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  1. #71
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    TOPSY-TURVY

    It is increasingly difficult for many of us to keep abreast of the work of Professor Ovis Jopp, the lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’. Speaking yesterday in his fjordside home, he informed an audience of science reporters that he had proved the validity of the theory of Earth crust displacement, adding that it was probably this, rather than meteorite impact, that overwhelmed the dinosaurs.

    Supplying his listeners with wine made by his wife from Italian gooseberries and dubbed by him Vino Verdi (he is an opera lover), the wily warlock explained that he was inspired to investigate the conjecture in question while walking in his garden. He said that the theory in question had attracted Einstein, admitting that the father of Relativity, along with Archimedes and Newton, had ascended to within hailing distance of his own intellectual eminence. “For me, and doubtless only for me,” – he chuckled – “it was not too difficult. I took one of my spherical green cabbages, a sheet of polythene, a jar of my own recently developed super-lubricant, which I call Ovilube, and a wok. I sawed the last item through the middle, top to bottom, setting the two halves slightly apart and putting them upon separate supports, placed to match the curvature of the vegetable.”


    Pausing only to imbibe half a litre of wine, the professor went on: “I coated the cabbage with Ovilube, shrink-wrapped it in the polythene and placed it in the split wok, the inner surfaces of which I had also smeared with the lubricant. The cabbage represented the Earth’s main mass and the polythene its crust, while the wok was merely a suitable stand. I added putty to the top of my apparatus, little by little in a narrow ridge, recording the amounts. As I had suspected, a final increment caused abrupt inversion, my poles sliding through 180 degrees, the ridge of putty passing the slit in the wok and stopping exactly opposite its initial position. My calculations indicate that there is at present almost a polar equilibrium, and that an additional 800 million tons of ice to the North Pole would cause a half-revolution, analogous to that in my experiment. As a result, we in the northern hemisphere would find ourselves down-under. Briefly discarding my usual humility, I submit that this is the most elegant demonstration of its kind yet devised, and I cannot imagine that there will ever be a more convincing one.”


    Though the audience reeled, disapprobation was not long in coming. Leading the charge was Dr. Terps Dunderklap, himself verging on the globular. The hairless one was located at a fashion show in St. Petersburg. His guffaws must have been audible almost as far away as his homeland. “I believe I have finally established what is amiss with the fool of the fjords,” he said. “It is a question of height. A brain at such an altitude as his must be oxygen-deprived and therefore not working properly. If I did not dislike Jopp so much, I would pity him.”


    After interrupting his comments to view a little stuff-strutting on the catwalk – a blinding red and yellow number – Dunderklap continued: “I confirmed eight months ago that the notion of crust-inversion is nonsense, but did not publicise my finding, which was merely one result of several amusing experiments I carried out during an evening I spent entertaining some friends. My equipment comprised a medicine ball, a basin, a length of Cellophane, six ounces of petroleum jelly and some modelling clay. The test proved conclusively that there never has been and never will be such a swivelling as Jopp suggests. Further, his statement that so much mass would have to be added to the northern ice cap is as profoundly erroneous as the rest of his assertions. Anyone accustomed to delicate weighing would tell you that if there were a near-perfect balance, a minuscule addition to either side of the scale would be decisive. Incidentally, the ice around the North Pole is melting. What about that lot, Greeno?”


    This wrangle may well absorb many physicists for some time.


    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:05 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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  2. #72
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    Immediately after clocking in this morning I was given the hard word. Those thugs in the general office are to deny me tea and biscuits until I come up with another tale from my own experiences – some readers will know that I produced a couple earlier. This one is needed for today’s print run. I suppose we’re short of material, though nobody ever tells me anything. However, having reached my anecdotage, I can handle this task. Here we go. Editor


    IT’S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS

    I was in the infirmary, breast bone and four ribs broken and the car written off. Nobody’s fault, unless you blame the local authority gritting crews and I don’t. They had their hands full dealing with the main roads and I’d been on a minor one. The culprit was a patch of ice which threw my tiny runabout into a skid. Being the only mishap of consequence I had experienced in many years of driving, it was a shock – the sort of thing that happens to other, younger people. Of course, I have to admit that anyone under the age of fifty now seems to me a youthful tearaway.

    In the afternoon of my third day of horizontality, my friend Bob called. He came minus both grapes and fruit juice, not that I take much notice of such things, and exhibited the classic symptoms of a hospital visitor – simulated bonhomie, fidgeting, eyes continually straying, not surreptitiously enough for my liking, to the wall clock, after the first ten minutes of his stay. The second of these manifestations was particularly evident, as it was exacerbated by Bob’s decision, taken a few months earlier, to stop smoking. I had noticed that since then he seemed to be afflicted by constant wriggling, scratching, rubbing of various body parts and bouncing from one buttock to the other, as though taking his daily exercise while chairbound. Not for the first time, I wished he would revert to the weed. I hadn’t liked the smell of his cigarettes, but found that less irritating than his non-stop squirming.


