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  1. #21
    WHERE’S THE BEEF?

    The following note was delivered to us by a small boy, who said he had been paid £1 by ‘a funny old geezer’ to hand it in. We make no further comment. Editor

    A short while ago I broke one of my few rules by listening to the news and was, for the umpteenth time, stuck by its banality. I do not remember every detail, but do recall that the main item concerned a former government minister who was assisting some members of the Royal Family with their financial affairs. We then ‘descended’ to the problems of an Asian bank, progressing to a story about a pop star perishing in the Antipodes. Then came a complaint from a state in South America, to the effect that a British media personality had insulted the country concerned. After that came talk of a possible ban on certain computer games, allegations of smuttiness in a soap opera, measures against football hooligans and protests from a Cornish village, regarding implied doubts about its Arthurian heritage.


    I remarked on all this to my wife, who retorted that I should be pleased, as it indicated that nothing much was happening and that no news was good news. She was right, but despite her comment I found myself a touch nostalgic for the raw red meat of yore. I couldn’t avoid the reminiscence of twiddling big black knobs on brown wood-effect wireless sets and hearing Winston munching through speeches to the effect that our backs were so far pressed to the wall that our eventual advance would reveal an imprint on the bricks. Those were trying times, but as our former foes put it: ‘Nichts kann der Mensch schlechter vertragen als eine Reihe von guten Tagen’, meaning, as far as I can maintain the metre, ‘The thing we find most hard to bear is days on end without a care’. I am not a bard, you understand.


    There was nothing insipid about the tidings in those days. One could rely on hearing about forty-thousand-ton battleships going to the bottom, aircraft plunging from the skies as fast as they could be sent up, cities falling to one side or the other as the conflict fluctuated, and legions of troops being rounded up at one go in some grey concrete Soviet conurbation. All stuff that a fellow could get his teeth into.


    I am not suggesting a return to troubles on that scale, but a little substance wouldn’t come amiss. Appreciating that one must be thankful for small mercies, I would settle for something less cataclysmic than a world war. It might be worthwhile switching on to hear of, say, an epidemic of awesome proportions, a resounding stockmarket crash – say 3,000 points – a displaced hurricane wrecking one of our less pleasant cities, a canister of unthinkably virulent bacilli stolen by lunatic fundamentalists, a thriving trade in filched plutonium, a small state gobbled up by a slavering next-door neighbour, or a mass dive from a skyscraper by deranged members of an obscure sect. You see how modest one’s demands become.


    Associated with this lack of solid fare is the inverse phenomenon of increasingly lurid language used to report trivial events. Nowadays, nobody is ever merely upset or disturbed. The minimum state of distress is to be devastated, though this may be over a two-day sugar shortage or the loss of a hubcap. We should have an official scale for these things. I will not set myself up as an arbiter, but would like to make the tentative suggestion that we might start the ladder with, say, ‘perturbed’, then climb to ‘agitated’, leading perhaps to ‘prostrated’ or ‘desolated’. We should always have one stage which has never been used before, which we can invoke if we are visited by hostile aliens, whose destructive capacity begins where ours ends. Is this asking too much?



    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; December 10th, 2018 at 04:13 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  2. #22
    CHILLED OUT

    The scientific world was today stunned by yet another revelation from Professor Ovis Jopp, the lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’. Speaking to reporters in the green room of his fjordside home, the professor announced that he had overturned generations of misconception, by reaching a temperature below minus 273.15 degrees Celsius, which had hitherto been believed to be absolute zero.

    Jopp – readers are reminded that his name is pronounced Yopp – stated that he had not set out to achieve this result. It was a digression from other work in the field of low-temperature physics. “I was just tinkering,” he said. “Basically, I proceeded as most others would have done, using adiabatic demagnetisation techniques. When I reached the lambda point of 2.19 degrees Kelvin, I was struck by a mental thunderbolt, realising that all my predecessors in the field had been wrong, in that they had applied theoretically sound cryogenic methods, but had been using the elements known to them. They lacked the vital ingredient of imagination.”


