Twelve Slices of The University of the Bleeding Obvious Paul Farnsworth
Selections from the UK comedy website
Copyright ÂŠ Paul Farnsworth 2013 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. All characters, companies and organisations are fictitious, and any similarity to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Persons Unknown Know Your Birds Rob Hammond's Essential Guide to Buddhism Goldilocks and the Free Bears Pigmongering Sandals Butterfly Death Doom and Disaster Optimum Leaning Angles Kicking Up a New Stink Jacob Wanting Flying Squirrels
Persons Unknown The action in which Mr Gordon Frampton sought to recover damages for 'opportunities denied to him between the 14th March 1954 and the present day' came before Mr Justice Sowerby this week, and got off to a stumbling start. Sowerby professed from the outset that he had no real inkling of what the case was about, and his first act was to request that the petitioner's solicitor, a Mr Salvador Collingwood, should elucidate. "Your honour, members of the public and of the assembled press," Mr Collingwood began, striking what he considered to be a legal pose. "You see before you a man whom life has treated most cruelly. In the fifty years and more that he has walked this earth, my client, Mr Frampton, has been prevented from fulfilling his potential by diverse unfair practices and circumstances. Look at him, ladies and gentlemen. Look at him." Sowerby: We are looking at him, Mr Collingwood. We are looking at him most keenly, but we have yet to learn why we are looking at him. Please get to the point. Collingwood: Your honour, I am merely attempting to demonstrate how wretched and 4
hopeless this man is. So wretched and hopeless, in fact, that upon our first meeting I very nearly tossed him out onto the street before he could even produce his chequebook. Sowerby: That's as maybe, but unless your client has hired you expressly for the purpose of having you publicly humiliate him, I have yet to ascertain his reason for bringing this action. What has the 14th March 1954 got to do with it? Collingwood: The date my client was born, your honour. From that day to this, my client has struggled to make his way in the world and met with only disappointment and failure. He believes that he has been treated unfairly and is seeking restitution. Sowerby: I see. Be seated Mr Collingwood, you're standing in my light. I will now hear from the respondent... The respondent, please... Is the respondent in court?" After a moment or two of deathly silence, and a smattering of nervous shuffling, Mr Grampion, the clerk of the court, approached the bench and whispered in Mr Justice Sowerby's ear. Mr Justice Sowerby looked grim and sat back in his chair. After a second or two of thoughtful contemplation, he requested that Mr Collingwood rise again. Sowerby: I understand that there is no respondent? 5
Collingwood: That's right, your honour. Sowerby: I see, I see... Mr Collingwood, I cannot say that I have ever heard of a compensation case in which a defendant was not deemed necessary. And I'm a judge, you would expect me to notice when a defendant remains conspicuous by his absence. I'm noticing it now, and I must admit it's a first. Please explain. Collingwood: Mr Frampton is seeking damages against persons unknown. Sowerby: Persons unknown? Persons unknown? Who are these persons unknown? Collingwood: We do not know, your honour. Sowerby: I see. Or rather, I don't. Am I to understand that these persons, despite remaining elusive, have nevertheless had such a tangible effect on your client that he is now seeking damages? I have never used the expression 'arrant nonsense' before, but I am starting to believe that this would be an appropriate occasion to give it a bash. Collingwood: Your honour, I Sowerby: No, I don't want to hear from you any more, you're talking rubbish. I will hear from your client. Where is he? There. Well, what have you to say of this matter? Stand up, man. 6
Collingwood: He is standing up, your honour. Sowerby: I thought I instructed you to button it? Now then, Mr Frampton, what is all this about? Frampton: Well, your honour, it's like this. I never had much of a start in life, and opportunities have passed me by. When you see all these flash blokes wandering round in their expensive suits, and driving shiny sports cars (I expect you've got a nice motor, yourself, haven't you, your honour?) well, it makes you think "Where's mine?" How come life hasn't treated me so well? So I reckon that it's only fair that I get some sort of compensation. Sowerby: And who do you think should compensate you, Mr Frampton? Who has wronged you? Frampton: Well, I dunno really. It's just life in general, isn't it? It's all down to circumstance - I'm a victim of fate. Sowerby: And you have our sympathy, but we can't very well put fate in the witness box, can we? Not unless you have an address where we can serve papers. Who, Mr Frampton, is to blame? Sowerby: Well, it's the system, isn't it? Collingwood: I think what my client is trying to say 7
Sowerby: Your mouth is flapping again, Mr Collingwood. I thought I had already warned you about that? Collingwood: Sorry, your honour. Sowerby: Clearly something has gone wrong here. This case should never have reached court - or at least, it should never have come before me. We will adjourn for today, but please inform your client, Mr Collingwood, that when we reconvene tomorrow, I shall expect to see a defendant take the stand. Court dismissed! Day two of the case of Frampton vs Persons Unknown began, somewhat chaotically, with a procession of brown-coated gentlemen dragging various battered and corroded pieces of machinery through the courtroom and arranging them in a pleasing display in the dock. Mr Justice Sowerby looked upon their efforts with much puzzlement. When they withdrew, he motioned Mr Collingwood to approach the bench. "I hope you have a very, very good reason for all this," he said softly, then shooed him away and brought the court to order. Sowerby: Settle down, there's lovely! It is to be hoped that we are going to make a little more progress in this matter than we did yesterday, although I have to admit that my hopes are not high. Mr Collingwood, there is an elephant in this room, and I think we had better deal with it as 8
promptly as possible. Why have you filled my court with scrap metal? Collingwood: Your honour, this is the defendant. Sowerby: I had a horrible premonition that you were going to say that. Collingwood: As my client mentioned yesterday, he blames the system for his misfortunes. I have therefore arranged for the system to be brought into court to face these allegations. Sowerby: And this... this rusted and bent pile of metal... This is 'the system', is it? Collingwood: It is, your honour. Well, if it's not the system, it's certainly a system. To be precise, it's a Robinson-Whitley R406-T industrial grade air conditioning system. Or at least, those parts of it that we recovered from a skip on a nearby demolition site. Sowerby: And this is the system which your client believes has seriously disadvantaged him, and from which he seeks remuneration? Collingwood: We believe that this is as good as we're going to get, your honour. Sowerby: Mr Collingwood, are you sure you're quite sane? 9
Collingwood: No, your honour. Sowerby: I'm beginning to entertain similar notions myself. Still, we're here now so we may as well crack on with it. Mr Grampion, you had better read the defendant the charges. Grampion: But how do I...? Sowerby: Oh come, come. I don't need to instruct the clerk of the court on how to do his job. After all, you don't tell me how to bang my hammer. Grampion: Oh... right... well... Ahem, Mr Robinson-Whitley R406-T, you are hereby charged than on or about the period between 14th March 1954 and the present day, you made repeated and concerted efforts to prevent Mr Gordon Frampton of reaching his full potential. How do you plead? Sowerby: Hang on! Hang on! What's this? Grampion: What's what, your honour? Sowerby: What kind of a charge is that? Bit vague isn't it. No, no, no, it won't do at all. Will the plaintiff please approach the bench. Collingwood: Your honour, I Sowerby: Oh sit down, Collingwood. I called for the organ grinder, not his monkey. Mr Frampton, step up to the oche. 10
Frampton: Yes, your honour. Nice day, your honour. Sowerby: Why the sudden interest in meteorology? Frampton: Just making conversation. Sowerby: Well don't, this isn't a coffee morning. Now what's all this stuff about not reaching your full potential? We can't possibly proceed with that woolly nonsense. Can you be a little more specific? Frampton: Well, it's stuff, isn't it? I've been hard done by. Sowerby: That's no better, is it? Can you give me an example? Frampton: Yeah. Probably. I never got anywhere in life, did I? Listen, every week I spend a quid on the lottery, and I've not won once. Didn't even get my quid back. Sowerby: Do I take it that you wish to seek damages from this air conditioning system for your failure to win the lottery? Frampton: Yeah. Can I do that? Collingwood: Your honour, I think what my client 11
Sowerby: Seriously Collingwood, you are going to get a belt in the mouth if you speak out of turn again. Now here's what we're going to do - I'm going to adjourn for an hour to give you and your client time to come up with something. And it better be good, because I'm missing the cricket for this. Adjourned. Reconvening in the afternoon, Mr Grampion, the long suffering clerk of the court, found himself the centre of intense scrutiny as he cleared his throat and prepared to read the charges. Grampion: Mr Robinson-Whitley R406-T, you are hereby charged that on various occasions on or after 14th March 1954 you did wilfully prevent Mr Gordon Frampton from winning the football pools. Secondly, you did deny him the opportunity of fulfilling his ambition of becoming a brain surgeon, by making the exams really hard. Thirdly, you were instrumental in arranging that his wife should run off with the window cleaner... Your honour there are one hundred and twenty similar counts, do you want me to...? Sowerby: No, no, good grief no, I don't think I could stand it. We'll take the others as read. How does the defendant plead? Grampion: Mr Robinson-Whitley R406-T, how do you plead? 12
Robinson-Whitley R406-T: ... Grampion: I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that. Robinson-Whitley R406-T: ... Grampion: Your honour, the defendant refuses to enter a plea. I fear its lack of sentience may prove to be a problem. Sowerby: That's not something that presents much of an obstacle for most of the people who appear before me. Let's give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it pleads not guilty. It has an honest face. Mr Collingwood, you're up. Keep it brief. Collingwood: Thank you, your honour. Now then, Mr so-called Robinson-Whitley R406-T - all that stuff that was read out... Did you do it? Robinson-Whitley R406-T: ... Collingwood: I repeat: did you do all that stuff, and that? Robinson-Whitley R406-T: ... Collingwood: Your silence speaks volumes. That concludes the case for the prosecution. Sowerby: My word, that was brief. 13
Collingwood: Thank ySowerby: No, don't spoil it. We will now hear from the defendant's counsel. Or would that be too much to ask? Grampion: I don't believe that the defendant is represented, your honour. Sowerby: And why not? Grampion: Because it is an air conditioning unit, your honour. Sowerby: Good point, have a biscuit. Now, what I suggest is that (At this point a man in the public gallery, a Mr Winkle, stood up to volunteer his services) Winkle: Your honour, I will gladly represent the defendant. Sowerby: What? Where? Who said that? Collingwood: Up in the gallery, your honour. Sowerby: Good grief, I didn't see all those people up there. How long have they been letting them in? So, err, Mr...? Winkle: Winkle, your worship. Sammy Winkle. 14
Sowerby: Mr Winkle, yes. And are you a solicitor, Mr Winkle? Winkle: No, my lord, I'm a bricklayer. Sowerby: A bricklayer, jolly good. Is that anything like being a solicitor? Winkle: Does being a solicitor have anything to do with spirit levels and pointing trowels? Sowerby: Not in the slightest. Winkle: Then the answer to your question is no, your eminence. But I'm very keen, and I'm sure I'll pick it up as we go along. Sowerby: Very well. I'm sure you will want time to consult with your client, so we will end this session now. Everybody meet back here at nine o'clock tomorrow morning. Bring sandwiches. With press speculation running high, and learned commentators feverishly predicting historic new precedents, the third day of Mr Gordon Frampton vs Robinson-Whitley R406-T got off to a vigorous start. Mr Collingwood seemed particularly anxious to get something off his chest. Collingwood: Before we proceed, I would like to make it perfectly clear that my client Mr Gordon Frampton is not, never has been and never will be related to the musician Peter Frampton. 15
Sowerby: Duly noted, Mr Collingwood. I'm minded to ask why you should suddenly be so anxious to stress this point? Collingwood: Do I require a reason? Sowerby: If you intend to persist in interrupting this tribunal with pointless irrelevancies, then I suspect you may have need. Winkle: Objection! Sowerby: What? Collingwood: Hang on, I didn't know we'd started. Winkle: Objection again! Sowerby: What is it, Mr Winkle? To what do you object? Winkle: To my learned friend, Mr Collingwood, your majesty. He seems to be hogging the court's time. I thought it was my go. Sowerby: Quite right. Objection sustained. Sit down, Mr Collingwood, you're messing with my aura. The floor is yours, Mr Winkle. Winkle: Ta, judge. I would like to call Mr Gordon Frampton to the stand... That's you, shorty - get in 16
the box. Right then - you are Mr Gordon Frampton of 42 Belvedere Drive, Mablethorpe? Frampton: I am. Winkle: You are the same Mr Frampton who is a branch manager of the Mablethorpe office of Scumm Credit Solutions? Frampton: Yes sir. Winkle: The same Frampton who released the multi-million selling album Frampton Comes Alive! Frampton: Not at all. I don't know how these rumours get about. Winkle: A likely story! Tell me, Mr Frampton, what were you doing on the night of the 24th June 1998, hmm? Frampton: 1998? I don't remember. Winkle: How very convenient. Allow me to jog your memory. Were you not attending a private party at a house in Shepherd's Bush? Don't bother to answer, Mr Frampton, I know you were. I have witnesses who saw you cavorting with several ladies of easy virtue, only minutes before the time of the murder! Frampton: Murder? 17
Sowerby: Have I missed something here? Winkle: Are you really a man of so little conscience, Mr Frampton? The fact that you could be seen openly partying with naughty women before committing such a heinous act shows a degree of callousness that can only lead to your downfall. Sowerby: Hold on! What murder is this? Are you confident that you are fully acquainted with the facts of this case, Mr Winkle? Winkle: I assumed that a murder would have been committed at some point. That's usually how it works on the telly. I admit it's a bit of a wild guess, but I felt it was worth a punt. Sowerby: An unorthodox approach, and I feel that it's only fair that it has ended in failure. It's a big ask, I know, but do you have anything to add that might be germane to this case? Winkle: In what way, your excellency? Sowerby: Oh, I don't know. Something that might add to the sum total of knowledge of the circumstance involved, or something. Winkle: No, my liege. Sowerby: Thought as much. In which case I don't see any reason to delay my verdict. 18
Winkle: Hold on, I haven't finished. Sowerby: Yes you have. This nonsense has gone on quite long enough. I have no hesitation in concluding that the defendant has no case to answer. I cannot, of course, comment on its efficacy as an air conditioning system. Indeed, as far as air conditioning is concerned, it may be guilty of the most appalling incompetence, which is no doubt how it found its way into a skip in the first place. But as for the charges that it has been hauled here to answer today, I find that there is no evidence of culpability. Mr Frampton, step forward please. Frampton: I'm not happy about the way this is going. Sowerby: And therein appears to lie your whole problem: you are not happy. You came here with the hazy notion that something somehow has gone a bit crap, and that someone somewhere must be to blame. Poor you, Mr Frampton. Poor, poor you. Let me tell you, it is frequently my sad duty to prevail over cases that involve all manner of unfortunate and neglected individuals. People who, through no fault of their own, have slipped through the cracks and fallen prey to opportunists, vagabonds or just bad luck. Sometimes these people bear their woes with a fortitude that I can scarcely begin to comprehend; sometimes they take the opposite path and sink into recrimination, 19
deceitfulness and petty crime. But even in the most despicable of cases it is not beyond the limits of my humanity to appreciate that such people need our sympathy, our understanding and our support. But you, Mr Frampton... Frampton: Your honour? Sowerby: Ever since you were dragged kicking and screaming into this world, you have lived a charmed life, Mr Frampton. You have a roof over your head, a steady job and you're clearly affluent enough to afford the services of that fool Collingwood. Collingwood: I protest! Sowerby: Oh shut up, Collingwood. Mr Frampton, have you ever heard the expression 'into each life a little rain must fall'? You appear to have escaped a drenching in favour of a brief, refreshing April shower. No, you haven't got everything you ever wanted. Maybe you haven't even got everything you deserve. None of us has. But I rather get the impression, Mr Frampton, that you've sat back your whole life and waited for it to come to you. And now that your lack of effort has been rewarded with exactly what it merits, you naturally resort to what you do best - finding someone to blame for your own inadequacy. I know your type, Mr Frampton. I see you every day - pompous, pious little tin generals who believe that the world exists solely for your own comfort and 20
convenience, and that you have some God-given right to a little piece of everything that's going. And when you don't get it, you rant, and rave, and squeak, and squeal and curse every freeloading scrounger, every obstinate bureaucrat, every crooked politician, every incompetent servitor, and each and every unconnected bystander that happens to cross your path. But you do nothing. You say nothing. There is a Mr Frampton-shaped hole in the universe that has been created just for you, and you refuse to take responsibility for the person who fills it. Get out of my court, Mr Frampton. Frampton: Oh, but Sowerby: Out! (Mr Gordon Frampton noiselessly shuffled out of the courtroom) Sowerby: Step forward, Mr Collingwood. Collingwood: Yes, your honour. Sowerby: Mr Collingwood, it is my sad duty to sentence you to be taken from this court to a place of execution, there to hang by the neck until dead. Collingwood: You can't do that! Sowerby: Hell yes, I can. It's been one of those days. 21
The Ministry of Defence in association with The RSPB presents
KNOW YOUR BIRDS Major General Barmy-Phipps Discusses Modern Day Bird Warfare:
As a rule the offensive capabilities of most British birds are severely limited. Although the Long Legged Tree Duck is capable of taking out whole armoured divisions with its bare feet, and the HornBilled Swallow is known to explode on contact, these birds are thankfully not present in this country in large numbers. This does not mean, however, that we can take for granted the threat posed by the bird population. All too often the harmless, slightly gormless exterior hides a maniacal, bloodthirsty killer; a feathered fiend who revels in death and destruction. And if we don't act quickly this country could soon be brought to its knees by an unstoppable ornithological onslaught. The first indications of an uprising came as early as 1972 when three Sparrow hawks were arrested by Staffordshire police on suspicion of stealing fish fingers from a local supermarket. Under intensive 22
interrogation they admitted to being members of the outlawed Wildfowl Liberation Front. Since this time, more and more bird related incidents have come to light: the 1975 Manchester Swan muggings, the bird table riots of `78 and the early eighties Canary strikes, to name but three. And as recently as last September the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset was taken hostage by a South American Bald Peregrine, which threatened to eat him unless twenty known bird activists were released from a high security aviary in Kent. All this, however, is merely the prelude to the invasion: a softening up technique to divert our attention from the main attack. We know this for certain as, thanks to the extensive use of prosthetics and advanced yogic techniques, MI6 agents have been able to infiltrate the birds' command structure, disguised as Cormorants, Seagulls and Sheep. Their information has proved invaluable, and we now understand that several divisions of Chaffinches are already marshalling in the Highlands of Scotland. When the attack finally does come it will be swift and merciless and in order that we might repel the assault it is essential for every man, woman and child to play their part.
