Sunday, 30 December 2007


Two thousand dead, nine thousand injured: the biggest man-made pre-nuclear explosion occurred ninety years ago this month, when a munitions ship blew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Elegant slumming

Peter O'Toole and Ronald Fraser re-interpret the Spice Girls:

Hiss, crackle

Among the 38 voices in The Poetry Archive's historic recordings are some we're not used to hearing, such as Rudyard Kipling, Hilaire Belloc, W B Yeats, Edith Sitwell, Walter de la Mare and - the real jewels in the crown - Alfred Lord Tennyson (recorded in 1890) and Robert Browning (1889).

Lost anything?

An unexplained object is washed up in the Western Isles.

Update: it's a beer fermentation tank. Funny thing is, no-one's reported it missing - so now's your chance...

250,000 ex-teachers

Natalie Haynes was glad to escape.


Far too soon, the Telegraph obituary of the man who re-invented the concept, Hugh Massingberd.

Hugo Vickers and James Fergusson have more to say in The Independent.

Been dipping into his memoirs (reviewed by Paxo here) with much pleasure.

Arise, Sir Christopher (stake permitting)

An online petition requests a knighthood for Christopher Lee.

End of the Mustard

Oxford's tap-dancing busker dies at 97.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Merry Christmas To You All

Place yourselves in the capable hands of Messrs Grayson and Cholmondeley-Warner:

Tidings of joy

Since most visitors to a blog don't bother to view the blogger's profile, and few have any reason to view it more than once, it's encouraging to find my own profile has already been viewed 269 times.

Only seventy people have been told this blog exists, so it's clear Webside Gleanings has found a hefty audience beyond my own circle.

Thank you, folks. Hope you continue to find something here to amuse or interest you.

[prepares to sing wacky modern version of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas', but is coshed into unconsciousness]

Dissing the patient

Doctor slang - chiefly irreverent abbreviations - is dying out.

SF from HG

Finally read The Time Machine the other day. After 112 years, it still works well:
I seemed to see a ghostly, indistinct figure sitting in a whirling mass of black and brass for a moment - a figure so transparent that the bench behind with its sheets of drawings was absolutely distinct; but this phantasm vanished as I rubbed my eyes. The Time Machine had gone.

Working life in Britain

A helpful graphic:

Try again, chaps

The Library of Congress downgrades Scottish literature.

Update: they saw sense.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Yuletide spleen

A full and frank round-robin from Roger Lewis.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Half A Hundred

Fifty years ago today, I was born. (A day or two earlier, justifiably disinclined to share the universe with me, Dorothy L Sayers suddenly died.)

Not sure why, but Satchmo feels appropriate:

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Such Darling Dodos

A compilation of Parky's encounters with Dame Edith Evans and Commissioner Catherine Bramwell-Booth. Truly, they don't make 'em like that anymore…

The Look

Not generally a fan of baby videos, but this character could disarm Herod:

Getting rid of a hangover

Seasonal tips.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Effing Forest

A young Polish plumber responds to last week's Question Time (which featured Hazel Blears, Piers Morgan and Kirsty Allsopp).

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Well suited

Aldous Huxley's remarkable widow survived him by 44 years, dying last week at the age of 96.

Website profile / Independent obituary

Long may she reign

A small salute to Gwyneth Dunwoody, who this month overtook the late Barbara Castle to become Labour's longest-serving female MP.

The man who retired at 100

Hryhoriy Nestor, thought to have been the world's oldest person, dies at 116. "He didn't find himself a mate because he was a short man and never had money." Ah.


Actor and ex-Senator Fred Thompson, a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination, takes part in a debate with his rivals - and some unsporting little rascal edits together all his hesitations. Oddly hypnotic:

Still with us

Ninetieth-birthday reflections from Arthur C Clarke (9 minutes):

Friday, 14 December 2007

Genius, fraud or both?

John Cornwell (in 2005) visits the offbeat Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester and mulls over Little Wilson's career and reputation.

Give us a twirl

Lib Dem acting leader Vincent Cable dancing with Alesha Dixon:

Dances I'd like to see him do:

tango; black bottom; limbo; hokey-cokey; medieval dance of death; L'Apres-midi d’un Faune.

Come on, Vince, you don't want us to think you're an amateur, do you?

Dance I wouldn't like to see him do:

seven veils (except with a very early blackout).

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

My kinda guy

Murder victim Allan Chappelow was an 86-year-old Cambridge-educated millionaire recluse who made his infrequent trips to the shops by motorbike, wearing a leather helmet and an old RAF mac tied with string. In 1950 he took the last photos of Bernard Shaw, about whom he later wrote Shaw the Chucker-Out: a Biographical Exposition and Critique and Shaw the Villager and Human Being. The despair of Camden Council’s planning department, he mended his roof of his mansion with Selotape and plastic bags. He sounds a treasure; my sympathy to those who mourned him. More here and here.


Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley grin merrily at the opening of Ireland's first Ikea.

Portents of doom

Massive rent hikes for traders in Oxford's Covered Market are proposed - and so is a daunting rise in the cost of a Scottish pub licence.

Could Gordon be jailed for unveiling a statue?

"Making a crap law does not exempt you from its provisions" - Mark Thomas seeks to enmesh the PM in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.


The marvellous Smirnoff ad in which the sea gives up the treasure and wreckage of centuries:

Bad news

The one and only Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's:

We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism… Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there's time for at least a few more books yet :o)
Sir, imagine this blog as sending you a sort of Mexican wave of goodwill.

