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  1. #61
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    Press-ganged again! Those inky blighters who do the menial work around here have locked me in my office, demanding that I ransack my reminiscences for a real-life tale, to be published today. All right, you drudges, I’ll do it – on condition that you print these few words as a caption. If you trick me, heads shall roll. One true story coming up. Editor

    A MAN AND A PLAN

    Shortly before the end of my working life in the commercial world, I was charged with an awesome responsibility. “You are now Corporate Planning Manager,” they said. “Go forth and produce a plan.” The initiative was a brainchild of my immediate boss, the Director of Administration. He had attended a seminar, returning with a mountain of literature emanating from an American business guru.

    In a sizable organisation – we had over a thousand people at the head office and four times that number in our nationwide branch network – I was not left without help. In fact I was assisted to distraction. Dozens of colleagues were eager to participate, especially in the area of terminology. I soon found that the idea was to mix and match impressive words and present them in any order, without varying the ostensible meaning of the expression concerned.


    My chief thundered that we knew next to nothing about our affairs. This baffled me, as we and our predecessors had been running the business for about 140 years and were achieving better results than all but half a dozen of our hundred-odd competitors. Nevertheless, it became de rigueur for our leaders to stalk the corridors, wearing glazed Messianic looks and striving to outdo each other in admitting profound ignorance of our wider environment. To make any contrary claim was to court disaster.


    Presentation of the plan was a big problem, revolving mainly around organisational shapes. Some preferred classical pyramids, others ziggurats, others concentric circles. The only general agreement was that whatever was offered to the non-executive directors should look nice. Many hours were spent in meetings convened to establish the relative values of the words ‘mission’, ‘aim’, ‘goal’, ‘objective’ and ‘strategy’. Invariably, the consensus was that all of them should be used, though their hierarchy was a matter of hot debate. If a mission was immutable, could a goal be changed? If an objective was quantifiable, could it be reached by a strategy which was not? Such considerations so impinged upon the daily round that for weeks it was almost impossible to find a manager who would deal with our firm’s normal day to day exigencies.


    In vain I pointed out that other companies in our field were repeatedly attaining excellent annual results without the benefit of formal corporate planning. For this and other heresies, I came close to losing my job. That I did not do so was probably attributable to the fact that I was the only one doing any actual work on the new scheme. My colleagues offered much advice, while remaining sufficiently ambivalent to guard themselves against any danger of adverse repercussions. Every one of the chieftains agreed that the old baronies had to go, but all maintained their fiefdoms, prudently adding extra strata, to be removed later in the event of rationalisation, in order to restore the status quo ante.


    After labouring mightily for some months, we reached accord. The pinnacle of our plan was to be the Corporate Aim, though even this gave rise to dissent, as some people suggested ‘Mission Statement’. The former term prevailed. It was a ringing assertion of our values. I forget the text, but it was to the effect that we intended to be the best outfit of our kind. Since several of our major rivals made similar declarations, I could not see how this moved us forwards. Not being of top-brass calibre, I failed to grasp the true relevance of the development.


    Now came the even knottier problem of achieving our desired result. As we had well-nigh exhausted our collective cerebral power in deciding what the plan was, how were we to muster the resources to implement it? The solution came from my still supercharged chief. In one of his visionary flashes, he realised that my shoulders were creaking. We needed management consultants.


    Where does one go after proceeding from the sublime to the ridiculous? Let me just say that we went there. We interviewed four prestigious consultancy firms, each of which promised us salvation. The first three did so on the understanding that they would operate for a predetermined period, their charges being fixed at the outset. The fourth refused to commit to either timetable or costs. The executive directors chose that one.


    It has been said that management consultants are people who borrow one’s watch to tell one the time. They do indeed have a wondrous technique, collecting vast fees, riding roughshod over clients, whose facilities they commandeer left, right and centre, while providing very few of their own tangible resources. They take no responsibility and guarantee nothing. There are three possible outcomes. First, one rejects the consultants’ advice, which exonerates them. Second, one goes along with their recommendations and comes to grief, in which case they will argue that their guidelines were not followed correctly. Third, one accepts their suggestions and succeeds, which covers them in glory. In any event, they prosper.


