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28 February 2015

See the Pyramids across the Thames

The British Museum is pleased to announce that this summer visitors will be able to view one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World as it plays host to the Great Pyramid of Giza. This is the first time that Egyptian authorities have loaned out any of its pyramids, although Disneyland Paris did borrow the Sphinx for six months back in 1998.

Members of the public will be able to explore many of the hidden chambers for themselves and museum guides will be on hand to explain how the pyramid was constructed, provide details about some of the extraordinary treasures found within and help visitors avoid the fiendish death traps that were built into the structure. There will also be plenty to occupy the children, with interactive displays, costumed re-enactments and a big slide from the top.



27 February 2015

Out and About

Looking for somewhere different to take the family? Finding interesting and educational places to entertain the kids is never easy, but here are five attractions that might offer you a little variety on a wet and windy afternoon.


1. The Totnes Museum of Unidentifiable Smells

The Totnes Museum of Unidentifiable Smells

Founded in 1897 by the explorer and small game hunter Josiah Phelps upon his return from Penzance, the Totnes Museum of Unidentifiable Smells contains an unrivalled collection of mysterious whiffs, guffs and assorted odours. Each specimen, sealed in its own glass jar, has defied all efforts at identification and displays are organised according to the Roquefort Scale of Intolerable Pungency.

The museum boasts a huge collection, spanning more than a hundred years and includes many famous pongs, such as the slightly sweet odour that famously settled over Lincolnshire for three weeks in 1962 and several samples of the damp and rancid miasma that traditionally haunts Maidstone every Ash Wednesday. Smells can also be purchased at the museum gift shop and these make excellent presents for people you may be moderately fond of.


2. The Lincolnshire Crater


Nobody knows what caused this mysterious depression just outside Kings Lynn. With a depth of approximately twenty feet and a diameter just over twice that distance, its origins have been hotly debated since it was first discovered way back in 2002.

Was it, as some people suggest, caused by a meteorite impact? Is it the tantalising evidence of some kind of extra-terrestrial visitation? Or was it dug out by the landowner using a JCB so that he could charge credulous tourists £12.50 apiece to come and see it. Whatever the explanation, the opportunity to stand up to your ankles in mud in the middle of a dirty great hole is not one to be missed.


3. The International Toast Museum, Stoke-on-Trent


An ambitious project set up by retired baker and toast enthusiast Ken Achtung in 1982, to collect and catalogue the many varied forms of toasted bread products from around the world. The initial idea was to create a fully interactive experience in which visitors could touch, smell and even taste the exhibits while experiencing a professionally produced audio-visual presentation.

The reality has fallen short of this in a number of ways - the museum currently possesses just five pieces of toast, only three of which are on display. These are kept behind glass, out of the reach of visitors, and the 'presentation' consists of a man called Billy who occasionally points at them with a stick.

The museum has been voted Stoke's best attraction for the last fifteen years running.


4. EF Dinglebury's


Do you like spoons? Then get yourself down to EF Dinglebury's in Sheffield. Dinglebury's has been Europe's leading manufacturer of spoons for the last eighty years and at their recently opened visitors' centre you can witness the mass-production of spoons first hand, in the company of a teenager on work experience dressed as Spoony, the firm's giant spoon-shaped mascot.

It's just spoons, mind. They don't bother with forks or any of that modern nonsense. At the end of the tour you'll probably want to buy a commemoration spoon of your own. Too bad - Dinglebury's ship straight to wholesalers and don't deal direct with the general public.


5. The Museum of the Future


Some of the country's most popular attractions are sites of great historical significance, such as battlefields, stately houses and local landmarks. So perhaps it is not surprising that Barnsley's Museum of the Future should adopt this principal as a marketing strategy. The difference is that the Museum of the Future is housed in a semi-detatched bungalow built in 1998 and the only historical incident it has seen was a minor prang between Ford Transit and a Citroen Saxo in which the latter vehicle lost a tail light. And even then, historians fail to agree on the exact details - as indeed did the respective insurance companies.

Nevertheless, the museum claims that the site will become important in the future, its proximity to local transport links and excellent parking leading to it being chosen to be the location for the 200th Olympic Games, the venue for the first historic encounter with visitors from another galaxy and the embarkation point for the first express elevator to take commuters through the core of the planet.

26 February 2015

It's a Gas

Top scientist chaps have discovered that sound is not a wave as previously thought, but a gas. "The clues were there all along," says chief boffin Professor Henry Windsock. "We know from experiments carried out by NASA that in space no one can hear you scream. No atmosphere, no gas, no sound. Bloody obvious when you think about it."