    After passing around glasses of his home-made greengage champagne, the professor continued: “I leaned on my recent faster-than-light experiment, in which you will recall that I was obliged to manufacture a completely new, sub-hydrogenic element, joppium. It occurred to me that what I needed this time was something of even lower mass. I therefore produced a synthetic, ultra-light substance, which I call ovisium. I was at first inclined to name it in honour of my well-known but distinctly inferior contemporary – hardly a colleague, you may agree – Doctor Dunderklap. However, I heard that he had already named dunderium after himself, which seemed to leave only klappium as a possibility, and in view of a certain unsavoury predilection for which he is well-known, I feared that name might be misconstrued.”


    When his listeners were restored to order, Jopp went on: “Once I had produced, thermally isolated and demagnetised a quantity of ovisium, the rest was easy. I gradually drove out the heat, which you will appreciate is merely molecular activity. However, there was one unexpected result, which arose as I progressed downwards a further 273.15 degrees, or precisely twice as far below zero Celsius as had previously been considered the lowest level. At that point, I was intrigued to note that my material showed the same behaviour patterns as it did at the freezing point of water. It appeared that as I continued to plumb the depths, the superconductivity I had observed earlier in the operation was lost, so I suppose one could really consider my experiment as U-shaped. I shall doubtless overcome this technicality, but even as it stands, the finding is remarkable and ranks among my best efforts to date.”


    Reaction to Jopp’s announcement was swift. Within an hour, his leading opponent, the short round hairless ‘Swedish Savant’, Dr Terps Dunderklap was found and interviewed in the doorway of a Gothenberg nunnery. He was pithy. “The imbecile,” he shrieked. “Apparently his lunacy has no limit. Naturally his experiment was U-shaped. Does the buffoon not understand what he has done? Clearly, his equipment failed in the intense cold. He went down one stem of the U, encountered the obvious malfunction, then went up the other U-stem, returning to zero degrees Celsius. It will be a blessing for all of us when the men in white coats take him away. Incidentally, I proved recently that by use of table salt and an ingeniously extended kitchen thermometer, it is possible to achieve a minimum of eight degrees below what is usually regarded as absolute zero. I saw no merit in publishing my conclusion.”


    This one could run and run.
    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:18 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  3. #23
    MAN ON THE SPOT

    “Now, I was about to say that from Ned Forecastle and me, Sue Pream, that’s all from ‘The World This Evening’. However, we can return briefly to the extraordinary happenings on the Indian Ocean island of Dhjamdhjar, about which news was reaching us when we came on air. We’ve now heard that our reporter Timothy Module is in situ there and on the line. Tim?”

    Tim: Sue?


    Sue: Tim?


    Tim: Sue?


    Sue: Yes, we can hear you, Tim. What’s going on there?


    Tim: It’s astonishing, Sue. I’ve never seen anything like it.


    Sue: Like what, Tim?


    Tim: I’ve been here for three hours now and there’s no let-up. I didn’t see any sign of it at the coast, but soon found myself literally fighting my way through to the interior.


    Sue: Interior? We were given to understand that the island is only about a mile square.


    Tim: A mile can be hell in this, Sue, I can tell you. I’ve got the microphone in one hand and a stick in the other. It’s . . . oh . . . ah . . . get away from me.


    Sue: Can you describe it, Tim?


    Tim: Yes, Sue. It’s indescribable.


    Sue: Is it possible to be more specific, Tim?


    Tim: I’ll try, Sue. These are the most amazing scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The air is full of it. It’s . . . ouch, it’s raining ch . . . ooh, one of them just hit me on the head.


    Sue: One of what, Tim?


    Tim: It’s astounding. They seem to be everywhere.


    Sue: Who or what are, Tim?


    Tim: Oh, there was another. There seems to be no end to it.


    Sue: Yes, Tim, I know this must be difficult for you. What exactly are these things?


    Tim: . . . seem to be in various forms. The village headman says it all came suddenly, out of the mountains.


    Sue: Sounds terrifying, Tim. Carry on if you can.


    Ned: (sotto voce). Close your mouth, Sue. You’re drooling.


    Tim: It’s a veritable sea. We’re surrounded on all sides.


    Sue: We understand, Tim. If you’re surrounded, it would be on all sides. Can you clarify what it is?


    Tim: Oh, God, I’m practically up to the thighs in them. It appears to be limitless.


    Sue: We’re engaged with your problem, Tim. I’m just wondering, is this an ‘it’ or a ‘them’ we’re talking about?


    Tim: It’s all of that and then some, Sue.