    Thanks to our counsellors, we soon had flesh on the bones of our plan. Within a year, we had a magnificent document. The verbosity was intolerable, but the gist was that if we did as we were told, we would be a virile, powerful leader in our field, possessed of all the ingredients for a glowing future, surviving into the new millennium and acquiring minnows in our field as a sparrow picks up breadcrumbs.


    We followed the advice and about five years later were gobbled up by a larger organisation in our own sphere. Shortly after the takeover, I met a Japanese businessman and asked him how his compatriots went about corporate planning. “Colpolate pranning,” he said. “What is that?”


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  2. #62
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    PUMPED UP

    There must be a limit to the number of superlatives that one person can attract in a lifetime, but it seems that boundary has not yet been reached in the case of Professor Ovis Jopp. The lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’ was positively incandescent when he addressed yet another invited audience in his fjordside home. Having circulated the contents of a firkin of his now famous greengage wine, the master explained his latest brainwave.

    “It was a synthesis,” he said, “and one that only an intellect of cosmic proportions could conceive. For some time, I had been thinking about the crudity of our techniques for leaving the Earth’s gravitational influence. Purely by chance, I heard a joke about an incompetent hoodlum, who was asked how he fared when trying to blow up a rival’s car. He said that he had come to grief by burning his mouth on the exhaust pipe. Obviously he failed to distinguish between blowing up and inflating.”


    Calming gales of laughter, Jopp continued: “Yes, it was funny, but I saw beyond the humour. It has long been clear that our attempts to break free from the Earth’s gravity by using absurdly large amounts of chemical propellants are unsatisfactory. Further, I concluded that such methods as plasma and nuclear pulse systems are inadequate. Happily, I found a solution within a week of first addressing the problem.”


    Applause was stifled by professorial arm-waves. “It is quite simple,” said the luminous one. “The well-known inverse square law gives the clue. If the size of a body is increased while the mass remains constant, then the surface gravity decreases as the square of the change in radius. I merely applied this to the Earth, realising that if the planet were to double in diameter without significant addition to its mass, then the surface gravitational force would be only a quarter of its present level.”


    The professor paused to ensure that his point had sunk in, then went on: “With this in mind, and using my engineering skill, which someone kindly described as legendary,” – more clapping – “I designed a giant pump, which we could insert into the Earth’s crust, then, using the air around us, we would be able to inflate our planet to the required size. This operation would reduce surface gravity to only twenty-five per cent of the current figure, so we would be in a position to undertake space flight with much less propulsive power than we now need. I don’t like repetition, but confess that the idea has a passing similarity to my earlier one for increasing the Earth’s spin rate by girdling the planet with anchored rockets. In that case, distances between some places would increase, while this proposal would affect all points.”


    Audience response to Jopp’s scheme was tumultuous, but not everyone is captivated by it. A typically acidic retort came from the ultra-round, super-critical ‘Swedish Savant’, Dr Terps Dunderklap. Vacationing in Switzerland, he was found outside the ladies’ changing room of a ski chalet. Here, he is quoted verbatim. “Poor Jopp. He spends too much time fiddling with pieces of paper, which doubtless accounts for his inability to cope with the three-dimensional world familiar to most of us. He speaks of globes, but does not understand them. I would remind him that the formula for the volume of a sphere is pi times the radius cubed, times one and a third. To inflate the Earth as he envisages would require more air than there is in our atmosphere. Apart from that deficiency, how would we then breathe? As it happens, I recently perfected an anti-gravity device, but did not feel that the world was ready for it. I will give details in due course. Meantime, please ignore the Norse nitwit.”


    We shall surely hear more of this.


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    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]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.

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  3. #63
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    GENERATION GAP

    There has been much talk lately about the supposedly privileged position of our older people, who it is often said are mortgaging the lives and prospects of their juniors. Particular concern has been expressed about the series of high budget deficits and the consequent increase in national debt, all to be paid off by younger people after their seniors have left this plane. Troubled authorities decided that such a Gordian knot needed the attention of a modern Alexander the Great. It can hardly surprise anyone that they turned to that incomparable unknotter, Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor of social studies at one of our leading universities. He applied his usual intense concentration to the problem and reported as follows:

    I was pleased to receive the buck in this matter, as I am tired of hearing ill-informed references to it. Let me start by saying that those now well into their seventies lived through a world war and its aftermath, enduring severe deprivations of many kinds, including rationing of food, clothing, fuel, etc. They also had to contend with frequent power cuts, water obtained from standpipes, and other miseries which need not be mentioned here. Notwithstanding all that, they toiled on, building up most of the wealth we all now enjoy. They had to adapt to a bewildering variety of social changes, not all for the better from their point of view. In millions of cases, they inherited little or nothing of material value from their forebears. I will not say any more about this.