In the interests of National Security the Ministry of Defence has prepared the following brief guide to the bird life of the British Isles.
No 1 THE MARSH PIGEON An inhabitant of the boggy regions of Wales and central England, the Marsh Pigeon lives on a diet of custard and dog shit. The bird's rich, deep brown feathers provide the Marsh Pigeon with near perfect camouflage, enabling it to secrete itself away in places like Post Offices and underneath horses, from where it can spy on its victims undetected.
No 2 THE FANTAILED PIG-THRUSH So called because it has the body of a bird and the head of a pig, a combination that makes flight a practical impossibility. It can often be seen waddling along the ground in rural areas, pecking at animals and small children with its beak. It can be disabled quite easily with sharpened sticks.
No 3 THE COMMON BULLFINCH The Bullfinch is a really nasty piece of work. It hides in bird boxes, waiting to pounce, and thinks nothing of putting out its victims' eyes or gashing their faces. Usually they roam in packs, causing havoc and attacking people at random, so it is wise to be wary. However, a lone Bullfinch poses little threat as a sharp blow to the back of the neck can easily stun, or even kill.
No 4 THE GREAT BARRIER GULL This enormous, vulture-like creature migrates from Australia every three years and arrives in Britain totally shagged out. It preys mainly on the old and infirm, though it will happily eat cheese if it's available as it puts up less of a struggle. Luckily the bird's lack of agility and poor hearing mean that it is comparatively easy to creep up on it from behind and twat it with a shovel.
No 5 THE SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRD Don't be fooled by the harmless, almost fragile appearance of this tiny bird: when riled the Speckled Hummingbird can rip the heart out of a cow in ten seconds flat. In fact, the creature is 25
nothing more than a be-feathered killing machine. The only sure way to put an end to its insane, satanic killing spree is to wait until nightfall and strangle it in its sleep.
No 6 THE SHEEP The Sheep is a master of disguise, and a crafty and cunning adversary. Wearing a raincoat and hat, and with a false moustache or a pair of dark glasses, the Sheep can easily get within feet of its victim before the alarm is raised. By the time you've realised you're being stalked it is simply too late and the Sheep has already sunk its vicious fangs into your flesh and is drinking your blood. (Strictly speaking, the Sheep is not actually a bird, but we thought you ought to be warned about it anyway.)
No 7 THE DEADLY RED BREASTED KILLER OSTRICH Only one of these has ever been seen in captivity. The Ostrich's incredible nine-foot wingspan conceals not only its razor sharp talons, but also two 9mm machine guns and four laser-guided airto-air missiles. ON NO ACCOUNT SHOULD 26
ANY ATTEMPT BE MADE TO APPROACH THIS BIRD! In the unlikely event that you should ever spot a Deadly Red Breasted Killer Ostrich, inform the authorities immediately, then move house and forget everything that you've seen.
BE PREPARED! YOUR COUNTRY IS DEPENDING ON YOUR VIGILANCE.
Watch out for unfamiliar bloodstains around the bird table, discarded packets of birdseed on the front lawn, or huge mounds of stinking bird muck blocking up your back door. At the first sign of anything suspicious, you can telephone our special Bird Hotline and speak to that bloke from The Goodies, or inform the nearest policeman so that he can go and write it down in the big book they keep at the station.
Rob Hammond's Essential Guide to Buddhism In today's violent society, we can all be forgiven for feeling a little insecure. These days you can't even pop down to the shops for a copy of 'Guns and Shooting' without the risk of winding up the victim of a brutal coshing or drive-by stabbing. It's no wonder so many people are scared to go out alone. Hello, I'm Rob Hammond, and as a veteran of the Territorial Army, I've been specially trained to kill using nothing more than a raised elbow. Failing that, I could easily smother any potential attacker with my armpit, and if it became absolutely necessary, I could even blind my assailant by licking out his eyeballs - although this is something I try to avoid wherever possible, as it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. But, sadly, not everyone can handle themselves as well as I can. The urban jungle is a very different kettle of monkeys from any other theatre of war, and any passing stranger can be a potential threat. To be honest, there was a time when even I felt uneasy about going out on my own. Yeah, I know, hard to believe, isn't it? But the truth is that after my discharge from the TA I would often barricade myself in my bedsit for weeks on end, surviving on 28
a diet of dog food and pineapple chunks. In fact, I became quite jumpy. Every noise was a potential hazard, every footstep an assassin. I could have very easily turned into some kind of nut, but thankfully salvation was just around the corner - for it was then that I discovered Buddhism and my outlook on life was transformed. So, why am I telling you all this? Well, Buddhism can transform your life too! Wanna know more? Course you do. That's why I've prepared this list of frequently asked questions to help you understand what all this Buddhist malarkey is all about...
All right then, what is Buddhism? Buddhism is cool. It's less strict than Hinduism and cheaper than Catholicism. Actually, it's less like a religion and more like a way of life. It's all about meditation and the strict observance of moral precepts. There's also some stuff about Enlightenment, but I'm not really sure about that side of it yet.
How do I find Buddhism? Well in my case, Buddhism found me. Someone 29
shoved this leaflet under my door, telling me about an introductory lecture down at the community centre, given by the Ascended Master Ching Rampoche - who also runs the wet fish concession outside the job centre. I was curious, but I didn't want to just stroll straight in. I may only have been in the Territorials for six weeks, but I still understand the importance of reconnaissance. I hung around outside for a while, watching people enter. Then I took a brief stroll around the building, noting all the exits and possible escape routes. Finally I plucked up the courage and went in. Simple really.
Okay, so how can Buddhism help me? That was the very question I asked myself. But as I listened to Master Rimpoche's learned words, it became obvious that Buddhism was what was missing from my life. Under his guidance I have learned to quell the inner rage that threatened to tear me apart - for anger is merely an expression of suffering, and can be eliminated by eradicating my desires. With every step upon my journey along the eightfold path I became stronger and more resolute. Buddhism has blessed me with a sense of inner peace.
Hang on - this Buddhism lark sounds like it's for girls! Did I mention that it also enables me to kick seven shades of shit out of anybody who gets in my way?
Ah! Now that's more like it. Too right. As well as providing an excuse to go around dressed only in a sheet, Buddhism has also shown me how to clear my mind of confusing and unproductive thoughts and achieve a state of tranquillity. This tranquillity can then be unleashed with devastating force on anyone who decides to give me grief.
Wicked. So who was this Buddha chap? He seems like a decent bloke. Buddha's real name was Siddhartha Gotama, but that sounded a bit gay so all his mates called him Buddha. He was a monk with a bald head, and he was rock hard and could have anybody in his village. He also liked table tennis.
If Buddha were alive today, would he be able to beat Bruce Lee in a fight? Yeah, he'd slap him silly. Bruce Lee is dead.
Fair enough. So, is there any money in Buddhism? Surely there must be a fiddle going on somewhere? Buddhism teaches us that wealth is impermanent and does not guarantee happiness. A true Buddhist pursues enlightenment, not money. Of course, Buddha lived millions of years ago, when trainers were much cheaper and there were no such things as mini-disc players. Perhaps it's time for Buddhism to be revised in order to bring it into line with today's consumer society? I'm thinking about making a bid for the T-shirt concession.
What's all this I hear about having fourteen wives? Nah, you're thinking of something else. Buddhists have nothing to do with that sort of thing.
Oh well. What were Buddha's Teachings? Buddha taught us that there are four noble truths: firstly that life is suffering; secondly, that suffering is caused by desire; thirdly, that suffering can be overcome; and fourthly that the path of morality and awareness leads to happiness. However, he also taught us how to deal with someone twice your size by kicking him in the nuts, then running away. Not only was he a wise and noble man, but old Buddha was quick on his feet as well.
So what's Karma? Is it a type of curry? No. It's not a species of chameleon either. Karma is the idea that every cause has an effect. So, if I hit you with a big stick, you'll go and tell your mate, who will come round and beat the gristle out of me with an even bigger stick. Actually, this aspect of Buddhism gives me a bit of a problem, and I've been trying to think of a way round it. The way I see it is that if I hit you with a stick and nobody sees me, and I do a really good job of it so that you're not able to tell anyone about it, then I can pretty much get away with it.
Okay, point taken. heaven?
Do Buddhists go to
Buddhist are continually reincarnated until they achieve a state of Nirvana. I'm not sure exactly what that is, but it sounds dead good. The really cool thing is that whenever you die, you just keep coming back, like the Terminator. Non-Buddhists are also reincarnated, of course, but they come back as ants and flies and worms.
What is this 'Wheel of Life' that I keep hearing about? It's a giant wooden wheel with spikes on it. If you have an enemy and you want him to talk, you can strap him to the wheel and throw rocks at him, and he will tell you anything you want to know.
Can Buddhists do voodoo or any of that shit? I have a friend who can touch the tip of his nose with his tongue. He's not a Buddhist, and it's not strictly magic, but it's well impressive, nonetheless. I did read about this guy once who was able to stop a man's heart just by staring into his eyes. I don't know whether he was a Buddhist either, but it's 34
bloody spooky. I've tried it myself - just going up to people in the street and staring directly into their eyes. I concentrated really hard, but all that happened was I got cautioned by the police.
So, how do I join? Is there a test? Of course there's a test - they don't just let anyone in, you know. To be a Buddhist you have to be strong, physically fit and have 20/20 vision. I have perfect eyesight myself, even though in the TA they said I was shortsighted. That incident with the tank wasn't my fault - the visibility was very poor that day. Even the coroner said so. Anyway, to be a Buddhist you also have to be able to do fifteen push-ups and run five miles without breaking a sweat, which I can do dead easy. And that's what Buddhism is all about. So, do you think you have what it takes to be a Buddhist? It's a hard life, but a rewarding one, and if you're looking for an exciting change of direction, then Buddhism could be the very thing for you. Buddhists will be recruiting in your area soon, so why not pick up an application form and join us in bringing serenity and enlightenment to our troubled world. And if we manage to get enough of us together in time for this Sunday, we're all going to go down into town and give the Methodists a good pasting. Cheerio. 35
Goldilocks and the Free Bears (excerpt from Chapter 12) The story so far. After returning home and walking straight into the aftermath of a brutal murder, Mr and Mrs Bear and their son Nigel escape the police and strike out on a mission to prove their innocence. Separated from his parents, Nigel beds down for the night in a rickety bus shelter, but before long his slumber is abruptly interrupted...
