Friday, September 11, 2009

"Every dog hath his day" (English proverb)

Widespread confusion identifying world's oldest pooch

Editors of two of Britain's national newspapers must have very short memories. Five weeks ago the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph splashed a story about a lovable "terrier-mix" dog named Max celebrating his 26th birthday in New Iberia, Louisiana, USA.

"World's Oldest Dog Turns 26," London's Daily Telegraph reported in huge headlines on August 10. But by September 11, having conveniently forgotten about Max, it gleefully ran a story about a 20-year-old pooch in Shropshire, with the headline Dachshund from Shrewsbury 'may be world's oldest dog'.

The rival Daily Mail also ran two conflicting stories: Max the terrier becomes 'world's oldest dog' as he celebrates 26th birthday was the headline on August 11 (click to see some great photos)

By September 11 the Mail too had dismissed Max, boldly (and wrongly) claiming that Otto the 147-year-old British Dachshund is the world's oldest dog. (The147 years was based on the mistaken belief that each year in a dog's life equals seven human years, and that Otto is now 21).

The story about Otto was originally posted in his hometown newspaper, the Shropshire Star,
on September 9 under the modest heading Could elderly Otto hold world record?

The two national sheets apparently made no attempt to check the facts, but pumped hot air into the story and told their myriad readers that the comparatively young Otto was indeed a world champ.

In America, the global news organization United Press International (UPI) based in Washington DC (motto: One hundred years of journaalistic excellence) compounded the error by picking up the Daily Mail's Shrewsbury story and posting it in its "Odd News" section, (second item) without checking the facts.

Media around the world (hundreds of them) blithely copied the UPI story without checking its accuracy. A typical example was the Karachi, Pakistan newspaper and online website The Nation,

Back in the Unites States, Danny Tyree wrote in the Marshall County Tribune, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania: "While folks argue whether Chanel (a 21-year-old dachshund who passed away in August) was really the world's oldest dog, a famous cartoon pooch will turn 40 on Sept. 13.

"Yes, Scooby-Doo and his Mystery Inc. chums (Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy) are celebrating their 40th anniversary and still going strong in the 'solving supernatural crimes' biz."

Steve Fritz has written an entertaining, nostalgic story in Newsarama about the cartoon canine, "the true top dog of animation, a crime-solving man’s-best-friend whose fumbling and meddling has debunked ghost chasers, would-be werewolves and wannabe-witches since he took his first bow on the small screen back on Sept. 13, 1969. Generations of fans know this Great Dane of Saturday morning memories as Scooby Doo."

Scooby-Doo is undoubtedly The World's Best-Known Dog. But for real-life pooches, our money goes on Max as the World's Oldest Dog. He's the max!

* You can see a video of Max and his owner HERE:


Monday, August 31, 2009

New York's Elvira Oliver (99) World's Oldest Blogger

Brooklyn-born great-grandmother is a proud Italian American

Elvira S. Oliver, aged 99, who grew up in New York's Brooklyn, has burst into the cybersphere as probably the oldest of the world's 100 million bloggers.

She is more than two years older than the previous oldest blogger, Randall Butisingh, a poet and philosopher living in Florida, who was born in British Guiana (now Guyana) 96 years ago.

Elvira's new blog will wow the millions of Americans (and Australians) proud of having an Italian ancestor.

She claims that 40 years ago she wrote a heartwarming story, "The Joys of Growing Up Italian" that has since been "stolen," and posted on hundreds of websites without permission or even a byline.

"When my son Floyd who lives in San Diego, California visited me recently to celebrate my birthday, he convinced me to become a blogger...and that I now would be the oldest blogger on Earth," she wrote a few days ago.

" He came to this conclusion after scrolling through the Internet and read that the two oldest bloggers, at the age of 109, had recently passed away....Olive Riley on July 12 [2008] in Australia; and Ruth Hamilton on January 18 in Florida."

Elvira (Italians pronounce the name El-VEE--ra) was born in Brooklyn in 1910 to Italian immigrants, and says she grew up so Italian in all her ways that she didn't realize until becoming a teenager that she was an American.

Here's what occurred later, as related on her website The Oldest Blogger on Earth:

"Many years slowly passed by, and after my beloved parents left this Earth for greener pastures, it became the custom for my family to gather at my house for special occasions. They came from Long Island: Centereach, Baldwin, and West Hempstead; from Brooklyn, N.Y.; from Sherburne, N.Y.; from Alexandria, VA. and even Burlington, VT.

"All participated in the festivities, enjoyed the comraderie, and filled their bellies with real Italian food with all the trimmings. Then after three or four days, and sometimes a week, all departed.

"One day in 1968, after a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration...and coming home from a rather hectic and busy day at the office, I entered an empty house. Alone and feeling somewhat nostalgic for the good old times, I sat down at my kitchen table, and on an old manual typewriter typed 'The Joys of Growing-up Italian', jottting down random thoughts, regardlessof gender or tense (past, present or future).

"Then after only a few friends and family members received a copy, I just placed it in a drawer and forgot about it. I did not come across it again until the Year 1976, when I moved to a beautiful house on the top of a small mountain in South Otselic, New York.

"Surrounded by forests, cornfields, dairy farms and down-to-earth country folk, I thought I was in Heaven. That particular area generated only a few paesans (Italians). As soon as I became acquainted with them, I eagerly presented them with a copy of my newly found essay.

"The Winter of 1977-1978 found St. Otselic's roads rather impassable for a city-bred girl. Over 10-feet of snow was piled up in my driveway, and I would have been confined in my home all winter, if it wasn't for the generosity of the farmers, who came to pick me up with their tractors for special appointments I had to keep.

"My daughter Angela's concern for my well-being guided me into a new direction. Once more I packed my belongings and dropped the baggage in a small lovely house in a senior development known as Silver Ridge Park in Toms River, New Jersey. There, I suddenly found myself , once again, engulfed in the Italian culture.

"Without saying too much more, many copies were made of 'The Joys of Growing-up Italian', and I gladly distributed it throughout the Village.

"I refined the essay in 1980, and again several more times...correcting grammar, genders, tenses and punctuation, etc. As I became older, all one had to mention is that he/she was of Italian descent, and off went a copy of my essay.

"This happened quite frequently, no matter where I wandered: on trains, buses, and even on airplanes. Addresses were exchanged and new friends were born.

"Several years ago, at a meeting of the Golden Age Seniors in Patterson, New York, next to me sat Claire... I learned she is a 'paesan'. Immediately I made known to her that I was the author of the essay 'The Joys of Growing-up Italian' on which I had received many compliments over the years.

"A startled look crossed her face, and in a subdued tone said: 'Elvira, it's on the Internet'. All Hell broke loose! I'm being plagarized!

"I will continue with this diatribe the next time I blog, if you find it interesting."
-- Posted by Elvira S Oliver at 7:37 PM Aug 26, 2009

Elvira lives on her own in Carmel, (pop. 30,000), about 50 miles north of New York City and 10 miles west of Danbury, Connecticut.

The original story is posted (without a byline) on many web sites, including here and one run by which has tweezed the headline to read The Joy of Growing Up an Italian American.

You can hear an extract from a CD of the essay set to music by visiting a commercial website.
For $7.95 you can buy "a 12 minute recording of the well known, anonymous story of 'THE JOYS OF GROWING UP ITALIAN' that immediately transforms you to your childhood."

In Orlando, Florida, a member of the Italian American Social Club has incorporated the essay (without any mention of its author) in his/her own reminiscences:

"I thought that my experience growing up Italian was not only joyful but also unique until I began sharing my experiences with many of my fellow Italian American Social Club members. We just call our IASC 'da club.'

"I am convinced that our stories of 'growing up Italian' are so similar that I have come to realize that this experience is probably being felt by over two or three million second or third generation Italian-Americans in this country.

"Most of our members who actively participate in our many events express feelings of being a part of 'la familia' or maybe feel they are 'from the old neighborhood,' just because of the way we share our Italian heritage and experiences. . . and how important it has become to each one of us.

"I would like to share with you the joy of how I grew up Italian. If you are Italian, this may be your story also."

[Then followed a copy of Elvira's essay]

"I now depend on Moosehaven and my fellow Moose members. The food is not Italian as we knew it, but it is good and we all enjoy it. I think it is the peace, security and the camaraderie that keeps [us] as content as we are.

"No matter what part of the country we came from, our experiences, joys and memories are mostly the same. We Italians have something extra because we all remember the joys of growing up Italian.

"This is not just my story but that of thousands and maybe millions of Italian-Americans or other ethnic Americans who built this great country for what it is. If you are not Italian, only we Italians know what you missed."

Today, descendants of early Italian immigrants number nearly 16 million, according to the U.S. census of 2000; although through intermarriage, the number of people in the United States with at least one Italian grandparent is estimated to be about 26 million.

