Magazine article The Spectator

Funnies and Peculiars

Magazine article The Spectator

Funnies and Peculiars

Article excerpt

One of the most familiar cliches in the cartoonist's world is men (usually bankers or businessmen) throwing themselves off the window ledges of office blocks. I was interested therefore in one of the Guardian's correspondents in The Weirdest Ever Notes and Queries (4th Estate, 8.99) who asks whether men ever did throw themselves from windows during the Wall Street crash. It is apparently a myth, at any rate according to J. K Galbraith, although it is true that two men did jump out of a window in the Ritz, which led to hotel clerks asking guests whether they wanted a room for sleeping or jumping. The book is full of quirky bits of information supplied by Grauniad readers though, annoyingly, these often cancel one another out. When a reader asks for the origin of Edward Lear's 'runcible spoon', three readers provide quite different explanations. But we have no means of knowing which one of them is right. This failure to provide facts seems rather typical of the Guardian.

More curious but more reliable bits of useless information are to be found in the Book of Numbers (Richard Cohen, 9.99), compiled by William Hartson (described as the Chess correspondent of the Mail on Sunday). Mr Hartson has obviously spent a lot of time listing a variety of facts connected with every number up to 212 and thence occasionally up to 266,476,278 (the population of the US in July 1996). If you want to know how many films the number 2 occurs in (over 300 according to our man) or how long it would take to play the complete works of Beethoven (120 hours), then this book will be perfect bedside reading. I was depressed to discover that as a man of 60 I have spent 120 days shaving and further saddened to be told that the average male has sex 109 times a year. More interesting is the fact that there are 370 cheeses in France and this was cited by General de Gaulle as the reason the country could not be governed.

Another Guardian spin-off is Richard Boston's collection of pieces Starkness at Noon (Five Leaves Publications, 7.99) which deserves a prize for the best cover photograph - the author seated in a deckchair totally naked except for his laptop. Boston, a quirky, highly readable commentator, covers a wide range of topics here, from Anarchists to Just William, from Cezanne to Biggles. The piece de resistance is his account of how he stood for the European Election of 1994 on one of the most honest manifestos ever composed: 'I want the job, I want the money, I want the perks.' He got a commendable 1,018 votes (including, I seem to remember, my own). …

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