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Odd Book Titles


Our listeners have looked at the Bookseller's list of odd titled tomes and had a go at writing the first few paragraphs of these intriguing books. We asked author Alexander McCall Smith to read the entries and judge them for us. 

The winning entry was written by TIM SANDERS and the runner up by PAMELA MORLEY.

Hear some suggested openings for the titles 'How Green Were the Nazis?' and 'Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification'.

Hear author Alexander McCall Smith's offering of a spoof opening to a genuine, if weirdly, titled book.

We speak to the judge of the competition author Alexander McCall Smith and the winner Tim Sanders.


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How Green Were The Nazis?

The sound of creaking leather from their collective greatcoats broke the silence as the assembled Wehrmacht officers leaned forward to examine the huge table map of the Spreewald, the vast forest area standing between the XI SS Panzer Corps and the Red Army. The problem was clear - vast stretches of gorse in the forest (ulex europeus) were in flower and it was the nesting season of the rare inversely-spotted bark-spitter. "Well, gentlemen" General Busse announced to his colleagues "there is no way we can attack them through the forest - the damage to the environment would be too great. Our panzer tanks still emit excessive CO2 and the electric hybrid version is still on the drawing-board." The other officers grunted in assent. There were those amongst them who could still recall the terrible Battle of the Somme in 1916 - how entire woods were destroyed, how the crash of the shells broke the noise abatement regulations as far away as Camden and how the noxious exhaust from the infernal English tanks caught the back of the men's throats. No, that was the carbon footprint to end all carbon footprints. Never again! "However" the General continued, "I have developed a strategy that I believe you will find is sufficiently eco-friendly. The XI Panzer will move forward by bicycle on the left flank, the SS Mountain Corps will take the right flank using public transport - there is still a regular bus service from Lűbben after 10 o'clock- and we will sent a small diversionary unit through the forest. But I must spell out one important message for them: keep to the paths and no shooting!".

Tim Sanders


Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan

So you've never visited Issyk Kul bazaar? You're not alone. Few Westerners come here - and those that do have been almost everywhere else in the world. So much wealth! You'll find us high up in the snow capped mountains of central Daghestan. Life's tough here, most people just about scrape by as subsistence farmers, but a few of us younger ones are more enterprising - and none more so than me and my sister Olga. Olga's covering our stall with swathes of brightly coloured silks and velvets. Then she'll display our artefacts to their best advantage. We've got artefacts almost as fine as anything you'll find in the bazaars of Samarkand. But you'll get a lot more than you bargain for from us. Today, we've got something really special. You could use these magnificent spoons to scoop the finest caviar onto your blinis in those fancy French restaurants you frequent on your weekend breaks. Hah, here come two of your compatriots now. Middle aged men on the look out for pretty faces - and more. They think we proud women of central Asia are the same as those Eastern European tarts they read about in their newspapers. Such ignorance! Olga's sultry eyes meet mine as the men approach our stall. They finger our wares disdainfully. It's time for me to open negotiations. 'You like the boxes of spoons? The box, is it not beautifully carved? And look at the spoons, pure gold encrusted with precious stones mined deep in the mountains of Daghestan by our father and brothers. They're yours for only $1000.' The taller one rubs his hand over my wrist as he takes the box of spoons from me on the pretext of closer examination. 'Beautiful, but not as beautiful as you two girls,' he replies, a smug grin spreading across his face as he traces the tattoo on my wrist. 'This tattoo, it's very fine.' 'All Daghestani women have them. You know Cyrillic letters? They read "exquisite daughter of the mountains"'. 'Ah, how true! Look, we'll give you $800 for one of the boxes of spoons - if you'll meet us here tonight.' 'Your invitation is indeed an honour for us poor peasant women,' I reply, not daring to look him in the face as he hands over the money. Olga and I watch them leave the bazaar as our hands meet in high fives. We pack everything away quickly. If you're one of the few who bother to learn our language, you'd know our tattoos actually say "watch out, suckers, we've seen you coming".

Pamela Morley


- How Green Were the Nazis?

