Yesterday I made a passing reference to the Toxteth riots in Liverpool of the early 80s, only to see this followed today by media reports of Cabinet consideration 30 years ago of the option of letting the city stew in its own revolutionary juice. Or, in the language of the time, to have its decline managed. Happily, investment was the preferred option, as anyone who visits the city these days can readily see.
If you're one of the million Brits living in Spain, you'll be relieved to know that the British government has plans to evacuate you if Spain goes belly up. Click here for more info, including the afterthought that "if you want a delicious taste of the expat Brit life in Spain, rent the movie Sexy Beast."
A chap called Michael Erard has written the first serious book - Babel No More - about the people who master vast numbers of languages. He's not a hyperpolyglot himself and approaches the topic with a healthy dash of scepticism. Among his findings:-
- True hyperpolyglottery begins at about 11 languages
- While legends abound, tried and tested exemplars are few.
- Hyperpolyglots must “prime” their weaker languages, with a few hours’ or days’ practice, to use them comfortably.
- Switching quickly between more than around six or seven is near-impossible, even for the most gifted.
- Hyperpolyglots are more likely to be introverted than extroverted
- Different hypotheses may explain part of the language-learner’s gift. Some hyperpolyglots seem near-autistic.
- Hyperpolyglots may begin with talent, but they aren’t geniuses. They simply enjoy tasks that are drudgery to normal people.
Finally, I can't leave this subject without reproducing this description of "Emil Krebs, an early-20th-century German diplomat who was credited with knowing dozens of languages and was boorish in all of them. He once refused to speak to his wife for several months because she told him to put on a winter coat."
The question I'm now left with is whether George Borrow was really fluent in the 27(?) languages he's said to have mastered. I guess we'll never know.
Talking of talented people, if you've enjoyed any of the works of the British polemicist Christopher Hitchens - and I'm currently a quarter of the way into God is not Great - you'll probably enjoy this obituary. As you might even if you couldn't stand him.
Finally, here's a parade of British architectural follies.