Wednesday, November 23, 2016

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Hunky square-jawed hero Eric's manservant (no, stop it) from Disney's The Little Mermaid, the Ladybird tie-in book of which is one of Nia's current favourites for bedtime reading, and current Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, more formally known as The Lord Rees of Ludlow, if you like that sort of thing.

I should add that I've never seen The Little Mermaid, and neither (as far as I know) has Nia, but having read the original story to her from an old book of fairy tales a while back I can confirm that it's a phenomenally grim and joyless tale with some suspicious undertones of puberty, menstruation and general horror of female sexuality (and all the other stuff being a punishment for expressing it). None of which are things that'd play well with the target audience for Disney animated films, so they took the liberty of removing most of that stuff and giving the film a happy ending. Incidentally the manservant's name, as far as I can tell, is Grimsby, perhaps an ironic nod to the grim undercurrents that got sanitised out of the final glossy feel-good product. Or perhaps not, and that's just his name. Sometimes a manservant is just a manservant, as Freud definitely didn't say (the jury's still out on the cigar thing).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

clever trevor

So, farewell, then, William Trevor. Alas, we hardly knew ye, cut down in the prime of life at a mere 88 years old by this blog's continuing senseless rampage of authorial slaughter and carnage. The book review that eventually did the trick after a slightly longer than usual six-and-a-half years was The Children Of Dynmouth back in 2010. The only other Trevor novel I've read was 1994's Felicia's Journey (filmed in 1999), which is probably slightly better, though, I should add, not exactly a barrel of laughs.

Author Date of first book Date of death Age Curse length
Michael Dibdin 31st January 2007 30th March 2007 60 0y 59d
Beryl Bainbridge 14th May 2008 2nd July 2010 77 2y 50d
Russell Hoban 23rd August 2010 13th December 2011 86 1y 113d
Richard Matheson 7th September 2011 23rd June 2013 87 2y 291d
Elmore Leonard April 16th 2009 20th August 2013 87 4y 128d
Iain Banks 6th November 2006 9th June 2013 59 7y 218d
Doris Lessing 8th May 2007 17th November 2013 94 7y 196d
Gabriel García Márquez 10th July 2007 17th April 2014 87 7y 284d
Ruth Rendell 23rd December 2009 2nd May 2015 85 5y 132d
James Salter 4th February 2014 19th June 2015 90 1y 136d
Henning Mankell 6th May 2013 5th October 2015 67 2y 152d
Umberto Eco 30th June 2012 19th February 2016 84 3y 234d
Anita Brookner 15th July 2011 10th March 2016 87 4y 240d
William Trevor 29th May 2010 20th November 2016 88 6y 177d

William Trevor's Guardian obituary also provided the second example in the last couple of weeks of the slightly jarring sight of an obituary for a recently-dead person carrying the byline of someone who predeceased them, in this case by about six years.

Here's Trevor's contribution to the Paris Review's Art Of Fiction series in 1989.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

common as muck

Here's a sort of global version of the UK-only surname distribution tool - stick your surname in here and you'll get some indication of how prevalent it is worldwide. Now fairly obviously Thomas is a popular and widely-distributed name (the 264th-most-common surname in the world, apparently) but there are still some interesting nuggets that can be plucked out of the information provided:

  • Thomas is the 4th-most-popular surname in Wales (only Jones, Davies and Williams rank above it), but only the 8th-most-popular in England, 99th in Scotland and 403rd in Ireland;
  • It's well popular in the Caribbean, featuring in the top ten in Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Grenada, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, United States Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands;
  • You have to go a bit further south for the place with the most Thomases, proportionally speaking: Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. Thomas is the most popular surname here, although as there are fewer than 10,000 people spread across the various islands that only amounts to a few hundred individuals, some of them possibly albatrosses;
  • There are a few countries at the bottom of the list with only a single Thomas in the whole country. Comparing the "Frequency" and "Rank" numbers for these reveals some interesting variation in what you might call surname diversity in various countries. Have a look at the last three entries on the list, for instance:

    So Tajikistan and Burundi are about the same size, but apparently Tajikistan has 11,831 distinct surnames (if we assume that Thomas occupies last or joint-last place on the list), while Burundi has only 1,253. Even more remarkably, Mauritania, with only about a third of the population, has a whopping 38,063 distinct surnames. Similarly, San Marino appears to have many more distinct surnames than Eritrea, despite only having something like 5% of the population.
As for the other list, interesting contrasts can be provided by using my wife's unmarried name, Hannant, as input, since it's far more unusual (219,619th-most-common worldwide). Apparently there are 855 of them in England, but only one in Wales. Whether that's Hazel, her sister Paula, or some third party as yet unknown isn't clear.