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  1. #51
    INDEPENDENCE DAY

    Greetings, my fellow Zubukians! I intended to address you today from the balcony of Government House. Unfortunately, current circumstances preclude that, so I must ask you to accept this television broadcast as a substitute. When I finish speaking here, I shall try to make my way to Revolution Square and review the annual parade of our magnificent Republican Guard, after the insurg . . . er . . . merrymakers now occupying that holiest of grounds have, entirely of their own free will, dispersed. I am informed that this will be within an hour.

    For all of us, this is a solemn day, yet also a joyous one. Solemn because it gives us the opportunity to commune on a national basis, feeling ourselves at one with our ancestors, and joyous because it was exactly twenty years ago that we threw off the yoke of colonialism. Further, it is nineteen years to the day since the events took place which resulted in my becoming Prime Minister and, three weeks later, President of our beloved country.


    I am deeply conscious of the heavy burdens placed upon me by the simultaneous holding of the two highest offices of our state, the more so as there is nobody who will, or can, lift them from me. I fear that I shall not be able to relinquish these duties this side of the grave. We live in troubled times. Everywhere in the world there is disorder, and we cannot insulate ourselves. There is no denying that we have our problems. Even in my own party, the National Alliance for Zubukian Integration, there has been unrest and, it must be admitted, corruption. Many of you will recall that only seventeen short years ago, I was obliged to dismiss the ministers of finance, home affairs, foreign relations and transport. Having no suitable replacements, I was forced to assume their portfolios myself- – yet more responsibilities that I shall, however reluctantly, be required to discharge for the rest of my days.


    Why shall I not be able to cast off these millstones? I think you know. During the post-colonial disturbances, every party but my own in our hallowed land simply disintegrated, vanishing virtually overnight. It was left to us alone to carry the inextinguishable torch of democracy. True, there was an attempt made recently to form a viable opposition. To my deepest chagrin, that effort failed. I was greatly distressed by the collapse of the Alternative Progressive Enlightenment – the APE party.


    Feelings ran high at the time, and the prevailing mood affected me as much as anyone. I cannot look back without a sense of deep sorrow at my last words to the leader of the aspirant rival organisation. I merely intended to convey my admiration of the man as, so to speak, the dominant male in his movement. It was regrettable that I referred to him as the chief ape. Also, my remark was ill-timed, coming as it did two hours before the untimely and, I emphasise, totally accidental demise of that fine young statesman. May his soul forgive me.


    The unfortunate disappearance of the APE party was not the last of our troubles. Even now there are elements in our revered homeland intent upon fomenting strife. Indeed, it is for this reason that I speak now from the National Security Compound, surrounded by three – yes, three – concentric perimeter fences of four-metre-high electrified wire. I ask you to remember that fact, though the last thing I want is to be separated from you by the defences of a totally impregnable fortress. My dearest wish is to be among you, wringing your ... hands. Yes, my friends, your hands.


    Our former colonial masters claimed to have left us with a working governmental system. I spit upon their assertion. If they had made adequate provision before their departure, why were we compelled to discard their arrangements? We even had to change the name of our country. The colonists left us with what? I will remind you. The stark and unimaginative Zubukia. With our modernisation plan, we changed that in less than two years to the People”s Democratic Republic of Zubukia, or PDRZ. Can anyone doubt that this is more appropriate to our status in the world?


    My compatriots, we have recently been the target of unwarranted attention from various external bodies. The international team that visited us last year concluded that literacy standards here had declined since colonial days. I spit upon their report. They said that the level was formerly fifty-two per cent and that it had fallen to twenty-three per cent. Do these meddlers not realise that we have our own traditions, our storytellers, to meet our needs? Notwithstanding that, I strive ceaselessly for improvement. I aim to ensure that in under ten years, there will a book in every school and, where there is evening tuition, a candle in each classroom.


    We have been told by another agency, whose name I cannot bear to utter, that we lag behind other democracies in terms of our degree of enfranchisement. I spit upon this supposed finding. Is it not true that every first-born male over the age of forty in our country now has the vote? How does that accord with the monstrous charge against us? Obviously it does not. Our advance has been exemplary and will continue at an appropriate pace.


    I must now deal with the most unworthy of all the accusations hurled at us. I refer to a bulletin issued by the World Bank, saying that our ninety-billion-dollar finds of oil, gas, uranium, platinum, gold and copper should have been better used in the last nine years. We are told that a land of four million people should be reaping greater benefits from such bounty. At the risk of being censured for excessive expectoration, I spit upon that document. Such malice can have been engendered only by the fact that no interest has yet been paid on the loan of twelve billion dollars, made to us by the Bank eight years ago.


    Who is at fault? These legalised loan sharks should have known better than to bury our poor country under such a mountain of money. Our financial structure could not cope. Inevitably, there was confusion, multipartite transactions and complex pecuniary allocations which I struggle unflaggingly to trace. I was, sorrowfully, obliged to seek the assistance of a certain European country, well-versed in these matters. The World Bank asks where the funds in question are now. I answer that that is m . . . our business. Further, if the masters of usury continue to badger us, I shall, on your behalf, repudiate the debt. Do you hear this, you Shylocks in Washington? Not one shavaster shall I pay.


