Madazine - Part One

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Madazine is a collection of zany items of varying lengths. Part One contains the first ten and more will follow.

Submitted: January 01, 2017

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Submitted: January 01, 2017

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Madazine - Part One

Madazine comprises a large number of items, ranging from 300 to 1,600 words in length. Some are stand-alone, while others form series, the latter being Professor Ovis Jopp’s scientific exploits, Sir Bertram Utterside’s social commentaries, the ill-fated mountaineering expedition led by Tevor Node, the correspondence between cosmonaut Dweedles and home planet, and the engineering feats of Kevin Spout, widely known as Yorkshire’s own Leonardo da Vinci. The posting below is the first issue of  Madazine. Others will follow.

The first piece appears below, preceded by an introduction to the Madazine staff.

The Madazine Team

Editor: Will Rider-Hawes (70 but sprightly, British) – Gee-Gee to friends.
Sub-editor: Tom Bola (45, Slovakian) – has no friends.
Reporter: Trixie Larkspur (29, British) – friendly, intrusive.
Proof-reader: Meya Culper (34, British – she says) – dour, hostile.
Typesetter: Phyllis Tyne (56, British) – detached, distant.
PR officer: Bella Donner (42, Canadian) – acerbic, dominative.
General Admin: Rick O’Shea (17, Australian) – troubled, inaccessible.
Cleaner: Sherry Tipple (39, going on 60, British) – desensitised.

Note: In addition to the work of our permanent staff, articles on science and some social issues are contributed by freelancer Axel Griess (49, South African) – nihilistic, horizontal.

* * *

Surprises In Store

A startling new shopping concept was introduced yesterday when Priceless Stores opened the first of a projected nationwide chain of supermarkets. Costs of all items are set at opening time and shown on a large control board, linked to the tills and updated continuously. Special offers are indicated by a crawler strip crossing the bottom of the main display in TV news channel style. Variations in supply levels are noted by two patrolling inspectors, whose reports cause prices to rise or fall, reflecting the assessed values of remaining items. Ebullient manager Rod Perch explained:

“It’s a bit like Wall Street, or maybe a flea market – if there’s any difference. Our boss got the idea from a book on physics, where he came upon Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Basically, customers try to outwit the store and vice versa. People select items, referring to the control board, but there may be changes before the goods are checked out. On reaching the tills, purchasers are roped off and committed to buy, irrespective of price movements. Complaints are not entertained: punters must accept the rules.”

Perch took a brief phone call, then went on: “Employing a couple of monitors is labour-intensive, but there’s no choice. We used our own staff to experiment with shelf sensors, designed to detect the weight borne, relative to the items concerned, but it was hopeless. You’ve no idea how devious people can be. The favourite trick was to put bricks on the shelves before removing any goods, thus deluding the electronics into thinking that stocks were high and that therefore, prices were low. Human nature is disgusting.”

Speed is vital, as shopper Dudley Herring learned. “The trick is,” he said, “to buy cheap goods close to the check-outs, then get them through quickly. Yesterday, I bought eighteen packets of washing powder for £3.10 each. My transaction raised the price of the remaining twelve packs to £6.60 a time, but I’m all right for some years.”

Added obscurity arises from re-stocking being completely random, with shelves refilled by staff members whose work does not necessarily relate to what has been bought. The gamble is completed by a daily ‘crash-out’, when the manager, at whim, switches off the control board, which is reactivated ten seconds later, the prices having rotated willy-nilly. An extreme case was the transposition of dried fruit and spirits. Thus, computer programmer Andy Trout paid 59p each for two bottles of cognac, while struggling widow Edna Salmon forked out £13 for a kilo of raisins.

Teacher Daphne Whitebait was slightly disappointed after picking up eight tins of baked beans at an indicated price of 18p apiece. Unfortunately for the young lady, nimble pensioner Alice Haddock followed her to the shelf but beat her to the till, having bought twenty-three tins, the checking out of which cleared the stock, raising Ms Whitebait’s identical purchases to 77p each. “C’est la vie,” said Daphne philosophically, adding: “I don’t mind too much. Maybe I’ll fare better tomorrow.”