Elsewhere, in a flimsy wooden bus shelter, Nigel snuggled deeper into his bed of leaves and damp newspaper. He had no place here amongst the dirt and litter, and the broken bottles. He stretched and looked skyward so that the rain could gently wash the grime from his eyes. A hundred million stars stared back at him; a hundred million dew drops. Nigel watched them glimmer then vanish beneath the clouds, to reappear briefly on the other side. He sat up, with his head tilted back so that he could see the sky. He was cold and wet, frightened and hungry - but what did these things matter? In 36
his mind was up there amongst the stars: the pure, untarnished starlight lying across the void like fresh snow. He was up there, amongst those infinite, empty spaces. Slowly he reached across to his right shoulder and prised off the dead parrot that had been glued to his coat for the past eight years. He let it slip from his fingers and into the dirt. Poor Polly. Then he took hold of the eye patch that was hanging around his neck like a crucifix, and with one sharp tug he snapped the elastic. The breeze lifted it from the palm of his hand and rolled it down the road. Gradually he drifted off to sleep. He woke up a little later when the bus shelter spontaneously combusted. The sudden warm feeling across his back made him jump up quickly, and as he desperately tried to douse the flames that were licking around his arse, he noticed a pair of headlights coming towards him. As they got closer he could see that they belonged to a largish, reddish, bus-shaped object. It soon became apparent that the reason that this object was bus-shaped (and this also went some way towards explaining why it was largish and reddish) was that it was precisely that: a large, red doubledecker bus. By a curious coincidence, its driver was also largish and reddish, though it would be a mistake to assume that he was also a bus. His name was Herbert Knuckle, and it was widely known back at the depot that he was a stickler for the rules. The bus pulled up and Herbert disembarked in accordance with guidelines laid down in section 37
thirty-four, subsection three of the bus company’s official manual, headed: BUSES, DISEMBARKATION THEREOF (DRIVERS). Nigel watched him as he paced around in a tight figure of eight, looking at the ground. He scratched his bald head with his bald fingers, then stopped, nodded mysteriously to himself, then carried on for a few more circuits. He stopped again and looked Nigel straight in the eye. It was a regulation look, carried out in accordance with section twenty-three, subsection eight of the manual, headed: SUSPICIOUS LOOKING BEARS STANDING NEXT TO BURNING BUS SHELTERS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, LOOKING STRAIGHT INTO THE EYES OF. “Have you seen a bus shelter around here anywhere?” Herbert Knuckle asked, and his eyes narrowed. Nigel cast a fleeting glance at the bonfire behind him. “No,” he replied. Herbert gnashed his teeth together. Then he returned to his bus, rummaged around beneath the seat and returned with a grimy piece of paper in a clear plastic sleeve. He did these things according to sections fifty-eight, seventeen, two hundred and twelve and eighty-two respectively. 38
“Going by my map,” he said, for that was what the piece of paper was, “there should be a bus stop here.” Nigel shrugged. “Could be a mistake on the map?” he suggested. “I s’pose so,” said Herbert. He looked at Nigel curiously. “Did you know your arse was on fire?” he said. Nigel shrugged and casually put himself out. “It’s funny,” the driver continued. “I did this route yesterday, and the shelter was here then... Hang on a minute! What’s that?” Nigel wheeled around. The glare of the fire made him squint, and he felt the fur on his face prickling in the heat. “What’s what?” he asked. “That large yellow fiery thing,” said Herbert Knuckle. “Oh that,” Nigel said, and he paused in the vain hope that someone would drop by and answer the question for him. No one did. “Dunno,” he finally replied. “I can’t say I’d really noticed it.” “It looks like a burning bus shelter,” Herbert observed. “Can’t be,” said Nigel. “It is, I tell you,” said Herbert. “No, never.” “Look, I know a burning bus shelter when I see one,” Herbert insisted. “All right,” Nigel admitted. “I agree with you that it does bear a certain similarity to a burning bus shelter. But you really shouldn’t take these things at face value, otherwise you’ll be jumping to all sorts of wrong conclusions.” 39
“You set fire to our bus shelter!” Herbert accused him. Nigel reeled at the charge. “No, no,” he said, stammering a little. “It caught fire entirely of its own accord.” “A likely story!” Herbert responded. “You have wilfully destroyed a public amenity. Do you realise the trouble you’re going to be in?” “Honestly,” Nigel protested, “I didn’t do a thing. I think it just lost the will to live.” “You’re a vandal!” “No look, it’s like this,” Nigel began, then he stopped and sighed loudly. “Oh to heck with. I give up.” As he spoke something peculiar caught his attention. He was staring at the bus parked at the side of the road, the headlights still blazing into the night. A sickly yellow light shone from each grimy window, like luminous pus. Suddenly he had noticed an old woman’s face staring out at him. He could have sworn the bus was empty when he had first seen it approach. He certainly hadn’t noticed this woman before, it was as if she had just materialised there. Now, aside from being terribly disconcerting, this also happened to be impossible. Unless, thought Nigel, she was really an alien from the planet Mondo who had just slipped through an interspatial warp matrix interface. No, impossible, Nigel thought to himself, and he promptly abandoned this ridiculous line of thought… …The old woman on the bus blinked out into the dirty night, looking through the spiralling patterns 40
of filth that caked the windows. She was a very prim old lady. Her hat was perched pertly on her grey head. Her cardigan was buttoned to the neck and she sat forward in her seat, clutching her shopping bag on her knee. She was also a very bemused old lady. Earlier that morning she had been stealthily winging her way across the clear turquoise skies of the planet Mondo, sitting astride a magnificent Grumbledragon as it took her to the supermarket to get a joint for Sunday lunch. All of a sudden she had fallen through an interspatial warp matrix interface and had been most perplexed to find herself on the top deck of a Number 32 Shopper’s Special. Deciding to make the best of a bad situation she had resolved to do her shopping at Tesco’s, although she was disappointed to discover that they had no Flagwellan Spronk cutlets. She had spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in a drab bus station, waiting for a bus to the Magellan Cluster. Eventually she had interrupted an official looking man to ask his advice. He had admitted that he had never heard of anywhere called Mondo, so he asked her to describe the place. “It’s a beautiful world,” she had told him. “The skies are filled with purple incense. Gold and silver Grumbledragons swirl and soar and twist between the peaks of vast ice mountains, whilst great Fumbleknurks graze peacefully in the meadows below.” The man put her on the next bus to Gateshead. 41
And this was as far as she’d got, sitting on her own in this dirty double-decker. She clutched her shopping tighter, sighed wistfully and turned once more to the window and its cloudy interpretation of the night… …Nigel turned away from the bus, blearily aware that the bus driver was trying to solicit some kind of a response from him. “Well?” the bus driver asked. “I’m sorry, could you repeat the question,” Nigel replied, a little irritably. “I’m supposed to pick up passengers from this bus shelter,” Herbert Knuckle said. “I can’t very well do that if it’s on fire.” “There aren’t any passengers,” Nigel said. “That’s hardly the point,” said Herbert. “Just put yourself in my position for a moment.” “My God, what an exceptionally brilliant idea!” Nigel suddenly enthused, and he slapped his forehead. The resourceful young grizzly jumped into the bus and drove off, leaving Herbert Knuckle to frantically consult his rulebook as the taillights snaked away into the night. Nigel found that driving a bus was child’s play. He really didn’t know what all the fuss was about. He skilfully negotiated a bend, demolished a telephone kiosk and two dry stone walls, then found himself on a stretch of straight, unlit road. Nothing lay on either side, save for the starlit moorland, where shadow lay upon shadow and ghosts flitted invisibly through the spaces in between. 42
It was a lonely road. After a while, Nigel thought he could hear voices, softly ingrained in the insistent throbbing of the engine. He also became aware of a sharp ringing in his head. Ping. Ping. Ping. Thatâ€™s how it went. He shook his head and tried to concentrate on the road. He could still hear that damn noise. Ping. Ping. Ping. It continued in a most irritating and unpleasant fashion. He looked in his mirror and further down the bus he saw the old woman clinging on to a handhold and stabbing the stop button repeatedly. He halted the bus, braking a little too sharply. The woman stumbled forwards, struck her head on the windscreen and slumped to the floor, moaning painfully. The automatic doors opened with a pneumatic fart and allowed a cool breeze to gently revive her. She gathered up her shopping bag, gathered up herself, thanked Nigel and disembarked. Nigel was puzzled. There was nothing around for miles, just the empty moor. He waited, watching with fascination to see what she would do. The old lady whistled to herself as she waited by the roadside, but the tune was stolen by the wind, which decided it was going to play it secretively somewhere else. At the edge of the vague, blank space that defined the moor, the tiny yellow lights of some filthy industrial sprawl danced beneath the stars. Then, from the midst of that flickering light show, a new star rose above the horizon, climbing 43
high into the air. With the sound of a great torrent of wind, it fell towards her. The woman bent down and picked up her bags. All of a sudden, a metal giant was descending from the heavens, a spaceship the size of an office block. Not one of those really big office blocks, just a small one. The old lady felt the hot rush of exhaust gasses as the steel beast sank onto the heath. There was silence: a profound, unbreakable silence. There was stillness: a deathly, deadly, impenetrable stillness. There was a penguin: a large, mean-looking penguin in a safari suit and carrying a snooker cue. The wind held its breath. Then, with a warbling boom that shuddered through the ship’s hull, a door opened and a metal ramp began to extend towards the ground. A bright light lit up the moor for miles around as the hum of machinery grew louder and louder, until it came to sound like a million angels’ voices. The ramp embedded itself in the soft earth, and once more there was silence. “About time too!” the old woman muttered. She started to shuffle up the ramp, squeezing past a very bemused looking policeman covered in dragon shit, who was coming the other way. PC Gibbon reached the bottom of the ramp and slowly turned around. From inside the ship he heard two voices: firstly the old woman, asking for a 44
ticket to the Magellan Cluster; then the driver asking to see her pass. The ramp retracted, the door closed and the spaceship blasted off, blowing Gibbon’s hat off in the process. He looked around mournfully. His only companions were the whispering wind, and a double-decker bus waiting on the road. Now there was a stroke of luck. PC Gibbon was on that bus in a single bound. “I’ll have an Off-Peak Young Persons Super-Saver to just around the corner please.” “One pound eighty-nine please,” said Nigel as he reeled off the ticket.
Pigmongering Fergus Pong's Staffordshire farm is one of only three places in Europe where pigmongery is still practised, and we were delighted to be invited to a demonstration. Pong himself is a bow-legged, cross-eyed man in his late sixties, blessed with a permanent look of disgruntlement, and on our arrival he greets us with typical rustic bonhomie. "Who the hell are you?" We introduce ourselves and his demeanour mellows. "Fucking townies," he growls. "Well don't just stand there frightening the chickens, follow me." Fergus Pong's brusque manner no doubt results from his no-nonsense rural upbringing. He's been a pigmonger all his life, as was his father and his grandfather before him. His great grandfather was an accountant, but then every family has its own private shame. In earlier times every village had its own pigmonger - horsemongers, goosemongers and dogmongers too. But now they've all but died out, save the fishmongers, the ironmongers and the occasional costermonger. Mongery, it seems, has had it's day. "Come on," Pong harries us impatiently as he leads us to the 'monging paddock'. "I don't have all day." Clearly he's a busy man: chickens to plant, 46
sheep to milk, that sort of thing. "I know you town folk have nothing better to do than wandering off to coffee shops and swanky boutiques, but here in the country there's a different pace of life. Now looky here - this here is what we call the 'mong stick'." The 'this here' to which he refers is a short stick with a length of chain attached and a lethal looking spike at the end. "We do all our monging with this. It's traditional, see. You townies with your trendy Sat Navs and your space hoppers and your weird sandwiches on funny bread, you don't know nothing about tradition. Well, this here mong stick was handed down to me from my father, who got it from my grandfather. Unfortunately, my grandfather had to go out a buy it, because all he got handed down to him was a set of ledgers and an abacus with half the beads missing." "It looks lethal," we observe, and Pong instantly goes on the defensive. "Oh I see," he says, giving us his best boss-eyed glare. "So, you've been here five minutes and already you're telling us how we should mong our pigs?" "No," we protest, anxiously. "We were just making conversation." Pong isn't having any of it. "Hundreds of years of tradition means nothing to you, does it?" he grumbles. "You come prancing out here in your funky trousers, spouting your lahdi-dah nonsense and spreading your urban voodoo. Well you're not in Carnaby Street now, my darlings. You see that stuff you're standing in - that's nature that is, so think on. Now, step back and let me 47
show you a craftsman at work." Pong pushes back his sleeves, revealing the sinewy, weather-beaten forearms of an experienced pigmonger. Grasping the mong stick firmly he begins to swing it in circles above his head. The long chain whistles as it describes a figure of eight then, with a flick of the wrist, it loops downwards and the spike strikes him squarely in the testicles. We wince. "Is that supposed to happen?" we ask. "Why - got a problem with it?" Pong replies in a high-pitched rasp as the tears well in his eyes. We think it looks painful. We tell him it looks painful. "That looks painful," we say. "Ha!" he snorts, though with some difficulty. "You would think it's painful - you with your soft, town-dwelling balls. But we country folk are made of stronger stuff... Of course, it works better when you've got a pig." Luckily for us it just so happened that Fergus Pong had a pig. He had several of them, in fact. The one he picked out for the purpose of this demonstration was called Hamilton Squiggles: a serene and particularly intellectual looking animal, that watched disinterestedly as Pong once again started to swing his mong stick above his head. "You see how the creature is mesmerised," says Pong. "These are mystical techniques handed down from generation to generation. You won't find this stuff in your sophisticated townie picture books, or on your newfangled iPodules. Now, watch and be astounded." Pong chooses his moment then once again a 48
flick of the wrist brings the chain looping downwards. Once again the spike strikes him squarely in the testicles. If the pig's expression is anything to go by, it appears he finds this highly amusing. Who would have thought a pig could grin? "Right, I think that's quite enough pigmongery for today," Pong croaks. "That's the trouble with life on the farm - it doesn't half play havoc with your gentleman's trouser area." "Clearly," we agree. Given that the procedure is such a stressful one, we go on to say, it's probably no wonder that it's dying out. Pong takes offence at this, reading into it an attack on his craft. He curses beneath his breath, straightens his underwear and one of his eyes manages to fix us with a baleful stare. "You'd rather the pigs went unmonged, would you?" he challenges us. "You can live with that, can you? Hordes of wild unmonged pigs roaming the countryside, upsetting young ladies, riding around on tricycles and leaving their mess on your lawn?" We don't want to upset him, but we feel we have a valid point to make. "It's just that we don't see what all the fuss is about. We're not really sure if we could tell the difference between a monged pig and an unmonged one. It looks like the pigs themselves are getting off lightly." "Can't tell the difference!" Pong splutters. "Pah, you fluffy deodorised flopsies with your men's personal grooming products and your twisted ideas about interior design. I'll show you the difference." He leads us to an adjacent shed and shows us a 49
series of pens, in each of which are two or three pigs, grunting and shuffling about quite happily. "See here - that's Gracie Shuffletrotter, she's been monged. Snuffly Crackles and Snorty McAllister III - they've both been monged. Porky Hambone, Curly Scratchit and Snouty Dewdrop - all monged." "They look quite contented," we say. "Well of course they do, brainiac, they've been monged," Pong says. "But in here..." He leads us to a pen separate from the others. "...in here you'll see a real wild, unmonged pig - Ant McPartlin." "Ant McPartlin?" we ask. "Aye, Ant McPartlin," he responds ominously. "As in 'Ant and Dec'?" we enquire. "Light entertainers and presenters of popular Saturday evening game shows?" "I shouldn't think so," Pong says. He leans over the pen. "Here," he says to its occupant. "Have you been presenting popular Saturday evening game shows?" "What did he say?" we ask when the animal grunts a reply. "Nothing," says Pong. "It's a chuffing pig." Curiously, we peer into the pen. It is indeed a chuffing pig, and not a diminutive Geordie celebrity. What's more, it looks exactly like the others, and we point this out. "Well, you're frigging townies, aren't you," Pong replies dismissively. "I wouldn't expect you to be able to tell the difference. But you'd have another think coming on the other side of your face, and woe betide, if you walked into your local butcher's and you were attacked by a sausage." 50
We ask him if that is something that is likely to happen. He is forced to admit that it isn't. But he insists that the tradition of pigmonging needs to be upheld. "Listen, we've already lost too many of our customs," Pong says. "Spiderbaiting, cuckoo spitting and porkromancy have fallen by the wayside, and duck felching is now only practised in East Anglia. We have to protect this tradition." "Even if it means the constant damage to your trouser furniture?" we ask. "Why enslave yourself to tradition if all it leads to is a repeated assault on your equipment? Perhaps there's a better way of doing it; a less painful way? After all, just because something has been done like this for generations, it doesn't mean it can't be improved upon." Pong listens to us patiently, then dismisses it as 'typical townie talk'. Our time with this cantankerous one-dimensional comedy stereotype is at an end, but as he escorts us back to our car, he can't resist one parting shot. "No wonder your streets are overrun by electric chip shops, twenty-four hour snooker emporia and secondhand fruit importers," he says. "You've no feeling for the old ways. Oh yes, we all want progress, don't we, but what happens to our heritage? So, thank you but you can keep your fancy new flushing toilets - we'll just keep crapping in the yard. And as for your fashionable vaccines, I don't think so. We'll keep dying of smallpox and tuberculosis, just as nature intended. And if upholding the ancient tradition of pigmonging means that I've got to keep taking a pounding in the 51
crackers, then so be it. I'll just have to grit my teeth, brace myself and bear it." And now, the same fucking joke, but this time about chickenmongers. Fergus Yolk's Lincolnshire farm is...