    Now, my friends, the cares of state demand that I leave you for the moment. I hear the clanking and rumbling of those tribulations closing in upon me. They are constantly at my gate. If you can still see or hear this transmission, I ask you to join me in singing our national anthem, Zubukia Forever. Let the rafters ring!



    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; December 10th, 2018 at 04:22 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



  2. #52

    ON LONGEVITY

    Recent suggestions that the average human lifespan might be increased to at least 130 years sent various authorities scurrying to consult actuarial experts, and show other signs of concern. As seems almost inevitable in these confusing times, the question wound up on the desk of the man most widely thought able to give us sound advice. The decision-makers must have heaved a collective sigh of relief on learning that Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor of social studies at one of our foremost towers of tutelage, had a window in his hectic schedule. He lost no time in dealing with the matter and reported as follows:

    As I recently addressed the issue of our ageing population in another paper, this new commission was hardly a three-pipe problem – one fill of strong dark flake sufficed. Frankly, I fail to understand the excitement, especially as there is no question of a solution here, but rather one of appreciation. My first impression on receiving this brief was to recall an interview in a film I once saw, when an insurance salesman, endowed equally with enthusiasm and incompetence, was trying to sell a life policy to the notorious Jesse James. As I remember it, the bandit (or hero, according to your view) listened patiently, then said something like: “Let me get this straight. Are you saying you want me to bet on how long I’ll live, and you’re willing to take the rough end by guessing that I’ll be around for a long time?” If that isn’t succinct, I don’t know what is.


    In my earlier report, I alluded briefly to the aspirations of older people, and I would like to expand on this theme. A recent radio phone-in filled me with gloom. Listeners were invited to offer their views on the revelation that an American team claimed to have found a method by which we could on average live nearly twice as long as we do now. If I remember rightly, there were twelve respondents, one of them a scientist, who had a detached interest. Of the others, only one – a woman of fifty-seven and in good health – had no wish to exceed the biblical span. The rest wanted to reach the age suggested in the US report, in each case expressing a desire to fulfil some humdrum personal ambition – tap-dancing, mandolin playing and so on. Of course, travel was in first place. Nobody wished to be involved in generally beneficial activities, such as producing clean renewable energy, a panacea for ills, improved housing, or any of the other things that are important to all of us.


    I asked myself whether I would like to spend my later years in the company of people regaling me with accounts of their holidays in an ever-decreasing number of exotic locations, or telling me how they had learned to pole-vault at the age of eighty, or describing their elation at being among the first group of centenarians to cycle from Lands End to John o’ Groats. The answer was a resounding negative.


    My pondering on the implications of living to 130 or more led me to think also of the time I spent in the commercial and industrial spheres. In those days, I frequently found myself surrounded by elderly men, all too often venal and obsessed with maintaining their positions of authority and privilege, notwithstanding that they were provided for in ways that should have detached them from such base considerations. It did not seem to occur to most of them that they were removed from material scrabbling in order that they might concentrate on the common good, rather than their further personal advancement. Imagine spending many decades clambering beyond your contemporaries, thrusting and kicking your way to the heights, then clinging like a limpet to a leading position in your hierarchy, lest someone – probably better than you – should be a threat. For goodness’ sake, you people at the top, take the fruits of your selfish toil and hand over to the young ones before they become too disillusioned to care. Remember that the interplay between change and continuity requires that the former must not wreck the latter and the latter not stifle the former. I realise that some readers may consider this paragraph something of an aside, but I might not get another chance to air these comments.


    As indicated above, in this case I am not being paid for a solution but an appraisal. The task is an easy one. In my view there is a limit to the number and variety of experiences and impressions a human being can digest in one visit to this plane of existence, and if they have not been acquired in about seventy years, a further six decades are not likely to help much. My message to the obtuse is that they should leave us and try again in a later lifetime. Those who reject the advice are welcome to be condemned to plod on. Though still in demand, I have toiled long and hard and am profoundly relieved at the prospect of my earthly demise. Proceed if you wish. I shall watch your progress from another level.



    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:52 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. #53
    BOTTLING IT UP

    An audience of leading international scientists was spellbound yesterday when Professor Ovis Jopp, the lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’ gave details of his latest – some say greatest – exercise in physics. The professor stated that he had become the first person to conduct a two-way experiment in which mass was converted into energy, which was then changed back into mass. Jopp said that he had in effect released the genie, then reconfined it.

    “I rate this among the most satisfying of my many successes,” said the winsome wizard, admitting that his high spirits stemmed in part from a liberal intake of his greengage wine. “I grasped what others had failed to perceive, this being that what one needs is a miniature atomic explosion, one small enough to be reversed. The usual element, uranium 235, would not do, as the critical mass required to produce a chain reaction gives too drastic a result. What I needed was a very heavy fissionable substance. Learning from my experience in manufacturing ultra-light elements, I inverted my technique, to produce a massive transuranic one, which I call norwegium, in honour of my adoptive homeland.”


