Archive for January, 2009

Ermine Bathos


Somebody found this weblog through a Google search for “or bite em nash”.

What could it mean, this cryptic message? Is it an anagrammatic cipher? Donning my trilby and trench coat I determined to crack the conundrum…

1. Tom! Braise hen.
Well, my name isn’t Tom. So that one’s out.

2. Hairnet besom.
A bit insulting, that. As is There is BO Man. Anyway, I have insufficient hair to require a net, so it can’t be aimed at me.

3. Banish meteor!
I am not Bruce Willis. Nor Steve Buscemi.

4. Atheism boner.
Irreligiosity doesn’t excite me that much.

5. Meanies throb.
I expect they do. Thanks for the information.

6. Hot rabies men.
Too disturbing.

7. A mob’s therein.
That’s more like it, and I appreciate the warning. But you must be more specific, my cryptographic chum. Therein? Where in?

8. A tomb’s in here.
See above.

9. A horse be minty.
Perhaps. But that’s even more enigmatic than the original.

10. Ermine bathos.
Meaningless; gnomic; but beautiful. Surely the name of my next band; unless I go with ‘Basin Theorem’.


More prosaically, the more likely solution, I suppose, is that somebody has had a vague recollection of that flea poem, and an even vaguer one of the poet responsible; although, as I wrote at the time, it does sound kind of Ogden-Nash-ian.

Oddly, a search of the terms ‘or bite em nash‘ reveals to me no trace of this blog. It does, however, unearth a blogger whose admiration clearly knows so few bounds that he’s pasted my work as his own, here.

I also note that people are arriving through searching for ‘Kerala-recipes’.


Now, I cede to nobody in my admiration for the tastiness of that south-west Indian cuisine but I am certain that I have not written about it; although, of course, I now have. This might cannily increase the hit-rate from the spicily-famished, who should, incidentally, stick around for a delicious recipe I have found for Braised Hen.


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I am inspired once again by the uproarious Julia at Homemade Hilarity, who has ‘found Jesus‘ in a veritable smörgåsbord of foodstuffs.

My own pilgrimage has led me in a more radiographical direction; the Messiah has evidently been manifesting across myriad internal organs, and medical science has sought him out. Or Him, sorry.

Now, there are behaviourists who tell us that humans will readily ascribe facial characteristics to almost any vaguely convincing arrangement of approximations of human features; that’s why in the clouds yesterday I saw Her Majesty the Queen head-butting Peewee Herman.

Even so, you would have to be the most callous cynic or filthy atheist not to be convinced that our Lord and Saviour is casting his caring gaze and benevolent touch on what I choose to suspect to be emphysema in this unfortunate victim’s lungs:


There he is, skulking behind the ribcage on the right: Emphyjesus.

If you are not convinced, I’ve helpfully zoomed in on and circled the be-sandalled one:


Of course, the recognition relies on the clichéd medieval depiction of the Nazarene as a beardy, long-haired, European-looking fellow rather than the near-Eastern gentleman he obviously was (although in this instance he at least is not blond, unless that’s the effect of the X-Ray).

Moreover, if one is to accept the face of that lung, then one must surely also be prepared to explain the odd visage that appears in the other. I’m speaking of that alien-fish face peering around the spinal column:


What could that be? The emphysema demon that the Jesus is hunting down and exorcising? Should I consult a surgeon or a priest? Or an angler?

Perhaps there’s a clue in this ultrascan. Congratulations to the parents, not only on the impending birth of a shiny new child but on the fact that it is blessed, at first glance, by the glowing presence of the Chosen One:


Take a closer look, though, at foetus-Jesus in the close-up on the right; it’s a peculiarly wall-eyed Son of Man we’re dealing with here, if Jesus it be, and I don’t recall the Gospels mentioning that level of Holy strabismus. It looks more like one of those grey aliens beloved of UFOlogists, but sporting a badly-fitting and somewhat lank rock-star wig as a rather thin disguise. Either that or it’s a cross between Emphyjesus and his piscine pal. Spooky.

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The splendid dandyism.net website has posted this marvellous picture of a number of young men at Sunday School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1941.


They invite us to suggest which of these fellows is the dandy, notwithstanding the fact that should they be transported to the 21st century they would surely all be considered dandies.

However, if it’s not the chap leaning idly against the wall in the background, or, as one commentor shrewdly suggests, the one missing from the picture because he is still abed after the previous night’s rakish adventures, then it must be owner of the slicked-back hair, the plaid tie and the surprising sock. And not necessarily because of those attributes; more because, while his companions understandably look racked with boredom, the emotion he is exhibiting is clearly ennui.

