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17 January 2018

The NS Competition: No 4316

By New Statesman

Set by Leonora Casement

We asked you for answers to well-known literary questions.

This week’s winners

We weren’t sure about some
of these. For example, Larkin’s “What are days for?” Why, the next lines answer that: “Days are where we live./They come, they wake us . . .” Likewise, “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?” What else but “Put him in the brig until he’s sober”? Still, lots of excellent answers this week, with hon menshes for: Katie Mallett, Adrian Fry, Chris O’Carroll, Brian D Allingham, Nicholas Holbrook, Penn Harvey and Josh Ekroy. The three lengthier entries get £30 each, a tenner goes to John Boaler, with the Tesco vouchers going, in addition, to Rob Stuart.

Was it a vision or a waking dream?/Fled is that music –
Do I wake or sleep?

This is a tricky one. The talking nightingale was probably a dream but then it could have been a hallucination or even a rare manifestation of tinnitus. However, the chances are that you are now awake. We know you’re good but actually writing odes in your sleep? I don’t think so. There are ways of establishing it one way or the other – polysomnographic EEG procedures, and so on, but even these overlook a more profound dilemma. What is reality? How do we know that this isn’t all a dream? The bird, you, me, Bill, Basil, the flipping Tesco vouchers? (They’re definitely a dream!) As the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi put it: “Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming I am a man?” On balance, though, I’d say you’re awake but, given your predilection for blushful Hippocrene and beakers full of the warm south, well, you’re probably blind drunk.

David Silverman

O Wind,/If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

A body of air moving parallel to the earth’s surface is unable to hear, understand or respond to any manner of inquiry, so I shall step in here. Excepting for some unforeseen cosmic calamity, there can be no doubt that winter will come. As to whether or not spring will follow: each of the four seasons are largely defined by their temporal relationships to one another, much as “Tuesday” is defined as “the day between Monday and Wednesday”, so it is axiomatic that the period between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice occurs immediately after the period between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. This is assuming that you remain
in the northern hemisphere; if you were to cross the equator before the vernal equinox, you would find yourself at the beginning of autumn, with spring a full
six months behind. Clear?

Rob Stuart

And is there honey still for tea?

The shifting identity of “tea” as a societal construct has rendered this query particularly taxing. Most overtly, the word “tea” is used to mean a moment in the working day (itself subject to flexibilitisation) in which beverages of many natures are consumed, either as refreshment or in response to brand-recognition training. Equally, it may be construed as a main meal, collectivised or individualised, across a geo-economic stratum of society, or as a ritual, sometimes classified as “all day”, which involves cake.

Into this confusion, honey is poured. Honey is now commodified as a breakfasting ancillary or, in particular cases, as a medical compound (for influenza sufferers). The question is thus fraught with nutritional and sociological difficulty and, whether one is a producer or a consumer, the relationship between the edibility of honey and the time and etiquette of nectar product consumption is a matter of particular intractability.

Bill Greenwell

Shall I part my hair behind?
Do I dare to eat a peach?

It is important to deal with your questions separately. First, parting one’s hair behind is distinctly passé and runs counter to modern fashion. My strong advice is either to grow a fringe or to have a crew cut. As for your dietary inquiry – yes, peaches are good for you, rich in vitamin C and low in calories. Just bear in mind the air miles. It is for that reason I prefer to eat mostly English apples and pears.

John Boaler

The next challenge

No 4319 By Leonora Casement

In 2011, George Michael awoke from a coma, following a bout of pneumonia, suffering from foreign accent syndrome and speaking with a “vague Bristolian accent” that lasted for two days. He commented that the medical staff were “afraid I’d have it for life”. There have been reported cases of an Englishwoman who spoke with a French accent, an American with a British accent, a Yorkshireman with an Irish accent and another British man with a Russian accent. We want to know what could happen to a well-known person speaking in a very different accent.

Max 150 words by 9 April

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