    After much clapping and cheering, the professor went on: “The principle is the same as with uranium or plutonium, in that one must force together two sub-critical masses. However, with norwegium, the amount concerned is small, so a limited explosion results. I conducted the test in open land near Kirkenes, where I built a green chamber of lead-lined metal through which I passed a pipe, widened in the middle, with ends projecting beyond the container’s walls. I inserted a piece of norwegium into each end of the pipe and fastened powerful bellows to both extremities, then took one end, while a student manned the other. We generated an airflow, smashing together the sub-critical masses within the central bulge. The resulting denotation caused the pieces of norwegium to vanish temporarily. They had clearly been transformed into energy.


    There was further wild acclaim before the professor was able to continue: “As I expected, the bubble almost burst. Now came the difficult part. To convert the energy back into mass, I had to contain it in an ever-decreasing space. I did this by lowering the roof of my chamber, as one sees in horror films, when someone is imprisoned in a room, the ceiling of which descends to crush the victim. My apparatus did the same, squeezing the energy into almost no space. Having allowed a brief stabilisation period, I raised the roof, entered the chamber and inspected the crushed pipe. I was gratified to find a number of small discs, which I analysed, finding that they were undoubtedly norwegium, and proving conclusively that I had turned mass into energy, then reversed the process. This is a masterly demonstration and a mighty landmark in scientific history.”


    A swift riposte came from Jopp’s foremost foe, the shorn, stunted, ovoid ‘Swedish Savant’, Dr Terps Dunderklap. Found sitting on the gatepost of a Varberg maternity hospital, he was acerbic. “Jopp has assuredly gone too far this time,” he screeched. “I showed years ago that what he claims is impossible. I even produced a super-heavy element, similar to his norwegium. The problem, as I made clear to everyone but the fjordland fathead, lies in the fact that in order to fabricate an element heavy enough to have the requisite characteristics for low-mass fission, the substance itself would be too unstable to hold together, so would break up spontaneously. With regard to the supposed temporary disappearance of Jopp’s new element, he was the only observer, and I would remind him that there are none so blind as those who will not see. As for the recovered discs, my chief researcher acquired several and established that they were heads of hobnails, obviously from the boots worn by Jopp’s assistant. Incidentally, I note that Greenfly does not say what became of the poor fellow.”


    Pressed on this point, Jopp promised to investigate.



    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:52 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. #54
    The staff cornered me this morning, saying that we were short of material for today. I was given a stark ultimatum – write or die! I thought it over and decided to go for the first option. Here is the result. Editor

    ASPECTS OF SPORT

    During my many years in commerce, I often felt like a fish out of water when my colleagues debated sporting matters, which appeared to be of consuming interest to everyone but me. On one occasion, the fellow who worked at the desk next to mine remarked that I never offered an opinion on soccer, rugby, golf, or anything other than cricket. I agreed, then mystified him with an assertion that I did not consider our summer game as a sport. What was it then, he asked. I replied that I saw it as an aesthetic experience, a contrast of colours, styles and elegance – a ballet of sorts, the element of competition being incidental. I also ventured the apparently heretical view that cricketers do not normally over-exert themselves, so couldn’t really be regarded as sportsmen, admirable though their occupation may be.

    My colleague demanded an explanation of what he clearly felt was an outrageous notion. I responded to the effect that I saw sport as an activity in which the participants gave their all for a short time, and that I could not put cricket in that category. Confining myself to the men’s game because I had never seen the ladies play, I cited the example of a fast bowler, perhaps the player most widely regarded as being subjected to physical stress.

    As there was no argument from my workmate on that point, I proceeded to examine what a ‘quickie’ does. He approaches the wicket by running at most about thirty yards, the first few of which he negotiates at a modest pace. Therefore, he runs flat out for maybe fifteen yards before releasing the ball. That done, he rights himself and strolls back to his mark, taking forty or fifty seconds to do so, after which he repeats the process. If he avoids bowling no-balls or wides – his own fault – he bowls six balls to complete an over before retiring to a fielding position, in which his services are needed only intermittently. During his over, he has run barely a hundred yards in four or five minutes, with leisurely ambles between deliveries.


    Notwithstanding this somewhat relaxed schedule, we often hear commentators speaking of how desperately tired old Whatshisname must be, having toiled through twenty overs in a day. Oh, come on. Twenty times a hundred yards is little over a mile, and that spread over six hours, interspersed with generous breaks for lunch and tea, plus three official stoppages for drinks all round and goodness knows how many individual pauses for imbibing. One’s heart bleeds.


    A batsman, in the extreme case of his being at the crease all day, will probably score rather over a hundred runs, usually about half of them in boundaries, so will have dashed between the wickets maybe fifty times. Let us be generous, allowing him twenty-five yards per run, and further accepting that in addition to his own efforts, he covers the same ground in responding to his partners’ shots. He has then racked up a distance fairly close to that galloped by the fast bowler, and he also has had numerous rests between his bouts of work. He may be fatigued psychologically but surely not physically. After all, he is supposed to be an athlete of sorts, is he not?


