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  1. #161
    PREPOSITIONS AND OTHER THINGS

    Conversation between two passengers, A and B, during a train journey.

    A. Excuse me, but now that you seem to have finished using your mobile telephone, perhaps we could have a word.

    B. About what?

    A. Your use of language.

    B. So youíve been earwigging, have you?

    A. I think eavesdropping expresses your meaning less colloquially, but I could hardly avoid hearing what you said. You were speaking loudly enough to obviate the need for a telephone on your part.

    B. Never mind that. Whatís wrong with the way I talk?

    A. Among other things, I think you should consider the way you deal with prepositions.

    B . Explain.

    A. You mentioned to your contact that you were on the train, that you would later be on the bus, and that you had been working on your laptop. At another point you asked him to slow up a bit.

    B. So?

    A. It would have been more accurate to say that you were in the train, that you would later be in the bus and that you had been working at your laptop, or perhaps with it. As for the speed, one slows down, not up.

    B. Would you care to go through all that again, and make it a bit clearer?

    A. Certainly. You could hardly be on the train, bus or laptop. It would be very difficult for you to get onto the train or bus unless you had a ladder. You would get into those vehicles. Also you could not use your laptop if you were on it. Finally, you would never speak of speeding down, so slowing up should be avoided.

    B. Thatís just the way most people talk.

    A. No doubt, but it is careless.

    B. What about the Internet. Will you allow me to be on that?

    A. Yes.

    B. Why?

    A. Because it can be regarded as somewhat analogous to other infrastructure systems, such as roads or railways. Itís perfectly all right to be on them.

    B. Very kind of you to give permission. Anything else?

    A. Yes. At one stage in your discussion, you said that you had met up with Simon.

    B. Thatís right. Something you donít like about that as well, is there?

    A. I was disturbed by the pleonasm.

    B. Meaning what?

    A. Redundancy of words. It would have been sufficient to say that you met Simon. The Ďupí and Ďwithí are unnecessary.

    A. Have you finished?

    A. Not quite. You also said that on hearing the result of a football match, you were literally over the Moon.

    B. And you find something amiss with that too, right?

    A. Yes. Unless you were a NASA astronaut involved in the Apollo missions, which your accent and apparent age indicate is unlikely, you could not have been literally over the Moon.

    B. Pardon me, Mr Faultfinder, but I happen to know that the Oxford English Dictionary accepts that word in the sense in which I used it. I believe the term is figurative.

    A. Iím aware of that, and I think the OED has something to answer for the manner in which it embraces that kind of usage. It all started when the compliers began work on it in 1857.

    B. You look as though you might have been around at the time. What did they do that displeases you?

    A. They decided at the outset that their dictionary would be descriptive, not prescriptive.

    B. Would you like to enlarge on that?

    A. By all means. The lexicographers concerned agreed that they would not instruct people in the use of the language, but would instead record how it was used. They did not wish to emulate certain other countries by setting up an academy. The rot set in there and then and it has led to a great deal of confusion and sloppiness.

    B. That gets up your nose, does it?

    A. A colourful expression, but appropriate. We in the Anglosphere have given the rest of our world an excellent method of communication, namely the English language. I think we must accept that we are custodians of it and that we should act accordingly.

    B. Look, I agree that weíve provided the world with a great tool, but we canít give other people orders about the way they handle it. Theyíll do as they like, and thereís nothing a busybody like you can do to change that. Youíve just said that the original OED experts didnít aim to make rules, so donít set yourself above them. Youíre just a fogey, completely out of touch with modern practice.

    A. Perhaps youíre right. If so, that is regrettable Itís depressing to live through a period of declining standards. However, Iím sorry to say that we canít continue this conversation.

    B. You mean your lecture. Youíre a funny old buzzard. Anyway, why canít we keep talking?

    A. Because the train is slowing down and I live near the next stop, so I must get off.

    B. Hah, gotcha!

    A. How?

    B. You gave me an earful about my being in the train, not on it. Well, youíre in it too, so youíll have to get out of it, not off it, or you could alight from it. And you reckon youíre an expert on prepositions?

    A. Drat! Hoist with my own petard.

    B. I probably shouldnít ask, but where did you dig that one up and could you put it in plain English?

    A. Itís from Hamlet and it means blown up by oneís own bomb. To use a more modern expression, Iíve shot myself in the foot, and perhaps undone some of the good work I did during our brief exchange, but now I must go.

    B. Not a moment too soon. By the way, whatís the name of this place weíre approaching? Nitpickingham, is it?

    A. Oh, well guessed. You came very close. Itís Punctiliousford. Goodbye, whippersnapper.

    B. Toodle-oo, fossil.

    * * *
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  2. #162
    Really enjoyed the wit and style this piece was written in. "Human nature is disgusting", really made me laugh as well as the bricks of course!

