By Gareth Edwards

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Tewksbury Council of Plurals and a Bewildered Mammoth

Welcome to the blog that confidently sets out to explain every aspect of everything that has ever existed, then goes a bit quiet when it realizes that that’s quite a big ask, then resolves to really give it a go anyway. Here we present the latest answers to your questions…

Nance asked: Who invented tax-collecting?

Collecting anything can be a fascinating hobby, although to be honest it often is not. As a boy I collected stamps, as a teenager I collected anxieties, and now in adulthood I enjoy nothing more than sitting on a sofa collecting dust. But my Great Uncle Emlyn was the only person I have come across with a collection of taxes. His favourite among these was a Cat Tax, instituted by the French government in 1763 and prompting a widespread sell-off of cats. The cat shortage that followed lead to the Mouse Tax of 1764, which proved to be an administrative nightmare. Also in his collection were the Watchmakers Duty or “Tick Tock Tax”; and the Small Ornaments and Glaziers’ Materials Levy of 1958, or “Nick Knack Putty Tax”. In fact my great uncle was just one tax short of collecting every tax ever imposed when he died in October 1973. His estate was wound up (he had been a lifelong advocate of the clockwork car), and his collection broken up and sold in order to pay his newly-incurred inheritance tax, thus simultaneously completing and destroying his collection.

Peggy asked: As Britain gets very little sun, how does the Shadow Cabinet function?
By forming a Shadow Puppet Government.

Nance also asked: How many generations or years did it take to reduce the regular size of a dog breed to make one that fits in a handbag or baby-sling? Are there any popular big dog breeds that are shrinking?
Our beliefs about how and why we have tiny dogs was turned on its head in 1987. Up to that point received opinion was that dogs were indeed gradually getting smaller, possibly as a result of erosion or being washed at the wrong temperature, and scientists postulated that the earliest dogs might well have been forty or fifty feet high. Then deep inside a limestone cave in France archeologists stumbled on a painting of a mammoth hunt. In an ornate animal-skin bag worn over the shoulder one of the hunters appears to be carrying a bulgy-eyed, scrawny and unusually horrid tiny dog. In our modern era we know that dogs like this cause bewilderment and nausea in anyone who sees them. We can only assume that the dog in the picture was about to be used by the prehistoric hunters to really get on the mammoth’s nerves, causing it to roll its eyes and tut at the repulsive yappy freak just long enough for the hunters to catch the mammoth and kill it.

A-aron asked: Where do flies bodies go when they die?
They go to fly body heaven, which is also spider heaven.

Alisoun Truggmakyr asked: What is the plural of anonymous?
The Tewksbury Council Of Plurals of 1621 was perhaps the most shameful episode in the history of English spelling. After a sensible morning spent adding s to things, thus agreeing that the plural of “an apple” would be “some apples” and so forth, the committee adjourned for lunch to a nearby tavern, only returning some hours later to finish their work almost too drunk to stand and certainly too drunk to say “some mouses” “some gooses” or “some octopuses”. The clerk of the council tried to keep up with the increasingly slurred and random plurals but it was a lost cause, and by the time they got to “anonymous” the officially agreed plural appears to be  “some-on-some-mices”.

That’s all for now, but remember, if there’s anything at all that puzzles you about everything that’s ever existed, real or hypothetical, then why not write it in the comments below and our team of world-class conjecturers and idle speculationists may get back to you with a state-of-the-art explanation in due course, or even sooner. That’s the Some Kind of Explanation guarantee.


  1. These are some kind of awesome answers. Hurray!

  2. We have knives, forks, spoons, and chopsticks as traditional eating utensils. What other utensils have fallen into disuse for the dinner table?

  3. Why are there so many murders in Midsomer?

  4. I'm curious if there is a mathematical calculation to explain or predict supposedly coincidental events, for example, such as wearing a new shirt and dripping mustard down the front, reaching the top of a queue and the cashier's break, or lighting a cigarette and the arrival of the cross-town bus?

  5. Is left always left? - J-Bob

  6. Why is it that when a thread has more than three comments there's always someone wanting to sell the others something?

  7. Is it possible to fry an egg on a sidewalk pavement in the July sun?

  8. What sort of vehicle does a quantum mechanic repair?