    The fielding is shared among eleven players. While one or other of them may have a short sprint on occasion, he will usually have plenty of time to recover before any possible repeat is necessary. I do spare a thought for the wicket-keeper, who must be on the alert for every ball, and who is the target of too many verbal brickbats. Anyone who opts for this job must be either astoundingly valiant, or of questionable sanity.


    I finished my appraisal of cricket with a reference to the attitude of its organisers, officials and players toward spectators, who having paid up are often treated with disdain. Assuming that a game starts on time – always questionable because of rain or bad light – many ruses will be employed by those on the field to slow or interrupt play. A batsman declines to face a ball because someone moves behind the bowler’s arm. A bowler aborts his run-up, having got it wrong. Sunlight falls on a window, dazzling a batsman – that’s good for three or four minutes’ delay. The ball will be inspected repeatedly, following complaints about its shape. And so it goes on, with the gladiators and umpires apparently intent on ensuring that actual play is kept to a minimum.


    Perceiving that the rant had ended, my colleague said I had given him food for thought, adding that since he had finally got me going on this subject, perhaps I might have something to say about other sports. This was a tricky one. I had nothing of a general nature in mind, but his prompting led me to wonder whether I should touch upon a point I had long thought of raising. The trouble was that we were in sensitive territory.


    After a few seconds of inner debate I plunged, saying that I considered my interlocutor a kind of sportsman. He asked why. I remarked that three times a week, he spent part of his lunch break playing squash with the office mathematician, a young woman of formidable physique, possessed of venomous powers, both forehand and backhand – I once saw her in action. Invariably, she won and the pair would return to the office at two o’clock, she flushed and cheerful, he exhausted and morose, eyes protruding like organ stops and tongue lapping his knees.


    I pointed out that he truly exerted himself, thus qualifying as a sporting type in my book. What I did not say (I chickened out) was that for the rest of the afternoons following his battles with our number-cruncher, not only was he an uncongenial companion, but he exuded an odour like a fat-rendering establishment – having lived close to one in earlier years, I knew. I also bit my tongue with respect to his habit of turning up late each day, owing to his seemingly persistent failure to judge the time required for a three-mile jog to the office. Further, I was quite diplomatic in overlooking the fact that though he was vociferous in advocating vegetarianism, he was always the first to fall prey to whatever bug was going round, in addition to which he had his own crop of obscure ailments, which caused me to spend much of my time taking his incoming phone calls.


    All things considered, I felt I had legitimate grounds for protest, but made allowances, as Mr Nextdesk was a marketing man and therefore not entirely responsible for his conduct.

    * * *



    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:53 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. #55
    THE NODE BULLETINS : NUMBER SEVEN

    Kashmir, 26 July. My political knowledge is scanty, but I understand that we are now in the last of the ‘stans’, as I believe this area is under Pakistani administration. We emerged from our ordeal on the high pass minus our porters, who refused to go on. Now we are burdened with much equipment. However, Flatpole has been an example to the rest of us by carrying a hundredweight load on our twice-daily four-hour marches, without batting an eyelid.

    Thoroughbrace amazed us today with his first show of initiative for some time. He disappeared for eight hours, returning with a vast chunk of meat which he claimed to have hacked from a tusked creature he found entombed in a glacier to the north of us. I believe we may be pioneers of a kind by having probably tasted mastodon flesh. It was quite good and a welcome change from Gannett’s usual efforts, which normally plumb progressively greater depths. Yesterday, when he left us briefly during preparation of the evening meal, I enlivened the repast by tearing up the cardboard cartons in which our spices had been packed, and adding them to the pot. Nobody commented.


    Pugh’s pathfinding becomes increasingly esoteric. He now reckons that we must proceed down this valley then – I quote him: “Bear right across the top end of Mount Rakaposhi, go downwards over the flat bit and we shall find our goal just this side of K2.” I am no geographer, but I had expected more technical jargon from Pugh, who has not once mentioned map references during our trek. I was obliged to correct him again this morning, when he marched us due west, over an apparently limitless expanse of scree. I suspect his heart is not really in this expedition, as he has repeatedly tried to head us back towards London. I am considering relieving him of his duties.


    Though I try to keep up morale, the bickering is incessant. It is lonely at the top.


    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:54 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. #56


    FOURTH REPLY FROM PLANET X TO EMISSARY

    Dear Dweedles

    We have assimilated your latest wordathon. Let us say first that you should not underestimate Dwolf, who is fully limbered-up, tense as a bowstring and ready for the starter’s gun. We can hardly restrain the Great Hunter. Do you hear those gnashing teeth?

    Your cheapskate jibe is unwarranted. Dweedie, there is such a thing as economics – a point you would have understood, had you had a wider education. In fairness, you may be right about designation from birth. A more comprehensive curriculum is being implemented here, within the framework of a wider social study which would be more advanced but for the near-intolerable heat we are experiencing.

