Worst Autobiography Titles

This list was suggested by the Independent magazine’s editor, Mike Higgins, when he saw that Rio Ferdinand’s memoir was called ‘#2Sides’. Ben Stanley nominated ‘Auto Da Fay’, by Fay Weldon, while Michael Crick nominated ‘It’s About A Ball’, by Alan Ball, but those are both superb.

  1. ‘Losing My Virginity’ by Richard Branson. Nominated by John McTernan.
  2. ‘They Made a Monkee out of Me’ by Davy Jones. From Chris White.
  3. ‘Momentum’ by Mo Mowlam Lovely author; appalling play on words. Suggested by Tom Doran.
  4. ‘If I Did It’ by OJ Simpson. On grounds of distaste rather than lack of taste. From Issy Flamel.
  5. ‘Rags to Richie’ by Shane Richie. From The G-Man.
  6. ‘In the Time of Nick’ by Nick Owen. Nearly brilliant by the newsreader. Nominated by Sam Freedman.
  7. ‘Fan Dabi Dozi’ by the Krankies. To compound the horror, the foreword is by Max Bygraves. Issy Flamel again.
  8. ‘Watt’s My Name’ by boxer Jim Watt. Nominated by someone going under the name “And Pseudoreality Wins”.
  9. ‘Tosh’ by John Toshack. Footballer’s memoir nominated by Alan Beattie, who adds, “Though not as awful as his book of poetry (really), Gosh It’s Tosh.”
  10. ‘My Booky Wook’, by Russell Brand. The G-Man again. An appeal that this was a reference to A Clockwork Orange was turned down.

First published in the Independent on 14th December 2014.


Forgotten Brands

This list started with Gordon Brown mentioning the ‘websphere’ in his post-referendum speech in Scotland. Allen Brown said it was the name of IBM’s webserver software. Andrew Denny said he thought IBM was going the way of Pan Am – a brand name in daily use that everyone has now forgotten…

  1. Berni Inns One of Peter Hitchens’s “ghost brands” in The Cameron Delusion. Nominated by Labour History Group.
  2. ICI Split off drugs and bioscience to Zeneca in 1993, now AstraZeneca; sold off chemicals; remaining paints company bought by Akzo Nobel in 2008.
  3. Woolworths Shops closed 2009. Brand continues as Shop Direct online.
  4. Amstrad I never had a green-screen computer, but I had a PC1512 (two 5¼-inch floppy disk drives) in 1986. Selected by Austin.
  5. Midland Bank Bought by HSBC in 1992 and renamed in 1999. From Adrian McMenamin.
  6. C&A Last British shop closed in 2001, but still operates in much of the rest of Europe and in China. Put forward by Brian Dempsey.
  7. Waddingtons Bought by Hasbro in 1994. From Mark Fraser.
  8. Spangles Boiled sweets made by Mars discontinued in 1984. I liked the acid drop ones. From Mitchell Stirling and Paul Bexon. Graham Thorne’s appeal – “They are not forgotten” – was overruled.
  9. Green Shield stamps Suspended 1983. Revived 1987-1991. Catalogue company had already been rebranded as Argos, 1973. Nominated by Keith Howitt.
  10. Radio Rentals Merged with Granada Rentals in 2000 to form boxclever, which went bust in 2003.

First published in the Independent on 7th December 2014.


Odd Pub Names

This list was suggested by Andrew Denny, who started us off with The Bank of England in Manchester. Groarty Dick and Tony Paley nominated The Drunken Duck, Ambleside, adding that a horse of this name was possibly the worst winning ride in the Cheltenham Festival, in 1982.

