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All over China temples have been turned into schools with surprising alacrity.

The Nelson Evening Mail, July 26 1906

The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.

Though rare, there have been exactly 201 documented cases of spontaneous combustion.

J Sainbury plc is cutting 2000 Human Resources employees.

The collective noun for brown anchovies is a ‘finish’.

Typing and playing the piano can wear your fingerprints away.

Actors cheers each other up by exchanging bad reviews.

When a ship sinks, the crew are released from their oath of loyalty to the captain.

Translator and poet Paul Celan committed suicide in 1970.

It’s Van Month this October at Renault.

Just because it’s in the Guardian doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

The men of Crete are mostly fair, very tall, sometimes gigantic.

It looks very much as if Everton will be looking for a new manager in the morning.

Without George W Bush there would have been no President Trump.

Chinese food (after Jung Chang)

Ancient Chinese proverb

The most capable woman cannot make a meal without food.

Chinese Communist Party saying

A capable woman can make a meal without food.


Only about three in every hundred amateur novel-writers find their way into print, except at their own expense.

The Nelson Evening Mail, January 22 1907


The erection of a verandah is a useful way to extend one’s living quarters.

Seven American states observe Abraham Lincoln’s birthday as a public holiday.

There is only one Tunumiisut-French grammar.

Anne Watson has just moved to university here, and right now really needs money to live. She is willing to go on a date – and has massive breasts.

There is a shark that can live for 400 years.

In 1945 the Soviet Union took the side of Chiang Kai-shek against the Chinese communists.

What in Britain is called the Special Relationship, in Germany is called treason.

Working-class people swear a lot.

At birth, a baby’s focal distance is not much more than 20cm.

In a recent survey, atheists and agnostics knew the most about religion. In second place were Mormons; third Jews; and then all other forms of Christianity.

Barack Obama is Irish.

The revolution will not be printed in Comic Sans.

The word ‘acrylic’ does not benefit from repetitive translation.

We were soldiers, once

How I went from Oxford choral scholar to British Army squaddie (in just under a dozen years).

For The Oldie

Turning Japanese stomachs

Confessions of a Mask
by Yukio Mishima

Penguin, 170pp, £8.99

Born two years after the Great Earthquake of 1923, in ‘not too good a section of Tokyo’, Kochan is a sickly child, brought up by stultifying parents and a morbid grandmother.

His first reliable memory is of the ‘night-soil’ man, and he immediately becomes obsessed with tragic lives, particularly in story books: anybody who is ‘fated for death’.

He is furious upon discovering that his favourite doomed knight is actually Joan of Arc. But after seeing a performance by a female magician, he begins to dress up in his mother’s clothing – and by adolescence he is committed to playing his ‘part’ upon life’s stage, ‘without ever once revealing my true self.’

Kochan is a literally and literarily pained young man, quoting Wilde, Huysmans, and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld. He edits a Hungarian fairy tale to make the hero’s grisly end more realistic.

He quickly realises his interests are not merely aesthetic. He is aroused by the sight of marauding priests, sweating soldiers, sea-bathers, male in-laws. He stashes away images of (thin-ish) wrestlers and samurai as other boys would hide their porn mags.

Aged 12, he jerks off for the first time – over a picture of Guido Reni’s St Sebastian.

He falls in love with the school jock – ‘because of him I cannot love an intellectual person’ – and falls back out again some pages later, having got an envy-boner at the sight of hairy armpits.

He struggles, naturally enough, to blend in, since he has no idea what other boys are even thinking. (In his defence, mind you, he’s at the sort of pretentious, rigid school where grabbing other boys’ cocks is viewed as a normal playground pastime.)

His anaemia is counterbalanced by a raging blood-thirst. He daydreams, elaborately, of his family being obliterated in an air-raid; of tying a class-mate to a pillar and then stabbing him; of slaughtering ‘many white slaves of Arabia, princes of savage tribes’. He has long-since been enraptured by his own death.

A schoolfriend’s sister appears to provide the social cover that he’s needed. The approach of war looks set to grant him what he wants: ‘some natural, spontaneous suicide’.