The U.S. Census Bureau says Italian Americans are the nation's fifth largest ethnic group, with two-thirds in white-collar positions in business, medicine, law, education and other professions.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kiwi Monkey Tricks World's Letters Editors

An anagram reveals that MONKEYS WRITE the NEW YORK TIMES. A mischievous monkey from New Zealand named Andrew Prieditis has fooled the New York Times' owned International Herald-Tribune's letters editor into publishing a letter showing a fake address.

What's more, using other false addresses, he has similarly tricked leading newspapers in Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and the Philippines.

Facing falling revenue from sales and advertising in the global economic depression, newspapers, some on the brink of bankruptcy, have slashed staff numbers. Overworked letters editors often have little time to check the bona fIDes of their correspondents, so Prieditis gets his opinions published by using phony addresses.

His greatest success was a story headed "My plan to be president" which made top place in the August 1 Opinion blog of the Dallas Morning News in Texas:
If I were a Republican interested in becoming president, I'd hitch my star to Sarah Palin's wagon. She will run for president in 2012.

I'd stay so close that after her nomination for president by the Republican Party, she'd have to choose me as her running mate. With her charisma and conservative views, our ticket would be elected.

Then, after two years of serving as president, when she tired of a probing media, outside agitators and an uncooperative Congress -- and became convinced that she could help the nation better being outside of government -- she'd resign. Then I'd be president.

--Andrew Prieditis, Dallas.
Right alongside it was an editorial introduction: "This Blog was the first in the nation created by an editorial board to give readers a behind-the-scenes view of the discussion that goes into crafting the newspaper's daily editorials."

Prieditis's epistle, also published by The Seattle Times and other newspapers, set off chains of readers' comments, for and against Sarah Palin.

In another Texan city, journalist Kevin Whited wrote:

Although the Houston Chronicle has 'an informal 90-day waiting period between letters being published,' Mr. Prieditis of Houston managed to get two letters (one on Sarah Palin on 3 August and one on Joe Biden on 7 August) published within days of each other.
'Punking' the Hearst daily -- especially now that former letters editor Judy Minshew is no longer around... is a little like adults taking candy from children.
Dubbing Prieditis "a citizen of the world," Whited said "Mr. Prieditis isn't a one-trick pony, nor is he just a man of this nation. He has managed to get letters on various topics published all over the world."

Googling his name, you can find letters published by the New York Times from Andrew Prieditis of Hamilton, New Zealand , the London Independent, from Andrew Prieditis of Elland, West Yorkshire, and the Jerusalem Post (Israel) from Andrew Prieditis of Washington. The Birmingham Post published a comment from Andrew Prieditis, from Lionel Street, Birmingham. The headline was "Olympic Games Must Go Back to the Future in Search for Renewed Credibility." That's what Andrew needs!

Down Under, Rupert Murdoch's national newspaper, The Australian, ran this letter from Andrew Prieditis of Torquay, Queensland on August 6:
WHAT does Somalia have in common with Australia? Until recently, almost nothing. The two nations, if Somalia can still be called a nation, had basically zero historical, economic and cultural links until the Department of Immigration began accepting some Somali refugees to Australia.

Now we are told by the Australian Federal Police there is a direct link between the violent mayhem in Somalia and an alleged plot to attack and kill soldiers at the Holsworthy army base in Sydney.

Even if these arrests do not survive the scrutiny of the legal process, they are a reminder that our security services have a constant and difficult task of sifting through the mountain of daily communication and identifying danger. Tuesday’s raids were a reminder of what they are doing and why.
In his home country, the prolific letterwriter fooled Auckland's New Zealand Herald, which published a letter from Andrew Prieditis of Kaitaia, urging Kiwis to eat less sugar and take more exercise, . Then down in Invercargill, the Southland Times ran an email from Andrew Prieditis of Hamilton urging them to "shake off the ghosts of the Rugby World Cup 2007."

He even proffered advice to New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key before Key was elected to that position. It's still there on the PM's video journal:
John: I've recently returned from living 6 years in the United States. It is there that my eyes were opened up to the principles of limited Government in action and lower taxes. I do hope that in the next election, the National party pushes taxes as a big issue as I think, with enough persuasion of the NZ public, it could be the single factor which pushes the party over the winning line.

Where does the mysterious scribbler really live? In the US or New Zealand? Perhaps the answer is on the website of his old school, Kamo High, near Whangarei, two hours' drive north of Auckland. He wrote:

I was a student at Kamo High School in 1995 and 1996, the latter being my 7th form year (I'm amazed at how fast time has gone since then!). I then went on to study applied mathematics at the University of Waikato, graduating with a BSc in 2000.

After that I headed for the United States, and I'm now living in the state of Maryland (near Washington D.C.), working for a real estate transaction company as a Technology Coordinator. I am now also married to a lovely American woman!

Another verbose writer, Oscar Brittle, invaded Sydney's four daily newspapers' letter pages with a hilarious series of posts that infuriated thousands of readers. You can read about him in OhmyNewsInternational: Australia's Funniest Ghost Writer.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

World's oldest dog missing, feared dead

The world's oldest dog, a 26-year-old white poodle called Taffy Gayle, is missing from her owners' home. Neighbors have joined in a search, but the little pooch is thought to have gone to Rainbow Bridge

"To our knowledge, Taffy Gayle is no longer alive. She wandered off their front porch and they haven't been able to find her," Jennifer Williams, senior reporter of The Daily Mountain Eagle, in Jasper, Alabama, told us today.

When Jennifer interviewed the dog's owners a few months ago, she wrote:
"Brenda and Barney Harvill of Curry don’t mind that their poodle, Taffy Gayle, is blind, deaf and missing most of her teeth.

"Taffy Gayle has been the couple’s baby since they could never have children of their own. 'We’ve been so partial to her. Never having any children, I just think it’s a blessing that God’s let us keep her this long,' Brenda Harvill said.

"Taffy Gayle was born Sept. 22, 1982... The puppy was given Brenda Harvill’s middle name, Gayle, when she was registered with the American Kennel Club.

"Harvill likes to buy infant clothing at the thrift store and play dress-up with her. The little dog’s wardrobe includes T-shirts, sweaters and a pink party dress.

"Taffy Gayle doesn’t have to live on a strict diet of dry dog food. She is fed Vienna sausages as a treat. She also eats any potted meat, stewed chicken and ground hamburger.

"On her birthday, Taffy Gayle gets her own little cupcake with a candle in it. She also wears her party dress that day to celebrate."

If Taffy Gayle is no longer alive, the World's Oldest Dog seems to be a terrier mix named Max, living in New Iberia,Louisiana, who celebrated his 26th birthday on August 9.

His local TV station 10-KLFY said "Max has been part of Janelle DeRouen's family [since] just a few weeks after his birth on August 9th, 1983. Janelle says Max is in remarkab;y good shape. He suffers from cataracts. so he wears doggie goggles when he's out in the sun, and a touch of arthritis has slowed him down, but not by much."

You can see a video of Max by clicking on

Max will have to live nearly four more years to be hailed as the oldest dog of all time. The 100th birthday of Bluey, a famous Australian cattle dog born on June 7, 1910, will be celebrated next year by people living in Rochester, a country town 130 miles (209 km) north of Melbourne.

Bluey worked among sheep and cattle for 20 years, and survived until Nov. 14, 1939, when he was put down. He had lived for 29 years, five months and seven days, on a diet of kangaroos and emus. He was the world's oldest dog, a record that has never been beaten.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Birthday Benison from Baron Tennyson

"I shall raise a quiet glass of wine to the memory of the poet on August 6," says David Tennyson, sixth Baron Tennyson and great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria's favorite poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, whose 200th birthday will be celebrated around the globe on Thursday.

David, who rarely uses his title, lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. Three months ago, he visited Alfred's stamping ground, Lincolnshire, England, arriving the day after his own 49th birthday.

The UK daily literary web magazine Open Writing posted a story about the six Barons Tennyson on August 1.

While scouring the internet for that article, Open Writing's Australian correspondent asked David about the Tennyson Society. Here is his reply:

I have taken an active interest in the Tennyson Society, based in Lincoln
in England, over the last two years. They have initiated several
to mark the 200th anniversary of the poet's birth.

Over the weekend of 5th-7th June 2009 at Lincoln I attended a "Tennyson in Poetry & Music"
concert at St. Nicholas' Church
in Newport Lincoln.

I attended a special display at the Lincoln
museum (called "the Collection") on Tennyson's inspiration of the visual arts, and finally attended a bicentennial dinner where my cousin Rosalind was guest speaker.

Prior to that I attended the Tennyson Society "social weekend" in the Lake District in May. While there I opened a new
"poetry walk" featuring Tennyson at The Mirehouse.

This old English country house on the shores of Lake Bassenthwaite used to be the home of James Spedding, a great
friend and contemporary of the poet. The poet Tennyson
spent part of his honeymoon at Mirehouse.

Asked what he thought of his great-great-grandfather's poetry, David replied: "It's the best, of course! (alhough I would say that). Mind you, the nice thing about poetry is that in the end you don't have to choose. You are allowed to appreciate different contributors to the world of the arts without having to pick one winner."

