‘Oh, you’re the autistic one,’ beamed the elderly lady I was introduced to by my parents.
Silence and awkward glances round the restaurant table.
‘Pardon?’ I replied, frantically flicking through my mental guide to etiquette.
‘I’ve heard all about you. You’re the autistic one.’
‘Well, not particularly,’ came my reply. It seemed like the option least likely to cause a palaver.
Then it clicked. She thought I was an ortist. She thought I liked ort. She simply had a funny accent.

Me And Angela Merkel

You know when you get a sudden whim to find out what someone’s doing nowadays? Well, I had that very whim regarding a German boy who I did a school exchange with in the 1980s. My Schüleraustauschpartner, as the Germans would say.

But his name produced rather vague results, so I dragged my only photo of him into Google Images to see if he appeared. The idea is that Google recognises the image and generates identical or similar ones.

What I didn’t expect was a pile of images of ……… German president Angela Merkel. No-one else. Just Angela.

Google had no way of knowing my exchange partner was German. It was just an image. No metadata apart from a random number.

It couldn’t be, could it, that Angela was once a teenage boy living in Baden-Württemberg??? Could it?

Well, she claims to be from Hamburg. But her father did study in Heidelberg (in Baden-Württemberg) which is very near to the hometown of my school exchange partner.

Angela wasn’t into politics in those days. She was actually very musical. She played the French Horn. And she was called Felix.

Reclaim the Trolls

For me, trolls will always be supernatural creatures. So I was relieved to discover that Louise Mensch’s troll, Frank Zimmerman, at least had the decency to resemble a wizard.

Recently, the term troll has been appropriated to describe sad internet stalkers. But I was brought up to believe a troll was a weird Scandinavian being, lurking in a mountain cave.

In one Norse saga, a troll described himself as a

Giant wealth-sucker,
Destroyer of the storm-sun,
Guardian of the corpse fjord,
Swallower of sunlight –
What is a troll other than that?

I associated trolls with Norway and the composer Grieg. He even lived in a house called Trolls’ Knoll.

But then along came a Danish fisherman, Thomas Dam, who invented those risible Troll Dolls. They took off in the 60s and 70s. I resented them. They belittled the gloomy trolls of my imagination.

That was, of course, followed by the Harry Potter troll which was a sort of cross between Wayne Rooney and Ann Widdecombe.

And now the blinking internet’s pinched the word troll and ruined it again.

I demand a return to real trolls, skulking under bridges and jumping out to frighten people. I may even found a Real Troll Society.

Gaston J Feeblebunny

Admiral The Hon Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax
After my witterings about silly names in TV credits, a big thank you to Ant for sending me some utterly preposterous ones.
‘Back in the seventies,’ he writes, ‘we were reduced to gibbering ninnies each Saturday morning, by Richard Boston’s Guardian column. For several weeks he featured Strange Names of Real People.’
Here are a few of them which made Boll and me chortle –
Admiral The Hon Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax (known among his civil servants as ‘Admiral Acronym’)
Aristotle Tottle (described as a ‘timid, feeble pyrate’ from Falmouth)
Lord Salmon of Sandwich (Master of the Rolls)
Charles Adolphe Faux-Pas Bidet (who expelled Trotsky from France in 1916)
Baroness Gaby von Bagge of Boo
Bunyon Snipes Womble
Humperdink Fangboner
Freelove Outhouse
Halloween Buggage
Luscious Pea
Katz Meow
Miss Pensive Cocke
Supply Clapp Thwing
Volume Dingle
Sir WC Dampier-Whetham
Inspired by Ant’s list, I uncovered a few more randomly peculiar names –
Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovel
Bambina Broccoli
Fifi FuFu
A Moron (Commissioner of Education in The Virgin Islands)
Aphrodite Chuckass
Lettice Goedebed
Lavender Sidebottom
Taffy Sidebottom Ball
Leafy Beagle
Sibyl Bibble
Wincenty Bonk
Vital Bourgeois
Woolloomooloo Cleaves
Adeline Dingledine
Mossie Husbands (Mrs)
Evangelist Polite
Gaston J Feeblebunny

Garfield Carrott

I watched a lot of TV this weekend and was astonished to see the name Garfield Carrott on the credits of some reality show. So I Googled him, as you do, and discovered he really does exist.
I then returned to the TV and up popped Tuppence Stone on some BBC credits. Yes – real as well. In fact, I think I may have even met her. Or was it her sister Thruppeny Bit? Or her well-known cousin, the rapper 50 Cent?
I shouldn’t be too surprised at unusual producer names, having worked with a Byron, a Horatio and an Anastasia over the years. But my all-time favourite producer name is Piers Plowright. Brilliant radio producer. Name straight out of Chaucer.
BBC Radio runners up include Dirk Maggs and Fenella Fudge of course.
Other names I’ve spotted on TV credits over the years include Prentis Handcock, Fionnula Tambling-Goggin, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, Josh Awesome and Phelt M Saucier (Best Boy).
And then there’s Alan Smithee who directs lots of films, but doesn’t exist.
I can talk of course. Peacock isn’t the most sensible surname. Oddly, the first time I was ever credited on Radio 4 (on PM), the presenter was Frank … Partridge.

Anarchic Anechoic

I spent this afternoon in an anechoic (echo-free) BBC studio in Media City Salford, making odd noises with creative people. Standing up – producer Michael Surcombe and composer Loz Kaye. Sitting down – Professor Trevor Cox, singer Najia Baji and punk legend John Robb. I’m not at liberty to tell you why we were doing it, but it will be on Radio 4 later this year……

Overheard in Hertford Today

‘It’s like a bird only it’s not a bird. It’s a bit like a tit.’
The question – what is it? I wish I knew. It’s driving me mad.