    With regard to budget deficits, I agree that we could have avoided them by living within our means. I also grasp that the shortfall between government spending and income is currently something like £150billion a year and that this adds to the national debt, thus placing a burden on future taxpayers. However, that is not the main point. What we have to consider is that those paying whatever is required to clear the overall debt, which I understand is about £900billion, include the older people who are still paying taxes. It is also noteworthy that most of the debt we have as a nation is owed to ourselves, because our institutions, among them pension funds, buy government securities on behalf of many of us.


    Now to the postulation that younger people will have to pick up the total bill for our national profligacy. I have just indicated that they will not do so, as their seniors will pay some of it. As we are dealing with a gradual process and cannot establish a clear dividing line in terms of age, nobody can say who will pay what proportion. I have consulted a prominent actuary who is also distinguished in the field of financial analysis. He estimates that people now under fifty will probably pick up about two thirds of the current bill, meaning that they will fork out £600billion or so. Even if he is wrong and the whole burden falls upon the rising generations, what would their net position be after everything else is taken into account?


    These younger people will inherit bank balances and other monies to a vastly greater extent than their older compatriots do or did. That is only a start. What about dwellings? Our housing stock is close to 70% owner-occupied, which means there are roughly 17million units in this category. Taking the average price as £150,000 or so, this sector currently has a value of £2.55trillion. Nearly all of this housing wealth will in due course be inherited by the now allegedly disadvantaged young people. In most cases, the properties will be wholly or largely free from mortgage debt and the recipients of this bounty will, generally speaking, have done little or nothing to earn it. They will therefore receive several times more than whatever they pay to help clear the national debt, and should think themselves fortunate in getting such a high return on so modest an investment.


    It is significant that the high deficits which led to the national debt have done something to alleviate unemployment, so if we had not overspent as we have, many people, especially younger ones, would be in a worse position than they are. In making these observations, I am not favouring one age group relative to others, but in terms of simple logic, the figures speak for themselves.


    Though it is not strictly within my remit, I would like to mention that our financial position has to some extent been created by what is often referred to as reckless lending by various bodies. This would not have been possible without equally irresponsible borrowing by members of the public. It takes two to tango.


    It is high time for us to stop bickering about generational matters and deal with the question of egress from our plight. Therefore, I say we should put our backs to the wall, best feet forward, shoulders to the wheel and noses to the grindstone. If enough of us can still move after performing these contortions, we shall go forward and get out of the mess the same way we got into it – together!


    I have no more to say on the subject addressed here, but will take this opportunity to respond publicly to a vicious letter I received last week from a man who accuses me of speaking from an ivory tower, and states that I must have been born with the proverbial silver spoon in my mouth. As this fellow is well known, I will not name and shame him, but would ask him to note that my parents spent their lives first in private rented accommodation, then in a council house, and that thirty years ago I was the sole heir to a fortune of £620. Humble enough, I think.


    Note. In order to achieve the widest possible understanding of the above, I have used the words billion and trillion in their currently debased sense. The sooner we stop devaluing these terms and get back to correct usage, the better. There has long been a perfectly satisfactory word – milliard – for one thousand million. A true billion is a million million, and a true trillion is a million million million. If we had not trivialised our terminology in this respect, we might still have proper regard for large numbers.


