Wednesday, July 30, 2008


On 13 March 1977 hazelnuts dropped into a Bristol street beside Alfred Wilson Osborne and his wife, making clicking sounds on the pavement. Mr Osborne, a chess correspondent for a local newspaper, thought, at first, that buttons had come off his coat, but quickly realized something had fallen from the clear sky. Suddenly, hundreds more nuts fell around them. Another person experienced a nut shower on the same spot a few minutes later. Mr Osborne bit into one and said it was "fresh and sweet" but not only were there no nut trees in the vicinity, the hazelnut season is much later in the year. "I have thought that a vortex [might have] sucked them up, but I don't know where you suck up hazelnuts in March", he said.
All this according to the Rough Guide To Unexplained Phenomena, Michell and Rickard, 2000. (They do seem to whore themselves about a bit, don't they? Is there anything to which there is not a Rough Guide now? Has the one on chess been written yet?) And if you were reading it here and now, you'd likely move on to the next paragraph, the next unlikely story, and think no more of the Bristolian Mr Osborne and his airborne hazelnuts.

But since we have isolated the paragraph above, do not certain details catch the eye and help us build up a fuller picture of the incident? And of the good Mr Osborne himself?

His first thought, when little objects start bouncing off the pavement, is that his buttons must be bursting off his coat. Then, realising they're actually hazelnuts, he has no hesitation in taking a bite out of them - despite the fact that by his own account, he has no idea where they have been. You get the picture. The implication, surely, is that Mr Osborne is of the portly persuasion. Somebody to laugh at. A figure of fun.

He is also a nerd, judging by his statement that he thought a "vortex" might have "sucked up" the nuts. You may approach this in one way, from the viewpoint of scientific knowledge, wondering what Mr Osborne understands a "vortex" to be and whether a vortex can reasonably be said to "suck up" anything. Or one may approach the matter more sociologically, and speculate that the gentleman has acquired his language and his science from Star Trek.

So what else does the reader need in order to dismiss Mr Osborne and his story entirely? We already, surely, have more than enough, but is there not room for one more telling, detail? Some easily-recognisable character defect, some well-understood signal that as a human being, this chap is probaby a bit odd, quite likely several hazelnuts short of a Topic? No problem:
Mr Osborne, a chess correspondent for a local newspaper
Case closed. Take him away!

[my thanks to my brother Richard for the Rough Guide link]


Anonymous said...

I wonder who's leading the British?

ejh said...

It'll take a Red Conspiracy to stop him from here.

Jonathan B said...

or a Streathamite. Not that those terms are mutually exclusive of course.