    “Well now, what’s the full story?” he said, full of forced joviality. It was a fair opening, so I explained. There were the inevitable interruptions, obliging me to say that yes, my seat belt had been fastened, no, I hadn’t been drinking and yes, I really did try to get straightened out again but failed, mainly because the road was narrow, sinuous and half-blocked by a car belonging to a fellow who had come to grief a couple of minutes earlier, in the same way as I did. The location was, I learned later, an accident black spot. I wonder why it is that after such events one must submit, even to one’s friends, to an interrogation process that would be more appropriate following a major incident at a nuclear power station.


    Finally, Bob was satisfied that I had not been overtaken by suicide mania. That clarified, he told me that I had been very lucky. I replied that having broken several bones and lost my trusty old car, I failed to perceive my good fortune. By this time, about twenty minutes of the allowed visiting hour had elapsed and I began to match Bob’s clock-watching, glance for glance – a long spell of mutually uncomfortable conversation is no trifling matter. “Well look,” said Bob after a particularly uneasy pause. “If there’s anything I can do, just tell me.”


    I was well aware that the standard response in such circumstances is: “No, everything’s okay. I’ll be out soon.” Instead of saying words to that effect, I began to do a little chin-fingering. This clearly caused my pal some discomfiture, so I persevered with it for a while before answering: “As a matter of fact, there is.”


    “Name it,” Bob whipped out smartly.


    “Well,” I said, “I was just going to tidy the garden. That’s a fairish task. As you know, I have well over half an acre, and they reckon that although they’ll discharge me in a couple of days, I’ll be fairly weak for while. The trees have shed a veritable carpet of leaves on the lawn and paths and around the borders. It always takes me ages to gather them up. And I have a load of laundry waiting to be dealt with. Apart from that, there’s only the question of groceries. That’s a bit complicated, what with my vegetarianism and general faddishness. It means some running around health food places. Then I go for locally grown organic produce – one has to be so careful. Still, if you don’t mind.”


    By this time, Bob was decidedly on edge. He hesitated for, by my casual reckoning, four seconds before unleashing a rapid, jerky response. “No problem at all. Only thing is we’re booked for a fortnight in Cornwall from tomorrow. Trying to get as far south as we can for the pre-winter break, and you know that the better half won’t go abroad. She doesn’t even have a passport – that’s always been a bone of contention between us. But look, as soon as we get back – ”


    Realising that he was blathering, I broke in: “Don’t worry about it for a minute. It’s the thought that counts.”


    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:06 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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  3. #73
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    FINAL MESSAGE TO PLANET X

    It amazes me that you can still indulge in berating your cosmic standard-bearer when you have so little time left to save yourselves. Before addressing anything else, I would like to respond to your derisory offer of a clerical post. It is hereby rejected. I have no desire for a desk job, particularly not at the level you mention. Even making allowance for your fuddy-duddy mindset, I can’t believe that you maintain a straight face when replying to my reports. Anyway, kindly note that I do not wish to be a mere jobsworth – you’ll probably have to look that one up. If I had any such desire, I certainly would not wish in such an inferno as my original home planet seems to have become.

    I had intended to convey many other things, including a detailed description of sport, a form of warfare unknown to us but very popular here, and an appraisal of radio and television broadcasting. However, your censorious retorts to so many of my observations suggest that this would be a waste of effort on my part.


    This is a time for straight talking, so I must tell you that I have long been teetering on the brink of a major decision, and have now made it. You may be unable to put yourselves in the position of one who has been separated from you for so long. Maybe the best thing I can say is that yesterday has gone and tomorrow has not yet arrived, so today is what matters. Just as an experiment, you might try to grasp the idea that the expression ‘long-term’ is relative. Though no biologist, I assume that a housefly here considers the period from dawn to dusk as near-enough a lifetime, but doesn’t get worked up about that fact. An American fellow once said that it is not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years. See what I mean?


    To keep it short, I am throwing in my lot with that of humankind. Yes, they are savages, but they have embraced the notion of jesting in the face of adversity and even death. As individuals, we survive longer than homo sapiens, but they are ahead of us in appreciating that, as one of their scribes put it: “One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name.” These creatures know how to live. What do we do? Where are our creative writers, painters, poets and composers? We have not produced any genuinely new artistic work for centuries. I said in my fourth message and I now say again that your objective is mere survival. Why do you want to go on? After all, you’re not achieving anything of consequence, are you?


    With regard to my own lot, I was shoe-horned into a career for which I had the talent, but not the desire. Now I am free to choose and intend to share my life with Vulpina – don’t try to contaminate my mind with aspersions about her past. If she was once culpable of indiscretions, she is all right now. And even if things were not quite tickety-boo with her, there is my American friend Polly, who will take anyone, anytime, on financially acceptable terms – and thanks to one of your rare bursts of technical wizardry, I can lay hands on any amount of boodle whenever I like. Long live free enterprise.


    Send Dwolfus Geriatricus if you wish, but note that the great stalker will draw a blank, as I am about to destroy the spacecraft which has been my domicile these many weary years, so there will be nothing to find. I shall vanish among the teeming millions here. You will not hear anything more from me, and as things are warming up at your end, my advice to you is fly or fry.


