Tuesday 14 April 2020

A Leap in the Dark with Nemo's Almanac

A Leap in the Dark this Friday will feature Nemo's Almanac, the mind-bending literary quiz now in its 130th year.

Below, thanks to Almanac editor Dr Ian Patterson, is a set of questions compiled exclusively for A Leap in the Dark. This is a nursery slope, mind you, and aimed at the  nervous novice. The Almanac itself is an altogether more daunting challenge.

An armchair Nemoist for decades, I've never actually submitted an entry because I can never identify more than a handful of the quotations and the competition from serious participants is fierce. The high-scorers are Usain Bolts to my damp towel in the locker room but, like many other readers, I leap on the latest number with a glad cry each November, to find the answers to the previous year's Almanac, and to enjoy the editor's sardonic commentary. This has led me to discover many now-favourite authors - especially poets - for the first time.

Ian will be talking about this long-running literary phenomenon on Friday 17th April from 8pm. We'll be joined by keen Nemoist Anna Kenyon to explore Nemo's origins in the 19th century, its long decline (which saw the number of competitors fall to around a dozen worldwide) and subsequent revival. He'll reveal how he compiles the annual Almanac and offer tips for competitors. And he'll share the answers to the sample questions below (so scroll down).

Nemo's Almanac, forty years on

Rules of the Game

Now, in the spirit of the Almanac and without using the internet, how many of these bicycle-themed literary quotations can you identify, or at least hazard a guess at?

But this you can't stand, so you throw up your hand, and you find you're as cold as an icicle,
In your shirt and your socks (the black silk with gold clocks), crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle:

There is only one phrase to describe his course at this stage, and that is—voluptuous curves. He did not ride fast, he did not ride straight, an exacting critic might say he did not ride well—but he rode generously, opulently, using the whole road and even nibbling at the footpath. The excitement never flagged. So far he had never passed or been passed by anything, but as yet the day was young and the road was clear. He doubted his steering so much that, for the present, he had resolved to dismount at the approach of anything else upon wheels.

Trace me your wheel-tracks, you fortunate bicycle,
Out of the shopping and into the dark,
Back down the Avenue, back to the potting-shed,
    Back to the house on the fringe of the park.

He left his luggage to be called for later, and pushed off on his bicycle. He always took his bicycle when he went into the country, It was part of the theory of exercise.  One day one would get up at six o’clock and pedal away to Kenilworth, or Stratford-on-Avon — anywhere.

She'd a purple mac for wet days,
A green umbrella too to take,
She'd a bicycle with shopping basket
And a harsh back-pedal brake.  


Young and vigorous they looked, different one from the other, as they wheeled into the square their diverse coloured bicycles, made by the same maker at different dates, and they seemed, by the expression on their faces, already in thought upon the moorland road which was to lead them to the frontier miles away…

Lucretius could not credit centaurs;
Such bicycle he deemed asynchronous.
“Man superannuates the horse;
Horse pulses will not gear with ours.”                  

‘There is one puzzle,’ I remarked, ‘that is hurting the back of my head and causing me a lot of curiosity. It is about the bicycle. I have never heard of detective-work as good as that being done before. Not only did you find the lost bicycle but you found all the clues as well.’

  my hair
is miles behind me making tributaries
and I have had my heart distracted out of me,
my skin is blowing slowly about without me

and now I have no hands and now I have no feet.

This is the road itself
riding a bone bicycle through my head.

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