Professor Windsock first detected the gas in his bathroom after one particularly noisy evening last March. Further traces were subsequently discovered in samples taken from behind his fridge, under the sink and from a conspicuously loud patch at the bottom of his garden. Windsock has now officially named the gas 'auditron' after his initial suggestion of 'thunderpunchium' was rejected by the scientific community for being too stupid.

"Arseholes," Professor Windsock told us. "You see the kind of people I have to work with. They have no vision. Pah!"

According to Windsock, it is the presence of auditron that accounts for all types of sound. For example, when a gun is fired, auditron produced by the exploding gunpowder creates the 'bang'.

"It is also a biological process," Professor Windsock explained. "The gas is produced in the lungs of most living creatures, enabling them to make all manner of squeaks and snarls and whatnot - something that I demonstrated at a lecture I gave at the Royal Society. I took a dog - one of those small, yappy kinds. I placed it into a vacuum chamber and gradually removed the air. Without the presence of auditron the animal very quickly ceased to make a noise. In fact, it ceased to do anything very much at all, but this is really an unfortunate coincidence and however much I sympathise with my next door neighbour, I really wish to silly woman would stop trying to hold me responsible for what happened to her Yorkshire terrier."

12 February 2015

Another Letter from Mrs Womble

Once again we have received a letter from a Mrs Edna Womble of Hartlepool. Mrs Womble writes:

Dear Greggs,

I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms about a pasty which I purchased from one of your outlets last week. Hello, how are you? I am fine. Anyway, I was shopping in town the other day with my nephew who needed new sparkplugs for his trombone. My nephew is a young gentleman of substantial construction and as such it is necessary for him to maintain a constant intake of chips, pies, cakes and other assorted foodstuffs in order to prevent him keeling over in the street and becoming an obstruction to traffic.

Your establishment was therefore the fourth we had visited that morning on the way to Ken's All-Weather Trumpet Emporium (incorporating The Trombone Connection and Basement Bassoons). By this time my nephew was badly in need of a steak and onion pasty, having already devoured the bag of doughnuts I had bought for him several minutes earlier. Indeed, it was remarked upon by a passer-by that he was visibly wasting away to the point where he was verging on the translucent and the sight of his internal organs showing through his fatty deposits was attracting exactly the wrong sort of attention.

I had always understood that workers in the food industry were trained to immediately identify pastry emergencies and act quickly to tackle the deficiency. In the circumstances I would have expected to have been instantly escorted to the front of the queue where your staff would have immediately begun to shovel calories down his neck. In fact, I would have thought it prudent for an establishment of your standing to have some sort of recovery room where desperate customers can be speedily nourished via some sort of chute or high-pressure hose.

Not so. Oh no. No, we had to wait for almost two minutes - yes, that's right, TWO MINUTES - while various non-priority cases were served ahead of us, apparently by reason of the fact that they were 'in front of us in the queue'. A thin excuse, indeed.

All the time this was going on, the evident distress that my nephew was experiencing was ignored, even though his dreadful pallor, constant whining and fearsome flatulence provided both an unmistakable indicator of the severity of his condition and a sustained attack on the senses and sensibilities of your other customers.

By the time we ultimately reached the counter my poor nephew was fading fast, and it was only thanks to the good fortune of finding half a pork pie and a finger of Fudge in his back pocket that he made it there at all. However, the shock that he received when he learned that you had run out of steak and onion pasties was very nearly the end of him. I mean, come on people! If you can't even supply the basics, then you need to seriously think about whether you really want to be in this business at all. Instead, he was offered a chicken product, which was hardly an acceptable substitute. In fact, I don't think that chicken is even technically classed as 'meat'.

Nevertheless, we accepted the replacement pasty with as much good grace as we felt it warranted and proceeded to ponce out of the shop. Thus it was that I suffered the ultimate indignity as payment was demanded of me by the greasy, cross-eyed harridan whom you entrust with the safekeeping of your baked goods. I'm sure I hardly need tell you the legal position with regard to such circumstances, but clearly your shop manager - which was how the stroppy cow identified herself - had not been made aware that the law requires that in these cases the goods should be supplied for free. I had no hesitation in correcting her misconception in this matter, at the top of my voice, in front of a shop full of your customers. I may have also called her a 'bobble-eyed twat' although I admit that on this point my memory is not entirely clear. I then left the shop, with the pasty which was rightfully mine, returning only briefly to collect my nephew who was at this point drooling at a cream horn.