    Your erstwhile obedient servant


    Dweedles

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:07 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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  4. #74
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    WHITHER LANGUAGE?

    It seems to have become almost a matter of course that any subject of general interest will sooner or later be referred to the man now widely known as the UK’s Wrangler-in-Chief, Sir Bertram Utterside, whose credentials surely do not need to be restated here. The latest conundrum dropped onto his forty square feet of oak – a big mind requires a big desk, he says – was that of the alleged mangling of our language, brought about by the current state of literacy, plus the transmission of messages in abbreviated form by texting. Readers are reminded that Sir Bertram is not averse to embroiling himself in controversy. His observations are given below:

    By coincidence, this matter was presented to me at the same time as I was immersed in a study of Linears A and B, the supposedly near-lost early Minoan tongue and its successor. It is fortunate that I am something of a linguist, so the question of whether or not English usage is deteriorating reached the right address.


    Before getting down to brass tacks, I would like to doff my hat – not a common occurrence – to those pioneers who made noble efforts in this field. I think in particular of the originators of the Oxford English Dictionary, who grasped the need for their work to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. This explains why we find alternative recommendations with respect to spelling and pronunciation. C. K. Ogden made a useful contribution with his Basic English, comprising only 850 words. I also offer a nod to Zamenhof, the founder of Esperanto, who in my view should be considered a ‘totem Pole’ – another of those little quips I offer now and then to people who still doubt my inclination to jocularity.


    Languages are always changing and their strengths and weaknesses vary according to the purpose for which they are used – literary, rhetorical, poetic or merely communicative. With respect to the first three categories, English has no advantage over many other tongues. In the last it is dominant, not because it is outstandingly good, but because it happened to be in the right places at the right times.


    As to further progress, I am bound to chuckle at the fossils who contend that, owing to falling standards, all is lost. This is nonsense. I have examined the supposedly deleterious effect of texting and have found that, contrary to the claims of a number of philological backwoodsmen, this phenomenon should be welcomed because it leads to original thinking. I am well-placed to comment on this, as I have produced a hybrid language, based upon a mix of the Roman alphabet, Arabic numbers, quasi-Oriental ideographs, mathematical symbols and direction indicators. My system has the familiar twenty-six letters, ten numerals, the four computer keyboard arrows and sixty icons of my own design, making a total of one hundred characters. I submit that until we master telepathy – I have no doubt that we shall do so – this could replace all other ways of conveying information.


    Though I have compiled a guidebook, I do not claim that all English words are encompassed by my technique. For the time being, some will remain as they are. However, let me offer examples based only on the letters and numbers familiar to all of us. ‘Foresee’ and ‘four hundred’ are rendered by 4c and 4C respectively, the upper case indicating that a number is involved. Likewise ‘fork’ and ‘four thousand’ would become 4k and 4K, while ‘form’ and ‘four million’ would be 4m and 4M. Now for something even simpler, using only letters. ‘I see you are too wise’ would become i c u r yy.


    Some much-used words are represented by simple symbols, for instance ‘the’ is a bisected circle. The senses of forwards, backwards, upwards and downwards and their connotations are given by the appropriate arrows, while mathematical signs for ‘more than’ and ‘less than’ are used. The proposed system precludes any possibility of misunderstanding. Admittedly, a single spread of a hundred items would be rather large, but any difficulty this presents could be overcome by alternative keyboards, accessed by a single stroke. Indeed, my own machine has a second array, which causes very little inconvenience. One simply has to get used to the idea.


    Some filing away of rough edges is still required, but in the interest of giving readers a flavour of the advantages of the proposed method, I engaged a former student of mine to translate a novel from Standard English into my version, adjuring her to ensure that all nuances were preserved. The original book ran to 60,000 words, or about 340,000 characters. I was gratified to note that the young lady, using pencil and paper, did an excellent job in terms of impact and readability, and reduced the work’s volume by about a third. If that is not an improvement, I don’t know what is.


    Some readers may think they detect possible flaws in the system outlined above. I assure everyone that I am well aware of all potential anomalies and shall deal with them shortly. You will then hear more of my innovation. For the time being, I have nothing further to say about it.

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; December 10th, 2018 at 04:05 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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  5. #75
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    LIKE NOTHING ON EARTH

    The apparently inexhaustible Professor Ovis Jopp has done it again. Speaking yesterday to a select gathering at his home, the lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’ dropped yet another blockbuster onto the scientific world, revealing that he had discovered a planet circling, or perhaps one should say ellipting, the Sun in the same orbit as ours.

    “I must confess,” said Jopp, “that I got the idea while watching a film which purported to show that there was a ‘mirror’ Earth on the far side of the local star, but always out of our sight because it is constantly in precise opposition to us. Why not, I thought. You know that I am accustomed to discovering, even conceiving, planets, so this project was not a totally new experience for me. I worked on the Hardanger Plateau. My equipment comprised twenty skilfully arranged and ingeniously connected empty oil drums, painted green, a simple megaphone and an army surplus transmitter/receiver, in which I implanted the vital component, a piece of an isotope of my recently invented element joppium, which you may recall I used in an earlier experiment.”


