Revelation Of The Week


Ever wondered why attendances at our churches are so low? Me neither but I had always assumed that it was down to the growing trend towards ungodliness.

However, not so according to the Dean of Lichfield, the Very Reverend Adrian Dobner. According to the Rev the reason is that would-be attenders are too busy on a Sunday fulfilling leisure and social commitments such as shopping, doing DIY and visiting friends and family that they haven’t time to spend an hour or so in a drafty church contemplating loftier things.

It seems that the trend now for would-be worshippers is to go for midweek services where attendance can be more easily organised without disrupting family life. They are also shorter which may add to their attraction!

There seems to be a scintilla of evidence in the explanation. Figures recently released show that attendances at midweek services in cathedrals have doubled in the last decade while attendances at the traditional Sunday services in churches have halved since the 1960s to a paltry 800,000.

Glad we have sorted that out. Methinks it is just a ruse on the part of the clerics to have Sundays off. Perhaps they should take a note out of the Reverend James Woodforde’s book – in the particularly harsh winter of 1795 and not having appropriate footwear to trudge to the church sent a note round to his parishioners that church was off – and be done with it!

I’ll leave you with this courtesy of Jeremy Paxman’s agent and the Spectator. The inventor of predictive text has just died. I didn’t even know he was I’ll.

Blessing Of The Week


I subscribe to the school of thought that flatulence is a perfectly natural bodily function and endorse the view propounded by Guilia Enders in her best-selling Darm mit Charme (Charming Bowels) that it is something to celebrate.

However, there are some amongst us of a more sensitive disposition who may find outbreaks of wind unpleasant particularly if they are in the vicinity. Fortunately, I found out this week – and, handily, just in time for Christmas – help is at hand.

A Frenchman, Christian Poincheval, has developed a range of pills which are aimed at easing indigestion, are made of natural ingredients including fennel, seaweed and blueberries and are designed to make people’s (and dogs’, you will be relieved to hear) smell sweeter. You can choose between the fragrance of chocolate or roses and the pills, available online on the website, retail at €9.99 for 60.

The enterprising M.Poincheval came up with the need for the pills after a particularly hearty meal with some of his amis. Their farts were so smelly, apparently, that they nearly suffocated. The pills, which the French entrepreneur was keen to repeat, have been approved by health authorities have been on sale since 2006.

Stuck for what to buy the man who has everything…?!

What Is The Origin Of (58)?…


As snug as a bug in a rug

As we are moving inexorably towards winter, this phrase, which is in the common as x as y formulation, expresses our aspiration – we want to be warm, dry and comfortable.

There are three key words to explore in this phrase and we will start with the animate object, the bug. Of course, we associate the bug with an insect, any type of insect really, but it wasn’t always like that. In the 16th century a bug was a ghost or a ghoul as this translation of the 91st Psalm in the Coverdale Bible shows, “So yt thou shalt not nede to be afrayed for eny bugges by night, ner for arowe that flyeth by daye.”  However, by 1642 the noun bug was being used by Daniel Rogers in his Naaman the Syrian to describe an ant specifically and insects in general, “Gods rare workmanship in the Ant, the poorest bugge that creeps”. It is not known for certain why this change in usage took place but many insects are delicate, fragile things with transparent or translucent wings and so it may not be too fanciful to think that people were minded of ghostly things when they observed flying insects.

The other noun in the phrase is a rug – we all know what a rug is – but what is puzzling is that a rug sits flat on the floor and so whilst you could imagine an insect being reasonably snug under a carpet it probably would be more comfortable if it was in the middle of a rolled up rug. The image is less puzzling when we realise that a rug wasn’t always a floor covering. Its origin seems to date back to the Tudor period and a rug in those days was a thick woollen bed coverlet, somewhat akin to the modern-day blanket. It was only in the 19th century that rugs were placed on the floor, usually around the hearth.

Snug seems to owe its origin as an adjective to the nautical world and when used in association with ships, as it was by Captain Wyatt in 1595 thus, “A verie fine snugg long ship” it meant neat or trim or well-prepared. However, by 1630 – it is astonishing the pace of change in the English language in the century spanning the mid 1550s and the mid 1650s – John Lane was using it in the context with which we are familiar, that of cosiness and comfort, “Snugginge they in cabins lay each one.”

So those are the component parts but when were they all assembled to make the phrase we are familiar with? Our American friends will claim the honour for Benjamin Franklin who lamented the death of a pet squirrel called Skugg in 1772 thus, “Here Skugg/ lies snug/ as a bug/ in a rug” but he was pipped at the post by a description in the Stratford Jubilee of the actor David Garrick’s Shakesperean festival, including the lines, “ a who, in 1769, “If she [a rich widow] has the mopus’s [coins or money], I’ll have her, as snug as a bug in a rug”.

