Silly Questions: Clouding the window issue

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The Independent Culture
FROSTED windows in aircraft toilets have aroused much speculation among our readers, writes William Hartston. 'It's a rare family that can use the lavatory with the door open,' says Nicholas Gough. 'Frosted glass shows that our prudery has no bounds.'

Tom Bell, aged 10, says it is 'to stop parachutists looking through it', an opinion shared by several others of unknown ages. R J Pickles also mentions balloonists, sky-hook testers and free-fall window cleaners, 'not to mention the alien crews of UFOs who are notorious for their prurient interest in human anatomy'. Stuart Cockerill obediently does not mention alien UFO crews, although he does say 'to protect the sensibilities of albatrosses.' Louise Wilcocks says it is 'out of respect for the privacy of the Mile High Club, a famously shy, modest and retiring group of people.'

The entire issue, however, is clouded - if not frosted - by Steve Johnson who writes: 'They don't. Please advise your questioner that he must be in the wrong part of the plane. I suspect he's in the kitchen area at the back and his glasses have got steamed up. Or he's on a train. How to check: if there are lots of metal drawers full of spare sick-bags and tiny bottles of gin, he's on a plane. If it's a Wednesday, it can't be a train. And if there's lots of turbulence but no sick- bags, it's the Blackpool roller-coaster.'

We move on to tennis and the question of why they bother playing points other than the last. Caroline Hull says that if they only played final points, Wimbledon fortnight would have to be renamed Wimbledon 27 minutes, which would leave no time for the third helping of strawberries and cream. David Trinder explains historically: 'Tennis was devised as an exercise for the onlookers and not the participants. Games would last for hours as there was no time- limit or scoring system.'

R J Pickles believes the whole thing is a huge deception: 'The fact that tennis matches are won by the person who takes the last point presupposes the existence of previous point(s) which have to be arbitrarily arranged and computed within a fixed formula, to provide the illusion of an ongoing contest with the connivance of players who can earn enormous amounts of money as a reward for their complicity in the charade. The crowd plays its part by 'oohing' and 'aahing' and emphasising the last vital point by shouting out just before it is played.'

Mr Pickles also has a theory to explain why they don't do the Mexican wave at chess tournaments. He says it is because they don't often hold chess tournaments in Mexico, and when they do, they don't take place in the round, and if they did the spectators would probably not be sufficiently awake, and if they were and waved in a Mexican fashion, it would probably distract the players.

Mark Walmsley has identified 'an inverted version of the Mexican wave', following an interesting chess move on stage, 'when afficionados duck their heads en masse to examine its consequences on pocket sets held in their laps. This Russkaya volna, or 'Russian wave' is also known as the 'Baku bend'. Looking up 'wave' in our Russian dictionary, we cannot help wondering whether it might not better be described as a val (billow) or even a kolebaniye (oscillation) rather than volna (sea wave). Regrettably, the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang does not include the Russian (or indeed the English) for 'Mexican wave'.

Stuart Cockerill suggests that the Mexican wave is banned from chess tournaments because it might cause draughts. He also provides a brief natural history of the pink and white varieties of marshmallow: 'The Marsh Mallow (Bogus cariegenesis) is an ugly, atonal bird, pink in its natural habitat - the sphagnum bog. It feeds on butterflies - Cabbage Whites and Red Admirals - and tastes strongly of monosodium glutamate. Destruction of wetlands has stimulated the evolution of an albino variety, living in the methane-rich environment surrounding sewage farms. They taste largely of mustard.'

David Trinder says that whether pink or white, they taste of his late grandmother's face-powder.

This week's questions: Why don't parents say 'please' when telling their children to say 'please'? (J Nicholas). How do the various pieces of cutlery in a washing-up bowl decide which one is to stay behind after the water is tipped out? (Steph and Paul). What would filmmakers call a prequel to Back to the Future? (Tom Gaunt). Why do people say '. . . not to mention . . .?' (N Edwards).