    Calming his excited audience, Jopp continued: “Realising that any other body in our orbit must be regarded as leading or chasing us, I worked backwards to achieve the swiftest possible connection. Imagine my joy when I picked up the first message. I will not tax your minds by explaining the linguistics involved, but I established that there is what one might call a shadow Earth, matching our planet in size but consisting mainly of gases, so having very low density and mass. This body would not be observable by any of our space cameras, as it is enveloped in an occlusion zone, which both prevents direct sightings and neutralises gravity. The latter characteristic explains why the planet is able to maintain its course, despite its low mass. Incidentally, I have not yet given it a permanent name. Until I do so, Earth 2 will suffice.”


    Here, Jopp paused to light one of those mammoth green seaweed cigars which Captain Nemo might have envied. He then went on: “Our friends on the ‘other side’ are somewhat similar to us in appearance, though obviously rather less solid – ‘ethereal’ is the word. Happily they are not hostile. Also, I am delighted to say that they have among their number a scientist who is not so very far from being my equal, and who has perfected a method of sending messages in a direct line around our joint orbit, instead of spreading them in the usual electromagnetic way. I hope I am not being immodest in saying that the task of intercepting the transmissions seemed destined to fall to me. I feel sure you will understand why I have not indicated exactly how I used my apparatus. I do not believe the world is yet ready for mass extra terrestrial communication. These are early days and all will be revealed at the right time.”


    A response to Jopp’s words came quickly from the ‘Swedish Savant’, Dr Terps Dunderklap, who was vacationing in London, close to Holloway Prison. He was as forthright as ever, saying: “So, the cerebral Cerberus that protects Jopp from reality is still in place. I do not enjoy carrying out a further demolition job on him, but feel bound to say that I can refute his arrant nonsense. I investigated this matter a year ago, using twelve empty casks of Limousin oak, cleverly arrayed, a trumpet and a transmitting and receiving device, similar to the one Jopp employed, the difference being that my vital addition was a sliver of the element dunderium, which I produced a short time ago.


    As I had predicted, the result was negative. My messages zipped around the allegedly shared orbit, returning home without having encountered any obstacle. Jopp’s supposed planet could exist only if it occupied one of the Lagrangian points, which are places of gravitational equilibrium, allowing a small body to hold its position because of a balance between two larger ones. There is no such spot at the location Jopp suggests. Take more water with it, Greenie.”


    The professor riposted: “I have seen Twerpo’s figures which, if the champion chump could only see it, show that all of his communications took a fifteenth of a second longer than they would have done, had they not met Earth 2, which they were obliged to semi-circumnavigate. I’d like to know what Blunderklap makes of that.”


    Another lengthy dispute seems inevitable.



    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:08 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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  6. #76
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    LET’S PUT IT THIS WAY

    “Minor emergency, Miss Froop. Could you spare a moment?”

    “Of course, Mr Notch. What is it?”

    “I have to go out for the day shortly, but I must deal with this first. You’ve heard that Fenella Grossbeak died yesterday?”

    “Yes.”

    “Well, old Tom Billingsworth phoned me a few minutes before you came in. He still edits the local rag, you know, and he wants us to produce a quick obituary. He needs it this afternoon. Now, am I right in thinking that you and Fenella were once good friends?”

    “We were acquainted, but never close. In fact our paths haven’t crossed for eight years and eleven months.”

    “Ah, yes. That would be since the . . . er . . . thing with that South American racing driver. I believe your three names were linked.”

    “That’s something I no longer think about, Mr Notch.”

    “No, of course not. Do forgive me. I didn’t mean to rush in where angels fear to tread.”

    “Please don’t concern yourself, Mr Notch. It’s a thing of the past, long forgiven and forgotten. Just a dim memory. How can I help?”

    “I’d like to whip out a few words, just as they come to me, and make use of that wonderful decoder in your mind to put it into sensible English. Sort of employ your facility for simultaneous translation, eh?”

    “Certainly. If you’d like to dictate, I’ll take it down and do what is necessary.”

    “Excellent. Let’s get going.”

    Sprawling back in this chair and steepling his fingers, Notch speaks. Froop writes.

    Notch: How shall I start? Yes, I think I have it. Fenella Grossbeak was a thoroughly modern socialite, at home in the smartest of sets, yet not too proud to show herself in some of the less fashionable spots.

    Froop: She was a latter-day courtesan who would gatecrash anywhere, but was most comfortable in the demimonde of cheap fleshpots.

    Notch: Although gregarious enough, even perhaps a trifle boisterous at times, Fenella didn’t seek the limelight and was, especially in recent years, reticent about exploiting her social connections.

    Froop: Owing to her loud-mouthed vulgarity, she was gradually excluded by anyone who mattered, and became more accustomed to snakes than ladders.

    Notch: Fenella was a warm, loving, even passionate person, comfortable in the company of both sexes. Her women friends often commented on her sparkling wit, while men seemed to see a more profound meaning in her repartee.

