

As I read it, it vaguely triggered a response in my brain. But one, sadly, only of recognition. Not the preferred version of, a thought that triggers more than the original note.

Generally, I’ve noticed my mind tends to bounce around a lot of topics all at the same time. Generally very quickly but here I was stumped. I seemed to only have a question and no answer.

All I could think was that at some point I wanted to know who invented Alphabetti Spaghetti.

The answer is: somebody at Heinz. Now maybe they know who it was but so far they haven’t got back to me on this issue.

However one thing they were very quick to deny was that they had ever made Swastika spaghetti in Nazi Germany. Apparently it’s a pretty persistent rumour. And it’s not true.

After hearing that I decided to revisit my note and se if it offered anything else up. I suddenly noticed that in fact I’d written “Alphabetti Spaghetti inventions” not “Alphabetti Spaghetti Inventor” and suddenly my memory was triggered.

My original point had been – I think – that I didn’t really see the point with bothering all of these monkeys and trying to get them to write Shakespeare when we’ve got Alphabetti spaghetti to help us.

My mind stated, I retire from this point. Although I wonder now if I’ll ever find this article in the future and wonder what I was going on about.

Clearly the attendee was not a fan of the female member of the happy couple.

Two young Australian ladies were sitting opposite me on the train when one of them mentioned a great new insult I hadn’t heard before.

It was the first new one I had heard since the frankly fabulous, “you mind like the merciless”.

They were talking about wedding and had just stumbled through the semantics of whether you could be married and a bridesmaid. They decided that you couldn’t although they both knew of cases when the rules had been flouted. One of them, rather sensibly, pointed out that you couldn’t be a main and married and that was the end of it.

But then they got on to discussing a wedding that only one of them had attended. Clearly the attendee was not a fan of the female member of the happy couple, as she referred to her as “bridezilla”.

Who invented the cocktail umbrella?

I began discussing the umbrella yesterday obliquely but then remembered that the words around it were not the only issue. The umbrella itself has it’s own interesting – if rather unexplored history.

It has been around for ages, the umbrella. At least four thousand years. Originally they were made of paper and were used to keep the sun off – more of which later. But then some bright spark in China added wax and lacquer to the paper inventing the first umbrella proper.

It didn’t arrive in the west until the 17 hundreds. But it was considered only necessary if you were a woman and it was considered bad form to require one if you were a man.

In fact a similar phenomenon occurred when supermarkets introduced the shopping trolley. They were almost never used by men because they wanted to show that they were manly enough (read: stupid enough) to carry all of their items in the shopping baskets.

Then came a man called Jonas Hanway. He dared to use an umbrella in public in English Society. But what did he care about English social mores? He was from Persia and like any sensible person did not thing getting wet made him look stylish.

He used his umbrella for thirty years to great effect. It was clearly such a good idea that it made it acceptable for other men to use them too. In fact he was so associated with the trend that a common nickname for the umbrella was a “Hanway”.

In 1852 Samuel Fox decided he need to do something with all the excess stock of steel that had been shaped to put in lady’s corsets but hadn’t been sold. So he decided to put them in umbrellas instead.

And that is the moment that me and umbrellas parted ways forever. By having steel in them umbrellas suddenly became lethal objects, carried at eye height on the busy city streets. They are, in many ways, a menace.

But despite my own personal differences with the umbrella it went from strength to strength.

Just over a century later we had the compact umbrella and, most puzzling of all, the umbrella in our cocktails.

What on earth is that doing there? Who invented the cocktail umbrella?

Well here’s a bit of a shock to the system. Nobody knows.

There are a lot of theories about the cocktail umbrella but very few answers. It seems clear the it’s more aimed as a parasol rather than umbrella as it’s made of paper. So it harks right back to the origins of the parasol. I’m not sure I would trust one of those little things to keep rain out of my drink. For that matter even if they are meant as a parasol. I’m not sure they are protecting the drink from getting a sun tan either.

In reality the idea of the cocktail was to bring the image of the beach bar to the drink. So the fruit is representing the fruit trees, as are the little trees that you sometimes get, the sparklers – the candles, and the parasols – the parasols on each table. In fact when you look at it this way the parasols are the bit that makes the most sense.

So what is the future for umbrellas? Well a young man called Richard Lawson has developed a device called a SPLU (SPring Loaded Umbrella). It’s got no sharp edges to poke people with, when it’s folded up it fits in the palm of your hand, and it doesn’t fall apart in strong winds. It’s pretty snazzy. And he’s in talks with Nike who have the power to make this thing actually happen.

But if that’s not the kind of technological advance you’re looking for then how about this:

Yes, that really is a hands free umbrella – velcro is a wonderful thing.

Why parachute?

I have been alerted that my use of an uncommon word yesterday may have confused people. The word “bumbershoot” used in yesterday’s article Walter was absolutely appalled that we were proposing to dine al-fresco means simply “umbrella”.

That’s all very well and good you might say but why is it a word for umbrella?