Then he was asked whether he or his younger brother, author Alan Tennyson (the Heir Presumptive) had written any poetry. He replied:

Basically the answer to your question is no.... I do remember
studying 'The Lady of Shalott"
at school in what was then form 3...

Speaking for myself, I have always shied away from writing poetry and have taken a different path from the field of literature.

I was trained in mechanical engineering at Canterbury University. I now work for myself in a role I would best describe
as a 'Project Engineer.' This gives me the flexibility to take large
blocks of time off, like my five week trip to Europe earlier in

Living in Canterbury, I do try to get in touch with nature
ovr the weekends, whether that be strolling on the beaches, climbing over the hillsides or exploring the farming flatlands.

To some extent this gives me some appreciation of what the poet's early life must have been like. (Alfred grew up in a principal farming district of England) and I share
the poet's appreciation of the natural world.

Well over a century ago, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote this poem

To Alfred Tennyson, My Grandson

Golden-hair'd Ally whose name is one with mine,
Crazy with laughter and babble and earth's new wine,
Now that the flower of a year and a half is thine,
O little blossom , O mine, and mine of mine,
Glorious poet who never hast written a line,
Laugh, for the name at the head of my verse is thine.
May'st thou never be wrong'd by the name that is mine!

That poem might well have been addressed to his great-great-grandson.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Alfred (Lord) Tennyson, 200, loved mad little tits

And the N.Z. heir to his barony is a birdlover too

The famous British poet Alfred (Lord) Tennyson, whose 200th birthday will be celebrated worldwide on August 6, was a great birdlover. One of his lesser-known poems, called "Ay", names half a dozen bird species ranging from the cuckoo to "the mad little tits."

Ay! Be merry, all birds, to-day,

Be merry on earth as you never were merry before,

Be merry in heaven, O larks, and far away,

And merry for ever and ever, and one day more.

Why? For it's easy to find a rhyme.

Look, look, how he flits.

The fire-crown'd king of the wrens, from out of the pine !

Look how they tumble the blossom, the mad little tits !

'Cuck-oo! Cuck-oo!' was ever a May so fine?

Why? For it's easy to find a rhyme.

O merry the linnet and dove,

And swallow and sparrow and throstle, and have your desire!

O merry my heart, you have gotten the wings of love,

And flit like the king of the wrens with a crown of fire.

Why? For it's ay ay, ay ay.

This poem, and many others, can be found in a 1903 book, The Birds of Tennyson,
by Watkin Watkins, B.A. Cantab, of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-law, Member of the British Ornithologists' Union.

He says "Tennyson exhibits a knowledge of birds and their ways which is considerably greater than that displayed by the majority of British Poets, and which entitles him to take a place in this respect by the side of Chaucer, Wordsworth and Shakespeare."

Queen Victoria liked Alfred's poems so much that she made him a hereditary baron, with a seat in The House of Lords.

He seems to have transmitted some of his genes to Alan Tennyson, the Heir Presumptive to his title, who is a distant relative (in lineage and geographically) living in New Zealand's capital city, Wellington. Alan is co-author of a book, Extinct Birds of New Zealand.

[Heir Presumptive is an archaic term for the person thought to be next in line for the barony.]

Alan was born in Wellington in 1965, and first worked for the Forest and Bird Protection Society. Then he moved to the Department of Conservation. Apart from watching birds (feathered variety) he's Curator of Fossil Vertebrates at New Zealand's national musem, Te Papa.

The book, "The Extinct Birds of New Zealand" by Alan Tennyson and Paul Martinson [Te Papa Press 2006] received a rave review from Rebecca Priestley in the New Zealand Listener
She wrote:

The story of the huia, a poster bird for extinct New Zealand species, has been well told. Last seen in 1907, the beautiful huia, with its black body and distinctive orange wattle, had been collected to death by 19th century dealers and ornithologists for display in museums and fashionable drawing-rooms -- and
for its white-tipped tail feathers, which made quite the jaunty hat decoration.

Icon maybe, but the huia has plenty of company -- 58 of our bird species, or 26 per cent -- have become extinct since humans arrived here in the 13th century. To celebrate those species, and to remind us of the continuing threat , Te Papa fossil vertebrates curator Alan Tennyson and wildlife artist Paul Martinson have together made a magnificent book, Extinct Birds of New Zealand....

The bulk of the book is made up of accounts of the 58 extinct species, including nine species of moa. Even th giant moa, the tallest bird ever known to have lived -- oustretched, its neck could reach up to three metres high -- was at the mercy of
Haast's eagle... The moa fell victim to human hunting around AD1400, and Haast's eagle soon followed, suffering from loss of prey.

As Heir Presumptive, Alan Tennyson is thought to be next in line for the Tennyson barony, now held by his older brother, David, the sixth Lord Tennyson.

David Tennyson , a modest man who lives quietly in Christchurch and apparently never uses his ancient title, celebrated his 49th birthday on June 4, 2009.

Asked whether either he or his brother writes poetry, Alan replied: "David is more involved in the Tennyson Society than I."

The sixth baron seems to be more interested in recreational cycling, as he is president of the Canterbury Recreational Cycling Club. Christchurch has thousands of cyclists, because the city stands on very flat ground. You can ride 100 miles (160km) over the Canterbury Plains without having to climb a single hill.

The six Barons Tennyson are a mixed bunch, several achieving fame in fields far removed from poetry. Alf's son, the second baron, Hallam Tennyson, became Australia's second Governor-General, and Hallam's son Lionel Hallam Tennyson captained England's cricket team in 1921, and became the third Baron seven years later.

Lionel's son, Harold Christopher Tennyson, (1919–1991) became the fourth Baron, and his youger son became the fifth Baron. When he died three years ago, "the line of the eldest son of the first Baron failed," and the title passed unexpectedly to David Tennyson, in faraway New Zealand.

Here's a list of the six Barons, and links to websites where you can read about them:

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson (1809-1892),_1st_Baron_Tennyson
Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron Tennyson (1852-1928),_2nd_Baron_Tennyson
Lionel Hallam Tennyson, 3rd Baron Tennyson (1889-1951)
Harold Christopher Tennyson, 4th Baron Tennyson (1919-1991)
Mark Aubrey Tennyson, 5th Baron Tennyson (1920-2006) (scroll down)
David Harold Alexander Tennyson, 6th Baron Tennyson (b. 1960),_6th_Baron_Tennyson

Alfred (Lord) Tennyson, as he is usually referred to these days, was reluctant to accept a baronetcy (far less important than a barony) when Britain's Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli offered one to him. Another PM, William Gladstone, finally talked him into accepting a peerage.

Wikipedia,_1st_Baron_Tennyson says the poet was "a passionate man with some peculiarites of nature, he was never particularly comfortable as a peer, and it is widely held that he took the peerage in order to secure a future for his son Hallam."

Still quoting Wikipedia:

Tennyson wrote a number of phrases that have become commonplaces of the English language, including:
Nature, red in tooth and claw
'Tis better to have
loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all
Theirs not to reason
why, / Theirs but to do and die
My strength is as the strength of ten /
Because my heart is pure
Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers
The old
order changeth, yielding place to new

He is the second most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare

Sir Edmund William Gosse (1849-1928), a famous British critic who remembered having met an aged Lord Tennyson when he (Gosse) was a small boy, wrote these words about the poet:

We still look to the earlier masters for supreme excellence in particular directions: to Wordsworth for sublime philosophy, to Coleridge for ethereal magic, to Byron for passion, to Shelley for lyric intensity, to Keats for richness.

Tennyson does not excel each of these in his own special
field, but he is often nearer to the particular man in his particular mastery than anyone else can be said to be, and he has in addition his own special field of supremacy.

What this is cannot be easily defined; it consists, perhaps, in the beauty of the atmosphere which Tennyson contrives to cast around his work, molding it in the blue mystery of twilight, in the opaline haze of sunset: this atmosphere, suffused over his poetry with inestimable skill and with a tact rarely at fault, produces an unfailing illusion or mirage of loveliness.
Further interesting details about the poet, written by Professor Glenn Everett, of America's Northeast Victorian Studies Association, can be found on the Victorian Web:


Monday, July 27, 2009

Is he really a centenarian, or *only* 94?

Will Britain's "Oldest Marathoner", Pierre Jean "Buster" Martin, who claims he will be 103 years old on September 1, compete against Australian centenarian Ruth Frith in the 2009 World Masters Games, to be held in Sydney from October 10 to 18?

Ruth, a Brisbane great-grandmother who'll celebrate her 100th birthday on August 23, hopes someone will compete against her in the Games' first-ever "100 and over" class.

"You know how it is," she says. "You want to try to compete with those younger folk in their 90s."

She has registered for the hammer, discus, javelin and shot events.

The Sydney 2009 Masters Games will be the world's largest multi-sport event, with up to three times as many competitors as the Olympic Games. About 25,000 competitors from more than 100 countries will take part in 28 sports at more than 70 venues.

