Quirky cultural curoisities

Where Did You Leave It?

I lost my key the other day and stormed randomly round the house fulminating, as you do.

‘What have you lost?’ asked a friend, helpfully.

‘MY KEY’, I replied.

‘Well, where did you leave it?’ came the reply.

Is it me, or is that quite simply the most pointless, irritating, asinine question ever asked in the entire history of Christendom?

Perhaps not. Thinking about it, a better contender might be the question frequently asked by a complete stranger wandering vaguely into a room where I’m sitting before some course or other I’m running.

‘Is this the right room?’ the stranger asks. Without fail.

‘I can’t tell you,’ I reply. Because I can’t. I really can’t.

OMG. Is this the right blog?


President Obama wishing he hadn’t ordered cuisses de grenouille

Ever since, as a Guinea Pig obsessive, I learnt that the French word for Guinea Pig was Cochon d’Inde, I’ve realised everything sounds nicer – or at least posher – in French. Mind you, Meerschweinchen – the German equivalent – is pretty nice-sounding too.

Most food sounds better in French, obviously, which is why I always offer guests haricots blancs


No longer do we have pet shops; we have ‘Pet Solutions’ or ‘Kitten Solutions’ or ‘Tortoise Solutions’.

No longer do we have fishmongers; we have ‘Haddock Solutions’ or ‘Shrimp Solutions’ or ‘Turbot Solutions’.

No longer do we have clothes stores; we have ‘Anorak Solutions’ or ‘Bobble Hat Solutions’ or ‘Lederhosen Solutions’ (‘Lederhosenl

Back Pain

Way back in August, I noticed a new outbreak of ‘back’ in the news. It’s been creeping in gradually, but it’s now getting critical and must be stopped.

Basically, news people have completely lost the ability to mention a date without preceding it with ‘back’ – ‘back’ in 2003, ‘back’ in 2006, even ‘back’ in 2011. And if it’s over decade, it’s often ‘way back’ – ‘way back’ in 2000.

It’s even more irritating than ‘under way’. Nothing ever ‘starts’ or ‘begins’ in the news. It ‘gets underway’.

I noticed that trend getting underway way back in 2002.

Thank you very much indeed for that. That’s it from me. Now the news where you are.

If You Knew Wood Pigeon Like I Know Wood Pigeon

The garden’s full of rowdy wood pigeons at the moment. They’re fat and noisy, like the frightening people who come out of the Stone House nightclub at 2am.
Sometimes they (the pigeons) go –


But their favourite yobbish wood pigeon tune goes –


This morning (as I lay awake, cursing them and contemplating bombing the RSPB with a gargantuan bird dropping, the like of which Sandy in Bedfordshire has never seen) I suddenly realised they were singing an actual song. An Eddie Cantor song from the 1920s


And, in my delirious, hypnopompic state, I wondered ….. could it be that a wood pigeon once heard it, impersonated it and passed it on? Or could it be that the composer Joseph Meyer heard a wood pigeon and imitated it in his ditty?

Well, I felt thwarted when I realised he was from California where they don’t have wood pigeons at all.

But then I did a bit of research and realised he was sent to Paris as a teenager to learn the violin. And yes – they have wood pigeons there, such as Hope the Parisian wood pigeon

This surely constitutes incontrovertible proof that the original composer was actually a French wood pigeon, probably called Pierre, totally oblivious to his copyright status, and to Susie the floozy who wasn’t very choosy.

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Every Day Is The Best Day In The Year

Write it on your heart
That every day is the best day in the year.
He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
Who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day.
Begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit
To be cumbered with your old nonsense.
This new day is too dear,
With its hopes and invitations,
To waste a moment on the yesterdays.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Oxford Commas

Who gives a f**k about an Oxford comma? asked Vampire Weekend, inspired by a Columbia University Facebook group called Students for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma. Well, I do. I’m very fond of commas, and I’d rather use them than cause ambiguity or a lack of crispness. Please note the Oxford comma in that last sentence – creating a dramatic, positively moving, caesura.

The Facebook Oxford Comma page has 30,900 likes as I write, by the way.

Just to refresh your memory – an Oxford, Harvard, or serial comma is a comma placed before a coordinating conjunction (such as ‘and’, ‘or’, or ‘nor’).

Using an Oxford comma, you’d write –

Cats, dogs, and otters

Without, it would obviously be –

Cats, dogs and otters

I violently resent the latter, as it suggests some weird connection between dogs and otters. Dogs. Otters. Separate things. And the former has a lovely pause before the ‘and’, don’t you think?

Oxford commas, so-called because they’re traditionally used by the Oxford University Press, also prevent preposterous ambiguity.

For instance, I could dedicate this blog –

To my parents, Ann Widdecombe and God

But my parents are, as you may know, not God and Ann Widdecombe. They’re Mr and Mrs Senior Peacock. So it totally makes sense to add an Oxford comma –


To my parents, Ann Widdecombe, and God

(not that I’d dedicate it to God or Ms Widdecombe, despite her love of cats)

One of my favourite illustrations of the confusion caused by an absent Oxford comma is from a TV listing for a documentary about the country singer Merle Haggard –

Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall

Of course, you can avoid having to use Oxford commas by changing the order of the listed items –

To God, Ann Widdecombe and my parents

But I’m still partial to it, and I’ll continue to use it, despite the fact that it’s often seen as a bit American. It is, after all, recommended by the Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the US Government Printing Office Style Manual.

Oxford University Press’s style manual and Fowler’s Modern English Usage are also pro. But AP, The Times and The Economist are anti.

The Guardian, sensible as ever, says you should use it when necessary.

As for the princess of punctuation, Lynne Truss –

There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and people who don’t and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken