Madazine - Part Eleven

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Another collection of zany articles on various themes.

Submitted: February 04, 2017

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Submitted: February 04, 2017

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MADAZINE - PART ELEVEN

A Country Practice

Midhampton, England, 1898

Jenkins: Ah, there goes the new doorbell. Two rings. That means it is for us. These modern devices are most helpful. I deduce from the pressure applied and the obviously peremptory note that our caller is a large, muscular man, probably of the labouring classes. We mustn’t keep the poor fellow waiting. He is probably already somewhat apprehensive at the prospect of meeting a person of my status. Be so good as to trot along the corridor and show him in, Watson.

Porter: For Heaven’s sake, pull yourself together. You must rid yourself of this delusion that you are Sherlock Holmes, that I am Dr Watson and that this is Baker Street in the great metropolis. We are in a small country town, your name is Jenkins, you are an architect – of sorts – and for my numerous sins, I am your assistant, Porter. If you persist with this woolgathering, we shall lose yet another opportunity for a commission. You might also dispense with that ridiculous calabash pipe. You insist on displaying and handling the thing, though your respiratory condition precludes your smoking it. Actors would call it a stage property.

Jenkins: Never mind all that now. Bring the poor man to me and I shall soon get to the bottom whatever is disturbing him.

One minute later.

Porter: Here is your visitor. If you need me, I shall be in my office.

Jenkins (to visitor): Good morning. You are a woman, I see.

Visitor: I am indeed.

Jenkins: And not very large.

Visitor: No, I am two inches under five feet in height and am frequently  described as petite, though I do not normally use that word myself. You seem to be surprised. Were you expecting someone else? Perhaps a big man?

Jenkins: I never expect anything, madam. That enables me to deal with what arises, without my being misled by preconceptions. Now, do take a seat and try to feel at ease. I am accustomed to assisting and comforting ladies in distress, so please tell me what is worrying you.

Visitor: I assure you that I am perfectly at ease and not in the least distressed or worried. My name is Mrs Fieldhouse and I have called upon you to ask about the drawing up of plans.

Jenkins: Ah yes, plans. Well, I have many. The Bruce-Partington ones come to mind at once.

Fieldhouse: The name is not familiar to me.

Jenkins: That is understandable. The whole affair was kept quiet. It went to very highest levels of society. My brother Mycroft was involved in it before I was. He asked me to help and I tracked down and apprehended the culprit.

Fieldhouse: The culprit? Well, be that as it may, my position is that I have bought a plot of land and –

Jenkins: In the countryside, due north of here, I perceive.

Fieldhouse: Whatever makes you say that?

Jenkins: Elementary. I merely observed the heel of your left shoe, which bears traces of the reddish soil found nowhere else in this vicinity. When a man has been in this business as long as I have, not much escapes him, Mrs Fielding.

Fieldhouse: Fieldhouse!

Jenkins: I beg your pardon.

Fieldhouse: I have not left this town in the past ten years. My shoes are new, purchased last week. The plot of land is only five minutes’ walk from here. I acquired it a short time ago, when I became a widow.

Jenkins: Yes, yes. I see the sorrow in your eyes. I hope you are coping with your grief.

Fieldhouse: I am not troubled by either sorrow or grief. My husband was a brute and I am relieved that he has passed on. The first happiness I had since our wedding was gained by attending his funeral. You appear to set great store by your power of inference, but it is clearly faulty. First, you seemed to have it fixed in your mind that you were about to receive a male caller, so you were wrong there. Second, you assumed erroneously that I had been out in the countryside. Third, you perceived sorrow where there is none. You were mistaken in all respects.

Jenkins: Bear with me, Mrs Fieldmouse.

Fieldhouse: Fieldhouse!

Jenkins: Yes, of course. I was about to say that I have my methods, which may seem a little out of the ordinary. However, I have usually been  successful in solving the cases referred to me.

Fieldhouse: Solving cases? Your use of language puzzles me.

Jenkins: I have baffled many people, yet clients almost invariably find my results satisfactory. The gentleman who showed you in has recorded some of my little exploits as short stories. One might say that he regards himself as my biographer.

Fieldhouse: You appear to lead an adventurous life. That is not quite what I would expect of a man in your occupation.

Jenkins: I have my moments of drama. However, let us deal with your problem. I need details. They are the very essence of any investigation. Please tell me everything that you consider possibly pertinent, however trivial. Great issues may hang on the most mundane points. I recall an incident, superficially trivial, involving parsley and butter on a hot day –

Porter (entering and addressing Jenkins): Excuse the interruption. You asked me to remind you about your other appointment.