Anyone can take part in the WMG if they meet the minimum age requirement for their particular sport. The Games are where ordinary people, from former champions to recreational sport rookies, can have extraordinary experiences, with grades catering for competitive, recreational amd social players.

The Games encourage people from all walks of life to become involved in physical activity by participating in sport.

But there's a fly in the ointment. Buster Martin cannot - or will not - produce evidence of his age, so he may not be eligible for Sydney 2009. Many Brits think he's a younger publicity-seeking hoaxer. Sceptics say many of his stories are just too good to be true.

Employed three days a week as a van cleaner for Pimlico Plumbers, a publicity-conscious company in southeast London, he claims to be Britain's oldest worker, who refused to take a day off on September 1, 2006, which he claimed was his 100th birthday.

As a Marathoner, Buster's a walker rather than a runner, but even that is a great achievement for an old man, whatever his age may be.

The London media reported that he took a minute less than 10 hours to complete the 26-mile course of the 2008 London Marathon. The official timekeepers had gone home hours before he stumbled over the finish line.

The day after the Marathon, The Times published a story headlined Marathon Man, 'Buster' Martin, may be up to some old tricks. Patrick Foster wrote:

With "Buster" Martin's straggly beard, dry wit, and advanced years, his attempt to run the London Marathon was always going to present the PR people with an irresistable feel-good tale. At 101 years old, he would be the oldest man to complete the 26-mile course. But as he hobbled his way through the London drizzle yesterday, his story was beginning to unravel.

On Saturday The Times disclosed that Guinness World Records had refused to verify his claim to be the oldest marathon runner.

Now it has emerged why the record guardians will not be featuring Mr Martin in its celebrated publication. Internal correspondence between senior officials at the organisation, obtained by The Times, shows that Guinness has evidence that Mr Martin is a mere spring chicken of just 94.

Guinness received information that Mr Martin, whose real name is Jean Pierre Martin, told NHS [National Health Service] staff that he was born on September 12, 1913, not 1906, as he now claims. A senior adviser to the world record company warned Guinness officials that Mr Martin "appears to be a fake, and more so, one being exploited by his company, which is using him to promote their services."

Patrick Barkham, a features writer of The Guardian newspaper, also investigated Buster's colorful life in an entertaining story. Here's an extract:

His life, as he tells it, is extraordinary. He was born Pierre Jean Martin "up in the hills" of the Basque Country. "I don't speak French because I don't like them," he says.

He claims his mother fell pregnant to a member of the affluent family she served, and mother and baby were smuggled to Britain to avoid the disgrace. His mother was put in a convent and baby Buster placed in an orphanage near Bodmin, Cornwall.

After coming to London, Buster worked, joined the army and got married in France (hence no marriage certificate). "How did I get to France to get married? No passport. I learned how to get there and avoid the authorities, and I could still go and do it now if I wanted to," he boasts.

Can he explain how? "No, because otherwise they would be watching the route for Christ's sake! Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what's the matter with you?!" Buster lurches forwards with a stare. "You won't get secrets out of me," he growls.

Buster says he married a girl named Iriana in 1920. She was 13, and he was 14. They had 17 children -"twins, triplets, singletons, all sorts" - born between 1921 and 1934, including triplets Georgina, Georgia and Giselle.

He has 70 grand and great-grandchildren, according to an apparently well-informed PR-minded blogger called
The article says "A confessed 'rogue' who drinks ale with a slice of orange and smokes like a chimney, Buster married Iriana, a girl from Tonbridge, Kent, aged 14 and fought in the Second World War in the Grenadier Guards. He switched to the Royal Navy and had a 35-year Service career but remained in London."

Buster accepts countless invitations to take part in fun runs and to appear at other functions, devoting the proceeds to his favourite charity, The Rhys Daniels Trust, which provides "Home from Home" style accommodation close to specialist children's hospitals throughout the UK.

Other intriguing details about Buster Martin can be found in Wikipedia.

And there's a YouTube interview as well.

But what of Australia's centenarian Ruth Frith? She's the mother of Helen Searle (68) who won a bronze medal in the high jump at the 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games and silver medals in the high jump and long jump at the 1962 Perth Commonwealth Games.

"She [Ruth] is literally in a league of her own in the women's 95-99 age category in which her best throws for the discus (9.85m), hammer (11.37m) and shot put (4.72m) are all world bests," Brisbane sports reporter Jim Tucker wrote last year in The Sunday Mail:
"I hold five world records but, let's be honest, I'm the only competitor in my age group," she says with a smile. "I'm the oldest competing in the world."You have to aim high ... I look at what those in their 80s are throwing and try to beat them.

"Honestly, I don't know what is so magical about being 99. It's just two numbers on a piece of paper and I'm still the same freckle-faced redhead I was at 98."
She is talking about the interest that has grown among a curious media over the past 12 months...Calls have come from Germany and photos have been taken by a French news agency.

You can read a transcript of the ABC-TV's Brisbane reporter John Taylor interviewing Ruth on The 7.30 Report.

A final thought: Even if Buster Martin proves to be telling the truth, he still won't be the world's oldest all-time Marathoner. That title belongs to Philip "Flying Phil" Rabinowitz. Phil, who was born in Lithuania and lived mostly in South Africa, often visited relatives in Sydney. When he turned 100, he became the fastest centenarian ever to run in a 100 metres sprint. He covered the distance in 30.86 seconds.

Then, every year until he reached 104, he took part in the first few kilometres of the Philip Rabinowitz Memorial Marathon in Capetown. He died on February 28, 2008.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A for Horses, B for Mutton

A clever Ode to a Scarecrow was included in Anu Garg's popular AWADmail newsletter, sent last week to 750,000 wordlovers in 200 countries . You could call it a surreal alphabet. Read it aloud: Hey be seedy, eh, effigy, hate shy jakey yellow man; oh, peek, you're rusty, you've double, you ex-wise head.

A slightly different version can be found on the internet: Hay be seedy, effigy, age-eyed jakey lemon-yellow man. O peek you! Arrestee! You've double! You ex-wise he!

The Ode was first published many years ago in The Scientific American . It was in a column called "Mathematical Games," written by Martin Gardner, a gifted American word spinner now 94 years old.

He calls himelf a mathemagician, and is famous for his popular mathematics, stage magic, puzzles and debunking of myths.

Before reading on, please look at this hilarious sketch by British comedians The Two Ronnies, Swedish Made Simple: FUNEX?

Back in the 1930s, another famous British comical duo, Clapham and Dwyer, recorded another surrealist alphabet. This is how it went:
A for 'orses (hay for horses)
B for Mutton (beef or mutton?)
C for th' highlanders (Seaforth Highlanders)
D for 'ential (deferential)
E for Adam (Eve or Adam)
F for 'vescence (effervescence)
G for Police (Chief of Police)
H for Respect (age for respect)
I for Novello (Ivor Novello, film star)
J for Oranges (Jaffa oranges)
K for 'ancis (Kay Francis, film star)
L for Leather (hell for leather)
M for Sis (emphasis)
N for Dig (infra dig)
O for The garden wall (Over the Garden Wall, a popular song)
P for a Penny (pee for a penny)
Q for a Song, or Q for Billiards (cue for a song, or cue for billiards)
R for Mo (half a mo)
S for You (it's for you)
Tea for Two (Tea for Two, a popular song)
U for Films (UFA films)
V for la France (Vive la France)
W for a Bob (double you for a bob - a bob was a shilling)
X for Breakfast (eggs for breakfast)
Y for Gawd's sake (why, for God's sake)
Z for Breezes (zephyr breezes
In the 80 years since that sketch was performed in music halls and recorded on vinyl discs, various wits have come up with variations. Here are some of them:
C for Miles, or C for Yourself (see for miles, or see for yourself)
D for Dumb (deaf or dumb) D for Kate (defecate)
E for Brick (heave a brick) or E for 'ning Standard (Evening Standard newspaper)
H for Consent (age of consent)
I for the Engine (Ivor the Engine)
K for 'teria (cafeteria)
O for the Wings of a Dove (O for the wings of a dove -- hymn)
P for Relief (pee for relief)
Q for a P (queue for a pee) or Q for a Theatre (queue for a theatre)
P for Relief (pee for relief), P for a Whistle (pea for a whistle) or P for 'ming seals (performing seals).
U for 'mism ( euphemism) or U for Me (you for me).
W for Quits (double you for quits) )
Y for Girlfriend (wife or girlfriend? or Y for a Husband (wife for a husband)

Going back to the remarkable Martin Gardner, he has written more than 70 books in the last 70 years, which must be a world record. At the age of 94, living in Norman, Oklahoma, he is still writing and being interviewed.

In March 2006, he recalled his early days as a columnist for The Scientific American, in an interesting interview with Professor Colm Mulcahy, who writes a monthly column for The Mathematical Association of America.