    Sue: You seem to be in the same position as Hamlet, Tim. A sea of troubles. Would that be a fair assessment?


    Tim: My goodness, I don’t believe it. Sometimes nine feet tall, other times liquid. I can say honestly that I’ve been in trouble spots all over the world, but haven’t experienced anything like this. It’s . . . it’s . . . harrowing, Sue. I’ve never been so . . . so . . .


    Sue: Harrowed?


    Tim: That’s exactly right, Sue. This whole thing is a . . . ugh, bazaar.


    Sue: Did you say ‘bizarre’, Tim?


    Tim: Yes, Sue, bazaar.


    Sue: You’re breaking up a little, Tim. I take it we’re we talking ‘weird’ rather than ‘market’?


    Tim: More, much more. Oh, for God’s sake, keep your distance, you wretched th… Ah, take that. Sorry, Sue, but this is just too awful.


    Sue: Tim, we heard earlier that there were dreadful scenes of carnage. Is that right? Is it really, really horrible?


    Ned: (sotto voce). Will you stop panting, Sue. We’re on air.


    Tim: I have to go now. I’m heading for the high ground. They say there’s an outside chance of safety there. I’ll contact you again as soon as I can. Out.


    Sue: Well, we have to thank Timothy Module for his lucid account of the developments on Dhjamdhjar. We hope to return to this in our late bulletin. Coming up next, the weather report.

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:20 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  4. #24
    SECOND MESSAGE TO PLANET X

    Dear Colleagues

    Being back to full transmitting strength, I must start by taking issue with your snide comments concerning my performance. You were aware of my verbosity before sending me into the void, so don’t carp now. I have found one more or less suitable planet and that’s better than none, right? Nobody knew the odds when I set out, so what frame of reference do you have for making judgements?


    Regarding my value to the cause, I am forced to laugh when thinking of the two trainees you believe might fill my shoes. I am acquainted with both of them and well aware that neither could negotiate the diagonal of an average living room without following a paper trail. Get with it, folks. You need a galactonaut like me and we don’t grow on trees.


    Notwithstanding your harsh words, I will continue to report, though with reduced enthusiasm. Even a superficial examination of the Earth clarified that what is significant to us is the land. Initially I gave brief consideration to the seas, as one naturally does when facing a body comprising over 70% water. There are aquatic creatures here with mental faculties somewhat akin to those of their closest counterparts on terra firma, but advanced as they may be in social interactions, few water-based organisms reach beyond their normal element. Some have large brains, but here it is noteworthy that the relationship between cerebral capacity and body size is important, This explains why human beings (for details see the appendices I sent earlier) have come to the fore.


    The local star, the Sun, is an average one, about halfway through its likely lifetime, so it has roughly 5,000 million years still to go. However, the Earth will become uninhabitable for its current life forms, and for us, long before the star expires. I would say there are about 800 million tolerable years left.


    Astronomers here have identified eight major planets and one dwarf one in their solar system. There is also a wide scattering of debris - probably a failed planet - between Mars and Jupiter, plus a few similar odds and ends elsewhere, and a number of satellites. The outer bodies would not be of any use to us, but in addition to the Earth, two other inner rocky ones, Venus and Mars, could be adapted to our needs, though I think that in both cases the effort would be too great. The Earth is the only reasonable candidate.


    This planet is believed to be about 4,600 million years of age, and research suggests that complex life really got going only about 600 million years ago. The dominant species is, as indicated above, humankind. I shall have more to say about these creatures later. Among them are those who believe that the Earth – and they -appeared, ready made so to speak, on a particular day about 6,000 years ago, and that a creator was responsible for this. Make what you will of that. I do not intend to debate the question of a supreme being.


    Unlike our androgynous species, humans have two genders – a common feature here – so procreation is normally a cooperative male/female effort. There is an overlap of sorts, with some people attracted to others of their own sex. I hear this applies to about 3% of the population, but I have not made any effort to confirm that.


    Before I forget, let me address your implication that I may have been away from you too long. This led me to think that my absence might not yet have been long enough. A further ‘stretch of solitary’ – do you like the prison jargon? – sometimes seems more attractive to me than does the idea of rejoining you. I am tempted to disable my reverse gear, thus scuppering the prospect of a return trip. That’s a joke, folks. Or is it?