    The article has clearly had some work put into it, the style is clear and reporter like as you'ld expect but it reads incredibly well and I like the way you have organised the piece. Even though it introduces some quite complicated notions, the way in which you have written this piece means no headaches at all for the readers as it is very easy to follow.

    Excellent quality article; love its wit, professional standard: well done!

  3. #163
    Dear Introvertrme,

    Many thanks for the kind words. I try to entertain and it's nice to know that the effort succeeds at times. Good luck with your own work.

    Best wishes, Cj
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  4. #164
    CRUNCH MEETING

    A country seeking to leave a large trading block with a substantial degree of social integration has had a number of high-level discussions, in an effort to agree proposals for the terms of separation. Following several failures to reach a unified position to present to the block’s negotiators, the prospective departing country’s head of government arranged a gathering of the most senior cabinet members, the aim being to establish a consensus.

    Present at the conference were the Premier, regarded as the Primus Inter Pares (PIP), the Minister of Finance (MOF), the Minister of the Interior (MOI), the Minister of the Exterior (MOE), the Minister of Defence (MOD) and the Minister of Trade (MOT). In the absence of the Cabinet Secretary, minutes were taken by Pip, who added a post-meeting note. A full transcript was inadvertently leaked. It is reproduced below:


    PIP: Good morning everyone. We all know why we are here, so to open our debate I will say only that we must devise a policy, which I will then convey to the other side.

    MOT: Sounds as though you are about to depart this life, Pip:

    PIP: I don’t think we have time to waste on facetiousness, Mot: Let me stress that we are holding a crunch meeting.

    MOD: Oh, Pip, we’ve held so many crunch meetings that it’s a wonder we haven’t already been reduced to powder.

    PIP: More frivolity. As usual, you are witty and unhelpful in equal measure. If you need further emphasis, we must regard this as the crunch-crunch meeting – the crunch of crunches. I am not prepared to let anyone leave here until we get a result that satisfies me.

    MOI: Then you’d better start wheeling in the beer and sandwiches. I missed breakfast to get here and I’m ravenous.

    PIP: Excellent, Moi: Fasting sharpens the mind, so I expect a major contribution from you. And kindly forget the victuals for an hour or two. You’ve had a lot to say to the public recently. This is your chance to sound off to your colleagues – and do try for once to avoid putting your foot where your mouth is.

    MOE: Just a moment, PIP: I’d like to make a point here. I’m in charge of foreign affairs, which makes me the country’s top diplomat. You spoke of the other side. I would prefer to call a spade a spade and give it its real name – the enemy.

    PIP: What a diplomat you are. More like a bull in a china shop. Heaven knows why I appointed you, but just remember that what the Pip giveth, the Pip taketh away – maybe. Watch your step.

    MOE: Don’t threaten me. Bear in mind that primus inter pares means first among equals. The pecking order can change.

    PIP: No doubt, but not in favour of a twit like you. I doubt that you could find your face with both hands.

    MOE: That’s rich coming from a perfidious backstabber and turncoat. We all know you as Janus, but I don’t think you could find your hands with both faces.

    PIP: Clearly you have nothing of importance to say, so shut up. I’d like to hear some constructive observations. You haven’t said anything yet, Mof.

    MOF: I’m keeping my cards close to my chest.

    MOI: Some cards. Some chest. You haven’t got a hand worth playing. A pair of deuces at most, I’d say.

    MOF: Well, you’d be wrong, as always. If you must know, I have a full house.

    MOI: That’s not good enough. It can be beaten by four of a kind, let alone a straight flush, which is even better, especially an ace-high one.

    PIP: If you two have finished airing your knowledge of poker, perhaps you would address our problem and let us see whether you have anything other than card games in your heads, not that I have much hope in that respect.

    MOD: Hey, Pip, you’re supposed to be in charge here. What about some leadership from the top? At least give us guidance.

    PIP: That’s what you lot are here to give me, dimwit. The idea is that you provide me with your respective visions of the way ahead and I try to fuse them into a whole.

    MOE: Pardon my use of homophones, assuming you know what they are, but the only whole you’ll fuse them into is a black hole. For months now you’ve been vacillating, procrastinating, prevaricating –

    PIP: That’s enough ‘ings’ for the moment. I’ve already told you to dry up, so be quiet unless I invite you to speak again. We haven’t heard from you for a while, Mot: Say something!

    MOT: I’m getting flak from businesses large and small. Trouble is they’re in conflict. The big ones want us to stay in the block to avoid disruption, while the little ones are keen to get out because they’re bogged down trying to meet what they see as irrelevant standards imposed on them by bureaucrats from the block’s centre, who don’t seem to be accountable to anybody. My suggestion is that we should temporise.

    PIP: How?

    MOT: Well, we’re not going to satisfy all demands, no matter what we come up with here, so I think we should drag this affair on until everybody is fed up with it, we get some half-baked offer from the block and arrange another public vote. We could specify turnout and majority conditions that aren’t likely to be met because the result will probably be as close as the original plebiscite, so that would lead to a third try, and so on. What one might call a neverendum.