Jenkins: Oh, yes. Thank you. Well, Mrs Porterhouse –

Fieldhouse: Fieldhouse!

Jenkins: Yes, quite so. I apologise for terminating our discussion, but I must catch a train. I am engaged in a most serious matter involving a church up in Derbyshire. Dark things are occurring there and it is necessary that I proceed to the place at once. If you will permit me to resort to metaphor, I suspect rats in the wainscoting.

Fieldhouse: Really? If I also may be somewhat figurative, are you sure that you are not contending with bats in the belfry?

Jenkins: A remote contingency, but I will take it into account. As I have often told my colleague here, when one has eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Now I must go, so I will leave you in my friend’s capable hands. Rest assured that I shall give your case my full attention when I return. (To Porter) Kindly look after the lady, Watson.

Porter: Very well. I hope you enjoy your journey and solve the mystery. I have everything in hand here, so please do not hurry back.

Jenkins: Au revoir, Mrs Moorhouse.

Fieldhouse: Fieldhouse!! Goodbye, Mr Holm . . . er . . . Jenkins.

* * *

LIFE IN THE DARK AGES

It has been said that much of the Anglo-Saxon period in England is not very well documented. Be that as it may, we are now able to gain a little insight into the daily lives of common people, albeit some rather unusual ones. A short while ago, Historian Oswin Twonk was handed a fragment of writing found by a spelunker in a Cheshire cave.

Having made a particular study of the period after the Romans departed from our land and the Normans arrived, Mr Twonk was able to translate the text into modern English and he has now released his initial result. Nobody knows who wrote the original manuscript or when it first appeared, though it may be reasonable to infer that it was penned in theearly 800s, as there is some mention of the Norse invaders, but none of Alfred the Great.

The document deals mainly with ordinary people and makes only limited reference to prominent ones. It is incomplete and does not have an obvious beginning or end. Still, it gives us some absorbing information about a few interesting characters. Mr Twonk has provided Madazine with an extract which he hopes our readers will find intriguing. It is given below:

One of the characters to whom we are introduced is Egbreath the Horrible, noted for his huge consumption of raw garlic – and the fact that he apparently had few close friends. He lived in a typical one-roomed cottage of wattle and daub. His wife was also noteworthy. Her name was Illwinda and she was widely known for her malodorous flatulence, and was usually avoided by neighbours. Some people might wonder whether she perhaps inspired the phrase ‘it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good’. The origin of this expression seems to be unclear, though it seems to have been well known early in the sixteenth century, when it was already described as a proverb.

We are told that while out walking one day, Egbreath met a village elder and the following conversation ensued:

Elder: Good morning, Egbreath. I understand that you have come into an inheritance.

Egbreath: I have. My late aunt bequeathed me a billy goat.

Elder: How nice for you. Where is the creature now?

Egbreath: He is in my cottage, sprawled out by the fire.

Elder: But Egbreath, what about the smell?

Egbreath: Oh, never mind him. He will get used to it.

Another remarkable character was Thithelthroth the Unvigilant, who claimed to be part Viking. He contrasted sharply with Hereward the Wake, who came along much later. When it became known that marauders were seeking food in the vicinity of Thithelthroth’s village, he distinguished himself in a most egregious manner. Assigned to nocturnal lookout duty for the first and only time, he became bored, consumed a gallon of mead and fell into a drunker stupor.

While the incompetent watchman snored the night away, the roving miscreants made off with a dozen head of cattle, twenty goats and thirty sheep. To add insult to injury, they also picked an acre of peas, quietly dug up a patch of four hundred square yards of cabbages and onions, and raided the collective dairy, stealing all of the villagers’ butter and cheese. The record does not say what price Thithelthroth paid for his behaviour.

We are also introduced to Hogsgirth the Vast, a man described as of astounding circumference, as broad as he was long. This fellow had a gargantuan appetite and fed himself to such a bulk that in the final year of his life he was unable to leave his home, as the doorway would not have been wide enough to permit his egress, even if he had been able to attempt it, which he was not. He perished immediately after tackling his last meal, a whole roast ox. (Well, that would probably be the last meal of anyone who tried it.)

In addition to giving us an overview of the lives of common folk, the work enlightens us briefly about several striking people among the nobility, including Ethelspread, Etheldread, Ethelthread and Ethelbreeda. The first of these was noted for giving lavish banquets, the second distinguished himself by his cruelty, the third got his name because he was reputedly thin enough to be passed through the eye of a needle, and the fourth was a lady of astounding fecundity, who it was said gave birth to children to numerous to count.

I, your informant, am working on a book based on the four pages of parchment passed to me by the cave explorer. So far I have produced 200,000 words and am close to the end. I hope for a high level of sales.