Sandals INT: A RADIO STUDIO, SOMEWHERE IN LONDON. UBO: There has been much controversy following the announcement made by His Holiness the Pope earlier today, prohibiting the wearing of sandals. To discuss both the context and the wider implications of this ruling, it is our great pleasure to welcome Bishop Kerry Flapjack. Good morning, Your Grace. BISHOP FLAPJACK: Hello, yes, morning. It's very roomy in here, isn't it?
UBO: Oh, yes... yes. Now, Your Grace, if we couldBISHOP FLAPJACK: You know, I was expecting something much, much smaller. I thought we'd end up sitting in a broom cupboard, ha ha! UBO: Ha, yes. Well, if we could turn to the subject of this latest announcement: the prohibition of sandals for Catholics. Some might see this as a somewhat draconian move. BISHOP FLAPJACK: Oh no, no, I don't think so. I mean, it could have been so much worse, couldn't it? I mean, for example, they could have been ordered to be shod in broken glass, couldn't they? I'm not suggesting His Holiness would make such a demand but, well, there you are. Or, they 53
might have been told to hammer nails into their toes, for example. Or live eels, perhaps? Imagine that - having live eels strapped to their feet. Oooh. UBO: Well, yes, um... With respect, you seem to be straying from the issue somewhat. BISHOP FLAPJACK: Just think of it - live eels, eh? Imagine this room full of live eels. I'm thinking that you could get a lot of eels in here - all wriggly and squirmy. Nasty. UBO: Your Grace, this is nonsense. BISHOP FLAPJACK: Well exactly. You wouldn't want to cram your nice new studio with eels. They'd get into the equipment, clog everything up. It would be a health and safety nightmare. Why, it would be ridiculous. UBO: It would be; it would be, indeed. And yet, some people are saying that the Pope's decision to outlaw sandals is equally ridiculous. Can you sympathise with that point of view? BISHOP FLAPJACK: Sandals? UBO: Yes, sandals, Your Grace. Sorry to drag you back to the issue, but the fact is a lot of people are very concerned about this matter. BISHOP FLAPJACK: Oh yes, well, it's not really the same thing at all. The wearing of sandals has been proscribed on firm religious grounds. It is, undeniably, a mortal sin. UBO: A sin? 54
BISHOP FLAPJACK: Oh yes, most definitely. UBO: How exactly - and you must forgive me here if I seem a little factious, but I'm keen to understand this - how exactly can the wearing of sandals have suddenly become sinful? BISHOP FLAPJACK: I'm not sure I understand the question. UBO: Well, it's really quite simple. As of today, the wearing of sandals is sinful, right? BISHOP FLAPJACK: straightforward enough.
UBO: So, does that mean that it wasn't a sin yesterday? BISHOP FLAPJACK: Yes. UBO: Yes, it wasn't a sin? Or yes it was? BISHOP FLAPJACK: Yes... No... Look, you're getting me confused now. It's really perfectly simple. Today, the wearing of sandals is sinful; yesterday it was not. UBO: So basically, what you're saying is that you could have been wearing sandals for the last thirty years and there's no problem; but if you wear them today, you're going straight to hell? And, in that case, what has happened in the last twenty-four hours to have rendered such an apparently harmless activity a mortal sin? BISHOP FLAPJACK: Well, the Pope has made an announcement. 55
UBO: Just that? BISHOP FLAPJACK: This is the Pope we're talking about - God's representative here on Earth. He may just look like an old bloke in a dress to you, but his words carry a fair bit of clout, you know. UBO: Yes, yes, of course. But what I'm trying to get it is that if the church can suddenly make a ruling that such-and-such a thing is illegal, then doesn't that mean that the nature of sin is not objective? We are led to believe that the principals of right and wrong are powerful, primordial and, most importantly, fixed concepts. And yet, here we see a bunch of self-appointed guardians of morality, sitting quite comfortably in Rome in the most opulent of settings, apparently making up rules on a whim. Do you begin to see why people might have a problem with it? BISHOP FLAPJACK: No, no, it's not like that. They haven't just made it up on a whim. UBO: No. Then where does it come from? Is it in the bible? BISHOP FLAPJACK: It comes interpretation of biblical teachings-
UBO: Does it actually say, anywhere in the bible, 'Thou shall not wear sandals'? BISHOP FLAPJACK: Well, no, notUBO: Is there a passage, perhaps, in the Old Testament, which reads, 'Thou shalt worship no 56
other slippers but mine' or 'Thou shall not venerate graven footwear'? BISHOP FLAPJACK: Oh come on, now you're just being UBO: All I'm doing is asking a simple question. Where do these curious edicts concerning footwear come from? What are these ancient teachings, and how come the Catholic Church has been happy to ignore them until now? Can you answer that, Bishop? BISHOP FLAPJACK: Look, I... Don't you have to go to a commercial break, or something? UBO: No, no, we're fine. Perhaps, if there's nothing about sandals in the bible, the message has come to us some other way? Perhaps from the big guy Himself? Maybe He appeared in the Vatican one day in a big ball of white light and said, "Hey, Popey, I'm thinking this sandal business is a big nono. Whaddya think?" BISHOP FLAPJACK: This is bordering on the blasphemous. UBO: I don't see how. You said yourself that His Holiness the Pope is God's representative here on Earth. It stands to reason that the boss is going to have to put in an appearance in person every once in a while, especially if it's over something as fundamental as introducing a new sin. After all, if He didn't take an interest, He might find that His representatives start getting bored and making stuff
up just for the hell of it. And that would never do, would it? BISHOP FLAPJACK: Look, take it from me, He wasn't at the meeting. God doesn't do politics. Nevertheless, religious teachings clearly dictate that the wearing of sandals is a sin, pure and simple. It's doctrine now, there's no going back. It exposes the feet in a lewd and obscene way, and promotes promiscuity and wanton behaviour. UBO: Didn't Jesus wear sandals? BISHOP FLAPJACK: No. UBO: I think he did. I think all the disciples wore them too. BISHOP FLAPJACK: I refuse to listen to this nonsense. UBO: Does it say in the bible that the Messiah and his followers promoted promiscuity and wanton behaviour? BISHOP FLAPJACK: I'm not listening. Look, I'm putting my fingers in my ears. La la la la la la la la! UBO: I'm not a theologian myself, but I'm pretty confident that it says nothing of the sort. BISHOP FLAPJACK: La la la la la la! Ooh, what a big studio you've got here. La la la la la! I'm still not listening, la la! UBO: And I'm pretty confident that the Pope's latest announcement has nothing to do with 58
scripture and everything to do with his own strangely deluded reactionary views. BISHOP FLAPJACK: La la! Ha ha! I can see your lips moving but I just don't care. UBO: And I can see that this particular debate is not going to progress any further. Bishop Flapjack, our time is at an end. Thank you for talking to me today, and I hope we will get another opportunity to hear more of your fascinating views at some point in the future. BISHOP FLAPJACK: Yeah, la la, and your mother, ha ha ha ha! UBO: And a very good night to you too.
Butterfly The flap of a butterfly's wings in Central Park could ultimately cause an earthquake in China. So say the proponents of chaos theory, who use 'the butterfly effect' to describe how simple and apparently straightforward processes can combine and set in motion a chain of events with farreaching and unpredictable consequences. The butterfly effect has, until now, been cited only as an illustration, but Professor Jim Spanners of the Pennsylvania Institute for Making Stuff Up takes it seriously, and believes that butterflies are directly responsible for most of the world's major problems. He is urging authorities to act swiftly in order to prevent imminent disaster. So far his warnings have been largely dismissed by everyone, except for a select group of people who don't get out much. Recently, in order to underscore his concerns, he published a twelve stage example of exactly how such a catastrophic sequence of events might run:
Event One: A butterfly - possibly a cabbage white, or similar variety - spreads itself across a leaf in New York's Central Park. It stretches lazily in the warm sunshine and contentedly flaps its wings. This motion generates a small current of air, barely perceptible, but sufficient enough to divert the course of an airborne spore. The spore lands beside a pathway and begins to germinate.
Event Two: One year later and the spore has blossomed into a thriving example of a Patagonian trailing creeper. It spreads its tangled strands out across the adjacent path. An early-morning runner fails to notice it as he is jogging along. He becomes entangled and falls, dropping his doughnuts and fracturing his shin.
Event Three: At a nearby hospital, the runner is waiting for the results of his X-ray. He decides that something should be done to prevent others from having similar accidents. As luck would have it, he happens to work for the Mayor's office, where he 61
has some influence. At his request, a program of defoliation is begun to eradicate all traces of Patagonian trailing creeper from Central Park.
Event Four: All traces of the troublesome creeper have now been cleared. The creeper was also home to a species of beetle and these too are wiped out starving the local population of hammerhead gannets, who feed on them. The gannets are forced to find other sources of food and for a while they make a nuisance of themselves by raiding trashcans, harassing hot dog sellers and occasionally carrying off small pets. However, they cannot adapt and they soon begin to die off.
Event Five: The hammerhead gannet is a remarkable bird in that it usually expires in the air - rather than on the ground, up a tree or inside a cat like most birds. New York suddenly finds itself plagued by falling birds as the dead gannets plummet from the skies, mid-flap. As their name suggests, the hammerhead gannet has a head shaped like a small mallet and the descending birds do considerable damage to roads, buildings and the occasional unlucky 62
bystander. Sales of crash helmets rise steeply.
Event Six: While some crash helmets are made from specially hardened synthetic composites, they are no match for the traditional variety, fashioned from the shell of the Polynesian backflip tortoise. The backflip tortoise is so called because of its fondness for acrobatics. Sadly, despite hours of practice, most backflip tortoises make poor gymnasts, and so they have developed hardened shells to protect them from injury. Because of the increase in demand for crash helmets, their numbers soon begin to decline.
Event Seven: The shells of backflip tortoises are also used to make lobster pots. However, with fewer tortoises available, lobster fishermen have to rely on other materials. These new pots are just not up to the job. The lobsters themselves are certainly not impressed and simply gather around them, pointing and laughing contemptuously.
Event Eight: The lobster population swells out of control. They become rowdy and boisterous - holding underwater raves, getting high on seaweed and playing Beach Boys records until four o-clock in the morning. The octopuses that live next door start to get really hacked off with it. Octopuses are usually quiet and genial creatures, who are at their happiest when left alone to do word puzzles. But on this occasion they realise that something has to be done, and so they decide to stage a sit-in.
Event Nine: Octopuses from all over the world gather in the Atlantic Ocean to protest. Their numbers are so great that they disrupt shipping and cut off the Gulf Stream, the current that supplies warm water to the North Atlantic.