Earlier still, though, we have “as snug as a bee in a box” (Edward Ward, The Wooden World Dissected, 1706) and as early as 1603 Thomas Wood’s play, A Woman Killed By Kindness, contains the line, “let us sleep as snug as pigs in pease-straw”.

Why bugs replaced pigs is a matter for conjecture but it is likely that insects infested bedding not only because of the poorer standard of hygiene but because, especially when occupied, it was warm!

The Meaning Of Life – Part Thirty Two Of Forty Two


Is there a limit to the length that your hair will grow?

Sorting through some boxes the other day I came across some photos of me in my younger days. As was the fashion in the early to mid-1970s I took to wearing my hair long. There is part of me thinking that once I have released myself from the tyranny of the five-day a week working lifestyle I might just grow my hair long again and, perhaps, sport a pony tail. This may, of course, be a whim and I might get fed up with an untidy barnet before my hair gets to the requisite length.

This train of thought led me to consider, as you might expect, whether there is a natural and finite length that your hair will grow to. And, it seems, there is and it is all down to genetics and the three phases in the life-cycle of your follicles.

The first phase is known as the anagen phase. This, from the perspective of hair length, is the most important because it is the phase during which the follicle grows. How long the phase lasts is generally determined by your genetic make-up but can be affected by external factors such as stress or a hormonal imbalance. During this phase, which can last anywhere from between 2 to 7 years for the average person, your hair will generally grow at a rate of a centimetre every 28 days. The anagen phase comes to an end by the release of a signal, the cause of which has yet to be determined.

Once the chemical signal has been triggered your follicle goes into the catagen phase. The upshot is that the outer part of the root is shut off from its supply of blood upon which it relies for nutrients and the cells which are produced to aid growth. The result is that this phase signals the end of the follicle’s growing phase and in the average person it lasts about 3 weeks.

The final phase is the telogen phase. This is where the follicle is in what might be best described as a resting state and is effectively dead from the root up. It is follicles in this stage which come out when you comb your hair. If you don’t disturb them with a comb or a brush, they will eventually fall out.

It is estimated that at any point in time around 85 to 90% of your hair is in the anagen phase, around 1 to 2% is in the catagen phase and the balance is in the telogen phase. You can normally get a feel for how long your anagen phase will last without having to crop your follicles.

Of course, there are extremes at either end of the spectrum. Some people have extremely short anagen phases and, as a consequence, find it difficult to grow their hair. Extreme stress can cause the anagen phase to stop prematurely and increase the proportion of your follicles in the telogen phase dramatically, resulting in rapid hair loss. Others have prolonged anagen phases like Xie Quiping whose hair, when measured on 8th May 2004, was 18 feet 5.54 inches long!

Cutting your hair doesn’t upset the genetic make-up of your follicles. It just means that the follicles have to start all over again!

So now we know!

All You Need Is Love


Your wedding day is supposed to be the best day of your life but it may be me but the whole thing seems to be getting out of hand these days.

Of course, it is easy for chaps. All we have to do is don a suit – not even that these days if some of the wedding photos I have seen are anything to go by – and arrive at the venue sufficiently compos mentis to stand vaguely unaided for fifteen minutes or so.

For the fairer sex, though, it is a whole different ball game. There’s the dress, the colour scheme, flowers, who to invite, where to hold the event – enough decision points to imperil the sanity of even the most level-headed gal. Of course, there is help at hand. There is a complete industry that has grown up over the last few years to help the couple plan their big event. A word of caution though – wedding planners equals inordinate expense. And the bill creeps up imperceptibly. Why not go for x rather than y – it only adds a fiver per head to the bill. By the time you have finished those additional fivers have racked up the cost phenomenally.

The question has to be asked – is it all worth it? Well not according to a couple of economists from Emory University in Atlanta who have conducted the first statistical analysis (I can believe it) which compared wedding spending with the longevity of the marriage. They surveyed 3,150 respondents and have recently published their findings in the ever-popular Social Science Research Network. They found that women whose weddings cost $20,000 or more were three and a half times more likely to end up divorced than those who spent half that amount.

The researchers have some good news for chaps. There is a correlation between the amount you spend on the engagement ring and the longevity of your relationship. Men who spent between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring were 1.3 times more likely to end up divorced than those who spent between $500 to $2,000. Save the money, I say!

To emphasise what a leviathan the exercise of planning a wedding has become compare the advice provided by the American magazine Brides in 1959 to engaged couples to set aside two months to plan their perfect day with the recommendation from the same magazine in the 1990s that 12 months should be set aside and, helpfully, publishing a checklist of 44 tasks to complete to ensure perfection.

Naturally, psychologists are at hand to give us explanations as to why high expenditure on weddings equals a higher than average chance of divorce. They claim that couples who go over the top on their wedding are papering over cracks in their relationship. After all, you are making a statement of your love not how big your credit limit is.

Nothing wrong with a quick ceremony and a plate of sandwiches down the local if you ask me!