    Froop: Promiscuity came as naturally to her as breathing. Women went in constant fear of her toxic tongue, while almost everything she said to any man amounted to a come-on.

    Notch: Fame spreads quickly nowadays and Fenella’s name was familiar to many people in South America, largely through her intense interest in motorsports, which she did much to promote, as she was closely associated with morale-building of teams below the Tropic of Capricorn.

    Froop: She was equally notorious on both sides of the Atlantic, having shacked up with at least half a dozen car-crazed men before she made the Hispanic continent too hot to hold her.

    Notch: Shortly after returning from the southern hemisphere, she continued her family’s long association with the armed services – her grandfather was a naval officer, her father a long-term army man. She visited troops all over Britain, doing much to keep up their spirits.

    Froop: On being kicked out of South America she came back to Britain. Always on the prowl for men, she presumed on her family background to invite herself to a number of army camps. She was particularly addicted to non-commissioned officers and quickly acquired the nickname ‘Sergeants’ Mess’. Her notoriety led to the armed forces barring her from all their establishments.

    Notch: Following her all too brief spell in the newspaper industry, Fenella, through her astute grasp of the world around her, became a woman of independent means. After her tragically early experience of widowhood, borne with characteristic fortitude, she steadfastly rejected further matrimonial involvement.

    Froop: After a six-month dabble in the press world, she looked over the field, snared a demented octogenarian, ‘exerted’ him to death, then lived off his estate for the rest of her life. No other man worth having would give her the time of day.

    Notch: Despite the prominence that could have assured her of continual media attention, Fenella shunned the esteem that she might have sought by espousing public causes.

    Froop: She was totally egocentric, invariably snubbing those who tried to get her to spend one penny or one minute on anyone but herself.

    Notch: Up to the end, Fenella made public appearances, though understandably with decreasing frequency. Her stamina in maintaining a daunting round of commitments was astonishing. She was often on her feet for ten hours running, at a number of venues, sustaining herself with a glass or two of good cheer.

    Froop: She was ejected nightly from one or other of her diminishing circle of haunts, her capacity for hard liquor earning her the title of ‘most expensive guest in town’. The long hours on her feet were balanced by even more protracted periods of horizontality, a small fraction of them devoted to sleep.

    Notch: After a long, brave battle against an insidious organic malady, Fenella succumbed, her condition having been aggravated by her courageous refusal to seek a less strenuous lifestyle. Her passing will cause the colours to be lowered in more than one place.

    Froop: As a result of her stubborn rejection of repeated medical advice to mend her dissolute ways, the organs she battered so relentlessly hit back. Her loss will be felt chiefly in Scotland, where the flags will fly at half mast over numerous distilleries.

    “That’s about it, Miss Froop. Now, I must go. I’ll be away until tomorrow morning, so perhaps you’d get that ready and deliver it. I’m sure there’s no need for me to stay and read it through.”

    “Very well, Mr Notch.”

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:09 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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  7. #77
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    FROM DOCTOR WATSON’S ARCHIVE

    It was a dank November morning. The oily yellow fog which had enveloped London for two days dispersed by ten o’clock, giving way to a murky light. Rain seemed likely and as always in such weather, my old shoulder wound, a reminder of my part in the battle of Maiwand, was aching persistently.

    As I looked out of the sitting-room window of the lodgings I shared with Mr Sherlock Holmes at 221B, Baker Street, I was far from enthusiastic about taking the air. However, dismal though the prospect was, it seemed marginally more agreeable than the continued society of my companion. Holmes was in one of his taciturn moods and had spoken little for almost a week. As I prepared myself for an outing, he sat by the fire, staring moodily at the flames, his profile presenting what some people referred as an aquiline aspect. To my mind, vulturine was more accurate.

    I donned my overcoat and departed, with a few brusque words to Holmes, who merely nodded. My return was delayed because I had to take shelter from a shower, and it was five minutes after midday when I opened the door to find Holmes sitting exactly where he had been earlier. However, he was fully clothed, whereas he had been clad in dressing down and slippers when I had left. “Ah,” I said, “I see you emulated me in venturing out, and that you got back less than three minutes ago.”

    Holmes smiled. “You are right,” he replied, “and the walk has refreshed me, but however did you deduce that I had returned so recently?”

    “I have noticed several times that when you have been out in the rain, it takes fully three minutes for the drops to cease falling from the earflaps of your deerstalker, which they are still doing. Also, your boots are wet and there is water on the rim of that ridiculously large calabash pipe which you smoke largely for effect.”

    “Bravo, Watson,” said my companion. “We shall make a detective of you yet. It is true that I have been back here for about the length of time you state. Mrs Hudson intercepted me downstairs and gave me a note sent by Inspector Stanley Hopkins of Scotland Yard, together with this brown paper bag and whatever it contains, which the inspector says is one of two clues in a robbery he is investigating. He does not indicate what the other one is. I shall examine this at once. Hopkins wants my opinion of it and he intends to call here as soon as possible.”