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    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
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    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

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  4. #64
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    THE NODE BULLETINS : NUMBER EIGHT

    Gilgit, 2 August. Wonder of wonders, we are approaching the Snow King. Miraculously, this is thanks to Pugh, though I believe more by accident than design. He insisted that we ignore a clear path with a sign bearing the legend ‘This way to K2’, leading us instead across hostile terrain for two days. I was about to tax him with this when we met some Japanese tourists. They assured us that we were on the right track. One of them took a fancy to Flatpole, who responded by throwing him off the edge of a precipice, with the hackneyed observation that there was a nip in the air. I shudder to think what might happen should we meet a Chinese party. If she were to find an admirer in its ranks, she would probably give him a thrashing, then make some fatuous remark about a chink in his armour.

    As we must soon tackle serious mountaineering, I today arranged a practice session, involving the ascent and descent of a sheer rock face. After a good start, the exercise turned into a total farce when Gannett and Thoroughbrace, who are similar in size, tried out their abseiling techniques. They used a crude pulley of their own design and somehow got their ropes fastened together, winding up with one man rising while the other was falling, then vice versa, like a pair of opposed yoyos.


    Finally, Gannett seized a large loose rock at the end of an upward trip. Thus weighted, he outscaled Thoroughbrace, so came down with a crash. This left his partner stuck at the top and creating a great fuss, while our quartermaster refused to relinquish his rock, for fear of soaring as abruptly as he had dropped. At length, by inducing Gannett to accept a smaller stone, I got the two into equilibrium near a ledge halfway up the face, from where we recovered them by rope ladder. Perhaps it would have been better to leave them dangling. Command is a trying role.



    The final Node Bulletin coming soon.

    * * *
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  5. #65
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    The piece below was posted to us by a man who asks us not to reveal his name or address. Editor

    FROM TWO CELLARS

    I make my own wine, not because of any enjoyment this entails – it is rather tiresome – but on account of the fact that I am too cheap to buy the commercial stuff. In the course of oenological dabbling, I chummed up with a fellow who is also an amateur winemaker. The difference between us is that I make my plonk from any fresh fruit I can get, while he goes to great lengths to acquire specific grapes from various regions, labelling his products accordingly. We recently discussed our efforts, concluding that it would be interesting to call upon the services of a mutual acquaintance, who fancies himself as a connoisseur, the idea being that he should assess our respective outputs. Here is what he said:


    Weitsteiner Kalbspinkel. (My friend’s.) Insipid is the word. I had expected something more incisive from a pressing which has, basically, Rhineland provenance. This flutters ineffectually around the palate, settling nowhere. Many German wines are produced from slaty soil and frankly, in this case I would have preferred to bite off a chunk from a Welsh quarry. By the way, Kalbspinkel means calf-pee – and Weitstein is not in my atlas.


    Pear and rhubarb. (Mine.) Bowels in a bottle! I don’t wish to be indelicate, but the word ‘sewage’ comes to mind. Let me not dwell upon how the by-tastes of sulphur and ammonia were achieved. This beverage might have been less malignant had the perpetrator used overripe pears and natural, unforced West Yorkshire rhubarb. Clearly he didn’t, the result being that the kindest thing to say is ‘Ugh’.


    Château Lyon. (My friend’s.) A brute! An assassin! More terror than terroir, this mean, vicious potion should not be sold off-prescription. Those with leather stomachs might just cope with what I instantly dubbed ‘The Villefranche Strangler’. If you can think of a blend of Chablis, Montrachet, Richebourg and Pommard les Epinots, perhaps you’d better not. This wine has all the restraint of a Pamplona bull. Among those who try it, some may survive, but basically the stuff is best regarded as lethal.


    Grapefruit and Raisin. (Mine.) This liquid is so unpretentious that it must have an inferiority complex. Still, if you like the olfactory experience of a combination of roast chicken and lemon curd, you will not be disappointed. I don’t want to go into the effect on the innards, save to say that this offering is marginally less of an emetic than some others from the same stable.


    Coonaburra Top Bin. (My friend’s.) This purports to simulate something from the Barossa Valley. If it really does so, I can only say trust the Aussies for originality. Imagine a mix of vynil silk-finish emulsion, ox-blood shoe polish and tartar sauce, and you will come close. Laced with (unless I am much mistaken) a distillation of dingo liver extract, Top Bin kicks like a mule. Frankly, I liked it, though after one glass, I spent three hours straightening my toes. Tie down your scalp and give it a go.


