Friday, 26 August 2016


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.


amolitor said...

Welcome back.

I send letters and postcards from time to time, probably on the order of five per year. I get (that is, my family receives) approximately the same number.

In the USA there is a bit of motion toward a bit more of this sort of thing. Very slight, but perceptible.

There was absolutely no way I was going to track hand-tooled Gnomitex back! No referents whatsoever until you get back to skiving and even then it's dodgy. Bit like a crazy version of rhyming slang if you ask me, wot?

Mike C. said...

I see there are various attempts to set up web-based postcard services -- upload your JPG, add your message, we do the rest -- but they're not cheap enough or good enough, yet.

As the the Summer Challenge, there is a tradition here of fiendishly-hard holiday quizzes -- the Guardian newspaper sets its readers every Christmas the King William's College quiz, which is insanely hard, especially considering it is primarily aimed at secondary school children. See here:


Zouk Delors said...

I believe you owe me one kudo! However I'm prepared to forfeit it in recognisance of learning the word skeuomorph. I once knew a couple of old artists who made a living painting marble-effect onto wood, something they assured me was very much in demand at the time.

Welcome back. You have been sorely missed.

Mike C. said...


As I'm sure the Bureau de Change will confirm, the kudo is a non-negotiable and indivisible currency... All or nothing! Yours was the best attempt, though, so award yourself the equivalent amount of self-esteem.

Ugly word for an interesting concept, skeuomorph...


Zouk Delors said...

Innumerable thanks for the grant of self-esteem. There is, of course, something deeply amusing to schoolboys of all ages in the close juxtaposition of the words "hand" and "tool".

Mike C. said...

Do you know, that hadn't even occurred to me? But, yes, very Private Eye...


Poetry24 said...

Good to have you back in blogland, Mike. Looking forward to the holiday photos.

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Martin. Not too many photos this year -- gave the eyes some time off, too -- but hopefully enough for a few postcards!