    Settling down in a chair opposite my fellow-lodger, I immediately dozed off. When I opened my eyes, our clock showed half-past twelve. Holmes, magnifying glass in hand, was just finishing his clearly lengthy perusal of Hopkins’s offering. “Well, well, Watson,” he said. I fear this does not help us at all. What do you make of it? Not much, I predict.” Smirking, he tossed over to me a tweed flat cap, much used, stained, discoloured and exuding a variety of odours.

    I spent two minutes looking closely at the grubby object, turning it this way and that and sniffing at it, then threw it back to Holmes. “Headwear is occasionally informative,” I said. “However, that item is less so than many I have seen. I cannot infer anything beyond the obvious facts that it appears to belong to a Norwegian seaman who wears spectacles, smokes Mather’s black shag tobacco in an uncommonly short clay pipe, has visited the Limehouse area in the last day or two and has recently been in contact with a number of spices.”

    Holmes stared at me. “Astounding, Watson,” he said.

    “Elementary, Holmes,” I replied.

    He shook his head in wonderment. “You never cease to amaze me, old fellow,” he said. “Pray tell me how you drew your conclusions.”

    I explained my train of thought. “That the man’s eyes are below par is clear from the two indentations on the cap’s brim, which were caused by the frame of his eyeglasses resting there when not on his nose. I deduce that he is Norwegian because the cap’s lining has been torn and repaired with a length of thin twine, tied off with a knot known as the Bergen hitch, which is a fastening peculiar to the sailors of that town on the west coast of Norway. As for the tobacco, I have made a study of this, as you have, though mine was exhaustive while yours was superficial. The traces of that product are most distinctive, as the Mather company is the only one that puts a large amount of shredded Latakia in black shag.”

    Holmes’s eyes widened as I spoke. “Extraordinary,” he said. “Kindly continue.”

    “The handling of a clay pipe when it is new leaves some of the substance on the fingers and this has been transferred to two points, back and front, where the cap is most often held. The brim tells me that the pipe is very short, as the tobacco residue is particularly pronounced there. As for the man’s recent whereabouts, I have extensive knowledge of the soils of this city, and am convinced that the small piece of earth adhering to the back of the cap has come from a new excavation at Limehouse Reach. The fact that the man has recently been in contact with spices is plain from the pungent smells which are detectable at various points on the fabric.”

    I had barely concluded my analysis when a knock at the door heralded the arrival of Inspector Hopkins. As he joined us, his eyes went at once to the cap which Holmes was holding. “Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he said, “I see my little trophy arrived here safely.”

    “Yes,” said Holmes. “Please be seated and tell us how your investigation is proceeding.”

    Hopkins sat, sighing heavily. “It is an awkward case,” he said. “In my note to you I mentioned a second clue, and based on that I have arrested two men. I am sure that one and only one of them committed the crime, but they are both obdurate in their refusal to admit involvement. The cap you have there is the vital evidence, as a witness saw it fall from the culprit’s head when he leapt into a cart and made off.”

    Holmes stood to fill his pipe. “I would advise you to concentrate on the Norwegian seafarer with the defective eyesight and the clay pipe,” he said.

    The inspector gasped in astonishment. “What sorcery is this, Mr Holmes?” he said. “It is true that one of the men fits that description perfectly, but how do you come to know about him?”

    “It is my business to know such things,” said Holmes, ever the charlatan. He gave Hopkins a supercilious grin. I had become more than a little irritated by his attitude of condescension toward the official force, and to some of his other pretentious mannerisms, for which I had privately coined the word idiotsyncrasies.

    “Well,” Hopkins replied, “with your permission I shall take the cap and get back to my duties. I’ll have a confession out of the man before nightfall.”

    Holmes raised a forefinger. “One moment,” he said. “Would you kindly tell us exactly what the crime was and where it occurred?

    “By all means. It was the theft of over a hundredweight of cinnamon, cloves and ginger, and it took place near the new building site at Limehouse Reach.”

    The inspector left us and Holmes, resuming his seat, gazed at me. “Marvellous, Watson,” he said. “Whatever would my poor agency do without you?”

    “Very little,” I retorted tartly.

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; December 10th, 2018 at 04:06 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. #78
    Honoured/Sadly Missed Courtjester's Avatar
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    A snippet from the Courtjester’s file of favourite quotes:

    ‘Your manuscript is both good and original, but the parts that are good are not original and the parts that are original are not good.’ Samuel Johnson
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:10 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]
    [/SIZE]
    [/CENTER]

  9. #79
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    LETTER FROM BEHIND THE BEYOND

    To whom it may concern on Earth:

    If this reaches you, please note that it comes from the planet Zog. Yes, it is known here that you use that name for any celestial body with which you are not familiar, but this is the real thing. I am currently our designated correspondent for extra-planetary contacts. The incumbency changes once a year. I shall give my name below, though you will probably find it unpronounceable without clarification. We have only one language, the words of which comprise about ninety percent consonants and regardless of the order or number of letters are usually pronounced ‘Zhlykx’. In this respect, I believe our tongue is perhaps somewhat like one of yours, I think an East European one, though I may be wrong about this, as the information we received was severely garbled.