Event Ten: With the Gulf Stream disrupted, the world begins to freeze. The arctic ice begins to encroach on Canada, Europe and Northern Asia. Before long the tundra has enveloped Manchester, and the polar bears move in and turn it into a winter resort. 64
Event Eleven: As luck would have it, a syndicate of four million penguins from Antarctica have won a fortune on the lottery and, hearing that the skiing in Manchester is particularly good at this time of year, they decide to blow all their winnings on a vacation. As penguins can't fly, they invest in rocket packs and set off en masse.
Event Twelve Passing through Indian airspace, the captain of a Korean airliner is astounded to see four million penguins wearing rocket packs approaching him, directly on his flight path. The penguins are equally surprised and swerve abruptly to miss the plane. Unfortunately, they fly smack into Mount Everest, knocking the top off. The shock wave travels around the world, triggering earthquakes in amongst other places - California, Japan and China.
Professor Spanners is convinced that it is only a matter of time before such a catastrophe takes place, but he stresses that it can be easily avoided. His solution is simple - round up all the butterflies and eradicate them. He suggests employing specialist butterfly death squads to go around 65
armed with big nets and long range rifles. Also, placing a bounty on these dangerous insects would encourage the public to assist in the cull. Above all, Professor Spanners insists that we cannot afford to suffer a single butterfly to live - one careless flap of a wing could mean the end of all life on the planet. Many of Professor Spanners' colleagues have spoken out against this rather extreme viewpoint. In an interview with Newsweek, a former associate claims that Professor Spanners' present militant stance against the butterfly world is the result of childhood trauma, which she traces back to being dive-bombed by a red admiral on a family picnic. One particular critic, Dr Josiah Prodd, has been very vocal in his objections to Spanners' ideas. Prodd - a long-standing friend and colleague until he and Professor Spanners fell out following an argument about a restaurant bill - is keen to stress that nature is inherently symmetrical and that the roles of cause and effect can often be reversed. To demonstrate what he means by this, he gives an example of how an earthquake in China could ultimately cause a butterfly to flap its wings in Central Park.
Event One: A massive earthquake hits rural China. Although disruption to the human population is minimal, it 66
displaces a large population of moles, who leave their homeland and set off in search of pastures new.
Event Two: The moles arrive in Indonesia and make a new home for themselves. They flourish and before long they take over the whole country, turning it into a giant golf course (moles are keen golfers, although they are terrible cheats - they dig their own holes). The Indonesian economy soars as the country begins to attract the idle rich from all around the world.
Event Three: Success has a price, and the Indian Ocean soon starts to fill up with golf balls. This drastically increases the erosion on the coast of India. Eventually, a huge chunk of the country breaks off and floats out to sea.
Event Four: This broken off chunk of India - now known as Little India - spends several years floating around the world, enjoying some splendid scenery and excellent whether. It becomes a tax haven for teen pop stars.
Event Five: Little India's world tour comes to an end when it becomes wedged up against Florida. The teen pop stars decide to buy the state and turn it into a giant swimming pool. A few of the locals manage to find work as pool boys, waiters or bartenders, but the rest have to leave and go in search of work elsewhere.
Event Six: The teen pop star invasion of Florida has other consequences. In addition to driving out much of the human population, it also forces out many of the alligators. They are forced to hit the road and end up travelling the length and breadth of America's highways, performing juggling tricks in return for handouts.
Event Seven: Some of the alligators band together and form a travelling circus. They go from town to town, performing for the locals - fire eating, tightrope walking, eating clowns and such like. The highlight of the show is Snaps McDougal and his amazing escapology act.
Event Eight: One night during a show in Maine, Snaps McDougal is spotted by a promoter who offers him a six month residency in Vegas. Snaps agrees and he becomes a big hit. His fame rapidly spreads across the country.
Event Nine: Snaps McDougal is now a household name, and his celebrity does much to raise the profile of alligators everywhere. Talent scouts and agencies start to realise that 'the next big thing' is likely to be about nine foot long and covered in green scales. Producers and directors start searching for alligators to star in their latest movies, and more 69
and more of the animals are offered headlining roles on TV and in Broadway productions. And its not just alligators - crocodiles, monitor lizards and even snakes all experience an upturn in their fortunes. A pair of Polynesian backflip tortoises go down a storm in a remake of Trapeze.
Event Ten: Reptiles are now dominating the entertainment industry to such an extent that human performers find it almost impossible to get work. Demonstrations all over the country culminate in a protest march through the streets of New York. Actors, dancers, singers, mime artists and speciality acts bring traffic to a standstill as they wave placards, chant slogans, enact sketches and perform elaborately choreographed musical numbers whilst leaping about on car roofs.
Event Eleven: Realising that there is no way that she is going to get to her office on time, a young girl leaves her cab and decides to take a shortcut through Central Park. It's a warm day and the sun is out. There had been a slight drizzle earlier - it had passed quickly but the ground is still damp. As she walks along 70
her arm brushes a nearby bush, shaking a little shower of sparkling raindrops from the wet leaves. She moves on without another thought.
Event Twelve: Sheltering beneath the bush is a butterfly possibly a cabbage white, or similar variety. As the leaves above are disturbed, raindrops smash to the ground around it, covering the insect in diamond shards of moisture. It cautiously inches back, moving deeper under cover. And then, to dry itself, it very gently flaps its wings.
Death, Doom & Disaster (excerpt from Chapter 3) The Story so far. When Geoff Dickson stumbles into the experimental outhouse of Professor Mendes, he doesn't expect to be catapulted across to the other side of the galaxy. And yet as Dickson, the Professor's daughter and a random mad woman emerge from the 'Podulator' into a strangely devastated and decaying landscape, this seems to be the only explanation. All the same, Dickson still finds it difficult to accept that they haven't just landed in Swansea. â€œWhat did you just say?â€? the Professor demanded, each syllable metered out with venom and laden with contempt. I took a moment to gather my senses. Here I was, standing in the doorway of an outside toilet, next to some lunatic who seemed to think that he was a cross between Albert Einstein and Buck Rogers, staring at a landscape that I could have sworn was not there when I had first walked in. It was eerie, oddly threatening and I got the distinct impression that it was not at all a nice place to be. I concluded that it made no sense at all, and I suspected that I 72
was going to have some trouble coming to terms with that. “All I said was - “ I began uncertainly, but the old man did not allow my explanation to proceed. “Swansea!” Professor Mendes blustered, and to my startled ears it sounded like a pistol crack. He dug his heel into my foot with thinly disguised vindictiveness. “Swansea!” he repeated as I writhed in pain. “Really! I transport you halfway across the galaxy, deliver you into this strange and alien landscape, and you have the audacity to claim that we’ve landed in Swansea. My dear Mr Dickinson, you are the most cynical young twat I have ever had the misfortune to encounter.” With that, he gave his heel a final toe-crunching twist, then stepped out into the open. “The name’s Dickson,” I called after him, uselessly. “Not Dickinson.” Then I felt Janet draw near, replacing the Professor at my side. Instinctively I flinched. Hadn’t I suffered enough? “It’s not the most hospitable place, is it?” she murmured as she stared through the open doorway, utterly oblivious to my discomfort. “All this devastation, this empty bleakness. It’s all so cold, so dead - as if it remembers some terrible atrocity that was once enacted here.” I gave her a harsh stare as she scratched her nose with the hook on her left arm. “Great,” I said, my words bristling with sarcasm. “Cheer me up, why don’t you! Can’t you just put a sock in it, you insensitive tart.” At this point she started to cry, but 73
I was past caring. She followed the Professor outside, and then it was Cathy’s turn to harass me. “I’ve got a special badge for knot tying,” she said apropos of nothing, but with evident pride. Then she too went out. Painfully I hobbled after them. The Professor had wasted no time in surveying our new surroundings and by now he was crouched on the ground, examining a small shrivelled looking plant. “Fascinating, fascinating,” he muttered. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” I peered over his shoulder at the wilted shrub and couldn’t for the life of me see what he found so special about it. After all, it was only a dead plant. I had a window box full of them at home and I said as much, but he just growled at me in reply. “What is it Father?” Cathy said as she came over to join us. “What have you found?” “He’s found a dead plant,” I said helpfully, but they both ignored me. “It’s an extremely unusual species of ivy,” the Professor said as he snipped a portion of partiallydesiccated leaf between his thumb and forefinger then stood up and held it up towards the light. “I’ve seen something very similar to it on Earth, but only in fossils.” “Ah!” I felt bound to comment. “Then it’s obviously deader than I thought.” They continued to disregard my interjections. “It really is most intriguing,” the Professor continued. “What we see here is a pattern of evolution that mirrors development on Earth. Except here this particular plant has managed to escape extinction. Remarkable.” 74
“Remarkable,” I mumbled to myself. I had followed the Professor’s lecture up to a point, but by now it had become too tedious for me. I twisted around to Janet. “The old boy’s found a dead plant,” I informed her. “He seems to think it’s interesting.” Janet obviously seemed to think it was interesting too. She trotted over to the Professor and the three of them stared at it with the same sort of disbelief and wonder that would be engendered by the sight of the Pope juggling live piranhas whilst balancing on a flaming tightrope. I grabbed her roughly by the elbow and pulled her aside. “Oh pull yourself together, woman!” I hissed. “You really do think we’re on some alien planet, don’t you?” “Well, don’t you?” Janet replied. “Just look around you.” I shrugged. “I’m pretty sure we’re somewhere in Wales,” I said. I looked around and pointed at the distant horizon. “If we head in that direction we should hit the M4.” Janet seemed quite shocked at my casual assertion. “But the Podulator?” she said. “The journey? I mean, how do you imagine we got here? The Professor must be telling the truth!” “Oh I don’t doubt that it’s all very clever,” I admitted. “But it’s a trick, that’s all. It’s all done with mirrors, or something. Or maybe we were drugged? Whatever - the point is, you can’t seriously believe that this...this...” I glanced over at the Professor and suddenly the words came easily enough. “...this irritating little freak is really capable 75
of transporting us to the other side of the universe in a souped-up outhouse?” “Well...” She began. Anybody who begins a sentence with a ‘well’ like that is clearly in need of further convincing. “I’ll tell you exactly what has happened,” I said firmly. “This Professor has drugged us both, then while the two of us were insensible, he and his monkey-faced daughter loaded us into the back of van and drove us out here into the middle of nowhere.” “Along with the Cosmic Podulator?” Janet said, indicating the toilet behind us. I was going to reply, but suddenly she burst out with, “Oh Mr Dickson! Why can’t you accept what’s really happening?” I took a step back out of regard for my own safety. This Janet person was turning out to be something of a loose cannon. “Isn’t it obvious that this really is an alien planet?” “It’s no good, Janet my dear,” the Professor interjected upon overhearing her outburst. “This intolerable young man’s mind is closed to the possibility.” He seemed to be staring over my shoulder. Something had obviously caught his eye and his face brightened. “But perhaps we may yet be able to convince him. Turn around slowly. Don’t make a noise. Tell me what you see.” Both Janet and I turned around slowly. Neither of us made a noise. We saw sod all, and I was not afraid to say so. The Professor was annoyed. “There!” he insisted. “Nestling in those shrubs beside the Podulator. Do 76
you see it? Now, how do you explain that, Mr Dickens?” “Dickson,” I corrected him absently as I stared at the spot Professor Mendes indicated. There was only really one thing that he could possibly be pointing at. “It’s a crisp packet,” I said. “What?” the Professor replied. “A crisp packet,” I repeated. “An empty crisp packet, that’s all. I can’t see why you’re making such a fuss about it.” “Nonsense!” replied the Professor, sounding most offended. “It’s clearly an example of alien fauna; some sort of rodent that can be found nowhere on Earth,” he claimed. “I have already observed several more foraging in a clump of grass over in that direction. Evidently, these animals flourish on this part of the planet.” I stared more closely at the disputed object. “A rodent?” I said. “Most certainly,” the Professor replied smugly. “I see,” I said, nodding slowly. “So why does it say ‘cheese and onion’ on it?” “Cheese and...” The Professor broke off. He cautiously approached his ‘rodent’, then pulled out a pair of half-moon spectacles, perched them on his nose and bent to examine it. I heard him sigh gently. Then he straightened up and came back to join us. “You’re imagining things,” he said to me. “No, I’m not,” I replied. “You can see it as clear as day!” The Professor shook his head. “No, no,” he said. “What you can see are just random markings. We 77
are definitely looking at alien animal life. And a most fascinating creature it appears to be too. I wish I could capture one so that I could add it to my collection.” His collection? Clearly, in the Professor’s little fantasy world, the simplest everyday objects could be misinterpreted as something marvellous and strange. I wondered what other items of extraneous jetsam might comprise his private zoo. Did he, I pondered, have a room somewhere stacked high with old drink cans, newspapers and discarded condoms, all carefully labelled and lovingly watered every day? I decided that the only decent thing to do would be to expose this fiction. I walked over to the shrub, picked up the crisp packet and held it up for all to see. “See,” I said triumphantly. “Cheese and onion.” “No it isn’t,” Cathy suddenly said. I starred daggers at her. “I beg your pardon?” I said. “It doesn’t say cheese and onion,” said Cathy. “It says cheese and mushroom.” “Ha ha!” roared the Professor victoriously. “Cheese and mushroom - a combination which is unknown on Earth. Well, that proves that we’re on another planet doesn’t it?” And with that he wandered off, giggling to himself. I lifted up the empty packet to my face. It did indeed say ‘cheese and mushroom’. I’d never heard of cheese and mushroom crisps before, but that wasn’t to say that they didn’t exist. I mean, there was no reason why cheese and mushroom crisps couldn’t exist, was there? The two flavours didn’t 78
explode on contact, did they? Perhaps they did. Perhaps crisp manufacturers had been secretly attempting to combine them for years, but had never proved able. And perhaps we now found ourselves on an alien world in a distant galaxy, where alien crisp technologists had finally succeeded where their Earth counterparts had failed, and had managed to bond the two entirely incompatible flavours. I looked at the crisp packet more closely. Was this really incontrovertible confirmation of the Professor’s theory? I dropped it again. I wasn’t sure about all this. I really didn’t want the Professor to be right, but I thought I’d better try and keep my doubts to myself for the time being, just in case I turned out to be wrong.
Optimum Leaning Angles Hey! It's not easy to look hip and cool and trendy and windswept, but it is possible. It's a question of angles. All you need to do is learn the correct and most nonchalant way to lean, and you can shed that bumbling, gauche exterior once and for all. Here, let me explain...
