Let's hear it for Rudyard, Aldous, Tin Tin

"Now, here's a question," said the man in the pub next to me, who looked as if his name was Brian. "Here's a question you don't hear asked very often...."

"Don't tell me you're going to ask us if we want a drink," said a tall, lugubrious man at the corner of the bar. Everyone laughed. The man who looked as if he might be Brian waited for it to die down.

"There now," he said kindly. "There now, you've had your little bit of pub humour and now we can get on with the conversation. Now, here's the question. If Mr John Major is so keen on having elections in Northern Ireland, where they don't want one, why is he so afraid to have one in the rest of Great Britain, where we all want one badly?"

"That's a good question," said a woman called Peggy, who was trying to make a pint of stout last all evening and failing badly. "What's the answer?"

"There isn't one," said the lugubrious man. "Just because people have a good question it doesn't mean they have a good answer. It doesn't mean there IS a good answer. Here's another good question. Why is it that the Irish, who have the reputation of being the best talkers in the world when it comes to conversation, seem to be the worst talkers in the world when it comes to talking to each other about sorting their future out?"

"That's a good question," said the woman called Peggy, who seemed very good at spotting good questions. "What's the answer?"

"Because they're very good talkers but very bad listeners," said the lugubrious man. "I know that's true because I heard an Irishwoman say so on the radio. Maeve Binchy. That's the difference between the English and the Irish, she said. The English think it's important to be a good listener. The Irish make no such mistake."

"What kind of a name is Maeve, for heaven's sake?" said a man called Ben who had been trying to catch the landlord's eye and had now given up. "I never heard of anyone else called Maeve. Is it a name from the bogs of Connemara or what?"

"Don't be so bloody conservative," said the lugubrious man. "I think it's great that more names are coming into the public domain. We've had too many Johns and Kenneths and Tonys and Harriets and Henrys. Do you know what was great about that last Welsh rugby team? It wasn't just picking a few young faces. It was picking people with names like Ieuan and Arwel! Till a month ago I didn't know there was a name Arwel."

"Maybe he is the only bloke in the world called Arwel," said Ben, winking ineffectually at the landlord. "Maybe his parents made it up. Maybe it isn't Welsh at all. Maybe Mr and Mrs Binchy made up Maeve to give their daughter a unique name. Maybe...."

"You don't get names restricted to one person," said the man probably called Brian. "Give me an example of a unique name."

"Rudyard Kipling," said Ben promptly. "Can't think of another Rudyard. Aldous Huxley. How many Aldouses do you meet? Then there's Somerset Maugham. Presiley Baxendale. Salman Rushdie...."

"OK, OK, OK," said Brian. "You're right. It's true. I hadn't thought. There are lots of people with unique first names. Silly unique names. But unique."

"Presiley Lamorna Baxendale," said the landlord suddenly, from out of nowhere.


"I was just looking up how to spell Presiley," said the landlord, waving one of the volumes he keeps at the back of the bar to settle arguments, "and it turns out her middle name is Lamorna. That's someone with TWO unique first names." "Two bloody silly unique names," said Brian softly.

"Here's a question," said the lugubrious man. "Why are there two characters in fiction called Tin Tin? One created by Herge, one in the Thunderbirds saga?"

"Why is there a Thunderbird character called Brains?" said a voice.

"Why have they revived the Brains Trust and why is it called that?"

"And why do they have to have that man Edward de Bono on it?" said Ben

"Nil nisi de bono..." said someone softly.

"What does that mean?"

"Say no good about Edward de Bono," said Ben.

It was at this point that I finally caught the landlord's eye myself and stopped taking notes.