At 94, Gardner is one of the world's oldest (and liveliest) bloggers, with a page on MySpace

DISCLOSURE OF INTEREST. I'm copy editor of Anu Garg's A Word A Day (AWAD) newsletter Serendipitously, Anu and I each live in one of the two picturesque places rightly called The Emerald City, -- on opposite sides of the Pacific.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

World's Oldest Dog Fight

This story has been published by the South Korean citizen reporters' journal OhmyNewsInternational:

Chanel, Sammy, Smokey, Bluey, Max or Taffy Gayle?

Dog owners, TV stations and newspapers in the United States and Britain
are embroiled in a lively dogfight to discover The World's Oldest Dog.

Naturally, they favor their local pooches. But they can't all be right.

The competition began last December, when Lee Lutz, in the Times Beacon
on the North Shore of Long Island, New York, asked, "Is this dachshund the
oldest dog in the world?" He drew attention to a 19-year-old wire-haired
dachshund named Chanel.

A few months later, the global spotlight focused on Chanel when she
celebrated her 20th birthday. The Guinness Book of Records listed her as
The World's Oldest Dog. Pictures of a cute little mutt wearing goggles and
a colorful sweater, looking like a First World War aviator in an aerial
dogfight, were seen on TV and in newspapers by millions of doglovers (and
doghaters too).

In April 2009 OhmyNewsInternational rained on the pooch's picnic with a
story, Chanel is NOT the World's Oldest Dog,
We said many dogs had lived much longer than Chanel, but were not eligible
to be listed by Guinness, which insists on their ages being documented.

That's not always possible.

We said that the 100th birthday of Bluey, a famous Australian cattle dog
born on June 7, 1910, is to be celebrated next year by people living in
Rochester, a country town 130 miles (209 kilometers) north of Melbourne,
Bluey worked among sheep and cattle for 20 years, and survived until Nov.
14, 1939, when he was put down. He had lived for 29 years, five months and
seven days, on a diet of kangaroos and emus. He was the world's oldest dog,
a record that has never been beaten.

On May 22, 2009 TV station 10-KLFY in New Iberia, Louisiana,
reported that a "terier mix" named Max, owned by Janelle Derouen of New
Iberia, was laying claim to the Guinness Book of World Records title of
"Oldest Dog in the World." The report said:

"Max is a terrier mix who's been part of Janelle Derouen's family just a
few weeks after his birth on August 9th, 1983. That makes Max almost 26
years old.
"Janelle says Max is in remarkably good shape. He suffers from cataracts, so
he wears doggie goggles when he's out in the sun, and a touch of arthritis
has slowed him down, but not by much.
"When Janelle spotted our story on the current record holder, Chanel, she
knew she had to let the world know about her incredible canine. We'll keep
you posted on Max's quest for the title of world's oldest dog, but in the
meantime, Max isn't letting his sudden celebrity go to his head."

You can see a video of Max and his owner here

Serendipitously, George Rodrigue, a Cajun artist, grew up in
New Iberia. His Blue Dog series of paintings, known worlwide, are thought
to have been inspired by his dog named Tiffany.

Apparently oblivious of Max's claim to the title, Florida's St. Petersburg
Times promoted another contestant on May 30. A story by Stefan
Jaeger was
headed "St. Petersburg Man Says He Owns the World's Oldest Dog". It said:

"Joe Slatton of St. Petersburg wasn't impressed when he learned NBC's Today
show had featured what it deemed the world's oldest living dog at 21.
Slatton says that at the time the show aired May 6, he was most likely out
walking his 23-year-old Shih Tzu, Smokey. "My wife told me about the show,"
Slatton said. "Of course she knew, too, that Smokey was way older than that
dog on TV."
"Smokey, golden brown with all his hair, is not only older, but more active.

He loves his walks and has his own wardrobe.

"Slatton, 78, and Mary, 76, his wife of 55 years, took in Smokey nine years
ago when the dog's former owner moved to a place where she couldn't have a

"Records at the VCA St. Petersburg Animal Hospital show Smokey was born Jan.
18, 1986. That was two days before the first federal Martin Luther King Jr.
Day was celebrated and 10 days before the space shuttle Challenger

The rival claims of Max and Smokey failed to cross the Atlantic, because on
June 1 Andy Crick wrote in the London tabloid The Sun :

"Yorkshire terrier Sammy is 23-years-old which makes him two years older
than the current canine world record holder...

"The pensioner pooch has had half his teeth out and can barely see or hear.

But owner Doug Percival, 73, has only had to take him to the vets ONCE since
he got him as a two-year-old pup.

"He puts his longevity down to them looking after each other and
twice-weekly treats from the fish and chip shop."

We were about to award the WOD (World's Oldest Dog) crown to Max, when we
stumbled on a story in The Daily Mountain Eagle, in Jasper, Alabama. Staff
reporter Jennifer Williams has discovered a pooch that's a year older than

"Brenda and Barney Harvill of Curry don't mind that their poodle, Taffy
Gayle, is blind, deaf and missing most of her teeth.," Williams wrote.
"Taffy Gayle has been the couple's baby since they could never have children
of their own. 'We've been so partial to her. Never having any children, I
just think it's a blessing that God's let us keep her this long,' Brenda
Harvill said.

"Taffy Gayle was born Sept. 22, 1982... The puppy was given Brenda Harvill's
middle name, Gayle, when she was registered with the American Kennel Club.

"Harvill likes to buy infant clothing at the thrift store and play dress-up
with her. The little dog's wardrobe includes T-shirts, sweaters and a pink
party dress. Taffy Gayle doesn't have to live on a strict diet of dry dog
food. She is fed Vienna sausages as a treat. She also eats any potted meat,
stewed chicken and ground hamburger.

"On her birthday, Taffy Gayle gets her own little cupcake with a candle in
it. She also wears her party dress that day to celebrate."

You can read much more about this tiny dog by visiting The Daily Mountain

Summing up, it seems that Louisiana's Max, at 25 going on 26, is not quite
the max, Alabama's Taffy Gayle, 26 last September, is PROBABLY the world's
oldest living dog. She will even beat Australia's Bluey as the oldest dog of
all time if she clings to life for three more years .

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown is trying to find his city's oldest

One of his readers who calls herself rozzzzzzy wrote this comment:
"No category for the smelliest dog? If you ever add it, let me know! We
adopted a black, long-haired pug named Snowball, changed his name to Jack
Black, after which we discovered that no matter what he was fed, even treats
with chlorophyll, he can clear a room in seconds. Feed him chicken, and he
can clear a stadium. Even my teenagers, who find passing gas extremely
humorous, run from rooms with their t-shirts over their noses, and NO ONE
wants to let the little fellow sleep with them, despite taking dibbies on
our other two dogs."

Well, that may account for Chicago being called The Windy City.

Friday, May 22, 2009

World's Oldest Blogger (96) lives in Florida

This story has been published by the South Korean citizen reporters' journal OhmyNewsInternational

World's Oldest Blogger (96) lives in Florida

"I am not a professed Muslim" says this Guyanese philosopher/poet

Randall Butisingh, a poet and philosopher living in Florida (US), who was born in British Guiana (now Guyana), 96 years ago, is probably the world's oldest blogger, succeeding the much-loved Spanish great-grandmother Maria Amelia Lopez Solino, who died on May 20, aged 97.

"I am not a professed Muslim," Butisingh wrote last year. "I was raised as a Christian from birth by Hindu parents and grew up in the Christian Church, in a village which was predominantly Afro-Guyanese. But eventually I separated from the church as I saw it as exclusive and divisive and I wanted to be involved in all mankind.... I am at present living in the home of my son-in-law and daughter, who are Muslims."

Butisingh was born on December 1, 1912. He grew up in Buxton, East Coast Demerara, where he received his primary education. In 1927 he passed the school leaving examination and became a pupil teacher at the age of 15. So began a 45-year career as a teacher, with a few short breaks, until he retired in 1972.

Eager to learn more about him, OhmyNews sent an email to Butisingh, who replied:

I was happy to hear from you and for getting the news that I am probably the oldest blogger in the world.

As regard my health I am in fairly good shape after surviving a serious illness at the age of 91. I can do most things for myself like showering, dressing, preparing my breakfast, etc. I can walk, unsupported by a stick. At present, the only pill I am taking is the aspirin (low strength) to help with my circulation. My blood pressure is stable -- 140 over 70.

I have 7 children, 19 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. My oldest great-grandaughter is 21. They all live in the USA, except for 1 daughter and a grandson who live in Guyana, my homeland. I live in Florida, the Sunshine State in the USA, with a daughter and her husband who is a physician.

Here's a list of just some of his literary work:

* Three books of poems: Loves Light, Wild Flowers and Loves Balm.
* A book of thoughts: Flashes of Light.
* Articles and letters to newspapers on education, morality and other issues.
* Paper: Hindi in Guyana.
* Thesis: The Role of the School in the Estate Community.
* Translation of a biography of Mahatma Gandhi from Hindi to English.

The American Poetry Association has recognized Butisingh as a Poet of Merit.

In his late seventies he learned to read Arabic script and can still read from the Holy Quran and recite a few of the Suras (chapters) from memory. He can also read Urdu, a sister language of Hindi, written in the Persian script.

