Ms Lisbeth David of Cardiff has sent us a charming woollen thing saying: "It is some little time since I made one of these. the last I can specifically remember was in fact for a pilot in RAF colours in WWII, though I remember a Pembrokeshire fisherman who swore by his, as he did by most things." The object comprises a small black square of side about two inches, with the initials WH neatly embroidered on it (or possibly HM if we are holding it upside down). From the corners of the square two loops emerge about five inches in diameter.
"There is some play in the strings," says Ms David, adding: "There is no need, I am sure, to specify the location for which the article is intended."
If our diagnosis is correct, we are delighted to learn that the ancient art of Merkin-making still flourishes in Wales.
Stephen D Wells pronounced himself amazed to discover not only that he was not alone in his passion for making useless articles but that there was a word for them. He writes to tell us of his Sniffer-Mitts, composed of a pair of woollen gloves, two Jubilee clips and a small rectangle of chamois leather. The problem these address is that of wiping your nose in cold weather. "How many times," he asks, "have you not been able to feel your hankie through your gloves and tried desperately to tug at your trouser pocket lining thinking, vainly, that you were about to salvage some decorum by wiping away that dribble? Or worse still, how many times have you failed to feel that folded fiver you tucked into your pocket, and without knowing then dropped the item on the path as it snagged on your gloves as you took your hands out of your pockets? Or thinking you had a whole man-size tissue in your grasp went to mop that mucus with a chemist's receipt?"
Sniffer-Mitts solve the problem by attaching the chamois nose-wiping pads to the index fingers of your gloves with the jubilee clips. Washable and absorbent, they may be used and re-used for all emergency nose-wipes.
Mr Wells also has instructions for a Budgie-Done (a combined budgerigar feeder, watering device and entertainment console, made from an old tea- tray, a wooden framework, several 12 inch tubes, funnels and a bell and mirror at the end of a pole), a Pond-a-Loo (which tranforms your downstairs toilet into an ornamental pond), and a Christmas Re-Leaf "whereby lengths of green tinsel are suspended with clothes pegs from the balding branches of an ancient artificial Christmas tree."
Maguy Higgs intersperses her Chindogu with succinct pieces of advice such as: "To stop your donkey escaping from the garden, keep him in the house". More unuselessly, she has an excellent idea for cooking a boiled egg without fear of its cracking:
"Construct an egg-shaped mould from quick-drying clay or similar material, cut the top third from it neatly, break your egg into the lower part, re-attach the top third with waterproof Elastoplast and lower gently into the boiling water. After singing three verses of 'Onward Christian Soldiers', withdraw from water, strip off Elastoplast, remove top and eat egg. Do not eat the mould. It will serve again."
We said no prizes, but all three will soon receive 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions or its sequel 99 More Unuseless Japanese Inventions by Kenji Kawakami (HarperCollins pounds 7.99 each).