Shortly after his overwhelming defeat in the hugely significant tank battle of Kursk on the Russian front, the Fuhrer sat in his East Prussian military headquarters listening to his generals report back. The mood was sombre. As he heard the intelligence received from his commanders on the ground on the huge quantities of Soviet armour which had been deployed by Marshal Zhukov he couldn't help recalling that briefing paper he had been given before start of the war by one of Albert Speer's protégés; what was it called, 'Bekehrung von panzer Teilung Kreuzung, zu betreiben' ('Conversion of Panzer divisions to hybrid power')? How different the smoke and fog of war would have been had he instituted its recommendations.
From Tony Brown

The Nazis elite were seated around a Berlin conference table.
Hitler was, as usual late. Goring spoke up.
“Does anyone know what this meeting about? I mean I'm really rather busy trying to bomb London at the moment”
Himmler shifted uneasily in his chair.
“The fuhrer himself has called this meeting so it must be of greatest importance”
Martin Bormann seated to the right of the fuhrers' empty chair leaned over to Goring and whispered.
“As if the dumb little chicken farmer would know!”
Von Ribbentrop, who had been sharpening pencils at the end of the table spoke up.
“We're going after the Greens”
“Guter Gott!” Himmler injected, “But we've only just signed the non-aggression pact with the Russians!”
Bormann spoke as he glanced at Goring.
“Those are the reds, dummkopf”
They both shook their heads and sighed as the Fuhrer entered the room...
From Stephen Ralphson

- The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification

Tricia stopped, holding me back by my jacket. Turning, her gaze fixed me. Her eyes were the azure of mountain lakes. Overhead the rain started to pour again.
'It's a Walmart 379 Z, with Mk 1 wheels', she said coldly.
We moved closer to each other. Blood started to travel around my veins like a prospective buyer looking over a house. She pressed her lips to mine.
'Let's get out of this goddam place', I said.
Thoughts of stray carts evaporated, it was going to be one hell of a night.
From Martin Johns

The trolley was the standard four wheel design, a little deeper than average and had a separate panel that could be pulled forward to make a smaller compartment. But it hadn’t been pulled forward, it had been pulled out, twisted over, and was lying on the river bank a few feet from the trolley.
‘Why didn’t they just tip the whole thing in the river?’ Jay Leonard was chewing the end of his Bic as he surveyed the scene. ‘God knows there’s enough of those things in there already.’
‘I reckon they wanted us to find it’. Lieutenant Arnold answered, carefully measuring a part footprint in the mud between the trolley and the twisted panel.
‘You’re sure this footprint isn’t an own goal Leonard?’
‘Absolutely. The first officer on scene kept everyone back until I got here. He could see there was nothing that could be done.’
‘Good. In all the other cases there’s always someone wanted to play the hero, but it messes with the forensics’.
Arnold took a folded sheet of paper from his inside jacket pocket and held out his hand for Leonard’s pen.
‘Wait a minute’ He’d just spotted something poking out from under the front left wheel, a receipt. Using the end of the pen he flicked back a corner and read aloud.
Leonard shrugged ‘Is it a Walmart cart?’
‘God knows’
Arnold started to sketch the trolley in the box provided on the form. He tried to line up the handle, the wheels, the angles of the spokes. A line of type at the bottom of the box in red demanded ‘Important: Please draw to scale’. He swore to himself.
‘This is getting ridiculous’.
He crossed to the nearside and took another good look.
The trolley itself was in good condition except that one spoke third from the narrow edge – on the right side if you were pushing the trolley – had been cut halfway along, and twisted into a figure of eight.
‘That’s the signature’
Lieutenant Arnold ticked the last box on his form. Then lifted the radio to his chin and pressed the side button,‘Control? It’s Arnold, can I have a patch through to the DA?’
‘You’re ok Arnold. We’re all here, just waiting for your call. What have you got? Is it one of ours?’’
‘We think it’s a Walmart, there’s a receipt, but it could be from anywhere for all I know’.
‘I asked, is it one of ours?’
Arnold took another look. The body was inverted, face down, her knees tucked into the narrow end of the trolley with the soles of her feet pointing upwards, still encased in the red stilettos of the Airstyle Stewardess. Her blonde bobbed head was forced down into the corner, leaving a grid pattern on her right cheek.
I can confirm Sir, it’s part of our series. We’ve got another trolley dolly’.
‘Thanks Arnold. Any initial thoughts?’
‘Yes sir, I think it’s time to bring in the experts.’
From Dorothy A Crossan

-Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan

I fired up the trusty “Open Roads” camper van and turned into the Arabian sun.
All four burners on the built in “free spirit” propane gas cooker blazed into action.
I opened my newly acquired spoon box and retrieved a superb example with inlaid handle and fluted spoon bowl and sat down. It’s times like these when the three way fully reclineable, easy clean, ratcheted seating module comes into it’s own.
She said she didn’t want any tea but I somehow knew she was joking by the way her facial tattoos twisted in the morning heat haze.
“I do love you” she said “and I you” I gasped almost unable to extract any oxygen from the dusty mountain air and the now gas filled camper van.
She raised the painted scorpion tail and whispered ”It’s easier if you’re sleeping when the skin breaks for the first time” and with that she filled the golden spoon with a bright orange dye that stung pleasantly around my eyes.
When I awoke we made love for the first and last time.
It’s strangely comforting to know that I can now never go home again.
From Martin New

