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Pot Pouri

Put aside the “mixture of dried petals and spices placed in a bowl to perfume a room,” the wider meaning is “a mixture or medley of things” and that is what we have here in another of these ‘Tapestry’ (the rich tapestry of life) pages. They are, may we add for any new readers, a hotchpotch of snippets from all over the literary place for that moment in time when you have nothing better to do than sit back, relax and fill your mind with things you’ve probably never come across before (and expose me for being a collector of cheap (often second-hand) books. Switch off from the world around you for five minutes, and enjoy miscellany

SURVIVAL OF THE MAP READERS (from Unpublished Letters to the Daily Telegraph)

SIR — An article on page two today explained how the human race is still evolving by natural selection. On page seven there was a report about a couple driving into a river because their sat-nav told them to.


SIR — I have no use for a sat-nav. I always rely upon the Mark One Human Brain v. 1946. This is constantly updated, in real time, using twin ocular instruments, corrected for astigmatism with a handy piece of hardware.

The whole system uses the common sense and intelligence software package in conjunction with a portable version of the current map operating system.

If that doesn't work, I have an infallible back-up system — my wife tells me where to go.



The first philosophers (which means 'lovers of wisdom' in Greek) were often generalists because at that time they did not possess the specializations of science and the humanities that we do today. Some of these philosophers used logic in its purest sense against clear evidence to the contrary. Zeno of Elea (c. 490-430 BC) developed a series of paradoxes to help explain that motion was impossible. He argued, logically, that the great war hero Achilles could never catch up with a tortoise because having started the race 100 metres ahead, the tortoise would always be making slow progress as Achilles tried in vain to catch up. Zeno also suggested that an arrow fired from a bow was stationary because it could not be in two places at once. During its flight the arrow is constantly occupying a whole bit of space, and is therefore, in that instant, motionless. This reductio ad absurdum method was given credence because it 'proved' that we should not trust the evidence of our senses, which were imperfect, whereas reasoning and logic were considered to be flawless. Hmmm.


BUNGEE JUMPING (from ‘Origin of Everyday Things’)

Although bungee jumping first achieved mass popularity in New Zealand, it has its roots in a ritual practised by young men on Pentecost Island in the Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu. According to legend, the first bungee jumper was a woman from Bunlap village who ran up a banyan tree after an argument with her husband. When she reached the top, she tied liana vines to her ankles to give her a sense of security. The husband, who was called Tamalie, followed her up the tree, so she jumped. Tamalie did likewise. She survived, he didn't. In time, her example evolved into a ritual called Gkol, performed both to guarantee a good yam harvest and to allow the locals to demonstrate their manhood.

Modern bungee jumping was pioneered by members of the Oxford University Dangerous Sport Club, who had seen a documentary about Pacific 'vine jumpers'. On April Fools' Day 1979, they dressed in top hat and tails and launched themselves from the 245-foot-high Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. They used nylon braided rubber shock cords instead of the traditional lianas, and they all survived the stunt.

THE SECRET OF THE MISSING PENNY(from ‘The Secret Lives of Numbers’)

Tricks of the Trade

Knocking off the penny to make a price tag more attractive is known in the trade as 'psychological pricing'. The most straightforward attraction to the shopper is obvious: it looks slightly cheaper at a glance, giving the purchase an emotional incentive. (As such it is particularly powerful in terms of small or impulse purchases.)

This is particularly true in tough times when you will regularly see petrol prices, for example, cut by a penny to attract consumers, even though the difference this makes is negligible.

Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

There is another theory worth considering as to why we might be more willing to open our wallets and purses when retailers cut a penny off their prices. It revolves around how the brain thinks about value.

Researchers at the University of Florida did some tests and concluded that the more precise the price in terms of dollars and cents, the more shoppers could be persuaded to part with for an item.

For example, a kettle priced at f 10, the theory goes, makes people think in round numbers: thus they would consider its price in terms of f10, versus f11 or f9. However, introducing pennies into the equation makes us think in terms of them instead; suddenly a f9.99 kettle becomes better value if it's f9.50. This means in practical terms that retailers have to knock a lot less off if they want to entice us.

The Florida academics tested this theory in the local housing market and found that sellers got much closer to their asking price if they asked for a more precise amount than a generic one (i.e. f396,500 rather than f400,000).

Eyes Right

The effectiveness of psychological pricing is also put down to something known as the 'left digit anchor effect'. This says that our eye is naturally drawn to the left-hand figure in the price so we make judgements based on that digit and largely ignore what comes after it.

Therefore we tend to make a decision on whether something is simply 'under f20 or over f20', rather than thinking about the whole price. Even if we are aware that retailers are deliberately creating these price brackets to tempt us, we still fail to make a logical analysis of the value of the item.

The pound sign (or whatever currency it is) put next to this digit helps add a certain credence to the number, emphasizing its importance. Perhaps this is why we write £10, while saying it the other way round: 'ten pounds'.

BRITISH RAIL DISASTERS (from “Very British Problems” – Part 6:)

(Our quirky behaviour on trains)

Glowering at the Quiet Coach sign in the hope it will cause the chatterbox to be ejected through the roof of the train.

Simply closing your eyes on the tube to shield yourself from the possibility of looking at someone.

The ‘stay put or move’ conundrum when the train empties. Leaving you sitting unnecessarily with a stranger.

Sitting awkwardly for your entire journey to accommodate the staggering leg spread of the gentleman beside you.

Repeatedly pressing the door button of the train before it’s illuminated, to assure your fellow commuters you have the situation in hand.

Feeling Immensely proud to be able to show the ticket collector you’ve paid your way.

The mass relief when someone is brave enough to open the train window when the carriage is hotter than a pizza oven.

The alarming moment someone talks to you on the tube.

CATCH THE LAST TUBE (from ‘Tired of London, Tired of Life: One thing a day to do in London’)

There's something very satisfying about catching the last tube home. After midnight, passengers still rarely speak to each other, but there is a faint glimmer of camaraderie which is not present the rest of the time. Having beaten the deadline, riders are whisked home towards their beds.

Catching the last tube is not a tourist experience, but there's something quintessentially London about it, especially in January when there are fewer people partying around town.



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