At 89, he began learning to play the recorder, and last year was studying Spanish and documenting his life story, dating back to the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

An Indian blogger, Anki Bajaj, wrote this tribute:

Butisingh’s blogs are versatile and different from others including Buxton (his home town), economics, politics, environment, history, philosophy, poetry, psychology, religion and so on.

Butisingh has never visited India as he does not like travelling, however he is updated with the history and culture of the country. He is a fond of languages. He grew up in African slaves, where dialect of Hindi and Creolese were spoken...

The venerable blogger does his own typing. He once wrote:

Gold and silver have I none, but such as I have, give I unto thee. If my messages can touch only one heart, I know I have not lived in vain.

You can read the new World's Oldest Blogger's thoughts by clicking on Randall Butisingh's Weblog

Thousands of Spanish-speaking bloggers around the world are mourning the death on May 20 of the previous holder of the "World's Oldest Blogger" title.

"A Spanish grandmother who billed herself as the 'world's oldest internet blogger' has died at the age of 97," says a BBC report:

"Maria Amelia Lopez only began blogging from her seaside home in Galicia two years ago.

"But her postings on international affairs, Spanish politics and old age quickly turned her into a celebrity, attracting followers around the world."

Maria Amelia's blog attracted worlwide media attention, which resulted in more than 1.5 million hits.

As a lifelong leftist, she often mentioned her support for Galicias's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Eventually the politician met the famous blogger, to her great delight.

Hundreds of messages of condolence (in Spanish) are pouring in to Maria Amelia's website

In one of her last postings in February she said: "When I'm on the Internet, I forget about my illness. The distraction is good for you -- being able to communicate with people. It wakes up the brain, and gives you great strength."

Her grandson Daniel has left one final post, thanking readers for their support.

"[There were] 880 days when her blog made her happy... the support she needed to enjoy her last days of life," he wrote.

"When somebody leaves after 97 years, living with joy from the beginning to the end, we can't be sad.

"Wherever you are, grandmother, you will read these comments, all of them without doubt. She will laugh at some, will learn with others, she might get annoyed at the specific 'language' used in some ... but she will be happy reading all of them."

Like Maria Amelia, Randall Butisingh is also liberal-minded and sometimes writes about politics.

On November 30, 2008, Butisingh's blog was headlined "Mumbai to Obama: End Bush's War on Terror".

US President Barack Obama said recently "I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries." Will he meet Butinsingh when he next visits Florida?


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Australia's Funniest Ghost Writer

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

Oscar Brittle stirred and disturbed his readers

Animal lovers, rejoice! Oscar Brittle has been gagged at last. He would have upset you had you read this letter to the Sydney Morning Herald:

I believe that I have eaten more types of animal than anybody else on the planet. I have eaten (not necessarily in this order): cow, sheep, pig, shark, goat, camel, horse, kangaroo, wallaby, wallaroo, potoroo, bandicoot, duck, chicken, pigeon, whale, wild dog, wild cat, cat, fish, catfish, dormouse, python, toad, turtle, monkey, impala, sea urchin, slug, jellyfish, fox, grouse, alligator, llama, vulture, mole, lobster, mongoose, daddy-long-legs, salamander …"

That letter was just one of hundreds Oscar sent to the editors of Sydney's four daily newspapers in an 18-month writimg frenzy. Like many other letterwriters, talkback radio callers and bloggers, Oscar was an opinionated blowhard who wrote stacks of provocative nonsense and misquoted facts.

Here are extracts from a few of his letters, which often drew heated replies, mostly as email comments to the newspapers that had published his rants:

o Dear editor, I turned on the television on Saturday morning and saw a video clip for the first time in years. I have discovered that 68 per cent of Federal MPs are obese, showing off the tops of their bottoms with apparent impunity.

o Tomorrow, I and I suspect many of my ilk, will once again firmly stamp my ecological feet and take the car to town. Climate change is one thing, but passenger comfort is not to be undervalued.

o Whatever happened to manners on the road? At present, there seem to be more road rages than ever.

o Recent research shows that young people are having sex younger and younger. … Dear, oh dear!

o Video clips have come a long way in 25 years. For three horrible hours, I watched in disgust and denial as young women gallivanted about the place in tiny swimsuits, braziers, underpants and other garments that a man should only see in the boudoir.

o Does anyone have any information about shutting the internet down for good, or is it too late?

But Oscar wrote too many letters for his own good. Eventually, Amanda Meade, aptly-named media diarist in The Australian newspaper, became suspicious. She wrote:

An Oscar for Best Actor.

DIARY calls on prolific letter writer "Oscar Brittle of Killara" to identify himself. After a series of curious letters were published in The Daily Telegraph, we tried to verify that Brittle was a real person. Here is Brittle on public transport: "The morning trip was pleasant enough, as I sat next to a handsome, lightly perfumed young woman, read the paper and even attempted a Sudoku puzzle" ...The opinionated Brittle is not listed in the White Pages and he does not exist on the electoral roll. But he has popped up in Column 8 in The Sydney Morning Herald and on the letters pages of The Australian. So beware, letters editors everywhere, there may be another phantom on the loose.

Meade was right. It turned out that Brittle was a ghost, the brainchild of three young Canberra writers, Glenn Fowler , Christopher Smyth and Gareth Malone

Interviewed in Australia's ABC-TV Stateline program, author Fowler described Oscar Brittle:

He is generally a fairly conservative, indignant older chap from the leafy, neat, established northern Sydney suburb of Killara. Very opinionated.

What we tried to do was create somebody who has that combination of ignorance and outspokenness. He's got an opinion on anything. He's got ideas about anything and he's quite prepared to share them. He doesn't check things very often. He gets things wrong.

We tried to create maximum confusion and maximum offence with many of the letters, and we wanted the readers of the letters to be shocked. Obviously, first of all, that would be the editors doing the reading, and if they then got published and other people read them, we wanted to provoke responses, we wanted people to write letters back. And, fortunately, that happened in a lot of cases. So, Oscar offends virtually everybody on the planet in his letters, unless they're exactly like him.

Dear Editor... The Collected Letters of Oscar Brittle have now been published as a highly entertaining book.

The publisher's blurb says:

In an eighteen month campaign to wrest control of the debates in the nation’s newspapers and magazines from the wishy-washies and the weaklings, Oscar Brittle became (arguably) the most significant and powerful contributor to public debate in contemporary Australia.

This book is a collection of published letters and their originals, published replies from various correspondents, email exchanges between Oscar and editors, as well as the rejected letters, all interspersed with gorgeous illustrations throughout.

There really was a man who devoted much of his life to tasting as many different animal species as he could find. Dr William Buckland (1784-1856), Dean of Westminster and a professor at Oxford University (UK) tried to eat specimens of every living thing.

He was a frequent visitor to London Zoo, as he lived nearby. When an exotic animal died, he took the opportunity to taste its flesh. On one occasion, a leopard died and was buried while he was away on holiday. Returning to London, he dug it up, to taste leopard steak in the name of science.

The dean pronounced moles and bluebottles (flies) to have the worst flavors.

He taught his son, Francis Trevelyan
Buckland (1826-1880) to enjoy the flesh of exotic animals by participating in banquets of ostrich, crocodile, hedgehog and mice on toast.

Frank inherited his father's interests. While studying at Oxford, he complained of the “horribly bitter” taste of earwigs. Frank became a popular scientific author and lecturer.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Where the hell is Hell Gate Bridge?

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

Its design inspired engineers around the world

Where in the world is this bridge?
If you answer "Sydney, Australia" you're wrong. If you guess "Newcastle, UK"
or "Auckland, New Zealand" you're still wrong. But if you say "New York
City" you've hit the jackpot. It's the Hell Gate Bridge, a 1,017-foot (310
m) steel arch carrying railroad traffic across part of the East River called
Hell Gate.

Its revoltionary design caused a stir when it opened officially on September
30, 1916. Doomsayers at the time predicted it would collapse, but it's still
in business, and will probably remain so for centuries. It inspired the
construction of similar bridges around the world.

The Hall Gate Bridge was designed by Gustav Lindenthal (1850-1935), a
brilliant self-taught civil engineer. Born in Brno in what is now the Czech
Republic, he had first worked as a mason and carpenter. At 18, he moved to
Vienna, and found a job in the engineering department of a railroad company.

He never attended university, but taught himelf mathematics, engineering
theory, metallurgy, hydraulics, estimating, management, "and everything else
that a successful bridge engineer needed to know," quoting Henry Petroski's
book, "Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of

Lindenthal emigrated to the US in 1874. At first, he worked as a journeyman
stonemason for the memorial granite building of the Centennial International
Exhibition in Philadelphia, and later was employed by the Keystone Bridge
Co. on numerous projects before being recognized as a gifted bridge

It's thought his early memories of a famous bridge in Cologne (Koln),
Germany, inspired
his design for the Hell Gate Bridge.

