What price the 'The'? An indefinite tale of the definite article


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The Independent Online

It was the week one man won his battle to prove that the definite article was definitely an article. This is what happened. Over in Australia, someone trading on eBay as “Sweatyman” listed a scrap of paper with the word “the” written on it for sale. The description read: “I am selling the word ‘The’. This versatile word can be used in literally thousands of sentences.” Fair enough.

Bizarrely, a bidding war ensued and the word “The” was about to fall under the digital hammer for 40,000 Australian dollars (about £22,000). Then, eBay pulled the plug, sending Sweatyman an email saying the company does “not allow the sale of intangible items”. All bids were off.

“I fought with them,” Sean Powderly (aka Sweatyman), 25, tells me from Sydney. “I said, ‘It’s tangible, I can hold it in my hand’.” Long story short, eBay allowed him to re-list the item as long as he did so as “a piece of paper with the word ‘The’ on it.”

Powderly, who is giving half of any proceeds to charity, says there is a point: “I think there is a message about value; what is something worth and why is it worth that? If I go to a bar and hand over a purple piece of paper, I get one beer, and if I hand over a blue one, I get two. It’s like money is this idea that everyone’s agreed on but art is abstract.”

At the time of going to press, “The” was worth £10,679.55. The sale ends tomorrow and Powderly says he welcomes bids from overseas and is prepared to ship.

Bore values

Yesterday, 400 people from all walks of life attended the fourth annual Boring Conference, “a one-day celebration of the mundane”, in London. With presentations ranging from “Domestic Ink Jet Printers c. 1999” to “German Film Titles”, it’s fair to say that  the conference lived up to its name. But what’s this? “How to Cook Elaborate Meals with the Equipment Found in Hotel Rooms”? Now that, whisper it only, sounds vaguely interesting.

Enter stand-up comedian George Egg. “A lot of the time I’m in hotel rooms late at night and, some years ago, I got the idea to see what I could cook using only the appliances found there. It was partly out of genuinely wanting something hot and not wanting to eat fast food or pay for room service, and partly out of a desire to be anarchic and mischievous.”

In Egg’s world dough is left to rise balanced on a Gideon Bible under ceiling spotlights, muffins are baked on an upturned iron, fresh pasta is cooked in a kettle, Parmesan is shaved with a razor (use only those with no lubricrating strip), ricotta is made out of UHT milk strained through a pillowcase and mini-bar wine bottles become rolling pins.

“If you want to know how to get a bottle of wine out of the fridge without the touch-sensitive pads alerting reception, you’ll have to come and see my show,” says Egg (see georgeegg.com for details).

Game over for Mozart?

In 2006 in Malmo, Sweden, a strange thing happened – a classical music concert got 17,000 mostly young people out of their seats and whooping with joy. “Every orchestra in Sweden said, ‘What the heck just happened?’,” says the organiser of that event, Orvar Saftrom. What happened is that the Malmo Symphony Orchestra had just performed a programme made up entirely of music from videogames. 

In July, Score is coming to the UK for the first time – performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra as part of Charles Hazelwood’s Orchestival (see orchestival.com). “We’re not trying to push Mozart out,” Saftrom says, “but we want to give gamers the chance to experience this music like a Mozart symphony. The centrepiece is two big Nintendo suites: Mario and The Legend of Zelda. We are not about renting a cheap orchestra and touring with projections and smoke machines. We take game music seriously.”

And are the players familiar with the music? “Generally, when you are as focused as a symphony orchestra musician, you don’t have time to play World of Warcraft,” he says.

Hip replacement

“Hipsters” – hate the word. Apologies for using it. Wikipedia describes them as a “contemporary international subculture primarily consisting of young people living in urban areas … broadly associated with indie music, a non-mainstream fashion sensibility, organic and artisinal foods” blah blah blah.

But none of that matters because, five years after the Popmatters’ web article “The death of the hipster”, a US chain has hammered in the final nail. “7-Eleven rolls out mustache straws and Mason jar mugs for Slurpee summer of fun,” says the PR. Cue icy response all round.

No rhyme or reason

Another in a regular series of limericks based on recent events:

They were squeaky clean teen pop perfection
The targets of young girls’ affection
But when you trade on your youth
The immutable truth
Is that time moves in just one direction

Twitter: @simmyrichman