    Apple and Mulberry. (Mine.) To be truthful, I’d rather not be truthful. If the maker could only rid his product of the overwhelming flavour of coal-tar soap, it might be almost drinkable. I understand this was created at a cost of 12p a bottle. It may be value for money if used for scouring doorsteps, but don’t imbibe it.


    Readers may care to note that though I emerged somewhat tarnished from this event, I have had the courage to present the result. My friend has no comment.


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    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:01 PM.
    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
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    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

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  6. #66
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    FIFTH REPLY FROM PLANET X TO EMISSARY

    Dear Dweedles

    We are upset by your latest missive, the general view here being that you may have been exposed to too much oxygen. Our boffins have studied the results of other trips like yours and are convinced that this kind of thing can cause flights of fancy.


    Regarding your involvement with the human female Vulpina, please note that the name does indeed have an associative meaning. Can this really have escaped you? Look up ‘vulpine’ in your dictionary. What do you see? Relating to or characteristic of the fox. Crafty, cunning, right? Be careful. Further, does it not occur to you that the lady’s former lifestyle has certain connotations? Nocturnal indeed! We could be more explicit. Incidentally, you describe her as of Mediterranean extraction. Do you mean that she is an offspring of a family from the shoreline concerned, or some kind of mermaid you dredged from the briny? We know you are given to meandering, but please try to be specific. Incidentally, when speaking of Vulpina’s musical ability and her retort to a question you asked her, you probably confused the words virtuoso and virtuous. No charge for these language lessons.


    Dweedikins, you are infatuated. Do not weaken further. You must have noticed from your experiences elsewhere that this disease is common wherever there are two genders. Get a grip on yourself. Do your duty and try to avoid being more of a chump than nature made you – it did well enough. By the way, there is a limit to the morphing you can achieve. The object of your affection is sure to have, let us say, certain expectations. If you were to be so foolish as to prolong your liaison with her, she would probably anticipate delights which you could not offer. The ‘little light morphing’ you mention is a silly idea, even by your standards. You must learn to live with the fact that there is a limit to the extent to which you can adjust your anatomy. Watch out when the crockery starts flying.


    Now, don’t underestimate Dwolf. Though somewhat long in the tooth, Big D is a veritable bloodhound, capable of finding you in any corner of the Cosmos. We have cautioned you before about getting above your station. Just remember your role as a tool of The Plan. You appear to have assessed yourself as something more than that. You are not.


    Here is another point you might find awkward. Your assignment requires that you supply us with solutions, but you seem to be disposed to raise questions rather than give answers. Most of what your communications purport to reveal was clear to us from the appendices you sent before your first message. Dweedie, we had hoped to avoid getting into this situation, but we have no choice. You are to stay in situ and take no action until Dwolf gets there to relieve you. It has been decided that despite your recalcitrance, you are to be accorded a full public reception on your return here, and that suitable employment will be found for you in the civil service. You are to be an archivist, grade two, with no impediment to your reaching the top level (five), should your efforts so merit.


    You might wish to note that the heat here is now nearly intolerable – a position which could have been avoided had you worked more swiftly. However, we shall do all within our power to cope.


    Regards from your perspiring support team at Mission Control.


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    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:02 PM.
    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]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.

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  7. #67
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    SMALL WORLD

    We have long known that custom does not stale the infinite variety of Professor Ovis Jopp, any more than it did that of Cleopatra. Further proof emerged yesterday, when the lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’ entranced members of the world’s scientific community by telling of his latest exploit, triggered when he heard a British government minister say: “Nanotechnology will be huge.”

    “I suspected the fellow was trying to elicit laughter,” said Jopp, “but I took him literally, at once apprehending that what he spoke of is significant. However, it is trivial compared to what is possible. I refer to worlds far smaller than those he had in mind. You will know that nano is the prefix for ten to the minus ninth power. That is only a start. We descend in stages of a thousand a time. After nano come pico, femto, atto, zepto and yocto, the last being ten to the minus twenty-fourth power. Such an array would be far more than enough for most experts in tininess, but I hurdled the supposed obstacle in less time than it takes to tell, without working up a sweat.”