    I will not weary you with details of how this missive is to be launched. Suffice it to say that it is the interstellar equivalent of a message in a bottle. I just hope that my primitive effort will succeed. My reason for writing is to let you know that an envoy we sent to you some time ago returned here recently. On his way back, the poor fellow passed through a belt of harmful radiation which, among other things, selectively destroyed his memory and caused his speech to be intermittently unintelligible.

    Following touchdown at our space centre, the man lived for only a few days, during which time he told us that your planet is rather similar to ours in size, development and inhabitants. The main difference seems to be that we are much like you were 200 million years ago, in that we have only one continent, taking up nearly a third of our surface area. Sadly, that was about all our man had to say, except that for some reason he was most insistent that we should inform you about the means of communication here. I am trying to respect his wish.

    For slow interchange of ideas, we have traditional books. Until recently, more rapid methods were radio, telephone, television, newspapers and something we called the Interweb, which allowed people to keep in touch by computer. Books are still produced, but the position with regard to faster channels has altered dramatically.

    Television was suspended to save energy during a recent shortage. As the content was astoundingly banal, nobody wants it back. Telephone and computer systems were destroyed by aliens who dislike us, and we have no means of reinstating the networks. Newspapers are still produced, but not read. After printing, they are conveyed directly to various dumps, from where people recover them for producing paper mash articles, including furniture and even houses.

    For instant dissemination of news and general entertainment, we are now left with radio. There is only one organisation of this kind and it operates planetwide. It is called the Big Broadcasting Corporation. Most of us refer to it only by its initials, though a few insist on the nickname, Uncle Beeb. There used to be four universal channels, two of them offering mostly popular music, one classical music and one mainly devoted to speech. The first three fell by the wayside when the above-mentioned energy problem arose, so there is now only the fourth. I cannot go into great detail about how it operates, but will give a few examples of its offerings.

    There are certain flagship programmes. The first that comes to my mind is ‘Remote Island Records’. This is transmitted once a week and features a presenter asking a guest to select eight pieces of music he or she would like to take to a fictitious island. Generally speaking, the guests are narcissists who wish to speak about themselves for forty-five minutes, in most cases telling us about a difficult childhood at the hands of at least one overbearing or neglectful parent, a battle against some life-threatening illness, a struggle with alcohol, drugs or both and a long inner conflict leading finally to a revelation of their homosexuality. Hardly anyone cares about this last point, so why it should be brought up is a mystery to most of us.

    There are chat shows, which in most cases are merely vehicles for three or four invitees to slip in plugs for their new books or forthcoming lectures. Whoever is in the chair feigns surprise when some comment induces them to say: “Oh, of course, you’ve written a book about this haven’t you?” This is too silly for words.

    Another favourite is the weekly ‘Topical Questions’, in which four people – a different quartet on each occasion – are asked to give opinions on whatever is of interest to many members of the public. It is strange that these panellists - most of us call them rentamouths - not only have strong views, but if we are believe them care passionately about every subject that comes up. They must wear themselves out with such strong emotion. They often speak, or rather shout, two or three at a time - a bad situation which is exacerbated by a supposed moderator who not only fails to stop their cross-talk, but frequently outdoes them in excited jabbering

    Six days a week - our weeks are the same length as yours - we have a three-hour programme of news and current affairs. This should be a showpiece, but is ruined by the two interviewers constantly interrupting their guests, whom they allow to speak for at most a few seconds between harangues. This ill-mannered conduct usually results in a most unedifying babble.

    One recent development is the inclusion of inappropriate popular music into a variety of documentaries and other serious presentations. This mindless racket starts and finishes a large number of these programmes and is constantly faded in and out in the meantime. Though there has been a large number of complaints about this, the position seems to get progressively worse.

    The Big Broadcasting Corporation offers each week its own forum, in which listeners air their grievances in writing. This is another farce, as the Corporation repeatedly wheels in executives who almost always stoutly defend whatever they have done. I have only ever heard one of these people admit to having got something wrong. It is amusing to note that many of the correspondents sign off as ‘disgusted’, usually giving their whereabouts as some town in the Southeast.

    I cannot get anything more into this communication, but if you are able to reply, I would be very pleased to hear whether you have anything on your planet similar to what I have described above.

    Yours sincerely,

    Xzhlycxksz (pronounced Zhlykx)

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; December 11th, 2018 at 03:19 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. #80
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    The piece below is a copy of a note handed to us by a lady who does not wish her name or address to be published. Editor

    IT’S, YOU KNOW, SORT OF TAUTOLOGICAL

    Assiduous as I am in trying to keep abreast of trends, I consider it one of my self-imposed duties to listen to radio broadcasts featuring the chattering classes. I used to get some nourishment from this pastime, but have noticed lately that the stimulus level is falling. Why? I think the reason is that I find myself paying more attention to presentation than to content. I am increasingly distracted by the frequent use of pleonasms and fashionable words and phrases. Instead of concentrating on the doubtless worthy thoughts put forward, I dwell ever more on the ways they are expressed. Consumed by the fear that this near-obsession might cause me to miss something important, I decided to try to purge myself of it by devoting a week to ignoring substance and paying attention to speech only.

