Monthly Archives: February 2011


Why? Why? Why do Americans insist on this preposterous spelling? It’s perverse. It looks silly. It’s so, so wrong. The word is manouevre. End of.

Hammering Home Who’s Top Cat

I put some cute pet photos up today and started with one of Bolly, which I placed above my old Drapentier Prospect of Hertford. Then I decided to move on to the rabbits.
But could I find the hammer for the picture hooks? No. Nowhere to be seen.
After searching high and low and concluding I’d gone a bit gaga, there I espied it. On the stairs. Under Bolly. She was clearly deliberately sitting on it to stop me adding any more pet pics.
In the end, I managed to put them all up and they look very sweet together. Boll seems to have forgiven me now.

Hammer? What hammer???

A Tall Story – The Anatomist John Hunter

Portrait of John Hunter by his neighbour Joshua Reynolds

My next Radio 4 programme A Tall Story is going out on Monday 28 February at 8pm.

It’s about a 21st century giant from Ireland and his connection with a famous 18th century giant Charles Byrne.

At around 8 feet tall, Byrne was a major celebrity. Visitors flocked to view him in his London apartment. And mad King George III was a fan.

But Byrne lived in fear of a fiercely ambitious anatomist, John Hunter, who was after his body. I won’t tell you what happened. You’ll have to listen. But suffice to say, Byrne’s wish to be buried at sea wasn’t granted. And I’ve seen his skeleton, which is on display in one of London’s oddest and most gruesome museums.

When we were making the programme, I did a bit of research into the surgeon John Hunter’s weird life. He was obsessed with anatomy – and the odder the better. Present at over 2000 dissections, he even had a menagerie in Earl’s Court, where he studied the structures of animals. He was said at the time to possess the bones of eagles …

… Moaning dingos, barking beagles,
Sleek oppossums, prickly hedgehogs,
Buffaloes, dormice, wolves and dogs …

He also kept jackals and a kangaroo and had a Mulberry tree for his pet silkworm.

He became George III’s private surgeon, which meant he had personal access to the king’s menagerie, including his pet elephant.

Over the years, he made some important medical discoveries about dentistry and the lymphatic system. But he was perhaps a bit over-enthusiastic in his pursuit of bodies to anatomise.

It was rumoured that he had unusual-looking people followed if they were about to die and used so-called ‘resurrectionists’ (aka body snatchers) to dig up corpses. But he wasn’t quite as bad as his brother William who allegedly had pregnant women murdered.

When the composer Haydn came to London, Hunter offered to perform an operation for the removal of his nasal polyp. But Haydn was more interested in Mrs Hunter than her husband’s surgical skills and wrote some folksong arrangements with lyrics by her.

According to one account, ‘Haydn had designs on Mrs Hunter. Her husband had designs on Haydn’s famous nasal polyp. Both were refused.’

Hunter’s ruthless manner is satirised by William Blake in an unpublished novel An Island on the Moon. The sadistic surgeon Dr Tearguts is based on Hunter. His bedside manner with his poor patients isn’t exactly brilliant –

Though they cry ever so, he’ll swear at them and keep them down with his fist and tell them that he’ll scrape their bones if they don’t lie still and be quiet.

Other accounts are more forgiving –

His nature was kindly and generous, though outwardly rude and repelling.

He was certainly renowned for his temper and died of a heart attack during a furious argument about the admissions system for medical students.

As for his connection with the giant Charles Byrne, well, I suggest you take a very close look at the portrait above and listen to A Tall Story on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 28 February at 8 pm. It’s then on the BBC iPlayer for a week.

Six Degrees

The sister of the producer of my next Radio 4 programme is the producer of Gok Wan.

Prince William’s A Lizard

Prince William, off duty
I accidentally strayed onto David Icke’s website earlier and was alarmed to discover so many people are turning into reptiles these days. It can’t be easy.
Apparently, it’s because we’re all the result of a breeding programme conducted by a race of reptilians called the Anunnaki from the Draco constellation.
Many prominent figures are reptilian, including George W Bush, Queen Elizabeth II, Kris Kristofferson, and the late Boxcar Willie. I don’t quite get the Boxcar Willie one, but some of the others seem entirely plausible.
And there’s a theory doing the rounds in the forums that Prince William’s a reptile too (because he smiles oddly).
I’d hate to suggest that some of Icke’s followers need, um, help. That would be lizardist.

Six Degrees

My friend V used to work on Beaumont Street in Oxford, very near to where Thom Yorke lives. I also once sighted him myself, on a bus from Headington into Oxford. And my friend C lives in Abingdon, where Radiohead are from.

Bollalike in Downing Street

Larry (left) imitates the trademark style of Bolly (right)
Boll has an impersonator. Lookalike Larry, 4, is the new Downing Street cat. He arrived today from Battersea, having been homeless on the streets of London. We wish him well in his mission to eradicate rats from Westminster. Not an easy task.
Larry follows in the pawprints of
1920s – Rufus of England
1930s – Munich Mouser
1970s – Wilberforce
1990s – Humphrey and
2007 – Sybil
Boll watched Larry on the news but looked distinctly unimpressed. She is, however, expecting an MBE (Moggy of the British Empire) for inspiring his look.
Meanwhile, I have a namedrop. I’ve met Gary O’Donoghue – the BBC reporter who was on camera when the infamous rat was spotted scurrying across the doorstep of Number 10.
It was that very rat which led to the arrival of Larry.

Bugle Boy Is A Brand Of Pants

I’ve just realised my BlackBerry has Google voice recognition for web browsing, so I tried it out this morning.
The first thing I said was ‘voice recognition’, which produced ‘Bugle Boy is a brand of pants’. Must learn to speak more clearly.
Next, I intoned ‘Megawati Sukarnoputri’ (ex president of Indonesia, as I’m sure you know) in my best BBC English – and it got it right.
It scored 100% on ‘charismatic megafauna’ too.
I then tried ‘How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?’ It was still pretty accurate, coming up with ‘Woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck chuck’.
‘What noise annoys an oyster?’ came up as ‘What noise annoys Hollister?’ Hollister’s a fashion label I think, not normally worn by molluscs.
Oddly, it was quite opinionated about politicians. Ann Widdecombe came up as ‘unwired’. Nick Clegg was declared ‘eclectic’. Ed Miliband became ‘Daily Telegraph’. And President Obama – ‘Awesome’.
It didn’t like ‘God Save Our Gracious Queen’ one bit, translating it into ‘France cracks down on children’s mobile phone use.’
Then I got Bolly to miaow into it, and it came up repeatedly with ‘Wham’ and ‘St Andrews University’. Is she trying to tell me something? (‘Bollinger Peacock’ appeared on screen as ‘orange pekoe’.)
And finally, it decided ‘Hertfordshire’ was a ‘Trailer Park’.
Thanks Google. Love you too.

110 Today, 110 Today, You’ve Got The Key To The Door, Never Been 110 Before

I just bought a 90th birthday card. There was a label on it saying ‘not suitable for children under 36 months’ which I found a bit odd. Why would you buy a Happy 90th card for a baby?
It was interesting to see quite a few 100th birthday cards on sale as well. First time I’ve seen those.
And you can also buy 110th birthday cards for ‘supercentenarians’ as they call them. This one’s from Greeting Cards Universe.

Off Her Trolley With A Brolly

There was an old lady in Waitrose today, shopping with her umbrella up.
It was raining outside but not inside. The umbrella was quite large. She seemed 100% sane. I think she’d just forgotten it was there.
How eccentric, I thought. I can’t imagine doing anything quite that odd.
And with that I left the shop, placing my bobble hat over the end of my baguette to keep it dry.