    PIP: Rubbish! Look, I don’t think I’ll get a sensible suggestion from any of you, which means we shan’t come to an accord here, so – hey, who threw that shoe at me? Ah, you, is it, Moe? Hmn, handsome footwear. Top brand. Indicates that you’re being paid too much. Anyway, you’ve slipped up. I’m keeping your size ten and you’re fired, with immediate effect. You may now leave the room, limp along the drive and see if you can hail a taxi because as from this moment, you don’t have a ministerial limo. That’ll teach you to hurl brogues at your boss. Bye-bye. Anyone else minded to throw things? No? Good. Well, I’m going to tell the public that we’ve had a frank and productive talk, then I’ll do what I see fit.

    MOT: You can’t dismiss my neverendum notion just like that.

    PIP: Yes I can. It’s nonsense and I didn’t expect anything better from you. You’re a dolt, Mot and I’ve had enough of you. Will you write your letter of resignation or shall I do it for you? Either way, you’re going. If you hurry you might catch up with the former Moe. He’s sure to be making slow progress with only one shoe or in his socks. Maybe the two of you could share a cab.

    MOF: You’re going too far, Pip. Next thing we know you’ll be firing all of us, then what will you do?

    PIP: Much better than I’m doing now. You’ve given me the only good idea I’ve heard since this meeting started. With Moe and Mot gone, that leaves me with three of you, Mof, Moi and Mod. Consider yourselves sacked. If you get a move on, you’ll probably be able to overtake the other two nincompoops and squeeze into the same taxi, although that’s not really important because I anticipated this outcome and ordered one for each of you. Hop it.


    Footnote. Pip’s thoughts after the meeting: I am reminded of Tom Lehrer’s song about a nuclear war ‘We will all go together when we go’. Well, everyone has gone – apart from me. What a relief to ditch that bunch of dunderheads. Now I’d like to get on with implementing the plan I had all along. Pity I can’t remember it.

    * * *

    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  5. #165
    BROADCASTING WITH A DIFFERENCE

    Alan: Take a seat, Tony. Youíd better make yourself comfortable because youíve some explaining to do.

    Tony: I donít know what you mean, Alan. I thought everything was going nicely.

    Alan: Oh, you did, did you? Well, let me tell you what I want to know. Three weeks ago, I took a hard-earned and overdue holiday. I returned today and found a totally unsatisfactory state of affairs here. Kindly tell me how this came about.

    Tony: Whatís wrong?

    Alan: Where do I start? Perhaps by reminding you that we are a local commercial radio station, much like many others but admittedly smaller than most. We rely on advertising to keep us going. In case youíve overlooked the point, adverts are supposed to be legal, decent, honest and truthful.

    Tony: Truthful, shmoothful. What does it matter so long as the mazuma rolls in?

    Alan: Mazuma?

    Tony: Right. Mazuma, cabbage, spondulicks, moolah, frogskins, the folding. You do speak English, donít you?

    Alan: Yes. Itís getting through to me that you mean money, but the important thing is how we come by it. Weíre supposed to do so ethically Ė and if you say: ĎEthically, shmethically,í Iíll brain you.

    Tony: This is strong stuff, Alan. Where do you reckon Iíve gone wrong?

    Alan: Everywhere would be a good start. Where did you find these characters youíve hauled in during my absence?

    Tony: I didnít. They were recommended to come here.

    Alan: By whom? Crime International? The ĎMobí? The ĎSyndicateí? Just look at the identities of these companies youíve allowed to pollute the airwaves in our name.

    Tony: What about them?

    Alan: Let us first consider this firm of lawyers. I know such people are into advertising nowadays, but there are limits. For one thing, look at the name.

    Tony: Is there something wrong with it?

    Alan: Oiler & Wheeling did not fill me with confidence, so I did a little checking. The company was set up two weeks ago and it does not employ anyone with either of the names its title suggests. By the way, I imagine you are unaware of the fact that this firm is the UK subsidiary of an American outfit rejoicing in the name Arty & Dodge.

    Tony: So what?

    Alan: Thatís a play on words, you oaf. Itís a barely veiled twist on the Artful Dodger, who was a character in Oliver Twist, and a most unsavoury fellow. Incidentally that company too was formed a fortnight ago and nobody named Arty or Dodge works there. But letís put that aside and consider the wording of their presentation. Iíll read you as much of it as I can stomach. Here we go: ĎIf youíve ever been distressed by anything, you can bet that thereís money in it for you. Somebody must have been at fault and we can find out who it was and make them pay through the nose. Your best bet is to opt for our premium rate Strawclutchersí offer. That way, you can be sure that no matter how tenuous the link between what upset you and whoever caused it, weíll dig up the dirt and get you a wad of compensation.í Thereís more of the same but I think that will do.