    The first thing that struck me was that if the words ‘incredible’ and ‘incredibly’ were to be expunged from the vocabularies of the professional talkers, nothing would be lost, and arguably not much left – joke! I heard of things that were ‘incredibly interesting’, ‘incredibly unique’ and ‘incredibly authentic’, so fell to wondering why, if everything is unbelievable, we need to consider accepting anything we hear or read.

    Next, I noted the number of times that people would ‘never, ever’ do or say this, that or the other. There were twenty-three examples of this in the broadcasts I heard. If one would never do or say something, why does the ‘ever’ keep popping up? Then I was struck by the ‘you know’ and ‘sort of’ syndromes. In one splendid example, I timed a woman who was particularly addicted to the former. In two short bursts of speech, totalling three minutes and twenty-odd seconds, she said it thirty-seven times, which must make her a championship contender. Next in line was a man who racked up twenty-four ‘you knows’ in two minutes and fifty-five seconds. I will not dwell on the ‘sort of’ area, as it is too depressing.

    The number of ‘and also’ appearances was striking. I lost count after forty-odd doses, but wondered why, if one ‘ands’ something, one must ‘also’ it too. In all of the cases I noted, both words meant ‘in addition to’. Not being an expert in these matters, I may have missed a vital distinction.

    I trawled up a nice collection of miscellaneous items. There were three instances of something or other providing a ‘positive benefit’, which caused me to ponder on why anyone might consider a benefit as negative. The same reasoning applied to another gem, ‘negative asset’. I had always thought that the opposite of asset was liability, but perhaps I am out of touch.

    There was an impressive number of comments regarding ‘cheap’ or ‘dear’ prices. I was under the impression that prices were high or low, and that the goods or services in question were cheap or dear. Similarly, there were several cases of ‘cold’ or ‘warm’ temperatures. Are they not low or high, the weather being cold or warm? And what about ‘an attempt to try’ to do something? Is an attempt not a try?

    Another type of expression used on several occasions concerned times of day. I noted ‘two/three/six a.m. in the morning’ and ‘eleven p.m. at night’. And let me not forget one little beauty delivered by a chap representing a charity. Speaking about the unfortunate victims of a mishap, he said that his organisation had offered them ‘help, aid and assistance’, but did not say which of these methods of support they chose.

    There were some other oddities. First, a comment about ‘poisonous toxins’. Are there any non-poisonous ones? Second, a remark about a project which was running up a bill of ‘an annual £1.2bn a year’. Need one say more? Third, another enterprise was described as a ‘costly, expensive’ undertaking. Fourth, there were several references to ‘a few moments’. If a moment is a brief but undefined length of time, how does anybody distinguish between one and several? Fifth, I heard two observations relating to hot-water – or hot water – heaters. If the speakers intended to imply a hyphen, does one need to heat hot water? If no hyphen was intended, are we to assume that the heater itself was hot? We are surely concerned with the water, so should we not refer to a water heater?

    I hope nobody reading this will mind too much if I slip in three items not directly related to my theme. First, I would like to see my television newscasters and commentators on current affairs doing a little less nodding while they speak. Perhaps they think this adds emphasis to what they have to say. Not to me. When I talk to people, I do not notice them behaving like demented donkeys.

    Second, I do not care to have weather reporters flouncing around as though affected by Saint Vitus’ Dance, while saying that the ‘best’ temperatures – that thermometer again – will be in one place or another. Best for whom? That is surely a personal matter. Let me say in fairness that the weather people do notice criticism and often react by making adjustments. In that respect, they do better than many others. Good work!

    Third, I am not happy with the offerings of certain disc jockeys in the classical music field. Until a short time ago, I listened regularly to a 24/7 programme featuring in the main pleasantly subdued presenters. There were the following glaring exceptions:

    Number one was a man who introduced his next delight by what I believe is called plonking, saying things like “Last week I was in Milan, I saw a football match, followed by a visit to La Scala, where I heard the fabulous . . .. ” Number two was an astoundingly bubbly woman who gave me the impression that she was repeatedly wheeled away from her perch while music was played, then returned after getting an injection of high spirits. Number three was a lady who seemed to have difficulty in getting to the end of any sentence. Her words kept dribbling out, reminding me of a tap with a faulty washer. For nearly half an hour I got some amusement from guessing when she had arrived at a full stop. I failed, the final score being 6:3 in her favour.

    I have rambled here more than somewhat and would like to avoid leaving myself open to charges of excessive punctiliousness, as I am sure I have my faults in terms of usage of our language. However, I do think that we in the Anglosphere, having originated the world’s main method of communication, might be a little more careful about how we handle it. By the way, I wonder how long it will be before the media people succeed in eliminating the first ‘r’ from February – they seem to be intent on transferring it to law(r) and order, or draw(r)ing room.

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; May 21st, 2015 at 02:12 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]
    [/SIZE]
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