If this catches on, the National Lottery could suffer.

* * *

Beyond The Crunch

It was perhaps predictable that the ranks of cosmic evolutionists would be augmented by Professor Ovis Jopp (pronounced Yopp), the lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’, regarded by some as the greatest scientist of our time. Jopp says that although he has yet to apply a few touches, his contribution is the most significant one to date. He accepts that there was a big bang about 14 billion years ago, but opposes many cosmologists by maintaining that this will be reversed. The fearless Nordic scholar went further, predicting what will follow the crunch.

Never afraid to demonstrate his ideas, Professor Jopp tried out this one in a field near Narvik, where he took a gigantic green balloon and festooned its surface with blobs of clay to simulate the galaxies. Respecting his penchant for using the lowest technology for any given task, he employed student volunteers, who took turns on a car foot pump to produce a vast globe, into which Jopp had initially inserted his famous secret green box. Then the team, working on fast-retracting gantries at staggered heights, deflated the sphere with simultaneous pinpricks.

Recovery of the green box revealed the strange phenomena of post-crunch physics. The shrinkage will be so violent that not only will everything be squashed to a virtual zero point, but will then emerge inverted in an explosion following the collapse. There will be counter-galaxies, counter-solar systems and even a counter- Earth, where humans and buildings will be, as it were, upside down inside the crust, retained in place by reverse gravity. Waving a foot-long cigar of green seaweed, Jopp added that the new cosmos would have an emerald hue.

Earlier explanations of our universe will, the professor suggests, be overtaken by his findings. “We can forget Einstein’s E equals whatever it was,” he said. “My proposition is far more elegant. The mathematical notions are abstruse, but in layman’s terms, the resultant equation is IF=EP, meaning that implosive force equals emitted power. I don’t think there will ever be any advance on this.”

Not everyone agrees. Professor Jopp’s arch rival, the ‘Swedish Savant’, Dr Terps Dunderklap, was scathing. “Jopp is an idiot,” he snapped. “He does not realise that apart from those in our solar system, all celestial bodies are thin, carpet-like structures. There will indeed be an implosion as they rush together, heaping themselves one atop the other before collapsing under their own masses, forming a sheet of infinitesimal thickness and virtually infinite length and width, from which nothing will emerge. Jopp will be a part of that flatness and I shall walk over him then as I do now. That might cure him of his obsession with green things. Also, the vapid Viking does not tell us what is inside his balloon. Is he saying that our universe is empty in the middle, with matter only on the surface of an arbitrarily conceived sphere? If so, perhaps he used his head as a template. Incidentally, he could have used, as I did last year, a soccer ball, paper hankies and a dash of nitroglycerine.”

Speaking from a Stockholm girls’ school, Dunderklap, five-foot-four in height and similar in circumference, did not explain how he will survive the compression, while Jopp will succumb. However, Dr D’s prestige is such that no disinterested party is willing to reject his contention, though it does not yet have a title or a supporting equation. When told of it, Jopp was dismissive. Beaming across his green-topped desk, he suggested that ‘The Axminster Theory’ might be appropriate, as he would soon pull the carpet out from under Dunderklap’s feet.

Time, or space-time, will tell which, if either, of these intellectual giants is right.

More of Jopp’s exploits coming up.

* * *

The Node Bulletins: Number One

Tashkent, 14 June. The planning is over. We have reached our start point and are in passably good heart. As leader of the expedition to climb the Snow King, I, Trevor Node, shall issue brief reports of our progress at weekly intervals. I was first here and during the past week have been joined by the other four members of the party; Amanda Flatpole, Ridley Gannett, Hugh Pugh and Desmond Thoroughbrace.

It all seemed so simple when we conceived it three months ago, over drinks in the London headquarters of the Peripatetics Club. However, I must say that I never expected our undertaking to be frictionless. Indeed, when I proposed conquering the great peak, my initiative was immediately contested by Pugh, who observed that the mountain had already been climbed by nine other groups. I silenced him with the reply that there was more than one way of being first, and that I saw no reason why we should not be the first party to take tenth place in subduing the giant. My logic was endorsed by the others and we soon had a plan on the back of an envelope.