To help us in our demonstration, meet Bob. Bob is a junior advertising copywriter in his early thirties, and although he considers himself pretty cool and trendy, he lacks a certain attitude. He is pictured here in a perpendicular pose, which, whilst allowing him to be alert and poised for action, makes him seem rather uptight and formal. Let's suggest that he attempt to appear more casual.
Ah, now here you can see that Bob has made a classic error. He has, quite rightly, decided to adopt a more insouciant stance. However, foolishly he has chosen to lean forwards, rather than against the wall behind him. This is likely to have one of several possible consequences. This angle brings him perilously close to the road, and if it's been raining he could end up getting splashed by passing traffic, leading to an inevitable loss of face. Then again, he could end up literally losing his face, if he should overbalance and smash his teeth in on the curb. Or he could be mistaken for a mime artist 'leaning into the wind'. Either way, it's going to make him look like a right tit. Let's get him to try again.
Well, yes, this is an improvement. We're on the right track, certainly, but we're not out of the woods yet. When leaning, it is always best to rest against something solid, such as a public building, an automobile or a small horse. Bob has wisely chosen to lean back against the wall, which offers both support and security. However, an angle of 45 degrees lacks prestige and stability, and there is every possibility that small children and animals may take pleasure in passing beneath his inclined form. This will seriously offend Bob's dignity. It must also be noted that this angle is very difficult to maintain and puts an enormous amount of pressure on
the calves and lower back. Unless Bob has made a special study of how to fall on his backside without looking like a dick, he would perhaps be best advised to avoid this position. Sorry Bob, try again!
Oh, come on, now you're just showing off! Learning how to lean correctly is not as easy as if might at first appear. It takes much practice and dedication, and you've got to be prepared to learn from your mistakes. Bob, evidently discouraged by our criticisms, has clearly decided to give up and just piss about instead. Well, it's not big and it's not clever. Come on Bob! You can do it! Go on, give it one more shot.
That's it! Perfect! At last, Bob has achieved the optimum leaning angle. The studied slouch, the hunched shoulders, the nonchalant curl of the lip all add up to the perfect picture of disaffected youth. It's like watching a young Marlon Brando or James Dean. Oh yes, Bob sure is one cool mother. There is just one small problem - Bob has decided to lean against the other side of the wall, where no one can see him. Is all that effort for nothing? Come on Bob, come on out where we can look at you!
Hey, now this guy is just toooooo cool. A rebel without a cause, he's the king of the block. All the guys want to be him, all the girls want to be with him. In just a few short lessons, Bob has gone from an awkward, shambling buffoon to a rock and roll rebel. He's a free spirit, nobody can tame him; no one can tie him down. Go Bobby, go, go, go! ...Oops, lunch hour's nearly over. Better get back to the office, Bob, you've got to get the Tesco's account finished by 4 oâ€™clock. Bye!
Kicking Up a New Stink Quentin Tote from Allenton in Derby is 42, unemployed and has a history of irritable bowel syndrome. A more unlikely candidate for academic glory you would be hard pushed to find. And yet this unassuming, unpretentious and frankly rather unhygienic little man is set to become the toast of the scientific community following the announcement of his new find - for, in the face of much scepticism and derision, Quentin Tote has discovered a new smell. The basic building blocks of the smell spectrum 'the elemental odours' as they are called - have been known for over one hundred and fifty years. There are seventeen in total, ranging from Flowers to Poo, all arranged in order of their 'Pong Ratio'. This system was devised in 1838 by Wilbur Chuff, a Belgian chemist working in France, over a Chinese laundry, next to a Turkish bath. Chuff had observed that by combining two separate odours he could create a third smell. Thus, by mixing Egg with Bacon, he could create Breakfast. From these experiments, he posited that all the smells in the world were made up of a small number of basic smell elements, the character of each being determined by its Pong Ratio. Chuff's theory was slow to catch on, and many of his contemporaries refused to see any value in his 84
work. When he presented his theories to the Royal Institute, he was accused of being a charlatan, a fake, and some of his more childish associates told him he had a big nose. Stung by this reception, Chuff returned to his laboratory and basically became a recluse, working day and night to refine his theory partly to prove himself to his colleagues, partly because he didn't get out much anyway. Using differential calculus, a slide-rule and a box of one hundred assorted elastic bands, he set about calculating the Pong Ratio of seven known elemental odours. Extrapolating from these results, he deduced the existence 10 other odours, and arranged these into the table of elemental odours that is still in use today. He published his results a year later, but it received a lukewarm response. Once again the scientific community refused to take notice, and some of his more vocal opponents pointed out that his nose had appeared to grow even larger during his self-enforced solitude. Nevertheless, when some of the smells that Chuff had predicted began to be identified by independent researchers, orthodox science had no option but to accept his theory. Modern scientists now embrace Chuff's theory wholeheartedly. Indeed, it is widely believed that at the very beginning of the universe, the various elements of smell we know today were unified into one 'super odour'. They calculate that this tiny seed of singularity smelt very faintly of oranges. In the first few moments of creation, as the universe expanded rapidly, this super odour split into the seventeen distinct units of smell as predicted by Chuff's Table. 85
However, whilst most physicists agree on the origins of the universe, debate still rages concerning its ultimate fate. There are some who believe that smells will go on expanding, gradually dissipating so that they lose all their energy, in much the same way that taste has done in a number of multi-national fast food outlets. On the other hand, if the amount of smell in the Universe is strong enough to provide enough gravitational pull, they could reverse their expansion and begin to collapse in on themselves, combining once more into a single unified odour. Scientists have called this process 'The Big Stink', and several respected researchers claim that something like this is already starting to happen in Stoke-on-Trent. Of course, everyone will be forced to radically rethink their positions now. Quentin Tote's discovery of an entirely new smell, unpredicted by Chuff's Table, has effectively meant that theorists will have to return to the drawing board. But it's early days yet. There is still considerable doubt over the authenticity of Tote's discovery. His critics point to the fact that his facilities are inadequate and his qualifications are non-existent. Ironically, Quentin Tote is facing the same sort of resistance to his discovery as Wilbur Chuff did over a century and a half previously, even down to the unnecessary criticism of his nose. To be fair, much of this criticism is justified: his laboratory comprises a workbench in the corner of his garage, and his training consists of a City & Guilds in woodwork and a Bronze swimming certificate. To add insult to injury, the local newspaper once described him as 'the man with the largest nose in the East Midlands'. 86
Tote, however, sticks to his guns and maintains that the results of his experiments speak for themselves. He discovered his new odour by cracking chip fat in a converted foot spa after a particularly harrowing episode of EastEnders. He describes the smell, which he has christened Marmite, as 'bloody terrible', and he confidently predicts that it will have tremendous implications for a number of industries. In particular, he believes Marmite may prove especially useful in outer space, where no one will be able to smell it. Despite Tote's confidence however, the jury is still out on his new Smell. Professor Samuel Belcher, who heads the Bristol University Odour Classification Project, is firmly of the opinion that Tote's Marmite is not a new smell at all, but a combination of Creosote, Catfood and Cheese. Ironically, Creosote, Catfood and Cheese is the name of the firm of solicitors acting for Quentin Tote in a forthcoming libel case against Belcher. One thing is certain: Marmite represents a significant breakthrough in odour research. Whether it will mean radical changes in the way we understand the science of smell remains to be seen.
Chuff's Table of Elemental Odours
1. Plasticine is highly unstable and decays rapidly to become Bacon. 2. Curry does not occur naturally, except at high temperature and pressures
Jacob Wanting OF JACOB'S VISIT TO THE ADJUDICATOR AND HIS FRUITLESS APPEAL FOR ASSISTANCE The not insubstantial figure of Mr Rudolph Snickerty was as familiar a landmark as the spire of St Jasper's to those various persons within the orbits of the little house at the corner of Bimini Square. The bootblacks and the broadsheet vendors picked out his silhouette, moving through the dawn mists, with easy familiarity, as he tumbled from his street door into the waiting cab at precisely just after seven each morning, without fail. And the lamplighters and road sweepers marked his return with equal dependability, as the cold vapours began to congregate in dark corners and beneath sagging eaves, at very nearly exactly just before eight each evening. Each of these public appearances, was met with polite expressions of greeting from all those who encountered Mr Snickerty, and such felicitations were volleyed by that latter gentlemen in the same respectful and formal manner as they were served up, as was only to be expected of such an accomplished and esteemed authority. It would hardly have been proper to err towards the casual in one's relations with Mr Rudolph Snickerty, known to all as 'The Adjudicator' in connection with his official position relating to the administration of 89
relief to the poor and needy. Many there were who, being without the means to support themselves, were grateful for his judgements when they fell in their favour, and no less respectful when the decision went otherwise. The weight of this responsibility hung heavy around Mr Snickerty's shoulders tonight, as he climbed down from his cabriolet with the stately ponderousness expected of a man of his circumference. If, of late, his movements had become more laboured or his gait a touch more sluggish, then the cause was surely, in equal measure, as much the constant burden of his professional obligations as the sumptuous lunches which he forced himself to endure, in order to maintain both his strength and his spirits. And who would deny him sustenance, either of body or mind? Being both the first and final arbiter of whom should receive financial assistance from the state, was a responsibility that was not without its stresses and strains, and Mr Rudolph Snickerty's contribution to society had not escaped recognition. Indeed, popular opinion held that it would only be a matter of time before that Mr Rudolph became Sir Rudolph, and in consequence it was entirely appropriate that a respectful distance should traditionally separate that gentleman from his neighbours, both socially and, secretly to the great relief of all parties, physically. It is generally known that all men of greatness should, whenever possible, be kept at arm's length. This evening, so far proving to be much as any other, Mr Snickerty drew his fob from his waistcoat 90
pocket and noted, with some satisfaction, that it was precisely just about nearly eight. Snapping the watch lid shut, he bandied a few insignificant pleasantries with a correspondingly inconsequential neighbour, and went inside; thence, pausing briefly to catch his breath before the ascent, he proceeded up the stairs to his apartments on the first floor. While there was little doubt that this house had seen better days, it would be impolitic to suggest that these dark and wormholed stairs had ever creaked beneath the boots of a more commendable gentleman than he who now ascended, grunting and wheezing as he did so. Certainly, none worthier numbered amongst its present inhabitants, all of whom were cognizant of the fact that they lived in the shadow of an astonishing man. Mr Snickerty halted mid-step and clutched the railing. "Pilfer!" he called, upstairs. He paused again, briefly winded by the effort of exposition. "Mrs Pilfer! Supper on the table if you will." And the command being issued, he continued to climb. This clarion call was part of his familiar routine, as his neighbours well understood. Miss Mimsy, the little seamstress who occupied the ground floor parlour, knew that every evening as he returned from his offices, Mr Snickerty would call for his supper, like the Merry Old King Cole of the nursery rhyme. And Mr Blotter, the unseasoned young clerk who availed himself of the attic, knew that at that signal, Mrs Pilfer, the goodly gentleman's cook, housekeeper and much more besides, would quickly wash down the brandy and water that she was nursing, and rush to charge Mr Snickerty 's table 91
with such vittles as are required by a gentleman of import, when he returns home from a busy day in his chambers. On occasion, Mr Snickerty might append other trifles of conversation to his instruction, regaling Mrs Pilfer, and thus the other occupants of the building, with details of his day, the state of his health, or some scandal or other with which he had become acquainted. This evening he started upon an enquiry, but got as far as "And has that -" before thinking better of it and reverting to silence. What he had intended to say was, "And has that fool Pinscher arrived yet?" but being a gentleman of some foresight, he stopped himself when it occurred to him that the expected person may indeed be present, and may not express any great delight in being referred to as a fool. It was a wise precaution, for Mr Snickerty gained his apartment to find that Mrs Pilfer had already been busy. A vigorous fire crackled in the grate, the table was submerged beneath a satisfying quantity of cold meats and cheeses, and the aforesaid gentleman, Mr Martin Pinscher, had his legs firmly beneath it, sucking the meat off a chicken drumstick. "Ah Snickerty, old fellow!" said Mr Pinscher with such evident surprise, that it did not occur to him to stop eating as he spoke. "Excellent bird, this," he continued, scattering morsels of masticated meat across the table in his haste to sing its praises. Anyone meeting Mr Pinscher for the first time might forgive him this discourtesy, since the fellow looked as thin and emaciated as the 92
chicken bone he waved so enthusiastically in the air. What they would not be aware of, is that this appearance was Mr Pinscher's natural state. No matter how many fowl he devoured, bones and all and it had amounted to a fair few during his lifetime - Mr Pinscher retained the appearance of a frail and listless marionette, that has been abandoned by its master. His long, splinter-like limbs never appeared to develop any meat on them, despite the dizzying number of pies and pastries that he consumed. His pale, sunken cheeks remained concave, even as he was filling them with divers biscuits and puddings. It was a wonder that Mr Pinscher ever found the strength to lift food to his mouth, but lift it he did and in quantities that would cripple another man, and bankrupt Mr Pinscher if ever he was required to pay for it himself. He was momentarily distracted by the arrival of a large pie, borne aloft by Mrs Pilfer, who evidently feared that the banquet was not extensive enough already. Mrs Pilfer was not the sturdiest of housekeepers. Certainly, she was not nearly as substantial as the pasty that she endeavoured to transport, and as a result her progress towards the table was somewhat faltering and uncertain. This, combined with her wayward limbs, a bearing that was naturally off-centre and a shakiness arising from an afternoon spent making an inventory of her master's liquor cabinet, gave rise to grave doubts that the plate would ever arrive at the table replete with its original contents. If Mr Pinscher was a betting man - and this history will go some distance towards establishing that he was - he would have 93