  1. The Black Bitch, Linlithgow, in West Lothian Robert Hutton nearly went in while reporting on the referendum “and then realised I’d never get the name into a story”.
  2. Long Arm and Short Arm in Lemsford, Hertfordshire Named after an old semaphore signalling device. Nominated by Stian Westlake.
  3. The Who’d Ha’ Thought It, in Rochester, Kent Nominated by Xlibris1.
  4. The Case is Altered, in Bentley, Ipswich As Thomas Matthew Rooke sums up, this is a peculiar one.
  5. The Bees in the Wall, in Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire Great pub, says Mungo.
  6. The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn, in Stalybridge, Greater Manchester Another from Xlibris1.
  7. Poosie Nansie’s, in Mauchline, Ayrshire Said to have been frequented by Robert Burns. Xlibris1 again.
  8. The Bucket of Blood, in Hayle, Cornwall From Maggie Lavan.
  9. The George and Vulture, in Hoxton, north London “Instead of the normal George and Dragon,” says Dave Jackson.
  10. Tigh an Truish, aka The House of the Trousers, in Clachan Seil, Argyle Islanders heading for the mainland stopped here to swap their kilts (banned after Jacobite rebellion). From Bill McInroy.

First published in the Independent on 30th November 2014


Abbreviations and acronyms

Lisa Markwell, editor of ‘The Independent on Sunday’, kicked this one off with A and B the C of D: Above and Beyond the Call of Duty, which reminded me of Katharine Welby, who calls herself ABCD, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Daughter. Lisa also mentioned Biwisi: believe it when I see it. Here are 10 more.

  1. Cobra Cabinet Office Briefing Room A. There is, of course, no Briefing Room B. From Rich Greenhill.
  2. Wombat Waste of Money, Brains and Time. Thanks to Tom Joyce.
  3. YYSSW Yeah, Yeah, Sure, Sure, Whatever. From Henry Selzer.
  4. Kiss Keep It Simple, Stupid. Nominated by Gabrielle Laine-Peters.
  5. TLA Three-Letter Abbreviation, says Kulgan of Crydee.
  6. Banana Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. Once favoured by David Cameron. Nominated by Mark Bassett as better than the well-known Nimby.
  7. Bogof Buy One, Get One Free. Sold to Professor Paul Cairney.
  8. Picnic Problem In Chair Not In Computer. Useful IT diagnosis. Laine-Peters again.
  9. Filth Failed In London, Try Hong Kong. With thanks to Keith Howitt.
  10. Flotus First Lady of the United States. From Nick Reid.

First published in the Independent on 23rd November 2014.


Latin Animal Names

I have not fully recovered from the discovery that the proper Latin name of the western lowland gorilla is ‘Gorilla gorilla gorilla’. Here are 10 more, inspired by ‘The Naming of the Shrew: A Curious History of Latin Names’ by John Wright, published this month by Bloomsbury.

  1. Agra katewinsletae A carabid beetle.
  2. Chaeropus ecaudatus Australian bandicoot. The name means pig-footed creature without a tail, but it has one. The specimen on which the name was based probably lost its tail to a predator.
  3. Aachenosaurus multidens Discovered in Aachen, Belgium, what were believed to be the teeth of a dinosaur proved to be pieces of petrified wood. Gerard Smets quit palaeontology in embarrassment.
  4. Scalopus aquaticus North American eastern mole. Scalopus means “digs with its feet”, but it is far from aquatic. Carl Linnaeus’s specimen was labelled as found in water. Presumably it had drowned.
  5. Heteropoda davidbowie Endangered spider. My own nomination.
  6. Paradisaea apoda Greater bird of paradise. Apoda means “no feet”. The birds were first described from skins sent to Europe, without the feet, and early naturalists assumed that they had none.
  7. Psephophorus terrypratchetti A fossil turtle – what else could it be?
  8. Albunea groeningi A pale yellow sand crab named after the Simpsons creator Matt Groening.
  9. Aha ha Arnold Menke, an Australian entomologist, exclaimed “Aha!” on opening a package from a colleague to find a new species of wasp. It is also a palindrome.
  10. Apopyllus now The generic name Apopyllus was established in the late 19th century, but was used for a spider in 1984, five years after Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now was released.