We apportioned responsibilities today. Pugh was the natural choice as pathfinder, since during his university days he made the trip from Putney to Mortlake, accompanied by only eight others. Gannett, an ex-grocer, was an obvious selection for quartermaster. Thoroughbrace, a former woodwork teacher, was always destined to be our technician and transport officer, while Flatpole, a health fanatic and linguist, takes charge of hygiene and communications. I, having no speciality, am to be expedition leader. I think it was unkind of Pugh to remark that this was akin to appointing as cricket captain an all-rounder, equally incompetent at batting, bowling and fielding. Sooner or later, this fellow will be troublesome. We shall set out tomorrow.

More Node Bulletins coming up.

* * *

Impatient Patient

The following letter was saved for posterity by our typesetter, Phyllis Tyne. She had applied it to a gas ring, in order to light the revolting stuff she puts into a clay pipe – we haven’t quite caught up with the smoking thing. At the last instant, she realised that the communication might be of interest to some readers. No-one here knows how we came by this item, nor (barring receipt of a confession) are we likely to find out, as the top of the single page was singed by the flames, which obliterated the writer’s name and address, and the signature was unreadable. Anyway, here it is:

Dear Mr X

I write concerning the letter sent to you some time ago by my GP. Regrettably, I do not recall the exact date, as the matter has been obscured by intervening festive seasons, anniversaries, family birthdays, annual holidays, etc., from all of which I infer that you are indeed as overburdened as my doctor feared. You may recall that the problem is a cyst on my right knee.

As it is clearly necessary to alleviate your workload, I have decided to perform the operation myself. I have little medical knowledge, but have been fortunate enough to procure a copy of a book entitled ‘Surgery on the Hoof’, written for the inhabitants of the American Frontier. Although the work was published in 1802, I imagine that basic procedures have not changed much in the meantime. I have assembled almost all the required equipment, much of which, being an average householder, I had to hand. My wife has provided an extra-large ironing board, not dissimilar in shape and size to an operating table. I shall use this as my base, since I do not wish to incur the wrath of the distaff side by possibly defacing our teak dining surface.

My other items comprise an excellent horn-handled knife – a family heirloom – and a small silver mustard spoon. Here, I would have preferred stainless steel, but we do not live in a perfect world. The knife already has a keen edge, but not wishing to leave anything to chance, I shall hone it thoroughly and afterwards dip it in hot water – essential because the oilstone I intend to use has been lying open in my toolbox for over twenty years.

As the offender is at the back of my knee, I am setting up an array of three angled mirrors, in order to, as it were, let the dog see the rabbit. I have conducted a dry run and have found the procedure less complicated than I had first thought. It is rather like reversing an articulated vehicle with more than one trailer. I propose to start by making an incision of about two inches, to expose the growth, which if necessary – you will appreciate that there is an exploratory element here – I shall puncture with a smaller cut, then remove most of the nasty stuff by (a) manual pressure (b) the mustard spoon and (c) a wall-mounted vacuum cleaner. That done, I shall snip away what I assume will be an empty sac. I may be wrong about this, but no matter, as I am very inventive and confident of my ability to handle what comes up. Still, I would not trust myself to complete the excision at an earlier stage.

Up to this point, I do not anticipate much difficulty. However, I am concerned about tying-off and wound closure. My understanding is that catgut is still widely used and as I have none, I wonder whether you could supply me with a short length – a foot or so should do the trick. If you do not have any, please do not put yourself out, as my daughter has offered to lend me an upper E-string from her guitar, which I think would suffice.

Finally, lest you should think that I am adopting a less than completely rigorous approach, let me say that I shall have by me throughout the operation, for internal and external use, a large supply of the strongest product from the house of Smirnoff.