laid a handsome wager on the pie coming to grief, upended on the floor. As it turned out, he would have lost his stake, since Mrs Pilfer managed to land the pie safely on an uncluttered corner of the table. This achievement came not only as a surprise to Mr Pinscher, but also to one other, for accompanying both pie and Pilfer into the room, and gazing at the former with a lustiness almost equal to Pinscher's, was a plump and sluggish brown and white terrier. The disappointment on its chubby, tufted face at Mrs Pilfer's successful delivery of the foodstuff was very nearly heart-breaking, and it whimpered softly once it became apparent that the pie was not destined for the floor. Not that the animal would have suffered greatly by forgoing the occasional meal. Lacking a son and heir, Mr Snickerty had seen fit to lavish all his attention and favour on his pet and, such favour being mostly dietary, the animal's bowed legs and sagging belly endowed it with more than a little resemblance to its owner. "Settle down, Hermes," Mr Snickerty told the dog absently, falsely labouring under the impression that the creature was all of a dither at his return. In fact, the dog showed barely any regard for its master's presence, and as Mrs Pilfer swept from the room, a good deal more nimbly now that she was unburdened, and returned to the kitchen in search of something to settle her nerves, the dog, without taking its eyes off the heaving table, lay down to patiently wait its turn. "I hope you're feeling lucky tonight, Snickerty," Mr Pinscher declared, reluctantly setting the 94
drumstick aside so that he could better concentrate on the pie, and ignoring a low and menacing growl from the dog. "I aim to win back every penny I lost last week, and twice more besides." Mr Snickerty sighed. His weekly games of Shove-a-Duck or Three Card Spaniard were a tradition that had been established many years ago. At first these evenings had proved a pleasant diversion, then a routine, and finally an ordeal that he nevertheless attempted to endure in the best humour. Whatever pleasure he gained was moderated by a growing undercurrent of impatience, and whatever monies he won, when he won, was more than offset by the devastating impact that Mr Pinscher invariably had upon his larder. Nevertheless, he made the effort because he knew how happy it made Mr Pinscher to spend one evening in each week away from his wife and family. "And how is Mrs Pinscher?" Snickerty asked, too well versed in the social niceties to omit enquiring after the good lady's health, even if his friend would rather she wasn't recalled to mind at this point. "She is well," Pinscher replied, putting a brave face on it. "Leastways, she was trilling to herself like a linnet when I left her this morning, so I assumed she was in fine spirits." "And the children?" Mr Snickerty asked. "Full of devilment, as children often are," Mr Pinscher replied. "They want for nothing, save perhaps a little discipline, but that I leave to their mother. I confess I don't have the energy to keep abreast of them." Mr Pinscher shook his head, and 95
for a moment he looked genuinely crestfallen. "Listen Snickerty, you don't know how lucky you are. I envy you your bachelorhood." Mr Snickerty drew his breath sharply over his teeth. "Surely not?" he responded, though with little in the way of verisimilitude. Much to Mr Pinscher's dismay, he reached out for the largest and plumpest of the drumsticks, settled into an elbow chair, and embarked on a series of exploratory nibbles. "Here speaks a man with a devoted wife," he said, jabbing the drumstick into the air to punctuate his speech, "an adoring family, and a position which affords him the respect of the district, invites the jealousy of his inferiors and provides for a most comfortable mode of living indeed. And what has such a man to envy in me? These dusty and dismal rooms? Mrs Pilfer, perhaps? Sir, say the word and you may have her. Or perhaps you crave the companionship of this flea-bitten hound here?" To emphasise the question, Mr Snickety tossed the chicken bone to the dog, having decided, after barely denting the item, that he wasn't really hungry at all. Mr Pinscher could not disguise his dismay, as the animal proceeded to tear it apart. "No sir," Mr Snickerty continued, too preoccupied to mark the tear that sprang to his friend's eye. "It is I who should envy you." Mr Pinscher could only nod. Everything Mr Snickerty said was true: his wife, his family, and most especially his position. For although Mr Pinscher could never hope to be held in the same reverence as his celebrated acquaintance, his role as 96
gatherer of the council's taxes afforded him equal power. If Mr Snickerty was known to all as 'The Adjudicator', then Mr Pinscher enjoyed equal notoriety as 'The Collector' and his appearance at the door in pursuit of arrears invariably guaranteed a satisfying quantum of deference. Nevertheless, Mr Pinscher could not allow the notion that he lived a life of domestic and professional bliss to go entirely unchallenged. "Yes, yes," he said, as he picked up a boiled egg and absently rolled it around his palm. "You are right, of course, about all those things. My wife is devoted, though she often chooses to express this as disapproval of some of my more innocent habits. And my children idolise me, although they occasionally allow their idolatry to be overshadowed by their adoration of their mother. And my position does indeed allow me to enjoy some measure of respect, although it is frequently not without its trials." Warming to his subject, he abandoned the egg on a side plate and clapped his hands. "By way of example, today I visited a most irresponsible citizen in Cardew Street." His own words caused him a momentary shiver, and his hand went to his forehead. "Cardew Street!" he cried. "If ever there was a more loathsome cauldron of humankind than that which you are unlucky to find bubbling away in Cardew Street, then I have yet to encounter it. And I have no wish to ever encounter it, for the people of Cardew Street give me more than my fill of trouble as it is. No public responsibility, that's the trouble. They're happy to enjoy all the perks and the amenities that the borough council, in its 97
munificence, has the good grace to supply, but will they pay their taxes? No sir, they will not." Mr Snickerty sorrowfully shook his head. Suddenly overcome with thirst, he searched round for refreshment, and upon finding none, commanded Mrs Pilfer to bring in the port. Then, seeing that his friend was all wind and thunder, and that the storm was not about to blow itself out, he permitted him to proceed. "This fellow I called upon today was hewn of the same stuff," The Collector continued. "Hadn't paid a penny this last six months, and it came very plain to me during the course of our talk that he had no intention of doing so. He spun me stories, sir. Told me fanciful tales of having no money, no work and no prospects. He took off his shoe, showed me the leather all worn through and tattered. Then he took me to the kitchen and showed me the stove, cold and lifeless and unused - he had no fuel, he said, to fire it; and no food to cook upon it if he had. And these stories, are what he offered me in lieu of money. Consider what we might do with tales of worn out shoes and empty pans, I told him, but my words had little effect. How is the borough to provide for him?" "It is indeed a strain on the public purse," Mr Snickerty agreed. "It is a marvel that the council is generous enough to do all these things for this fellow." "Generosity is perhaps our greatest fault when it comes to dealing with such unsociable attitudes," Mr Pinscher replied. "Perhaps tomorrow the bailiff may have more success where I had none, but I 98
think not. The stories are the same wherever I go." "I little doubt it, for I am well acquainted with those same fictions," Mr Snickerty grumbled. He leaned back into his chair, head slumped in a posture that was designed to take some of the weight off his chins. "One hears every day the same tawdry tales from people who claim they are unable to feed and clothe themselves. They turn up at our office daily, plump and well-shod and making demands on our charity." As he spoke, Mrs Pilfer tottered in with a tarnished silver tray bearing the port, already uncorked, and two mismatched goblets. She began making her way to the table, red faced and glassy eyed, when Mr Snickerty diverted her with a gesture and bid her set the tray down on the occasional table beside his chair. This done, she moved off in the same manner as she arrived, managing to find the doorway on only the third attempt, and finally exited the room. "Why just last week," Mr Snickerty began, but was interrupted by a crash and a clatter from the kitchen. He cocked an ear and listened, and taking the low moan that issued from that quarter to be a signal that his housekeeper was alive and well, he began again. "Why, just last week," he said, picking up the port and registering a brief stutter of surprise at its lack of weight. He upended it into his goblet, but it issued barely enough liquid to wet the bottom of the glass. Mumbling to himself, he set it down and, determined to ignore the soft whimpering that now drifted from the kitchen, he began once more. "Last week," he said, folding his hands across 99
his belly, like a proud father embracing his child, "we received a visit from a most extraordinary woman, who rode into town on a pig. Twenty miles, all told, the animal had carried her, and no doubt she had been cheered on her way by many low and disreputable characters along the route. She claimed to be lame, which infirmity was the sole cause of her inability to find employment. This pig, so she explained, was the only means of transport available to her." "Extraordinary!" exclaimed Mr Pinscher, although it was not certain whether his interest was roused by this uncommon mode of conveyance, or by the vague suggestion of sausages. "A pig, you say? The ingenuity of these people! She wanted assistance, I take it?" "She wanted money, Mr Pinscher, let us not be coy," said Mr Snickerty. "Pounds, shillings and pence were what she was after, and by this ridiculous stunt, pounds, shillings and pence is what she hoped to get." "I take it that you disappointed her?" the collector asked. "Unquestionably," returned the adjudicator. "The Department of Working Peoples is, as I am sure you know, the very jewel in the coronet of our modern state. We pride ourselves that through the provision of funds for those individuals who find themselves, through illness or injury, unable to work, no man may suffer to go to his bed feeling hungry and cold. The dark days of poverty and despair are long behind us now that the state has made this contract with the people to ensure the 100
welfare of all, from its richest and most noble gentry, to the humblest and most vulnerable infant. Now, we can't very well maintain such a commitment by handing out money to all and sundry. Why, it is plain to see that the whole scheme would come crashing down around our ears if we engaged in such foolhardy benevolence. And so I told this woman, pig or no pig, if we were to - " Mr Snickerty was interrupted by a sharp rap at the door, which occasioned sufficient surprise to very nearly cause him to jump from his chair. He wasn't expecting anyone at this hour. He looked to Mr Pinscher and was about to ask him if he anticipated a visit, when he realised that this might seem a foolish question to ask of a guest. A second knock brought him to his senses, and he reasoned that a knock on a person's door naturally demanded an answer. He called for Mrs Pincher, but the only sounds now coming from the kitchen were heavy snoring, and so he rose and unfastened the door himself. "Mr Snickerty?" said the silhouette framed in the doorway. The landing was dark, and Mr Snickerty could not make out the man's features, but his outline was ragged, his posture was stooped and he had about him the odour of old leather and horses. "The same," acknowledged Mr Snickerty, managing to imbue those meagre words with a palpable measure of impatience. The visitor moved forward slightly so that the light from within fell across his face. His eyes were dark and hooded. Hair hung limply around his 101
forehead and the skin of his cheeks and chin was pock-marked and grey. Yet despite this striking appearance his demeanour remained respectful, and his voice was shot through with soft humility. "Mr Snickerty, I am wery sorry to intrude upon you in private, sir" he said, keeping his voice low. "I wundered if I could have a word. I know the hour is late - so it is for me, sir, perhaps more than you can know, but it cannot wait." Mr Snickerty writhed irritably, but the fellow appeared in earnest, and the adjudicator reasoned that it would be more expedient to hear him out, than turn him away. He grunted, and beckoned him in, and returned to his elbow chair and his empty goblet. The visitor nodded a polite acknowledgement upon seeing Mr Pinscher, and remained standing, restlessly fiddling with the tattered hem of his threadbare coat, as he waited his turn to speak. But before he could, Mr Pinscher startled him with a sudden exclamation. "I know this man!" he declared, as he paused with a hunk of beef that he had speared with his fork, mid-way to his mouth. He set the implement down on the side of his plate. "Well, well! Another one of those wretched citizens of Cardew Street who does not feel the need to pay his council taxes. I've had occasion to visit the fellow more than once. Mr Gates, is it not?" "Wanting, sir," the visitor corrected him. "The name is Jacob Wanting, Mr Pinscher, sir, and Blacktop Road is where you have visited me in my 'umble home. You remember, I'm sure, what I told you that day, and never did I ever speak a truer 102
word, or bless me, let the shade of my dear old departed mother strike me down. I told you I had paid my taxes for many years, sir, before my present misfortunes were visited upon me, since when I have been unable." "Ha!" Mr Pinscher cried. "And yet, despite your lack of contributions, you nevertheless remain capable of enjoying the benefits that we provide: your streets are illuminated, your roads are mended, your refuse is hauled away and there is even a constable to keep you safe while you and your family lie abed. What do you say to that, Mr Wanting? Are you not looked after? "I'm sure I must be, sir, I don't doubt," replied Jacob Wanting. "Between yourself and Mr Snickerty here, and my old missus and my blessed departed mother, I must be wery well looked after indeed. Although I should say that Blacktop Road is a dark and dirty neighbourhood, and the constables, they never come nowhere near it. But I know that the borough has provided those splendid new council chambers, for us all, and by all accounts it is a most magnificent building, although I myself am not allowed admittance, sir. And I have heard that a 'andsome sum has been lavished on the mayor's new coach. A very impressive carriage it is too, because I have watched it from a distance, and it does me good to know that his worshipfulness and his fine friends can travel in such comfort and style, sir." Mr Pinscher did not reply. He merely grunted and picked up his fork to continue his assault on the table. Jacob Wanting turned to address the 103
adjudicator. "And Mr Snickerty, sir, we have also met, not one week ago when I came to your offices to ask for an allowance, though I didn't never ask for any charity before, this being the first time and out of absolute necessity." Mr Snickerty shrugged, and failed to meet the visitor's eye. "I see so many people," he said. "I cannot be expected to remember every face." "Of course, sir, of course," Jacob Wanting said. He shuffled restlessly. "Only, on that occasion, my request was turned down, sir." Mr Snickerty waved a hand. "So many are," he said. "Even our generosity can only stretch to the most deserving of cases." "The most deserving indeed, Mr Snickerty, sir, and I have no doubt that those most deserving folk are so wery thankful for your kindness," said Jacob Wanting, and hesitated before he spoke next. "And for the others," he said slowly. "Them that don't deserve - well, I'm sure that they are no less grateful that you should have taken the time to make a judgement. But I wonder whether there might be some sitivation where you might want to..." And here words failed Jacob Wanting. Mr Snickerty looked up and briefly caught his eye, before the visitor turned his attention to the floor. "Well?" Mr Snickerty demanded, leaning forward in his chair. "You will do me a great disservice if you disrupt me at this hour merely to examine my floorboards and leave me guessing as to the nature of your business. Situations where I might want to what?" "To reconsider, Mr Snickerty, sir," Jacob 104