    Tony: Youíre not happy, right?

    Alan: Very perceptive of you to notice that. I was also intrigued by the deal this Goldplate Finance company is offering. You may recall the patter, but Iíll remind you anyway. The extract I have here reads: ĎYes, you heard that right. We are actually giving you a chance to invest with us at a guaranteed annual interest rate of twelve percent. And you wonít have to wait a year to find out that our offer is genuine. No, at the expiry of each month from the day your account is set up, we post to you a payment of one percent of your investment. So if you start with a modest ten thousand pounds, you get back one hundred pounds a month until you want us to return your capital. You canít beat that anywhere. But hurry, as this offer will close very shortly.í

    Tony: Sounds great. Iíve been thinking of taking a piece of it.

    Alan: You dolt. This is an era of rock-bottom interest rates. Nobody can keep paying you twelve percent a year. This is obviously the old Ponzi swindle all over again.

    Tony: Whatís that?

    Alan: It gets its name from Charles Ponzi, who worked the scam in the nineteen-twenties, but it wasnít new even then. The idea is to tempt gullible types like you to send money to these rogues and they make the promised monthly payments for a short time. They do that by using some of the money they receive from the early plungers and from others who invest after those first victims have let it be known that theyíre receiving the advertised returns. When the scoundrels have grabbed enough to satisfy themselves they close down and vanish with all the loot, except what little theyíve paid out each month for a short time. The first dupes get back only a tiny fraction of their capital by way of so-called interest, and most later takers lose everything.

    Tony: Hey, thatís cheating.

    Alan: Ah, a further flash of brightness on your part. Now to another of the people to whom youíve so enterprisingly granted our facilities. I refer to this auto sales firm, Plentycars. It claims to be offering a vehicle with many remarkable features, one of which is that it can be parked in a kerb space less than its own length.

    Tony: Yeah, clever isnít it?

    Alan: Most ingenious. However it appears to have escaped your attention that the photo these rascals supplied shows the car in question parked by a roadside. It certainly occupies less than its own length at the kerb. Thatís because itís parked nose-in, you imbecile. Any car takes up less than its own length in kerb space if itís placed that way, unless you can point me to one thatís at least as broad as it is long, and Iím sure you canít. However, weíll move on to the last of your carefully chosen weirdoes. Iím speaking of this charity organisation, LiftaLord.

    Tony: Is there something amiss there, too?

    Alan: You might say that. In case you failed to vet their script, let me just read an extract from what you permitted them to say to our listeners. It goes like this: ĎWe are appealing on behalf of distressed nobility. There are many members of our upper classes who have fallen on evil times and are bewildered and directionless, barely knowing where their next plate of caviar is coming from. You can help. A donation of a little as a hundred pounds will enable one of these afflicted people to enjoy a bottle of decent wine, perhaps for the first time in years. A thousand pounds will allow a deserving couple to spend three days in the kind of country manor they once occupied as a matter of course. Please send us all the money you can spare and weíll make everything all right for these unfortunate toffs.í

    Tony: Well, I donít think thereís anything exactly out of line there. I just assumed it would be okay.

    Alan: I donít care what you assumed. Itís utterly tasteless. Now look, Iím soon going to be up to my ears in lawsuits, while you are about to seek an alternative way to make a living.

    Tony: You mean you donít want me here any longer.

    Alan: Yet another of your bursts of luminosity. Yes, young man. The last thing I have to say to you is that youíre fired, with immediate effect. Get thee hence.

    * * *
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  6. #166
    CALCULUS

    Newton: Ah, Leibniz. So youíve finally made contact. Took you long enough. On a bad line too. I suppose you rang to apologise for your atrocious behaviour in trying to scoop me about the technique I invented. Too late to curry favour now.

    Leibniz: My my, arenít we excitable? Calm down, Isaac.

    Newton: Donít you Isaac me, you plagiarist. And anyway, itíll soon be Sir Isaac, so show a little respect to your elders and betters. I beat you to it and you could clear the air by admitting that you nicked my fluxions.

    Leibniz: Nicked your fluxions, eh? Well, I hope that wasnít too painful. I could tell you how to heal the wound, but being such a cantankerous old buffer, you probably wouldnít take advice from anyone.

    Newton: I certainly would not take it from a thief like you. Tell me, do you steal horses as well as mathematical notions?

    Leibniz: Now now, my dear fellow, donít take on so. Iím no copycat. I worked independently of you.

    Newton: Liar! You sneaked a look at my notes and everybody knows it. By the way, whatís all this nonsense about your surname. There seems to be some debate about whether itís supposed to end with Ďtzí, or just Ďzí. I know youíre a fool, but surely you know how to spell your own name.

    Leibniz: You can do it either way but donít waste my time with trivia. I want to know why you kept your alleged system secret for so long. In the highly improbable event that you really cracked it in 1665, youíve set a new record for anal retention. Itís now 1704. Are you seriously suggesting that you deliberately left us all in the dark for thirty-nine years?

