Recently an envelope arrived with "personal: official prize winner's notification" all over it. Inside, a letter announced: "We officially confirm that you have definitely won a tax-free Cash prize in our new pounds 250,000.00 cash match prize draw with Lucky Number: 554705."
Sadly, my faith in my own luck took a bit of a blow at this point. According to the letter, as well as "definitely" winning a prize, I'm also in imminent danger of "the very real risks in Life - from common everyday fractures...to paralysis, loss of eyesight, hearing, speech, arms, legs, hands - even fingers and toes."
One instinctively thinks: let others worry about that. I've already been shown to be lucky, haven't I, by "definitely" winning a prize in this particular draw? Not so, apparently. "Everyone is at risk, no matter how careful. Accidents do happen! Suppose you were the victim of a terrible road accident. You survived but lost the use of your legs. Wouldn't it at least ease the blow when you received a cash Lump Sum of pounds 100,000.00?"
Indeed it would. Which is why I'm so pleased that I've won a prize in this pounds 250,000.00 cash match draw.
Besides, if I don't do well in that, I'm already through "the first two rounds in our Double Your Money SuperDraw!", according to another fascinating letter that has just arrived. Apparently, I passed the first round just because someone else thought I might be interested in receiving a letter about it. Then I breezed through the second simply by having six "prize numbers" assigned to me. Now all I have to do is clear the third and final round, where I stand to win pounds 250,000 cash. All I have to do, apparently, is decide whether I want a lump sum or pounds 1,500 a month for life, and then send back a veritable rainforest-load of documents.
This one, I feel sure, is absolutely the real McCoy. After all, as it says itself, it comes from the publishers of Which? "the independent monthly magazine that protects your interests as a consumer"...
Fellow antiquarians will know how passionately keen I am on museums. Devotees of the Nat Hist, the Horniman, the Pitt-Rivers will have seen my stooped form wandering through the cobwebs like the spook in the Bodleian. Gloom, murk, glass boxes, curators, Latin names for everything, crocodiles of weeping schoolchildren - I love them all. And the more obscure the museum, the keener I am. Show me a Toy Museum, a Doll Museum, a Pharmacy Museum and I'm lost for the afternoon, absorbed by a) golliwogs, b) mob caps and c) leech jars. But even a fan such as I must draw the line somewhere. Which is why I greet with suspicion the news that there is now a Pretzel Museum in Philadelphia.
Yep, pretzels, that's them, those squashy bready things curled into figures of eight and sprinkled with rock salt. Very popular at American baseball matches and, I believe, in Scandinavia. A delightful addition to any culture, I'm sure. But have they quite the historical cred, the ballast of antiquity, to justify a museum to themselves? The Moving Image, sure. Mankind, I suppose so. But pretzels?
The museum offers a tour ($1.50) that explains the role of the pretzel in human society, human relations, engineering, language and I dare say the development of computers as well. They take it all very seriously (there's even a kind of pretzel Turin Shroud, an old prayerbook whose pages feature lots of twisty decorations running down the sides). And they deal briskly with anyone who thinks the things started life in Chicago in the Twenties.
The first pretzels, they explain, date back to 300 AD. I think they're being cautious: close examination of the tooth found at Boxgrove will, I'm sure, reveal minute prehistorical traces of salty dough lodged in a crevice...
A modern version of Humpty Dumpty - not the unstable wall-sitter, but the riddling figure who talks nonsense to Alice in Through the Looking- Glass - has appeared on the education scene, Professor Neil Armstrong by name. (I wondered what the former astronaut was doing banging on about school curriculums, but then these ex-rocket men turn up all over the place: Buzz Aldrin was on Frank Skinner's TV show the other day, and Jim Lovell has novelised the Apollo 13 movie.) Anyway, Prof Armstrong amazed the British Association recently with his pronouncements on competitive sport, as urged upon the nation's parents by the PM. Competitive sport, intoned the Prof, is bad for you. It makes you idle, lazy, sedentary and terminally unfit. It turns children into couch potatoes.
Whaaaat? I'd always thought learning to compete with your little peer- group turned you into a nasty, brawling, might-is-right closet fascist with a fondness for late tackles and nylon shorts.
No, no, explains the Prof. It's a sex thing, it's about girls. Being good at netball and hockey is all very well but it doesn't lead to a healthy regimen, because they'll never play the games again once they've left school and they'll spend the rest of their lives lying on an ottoman, masticating Bittermints. Teach girls solo sports like swimming and aerobics, on the other hand, and you'll have a nation of Aryan lovelies, who'll remain as healthy as sows for the rest of their days, breathing volumes of ozone and taking clifftop walks with the pointers.
The Professor seems to be backing a loser in several directions at once here: Betjemanist hockey fans will not welcome his disparagement of their fun, as they watch the salami-thighed Amazons disporting themselves at St Paul's Girls School; to suggest they're all going to wind up lying on sofas recycling carbohydrates will not endear him to the sisterhood; while compulsory aerobics is perhaps the least attractive idea for today's sulky teenager since Mr Luke Goss.
But tell us, Neil: how do you feel about competitive sport for boys? No joy. Competitive sport, says the Prof, does little more than "favour those who matured early and were stronger and taller". Bingo! Two thousand years of manly striving - the nobility of competition, the grace of conflict - down the drain. What a guy. (No wonder they wanted him for the moon landings.)
A touching scene in my local library this week. A man of uncertain domicile lurched up to the tables reserved for users of the reference section. As is customary, he reached in to his carrier bag and offered other readers a swig of refreshment. It being 10am, there were no takers, so he sat down.
Immediately to the right of the fragrant newcomer, a crusty gent poring over the Daily Express wrinkled his nose, picked up the paper and fanned the air vigorously. How rude, I thought, and yet how understandable. The man of the street, though, was not perturbed. Reaching into his carrier, he emerged with a can of deodorant, shook it vigorously, then sprayed it all over in the style seen in a thousand television commercials, but with one difference: he still had his clothes on.
Duty done, he carried on reading, while the damp patches all over his jumper slowly dried. His reading, by the way, was An Introduction to Philosophy. He could probably teach the authors a thing or two, at least about stoicism.Reuse content