    I have other goodies to offer, but owing to your failure to supply me with means befitting my task, I must close for a while. That will give you a chance to do a little more sniping before I can recharge my equipment. By the way, I note that our home star is warming faster than expected. Well, that’s another one for the eggheads, isn’t it? Why do we give them rewards beyond the dreams of avarice when they can’t predict stellar evolution? I repeat that I intend to keep up the work you so nastily describe as mediocre. Would anyone else care to be in my position? No, I thought not.


    Yours as cordially as possible in the circumstances


    Dweedles



    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; December 10th, 2018 at 04:40 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  5. #25
    THE NODE BULLETINS: NUMBER FOUR

    Tajikistan: 5 July. Flatpole disappoints me. Yesterday, we abandoned our expedition vehicle, the tyres having been stolen during the night. It seems that they are much prized by the locals as camp-fire seats. Thoroughbrace tried to keep us going on wheel rims – an excruciating experience. This misfortune led to our first need for Flatpole’s linguistic talents, into which I should have inquired more fully at the outset. She has revealed that her claimed command of French and German runs to ‘bonjour’ and ‘guten Tag’ respectively. If that is her idea of mastery, I shudder to think what her alleged smattering of a number of oriental languages might amount to.

    The woman is habitually bellicose and did our cause no good today when, during an interview with prospective porters, she felled one poor chap who commented, I thought rightly, on the excessive length of her beard. Pugh waded into the ensuing fray and I was hard-pressed to restore goodwill. My own party is difficult enough without the burden of fractious natives. Thank God for Ridley Gannett, who remains strong and silent, especially the latter, as his throat problem persists.


    Our group seems to be splintering. Flatpole and Pugh spend much time together and have little to do with the rest of us. Last night they disappeared, taking Flatpole’s curious sleeping bag and not rejoining us until dawn. Pugh has developed a marked stoop and I wonder how much longer he will be equal to his duties. Our hardships are exacerbated by the loss of our vehicle; an event that caused animosity between Flatpole and Thoroughbrace. She insisted that we had no further need of a technician, his riposte concerning her interlocutory skills being unrepeatable.


    My leadership qualities are being tested, but I remain quietly confident.

    A further Node Bulletin coming soon.

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 27th, 2015 at 06:51 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  6. #26
    COMINGS AND GOINGS

    The debate about illegal immigration into the UK having led us into a seemingly impenetrable thicket, many people may be relieved to note that the matter was recently referred to that prince of puzzlers, Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor of social studies at one of our top seats of learning. Not for the first time, the arch-arbiter interrupted one of his breaks from intense cerebration to deal with this pressing issue. He gave it short shrift, as his comments below confirm:

    Let me start by addressing the feverish media speculation concerning the origin of my brief. The newshounds may make their guesses, but I am in the same position as certain other professionals, in that I must respect client confidentiality. What I can say is that the solution to this supposed problem is simplicity itself, the only complication being that the statistics are unclear. However, that is not important, as the principle is the same over a wide range.


    My researchers tell me that estimates of unauthorised UK residents vary from a trivial level to the allegedly significant one of about 400,000. This is a side-issue, as the method I suggest would be valid for all practical purposes. I will take a middling figure of 200,000. After all, the government picks its numbers out of the air, so why shouldn’t I?


    Despite the lamentable record of the Home Office in keeping track of such things, I am prepared to accept that that authority will manage to trace the shadowy types I have in mind. Then what? It’s simple. We need to corral these people by offering them an amnesty, conditional on their joining a new body. Draft dodgers would have to be caught and summarily expelled. Anyone who suspects that I have not thought this through might care to note the strictures I propose, which are as follows:


    Those taking advantage of the scheme would be offered secure employment as overseers at our points of entry – not only harbours and airports, but all inlets around the coast – their work being to intercept unapproved incomers, for whom they would arrange immediate deportation. The main condition would be that any infractions by the officers would result in graduated punishments, on the ground of negligence. I envisage a quota system, under which those not nabbing a fair share would face their own expulsion. I advocate this way of encouraging compliance, as it rests on the ‘I’m all right, Jack’ mindset – usually a powerful incentive.