    Newton: You havenít done too badly on that score either. You reckon you got the answer in 1673 but you didnít let on until 1684. Anyway, the time lags have nothing to do with it. I was there first and thatís what matters. If youíre now crawling to me with a request for cooperation, youíve come to the wrong address.

    Leibniz: As it happens, Iím not suggesting that we work together. Whoíd want to do that with you when itís well known that you canít stand anybody? I doubt that you can tolerate yourself. If youíd get out into the world, you might find it useful to consult your peers from time to time.

    Newton: Rubbish! I have no peers. The only one fit to lick my boots in the field weíre discussing was good old Archimedes. He knew his stuff about integrals and if he hadnít been killed by that stupid Roman soldier, heíd have solved differentials too.

    Leibniz: No argument there. At times I wonder why it took a further nineteen centuries for me to produce the goods.

    Newton: There you go again. How many more times do I have to tell you that I was the first to make the breakthrough? My word, youíre a sore loser.

    Leibniz: Garbage! I didnít lose. Your problem, or one of the many you have, is that the apple that fell onto your head may have helped you with the gravity thing, but it clearly caused some collateral damage to your brain, which I suspect was addled enough before the impact. Eventually youíll admit that Iím the leading scientist in the world today.

    Newton: Whatís a scientist?

    Leibniz: Itís a term Iíve just invented and it wonít be widely used for a hundred years or more. I suppose I shanít get the credit for that, either. For your information, the word science will replace what we now call natural philosophy.

    Newton: Twaddle! The current expression is good enough for me. However, weíre not making progress here. I tell you that my description of what weíre discussing is more accurate than your clumsy definition, nova methodus pro maximis et minimis. Thatís too much of a mouthful for anybody.

    Leibniz: Oh, so youíre now saying that Iím guilty of superfluidity in my use of language.

    Newton: Superfluity is the word youíre seeking, dimwit. Do I have to correct you in your use of English as well?

    Leibniz: In case itís escaped your feeble notice, weíre holding this conversation in Latin, dumbo.

    Newton: Well, English will take over in due course.

    Leibniz: How do you know that?

    Newton: Because in addition to standing supreme in the field of mathematics, I am prescient. Just wait and see. You might also care to note that the matter of terminology is now irrelevant because Iíve changed the name of my work to The Calculus.

    Leibniz: Hah, more cheating. May I ask when you had this Ďinspiration?í

    Newton: This morning.

    Leibniz: A likely story, but not one that will do you any good. I came up with the same term yesterday.

    Newton: Balderdash! Youíre just trying to steal my thunder again, but the truth will come out. Look, this connection is getting worse. Iím having trouble hearing what you say. You keep breaking up.

    Leibniz: No wonder. Iíve only recently developed this thing I call the telephone. It wonít be in common use for about two hundred years. See, youíre not the only one who can peer into the future, so donít give yourself so many airs. Now, this call is costing me a fortune.

    Newton: I canít imagine why. I mean, a pair of empty metal or paper cups and a length of baling wire canít be all that expensive. Still, I think weíve said enough to make it obvious that my fluxions and fluents preceded your nova methodus bunkum and that both are now outdated, so begone and donít pester me again.

    Leibniz: My idea will win the day. Nobody is going to take notice of a man who tries to poke out his own eye and sits on the edge of his bed for hours after waking. Honestly, forgetting to get up in a morning. What kind of cretin does that?

    Newton: Enough! Goodbye, blockhead.

    Leibniz: Likewise, moron.

    * * *


    Last edited by Courtjester; January 7th, 2019 at 04:21 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  7. #167
    THE INTERVIEW

    Two senior officials, Godfrey and Claude, are conducting an interview with the aim of recruiting spies for the UK’s security services. A knock at the door preceded their encounter with an applicant named Snowden. It went as follows:

    Godfrey: Come in. (The door opens and closes but nobody appears.)

    Godfrey: That’s odd. Come in!

    Snowden: I am in.

    Claude: What nonsense is this? We are expecting Mr Snowden, not a ghost. Kindly explain yourself.

    Snowden: It’s simple enough. I’m not a ghost. You can’t see me because I’m invisible.

    Godfrey: Hah, a likely story. Since we can hear you close by, I take it that you are a ventriloquist, playing a joke on us. If so, it isn’t very funny.

    Snowden: I’m not a ventriloquist and this isn’t a joke. Just put out your hand and I’ll shake it. (The handshake takes place.)

    Godfrey: This is amazing. You certainly seem to be present, so I suppose we shall have to believe you.

    Snowden: Good. We’re making progress. May I take a seat?

    Claude: Please do. (A chair facing the interviewers creaks.)

    Snowden: Thank you. Now, what do you want me to tell you?

    Godfrey: We know where you come from. Perhaps you would fill us in a little with regard to your background. Where were you educated?