    As for your provisions, we did our best with the resources we had to hand. It is unfortunate that you are having trouble in this respect but really, one atom per cubic metre seems adequate, bearing in mind that space is, as you will have noticed, quite voluminous. What has become of your self-professed ingenuity? If you still have that quality, now is the time to invoke it. Do what you can and be assured that we are applying ourselves to your predicament.

    So, you assess us as control freaks, eh? Well, what else did you expect? For goodness’ sake, this is a control centre, you chump. We don’t know when you got this idea of individualism, but you must shed it. Think of yourself as a tiny part of the whole. Consider the terrestrial ants you mentioned earlier. They seem to have the right collective mindset.

    Dwee, nobody questions your integrity – well, maybe some have doubts – but there is a general feeling here that you are out on a lake and that the boatmaster is saying “Come in, number whatever. Your time’s up.”

    With regard to philosophers, don’t dwell on them. We know all about angels dancing on a pinhead. All the information we have gathered confirms that these ‘thinkers’ are as useless in one place as another. They seek vainly to influence their complanetaries. That’s a nice one, don’t you think? It’s a composite of ‘compatriots’ and ‘contemporaries’, extended to embrace all dwellers on a celestial orb. We’re becoming quite good at inventing words.

    The concept of warriors is also familiar to us. No need for you to worry about them. They are invariably limited in terms of mental capacity and the most they can do is delay the inevitable.

    Now, we have a couple of bones to pick with you – as if we hadn’t already had a few. First, regarding your comment concerning heart, we do not understand this notion, but will try to analyse it. For the moment, stay pragmatic. Second, you mention sport. What is this? It doesn’t appear in your unbearably long appendices, so why raise it now? Is your mind drifting – again?

    Finally, we adjure you most earnestly to think hard about your entanglement with humankind. Mark our words, no good will come of this.

    Regards from the extremely warm staff here at Mission Control

    * * *





    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:55 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. #57
    FLAT EARTH

    We are accustomed to sensational offerings from Professor Ovis Jopp, the lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’. Only the themes remain mind-boggling. Speaking today to an invited audience in his fjordside home, recently enlarged by the addition of a lecture hall for delivery of his famous talks, the jolly giant unveiled his latest scheme.

    The listeners, all science journalists, sat enthralled as Jopp, sipping greengage wine, told all. “I got the idea by noticing that the Earth is not quite spherical,” he said. “The equatorial diameter is slightly greater than the polar one. Now, it is clear that the difference concerned arises from centrifugal force, caused by the speed of our planet’s rotation. For an intellect such as mine – of which there is admittedly only one – it was but a hop to realise that a higher rate of spin would produce a more pronounced effect. I took the notion to its logical conclusion. If the Earth were to rotate fast enough, it would change from a near-sphere to a disc.”

    After an outbreak of gasps, the professor went on: “I immediately seized upon the beneficial implications for humankind if the required spin-speed could be achieved. Within an hour, I had the eureka moment. What we need – and I have designed it – is a series of thrusters, mostly land-based, but with a few at sea, placed around the equator. I considered jet engines, but rejected that idea as too crude. Securely anchored rockets would do better, their velocities being made incremental, according to the number of sites. They would be ignited serially rather than simultaneously and could impart speed to any desired level. If hydrogen and oxygen were to be used, the exhaust velocity would be, I believe, 17,000 feet per second, which could be repeated as each stage burned out. With appropriate fuelling arrangements, the potential is virtually boundless.”

    The assembled experts showed their appreciation with prolonged applause, then Jopp continued: “We could flatten the Earth to any degree, my preference being a disc with only a nominal rim-thickness. The Earth’s surface area is about 197 million square miles, so omitting the trivial width of the final edge, the top and bottom would each be about half that figure. We could drive shafts through the disc, to bring what are now antipodean places to within a few miles of each other. A good analogy is Emmentaler cheese – wheels riddled with holes, though the perforations I have in mind would go all the way. Of course, land areas would be spread out. The equatorial circumference of 25,000 miles would be extended, everything being, so to speak, hammered out. That is a small price to pay for the huge benefits in terms of travel.”

    Self-appointed leader of the jopposition, the broad-as-he-is-long ‘Swedish Savant’, Dr Terps Dunderklap, was dismissive. Located in an oak tree overlooking a Girl Guides’ encampment near Halmstad, he moaned: “I would like to say that words fail me, but I usually have a few when this clown’s name turns up. ‘Sage of Trondheim’ indeed. ‘Nutter of Norway’ would be a better title. Jopp doesn’t understand that his proposed whirligig would hurl into space everything within quite a distance of his new equator, scattering the Solar System with debris. Also, he has ignored the Earth’s molten outer core, which would squish out towards the perimeter. How is he going to drill through that lot? The holes in a Swiss cheese are as nothing compared to those in the head of this ignoramus. He should place all his rockets at sea, since that is where he is usually to be found. Will nobody put him into a straitjacket?”

    Further vitriolic exchanges are anticipated.