Bones of a Bonaparte

France wants us to give Napoleon III back.

Trashing Kant

If philosophers were treated like US political candidates:

Monday, 10 December 2007

All who sail in her

A six-thousand-volume library, an 830-seat theatre with West End-style boxes, and a whole room devoted to the life of Queen Victoria. Sounds like the ideal home for me, but in fact it's Cunard's latest liner.

Stjoodents carnt rite

So attests the Royal Literary Fund. (The Fund's own summary of its report is here.)

Mind the gateau

Q: What can you do on a Tube journey, other than plug in your iPod or whatever, browse the discarded newspapers and hope the bloke opposite isn't going to stab you?

A: You can give a dinner party.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Can't-do culture

Reasons to be tearful at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

Apart from the earthquake

What holidaymakers liked least.

Easy in our beds?

The US claims the right to kidnap British citizens.

One's Husband and One

Andrew Pierce and Vicus Scurra on sixty years of a royal marriage.

Constructive criticism

A wee gem from the appraisal culture.

Mysterious ceramic heads

They're popping up everywhere.

(Is Eva McIntyre to blame?)

How do you do?

The best reply, thought Douglas Woodruff, is the classical Chinese one:
"I am trying to diminish the number of my failings, but I have not so far been successful."

K is for KATE who was struck with an axe

It's a brevis old vita for The Gashlycrumb Tinies.

The first science fiction film

…was A Trip to the Moon, directed by George Méliès in 1902. Whimsical and at first slow-moving, it is, I think, much enhanced by the electronic music of Justin Herndon. It's presented here in two parts of six minutes each:


Mick Hall deplores the dwindling numbers of working-class MPs.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Floreat Swinesend

Re-live all that time-honoured, character-building, picturesque starvation and torture at The Crap Public Schools Association.

Divas, icons & Gracie

The scene in Little Voice where the incomparable Jane Horrocks channels Shirley Bassey, Marilyn, Marlene, Gracie Fields and Garland, while Brenda Blethyn, Jim Broadbent and Michael Caine look on in amazement:


Wouldn't normally link to a Simon Heffer anecdote, but this Harriet Harman vignette is diverting.

How to argue

Learn from a master.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

All about Italy

This animation (5 mins) amused me.

Unsuitable role model

Eartha Kitt wants to be evil:

Was Blake barmy?

Arguably it's irrelevant.

Cyber sickoes

How do visitors find your site? Often it's via a search engine. And proper grown-up bloggers and webmasters seem to have a way of finding out exactly which search requests lured their punters in.

Do you envy them, or would you rather not know? Make up your mind at Disturbing Search Requests.

No sooner had I linked to this site than it disappeared. There's an archived version here which should give you an idea of it, though I note this ominous message from the webmaster threatening to shut down the site "about four months from now" unless traffic improves, which could easily have been written in July. Don't tell me I'm the last person ever to link to it…

And I should have mentioned that Betty and Geoff have their own personal version, Search Me.

Shervish of Thankshgiving

Charles Moore's memorial address for Bill Deedes, always an appealing subject.

Love Put Me Out Of My Head

A star at thirteen, dead at twenty-five, Frankie Lymon possessed a fine voice and barrels of impudent charm, exemplified in his close-ups here:

Monday, 26 November 2007

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Good news indeed

Heartfelt congratulations to Peter of Naked Blog on learning this week that he doesn't have colorectal cancer.

Peter is one of the blogosphere's grizzled veterans, repeatedly shortlisted for a lifetime achievement award.

For more than ten years he's been writing an online journal in reverse chronological order, mixing details of his day-to-day life with reminiscence, opinion and humour.

In other words, he was blogging before blogging was invented.

He goes back even further than John Bailey of Journal of a Writing Man, which started in 1998.

Gawd bless yer, Yer Royal Peter-ness!

Top-hole plonk

How World War One changed the language.

men who look like old lesbians

They've come for you.


And they have the same problem with their template that I have with mine: the "Older Posts" link doesn't do its job correctly. Use the month-by-month links on the sidebar if you don't want to miss anything.

Lindsay Anderson's last splutter

He made This Sporting Life, If…, O Lucky Man!, Britannia Hospital, The Whales of August, and finally, in 1993, this curious self-portrait, Is That All There Is?. It's presented here in six instalments of about nine minutes each (apart from the sixth, a mere six minutes):

If Anderson himself leaves you cold, you may still be interested in the final part, which shows a gathering on a Thames riverboat, scattering the ashes of Jill Bennett and Rachel Roberts.

Our Man in Tashkent

Craig Murray is the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan whose preoccupation with human rights proved inconvenient to the War on Terror, and who was duly hung out to dry by the Foreign Office.

His blog is often a vigorous corrective to the official line. Of recent postings, I particularly liked this take on Britain's alleged "2000 potential terrorists".

Whatever happened to Zsa Zsa Gabor?

Sunday, 18 November 2007

The Perplexing Eclipse of Sir Granville Bantock

No, not sure I've heard any of his music either.

Best and worst Eighties videos

A contest Andrew Sullivan's running this week.

There are three categories, with ten candidates apiece. You can vote for the best pop video of the decade, and for the worst, and also - a fine twist - for the best/worst.

"You get to vote for one in each category, but you can vote an indefinite number of times. We've provided links for every video up for voting."

So go for it, my pretties. Re-live those glorious heady years when the whole universe seemed composed of cheese - but what fabulous cheese!

Thora Hird's History of Britain

Serious revisionism:

How to get an honorary degree

An unorthodox approach.