A tough and compact piece of literature – in the manner of a JG Ballard, say, or Anthony Burgess – the most surprising thing about Confessions of a Mask is that, for all its euphemistic delicacy (‘inversion’, ‘bad habit’, ‘big thing’), this boundary-pushing novel was published only four years after Japan’s atomic cataclysm.

It is also plainly autobiographical. But as an exercise in personal catharsis, alas, it did not do the trick. Two decades, several dozen books, and three Nobel Prize nominations later, Mishima launched a one-man para-military coup, and wound up disembowelling himself. At least one biographer suggests that this was his intention from the outset.

For The Amorist


Volunteers had no recognised existence in England until May, 1859.

The Nelson Evening Mail, September 8 1908

Everyone in Joe Orton’s social circle was called Kenneth.

The word ‘truth’ has no exact equivalent in Welsh.

The 8-hour workday doesn’t make sense.

Sloths take five seconds to have sex, but a month to digest a meal.

Agave nectar loves you all.

There are a million elementary-school teachers in America.

Airport security officials do not like fun facts.

The London Evening Standard has a pro-royal policy.

Gerry Adams says that he would quit Sinn Fein if he found there was bullying in the party.

An orchidometer is a medical instrument used to measure the size of testicles.

God rewards those who rise and fight over those who sit behind a desk.

Johnny Vaughan’s dad was a failed tap-dancer, and his granddad was a snooker champion.

Man is an island, entire of itself.

Two birds, one stone

Dear Amorist,

I recently made a joke about my pregnant wife – and found myself receiving several pointers.

‘Have lots of sex before the baby’s born,’ said one.

‘Watch loads of movies,’ said another.

Couldn’t we just watch porn, and kill two birds with one stone?

Yours, &c.

ASH Smyth, by email


Few of those who know and admire the camellia, that waxlike and pure flower, are aware that the parent plant, the origin of the million plants scattered throughout Europe, is still alive and is in Italy.

The Nelson Evening Mail, January 22 1907

The Taliban now control more territory in Afghanistan than they did in 2001.

A castanet is a musical instrument that can be used for fishing.

The Yellow Pages was first printed in 1963.

Sri Lankan violinist and composer Lakshman Joseph de Saram is 36% Viking.

During the Terror of 1793-4, young French aristocrats danced jigs upon the scaffold to signify their contempt for revolutionary justice.

Theresa May gargles jobbies.

The first Playboy interview was a conversation about race between Alex Haley and Miles Davis.

The Icelandic word ‘nostaklígja’ denotes the gall-like taste you get in your mouth before you throw up.

­There are no woodpeckers in Ireland.

D-Day did not actually happen on D-Day.

Trends towards simpler language have been observed in US presidential speeches.

The Khmer king was crowned with a bowler hat decorated with ostrich feathers.

The ‘Musician’s Church’ has closed its doors to those who wish to hire it for concerts and rehearsal sessions.


The province of Quebec has a wooden railway 20 miles in length. The rails are of maple. This railway is used for hauling timber.

The Nelson Evening Mail, November 1 1906

The German word for ‘train’ is ‘Schienengefuhrtes Sonderzug mit feststehender Lokomotive’.

Bathtime is a good time for kicking.

Margaret Atwood’s real name is OW Toad.

The first President of Zimbabwe was a Methodist minister called Canaan Banana.

Marais Erasmus is currently the best-paid cricket umpire.

Lurchers sleep a lot.

Henry VIII’s sixth wife collaborated with Thomas Tallis to rally her husband for war.

Exercise makes you look better naked. So does tequila.

Helpful Books have misspelled their name in their e-mail address.

Cadets at the Virginia Military Institute are issued Howl and other poems by Allen Ginsberg.

Yakult was discovered by a mystical order of Scandinavian monks.

The magnitude of human suffering down the centuries is somewhat quantifiable.

Juliet Stevenson will skin your rabbits for an extra tenner.

‘Understanded of the people’?

The Prayer Book Society helps trainee priests with the ‘Shakespearey’ language.

For The Oldie