    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:55 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. #58
    JUST ANOTHER TOWN

    A battered sign, tilted twenty degrees from the perpendicular, read: ‘Bedrock. Straingers not welkum.’ Especially not if they’re literary folks, thought the Pinto Kid, noting that the population number below the hostile message had been crossed out and changed six times, reducing from 163 to 98. The Kid raced into town, bringing his green-tinted mare to a slithering, hock-wrenching halt outside the Lonesome Toad saloon. He dismounted with a leap, the operation marred only by his failure to extricate his left foot from its stirrup, a bungle that caused him to land rump-first in thick dust. It was an inauspicious entrance to an unpleasant community.

    A cadaverous oldster who occupied a rickety chair on the porch, to the left of incomers, hawked hugely and directed a nine-foot squirt of tobacco juice at the Pinto Kid’s feet, getting it within an inch of the target. “Missed,” he snarled. He usually did.


    In the street, immediately in front of the sidewalk and to the Kid’s right, stood what seemed like a dummy Indian brave, immobile, unblinking and ramrod straight. Approaching this figure, the Kid waved a hand before its unresponsive face. “Are you real?” he said.


    “I am. Name’s Billy Two-Eyes.”


    “Why do they call you that?”


    “Because I have two eyes.”


    “We all have. What’s different about you?”


    “I didn’t say anything was. You’re the one with the questions.”


    “Good point,” said the Kid, using the Indian’s leathery cheek to strike a match, which he applied to his own mouth before realising that he hadn’t inserted a smoke.


    The saloon’s batwing doors swung open, revealing the owner, Ned Falselove, a tall bald monstrously obese man, sweat-beads bespangling his pasty visage. His small black eyes – two raisins in a pat of dough – fixed on the newcomer. “What’s wrong with your horse, mister? he said. “Queer colour. She sick or somethin’?”


    “She’s a paint,” snapped the Kid. “You heard of a paint horse, ain’t you?”


    “Sure, but I didn’t know they was hand-painted.”


    “Mescalero,” the Kid responded enigmatically.


    His interest exhausted, Falselove moved his mountain of lard back into its gloomy lair. The Pinto Kid pranced up the two steps to the sidewalk, snagging his troublesome left boot-heel on the overhanging plank. He recovered his balance with commendable agility. “Damned foot,” he muttered. The cud-chewing old-timer cackled maniacally, then lolled back in his chair, eyes closed, attention probably occupied by some idea making its lonely way around whatever served him as a mind.

    The Kid inflated his chest to its full thirty-four inches, then flung open the swing doors before starting to step inside. Being controlled by unusually strong springs, the batwings returned sharply, striking him amidships. He tottered backwards and sideways, caught his posterior on the hitch rail and made a three-quarter turn which deposited him face-down in the street. “Damned doors,” he mumbled. Rising quickly, he bounded back onto the sidewalk and adroitly avoided another ejection of the once more wide awake old-timer’s tobacco juice. Negotiating the saloon doors, this time successfully, he swaggered to the bar, slapping his palms hard on the greasy splintered deal surface. It was a painful gesture, causing him to jam ringing hands into his armpits.

    “What’s it to be, feller?” said Falselove. “Sarsaparilla or milk?” His heap of blubber shook as he enjoyed the witticism.


    The Kid summoned a steely glint. “Look, mister,” he replied, “I don’t nohow and nowise take none o’ them sissy drinks. Not now, nor never. See?”


    Ned chuckled. “You’re big on negatives. Why are you talkin’ so funny?”


    “I have to. I’m the Pinto Kid.”


    “Well, you sound like a loony to me.”


    “Look here, Shorty,” said the Kid, staring up nine inches into the saloon-keeper’s eyes, “I don’t cotton to folks what don’t – ”


    “Give it a rest,” Falselove interrupted. He produced a sawn-off shotgun, rammed the twin barrels under the Kid’s chin and twitched them upwards, stretching his visitor’s neck by three inches. “See here,” he grunted, his mirthless grin revealing an interesting mosaic of black and yellow teeth, “if you’ve come here to act mean, you’re in the wrong place.”


    “Why?” said the Kid, squawking on account of his distorted vocal chords.


    “I guess you don’t understand,” Falselove answered. “This is a tough town. I’m the softest man around, an’ even I’m givin’ you trouble. Now, if you was to meet some real rough company, like maybe Oxbow Duggan, you’d soon eat craw.”


    “Eat what?”


    “Craw.”


    “What’s that?”


    “I don’t know. It’s just an expression we have in these parts.”


    “Well, you must be mighty queer folks if you say things an’ don’t know what they mean. Anyway, as it happens, I’m lookin’ for Duggan.”


    “Mister,” said Falselove, yanking the Kid’s face up another inch, “you act more like a head case than a hard case. An’ speakin’ of coincidence, here’s Oxbow hisself.”


    At that moment, the doors were torn from their hinges and hurled across the room by a raging giant. Six-foot-eight and three hundred pounds, he was dressed in wolfskins and armed with a huge rifle, two sixguns and three knives. Crazed obsidian eyes glared out from his thicket of long head hair, beard and whiskers, all jet-black. “Redeye,” he yelled.


