Lucky Strike Of The Week

Is there an art to cracking a safe or is it just luck?

One of the attractions of the Heritage Museum in Vermilion in Alberta, Canada, is a safe, dating from 1907, from the town’s Brunswick Hotel. When the hotel was renovated in 1992, the safe was donated to the museum. There was one problem though – no one knew the code to the safe’s combination lock.

The museum had tried various methods to get the safe open, ranging from trying default combinations, bringing in experts and contacting former employees of the hotel, all to no avail. The safe door, which had last opened in 1977, remained resolutely shut, which, I suppose, is what you want with a safe.

Then along came Stephen Mills. He and his family paid a visit to the museum and after hearing the saga of the safe decided to have a go at opening it. Noticing that the combination lock’s numbers ran from 0 to 60, he entered the sequence 20-40-60 and turned the knob. Hey, presto the door sprang open.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a pile of cash inside, just an old pay sheet and a restaurant order pad, including receipts for a mushroom burger (C$0.59) and a packet of fags (C$1.00). But at least the mystery is over and with it, possibly, the museum’s only claim to fame.

I wonder if Stephen bought a lottery ticket when he left the museum.


Mores Romani

I’m not normally one for fancy dress but I was looking forward to a trip to Rome as an excuse to liberate my leather centurion’s breastplate and toga from the stygian depths of our attic. But it seems I have missed my chance.

The authorities in Rome have just issued a slew of rules aimed at clamping down on what they consider to be uncouth behaviour. Dressing up as a Roman (ancient, that is) is now verboten as is what they term as messy eating in front of historic sites. Whether you will get a spell in what the Italians call al fresco or just a flea in your ear for eating a pizza or ice cream in the open outside some pile or other is not clear.

Other infractions on Roman sensibilities that are now beyond the pale include dragging wheeled suitcases and buggies up and down historic staircases, walking around bare-chested (all sexes, I assume), singing on public transport, and wrapping your mouth around the nozzles of the city’s drinking fountains. And if you must do your laundry, don’t hang it out in the space between buildings.

I suppose, as St Augustine wrote in around 390 CE to Januarius, it is a case of “Romanum venio, ieiuno Sabbato; hic sum, non ieiuno” which has been (very) loosely translated as when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Or perhaps the Stooges got it right; “No fun, babe, no fun”.

Burglar Of The Week

It is not a very nice feeling, discovering that your house has been broken into. Still if you do suffer this misfortune, just pray that the intruder is the same as the one who entered Nate Roman’s home in Marlborough, Massachusetts.

Arriving home from work, Nate immediately realised something was amiss. But instead of the usual scene of turmoil, ransacked drawers, overturned furniture, smashed objects and the like that normally greets a victim of a burglary, he was confronted with the sight of beds that had been made, carpets which had been swept, toilets that had been cleaned and the pièce de résistance, origami roses on the end of the toilet roll.

Somewhat baffled, Nate called the old bill who were equally perplexed, no other similar incidents having been reported in the area. The only thought they had was that the door may have been unlocked and a cleaning company had come into the wrong house and given it a spruce up. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about, the robbers thought the house was such a mess that they gave it a spring clean rather relieving the owners of their possessions. How would that make you feel?

My theory is that it was a dove on its way back from Germany.

Bird Of The Week (2)

It may be the anarchic side of me coming out but I love it when the long arm of the law is frustrated by a freak of nature.

A motorist was caught on a speed camera in Viersen in Germany doing 54 km/ph in a 30 km/ph limit. Germany, it seems, is still able to afford to run its cameras unlike austerity Britain. Anyway, the driver should have earned themselves a €105 fine for their indiscretion but for one thing.

At the very moment the photo was taken a dove flew across the windscreen with wings outstretched, obscuring the face of the driver from the beady eye of the lens.

There but for the grace of God, you might say.

A Measure Of Things – Part Twelve

A hangover is nature’s way of telling you that you have overdone the electric sauce. Seasoned topers will have their own tried and tested antidote to a hangover, some more effective than others, but the sobering fact is that that feeling of being under par will remain with you for some hours once your blood alcohol concentration gets down to zero or as close to zero as its ever going to get. The American humourist, Robert Benchley, probably got it spot on when he opined that “the only cure for a real hangover is death.

When drinkers reconvene after a heavy session, the subject of the intensity of their respective hangovers will tend to crop up, once a refreshing drink or three has sufficiently lubricated the brain to allow the faculty of cogent speech to return. The problem is, though, that descriptions tend to be subjective and for anyone who is looking for objective metrics, they are too vague to be of any use. Would that there was a scale by which the intensity of hangovers could be measured and compared.

