Following the success of Going Dutch In Beijing, which was translated into eight languages, I collaborated with the writer and journalist Danny Danziger on another lighthearted book for the Christmas market.
The title of The Thingummy is hopefully self-explanatory: it’s a book about those everyday objects that you just can’t name, from the hard bit on the end of your shoelace (‘the aglet’) to that inflatable cuff that your doctor puts around your arm when taking your blood pressure (‘the sphygmomanometer’).
Danny and I agreed early on that we had to stick strictly to the spirit of the title. This wasn’t a book about recondite technical items with odd names. Everything had to be ordinary, the kind of thing that an average person might come across in an average day.
We had great fun coming up with our final list – of 127 thingummies. And not just fun. On at least one occasion there were raised voices, too, as Danny fought for some inclusion that I thought was too obscure, or vice versa. But he’s a persuasive guy and managed to get in ‘phloem bundles’, the squidgy, stringy bits which run between the skin and the edible portion of a banana; not to mention ‘the muselets’, the four-legged wire cage that is wound around the neck and over the cork of a champagne bottle.
Each entry has a basic definition, and then a very short essay about (or around) the word, ranging from a short history of female head-covering below ‘the niqaab’ to a mini-lexicon of cartooning words below ‘the grawlix’ - which is of course the sequence of typographical symbols used by cartoonists to represent a swear word: *%!@$ etc.
The Thingummy was also published in the US under the title The Whatchemacallit.