Pisa, August 2016
Before we get back to a new season of blogging, I should address the challenge I set in the last post of July, "Hand-tooled Gnomitex". It was:
"A small end-of-blog-year prize, payable in self-esteem (at the current kudos exchange rate), to those who can (a) identify the source of this post's title, and (b) the source of the source, and (c) the source of the source of the source."The response was underwhelming, to say the least. I know the prospect of Brexit has affected exchange rates, but even so: a stack of kudos has to be worth something, surely. Maybe we all took August off? Anyway, here are the answers:
1. The British satirical fortnightly magazine Private Eye has always made use of allusive in-jokes (for example, "tired and emotional" or "discussing Ugandan affairs"), some of which are of such long-standing that the original allusion has all but been forgotten. One of these is "hand-tooled Gnomitex", a faux-luxurious binding in which books purportedly published by Lord Gnome (the journal's fictitious proprietor) are always bound.
2. But why Gnomitex? "Gnomitex" is a riff on Skivertex, the plastic binding material, resembling leather, in which cheap but "sumptuous" hardbound sets of Dickens, Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming and other popular "classics" were usually bound, and proclaimed as such in adverts in Sunday colour supplements back in the 1960s and 70s (giving my father a chance to repeat his well-worn line about "genuine imitation leather"). My memory is that the Skivertex was usually said to be "gold-tooled"; the "hand-tooling" of Gnomitex is probably a bit of facetious one-upmanship (Private Eye can be very snobbish about matters of class, aspiration, and popular culture).
3. But why Skivertex? Well, Skivertex derives its name from "skiving", which in bookbinding means to shave off thin layers of leather for binding purposes. In other words, the plastic material resembles skived leather, in the same way the textured paper generally used on British hardbacks resembles real binding cloth*. I don't think there is any etymological connection between "skiving" (as in splitting leather) and "skiving" (as in avoiding work) but I suppose there may be.
On reflection, I suppose it is not impossible that I am the only person in the entire world who could or would make that series of connections. Oh, well. Of course, the lack of a winner means that next year's challenge will be a kudos rollover! So be sure to come back in August 2017!
Talking of skiving, as in avoiding work, a series of postcards from this year's exotic foreign travel will be dropping onto your e-doormat in September, quite some time after my actual return home, just like the real thing. Does anyone still send actual written postcards, I wonder? We haven't received any this year so far, and sent a total of one, I think, and that was delivered via some new-fangled alternative to the postal service, with a detachable QR code to monitor its progress. But, in the world of the instant mass-delivery of a smartphone selfie, even that seems quaint.
Crikey, isn't that tower leaning a bit?
* Both are examples of our favourite useful-but-ugly word, the skeuomorph.