Come on baby, light my fire - but not my roof

BUNHILL
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The Independent Online
Thatched roofs are a lot like wigs, which is why I'm so fond of them. They even share the danger of being ignited by a stray ember from a pipe.

That is why the Bunhill clan lives in a modern, late 18th-century abode. Having one fire trap scuttling about is sufficient. But the nice people at CGA Select, an insurance company, assure me my fears are exaggerated.

Apparently the fire danger is worst in houses with wood or coal fires, and short, unlined chimneys. Still, 50 of Britain's 50,000 thatched roofs (and the cottages beneath presumably) are lost to fire each year anyway.

This came from the firm's Richard Playle, who doubles as honorary vice- chairman of the National Association of Master Thatchers. Among other titbits he passed on are the following:

o The word "thatch" was brought to us by the Danes on one of their regular sun, sand and pillaging holidays sometime Before Christ.

o The craft almost died out in the 1920s, when thatch was replaced by corrugated iron, but is now making a comeback, with some companies, such as Fairclough Homes, building mini-villages of new thatched cottages.

There are three types of thatched roofs in England: Norfolk Reed, Devon Combed Wheat and Long Straw - the latter made from stems that have been crinkled like Smiths Crisps by having cattle walk over them.

But the best thatch, according to the thatchers (commoners), is made of hemp, which would last for a century, twice as long as Norfolk Reed (which is imported from Poland anyway). Unfortunately it is illegal. And dangerous. I understand the local hippies might set light to your house. Odd people those hippies. I wonder if Thatcher (Baroness) knows about them?

Another odd group of people are management consultants. Or so I thought until I read The Dilbert Principle, a book by Scott Adams that will be published in Britain next month. In it, Dilbert, a cartoon character and software engineer, explains the many advantages management consultants bring, "aside from their massive intellects".

o Consultants have credibility because they are not dumb enough to be regular employees at your company.

o Consultants eventually leave, which makes them excellent scapegoats for management blunders.

o Consultants can schedule time on your boss's calendar because they don't have your reputation as a whiny little troublemaker.

o Consultants work preposterously long hours, thus making the regular staff feel like worthless toads for only putting in 60 hours a week.

All of which are skills which I have or can easily acquire. No fool, I have decided to open my own consultancy - Bunhill KPGM Androidson Associates. So send me lots of money and I will make you feel like a toad. (We can skip the last bit if you want.)

Big bird and yarg

You may have noticed a recent flap in the papers about ostrich farming. A capital idea, I thought at the time as millions of cattle began the long trek to the incinerator; Giant chickens. But nowhere could I find this delicacy on a menu, let alone on the corner grocer's shelves.

Then I visited one of my favourite restaurants, Cafe Baroque near Covent Garden, where the elusive bird is served. "Strips of smoked ostrich and shavings of Cornish yarg on dandelion leaves," it said. Yarg, I discovered from the proprietor, Hilary Marsh, is a vegetarian cheese (which made me ponder what they put in my favourite Cheddar). Ostrich meat, I can happily report, tastes a bit like pastrami. I fear this may come too late to save the British farmer.

The purpose of that lunch was to meet Adrian Day and David Redhill, directors at Landor Associates Identity Consultants and Designers Worldwide. (A rather long name for a company that specialises in making up pithy names for other companies.) They were responsible for silly things like persuading Pepsi to paint a Concorde blue.

Picking names is not that easy. The good ones (and a lot of bad ones) have already been nabbed by other people. And some are not worth having, like Vauxhall's Nova, which means "won't go" in Spanish.

Mr Day put the problem into perspective for me. Each year there are 500,000 new names for products and companies registered around the world. That is enough to fill five dictionaries.

To help them out I'm asking you to think up brand names for everyday items, like toothpaste, cameras, soft drinks and toys. The best answers will be sent to Mr Redhill, who will use various consulting skills (see above) to find out whether any of them can be used.

The winner will get the usual bottle of Chateau Fizzwhirlthump (my entry).

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