Eminent bridge designers from other countries visited Lindenthal and
marvelled at his radical ideas. One of them was Australia's Dr. JJC
Bradfield, lead engineer in the New South Wales Department of Works. When
he returned home to Sydney from a six-month world tour in 1922,, he changed
the design for a Harbor bridge from an ugly cantilever to a graceful single-
arched steel structure.

Sydney Harbor Bridge (aka The Coathanger), opened in 1932, is the world's
largest but not longest steel arch bridge. Its total length, including
approach spans, is 1149 metres and its arch span 503 metres. Its top is 134
metres high.
People had talked about building a bridge from the northern to the southern
shore of the harbor since 1815, when the then colony's Government Architect,
Francis Greenway. thought of one being needed one day.
Various designs were considered and discarded for more than a century. Then
in 1922 a general design was prepared by Bradfield and officers of the NSW
Department of Public Works. The Government called for worldwide tenders to
build the bridge. The contract was let to Dorman Long and Co of
Middlesbrough, UK.
Construction began in 1924, took eight years. and employed 1,400 men. Six
million hand driven rivets and 53,000 tonnes of steel were used. The bridge
now carries eight traffic lanes and two railroad tracks.
The Bridge was officially opened on March 19, 1932. Before Premier JT Lang
could cut the ribbon, Captain Francis de Groot , a member of a right-wing
political group called The New Guard, rode up on his horse and slashed the
ribbon with his sword. He thought the Bridge should be opened by a member
or representative of the Royal Family.
Police arrested him, and the Premier cut the hastily repaired ribbon with a
pair of gold scissors.
The Tyne Bridge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England is a smaller version of the
Sydney Harbor Bridge, with a length of 397 metres and the main span 161
"There is much controversy surrounding the two bridges, and which one may
have been a model for the other," says an Australian Government website.
http //
"Although the Tyne Bridge was opened in 1928 - four years before the Harbour
Bridge was opened - the tender was submitted and contract signed for the
Sydney Harbour Bridge in March 1924. The designs for the Harbour Bridge were
put forward by Dr. J C Bradfield before this date. The tender for the Tyne
Bridge was accepted and contract signed later that year in December 1924."
Three final points:
Actor/comedian Paul Hogan was once a rigger on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
A few weeks ago, the luxury liner Queen Mary II, the largest ship to visit
Sydney, was too tall to go under the Harbour Bridge and too long to dock at
the International Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay.
The world's longest steel arch is the Lupu Bridge 550m. (1804ft.) in Shanghai,
China, according to a list of longest spans published by Wikipedia


Monday, March 30, 2009

Public Pianos Strike Right Note

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

Novel scheme delights young and old

Toque-me, Sou teu say signs stuck on free-to-use public pianos in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Play Me, I’m Yours, say similar signs in Birmingham, UK and Sydney, Australia.

Dozens of pianos placd in public areas in those cities tempt passers-by of all ages to sit down and play their favorite pieces, for the benefit of anyone who stops to listen. Delighted audiences soon gather, often dancing to the music, or chanting the songs.

Public pianos were the brilliant idea of Luke Jerram, a British inventor, installation artist and science communicator. He designs and builds science exhibits whilst creating multimedia installation artworks in his home country and overseas.

In March 2008, 15 pianos which had been professionally tuned were installed, unguarded, in Birmingham, Britain's second city.

"There is one in the Rag Market, and one outside Cadbury World," Maev Kennedy reported in The Guardian. "There is another at Colmore junior school, where a teacher was persuaded into an impromptu recital dressed in white gown with veil fluttering in the icy wind. She had been on her way to her wedding."
Six months later, Jerram installed 13 pianos in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The music-loving South Americans responded enthusiastically.

"At £1,000 each (a year's wage for some people) many people had never seen a real piano before, let alone been given permission to play one," Jerram said later. "The project made national news there"

Two clips from Sao Paulo TV: (speech in Portuguese).

Jerram invited online Sao Paulinos to tell him what they thought of the pianos and to post messages and videos on his website One commenter, Auro Augusto, wrote that he had heard a piano being played on a Sunday morning at the Lux station ... Bach, Tchaikovsky. Then (as translated by Google)

The most incredible, something that would never think that, (never seen in my 10 years of musical studies) a beggar (tattered and dirty, exhaled a smell that instigated people to come out of that person close) sat at the piano and incredibly started playing the first notes of the Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven) ..

In January 2009, Jerram visited Australia for the Sydney Festival. He arranged for 30 pianos to be bought, tuned, and installed in parks, public squares, on Harbor ferries and even in a tattoo parlor, for anyone to play.

The novel idea drew raptures from the press, radio and TV, and proved to be one of the most popular features of the festival. Thousands of pianists - ranging from accomplished musicians to complete mugs - happily tickled (or thumped) the ivory (or plastic) keys.

"Whether it's Chopsticks or Chopin, chances are you'll hear it on the streets of Sydney this summer", said Rebecca Baillie in an ABC-TV 7.30 Report.

A youthful-looking Jerram told her, "I'm hoping these pianos will act as a catalyst to get people talking to one another, to kind of connect people."

Sydneysiders' comments, videos and photos are posted on this website

Jerram is so enthusiastic about the project that he has set up a special fund so that public pianos can be installed in "less wealthy" cities, including San Paulo.

He sees public pianos as an important way to promote community harmony. "The pianos act as sculptural, musical, blank canvases that become a reflection of the communities they are embedded into," he says. "Who will play them and how long they remain is up to each community.

"Questioning the rules and ownership of public space, 'Play Me I'm yours' is a provocation, inviting the public to engage with, activate and take ownership of their urban environment."

Jerram lives in Bristol, UK with his partner Shelina Nanji and children Maya and Nico.

He has been described as "a colour blind installation artist, who fuses his artistic sculptural practice with his scientific and perceptual studies." He has an impressive academic career fully described in his biography.

Back in 2005, an article by Lewis Smith in The Times (London) was headed "With this talking ring, inventor wins his girl." It reported:

Luke Jerram wanted to avoid a traditional proposal, so spent three months developing a ring that would play: "I love you for ever. Marry me."

Once it was ready, complete with a miniature record player, he took Shelina Nanji up in a hot air balloon and, while the pilot discreetly looked away, asked for her hand. She is now his fiancee.

It seems that Luke Jerram is both a gifted and a gift-giving performance artist.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Grandma's Marriage Shocked the Folks

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

I was in awe of my grandmother, Becky, a white woman from Paddington in London who had, sometime in 1901-1902 while on holiday in Kingston, fallen in love and against all social convention of the time married a black Jamaican.

So writes Marie Campbell, in an intriguing account of her own journey almost a century later, in the footsteps of her adventurous grandmother. Marie traveled from London, England, to Jamaica, to meet cousins and other relatives, who helped her discover her origin.

"I discovered a story of cruelty, revenge and jealousy inflicted on an innocent young woman and how she demonstrated huge moral courage, dignity, resilience and, in particular, love," says Marie.

Her first discovery was about her mother, who in England was known as Carmen Browne . Her real name was Olga Browney, born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. She was one of 11 children from a close-knit, colored Catholic family. A kind, naïve and gentle girl, her mother had arrived in London in April 1939 and lived with "a malevolent, alcoholic aunt," intending to stay for only six months. However, the outbreak of World War II, personal tragedy and malicious intent had prevented her from returning home to Kingston.

"I learnt what a remarkable woman my mother was," Marie wrote. "Because of circumstances, she made a choice which resulted in her losing contact with her beloved family in Jamaica until nearly half a century later when her past caught up with her.

"When I visited my family in Jamaica in 1996 only six of Mum’s siblings were still alive: Boysie, Birdie, Pearl, Chickie (christened Kathleen), Ruby and Dolly. Boysie was living in Canada and I never got to meet him, although Mum spoke to him on the phone.

"It was wonderful to finally meet some of Mum’s family - my extended family, the family that as a child I’d always longed for but which, in the main, Mum didn’t like to talk about. She’d say, 'it makes me sad'. But ironically, when she was sad, that was when she’d open up a bit and I gleaned little bits of information about her family. I knew that as small children Mum, Ruby and Dolly had been very close and it was interesting, as well as being a bit unnerving, to see just how much Ruby and Dolly looked like Mum."

Two years ago, Marie migrated from England to join her son in Sydney, Australia. She has published her story as a book, which she is now posting, chapter by chapter, in the splendidly entertaining British daily online literary journal Open Writing In addition, she maintains a lively blog

Marie greatly admires her adventurous grandmother's flouting of the color bar. She says:

It wasn’t just white and coloured Jamaicans who would have shown and demonstrated contempt for Becky, but the blacks as well. A white woman marrying a black man was unheard of at that time – in fact there was a time when it was illegal!

I think that’s one of the things I found most surprising during my research about my family; how, even after Emancipation, Jamaica had continued to practice Great Britain’s colour and social prejudices – whites looking down on coloureds, coloureds looking down on blacks, and black accepting they were the lowest class in Jamaican society. My grandmother’s social standing would have been on a par with the blacks or maybe even lower, if that’s possible.