Yours sincerely …

* * *

Guarding The Guards

The recent spate of financial scandals emanating from some of the world’s largest companies has led to much concern as to what is to be done to assure investors that their money is not being frittered away by the deviousness of business leaders. This pressing matter was referred to that doughtiest of investigators, Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor of social studies at one of Britain’s top universities and recently described as ‘The Fearsome Ferret’. Probably few would doubt that Sir Bertram’s advice on major topical issues has become almost indispensable. Happily, he was available to handle yet another hot potato. His comments are given below:

Though not of major importance, this question of how to deal with errant business leaders deserves some attention, concerning as it does the wellbeing of many people. Once more I am asked to address a supposed problem, the solution of which is, as they say, a walk in the park – literally so on this occasion.

In approaching the matter, I found myself indebted to the humorist George Ade, who referred to ‘a people so primitive that they did not know how to get money except by working for it’. One could hardly put it better. What are stock markets but casinos, with opportunists putting their snouts into the troughs, all wanting to make fortunes without doing a stroke of real work? Why? I suggest that they do this because certain city analysts, themselves strangers to genuine effort, demand ever-more sparkling results from what is usually mundane activity. Small wonder that those who actually work often look askance at share-price movements.

In one of my earlier commissions, I referred to the work of Karl Marx and I now draw upon him again, in that I believe he regarded capitalism as a step towards a truly socialist society. I endorse that view. ‘From each as he is able, to each as he requires’ is an attitude that will finally prevail. My apologies if this offends any feminist readers, but I am merely quoting. Anyway, the point is what are we to do about corporate misdeeds?

They say there is nothing new under the Sun and here again, past commentators on the social scenes of their times had much to say. I am mindful of a snippet I once saw in a book preface, to the effect that good is an enduring, unchanging force, while evil continually manifests itself in varying forms. I believe Zarathustra touched upon this two and a half millennia ago. The robber barons of yesterwhen are still with us, in different guises. An associated thought is that expressed by Juvenal, when he posed the question of who should police the police.

There was a time when one could read a company’s accounts, confident that the figures presented an accurate picture of the business concerned. I suggest that we get back to that position by rating auditors in the same way as we now assess those in other fields, such as sport. Many business houses yearn for a good credit rating from a top source. Why not extend this to the book-checkers? One could envisage a situation in which these firms were ranked according to their soundness. A sign-off from an auditor with a triple A rating would be the best available to a company, indicating that everything was tickety-boo. An endorsement from, say, a single A bean-counter might suggest something slightly iffy in the official record, while one from an unrated source would indicate that the accounts were not worth the paper they were printed on.

This raises the question of who would vet the rating agencies, who were supervising the auditors, who were monitoring the companies. These receding shades of overseeing resemble fractal geometry, bringing good old Mandelbrot to mind. I suggest that the final arbiter should be a disinterested member of the academic community. Far be it from me to offer any indication as to who might accept so onerous a duty. I have no more to say.

Further pronouncements from Sir Bertram coming soon.

* * *

No More Quarks

For the second time within three months, the scientific world has been shaken by Professor Ovis Jopp, the lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’. Having dealt with the unimaginably large, the Dutch-born, Norwegian-naturalised polymath turned his incandescent intellect to the opposite end of the size spectrum. He says that we have been misled for decades by the alleged findings of numerous physicists. Jopp ascribes this to excessive communication, contending that having been criticised for remoteness, scientists have over-compensated by announcing a plethora of supposed discoveries, some exaggerated, others totally spurious. He claims that such confusion arises from people operating in teams, the members feeding upon each other’s hare-brained ideas until they don’t know reality from fantasy. Truly great scientists work alone, he maintains.

Jopp’s fertile mind has lately been occupied by the strange world of particle physics. His conclusions are dramatic, debunking seventy years of worldwide work on quantum mechanics. “From Max Planck onwards, they have all been wrong,” said the gaunt genius, speaking in the green room of his fjordside home. “They have been inferring, unjustifiably, ever smaller entities. Once, they were satisfied with protons, neutrons and electrons, then they sought – and supposedly found – an alphabet soup of sub-atomic particles, including quarks, of which they assert that there are six kinds. This is nonsense.”