A loud twang followed by the ear-twisting wail of an amplifier hit the air. Ethel mooed quietly and moved closer to Buttercup. Nine months out in the lush pastures of Pilton, and now this! It was hell being penned up indoors at a time when any self-respecting Somerset cow should be out ruminating. But so it had always been, from time immemorial, on Worthy Farm.
Another twang rang out. The crowds were massing round the John Peel tent. Rosy-cheeked girls were peddling enticing truffles, the stiltman was towering over the punters and a Jesus lookalike was strolling down the hill followed by a stream of jean-clad kids. The excitement was palpable and mounting on the scented air. Rumour had it that there were to be two surprise gigs that evening, and they were whispered to be none other than Manchester’s high-rise soul-yodelling trio the Tattoed Mountain Women, plus Spoon Boxes of Daghestan, a revered folk-blues line-up from the Scilly Isles.
Ethel lowed again. Ah well – might as well make a night of it.
From Yvonne Whoteman

- Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence

This is clearly an academic work -- which after exhaustive research, I discover to be about the cultural significance of the political radio interview. This is how it starts:
The flaccidity of post-ethical discourse is nowhere more fully concealed than in the privileged status conditionally accorded -- on the one hand by unsystematic meta-textual readings of an achingly bathetic popular press and, on the other, by the slavish adherence of the only partly self-validated shards of a once (at least tenuously) theorized political caste to the notion of hegemonic defeat -- to real time interrogative, investigative analysis in the time-based audio space.
Within the random constraints of quotidian or hebdomadal “structures” imposed by an increasingly desperate, yet ultimately impotent and self referentially misogynistic bourgeois lower-archy such interpersonal re-iterations of cliché-ed expletive reveal the extravagantly deracinated nature political discourse on the outer isles of a comprehensively de-meaninged culture…..
From Richard Parnaby

A recently-discovered fragment of 16th century manuscript, unambiguously signed in biro "William Shakespeare"


The streets of London (© McTell, all rights reserved). Night, rain (© Lennon/McCartney... no, that's enough of those. Get on with it).
Enter an environmentalist, weeping.


This sodium glare, these rows of idling cars,
These shops with overheatèd doors flung wide,
These offices where light doth blaze beyond
All bounds of day, or work, or common sense,
Do cause my very heart to burst for pain.
Am I the only one who sees that earth
Will soon reject our wasteful presence here?

Enter a tramp


Gizza quid, mate, for a cuppa tea?


Begone, you idle creature, get you home.


Well, that's the thing. I had a place
Until the bloody¹ Gas Board shut me off
Because I couldn't pay the bloody² bill,
So now I'm on the streets, see. Spare a quid?


And had you lagged? And was your carbon footprint
Reducèd to the tiniest of spans?
I think it not. Thus were you much to blame,
And thus you expiate with penance due
Your former sins by living now in tune
With eco-friendly theories. Good for you.

The tramp beats the environmentalist and takes his wallet. Exit environmentalist, bleeding.


I didn't hit him just because he was
A smarmy git³. It was the preachy way
That he went on and on and on and on
And never looked me in the eye.


A conference at a five-star hotel. Enter three hundred and fifty-six environmentalists, weeping.


Thank God that we are not as other men...

1) This word has been changed at the suggestion of my good friend and colleague Thomas Bowdler. The original was far too clear for modern tastes.
2) See 1)
3) See 2)

From Peter Kay

" Where have you been ?" she asked her. There was a pause, so she continued her questioning. "And for such a long time ?" Still, no reply, yet her smile said everything she felt she didn't wish to know. Eventually I said " How to describe it ? But I can tell you that I am so happy to be here, that is for sure, though my being in this place after that, doesn't get any easier. In fact, you might almost wonder whether it can be worth the effort to have gone". Rubbing at my cheeks to bring some colour to an otherwise shocking pallor and pulling poor flesh around the bones of her fragile frame, there seemed to be no room for any further investigation at that moment. Except " So what is to become of us now, then?" Given that you do appear to be here for good this time ?" At last her warm smile of complicity convinced me that I was right to come back and that perhaps it would have been better never to have been anywhere else at all ....
From Anne Michie

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