I wish I had known her. I thought how brave she was and what courage she had. Saying goodbye on the dockside at Avonmouth before she boarded the S.S. Port Morant, expecting only to be away from England for a few weeks, was to be the last time she saw or spoke to her parents. My grandmother never returned to England but she did keep the telegram her father sent her when he heard about her plans to marry Henry Brown from my Great Aunt Martha:

Telegram from Samuel Ross, Droop Street, London, to

Becky Ross c/o "Mon Repos", St Andrews, Jamaica


Stand by for a Hollywood blockbuster based on Marie's book!


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Chanel (20) is NOT the World's Oldest Pooch

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

Australian cattle dog Bluey lived 29 years 5 months and 7 days!

The 100th birthday of Bluey, a famous Australian cattle dog born on Jun 7, 1910, will be celebrated next year by people living in Rochester, a country town 130 miles (209km) north of Melbourne, Victoria, not far from last month's disastrous bushfires.

Bluey worked among sheep and cattle for 20 years, and survived until November 14, 1939, when he was put down. He had lived for 29 years, five months and seven days, on a diet of kangaroos and emus. He was the world's oldest dog, a record that has never been beaten.

John Harley, top dog of the Rochester Historical and Pioneer Society, told OhmyNews "We know about Bluey, in fact the daughter of the man who owned it is still with us and a regular attender of the Anglican church. No doubt there will be some sort of celebration for the oldest dog's centenary."

He said that William Hall, of Rochester, was Bluey's first owner. When William Hall died, his son Les looked after the dog. On the other hand, Wikipedia says Bluey's owner was named Esma Hall, who lived to be 103. It's not known whether she too ate kangaroo and emu meat.

While Rochester prepares for Bluey's centenary, a 20-year-old wire-haired dachshund called Chanel, living in Port Jefferson Station, a hamlet in Suffolk County, New York, has mistakenly been hailed as the world's oldest living dog. She has set the canine world barking mad... and, despite the error, is rapidly becoming a world-famous bitch.

Incidentally,when Marilyn Monroe was asked what she wore in bed, she famously replied, "Why, Chanel No. 5, of course."

Two British national newspapers, The Daily Telegraph and The Sun, and America's
NBC radio and TV network fell for the story, but their readers, listeners and viewers promptly named many other dogs who are (or were) older than Chanel.

"This dog's age is no big deal," JT Cro growled on The Sun website. "My grandparents had a dog before they passed away, 33 years old in human years and in remarkably good health. I am certain he could of gone another 10 maybe 15 years before he would of died, however he was put down once my grandparents died. They loved their dogs very much, most of the dogs they had lasted 25-30 years."

Chanel's bid for fame began on Dec 17, 2008, with a story in her local newspaper, the Times Beacon Record, published on the North Shore of Long Island, New York. "Is this dachshund the oldest dog in the world?" Lee Lutz asked, adding:

Chanel, a blond, wire-haired dachshund who calls Port Jefferson Station home, is famous — or soon will be if her owners' expectation becomes reality in 2009. The Shaughnessy family has been told by the publisher of "Guinness World Records" that Chanel will be listed in next year's edition as the oldest known dog in the world.

Born on May 8, 1988, Chanel is over 20 years old and going strong, according to Denice Shaughnessy, a retired Army veteran who now works in the principal's office of the Rocky Point Middle School.

"She's pretty healthy," said Shaughnessy, "cataracts, a little, but OK." The Shaughnessys adopted Chanel in Virginia at 6 weeks old, and the German-breed dachshund spent almost six years in the country of its origin when the family was stationed in Europe in the early 1990s.

Slow forward to February 23, when Rupert Murdoch's British tabloid giant The Sun (circulation 3 million+) published a sensational story under screaming headlines: Oldest dog is Chanel No 20:

The Daily Telegraph published the story with a more restrained headline: World's oldest dog needs jumper and goggles.

Next day, Chanel skipped back to America, where media outlets gleefully seized on the London furphy [false report], without checking the facts. "World's oldest dog is 20, needs glasses," NBC outlets reported in California, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere..

The story prompted The Daily Doxie ("your source for free daily dachshund photos, past dachshund pictures, dachshund resources, and more") to publish this article:

Breaking: The strange story of the Dachshund who would be the world's oldest dog
Last time this story was in the headlines the competition noted that there appeared to be something fishy going on. First of all, in the past, the holders of the world's oldest dog title have all been in their late twenties. What's more, there are plenty of comments here at the Daily Doxie from people who have 18- and 19- year-old wiener dogs, so they don't appear that unusual.

Is it really possible, then, that there are no dogs between the ages of 20 and 29 who could claim the crown? And how come there's no official announcement from Guinness World Records?

Guinness requires a dog's age to be documented, which bars many animals older than Chanel from the record book. At 20, Chanel is only as old as a 93-year-old human. Forget that old wive's tale of a dog's age beine one seventh of a human's. It's not always true. See How old is your dog?

In recent years, dozens of venerable pooches have been nominated for the proud title of The World's Oldest Dog. Here are just a few:

Bramble, in Bridgewater, Somerset, celebrated her 27th birthday in 2002, making her Britain's oldest living dog and a contender for the oldest dog in the world. Her owner, Anne Heritage, 43, is a vegan and has brought up her pet on the same diet regime she herself follows. "She has a big bowl of rice, lentils and organic vegetables every evening," says Ms. Heritage.

Jerry. A 26-year-old mongrel living with an Aboriginal family in Australia's Outback has the potential to become the world's oldest living dog, a newspaper reported Sunday. Jerry, an Australian cattle dog-bull terrier cross, will next month turn 27 - the equivalent of 189 years for a human - said Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals veterinarian Honey Nelson...

Jerry's owner, Waddie Harris - an Aboriginal tribal leader in New South Wales state's Wilcannia town, put Jerry's longevity down to his high-protein diet of Outback wildlife. "Jerry has grown up on kangaroo, rabbit and emu as well as scraps off the table," the newspaper quoted Harris as saying. - Associated Press, Jul 11, 2004

Jip celebrated his 25th birthday -- his age in human terms is 175 --last Thursday and incredulous owners Marilyn and John Regan, of West Lane, think he could be the world's oldest living dog.

Mrs Regan, 64, said: "He's already outlived two of our other dogs and a cat. He's going to outlive us all at this rate." ...The Regans acquired Jip through Airedale Vets after his owner abandoned him at the age of six. In his younger days he was treated to leisurely walks around the Clough, but now he much prefers to be ferried around like his royal counterparts at Buckingham Palace. Mrs Regan said: "He loves riding around in the car with John. Whenever he grabs the keys you can see his ears prick up." - Bradford (UK) Telegraph and Argus Sep 23, 2005.

Titch. The tiny terrier has already clocked up 19 years and turns 20 in September, making him a whopping 140 years old if he was human. - Coventry (UK) Telegraph, Feb.26, 2009.

Derek the Mongrel, at the age of 19, the equivalent of 133 in dog years - is still going strong, according to a report ... The dog is the much-loved pet of Jill Molnar, from Scunthorpe, who adopted him after he kept chasing her daughter's young sons. While he could be the oldest dog in the area, a Papillon named Fred made it to 29... - Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph, (UK), April 16, 2008.

Tip, the 29-year-old collie is the world's oldest dog, claims Ann Elliott, of Canterbury, who found him as a pup on a rubbish dump. - London Daily Mirror, Jan 17, 2004.

Bella. A dog believed to be the oldest in the world has died, aged 29 years. Bella, a Labrador cross, was bought by David Richardson from the RSPCA, 26 years ago when she was three years old. She had lived with Mr Richardson, 76, and his partner Daisy, 81, since 1982 in Clay Cross, Derbyshire. But she was put down on Saturday following a heart attack while on holiday with the couple. - London Daily Telegraph, Sep 8, 2008.

Skye, our border collie, will be 20 years old on March 1. Do you think she could be the oldest dog in Scotland? James Logan, Prestonpans, East Lothian. - Daily Record (Glasgow), Feb 1, 2007.

Cindy. Britain's oldest dog is a 24-year-old Jack Russell called Cindy. The secret to its long life is tea and walking eight miles a day. - Daily Mirror (London); July 26, 2002

Butch. 'His name is Butch. He's a beagle. His title is etched in official Guinness World Records certification and he earned it by living for 27 years...189 in human years... His eyes, however, are bright and his tail still wags. He still begs for petting, and as with all beagles, food is a major holiday to celebrate often. On regular occasions he lets loose and does a bit of running about the house...' -Charlottesville, Virginia Daily Progress, Nov 4, 2002. [Butch died in 2003, aged 28].

Beagle. I have a Beagle and he is 17 years old now. I kiss him many times every day and tell him "Mommy loves you. Stay with Mommy, Okay?". He gets fresh carrots for snack for many years. My husband told me that is why he still hears good and sees good. - Lilianne, in a forum message.

FOOTNOTE Then there's Hercules, said to be the world's heaaviest dog. "The Hercules English Mastiff is a real dog, but most of the images you see of him are not," says Kelly Roper. But that's another story.