    The eminent egghead allowed a moment for the inevitable gasps, then proceeded: “The main problem was seeing what was what. As there was no instrument of sufficient magnifying power, I had to invent one, which I call the jopposcope. By the way, I have some pride in this tool, as it makes sub-atomic viewing quite simple. Having no particular objective, I contented myself with producing a soccer pitch on the yoctometre scale. That led me to think of the players, the football and so on. Plunging downwards, I reached the level of ten to the minus twenty-seventh power, for which I could find no prefix. Assuming that there is none, and without wishing to be presumptuous, I suggest that ovio might be adopted as a new standard.”


    Quickly subduing more expressions of astonishment, the professor continued: “I appreciate that there may be few at present capable of understanding what I have done, but the same could be said with respect to others who have vastly outpaced their contemporaries. Anyway, that does not matter now. After all, I speak of a world which I alone have seen. Let me just say that there seems to be no limit to what can be attained. As for the jopposcope, I need to introduce a few minor refinements and after I have done that, I shall be happy to invite anyone to inspect my latest work, which I believe matches anything I have done in the past.”


    Though the immediate audience was rendered near-speechless, a sharp observation came within hours from Jopp’s premier castigator, the rotund, follically-challenged ‘Swedish Savant’, Dr Terps Dunderklap. Enjoying his first sojourn in the USA, he was found loitering on the campus of one of the country’s most illustrious institutions – Vassar.


    Dr Dunderklap is usually acerbic, and on this occasion he excelled himself. “Hah,” he scoffed, “another proclamation from the Ass of Alkmaar. It saddens me to think that we were both born in that Dutch town, on the same day and in the same hospital. Just imagine two people appearing in the world, so close in time and space and so different in mentality. I calculate the IQ gap between us as 250 points. Jopp is, as usual, way behind me. I went beyond his primitive ovio level long ago, when I reduced smallness to what I call the dundo stage, which is ten to the minus thirtieth power, thus producing a polo ground, a vast number of which could be put into the torpid troll’s enormous megadrome. No matter how far he delves into the microscopic realm, Jopp will never find anything there as diminutive as his own brain.”


    A major rumpus seems likely.


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    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:02 PM.
    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]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.

    [/FONT][/SIZE][/I][/B][B][I][FONT=Times New Roman]O:)[/FONT][/I][/B]
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  8. #68
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    GREY POWER

    The piece below is a copy of a letter we received recently, addressed to our editor and accompanied by a note asking us to publish what the writer has to say. Stand aside, Mrs Malaprop.

    Dear Sir,


    I understand that like me, you have passed the age of seventy, so as one septicgeranium to another, I hope you will find it within you to relegate your readers with details of an enterprise undertaken in our village. We have formed an OAP group with the aim of achieving all-round cultural levitation by exchanging knowledge of the various facsimiles in which we have specialised. We call ourselves PILL – an antonym for Personal Improvement by Logical Learning – and I feel that our ideas may be a paradox for other isolated communities.


    After a good deal of discussion, I was elected chairperson. There was some carping from several of our ladies, who claimed that I was assuming the role of alphabetic male and was guilty of misprogeny. I stepped around this hazard by invoking the soft answer that turneth away wrath, thus circumcising a potentially dangerous pitfall. The complainants certainly seemed to be largely emulsified.


    Our venue for weekly meetings is the village hall. Someone suggested that my house would be the appropriate place, but I replied that this would not be suitable, since I do not receive visitors, as I consider my home in violet. There are usually ten or twelve people at our get-togethers. Conversation is always lively, as we are all fond of company. Indeed, I never encountered a more egregious crowd.


    We have had problems, from which others might learn. It is all very well for those who live in large conflagrations, but things are different in rural areas. In our case, matters are exasperated by a shortage of transport. Happily, I managed to alliterate our position by offering all three of my family’s bicycles for the common good.


    Our debates include a competitive element, in the form or a word game. As a former statistician, I was able to introduce a sophistical scoring system. Our progress has been most pleasing and has transgressed our highest aspersions. We have overcome obstacles to the extent that others in lower age-groups are getting the point. For example, one of my daughters, now thirty-nine and ten months, intends to form a forty-something society as soon as she becomes a quadrilateral.


    The notion can be extended further downwards. We are concerned about the welfare of children here, and are at present in the process of forming a junior group, in which respect we are fortunate to have among us a highly qualified and experienced paedophile.