    “Comin’ right up,” said the quivering saloon-keeper. “On the house, like always.” He produced a bottle of rotgut whiskey and tossed it to the colossus, who smashed off the neck on a table and downed two-thirds of the liquor at a single gulp. Falselove quaked on: “We just got through sayin’ how nice it would be if you was to call in, Oxbow. Young feller here’s lookin’ for you. He’s the Pinto Kid.”


    Duggan’s face turned sheet-white as he dropped the bottle and his rifle. “Now wait a minute,” he said, voice and body trembling in unison. “Easy now, Kid. I heard about you. We got no quarrel. I was only callin’ in anyway. Didn’t aim to meet you. No offence meant. I’ll be goin’ on.” He turned and dashed through the doorway, vaulting onto a diminutive pony, hardly more than twice his own weight. “I gotta get myself a real hoss,” he growled, lashing the lilliputian beast into a brisk stagger down the street.


    “Well, I’ll be damned,” gasped the barman.


    “Probably,” the Kid replied, fingering his twin Colts as he stepped out onto the sidewalk, where his ill-fated left boot was finally struck by a jet of tobacco juice.


    “Third time lucky,” screeched the oldster, instantly falling asleep.


    The Kid strolled to his horse, pulled a large sack from his saddle-roll, enbagged the wizened fogey and with a show of amazing strength whirled him one-handed for half a minute before flinging him across the street, where he thudded against the adobe wall of a store. Mounting his horse, the Kid left Bedrock. “Just another town,” he soliloquised. “They’re all the same.”


    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:56 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. #59
    IMMOBILITY FOR THE MILLIONS?

    During the last couple of decades, there has been much ado about transport in the UK. So far, every proposal to alleviate the worrying situation seems to have attracted as much opprobrium as approbation. Perhaps few will be surprised to learn that this awkward question was recently referred to that icon of investigators, Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor at one of our finest academic institutes. Felicitously for everyone concerned, the Great Man returned from a holiday, spent largely in the reference library near his home, on the day he received this new commission. He cleared his desk at once and tackled the issue, reporting as follows:

    What a coincidence that this matter should be referred to me only a couple of weeks after I had tinkered with one of its aspects. Heaven knows I am not a specialist in physics, though I believe I may qualify as one of the few genuine polymaths of our time. A former student of mine recently brought to my attention the parlous state of our railways. This induced me to devote a little time to that situation. I am not too proud to borrow from whatever sources are available, and in this case I leaned on US military advances, in particular the advent of the Stealth bomber, supposedly undetectable by defences. Harking back to my earlier interests, I addressed this issue for five hours, at the end of which I had devised a Stealth train, a conveyance which could pass through stations virtually unseen, thus reaching its destination on time. In due modesty, I must say that I did not get so far as to deal with the picking up of intermediate passengers at places between the two terminal points, but I shall deal with that in due course.


    The above passage is merely an aside, included only because it demonstrates that my ability to grasp technological problems matches the intellectual rigour I apply when dealing with social ones. Now to the nub. Questions put before me normally meet at least one of two criteria, in that they are either urgent or important. Some have both characteristics. This matter is unusual, as it does not have either. I shall now explain why this is so.


    The UK is among the most crowded countries in the world. Consequently it is a perfect place for reliable cheap public transport – so many potential customers in such limited space. But what do we have? I do not travel much, but am given to understand that we are obliged to contend with unsatisfactory and ridiculously expensive rail travel, crowded, sweaty bus stations and air services which, if we are to believe the protestations of their operators, constantly gallop a hairsbreadth ahead of gridlock. For those seeking independent solutions, we have hopelessly overburdened roads. What is to be done?


    I hear that the government recently charged some old duffer with the responsibility for ‘blue sky’ thinking, and that his suggestion was that we should have even more motorways. What nonsense! This is a time for fundamental reconsideration. I do not have the exact figures to hand, but don’t need them, as it is obvious that most journeys undertaken are discretionary, frivolous or both. I remember my time in business, when I was often told that people needed to take long trips, as there was no substitute for eye-contact. Poppycock! We have telephones, text and fax machines, e-mail and remote conference arrangements. The people I have just referred to simply wished to get away from their normal workplaces, enjoy a little unsupervised activity and run up costs they would never have incurred had they been paying from their own pockets. Would you fork out £120 or more per person for one overnight stay with breakfast, knowing that you would not be reimbursed? No? Nor would I. Only a month ago, I had B&B in a pleasant boarding house for £25. Business expenses are a huge swindle.


    We do not need more transport and accommodation facilities, but less mindless pressure upon those we already have. There is capacity enough for what we need, as distinct from what we want – not my first reference to this syndrome. I suggest that instead of trying to cater for apparently limitless demand, we curtail our gallivanting to what is necessary. How many Britons go abroad each year in search of the beer and fish and chips available on their own doorsteps? It is bad enough that these drunken people are often such terrible ambassadors, but even worse that their movements cause massive pollution. Aeroplanes may fly in thin air, but they do not fly on it.