As ever, Jopp tested his theory by experiment. The site this time was a soccer ground near Hammerfest, where the professor’s team built an immense hollow cube of green polythene, into which progressively smaller cubes were placed, the centre being taken up by Jopp’s celebrated secret green box. “It was a brilliant example of reductio ad nihilis,” smiled the triumphant boffin. “The last eight hundred containers and the green box were inserted by transmural filtration, for which I used an osmotic infuser, which I invented. You could call it a ‘ghost through a wall’ machine.”

What did retrieval of the mysterious box reveal? “Exactly what I expected,” said Jopp. “The atom consists of a single body, the groat, which varies in size according to the element concerned. It comes in shades of green and travels in a quadrilateral path around a massless focus, energy being discharged when the body is sufficiently agitated to lose matter on striking the corners of its circuit, or to coin a word, squarecuit. This is what gives us electricity and, I regret to say, mushroom clouds.”

Asked whether there was an equation involved, Jopp explained the bizarre world of groat mathematics; one in which he says we must abandon common sense and accept that two plus two gives the same answer as two times two. He expressed the formula as E=4GS, meaning that energy in ergs equals four groat strikes in mass loss.

Jopp’s chief critic, Dutch-born Doctor Terps Dunderklap, locally naturalised after many years in Stockholm, was derisive. “Jopp is an ass,” snorted the ‘Swedish Savant’, interviewed outside an Uppsala ladies’ academy. “Also, he is excessively thin. If he would keep abreast of the times, he would know that I demonstrated to my own satisfaction that apart from the electron which puts our lights on, there are no sub-atomic particles. The groat is as unreal as any other. All atomic cores are indeed of zero mass, in which respect they resemble Jopp’s brain. Any contrary ideas are products of human imagination and as illusory as the rest of our earthly existence. Let’s see what old Greenfingers makes of that.”

As he is occupied with another vast project, Jopp hasn’t yet responded.

More Jopp exploits coming soon.

* * *

Editor’s Note: This item was misfiled on receipt and has finally emerged after a number of years. Better late than never.

Millennial Angst

The advent of a new millennium may well have caused much rejoicing, but the glee is not quite universal. Some people have been disadvantaged, among them being those whose livings depend on work connected with Roman numerals. The abrupt change from nine letters to only two, identical at that, has obvious implications for these tradesmen – this being a largely male preserve – who are usually employed on a piecework basis. In Britain, not all the affected workers are represented by a single body. To date there has been no comment from the largest group, the Monumental Masons, which ironically has a monogram similar to the Roman letters for the year 2000. Despite its attempts to achieve unity, the industry remains fragmented.

Dick Spratt, spokesman for the Worshipful Order of Gravers (the WOGs), which claims to be the oldest guild in the UK, voiced his co-workers’ distress. “This is a calamity,” he said. “My members’ aspirations have been steam-rollered. It was bad enough at the end of the previous year, when we fell from MCMXCVIII to MCMXCIX. That was a drop to seven letters. Now, with the reduction to just MM, the bottom has fallen out. We are devastated.” His comments were endorsed by a representative of the Venerable Institute of Licensed Engravers (VILE).

A wider view was expressed by Stanley Nibb, head of the Fraternal Amalgamation of Romanic Technicians, which discourages use of an acronym. “It’s history repeating itself,” he moaned. “The same thing happened at the end of the first millennium, which came shortly after the incursion of Arabic numbers. There was unrest all over Europe, as people were thrown out of work. It’s a matter of record that this came to a head in Naples, where protesting craftsmen drenched the town hall floor with ninety gallons of ferret stew. Things improved a few centuries later, as we approached the mid-point, when we were able to make extensive use of the D, which like the C is a hard one to carve. Then we had our halcyon days in the run-up to MM, but now, as honorary Chief Chiseller of England, I am pessimistic.”

The Europe-wide umbrella organisation, the Brotherhood of Engravers of Roman Numerals (BERN) has, coincidentally, its headquarters in the Swiss capital. Now largely German-staffed – though in deference to tradition communicating in English – this august alliance used to be French-dominated, though even then used its anglicised title with the abbreviation BERNE (Brotherhood of European Roman Numerals Engravers). In fact there was a two-hundred-year battle – the Initials War – over the name, the conflict being enshrined in Germanic guild lore, where it is pithily termed ‘Der zweihundertjährige Kampf um die Anfangsbuchstaben unserer Genossenschaft.’