    I would like to pass on two practical lessons we have learned. First, it is necessary to agree about financing. Initially, I paid for the hire of our premises. Happily, I was soon able to extort a promise that all members would pay equal shares, so we are inculcated against monetary problems. Second, it is as well to avoid high ambitions at the outset – disappointment follows lofty expectorations.


    Sadly, I must regale upon my intention of inviting you to attend our next meeting. I was to be the main speaker, the proposed subject being my current particular interest, English language, in which field I think I may claim some degree of extinction. I also have not inconsiderate familiarity with French and German, so could be considered something of a polygon. Despite the protruberances of my friends, I have had to regurgitate that my vocal chords are inflamed by an attack of lyncanthropy. Perhaps we shall arrange something later. Now I must rush to catch the last post, as I am applying for a barometric passport.


    Yours sincerely,


    Alfred Threape


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    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:03 PM.
    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]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.

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  9. #69
    Honoured/Sadly Missed Courtjester's Avatar
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    VALEDICTION

    My friends, I have been asked to say a few words in memory of our departed colleague, Oswald Briddle. Some of you may be surprised that what most of us would consider more an honour than a duty has fallen upon me, since Ossie and I were once described as political Antipodeans. I suppose that was true at one time and in one sense, though it became increasingly hard to detect, as our exchanges in recent years were more in the form of persiflage than downright hostility.

    Remembering Ossie’s devotion to the idea that brevity is the soul of wit, I will try to avoid verbal excess, but am bound to recall certain clashes. Only three months ago, Ossie demonstrated his pithiness when he described me as the Establishment’s bagman, to which comment my leader riposted that this was better than being organised labour’s swagman. A merry piece of give and take.


    They say one should not speak ill of the dead. In some cases, that is easier said than done. Happily, there is no dilemma on this occasion, for there can be few people who could justifiably denigrate the name of Oswald Briddle, a man who embodied all that we have come to regard as the essence of democratic politics. There is no need here to damn with faint praise.


    It is true that our late great friend and I were opposites in some ways, yet that never precluded mutual respect. We all had a good laugh last year, when Ossie disagreed with me over fish quotas, saying that a man in my position should have little time for such matters, on grounds of his having burdens enough with six hundred acres in the home counties and eighteen company directorships. Energised, if also slightly wounded, by Ossie’s forthrightness, I replied that such responsibilities were better shouldered by me than by an ill-bred upstart from one of the North’s bleakest housing estates – a remark that elicited the odd titter. There was no animosity involved. Those words were merely the cut and thrust of our much-envied system, and what a dull place this great debating chamber would be without a little banter.


    We live in changing times and nobody could fairly accuse Oswald Briddle of failing to grasp that point. Was it not he who, twenty-seven years ago, resigned from the Communist ranks to found his own Far Right Party? Some might consider that a startling change, a volte-face, perhaps. Indeed, some of Ossie’s former colleagues, no doubt embittered, called him a turncoat. I do not concur with their view. A man should be true to his values, even when they are, let us say, less than immutable.


    It came as a surprise to many of us when Ossie later ditch . . . ah . . . left his right-wing group to lead the Tudor Rose Republican Party. True, this coincided with his good fortune in securing top consultancy posts with several local governments in his area. What is wrong with that? Did we not learn from Shakespeare that there is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune? There is little doubt in my mind that a man of Oswald Briddle’s stature must have been well worth £276,542 a year in fees, plus an annual six-figure expense account.


    There were those – including, sadly, several members of my own party – who sneared at Ossie for this action, saying that it represented a departure from his roots. I regard that charge as improper. Outstanding men are not always to be measured by the same yardstick as the rest of us, for they have great virtues and, no doubt understandably, commensurate . . . ah . . . let me say susceptibilities. Some may argue that by doing nothing other than sticking to one’s guns, one does not do wrong. Others opine that leaders who adjust their postures in the light of what they perceive as epiphanies are, though open to carping from lesser mortals, made of the right stuff. I would not wish to be an arbiter in that debate.


