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The Independent Online
I WAS listening to Radio 3 on Monday, and there was this thing about a giant carrot . . .

On Radio 3?

Yes.

Good Lord. One of Alkan's pieces, was it?

Who is Alkan?

French composer. They played a composition of his on Radio 3 the other day. It was called 'Requiem for a Dead Parrot'.

Not dead carrot?

No.

Dead parrot? You mean as in Monty Python?

Yes.

When did Alkan live?

A hundred years ago.

So he thought of it before Monty Python did?

Absolutely.

And then wrote a piece on a giant carrot?

No. Though Erik Satie did write a piece in the shape of a pear.

Was he French, too?

Absolutely. Well, his mother was Scottish. His second name was Leslie.

My God. Leslie Satie. Can you imagine . . . ?

Exactly. So, who wrote this piece about the carrot?

It wasn't a bit of music. It was a news item. On Radio 3. They said that Bernard Lavery, a nurseryman in Lincolnshire, had grown a carrot weighing about 110lb. It was 20in in circumference. It would be interesting to speculate what they would do with such a large carrot.

Send it to Esther Rantzen.

Who is Esther Rantzen?

A woman on television who makes jokes about vegetables with suggestive shapes.

How unkind. Can nothing be done about it?

I believe they have set up a telephone service called Vegline, which distressed vegetables can ring for assistance.

But if this carrot is not suggestively shaped, merely huge, what would they do with it then?

Send it to America.

Why?

The kind of huge horticultural produce the British only enter for competitions is actually eaten in America.

But you can't take a carrot of that size to table] You'd have to cut it up] Wouldn't you?

Yes, I suppose so.

So the Americans sitting at table wouldn't know it had once been a 20in carrot.

Well, no. But there are other things you can do with food besides eat it, even in America.

Like what?

Say no to it. Americans are always saying no to food. It's called dieting.

Not even the Americans would say 'no, thanks' or 'have a nice day' to a carrot.

Well, they might drop it on someone who hadn't got enough to eat. The Americans love doing that. They take it up in a plane, then fly it over someone who is starving and drop it.

I think if I saw a carrot coming down dangling from a parachute, I wouldn't say, 'Ah, lunch]', I'd say, 'Run for your lives] Here comes a rocket 20in across]'

Not across. Twenty inches round. Circumference, not diameter. Circum is Latin for 'round' and dia is Greek for 'through'. Advantages of a classical education.

What's 'ference' Latin for?

I'm sorry?

As in 'circumference'.

Ah. Well, it sort of means, going or bearing or generally putting.

Sure it doesn't mean getting out a measuring tape?

No. The Romans didn't have measuring tapes.

So 'circumference' means 'sort of going or bearing or generally putting round'.

Yes.

I see. While we are exploring the wonderful world of your classical education, why is the word for going straight through the middle Greek in origin, whereas the word for going round is Latin?

I have no idea.

If Debussy's mother had been Scottish, would we have a famous composer called Angus Debussy?

I have no idea.

If Radio 3 news has items about big carrots now, what in God's name are they going to put on this 24-hour rolling news station they're dreaming up, when they're really going to be short of news?

I have no idea.

It's been a pleasure talking to you.

Not at all.

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