    In order to avoid nepotistic ‘oversights’, members of the new force might need further inducement to do their work efficiently. There would be an economical answer to this. Still thinking of a strength of 200,000, I suggest that we pay each of them a basic £20,000 a year, plus bonuses for those showing the zeal necessary to apprehend numbers above a given level. The annual cost of rather over £4bn. would amount to less than half of one per cent of GDP – surely a fair price.


    I mention in passing that our population is a little over 60 million. and that life expectancy here is around seventy-five years. Though I do not have our mortality figures to hand, it is no great feat to calculate that by natural attrition we lose annually about four times as many people as would be employed in the proposed service. Therefore, any possible increase in our number through unlawful immigration could not be significant.


    This is all I have to say in answer to what is hardly a taxing question. However, I hope readers will not mind my stating that I received quite a lot of mail following my recent paper concerning the jailing of miscreants. Happily, and I venture to suggest predictably, the response was overwhelmingly supportive, but there were several letters containing adverse comments, including one which I would like to mention here. I will not reveal the writer’s identity – you know who you are, sir – but would say this: I shall write to you in detail, but please note now that you do not appear to grasp the difference between rebuttal and refutation. Let me clarify that the former is simply a statement that a given proposition is wrong, while the latter proves it to be so. You have offered no proof, but merely what is commonly called a gut reaction. Well, you are about to receive a thirty-six-pounder just below the centre of your main yard arm, and we shall then see how you cope with a hundred feet of large-diameter timber athwart your beam and a ton or two of uncontrolled canvas flapping around your gunports. I hope the nautical analogy is not beyond you.



    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:22 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  7. #27
    Note from Madazine’s outer office staff: When the cat’s away, the mice can play. Our editor wrote this poem, which we can confirm relates his recent experiences. He didn’t have publication in mind and will be cross when he gets back to work and finds that we’ve slipped it in. Well, we don’t care. He can’t sack all of us.

    GETTING ON A BIT

    Review your life said Socrates – no doubt he had a point.
    One dwells on this when old and grey with creaks in every joint.

    The great man didn’t quite mean that – he dwelt on higher planes,

    And grappled with philosophy far more than aches and pains.


    But he’s been gone two thousand years so will not mind a bit,

    If I tamper with his discourses and try to make them fit.

    Adapt them to the physical, those matters of the flesh,

    That press upon us ever more when we’re not young and fresh.


    The old Greek downed a hemlock drink – some say he didn’t care.

    Most likely he was wondering what more he’d have to bear.

    He’d just about got to the end of three-score years and ten.

    So probably he deemed it wise to end things there and then.


    So passed from the Hellenic world a thinker of renown,

    A fellow upon whom today the scholars seldom frown.

    But enough of ancient Athens, let us now get up to date.

    I have a little tale to tell – bet you can hardly wait.


    My first six decades went quite well, the seventh wasn’t bad,

    But number eight has been so hard, it’s made me rather sad.

    It started promptly on the day, the big seven-o came round.

    While walking through a local park, I tumbled to the ground.


    At first it didn’t seem severe, I strode along all right.

    My trouble started later, in the middle of the night.

    Rib-cage, back and abdomen hurt like they were on fire.

    Hips and shoulders joined in too, the situation dire.


    It took three weeks to simmer down, four more to disappear.

    A very inauspicious start to such a landmark year.

    Two further months without a hitch and life seemed fairly kind,

    Until I was oppressed again, this time it was the mind.


    My landlady assailed me with some nasty allegations,

    Backed up by a battery of vicious imprecations.

    She’d always been so shy with me, I never thought she’d try

    To scold me, then I realised her mind had gone awry.


    Her son turned up that evening, confirming what I thought.

    He apologised profusely, poor fellow was distraught.

    I calmed him down but told him that our ways would have to part.

    Though hardly a spring chicken, I was game for one more start.


    Why stop at domicile I thought, I’ll try something more grand.

    So as well as changing residence, I also swapped the land.

    Left the Emerald Isle behind and made for Albion’s shores,

    Excitement making me forget that when it rains it pours.


    I got a house and settled down, but not for very long.

    A few months in my new abode then something else went wrong.

    The waterworks failed suddenly, a bolt out of the blue.

    What hitherto was crystal clear took on a different hue.


    My visits to the smallest room caused maximum dismay.

    I’d started passing pure vin rouge instead of Chardonnay.

    I scuttled off to see the doc, whose face betrayed some worry.