Well despite it’s British English sound it actually comes from America. It first appeared at the end of the 18 hundreds at a time when there tended to be quite flamboyant slang. In fact other slang terms for the umbrella which never took off included “bumbersels” and “umbershoots”.

The word itself is a combination of “umb” from “umbrella” and the “shoot” from “parachute”. Why “parachute”? Well lots of people will tell you that it’s because an umbrella looks like a parachute. Which, I suppose, it kind of does. But more relevant I think is that parachute shares a beginning part with “parasol”. And it’s not inconceivable that in those flamboyant times this connection was something that stuck in their minds.

Incidentally there weren’t any aeroplanes at the time. But parachutes already existed to save you if you fell out of hot air balloons.

That’s all very well and good you might say but what is the story of the umbrella itself?

Well for the answer to that question I would suggest you return tomorrow when, by chance, I will happen to be discussing that very thing.

Walter was absolutely appalled that we were proposing to dine al-fresco

Uncle Jack went toddling off towards the bar for a quick schooner and the rest of us visibly exhaled.

It had been, what had become, an exhausting afternoon. First Walter had arrived complaining that he was absolutely appalled that we were proposing to dine al-fresco. He predicted precipitous precipitation. But his god-awful lamentations had been nothing in comparison to Uncle Jack.

He had arrived half-cut and had proceeded to apply the metaphorical scissors to himself.

After pinching almost all the girls’ bottoms (an event which was made all the more embarrassing by his refusal, point blank, to pinch Gertrude. Despite her placing her, not inconsequential, posterior within inches of his hand and bellowing “pinch it or I’ll tell Monty”. Monty whoever he was, must have been dead – or worse deaf and married to old Gertie – because he didn’t respond despite a call put out for him that some said could be heard over three counties. I’ve heard many things said about Gertie, and I’ve said a few of them myself, but I won’t hear a word against her lungs. And you wouldn’t hear a word if you were against them either.), uncle Jack had set his attention towards the bar and now as he returned an incredible thing happened.

Walter, he of the doom-laden phraseology, was proven correct as it started spluttering down. Walt, it must be said, looked rather chipper for a man who had just been given the beginning of a light soaking.

“I told you all,” he cried, “didn’t I? I did, I think you’ll find, tell you all.”

Just as Walter was regaling us with stories of barometers he had encountered, and apparently simple tests you can perform on common seaweed, I noticed, out of the corner of my aspect, old Jack bumbling with his bumbershoot. Just as he found the automatic opening button was when the magnitude of his problems became apparent. He pressed it and the device damn near exploded. Metal and plastic flying this way and that. And Jack standing there cursing to the heavens shouting, “I ordered this as a whisky not a whisky and water.”

Jack was a man who feared dilution, and that is how I remember him screaming at the sky in want of something, anything, to cover his drink.

The shoe department of a well known shop in lower Manhattan, New York, New York – women’s section of course.

As I sit here waiting in the lingerie section of a shop on Oxford street I am reminded of an encounter I had once with Kylie Minogue – internationally petite pop star.

The particular location of our encounter was in the shoe department of a well known shop in lower Manhattan, New York, New York – women’s section of course.

By this point in the day I had already been to many shops and so I was feeling particularly tired. So I decided to sit down. I chose for my seat one of those banks of eight stools which people sit on while they are trying on their shoes.

Now at the time of my initial reclining I was the only person sitting down. While I was sitting my eyes immediately turned to the vast array of footwear that was on offer. I was so distracted by this that I hardly noticed the “excuse me” that was directed at me. I looked up and there she was, Kylie. As I came to my senses I realised that while I had been distracted all of the other seats had filled up of people trying on footwear. Kylie wanted my seat so she could try some shoes on.

So, of course, I stood up. I apologised profusely for my having been in what was clearly not a seat for the likes of me. It was only then that that the stories of her legendary shortness came home to me. She was, and according to popular reports, still is, very short.

And I couldn’t help feeling while sitting in this lingerie department that although I still didn’t exactly belong the fact that bras are tried on in privacy and while erect meant. I wouldn’t be moved on. Which made me a little more comfortable.

“Can you turn that music down?” he enquired.

Just as I was cooking my trademark secret recipe pasta sauce the other night I was suddenly disturbed by a loud banging at my front door.

I use the term banging advisedly because although ostensibly the sound was also a knocking it could not, with any degree of accuracy, explain the noise that was being produced.

He was standing there, the mythical new neighbour. He’s lived in the flat above me for at least four months and we’ve never met. But more disturbingly, I realise as I look at him, I’ve never even seen him. He must keep some very strange hours if he goes out at all.

However all of these thoughts are retrospective. My first though when I see him is to notice his thin nylon tracksuit. His incredibly large bald head and his eyes that look, at first, like they’re sweating but actually it turns out that his forehead is sweating, and the swat is running down his eyebrows and into his eyes and then back out again. I wonder now why I didn’t then think that he had been crying but clearly it was obviously a different thing. It was for a start because he would have had to have been crying out of the top of his eyes to account for the tracks. But more importantly because the sweat was crossing his eyes in the middle not in the corners where tears most usually come from.

