Instead of updating Aubrey's Brief Lives, Key decided to collect a single unadorned fact about each of his subjects. These bon mots can easily be dropped at dinner parties to impress all with your intelligence. e.g. Paul Hewson (Irish Businessman, b. 1960), prefers to be known as Bono, which is a popular brand of dog biscuit; Franz Kafka was a devotee of Fletcherism, the practise of chewing each mouthful of food 100 times but whose table manners were so disgusting that his father hid behind his newspaper at meal times; Emily Dickinson held the view that people must have puddings, and much, much more.
Wesley, Samuel (British clergyman and poet, 1662 1735). On Christmas Day 1716, Wesley was haunted by an apparition of a badger with no head. It was called Jeffrey. Frank writes: It occurred to me that it would be a good idea to write a modern, updated version of John Aubrey s Brief Lives. But it further occurred to me that some books are unimproveable, and that in trying to follow in Aubrey s footsteps I would embarrass myself and become the butt of ridicule. The idea continued to nag at me, however, and eventually I decided the solution was to outdo Aubrey in brevity. My own Brief Lives would consist of a single, unadorned fact about each of my subjects. So the reader may not learn very much about the life of X or Y or Z, but they would be armed with one little nugget which might come in handy to chuck into a lull during the conversation at the kind of swish sophisticated cocktail party to which they no doubt get invited." Other entries include: Gibson, Willie (Irish, 2nd Baron Ashbourne, 1868 1942). An enthusiastic Gaelic nationalist, Gibson was rumoured to keep a tortoise in his sporran. Harmsworth, Alfred, Lord Northcliffe (British newspaper magnate, 1865 1922). One day at a seaside resort, Northcliffe wantonly struck down a seagull with his stick and beat it to death on the sand. Jansson, Tove (Finnish writer and illustrator, 1914 2001). When staying at her Finnish island retreat, it was Tove Jansson s practice to get out of bed at four o clock in the morning and stand stock still, pretending to be a tree, while a squirrel ran up and down her frozen limbs. Lennon, John (British musician, 1940 1980). According to Bernard Levin (q.v.), there is nothing wrong with John Lennon that could not be cured by standing him upside down and shaking him gently until whatever is inside his head falls out . Stein, Gertrude (American writer, 1874 1946). Stein liked to write while looking at cows. She and Alice B Toklas would drive around until they found a suitable spot, then Stein would sit on a campstool armed with pad and pencil, while Toklas coaxed a cow into her line of vision. Nixon, Richard Milhous (American politician and Potus, 1913 1994) Nixon s favourite pastime was mashing potatoes. Schubert, Franz (Austrian composer, 1797 1828). Upon his deathbed, Schubert s final wish was that someone would bring him some books by James Fenimore Cooper. Tippett, Michael (British composer, 1905 1998). Tippett called the refrigerator in his kitchen Bernard Levin . Anderson, John Henry (British magician, 1814 1874). The first magician to pull a rabbit out of a hat, Anderson also did a trick which he descri