    He wanted me in hospital, and said we’d better hurry.


    The surgeon spoke harsh words to me of baccy, booze and diet.

    I had an argument in mind, then thought I’d best keep quiet.

    He seemed a formidable lad, not wise to make him cross.

    I was prostrate, he had a knife, so that made him the boss.


    He did his work then called on me and seemed in better humour.

    I’d soon be on my feet, he said, he’d shaved away a tumour.

    So back to domesticity – all quiet for a spell,

    Until another happening, that rendered me unwell.


    While out on foot one winter night, I sought a litter bin,

    But came upon a flower tub, located with my shin.

    A strip of me three inches long and nearly half as wide

    Had vanished, and though in some pain I sought it far and wide.


    I had no luck, so limped off home and got another shock.

    The missing rasher wasn’t lost but rolled up in my sock.

    I tried to fix it back in place, with plaster and saliva,

    Plus some herbal ointment that had set me back a fiver.


    I got it right and turned my mind to sprucing up the dwelling

    And overdid the labouring, but quite how there’s no telling.

    This time a whopping lump emerged above the right-side groin.

    It felt much like a cricket ball embedded in the loin.


    So off to the GP again – by then it was a habit.

    ‘Spread out upon the couch,’ he said, ‘we’ll just let dog see rabbit.’

    He diagnosed a hernia, no cause for great alarm.

    The surgery was simple and I needn’t have a qualm.


    The sawbones was a gloomy chap but knew well what to do.

    Got through four jobs like mine that day, with me last in the queue.

    I’m back and in the saddle now, at work with pen and ink,

    With senses honed by recent woes, or so I like to think


    Carved up twice in fourteen months, I’m wondering what’s next.

    Another in the lower regions, that would get me vexed.

    But providence is on my side, I feel it in my bones.

    It won’t be liver, pancreas, or even kidney stones.


    I’m going for lobotomy, if fate will let me choose.

    The old grey matter’s addled, so I haven’t much to lose.

    When this thought occurred I guessed my brain would just go reeling,

    Then I got the point that where’s there’s no sense there’s no feeling.


    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:23 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  8. #28
    MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHINGNESS

    Just when some of his critics claimed that he had, as it were, not a shot left in his locker, Professor Ovis Jopp has done it again. The lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’, addressing an assembly of distinguished European academics in Bergen, revealed today that he has succeeded in constructing a black hole. Astounded listeners heard his explanation.

    The ever-genial Jopp was in expansive mood. “Once one grasps the principle, the rest is plain sailing,” he said. “Rather like making an atom bomb. Classical theory suggests that a body the size of the Sun will eventually collapse to become a white dwarf. A somewhat larger stellar object will change into a neutron star, while an even bigger body will transform into a black hole. My genius lay in understanding that the operation can be downsized. One needs only a core, a distributor, a coating and an imploder. As a core, I used an old cannon ball. My distributor was a thick layer of polystyrene, moulded around the core. The coating was a spheroidal green canvas bag painted with tar and perforated in places to hold the implosive element, which was a sophisticated array of normal fireworks – good old-fashioned bangers.”


    After pausing to take a swig of green chartreuse, the professor went on: “I put my assembly into a thick perspex globe, around which I inscribed a deep equatorial channel. Into this groove I placed a golf ball, attached to one end of a length of strong twine, the other end being fastened to the core through a borehole. To achieve detonation, I employed the same team of students I had engaged for an earlier test, this time supplying them with very long tapers, which they used to ignite all the fireworks simultaneously. The blast was distributed evenly around the core by the polystyrene, which has many tiny cells, making it ideal for the purpose. I observed the result with great care, the critical question being whether there was mass transference from the golf ball to the core. I did not precisely quantify this, but was quite satisfied that the ball, try as it would to maintain itself in orbit, was drawn inwards, proving that the core had all the properties of a black hole. This is a mighty leap forward for humankind and a tremendous personal achievement for me.”


    Asked why he had devoted so much of his valuable time to black holes, the professor said that he had become disturbed by the confusion experienced by other scientists. “They were far too academic,” he stated. “They didn’t want to get their hands dirty and preferred to occupy themselves with unprovable claims to have noted a possible black hole in the constellation of Cygnus something-or-other. I, on the other hand, was mindful of the comment made long ago by a German fellow, viz: ‘Nur in der Praxis zeigt sich der wahre Meister,’ meaning that the true master reveals himself only in practice. Of course, you did not come here to learn of my command of languages, impressive though it is.”