    Snowden: At my local comprehensive school.

    Godfrey: I see. How about tertiary?

    Snowden: What do you mean?

    Claude: Your higher education. University.

    Snowden: I didn’t go to one. I left school at sixteen and started work with a chemical firm near my home. I was employed there for eight years and left a few days ago.

    Claude: No university! That’s very unusual for anyone seeking work with us. I believe you’re the first non-graduate we’ve had here for some time. Why did you leave your company?

    Snowden: Well, it struck me that this invisibility thing should be useful to anyone in your line of business, so I just walked out of my laboratory and applied to you. Nobody at the firm knows about my transformation and I thought it might be a good idea to leave it that way.

    Godfrey: When and how did you become invisible?

    Snowden: Shortly before I left the firm, after messing about with some compounds when carrying out an experiment, I drank something from a glass by the side of my workbench and within a few seconds I'd just sort of vanished, complete with my clothing.

    Godfrey: Wasn’t taking that drink rather careless?

    Snowden: It was an accident. I reached out for some fruit juice and picked up the wrong liquid.

    Claude: Very odd. Is your condition reversible?

    Snowden: I don’t know. I was working with a few different substances in various proportions. There’s no way I could repeat what I was doing, but even if I could, I don’t think I’d want to.

    Claude: Extraordinary. How many people are aware what has happened to you?

    Snowden: Nobody but the three of us. I live alone and as far as I know, the firm thinks I’ve simply left without telling anybody.

    Godfrey: This gets stranger by the minute. As you’re no longer in employment, how do you manage to live?

    Snowden: So far I've been using my savings. Now I need to start earing again.

    Godfrey. I understand. Now, have you any other attributes you feel may be beneficial to the work we have in mind?

    Snowden: I don’t think so. The invisibility is about all I have to offer. Still, I imagine you train people.

    Claude: Sometimes, but our service has a long tradition of depending on talented amateurs. You might say that we keep instruction to a minimum. Versatility and initiative are the qualities we rely on. How do you score there?

    Snowden: I’ve never been put to the test, so I can’t tell.

    Godfrey: That’s understandable. Now, I think you’ve told us everything that’s of any consequence, so perhaps you would leave us for a few minutes and wait outside. We’ll call you shortly.

    Snowden: All right. (The chair creaks again and the door opens and closes.)

    Claude: Well, what do you think, Godfrey?

    Godfrey: I’m afraid he won’t do. Not the right sort of chap.

    Claude: My view precisely. He just isn’t one of us. He wouldn’t fit in. Rather short in the upbringing department. I shudder to think of his likely manners in our kind of society. And what about his schooling? I think we can discount any knowledge of Greek and Latin there.

    Godfrey: Right! I doubt he would ever hold his own among the class of people he’d meet. Let’s haul him back in and impart the bad news.

    Snowden: No need. I never went out.

    Claude: I say, that’s rather bad form.

    Godfrey: Very underhanded. We distinctly heard you move out of that chair and saw the door open and close.

    Snowden: So you did, but I’ve been here all the time. I gather you don’t want me, so maybe you could point me towards someone who might.

    Godfrey: Try the Russian embassy. The people there are always on the lookout for agents. Goodbye and good luck.

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; February 4th, 2019 at 01:20 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  8. #168
    PURPLE PROSE

    Welcome to this month’s edition of Bookworm with me, Angela Pickbone. As regular listeners know, we normally invite the author of a recently published novel to discuss it. On most occasions we talk about a work that has been favourably received by the literary critics. This time we are dealing with one in the opposite category. All the pundits seem to be baffled by this book and are fiercely hostile to it. We therefore asked the writer, Terrence Torrance, to join us and offer his observations. Good afternoon, Mr Torrance.

    Torrance: Hello. Please call me Terrence.

    Pickbone: Thank you, Torr . . . er . . . Terrence. Now, your hundred and sixty thousand word story ‘Abstrusius’ has attracted a lot of press reaction, mostly from reviewers who have had difficulty trying to understand it.

    Torrance: I don’t see why. It seems perfectly straightforward to me.

    Pickbone: Well, the consensus of opinion is to the effect that your prose is so obscure that it makes James Joyce’s ‘Finnegan's Wake’, Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ or Martin Heidegger’s ‘Sein und Zeit’ appear as clear as window panes by comparison.

    Torrance: I can’t be held responsible for the inability of soi-disant literarians to follow plain English.

    Pickbone: I’ll read out what some of them have said about your opus, and I should mention that their words reflect the general assessment. One observes that ‘Abstrusius’ is a triumph of opacity. Another remarks that you have reached hitherto unimagined heights of inaccessibility. Yet another notes that the word incomprehensible is barely adequate to describe your tale. Pretty strong stuff, don’t you think?

    Torrance: These people are supposed to be erudite but all they are demonstrating is their ignorance of linguistic matters. Maybe they should try a different line of work.

