Archive for March 2011
Stephen Pile’s The Book of Heroic Failures (first published 1979) must be one of the greatest books ever written. Too many books have been written in praise of competence; this book provides an antidote by celebrating failure as only a British author can. Starting with a declaration that “Success is overrated”, it proceeds to chronicle, lovingly, miscellaneous tales from the ages. There is no description I can write that would be a substitute for quoting from the book at length:
THE LEAST SUCCESSFUL ANIMAL RESCUE
The firemen’s strike of 1978 made possible one of the great animal rescue attempts of all time. Valiantly, the British Army had taken over emergency firefighting and on 14 January they were called out by an elderly lady in South London to retrieve her cat which had become trapped up a tree. They arrived with impressive haste and soon discharged their duty. So grateful was the lady that she invited them all in for tea. Driving off later, with fond farewells completed, they ran over the cat and killed it.
THE LEAST ACCURATELY LABELLED MUSEUM EXHIBIT
A first-class example of inaccurate labelling was discovered in October 1971 in County Durham. The object was exhibited in a South Shields museum as a Roman sestertius coin, minted between AD 135 and AD 138. However, Miss Fiona Gordon, aged 9, pointed out that it was, in fact, a plastic token given away free by a soft drinks firm in exchange for bottle labels. The dating was, in her view, almost 2,000 years out.
When challenged to provide evidence, she said: ‘I knew because the firm’s trademark was printed on the back.’
A spokesman for the Roman Fort museum said: ‘The token was designed as a Roman replica. The trouble was that we construed the letter “R” on the coin to mean “Roma”. In fact it stood for “Robinsons”, the soft drink manufacturers.’
THE MOST POINTLESS RADIO INTERVIEW
One of Britain’s most popular radio programmes is ‘Desert Island Discs’ in which a celebrity is asked to imagine that, for unspecified reasons, he is trapped on a desert island with his eight favourite records.
In the early 1970s the programme’s presenter, Roy Plomley was keen to get the novelist Alistair Maclean on to his programme. As a writer of adventure stories, it was felt he might fit the role of a castaway and give a gripping broadcast.
This was soon arranged, despite Maclean’s known reluctance to give interviews.
Mr Plomley arranged to meet him for lunch at the Savile Club in London. They got on extremely well.
During lunch Mr Plomley asked, ‘Which part of the year do you put aside for your writing?’
‘Writing?’ said Maclean.
‘Yes – your books – Guns of Navarone.‘
‘I’m not Alistair Maclean, the writer.’
‘No. I’m in charge of the Ontario Tourist Bureau.’
With no alternative, the two set off for the studio. During the recording an increasingly agitated producer urged: ‘Ask him about his books.’ ‘He hasn’t written any,’ replied the broadcaster.
The programme was never broadcast.
I Missed His Book, But I Read His Name
“The Silver Pilgrimage,” by M. Anantanarayanan. . . . 160 pages.
Criterion. $3.95. —The Times
Though authors are a dreadful clan
To be avoided if you can,
I’d like to meet the Indian,
I picture him as short and tan.
We’d meet, perhaps, in Hindustan.
I’d say, with admirable élan,
“Ah, Anantanarayanan —
I’ve heard of you. The Times once ran
A notice on your novel, an
Unusual tale of God and Man.”
Would seat me on a lush divan
And read his name — that sumptuous span
Of ‘a’s and ‘n’s more lovely than
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan” —
Aloud to me all day. I plan
Henceforth to be an ardent fan
of Anantanarayanan —
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