    Reaction to Jopp’s pronouncement was speedy. His redoubtable antagonist, the short hairless ultra-round ‘Swedish Savant’, Dr. Terps Dunderklap, had a withering response. Found at a women’s hockey match in Skaraborg, he opined: “I have for decades considered Jopp a cretin and nothing he does disabuses me of that notion. Can it be that he fails to perceive his blunder? Obviously, the twine connecting the golf ball to the core became twisted, so naturally the ball was pulled inwards. I have shown that it is impossible for us to construct a black hole, my equipment comprising a grapefruit encased in plastic explosive and heated by skilfully arranged electric fires, for remote detonation at the critical temperature. The result was negative.


    Jopp plans further tests. Dunderklap predicts failure, plus danger to participants.

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:24 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  9. #29
    THREE-GUN KELLAWAY

    “Yessirs,” croaked the ancient raconteur. Surrounded by listeners, he was the only person seated in the saloon’s backroom, made available so that he could give the authentic account of an incident involving a long-dead pistolero. “Yessirs,” he repeated, his toothless mouth expelling an orange pip at almost eye-defying speed. The projectile hit a spittoon, described a half-circle inside the rim and whizzed off to strike the nose of a man who, in trying to avoid the impact, thumped his head against a doorpost and consequently lost interest in the proceedings.

    “Yessirs,” the old-timer said yet again to his audience, now reduced to eight, one being a large woman whose general Wagnerian aspect was accentuated by a helmet-style hat atop a huge coil of fair hair. “And ma’am,” added the oldster, noting the unexpected presence of a lady. “I mind well the time when Three-Gun Kellaway come to town. Showdown was right there.” He pointed an arthritic finger at the doorway to the barroom. “He come here . . .”

    “What was that?” The interjection came from a fresh-faced youth, bearing a notepad and pencil.


    “What was what?” snapped the taleteller.


    “You said Three-Gun Kellaway.”


    “Well, so what?”


    “Sir,” said the young fellow, “I’ve known of two-gun this and two-gun that, but I never yet heard of three-gun anybody.”


    “Son,” snarled the oldster, mustering as hostile a gleam as his rheumy eyes could manage, “first place, I’m tellin’ this story. Second place, you’re still wet behind the ears an’ third place, you won’t never hear much of anythin’ if you keep interruptin’ folks.”


    “Sorry”, said the chastened youngster. “It’s just that I’ve only recently arrived from the East and this is my first assignment. I have to get my facts right or my editor will be mad at me. I was wondering how a man was able to handle three guns.”


    “Well, if you listen you’ll find out,” retorted the wizened narrator, his temper fraying rapidly. “As I was goin’ to say when you busted up my thinkin’, this Three-Gun Kellaway was a plumb desperate character. Killed over a dozen men in his time. Anyway, he come here lookin’ for Bad Billy Brewster, an’ he was loaded for bear.”


    “Loaded for what?” the reporter broke in again.


    “Bear,” gritted the anecdotist, grimly curbing his ire.


    “What does that mean, exactly?” the diffident newshound asked.


    “Goddamnit”, yelled the venerable one. “Means Kellaway was an ornery critter an’ more’n a mite proddy. How the hell are you goin’ to report this if you don’t speak English?” The oldster’s voice, squawky at the best of times, rose to a falsetto warble.


    “Beg pardon,” mumbled the scribe.


    “What happened?” This from the large woman, whose tongue was running eagerly around parted lips as she envisioned blood soaking the sawdust.


    “Well, I’m comin’ to that, ain’t I?” screeched the crusty historian, his face now alarmingly purple as he yanked at the chair arms until he realised that he was not in a rocker.


    “I’ll bet they shot it out,” said the woman, her imagination running riot. “There must have been gore everywhere.”


    “That’s what I came all the way from Philadelphia to find out,” said the eager reporter.


    “Naw,” said one of the men, a lanky, lugubrious fellow. “Wasn’t like that at all, way I heard it.”


    “Well, you wouldn’t know,” chimed in a short fat man, waving a large cherrywood pipe, from which sparks were scattering around the company. “Was before your time, anyway.”