In charge at Bern is part-timer Manfred Kutt. With the hotheadedness we have come to associate with the Swiss, leading local barber Herr Kutt gave his assessment. “It is inconvenient,” he said. “However, we have not yet exhausted all possibilities. There are untapped markets. I understand that this is the Jewish year 5,760-odd, and that the Chinese chronology offers similar openings. If one looks at it objectively, this could be an opportunity for the more enterprising spirits in our fellowship. We might be able to restore the use of the old Roman bars and brackets as multipliers. Obviously, those not willing or able to embrace new concepts will fall by the wayside. On the whole, I am concerned but not downhearted.”

This looks like a classic case of some winners, some losers. Time will tell.

* * *

Telemarketing

“Lord Garthlemmon’s residence. May I help you? … No, sir, I am the butler, Threadbare. … Very droll, sir. However, I was referring to my name, not my apparel. … Perfectly all right, sir: I am accustomed to such quips. What can I do for you? . . . Sorry sir, that is out of the question: His Lordship does not take telephone calls. . . . Quite understandable, sir. The instrument was installed many years ago at the behest of Lady Garthlemmon, who is no longer with us. . . . Thank you, sir, but your condolences are a little late. Her Ladyship left us fourteen years ago, as a result of a riding accident. . . . No, sir, the mount was a motorcycle. Lady Garthlemmon was leader of the local chapter of Hell’s Angels. . . . Quite, sir. Unlike His Lordship, she was widely considered a little eccentric. . . . Very kind of you, sir, but she had a good life and was eighty-two at the time. Please forgive me for a moment. It is midday and I must open the kitchen curtains.

“Now, sir, I assume you had something in mind. . . . Reducing the telephone costs. That would be impossible. His Lordship lives on the state retirement pension, which suffices to cover the line rental charge. He does not make calls, so his bills for actual usage are always zero, plus VAT, of course. He has maximum resistance to salespeople and never makes purchases, not even of the things he wants. . . . Beg pardon, sir? . . . Oh, food. That is of no consequence here. We have a large supply of tinned goods, mostly corned beef, sardines and peaches, acquired by His Lordship’s grandfather in 1902, after the second Boer War. We also have dried milk, obtained by my master during World War Two, and instant mashed potato, procured when there was a shortage of the fresh produce some decades ago. . . . Do not distress yourself, sir. With the garden and a little imagination, we manage very well. . . . No, sir, His Lordship has no interest in the nutritional quality of his food: he concentrates on its shape. . . . Yes, you heard correctly. He likes his meat or fish to resemble chicken legs, regardless of origin or colour. . . . Excuse me again; another minor duty.

“Where were we? Ah, yes, the fowl. That is no problem. In fact, the canned meat is perfect, as it can be formed much as one wishes. I have designed a mould that fits the bill. Sardines are rather more difficult but with a little forcing, they conform. . . . What was that, sir? . . . Oh, potatoes. The same principle applies. His Lordship prefers them crenellated, in the same way as his seat. . . . No, sir, by ‘seat’ I do not mean his anatomy but his home; the turrets, you understand. . . . Quite all right, sir. By a happy coincidence, I took responsibility for the grounds when the gardener died, so am familiar with topiary. One needs only to extend the idea to the dinner table. His Lordship delights in a mound of mash with the appearance of battlements, the whole edifice surrounded by a moat of onion gravy. . . . No, sir, we do not buy them. We usually have a surplus of vegetables. At present, there is a splendid array of savoy cabbages here, far in excess of our requirements. His Lordship’s normal procedure is to distribute them to the poor of . . . No, do go on. . . . You would? That is most gratify… er … interesting. A moment, please – one more domestic matter.

“Are you still there? . . . Certainly, sir. I checked the position this morning. We have a thousand prime specimens, scaling on average just over three pounds each, almost all heart. His Lordship amuses himself with the thought that they resemble him in that respect. . . . The cost? Well, we are not worldly at Nevermore Hall, but I believe the commercial practice is to price goods fractionally below a round figure, to give the impression that they are cheap. I had in mind a pound per head, but shall we say ninety-nine pence? . . . Excellent. And you are based locally, could collect at three p.m. and harvest them yourself? . . . Splendid. Oh, pardon me yet again – the oven needs attention: I am also the cook.