Wanting said quietly. "Reconsider!" Mr Snickerty said. "Why I've never heard of such a thing." Mr Snickerty glanced to his friend, the collector. "Reconsider, he says! I am the adjudicator! Mr Wanting, when I judge something to be so, it remains so, and requires no reconsideration. It is your own case that you wish me to reconsider, I take it?" Mr Snickerty calmed down a little and leaned back in his chair, and then somewhat surprisingly said: "Very well, I will hear your story, and I shall pronounce judgement. But I warn you, by this act I will demonstrate two things: firstly that I am as charitable with my time as I am with the departments funds; and secondly, that my decisions never - never, I tell you - necessitate revision." Jacob Wanting nodded in gratitude. "I won't take much of your time, Mr Snickerty, sir," he said. "If you'll allow me to acquaint you with a little of my history. I have worked all my life, sir, since I was a boy. Lately I have earned a 'umble but honest wage in the stables of some rich and respectable gentlemen of this city. I have paid my taxes to the council, when I could." Here he politely acknowledged Mr Pinscher. "And I have discharged my duties to the crown. No man could ever claim that I shirked my responsibilities to my family or to my country. Neither have I ever given my employers cause for complaint, so strike me down if I utter a false word. And during my working years, Mr Snickerty, sir, if I did not earn myself a fortune, at least I earned myself a reputation as a trustworthy and dependable fellow. " 105
"My, how the wretch goes on!" remarked Mr Pinscher, idly fingering a crust. "Indeed he does," Mr Snickerty agreed, making great theatre of stifling a yawn. He addressed Jacob sharply: "You have done all that is expected of you, and nothing more besides. In this there is nothing so remarkable as to explain you waiting upon me now. Come sir; explain the purpose of your visit." "My purpose is this, sirs," Jacob continued, though he gave no indication that he would be hurried. "You gentlemen would agree, I'm sure, that a man cannot live on his reputation alone. He must have bread and water, and a roof above his head, and clothes for himself and his family. Reputation cannot give a man such things. Hard toil can, but ever since I suffered a horse's kick in the service of my master, I can work no more. The blow from that wayward mare did not just break my back, it crushed my spirit and any hope I ever had of earning another penny in my chosen trade." Mr Pinscher chuckled softly to himself, and Jacob was sufficiently disturbed by this unexpected reaction, that he momentarily abandoned etiquette, and asked him what he found so funny. "I believe I comprehend exactly why that poor nag delivered you such a knock," the collector replied with a sneer. "I fear the animal must have been driven to distraction by your meandering monologues." A flicker of a smile played around Mr Snickerty's lips, but he resisted the temptation of an open display of mirth. "Nevertheless," the adjudicator said. "This fellow's story is a familiar one, and his visit is now recalled to me. Correct me 106
if I am wrong, Mr Wanting, but am I mistaken in remembering that your assessment was interrupted?" "That's right, Mr Snickerty, sir," said Jacob. "The pain overtook me, as it often does nowadays, and I couldn't finish the tests." "We subject applicants to a number of simple tests," Mr Snickerty explained, in response to Mr Pinscher's quizzical look. "We make them stand, make them sit, ask them to pick up items from the floor, and we award points for each task they cannot perform. By such means we can establish whether the applicant really is as inconvenienced as he claims to be." "Capital!" Mr Pinscher said approvingly. "Make sure the fellows are not playing you for a fool and taking advantage of your charity, eh? Very wise." He gestured lazily at Jacob. "And this chap got found out, did he? Is that it?" "I was unable to finish the tests, Mr Pinscher, sir," said Jacob, "on account of the pain that took a hold of my back, and shot down through my legs, and made it so that I couldn't stand, nor sit, nor do any of the things that Mr Snickerty would have me do. And that is why I would like you to reconsider my case, Mr Snickerty sir, if you would see your way to do so." Mr Snickerty made a steeple of his fingers and pressed them thoughtfully to his lips. Then he tutted and gently shook his head. "Well, I really don't see that there is any cause," he pronounced. "The situation, as it presents itself, is very clear. Everyone who is awarded an allowance must score 107
at least fifteen points in the assessment. You did not. There really is no need for re-evaluation." "But Mr Snickerty, sir," Jacob protested. "I didn't take the tests." Mr Snickerty grew irritable. "And therefore you scored nought," he snapped testily. "Really, I fail to see why you need to labour this point. It is surely apparent to even the most muddle-headed of fellows that a failure to take the test will result in a failure to be awarded the allowance?" "Yes, but..." Jacob Wanting haltingly continued. Circumstances were such that he had no option but to persevere, and no hope unless he was able to persuade the adjudicator to reverse his decision. "Mr Snickerty, sir, I don't like to have to beleaguer you like this, but there is no food on my table, and I have no means to earn it. The missus, she says I should come here and ask if you will think again, and she's right, is my missus, because if you won't help, then we will starve." "Listen, you ill-mannered windbag," Mr Pinscher abruptly interceded, having found that this visitor's words were interfering with his digestion, at a time when his digestive system had more than enough to contend with already. "Mr Snickerty here has had the good manners to consider your plea." That eminent gentleman shot his friend a look which seemed to suggest that he was more than equal to dealing with this increasingly annoying intrusion himself, but Mr Pinscher failed to read the meaning of the expression, and carried on regardless. "He has decided to stand by his original decision," the collector continued. "It is not for you 108
to question his verdict, nor to encroach upon his time a moment longer." Jacob Wanting stood his ground, with the stubborn resignation of a man with no other options left open to him. "But, gentlemen, is it fair?" he implored. "I ask you now, here am I a man incapable of earning a farthing for himself by the sweat of his own brow, and I am denied help because I am too ill to even to undertake the tests. This cannot be right." Mr Snickerty got to his feet. "My judgement stands, just as I said it would," he said. "It is unnatural that you should question it. Society determines that we live by certain rules, and that where judgements need to be made, decisions are taken only by those persons possessed of the impeccable good sense to take them. By these rules, and by my judgement, you do not qualify for assistance, and therefore assistance you shall not have. That is my final word, sir." By Mr Snickerty's lofty demeanour, Jacob Wanting knew that further argument would be fruitless, so he thanked the gentlemen that they had at least heard him out, and then he left quietly. Mr Snickerty did not feel in the best of humours, as he fastened the door behind him. His friend, Mr Pinscher, was more animated as he remarked upon the nerve of their visitor. But Mr Snickerty dismissed his comments. Such encounters were commonplace in his business, he said. "Though very rarely do they follow me home," he added as returned to the table and began to load up a plate with a variety of meats and cheeses. 109
"Not even when they come riding swine?" Mr Pinscher asked impishly, recalling their earlier conversation, and causing Mr Snickerty to laugh. "No," the adjudicator replied, returning to his chair with his plate fully laden. "No, not even then." "Curious though," said the collector, "that this woman you spoke of should arrive at your chambers, claiming to be incapable of feeding herself. Now that I have given the matter some thought, it occurs to me that all the while she is pleading poverty, she is in possession of an animal that could grace her table for the best part of a month." Mr Snickerty agreed. "I was sensible of just such a possibility," he said. "But when I raised the point, the woman protested that she could not eat her only means of transport, and so there the matter rested. Or at least, so I thought, for several days later I learned that the pig had expired whilst it was carrying her home. I am optimistic that, unless she can acquire another sturdy hog to carry her to my door, I will have seen the last of her." He tore off a chunk of bread, and chewed it thoughtfully. "It's a pity of course," he said. "A very real shame." "You feel sorry for the woman?" the collector asked. "Heavens no!" the adjudicator answered. "There's no cause for sympathy in the case of a duplicitous, malingering burden on the state such as she... But that was a very impressive pig. Oh yes, I would have given a great deal for a pig like that." Mr Snickerty shouted for more port, but his demands went unheeded. Mrs Pilfer was sound 110
asleep on the kitchen table, and far too wound up in her own befuddled dreams to answer her employer's call. Mr Snickerty fetched the bottle for himself, and he and Mr Pinscher spent the remainder of the evening in pleasant conversation, as they gradually picked the table clean. Meanwhile, Hermes, the little dog, sat at their feet where he received a steady supply of scraps and morsels, and remained the only recipient of Messrs Snickerty and Pinscher's munificence that evening.
Introducing FLYING SQUIRRELS
Yes indeed! Away with everyday traffic jams, be gone tiresome railway waiting rooms and congested bus terminals, with DOCTOR GLORIA PLANKTON's new flying course it's Hello Blue Skies as you soar gracefully through the heavens like something that soars gracefully through the heavens quite a lot. DOCTOR GLORIA PLANKTON says: "With my course FLYING CAN BE FUN!" The good doctor has spent many years in a mud hut in Bolivia contemplating the trials and tribulations of daily commuting - and also eating a lot of strange pink beans - and has reached many fascinating conclusions. "I discovered that eating strange pink beans gives you guts ache," says THE DOCTOR. "I also discovered that as far as transport is concerned we can take a lesson from nature. Look at the animals of the forest, frolicking about and eating each 112
other just as nature intended. They don't have to worry about traffic jams and airport delays, do they? Let us take as our example the humble worm. He seems a happy little fellow, doesn't he? That's because to get from one place to another all he has to do is wriggle. You may well scoff, but when have you ever heard of a worm being involved in a pileup on the M4? A great many people believe that worms do untold damage to their private parts by dragging them along the ground, but this is not the case. Worms wriggle along on their backs with their genitals in the air, where they are fairly safe until the birds come and peck at them." DOCTOR GLORIA PLANKTON has spent much time in particular studying the flying squirrels of South America, who originally took to the air because they were fed up with having their nuts trodden on whilst scampering about the forest floor.
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DOCTOR PLANKTON has devised a special course, which will help YOU to fly like a squirrel. However, it must be understood that the ability to 113
fly is not something that is easily mastered. Hanging in mid-air is not a position that many people find naturally comfortable, and it should be recognised that although the position is relatively easy to achieve, it is much more difficult to maintain. Potential aviators should be warned now that the way to becoming airborne is not paved with comfy chairs and scatter cushions. Oh no, indeed not. It is a path of disappointment and hard knocks - knocks that become increasingly harder as you gain altitude.
For those of you who are already disillusioned or doubtful, then read on no further. Soaring in the slipstreams and riding the thermals is not the life for you. But for those of you who take the view that flying into the side of a house at forty knots is nothing but a drop in the wide ocean of pain and anguish, then
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About Paul Farnsworth
Paul Farnsworth is a British author who lives in Derbyshire, where he's kept behind glass and only allowed out once a year to dance amongst the whispering wheat fields and watch rainbows spitting coloured gobbets of fractured light from cloudless skies. He has never been to Wigan, doesn't own a strimmer and any suggestions of impropriety involving a dental technician on or near the premises of Carl's Noodle Emporium in Nottingham are entirely the result of wishful thinking.
About The University of the Bleeding Obvious The University of the Bleeding Obvious is an original British comedy website, which began at the tail end of 1999. Up until 2006 it was updated monthly, giving birth to a plethora of bizarre and unlikely stories, variously concerning the manufacture of nuns, the use of combat cutlery during World War II, final proof of the existence of cheese, the UK's first flying carrot and... oh... loads more improbable fluffiness. In recent years updates have been periodic and have included features on the embarrassment of nasal hair loss, exploding dogs, the Great Disco Rush of 1978 and a series of podcasts from Dr Adolphous Bongo, simultaneously the nation's most respected and unhelpful GP. But why am I telling you this when you can see for yourself at www.bleeding-obvious.co.uk? 117
Also Available The University of the Bleeding Obvious: Volume 1 Published 2006 The first bumper collection of material from the celebrated British comedy website, The University of the Bleeding Obvious, covering the period 2000-2006. Includes Bouncing Sheep, Wensleydale Cheese Caverns, Nuclear Gardening, the mini epic Venus by Catapult, 10 Things You Never Knew About Frogs, Cosmic Apathy and many more. UK Paperback: http://www.amazon.co.uk/UniversityBleeding-Obvious-Paul-Farnsworth/dp/1492989762/ UK Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/UniversityBleeding-Obvious-1-ebook/dp/B00EYKR438/ US Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/UniversityBleeding-Obvious-Paul-Farnsworth/dp/1492989762/ US Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/The-UniversityBleeding-Obvious-Volume-ebook/dp/B00EYKR438/
The University of the Bleeding Obvious: Volume Two Published 2011 The second volume of material from The University of the Bleeding Obvious tells you much more than you needed to know about Oven Chimps, Monks' Tea Parties, Nobby Wentworth's Pet Surgery, Optimum Leaning Angles, how to make Bubbles, Wind Tunnels, Global Moistening, Shaving the Moon, Mountain Rescue, Belgium and much more. In fact, we thought you might like to stop for lunch halfway through, so we've included a handy little section on sandwiches. Because everybody likes sandwiches. UK Paperback: http://www.amazon.co.uk/UniversityBleeding-Obvious-Two/dp/1493523058/ UK Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/UniversityBleeding-Obvious-2-ebook/dp/B00EYCR2DI/ US Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/The-UniversityBleeding-Obvious-Volume/dp/1493523058/ US Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/The-UniversityBleeding-Obvious-Volume-ebook/dp/B00EYCR2DI/
Recalled to Life The University of the Bleeding Obvious Volume III To be published in 2014
The third collection from the long-running UK comedy website, gathers together articles published online between 2006 and 2013, plus previously unpublished material. Includes Scrufty' Magic Juju Shoppe, Ancient Troutlore, Empire of the Flowers, The Fourth International Arse Kicking Championships, and more.
Death Doom and Disaster Published 2006
When Geoff Dickson left work one foggy evening he didn't expect to wind up being chased across an alien landscape by giant snails intent on ripping him limb from limb. But that's what happens if you get yourself involved with irritating old men who hang around in toilets. Pitched into the middle of an epic conflict between the murderous Mucons and their arch enemies, the golfloving citizens of Squirreltopia, Geoff must brave a pack of homicidal cars and avoid getting his nuts harvested in order to find his way home...
UK Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-DoomDisaster-Paul-Farnsworth-ebook/dp/B00EYD4IXY/ US Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Death-DoomDisaster-Paul-Farnsworth-ebook/dp/B00EYD4IXY/
Goldilocks and the Free Bears Published 2006
When Mr and Mrs Bear are framed for a murder they didn't commit, they're forced to hit the road in an effort to clear their names. What follows is an epic struggle for justice, featuring, among other things, the Loch Ness Monster, a potato with gunshot wounds and the occasional interspatial warp matrix interface.
UK Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Goldilocks-FreeBears-Paul-Farnsworth-ebook/dp/B00EYDCPFC/ US Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Goldilocks-FreeBears-Paul-Farnsworth-ebook/dp/B00EYDCPFC/
Quick Reads Two short collections free to download
The Bongo Lectures Published 2012
The History of Rock Published 2013
Dr Adolphous Bongo, everyone's favourite family doctor, presents his twisted views on a number of subjects, including Moles, Farm Machinery, Shopping and Remotely Activated Biometric Implants.
Professor Ricky Stratocaster, visiting Professor of Funk at the Kentucky Institute of Twangology, presents The History of Rock.
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Published on Dec 6, 2014
Showcasing stupid stories from thirteen years of the UK comedy website, 12 Slices of The University of the Bleeding Obvious draws material f...