    “I heard it different, too,” put in a third man. “I was told that Bad Billy Brewster couldn’t face three guns, so he skedaddled out of town and Kellaway knew it, so he wasn’t taking much of a chance.”


    “Nope,” drawled another. “Feller told me they called off the fight an’ spent the night drinkin’ whiskey, right here in this saloon.”


    “That don’t square with what I heard”, said the fifth man, the town undertaker. “Old Tom Boone was here an’ he told me what went on. Just before he died, it was. He said Kellaway shot off his own kneecap when he tried to draw that third gun.”


    “Well,” said the sixth and last of the local men, “I reckon you’re all wrong. My great uncle Dan worked with Kellaway on a little gold-prospecting. Before they split up, Kellaway admitted to Dan that he’d run off when he heard that Bad Billy Brewster had got hold of a Gatling gun and aimed to make a sieve of him.”


    A babble broke out, which intensified until the young reporter called for order. “Come now, gentlemen . . . and madam,” he cried. “We seem to have a number of different versions of the event. As I understand it, the only person still alive around here who was present at the time is telling the story. Let establish the truth from him. Sir?”


    They all turned their attention to the old man, but it was too late. As a result of being unable to get a word in edgeways, that testy chronicler, overcome by exasperation, had expired.

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:24 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  10. #30
    VIEWPOINTS

    The new novel by Jonathan Pestle reached the bookshops today, to the accompaniment of a mighty fanfare. Critics’ opinions vary, as shown by the two reviews below:

    Three years we have waited, and this masterly effort is worth every minute. The second adventure featuring Mr Pestle’s peerless hero Nigel Blaike is, almost unbelievably, even more deeply satisfying than the first. Holding no official position, but on first-name terms with everyone who matters at the top levels of society in a score of countries, Blaike has a unique range of talents, here employed to recover the fabulous Brazov diamonds, stolen while on exhibition in the UK. This meticulously researched humdinger has everything. Adventure doesn’t come any higher. We are whisked at breakneck pace from London to Paris to Prague to Bucharest and to Samarkand before reaching a stupendous climax in New York. This time, Blaike is accompanied by the Magyar Countess Greta Szabo, a stunning package of pulchritude, and as well-connected as her escort.


    The abundant steamy scenes are interspersed with stirring deeds, performed at levels ranging from a French dungeon to a snow-clad Transylvanian peak. This is a breathtaking eight-hundred-page feast of intrigue and dazzling action, and a truly electrifying effort from arguably the greatest of today’s British thriller writers, at the height of his perhaps unprecedented powers. Rumour has it that Mr Pestle received an advance of £1mn for this book. If that is true, his publisher need have no fears. It is a privilege to comment on this literary triumph. Cancel your engagements, disconnect the phone and jump in.


    The Southerner


    One cannot really call this book an anti-climax because that would suggest that something of consequence preceded it. Pestle’s first sleepwalk was bad enough and this hogwash demonstrates that he has learned nothing since it appeared. The main fictional culprit is again Nigel Blaike, who is yet another in the tiresome line of meddling dilettantes – no wonder the official forces dislike them – flitting around the fringes of international high society. This time, His Nonchalance teams up with a clearly shop-soiled courtesan. Naturally, Blaike knows everyone and always just happens to have an old friend in whatever improbable locale, including – can you swallow it? – Uzbekistan. Supertwit is fluent in nine languages. Well, he would be, wouldn’t he? As for research, try any of the well-known travel guides. They’ll give you all you need to know, just as they so obviously informed the author.


    Blaike and his nympho partner stumble in irksome and too often bed-bound manner from one city to another, eventually lurching to New York – the American readers must be roped in – where Pestle’s magic carpet is particularly threadbare in an ending of risible banality. Our hero and heroine are parted, we are asked to believe poignantly, in order to pursue their respective promiscuities. This is publisher’s hype gone mad, but your deponent drew the short straw in having to comment on it. As for the £1mn. advance, Mr Pestle will chuckle while others squirm. Heaven forbid that you be hospitalised, but if you are, and if a well-wisher lumbers you with this drivel, you might try it as an alternative to a sleeping pill. Should you get burdened with a copy at home, skip the reading and look for a very short table leg – an object this thick must be good for something.


    The Northerner


    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:25 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



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