“Sorry about that, sir. Now, as to payment. . . . No, a cheque would not suffice. . . . Plastic? I think you are ahead of me there. . . . Sorry, I am not familiar with that. However, I am permitted to negotiate for His Lordship and must tell you that he deals only in coin of the realm. If you pause at the entrance to the Hall, you will see on the gatepost his coat of arms and the family motto, Mon Dieu Et Mon Argent’. . . . Yes, rather quaint. It is a variation on the Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s theme and dates from his Lordship’s earliest traceable ancestor, Guillaume Garthe de Citron, who took part in the Norman Conquest. . . . Quite, that is how it became Garthlemmon. The first transposition was to the English ‘lemon’, the second ‘m’ being added later, when His Lordship’s forebears tired of being addressed as Garthle-mon. Please indulge me again – a further triviality. One’s work is never done.

“My apologies, sir. Now, was there anything else? . . . I see. Well, we have leeks, but I couldn’t contemplate selling them. The Garthlemmon products are legendary and much envied. They are remarkable for size and uniformity. Nearly every one of them trims out to exactly a pound in weight. . . . Solid, you say. They certainly are: firm as fence posts. No, sir. Please do not tempt me. The Threadbares have been at Nevermore Hall since 1790. It would be more than my position is worth even to think of … Oh, fifty pence apiece, you say. Hmn, in the circumstances I might consider … Very well, let us say three hundred. . . . No, sir. His Lordship leaves such things to me. In any event, he will not know, as he does not like leeks. Also, he never sees the vegetable patches: his bedroom is front-facing and he has not left it for many years. . . . Most solicitous that you should ask, sir, but he is in good health for a man of ninety-six. However, his view is that one day is much like another, and after experiencing thirty thousand of them, he concluded that enough was as good as a feast. Excuse me once more – I must see to the kettle.

“Back again, sir. … Exercise, you say? … Very thoughtful of you. At the risk of indiscretion, I will confide that His Lordship has a system. He keeps his chamber-pot twenty feet away from the bed, so at his age he gets a good deal of movement and is seldom supine for more than a few minutes, especially after his morning magnum. Mumm’s the word, sir, if you understand me. . . . No, sir, I was attempting to introduce a humorous note, combining an adjuration to secrecy with the name of His Lordship’s preferred brand of champa… Yes, it would be better in writing. Perhaps I should have refrained from levity, but there is little enough of that in this mausole… no, I am going too far. I must not be disloyal. Pardon me again while I poke the fire.

 “With you once more, sir. We seem to be plagued by interruptions. . . . Dear me, sir, this strikes a discordant note. You seem to be requesting a price reduction in exchange for your silence. Well, I will borrow from the American film world by suggesting that we ‘cut to the chase’. Your position is weak. I deal with all mail and visitors, and have already said that His Lordship does not take or make telephone calls, so your prospects of contacting him are negligible. However, on the off chance that you might do so, I will compromise. Let us say 75 pence each for the savoys, but I am resolute on leeks. . . . Very well. So, three o’clock, then – and the total price is £900 – in advance and in banknotes of not more than twenty-pound denomination, preferably non-sequential. Kindly knock on the door of the tradesmen’s entrance at the rear. A pleasure to do business with you, sir. Goodbye.”

* * *

First Message To Planet X

You must have received and digested the information I sent by tachyonic transfer. Sorry I had to work back to front by sending the appendices first. I judged it best to do this, as it eliminates the need for numerous explanatory asides. I shall henceforth use Earth terminology, now surely familiar to you.

It would be beneficial if I were able to present a complete report in one transmission, but you will understand that my resources preclude this. I am forced to decide whether to keep you waiting a long time for the whole story, or to send relatively short missives via the accelerated route, which makes heavy demands of my equipment and necessitates frequent recharging.

