SHEP THE FISH
I JUST read that by the middle of next year more British families will own a fish than will own a dog. This is a serious change in social attitudes from a people who in 1985 owned 1.3 canines per head and tuned in on masse when One Man and his Dog was showing on TV. Most Brits would stand by when a human was being mugged but if anyone was seen abusing a dog then they were threatened with rampant walking stick and a severe telling off.
Now I don’t have anything against domesticated fish but taking one for a walk is not my idea of fun. They don’t bring back sticks for one thing and are susceptible to being eaten by herons. I can understand though why people are going off owning dogs. A lot of it has to do with the fact that veterinary surgeons now earn more than Californian divorce lawyers. I recently took my male Samoyed along to the vets to have his undercarriage modified. The vet charged me by the kilo and it cost me about 150 euros per removed testicle.
Because of the absurd cost of owning a dog nowadays people are ignoring previously popular breeds and buying exotic hounds that seem, in their eyes, to justify the expenses. These animals often cost about the same as a small car. Tasmanian Whistlers, Tanzanian Climbing hounds, Siberian Wolf hybrids, tiny, hairless Guatemalan mole hunters that sleep in teacups and huge, shaggy, Himalayan eagle catchers are some of them. Vets love these breeds because they are prone to every disease known to medical science.
I am incensed my dogs have to have electronic chips inserted under their skin like prisoners on remand. It seems to me to be another scheme to enrich vets. I did hear though that you can have a new generation chip inserted that has been designed by the manufacturers of mobile ring tones and your dog, instead of barking, will answer the door with a few bars of the William Tell Overture.
SHAKESPEARE IN LITIGATION
William Shakespeare, a free-lance scrivener from Stratford upon Avon in England, is as popular as Dan Brown these days and is in great demand by serious publications like Hello and GQ. Following the success of the movie Shakespeare in Love, which earned the producers 225 million ducats in the first weekend, NBC commissioned a mini series about young Bill, and two soaps and a sitcom followed. Larry King had Shakespeare on his show three times and Armani paid a million dollars to use the Shakespeare name on one of their perfumes. Nike also signed him up to endorse their new Air Othello range of shoes.
But not everything is going well for Shakespeare. A woman from Santa Monica California, Cordelia Golden, claims Bill is the father of her six-year old twins, Tony and Cleopatra. She wants 40 million dollars and half of his future income. Hamlet Cigars and Lear Jets are well behind in the royalties they should be paying to Shakespeare Inc. and a Hollywood writer, Frank Bacon, is claiming he actually wrote many of the plays attributed to Shakespeare.
A CRYING SHAME
It is not apparent where the onion originated but it is certain that man has been eating them since prehistoric times. Onions were probably the seasoning added to Brontosaurus stew and there is now hardly a country in the world that doesn’t make full use of this “poor man’s truffle,” as French gourmet Robert Courtine defined the vegetable.
The written history of the onion begins in Mesopotamia. A cuneiform inscription from 2400BC, in Sumerian, tells us that the municipal authorities of the city that was later to be called Babylon, were caught misusing the property of the temple: “The oxen of the gods’ plowed the city Governer’s onion patches. The onion patches of the city Governor were located in the gods’ best fields.”
This is almost certainly the world’s first written report on official corruption. A spokesperson for the Governor said later: “These are politically motivated charges which we deny emphatically.”
Onions were a most popular vegetable in ancient Mesopotamia and citizens were issued with a monthly ration of bread and onions by the Welfare Department of the time. The ancient Egyptians were also great onion eaters and the onion is the plant shown most often in Egyptian wall paintings. The staple diet of the poor at the time in Egypt was beer, bread and onions. And bicarbonate of soda. Onions were used as funerary offering in the Old Kingdom of Egypt and there was even a small sect of religious fanatics that worshipped the onion and held it to be divine. The Father, the Son and the Holy Onion.
The onion was being grown in Greece by 500 BC, along with peas, cabbage and lentils. These last three vegetables were scarce and relatively expensive but the onion was widely grown and widely eaten, especially by the poor. The Romans took to the onion in a big way, many of them starting the day with a breakfast of raw onion on bread. Again onions were mainly consumed by the poorest classes because of the low cost. In the early days of the Roman Empire the onion was held in low esteem by the upper classes and the guild of fruit and vegetable merchants refused to admit onion-mongers, who had to form a separate association. By the time of Trajan all this had changed and in Trajan’s famous market in Rome, built about 110 AD, onions were hung in tressed strings from the ceiling of the market’s first floor.
By the Middle Ages onions and garlic were used throughout Europe to season roast meats and stews and Charlemagne ordered them planted in all his domains.
Although still a favourite food of the poor, they started to appear on more illustrious tables and were often demanded as tribute or rent for the use of land.
Marco Polo, the earliest of the backpackers, reported from the Persian island of Hormuz, that “the inhabitants thrive on a diet of dates, salt tuna and onions.”
In England, onions had been popular since at least the 13th century, when Alexander Neckam, Abbot of Cirencester, listed them among vegetables “worthy to be planted in noble gardens.” By Elizabethan times, onions and leeks were the favourite vegetables of England and salads were made chiefly with onions and chopped herbs.
The Eurasian onion (Allium cepa) was brought to the new world by European explorers and most of the onions eaten today in the Americas are descendents of this strain. However, pre-Columbian Indians had eaten many native varieties before the Europeans arrived including A. canadense, the “tree onion,” A. cernuum, the “nodding onion” and A.stellatum, the “prairie onion.”
Michigan, in the USA, commemorated the local abundance of onions by naming its largest city Chicago, the Indian word for an onion’s odour. I wonder if Frank Sinatra knew that. Cowboys had their own name for the vegetable: they called onions, “skunk eggs” and considered them an indispensable ingredient in their “son-of-a-bitch” stew, a concoction I have never managed to find a recipe for.
WATCH THIS SPACE
The Endeavour space shuttle recently made another successful trip from the Kennedy Space Centre to the international space station orbiting the earth. The space station is an American and Russian joint venture where astronauts from the two countries get together to eat Borsch or recycled cheese-burgers and plan how they can get potential space tourists to part with two million dollars to come visit them.
The space station is a mega-project. Forty-four launches carrying all sorts of modular stuff skywards have been completed or are in the planning stage. I believe that Lego is in charge of the assembly of the various modules. When everything is joined together, the new space station will be bigger than a football stadium. Pending further discussions with Sky TV, the station might actually be used for premier league football in the future but this is currently classified information. The whole project will finally cost about one hundred billion dollars and football hooligans won’t be tolerated.
One hundred billion dollars seems a lot of money to spend on a space station – especially when Planet Earth is in such a mess. Incidentally, I have it on good authority that the first American element launched into space was considered vital to the ultimate success of the whole mission. It was a Coca-Cola machine. Not any old coke machine, mind you, but one developed at immense cost by an Atlanta sub-contractor to NASA. This solar-powered, titanium clad dispenser will deliver cans of coke to the astronauts at zero gravity. The big breakthrough was getting it to accept both American dollars and Russian roubles. NASA plans to land a similar coke machine on Mars in 2010. By studying the rate the drinks are consumed, scientists will be able to establish if there is intelligent life on the red planet.