    I’m sure we all remember Ossie’s last move, when he wound up his earlier activities to find his final political resting place with the new Extreme Centre Party – the last oscillation of the Briddle pendulum, as one wag put it. Certain unworthy minds construed this as meaning that Ossie had at last boxed the compass of party politics. I would rather say that if a man changes his spot . . . er, convictions from time to time, he must find the appropriate vehicle for his new aspirations. Not so very much wrong with that, you might agree.


    Ossie was the most gregarious of men, forever stimulating his many friends in the House with hilarious anecdotes, together with something from that remarkable, apparently self-replenishing flask he always carried. It was a rare day when he did not entertain at least twenty people, separately. Often, the corridors reeked of . . . conviviality. Oswald Briddle was upright and sure-footed – attributes for which we were all thankful, especially at the end of each of his strenuous daily rounds. Not surprisingly, he faltered now and then, but I submit that a man who puts as much into life as he did might be excused for being a little over-stimulated at times.


    Turning to the tales about Ossie’s supposed junketing, I say with some degree of confidence that they arose from false foundations, or at least rather questionable ones. If a man of some eminence needs to spend two or three months in the Bahamas to get a true feel for the social conditions in nearby Haiti, so be it. No-one can make the world a better place by selfishly sitting at home, whether the residence concerned be a local authority maisonette or a country mansion, of which Ossie had both.


    Of course, the various political alignments of His Foxiness, as our late friend was dubbed – maliciously, I would say – by certain critics, entailed corresponding geographical changes, so we are today saying our last farewell to the member for, over the years, Sproatsley East, Leafbury-on-the-Wold, Udderham and Arkthorpe.


    Finally, it would be remiss of me to neglect the opportunity to lay to rest a matter that has recently been uppermost in many minds. I refer to the rumours circulating during the last months of Ossie’s life. Allow me to say here and now, without too much fear of contradiction, that the tittle-tattle almost certainly exaggerated the facts. Each of us must have the right to a personal life, inviolate from general scrutiny. This applied to Ossie as much as to anyone else. Whatever his covert predilections – and who would argue that he was not entitled to any or all of them? – only the most uncharitable among us would still contend that Oswald Briddle dabbled in a field so repugnant that I cannot bring myself to speak of it. Rest in peace, Ossie.


    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:04 PM.
    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]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.

    [/FONT][/SIZE][/I][/B][B][I][FONT=Times New Roman]O:)[/FONT][/I][/B]
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  10. #70
    Honoured/Sadly Missed Courtjester's Avatar
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    May 2011
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    THE NODE BULLETINS : NUMBER NINE

    The Snow King, 9 August. It is all over, our expedition in ruins. We reached here to find the place a tourist resort, thronged by numerous parties. Admission for would-be summiteers is by turnstile only. Ahead of us was a group of Bolivian monks, intent on making the ascent clad in their habits. My companions were bitter, arguing that such frivolity would shame our more traditional approach. After much vituperation, our campaign disintegrated, leaving it to me to record the last throes.

    Though no gossip columnist, I must report that Flatpole and Pugh are to wed. They left us two days ago, Pugh saying that he had long wished to grow coconuts, and that he and his betrothed were to proceed two thousand miles due north to realise his dream. I pointed out that this would place them in Siberia, not an area known for tropical produce. Pugh thanked me, but said that this was a mere technicality.


    Gannett resigned yesterday, irate over complaints about his cooking. The last straw was his preparation of an ibex which Flatpole had throttled. Our quartermaster neglected to skin the creature before boiling a chunk of it. The result was disgusting. Gannett flounced off, festooned with clattering kitchenware. Unfortunately, his burden made a din which started an avalanche that buried him. I fear we shall not see him again.


    Thoroughbrace then proposed a vote of no confidence in the leadership. Naturally, I abstained, so the motion was carried by the vote of my only remaining companion. He left, using the last of his money to buy a camel. I did not like the look of the beast. My fears were confirmed when it promptly collapsed, pitching my erstwhile comrade into a mile-deep abyss, from which he will surely not emerge.


    I shall return home to plan an attack on the Dogtooth Peak in the Andes.


    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:04 PM.
    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]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.

    [/FONT][/SIZE][/I][/B][B][I][FONT=Times New Roman]O:)[/FONT][/I][/B]
    [SIZE=2]
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