One of my favourite comic writers, P G Wodehouse, plied his mind to the subject in The Mating Season, published in 1949. He wrote “I am told by those who know that there are six varieties of hangover—the Broken Compass, the Sewing Machine, the Comet, the Atomic, the Cement Mixer and the Gremlin Boogie, and his manner suggested that he had got them all.”  We can understand where he is coming from but for the seeker of exactitude, they are too woolly to be of much use.

Where there is a gap in human knowledge, it is good to know that there are some wonderful men and women in white coats, scientists, working away to plug it. I rarely glance at the pages of Psychopharmacology, my loss I’m sure, but my attention was directed to a paper, published in September 2012, in which six academics, four from Utrecht University and the other two from the Universities of Ulster and Groningen, in which they proposed an Alcohol Hangover Severity Scale, or AHSS as we like to call it.

I don’t know about you but I often find academic papers to be a mélange of the blindingly obvious and the incomprehensible and this one is no different. The introduction opens with a sentence, complete with references (natch), of the most mind-numbing banality; “alcohol hangover is the most commonly reported consequence of heavy drinking.” But after what can only be described as an early stumble, the paper became quite interesting.

A group of 214 social drinkers, drawn from university workers and students from Utrecht University, were asked to complete an online survey the morning after a night of heavy drinking, I can’t imagine they had a shortage of volunteers, and a night of abstinence. There was no restriction on how much they consumed or where or what they did whilst drinking, for example dancing or smoking, but they were disqualified if they had taken recreational drugs. It was the Netherlands, after all.

The volunteers marked the severity of their hangover against a number of criteria using a ten-point scale and then marked those symptoms on the morning after night without a sip of the electric sauce. The mean results of the group were that they had 2.5 hangovers a month and that their latest hangover saw them consume 10.6 alcoholic beverages and had 6.4 hours of shut-eye. The results were then put through a series of analyses.

The upshot was that there were twelve factors that significantly predicted the severity of a hangover. For the record, they are, all painfully familiar, fatigue, clumsiness, dizziness, apathy, sweating, shivering, confusion, stomach pain, nausea, concentration problems, heart pounding and thirst. Interestingly, they found that a headache, the usual sign that you have a hangover, was not a factor in establishing the intensity of a hangover.

Their conclusion was that you could construct a scale, the AHSS, using these twelve criteria and a ten-point scoring system. Simply add up the scores you have allocated to each criterion and divide by twelve to give you your metric. Armed with this you can compare and contrast the intensity of your hangover with fellow topers.

I will give it a try, all in the name of science, you understand.

Bender Of The Week (9)

This curious tale starts out like the opening to a rather cheesy joke – a duck walked into a McDonald’s restaurant in Chester. Unable to make its presence known or grab anything that passes for food, the duck waddled about for a while, feeling sorry for itself.

In walked Lee Gaudoin and Neil Edwards-Cecil who had had a few sherbets to celebrate the latter’s 40th birthday, anxious for a cheeseburger to soak up the alcohol. They spotted the duck, opened the door for it and allowed it to walk out to freedom.

But then an enormous row broke out between the two, culminating in the arrival of the police , the deployment of CS gas and an appearance at the local magistrate’s court before the beak, Magistrate Fiona Crane (you couldn’t make it up). The duo were arguing over the bird but quite why and what about is shrouded in mystery. Gaudoin told the magistrate “I don’t know how it escalated from there”.

The night out cost the pair £85 in court costs, although they received unconditional discharges. The moral of the story is when you have had a few, just think that the duck you see in the corner of the room is an apparition.  I do all the time.

Error Of The Week (4)

Ever had one of those days at work when time seems to drag ever so slowly? Well, a couple of assistants at the Cycle King store in the lovely Suffolk town of Bury St Edmunds did and the discovery of a dead mouse seemed manna from heaven.

What to do with it?

Cremate it, of course. The duo, Ashley Finley and Dysney Sibbons, duly doused the mouse’s remains with some form of fuel or accelerant and set fire to it. But, in the words of Bob Dylan, they “used a little too much force”.

The fire, Ipswich Crown Court heard, quickly got out of control and spread to a neighbouring pub and restaurant in the Angel Hill district of the town, causing damage estimated as £1.6m, and requiring twelve fire crews to attend the scene. The pair pleaded guilty to causing arson by reckless behaviour in what the judge described as an attempt “to amuse themselves to alleviate a boring day by cremating a mouse”.

They are to be sentenced soon and seem to have lost their jobs. Still it created a spark of excitement in what otherwise would have been a dull day.