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The great and dignified traditions of protest, resistance and civil disobedience as practised by Mohandas Ghandi, Rosa Parks and Stephen Biko surely reached their apogee at Heathrow airport last week.

Literally several dissidents lined up to militate against the British government’s plans to construct a third runway at London’s principal airport. This necessitates flattening the village of Sipson, so certain people are understandably somewhat chippy. Specifically the residents of Sipson, one supposes, but also evidently the actress Emma Thompson.

And just how exactly did these protesters – sans Emma Thompson, sadly – ‘line up’? In a Conga Line around Terminal Five, that’s how. Oh yes.


There they are, Conga-ing like the dickens. Although not obvious in this photograph, a few chose to sport Edwardian garb. Perhaps this is in misguided homage to Emmeline Pankhurst but, to be honest, I can’t be bothered to confirm, or otherwise, this hypothesis.

It’s a peculiarly English charade – like charades itself – this passion to Conga; although ‘passion’ is hardly the mot juste, given that it is stripped of all the ardour of the Cuban original. Instead it is imbued with a strange forced humour and reluctant enjoyment, the latter rather like sneaking that somehow guilty slice of rather bland but supposedly exotic cake. Like Battenburg, for example.

Outside the confines of bad wedding receptions and church-hall socials (the milieu of the Battenburg cake, funnily enough) the Conga Line is most commonly given an airing at sporting events. During rain breaks at Wimbledon, for example, but also on the terraces of football stadia, generally when the performers’ team is six-nil down and the need for levity becomes desperate.

It is also employed to relieve the tedium of a day of cricket. Not the monotony of the cricket itself, necessarily, but that of fellow fans chanting “Barmy Armyad nauseum. Sadly, it seems to be warmer climes that inspire the conga; ‘sadly’, because the sunshine and warmth of Australia, the West Indies and South Africa naturally encourage the English cricket supporter to don rather less clothing than in his natural environment: he inhabits a succession of ill-advised T-shirts and surprising shorts, thus presenting the watching world with a startling contrast between a lobster-red face and pasty-white limbs, wobbling with the effort of the kick on every fourth beat. In the chilly drizzle of a Thursday afternoon in Nottingham the full horror would at least be mitigated by trousers.


Ultimately, I blame Desi Arnaz. Although the Conga Line was known in the USA as early as 1905, its popularity grew exponentially from the 1930s to 1950s after the aforementioned husband of Lucille Ball arrived from Cuba; and where America leads England follows.

Nevertheless, it’s an interesting way forward for peaceful protest. What next, I wonder? A Hokey-Cokey for Tibet? Well, why not? At the very least, somebody putting their left leg in and shaking it all about is a lot harder to shoot. Sharpeville and Kent State could have been so different.

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Four lines of doggerel

Slap my parts with hollandaise sauce
then fetch the Irish Setter;
Eighteen hours at Gas Mark 5,
They’ll soon be feeling better.

I thank you.

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Since we have visited the subjects of birds and colourful 1970s dancing, there can no better opportunity to combine the two and bust out this cracking video of the delightful mannequin bird, inventor of the moonwalk.

This is from the BBC comedy panel game ‘QI‘, and as it is presented by the estimable Stephen Fry, surrounded by funny people of every stripe, there is very little I can add to make anything more chucklesome.


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While most songbirds are resting their vocal chords until spring, the robin resolutely and charmingly chirrups and warbles on through the depths of winter, all hours of the day and night.

I specify ‘songbirds’ because we are never far from the ‘grawk’ of the carrion crow, the fruity ‘blart’ of the Canada goose and the raspy chuckle of the rather surprising cormorant residing along the river.

The robin’s song reminds me of an art installation by Marcus Coates from 2006/2007. It was a project in which he recorded woodland bird songs, slowed down the recordings by up to 16 times, and transcribed the notes. He gave these ‘scores’ and recordings to 17 choristers, who were then filmed singing them in their home and work environments. The films were then sped up to match the speed of the original bird songs, and the mimicry is remarkable.

Here’s a yellowhammer:

And here’s an audio file of that gentleman’s ululations at his original speed.

As he is caught leafing through a tabloid at his kitchen table, and another fellow is sitting on his bed in his underpants, the impression is one of creatures observed in their natural habitats, like the passerines they are aping; particularly as the speed of the films means not only that the human voice is translated almost perfectly but that there is also a jerky bird-like quality to the singers’ movements.

Somebody cheekily filmed the installation at the Baltic Centre in Gateshead:

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