You should be aware that my sister-in-law worked in a tobacconist's for three weeks in 1977 and as such she has a detailed and extensive knowledge of all aspects of retail law. Brenda (my sister-in-law) says that by rights you should be offering me free pasties for the rest of year. I feel that this is the very least that I can expect by way of compensation, considering the worry and distress that this shameful situation has caused. I hope you will consider my case sympathetically and I trust that you will do the right thing. Thank you.


Thank you for your letter Mrs Womble. While we sympathise with your predicament, we feel that you may perhaps be confusing us with someone else. We have therefore passed your complaint on to the relevant party.

10 February 2015

Top Scientists predict the world will run out of apostrophes by 2017

In an address at this year's World Language Symposium in Dortmund, leading punctuation expert Professor Connie Brackets announced the worrying news that the world's supply of apostrophes would be entirely used up in just two years, unless serious efforts were made to conserve dwindling supplies.

Like most punctuation, apostrophes are formed by intense geological pressures acting upon sedimentary layers laid down millions of years ago. Over 80% of the apostrophes in circulation today, along with half of the planet's ampersands, are supplied by deep pit mines in South Africa. Despite being confined to such a small geographical area, deposits are plentiful and a shortage has never been anticipated. Until now.

Following a ten-year research programme, Professor Brackets and her team have discovered that apostrophes are being employed at a far greater rate than previously thought, partially because of the popular craze for unnecessarily inserting them into plural's. There is no shortage of enthusiastic proponents of this purely decorative approach to apostrophe use but, says the Professor, it means that stockpiles are dwindling.

"The real problem," the Professor told us, "is that the general public don't really appreciate that punctuation supplies are finite. There's only so much to go round and once it's gone, it's gone. In the last hundred years we have already lost over sixty forms of punctuation. Once common marks such as the asterflange, the pockmark and the semi-trump are sadly now extinct and many more are in danger of going the same way."

Some experts are putting their faith in recycling as a way of meeting the demand, but extracting text from waste books, pamphlets and magazines is a tricky business. Documents have to be boiled, reduced to a pulp and then spun in a centrifuge to remove excess vowels. The characters are then dried and sorted by hand, but punctuation is notoriously fragile and many of the apostrophes emerge from the process all bent and crooked, and are ultimately unusable.

Another suggestion is extraction from seawater. This technique was successfully pioneered in the late eighties to liberate the @ symbol from solution, without which the internet revolution could not have happened. But the process is expensive and apostrophes manufactured by this method are notoriously unstable and smell of tapioca.

A more palatable solution would be to split speech marks (" = ' + '). There is a practically limitless supply of double quote marks which, when bombarded with high-energy hyphens, will produce two stable and relatively odourless apostrophes. The problem at present is that hyphens are themselves quite rare and until scientists can figure out a way of making it work with semi-colons the process remains unviable, consuming more punctuation than it actually produces.

In the meantime, Professor Brackets insists that we need to impose strict limits on apostrophe use. She has suggested a figure of ten apostrophes per five hundred words. Rationing punctuation might seem a little harsh, but the Professor insists that it is the only option - even if it does mean that an article like this wouldve used up its quota before reaching the final sentence.

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Large Organ

The Guinness Book of Records has confirmed that Mr Harold Pogley of Warminster has the largest organ in the UK, exceeding the previous record by four inches.

"It is quite a whopper," he admits. "I used to play with it quite a lot when I was younger. I never thought that there was anything special about it at the time, but when my girlfriend saw it recently she was quite taken aback. She told me that it could be a record breaker."

Mr Pogley was initially very uncomfortable with the interest in his massive organ.

"At first I found it extremely embarrassing when total strangers came knocking on my door, asking to see my organ," he told us. "But I soon adjusted to my new found fame. Nowadays I'm not the least bit self-conscious when I present it in public. I'm often called upon to display it at our local junior school where I invite the children to touch it."

Readers will have a chance to see and hear Mr Pogley's extraordinary organ for themselves when he begins a national concert tour next month. He has promised that it will be a treat for all fans of organ music, and he plans to play many old favourites.

"I also have a big cock," says Mr Pogley.


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All material Copyright © Paul Farnsworth 2000-2014, and may not be reproduced without the express permission of the author. All characters, companies and organisations are fictitious, and any similarity to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.