At any rate I could tell from his demeanour that something seemed to be the matter. “Good evening. Can I help you with something?” I asked. If ever there was a man in need of help it was he. “Can you turn that music down?” he enquired.
“I don’t have any music on.” I replied.

Now at this point perhaps I should explain something. Until this man had come knocking at my door I had been listening to music. But between him knocking and my answering I had turned my music off. Clearly this had caught him off guard.
“But…” he suggested.
“Yes?” I seemed to imply that I wanted him to go on.
“But you did have music on before.”
“Yes.”
“It was very loud.”
“Oh,” I positioned myself in an apologetic stance, “I didn’t realise.”
“Yes. It was very loud. You’re always playing music and I can hear it.”
“Oh I’m very sorry. So this has happened before?”
“Yes many times. And I’ve banged on the floor. I’m always banging on the floor.”
“Oh why didn’t you come and ask me to turn my music down before now? That would seem the most sensible thing to do.” I pointed out.
“Well can you just keep your music down” he blustered?

And it was right then that I placed him . He was a maths teacher. He might not actually be a maths teacher precisely but in his heart he was a purveyor of arithmetic.

He had come down, girded up for a big argument. And I had apologised, promised to keep my music down and all in all acted reasonably. But that didn’t matter. He wanted to tell people off. But that was, something I wasn’t going to allow to happen.

What we need is simply the word “forwent”.

I think we might need a new term. We have a very nice term which can be used in the following way “I will forgo that.”

It’s very useful. But the biggest problem is that it has no past tense. What happens when you carefully explain that you will forgo something but then after you have to explain what happened. What we need is simply the word “forwent”.

And if you say to me, hold your horses* there don’t you have a dictionary or something I shall simply say to you “No, I forwent that”.**

*I could say “I don’t own any horses”.
**Of course if I consulted a dictionary, which I have now, I would realise that “forwent” is a real word. What a shame. Now, some might say that I should just scrap this article. However I will simply let it stand as a kind of cautionary tale.

Girl: Right?

Today the second half of two halves of a conversation. In case you didn’t yet see the first half then take a look at it first here: Girl: …yeah….

Guy: So yeah so she wouldn’t speak to me and neither would you.
Girl: Right?
Guy: Well then when I was looking for another person to go out with I suddenly realised that I didn’t know any women.
Girl: But surely there were lots of girls at uni?
Guy: Yeah but I don’t know them. What I realised was that I needed to have a female friend who would try and set me up with one of their friends.
Girl: Oh I see.
Guy: Yeah and so I didn’t have one of those so the whole thing ended up being a bit of a washout really.
Girl: I see.
Guy: And I keep falling asleep in the afternoon.
Girl: Falling asleep?
Guy: Yeah. I can’t get through an afternoon without falling asleep. It’s playing havoc with my course. I settle down for an afternoon of reading, and I suddenly wake up hours later asleep in the book.
Girl: Why don’t you play some loud music or something?
Guy: Oh I hadn’t thought of that.
Girl: I see.
Guy: Yeah. But I’ve joined an acapella jazz band.
Girl: Really?
Guy: Yeah. We’re going to be doing a tour of the west coast.
Girl: What? Cornwall?
Guy: No. The West coast of America. You know California.
Girl: Oh, I wasn’t sure
Guy: But everyone knows that when you say “west coast” of America.
Girl: Well that’s where your argument falls down.
Guy: How?
Girl: Well everyone can’t know that because I didn’t and I’m part of everyone.
Guy: Oh I see.
Girl: Yes.
Guy: Well this is my stop. So what are you going to do with your life?
Girl: I think I’m going to be a geography teacher.
Guy: Oh, that sounds good. I hope you enjoy that. Bye.
Girl: Bye.

Girl: …yeah…

Two halves of a conversation today. This real life conversation that I overheard happened so close to me on the tube that I couldn’t help but overhear both sides. The first line suddenly piqued my attention and then I was hooked.

Girl: But, Adrian, once I found you in her room naked the second time I found it difficult to trust you.
Guy: I don’t really understand that. I explained, at the time the circumstances of my situation.
Girl: Yes you did. And I even kind of believed you. But I just thought that I didn’t really want my boyfriend having to come up with excuses to be naked in other people’s rooms.
Guy: I see.
Girl: I’m glad you do.
Guy: You know it came at a very bad time for me.
Girl: Really?
Guy: Yes. It turned out that Sam hated me.
Girl: Oh, but I thought you would have… you know…
Guy: Oh no. You see I really was just naked in her room those two times. And…
Girl: …yeah…
Guy: …well it turns out she didn’t take very kindly to that.
Girl: I see.
Guy: So did she.

Let me interrupt the conversation at this point. But please be in no doubt that the second half will return tomorrow:Girl: Right?