Silly Questions: Wake-up call for non-Cockerills

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THIS week we tell how to join Nato, but more urgently we begin with ideas for Ms Darling, who wrote asking for suggestions of a Valentine's Day gift for a fifty-something, post-adolescent, pre-feminist male friend. J S Burn questions the premise, claiming that males never grow out of adolescence, but recommends nevertheless that she present him with a course of Hormone Displacement Therapy 'to keep their affection from turning to passion'. And he, with similar motives, should give her a nice woolly vest.

Stuart Cockerill takes a more contemporary, unreconstructed post-Bobbitt viewpoint in recommending a universal knife-blunter. Which brings us neatly to a perceptive question from Peter Perryman:

'Why do so many people called Stuart Cockerill write to the Silly Questions column? I have noticed that week after week a, or some, Stuart Cockerills provide answers or new questions. On average, 10 correspondents are mentioned in each column. This means that 10 per cent of all Independent readers are called Stuart Cockerill. Who are they? Where are they?'

Mr Perryman specifically requests answers from non- Cockerills, even if this does tap only 90 per cent of our erudition potential.

Chris Chandler now explains how to join Nato: 'I thought that everyone knew that they could get their Nato application forms from their local Post Office. By the time the new nation's representative has got to the front of the queue there will be plenty of potential referees around who will qualify under the three- year rule.'

The fate of the Morris Major has also been explained. One of our Stuart Cockerills links its demise to that of the Ford Milk-Monitor (a prototype of the Prefect) and the Austin Andante Ma Non Troppo, but Andrew Horsman claims to have seen the Morris Major in a car park in Dunedin, New Zealand.

'The styling is of an east- European gaucheness that defies dating,' he says, but tells us the car belonged to Lord Nuffield who thought the Morris Minor looked like a poached egg.

Vernon Mills tells us that the Morris Major was a product of early genetic engineering in a breeding programme involving the Cowley and the Bullnose. It suffered from several defects including bucket seats, but selective breeding produced a smaller strain which replaced it.

Geoffrey Langley also remembers the old Morris Major: 'It was launched with great hopes but was available only in grey and developed a habit of going suddenly, and without warning, into neutral or even reverse.' Mark Salisbury, on a similar tack, mentions its uncontrollable U- turns 'and the rubber band kept snapping'.

On a more informative note, (regular readers may skip to the next paragraph) J E Padfield tells us that Morris Motors in the early 1930s had a full range of Minor, Cowley, Major, Oxford and Isis (although the Minor was far different from the post-war version designed by Issigonis). The names were dropped in 1935, but Minor, Cowley and Oxford were reintroduced after the war.

Wilfred Bucknall poses a tax problem: 'Most goods and services (including pets) attract VAT at 17.5 per cent. Fresh food for cooking and consumption outside the seller's premises is, however, zero- rated. Can I get a VAT refund if I provide eye-witness evidence that I ate two of my goldfish on toast?'

He also asks: 'What have the Quarians done that they are opposed so bitterly by the Antiquarians? Diana Howard wants to know why bats hang while parrots perch. Why don't bats perch and parrots hang? And one of our Cockerills asks: 'Why don't crossword compilers save us all a lot of trouble by filling in the answers before printing the damn things?'

Answers and more problems, please, to: Silly Questions, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.