I have chosen the second course, so might need to interrupt my offerings at tantalising moments. This would be appreciated by certain humans here – more on them later – who are addicted to being left gasping in anticipation of what is to come in further episodes of whatever serialised entertainment engrosses them. Also, commenting this way obviates any need for possibly misleading epitomisation. I know I am thought of as garrulous, but you don’t have a competent journalist who can match my ability to cruise the Cosmos, right? What would you do without me?

Now, I have been swanning around here for about a century in local terms. How do I convey my experiences? The length of time I have spent here indicates that there must be something to say, or I would not have used a twentieth of my likely current lifespan hovering around a place so remote from home. I have done so because my arrival coincided with rapid developments here.

You will have gathered that this planet has a slightly shorter year than ours, but is strikingly similar with regard to gravity, atmosphere, temperature, water/land distribution, and in having a single unusually large satellite. The Earth is rather younger than our home base and is at present less stable. Still, it is the first body I have found that has conditions broadly approximating to our needs. It would be a tolerable location for our expected overspill, but I must say that anyone moved from home and deposited here would face some uncertainties.

This planet has for aeons experienced upheaval by way of meteorite bombardments, some of which have changed living conditions quite drastically. Being in a fairly quiet quarter of our own galaxy, we have not had to contend with mountain-sized chunks of space debris striking us at many thousands of kilometres an hour. From what I have gathered, this kind of thing disrupts life here for long periods. We could cope, but there would be difficulties.

As if extra-terrestrial intrusions were not enough, the Earth itself throws up some problems by way of volcanic eruptions, grinding tectonic plates, huge ocean waves and goodness knows what else. This place is not for the squeamish. Survival here is a precarious matter, made more so by the activities of humankind – hold your collective breath for the grisly details.

Please don’t excite yourselves about the geography here, as it changes constantly – excuse the apparent oxymoron. The current continental profile arose from a break-up – about 200 million years ago – of a vast land mass called Pangaea, which split into Laurasia in the North and Gondwanaland in the South. No need for us to worry about this, as there will be further movements, with which we could cope.

Now, my batteries register almost empty, so forgive the pause. By the way, I think you should try to get your heads around this communication thing. After all, we are supposed to be quite advanced, aren’t we? It shouldn’t be left to me to tell our boffins what is required. I will resume contact as means permit.

All the best to everyone.

Dweedles

Note to the reader: Don’t be deceived by this quiet start. There’s dynamite on the track ahead, as the exchanges between Dweedles and those pesky types at Mission Control become acrimonious. Does the lonely voyager need a shrink? What will happen when love comes in? Another griping (oops) instalment soon. Editor

* * *

The Node Bulletins: Number Two

Tashkent, 21 June. Already we have problems. I trust they will not emulate the proverbial sorrows by coming in battalions. That we are still here is attributable to Pugh, whose conduct has confirmed my earlier suspicions. We were about to depart when he discovered that he was out of tobacco. He smokes a particularly noxious brand of black twist, and insisted on flying back to London for a further supply, returning here today, unapologetic about the inconvenience he has caused. Not wishing to sow seeds of dissent so early, I shall take him to task about this in private.

Pugh is not the only awkward one. Flatpole has introduced complications by what she calls ‘sleeping around’. This has nothing to do with morality, but concerns her ability to rest only in an ultra-foetal position, for which purpose she uses a circular sleeping bag. This is annoying, as it occupies an inordinate amount of tent space. I am nerving myself to remonstrate with her, but must be cautious, as she has fists like sledge-hammers and is not averse to using them. Also, she is extremely hirsute, which makes me wonder about our credentials as a mixed-gender party.

We are having difficulty with transport. I said at the outset that for five people and all equipment, we would need something more substantial than a twenty-year-old Volkswagen beetle. However, Thoroughbrace is something of a know-all and he told me to mind my own business. Well, he must now decide how to get a quart into a pint pot. On a happier note, I have not had any trouble with Gannett, who has been a tower of strength, merely by remaining almost silent. I shall reserve judgement on him, as his taciturnity may have arisen from an attack of laryngitis.

God willing, we shall finally depart tomorrow.

A further Node Bulletin coming soon.

* * *

 


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