Everything changes, nothing changes. Where we once took obscure delight in scouring the classifieds in papers and magazines, now we have Craigslist, as revealing a glimpse into the American human mind as can be found outside the works of Freud.
Last week, one post in particular caught the eye: "Professional bridesmaid. Let me be there for you if you don't have any other girlfriends except your third cousin, twice removed; your fiancé has an extra groomsman and you're looking to even things out; [or] you need someone to take control and make sure bridesmaid #4 doesn't show up three hours late."
Is this for real? Enter Jen Glantz, a 26-year-old Floridian now living in Manhattan who happens to be the writer of a book called All My Friends Are Engaged. "I'm totally serious about it and look forward to using all that I've learnt as a bridesmaid so far (four times this year!). Plus, my dance moves get better and better, I will be front and centre when it comes to catching the bouquet and I am willing to hold up the 18 layers of your wedding dress so that you can pee with ease." And the fee for this service? "At this time, there's no set price," Glantz tells me. "This would be something the bride and I could chat about."
Any takers yet? Sadly not, and a poll at Independent Towers might point to why. "Too pretty," my female colleagues agreed.
Plaque for good?
It was a mixed week for the humble public bench. Where some were being turned into mini works of literary art as part of the Books About Town initiative, the one that the young leads in The Fault in Our Stars snogged on beside the canal in Amsterdam, went missing presumed stolen. But all of this seems insignificant in light of the removal of a dedication screwed to the back of a bench on north London's Primrose Hill.
"In memory of Roger Bucklesby," the brass plaque read, "who hated this park, and everyone in it". The man behind this act of vandalism/work of art is Jamie Maslin, who was in "a filthy mood" one morning a few years ago. "I'm a writer of the struggling variety," he remembers, "and as I sat there moaning I joked about a fitting bench plaque to encapsulate my disposition. In that moment Bucklesby was born."
How does Maslin feel now that news has reached him at home in Tasmania, that Bucklesby's bench is no more? "I was gutted, although not entirely surprised," he says. A spokesperson for the Royal Parks tells this column that it was a difficult decision. "Obviously we could see the humour, but there is a waiting list for dedications so it had to go."
Has Bucklesby gone for good? "I return briefly to the UK at the end of the month," Maslin reports. "Maybe I'll be lucky and a replacement will coincide with my visit."
Roll out the barrel
It has become increasingly fashionable for food and drink products – from craft beers to pickles, mustards, ciders, sauces and even ice cream – to be advertised as "barrel-aged". There's only one problem: barrel-makers, or coopers, are few and far between these days, with timber shortages and metal casks having devastated the trade.
An article in the current issue of Modern Farmer magazine highlighted the problem, and a call to the UK's only master cooper, Alastair Simms, confirmed the situation.
"Coopering is not a dying art, it's dead," Simms says, "which is a shame because I've learnt more about the possibilities of barrel-ageing in the past few years than I did in my first 30 as a cooper.
"As we've got more adventurous in our tastes we appreciate food more and are willing to be more experimental." Surely this is good for business? "Well," says Simms, "the trade in buying and selling secondhand barrels is booming. We've become a chuck-away society but coopering has always been about recycling."
It's doggy discrimination
There is, apparently, one area of modern life in which racism is still rife and now a term has been given to this phenomenon: black dog syndrome. It seems that while it has long been noticed that dogs in shelters with light-coloured coats tend to get selected first, the situation has become worse with the rise of online sites such as Petfinder, where would-be owners see photographs of prospective pets.
"Often, says Fred Levy – a photographer whose Black Dog Project gives tips on taking pictures of our dark-furry friends – "[black dog's] faces look less expressive, and their eyes get lost." Nothing to do with Churchill or Samuel Johnson, then.
No rhyme or reason
Another in a regular series of limericks based on recent events:
It might seem an irrelevant tweak
To work just four days of the week
But far better to try it
Than to 5:2 fast diet
If it's work and life balance you seek.