    Pickbone: Obviously you are entitled to express and defend your opinion, but I must say that I too had trouble with every passage I tried to read. When I got halfway through your first paragraph I abandoned my dictionary, thinking that it must be out of date or too limited, or maybe I was grappling with a different language.

    Torrance: It’s clear enough to me and common parlance in the circles in which I usually move.

    Pickbone: Which circles are they?

    Torrance: Various but mostly I can be found at the Logophiles’ Club, of which I am a member. What difficulties did you encounter with the book?

    Pickbone: Allow me to read a little from the beginning, so that our listeners may form their own opinion. It goes: “Though no mean deipnosophist, I absquatulated during the hors d’oeuvres, as my sole companion was a doryphore and comminatory to boot. Also, his jejune literary animadversions were adscititious to our exchanges and largely obnubilated them. Still worse, his minaceousness and gasconade indicated that he considered me a gobemouche. All this was regrettable because I am quite edacious. Felicitously, the incident was a eucatastrophe, as I repaired otherwhere by an anfractuous route to assuage my gustatory appetency in a mollicious milieu.” I will not go on.

    Torrance: What’s wrong with that passage?

    Pickbone: Let’s just see how a another author renders it. He writes: “Though adept at dinner-table conversation, I left hurriedly as my sole companion was an irritating and threatening critic. Also his dull literary carping was extraneous to our talk, largely obscuring it. Further, he was boastful and saw me as gullible. All this was regrettable, as I like eating. Still, good came from bad, as I took a winding route to another place and ate in luxurious surroundings.”

    Torrance: And you regard that as better than my opening, do you?

    Pickbone: I think so. It has fewer words, syllables and characters than yours, doesn’t require the repeated use of a thesaurus and covers the same ground.

    Torrance: Madam, I am not seeking an award for breviloquence. I expect my readers to have a modicum of knowledge, but as you clearly prefer the scribbling of a hack writer, you are welcome to it.

    Pickbone: Very forthright, Torr . . . er . . . Terrence. I understand that you are to produce a sequel to ‘Abstrusius’, in the same vein but longer. I can hardly wait. Perhaps we’ll invite you again when you have completed that next foray into impenetrability. However, we’re out of time now, so good luck with your further belletristic emprises and goodbye.

    Torrance: Belletristic emprises, eh? Nice one. I think you’re catching on. Ta-ta.

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; March 14th, 2019 at 03:50 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  9. #169
    COME AGAIN!

    The closing stage of a recent hearing in a UK court included an extraordinary exchange between the chairman of the magistrates and the plaintiff, Ephraim Wharfedale. It is given below:

    Chairman: Now, Mr Wharfedale, this seems to be a strange case. Both you and the defendant, Mr Grobe, are representing yourselves and we have already heard what he has to say. He claims that he had never heard of you before this action began, that he has no idea why you initiated it and that he has appeared only because he was required to do so. I would now like to hear from you.

    Wharfedale: It is all quite simple, Your Honour. The defendant attacked me with a most fearsome weapon, causing me bodily harm and mental anguish.

    Chairman: I see. What was the instrument he used and what injury was done?

    Wharfedale: He struck me in the face with a white cabbage. As a result I had a lengthy nosebleed and suffered emotional consequences.

    Chairman: When did the incident occur?

    Wharfedale: On the tenth of November, 1816.

    Chairman: I donít understand. You say you are speaking of something that took place over two hundred years ago.

    Wharfedale: That is correct.

    Chairman: Remarkable. You seem to be a relatively young man, as does Mr Grobe. Why has it taken you over two centuries to pursue this matter?

    Wharfedale: That is easily explained, Your Honour. The assault took place when Mr Grobe and I were in earlier incarnations. I suppose he thought he could get away with it, but I imagine he reckoned without karma, which has now caught up with him.

    Chairman: My word, we are in deep waters here. Who were the two of you at the time to which you refer?

    Wharfedale: His name was Sprode and mine was Swaledale.

    Chairman: You seem to have an affinity with the Yorkshire Dales. I imagine that if we were to go back even further, you were probably Mr Wensleydale in a yet earlier incarnation.

    Wharfedale: Good try, Your Honour. I was in fact Mrs Wensleydale.

    Chairman: Were you indeed? So am I to take it that one may come back at one time or another as a member of either gender?

    Wharfedale: Yes, or in any status between the two.

    Chairman: This is all too much, Mr . . . sorry Mrs Wens . . . er . . . Mr Swale . . . er . . . Mr Wharfedale. This is a secular court and we cannot deal with such affairs as the one you have raised. In any case, you are out of luck in another respect.

    Wharfedale: Why?

    Chairman: Because there is a timebar on the kind of misdeed in question.

    Wharfedale: What does that mean?

    Chairman: It means that after a certain period an occurrence of that kind should not give rise to legal proceedings. I donít know offhand why this particular one has been allowed to do so. However, I need not consult my two colleagues here before informing you that the charge is dismissed.