    As with so many supposedly large questions, this matter is basically trivial, requiring as it does only a change of attitude. If you don’t need to go anywhere, stay at home. You will find this less stressful than getting around and you will help to save the planet. I repeat my above assertion that this issue does not have either of the criteria I mentioned early, the reason being that if my advice is taken, any currently perceived element of urgency or importance will vanish as a consequence. That is all.


    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:57 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. #60

    FIFTH MESSAGE TO PLANET X

    Notwithstanding the provocative tone of your latest missive, I intend to continue doing all I can to acquaint you with the situation on planet Earth. For a few minutes, I shall overlook your more contentious remarks. When last interrupted by technical shortcomings – where are our much-vaunted scientists? – I was about to go into theological matters.

    Religion is a big thing here. This is mystifying, as it induces people to kill each other in large numbers, regardless of the fact that nobody can confirm or refute the existence of a supernatural agency. Christians, Jews and Muslims continue their long-established practice of reciprocal butchery, regardless of the fact that they are, as I understand it, branches of a common Abrahamic tradition. This goes further, in that the various adherents have subdivisions, which seem to be as hostile to others of their own kind as to those they consider adversaries in a wider sense. One could be excused for thinking that an omnipotent and omniscient being would have settled for imbuing sentient creatures with a single belief system. By the way, the three strands just mentioned do not represent the whole spectrum. Don’t ask me to explain this because I would not want to insult your intelligence by doing so or my own by trying.


    As for governance, once again I cannot offer unequivocal clarification, as this seems to be intertwined with entertainment, both being aspects of show-business. I recently observed a congress of European Union heads of state and government – in some cases there is no distinction. It was hilarious. As far as I could make out, the leaders went back home afterwards, claiming that they had outmanoeuvred everyone else and achieved a triumph for their respective electorates. Growing pains, I’d say, but better than the warfare that ensued from piffling disagreements in bygone days.


    The position in the USA – currently top dog in economo-military terms – is not much different, as some of the citizens there have genuine concerns about the world situation, while others don’t give a damn about it, so long as they are apprised of the latest baseball/basketball/football results. I find this a little depressing.


    With regard to social organisation, the capitalist system described in Appendix 9 prevails in many of the more highly developed areas, the reason being that this arrangement is the most successful in creating wealth, though it does not really address the spread of material riches. There was – and to some extent still is – an alternative in the form of communism. Regrettably, this has usually proved itself to be more efficient in the distribution of poverty rather than wealth. Still, the socialist idea may well be sound, if a little ahead of its time. I am mindful of the fact that we had similar convulsions in our society long ago. Some compromise will be necessary here. Overall, movement is slow and sporadic, but mainly progressive.


    Now, I must inform you of my personal position. Frankly, I am in a conflicted state. Androgyny no longer seems the right course for me. To put it bluntly, I have fallen in love. Snigger if you will, but I am attracted to a human female. She is of Mediterranean extraction and her name is Vulpina. I believe that has some associative meaning, but am not sure what it is. Anyway, she is voluptuous, in addition to which she is also a competent amateur harpist. In fact, I heard someone ask her if she was a virtuoso, to which she replied haughtily that she had ‘never been with a man’. I don’t know what that means.


    As a result of her former occupation, Vulpina is financially independent. She worked nocturnally and it is common here for night-shift people to be well-rewarded for their inconvenience – remarkably so in her case. She has a number of videotapes which she says are very valuable, though they will remain so only for as long as they are secreted. I find this baffling, but she must know what she is doing. Anyway, a little light morphing has put me in her good books, and I can think of no place I would rather be.


    I have just spent some time hovering around England, home of the mongrel language which, despite its manifest absurdities, or perhaps because of them, becomes increasingly the lingua franca for many of the Earth’s people. Superficially, this tongue would appear an unlikely candidate for its leading role, as (a) writing and pronunciation seem to have undergone divorce proceedings and (b) the rules of speech are pretty much what any given individual wants them to be, though I should say in fairness that the grammar is largely uniform, which means that most Anglophones recognise good style when they encounter it. The explanation is probably threefold. First, the Britons were remarkably active in colonial times. Second, the record of their cultural spread, albeit far from unblemished, was on the whole possibly less negatively charged than those of some other nations. Third, the Anglosphere is prominent in economic affairs and currently accounts for a large proportion of the Earth’s gross national product. This will change, but the unifying effect of English will, I think, endure for quite a while.


    Earlier, I studied the second-largest continent, Africa, which I must say is not in good condition – though I believe that circumstances there are likely to improve. Europeans and North Americans often deplore the violent events that occur at times in what used to be called The Dark Continent. This is strange because during the last century, the people of the countries from which this censure emanates were involved in the greatest orgies of bloodletting that even the remarkably murderous human race has ever experienced.


    Much as I would like to continue, I am, as they say here, running on empty, so this is all for the moment. It would be nice to think of more backup from the place I am ever-less disposed to think of as home, but what chance is there?


    Yours more in hope than expectation,


    Dweedles


    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 01:58 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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