First published in the Independent on the 16th November 2014.


War Memorials

We had Top 10 Works of Public Art last week, but I thought we should have a separate category for war memorials. Here are the ones that I think best combine beauty and dignity, and which bring an unexpected prickle to the eyes.

  1. Tjentiste Monument in Bosnia and Herzegovina Commemorates the Battle of the Sutjeska against the Germans in 1943. Nominated by Alen Mattich.
  2. Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme Designed by Edwin Lutyens. Proposed by Labour History Group.
  3. The Civil War memorial at the Commandery, Worcester Commemorating the final battle of the English Civil War, in 1651. Suggested by Adam Care.
  4. Royal Artillery Memorial, Hyde Park “Here was a royal fellowship of death,” reads the inscription. “This is, I think, is London’s saddest war memorial,” says Daniel Hannan.
  5. The Brooding Soldier The Canadian memorial at Vancouver Corner on the Ypres Salient in Belgium. From Auntie Shaz.
  6. The Motherland Calls, Volgograd An 87m-high statue in the city that was formerly Stalingrad. “I know it’s OTT and the product of Stalinism but I like it,” says Matt Prissick.
  7. Tower of London Remembers Ceramic poppies by Paul Cummins, with setting by Tom Piper. “The best new piece of public-realm art for years,” believes Mark Pack.
  8. Air Forces Memorial, Runnymede “They leave a landing light on each night for all pilots still lost and not returned to base,” says Warren Row of this Surrey Grade II-listed building.
  9. Soldier Field, Chicago The 1924 American football stadium built as a memorial to US soldiers who died in wars. Now home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears. With thanks to Duncan Weldon.
  10. Jacobite memorial at Glenfinnan A solitary kilted highlander atop an 18m-high column, nominated by Alex Massie. Bad cause, fine monument. Might be my favourite.

Originally published in the Independent on 9th November 2014.


Public Art

Most public art is horrible, in my philistine opinion (the Philistines being a maligned and cultured people), usually made bearable only by the greater awfulness of the modern architecture around it. But some of it is good. War memorials are in a category of their own, see below.

  1. ‘Out of Order’ (1989) By David Mach. The “domino phone boxes” in Kingston- upon-Thames. “Not spectacular or meaningful, but fond memories,” says Katherine Drayson.
  2. Michelangelo’s ‘David’ (1504) Linda Smith says it was originally conceived as public art and is therefore “hard to beat”. She is right.
  3. ‘Skin 2’ (2010) By Mehmet Ali Uysal. A giant clothes peg in a park outside Liège, Belgium. Nominated by Simon Potter and identified by Neil Jefferies.
  4. Statue of Liberty, New York (1886) This 93m-high symbolic figure was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. Nominated by Clive Davis.
  5. ‘Freedom’ (2000) By Zenos Frudakis. Outside GlaxoSmith-Kline’s head office in Philadelphia. A naked man emerges in stages from a wall of bronze.
  6. Trafalgar Square Lions (1867) By Sir Edwin Landseer.
  7. ‘Winston Churchill’, Parliament Square, London (1973) By Ivor Roberts-Jones. Nominated by Sir Michael Barber and by Jack Evans, who says: “I love the way he looks at Parliament in such a scathing way.”
  8. ‘The Bull’ in the Bullring, Birmingham (2003) Actually titled The Guardian , a 2.2m-high bronze sculpture of a running, turning bull, created by Laurence Broderick. Nominated by Andrew Denny.
  9. Stanley Matthews statue at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent (2001) Three figures made by a team of local sculptors. Nominated by C Keeling.
  10. ‘Conversation à Nice’ (2007) By Jaume Plensa. Seven seated figures on 12m-high poles in Massena Square in Nice, France. Nominated by Helen Catt: “They’re not exactly pretty but they are quite striking.”

Originally published in the Independent on 2nd November 2014.