    Wharfedale: Hah, just my luck. I suppose I should have expected that there would be no justice for a poor man.

    Chairman (after a brief word with his co-magistrates): You are about to be even poorer because you have to produce the sum of two hundred pounds for wasting the courtís time. Begone, and make sure that you pay the fine before you shed your current incarnation, perhaps to return as Mr, Mrs or Ms Arkengarthdale.

    * * *
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  10. #170
    THE PHILOSOPHERíS STONE?

    Yet another spectacular event was staged today by the Yorkshire engineer and inventor Kevin Spout. This one took place in a meadow three miles from his home. As usual, a group of science reporters attended, as did many members of the lay public.

    Kevin stood by the side of a metal box, eight feet long, six feet wide and five feet in height. When the gathering had settled down and was paying attention, he began his address. ďYou are about to see something that will revolutionise all our lives,Ē he beamed. ďThe machine here is my latest creation. I call it a combinator. The idea for it came to me after I read an article about 3D printing. It took me only a few minutes to realise that, impressive though this is, it does not go far enough.

    ďI reasoned that what we really need is a device that will convert any substance to any other. I am delighted to say that within a week of getting the notion, I had built this prototype. It will process a large variety of materials. In due course I shall produce a more advanced model that will have a virtually unlimited range.Ē

    At this point, one of the journalists asked whether the combinator could turn anything into gold. ďNot yet,Ē Kevin replied. ďAt present I am limited to solids in a certain spectrum of relative densities, meaning the weights of various things compared to that of water, which is the standard and therefore number one. For example, iron is 7.8 times as dense as water, so that is its ranking. By coincidence, it is also the maximum reach of my current model, which starts with the lightest metal, lithium. I shall later build a version capable of producing gold, which has a relative density of 19.3, though to do so I shall need to start from a heavy base, such as lead, which is 11.3 on the scale.Ē

    Kevinís words brought gasps of amazement from the crowd. Might he be close to revealing the long-sought philosopherís stone? He did not elaborate on that theme, but said that he had in mind something more mundane, though of immense social value. He added that his aim was to use most of the materials that are currently discarded and process them to produce a great deal of strong and durable matter, which he claims could be deployed to increase the Earthís landmass. ďJust think of it,Ē he said. ďWe could corral all the rubbish thatís floating in our oceans and convert it to something capable of supporting buildings. That would help to alleviate the problem of overcrowding, but for now I will proceed with my demonstration.Ē

    With the onlookers agog, Kevin asked the science contingent to move to a position twenty yards west of the combinator. Other attendees were requested to retreat beyond the meadowís perimeter. When everyone had complied, Kevin stood by the apparatus and completed his introduction. ďYou will see,Ē he said, ďthat there is a slot like a large letterbox at one end of my machine. That is to discharge the product, which emerges somewhat like semi-dried concrete, then hardens on exposure to air. It is therefore far different from the household waste with which, as you saw a few minutes ago, the appliance was loaded by my cousin, Donald, who is helping me with this project. Incidentally, the assembly rests on a rotatable base, so the extrusion slot can be swung to any desired direction. Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to get a glimpse of the future. Here we go.Ē

    With a flourish, Kevin pressed the combinatorís starter button. For five minutes the machine emitted a low rumbling noise, then it swivelled ninety degrees on its base and ejected a stream of malodorous grey slime. That was unfortunate for the reporters who were facing the extrusion slot. All but one of them were splattered liberally with the emission. The exception was a fellow who had dived behind the others. Sadly for him, three of them fell backwards, landed on him and injured both his body and his dignity.

    Kevin switched off the machine, apologised for the mishap and began to investigate what had gone wrong. Within half an hour, he was able to report his finding and announced: ďIt was a simple oversight. The combinatorís main components are the masher that pulps the raw material, the compactor that presses and forms it and drives out most of the water content, and the extruder that does what its name implies. The three parts are activated serially, so that as one finishes, the next one starts. Iím sorry to say Donald failed to install the connector between the first and second components, so the latter was bypassed and the mashed substance was ejected without being compacted. It is but a triviality which I shall correct this evening. If you care to come again tomorrow, you will be able to witness the real thing.Ē

    Madazineís occasional science reporter, Axel Griess, had watched the event from a neighbouring field. He was later found on a nearby park bench, surrounded by empty cider bottles. Asked to give his opinion, he said: ďAnother dud demo from the champion chump. The worst thing about this is that I was getting tanked up in an effort to return to the detox centre, where I usually have a good time. Kevinís blundering has shaken me back to sobriety, so Iíll have to restart my binge and that will cost me plenty. There is no chance that I shall be in attendance tomorrow. Just as well, since that will spare me the likelihood of injury. Sooner or later, Kevin will be confined to a place where he can do no further harm.Ē

    * * *

    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



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