Editor’s note. I am puzzled by the fact that Mr Twonk does not comment on the inclusion of ‘a’ in the names of the three male ‘Ethels’ he mentions in his penultimate paragraph. I do not believe that spelling was used in the period concerned, as may be gathered from two undoubtedly real Ethelreds (or Aethelreds). To my mind, the extra letter in the third syllable of the names in the manuscript cast doubt on its authenticity. I suspect this supposed find might be another ‘Piltdown Man’ type hoax.

* * *

HOW TO BE SUPERIOR

Having been asked numerous times to offer tips on how to be superior, I feel that I must finally accede to these requests, so here are some remarks which I hope may be useful to those who need help in the matter of social climbing. Let me say at the outset that I am not seeking to rival the work of the great Stephen Potter, whose School of Lifemanship at Yeovil gave so much to so many. The eminent founder and principal of that wonderful institution had a wider remit than mine, in that he taught his pupils how to be ‘one up’ on other people in a variety of situations.

I must point out that my observations are aimed at men only. The ladies have their own etiquette in these matters and their procedures are a closed book to me. The advice given below is mainly for those who wish to move in loftier social circles than the ones to which they are accustomed. One could write a book about this, but there is no need for anybody to do so because the whole thing is much simpler than is commonly thought. A fellow can get by very nicely by bearing in mind only a small number of simple rules.

The would-be upstart must first consider his name. An unusual one is a huge advantage, and if you do not have one, you would do well to consider a change. In my case that was not necessary, for it would be hard to improve on Theseus Naseby-Goatwrangler. The male forenames in my family have long been taken from Greek mythology, my two uncles being Ajax and Achilles, while my late father was Agamemnon. Dad was known to his intimates as Aga until alcohol completed his mental decline, when the prefix ‘G’ was added to his sobriquet. If you do decide to take a new name, be imaginative. For Heaven’s sake don’t go from Smith to Smythe. That is simply too transparent.

To jump ahead for a moment, once you have joined your chosen group, you will find that other aspiring parvenus try to ingratiate themselves with you. They can be importunate, so you will have to demonstrate that you are a cut above them, without overtly insulting them. Your best course is to refer to all of them as John, even if you know their real names. This is a clear indication that you are somehow so distant from them that their true identities are of no interest to you. I have said that these comments are aimed at men. However, in this matter of address, you will need to deal with women at times. Refer to all of them as Jane. This is a nice name, faintly upmarket and perhaps slightly redolent of the ‘county’ types, so you will not cause offence. That is all on the subject of names.

Apparel is very important, but you will doubtless be pleased to learn that it is far less problematical than you might imagine. You must have a Harris Tweed jacket and it needs to be quite shapeless. I have two, purchased forty-odd years ago. They were totally amorphous when I got them and are exactly the same now. Do not take one that has a discernible form or design. I suggest a light base colour, vaguely beige/fawn/taupe or similar, with an unidentifiable reddish/brown pattern. On no account should you have leather elbow patches or cuff trims. They may be all very well for academics, but not for you. A tweed flat cap is also essential, and for goodness sake, don’t get one with a button on the top. For foul weather get a hip-length waxed mid-green coat.

You have some latitude in the matter of trousers. Thick, tough ones are best and here again I recommend a light colour. You can’t really improve oncavalry twill. Do not even think of corduroy – quirkiness can be taken too far. Your shirt should also be light – ivory is good – with a criss-cross motif of thin black, brown or dark-grey lines, to make roughly quarter-inch squares.

You should have a tie with a regimental look. It need not be the real thing, for nobody in your circle will be so uncouth as to ask you about it. Should some boorish intruder do so, your response will be to allude vaguely and dismissively to a military background, conveying the impression that you have moved on and don’t wish to wallow in the past. This presupposes that you are of sufficiently mature years. If you aren’t, just invent an excuse to leave your interlocutor and try to ensure that the two of you don’t meet again. That won’t be difficult, as the lout concerned is not likely to get a further chance to mix with those around you.

Now to footwear.  A pair of stout brogues is essential. They should be light tan and must be treated with saddle soap rather than wax polish. Your aim is a dullish sheen, not a high shine. Opt for something from a top maker. These shoes are uncompromising beasts, usually referred to as bench-made, and for quite a while you will get the impression that the bench is still attached to them, or that you are lifting concrete blocks. Wearing the things is excruciating because they will make no effort to fit you, so you will have to fit them. However, the experience, painful though it may be, is necessary.

There is nothing more to be said about dress, and I will explain why. You can get by in almost any circumstances with the kind of outfit described above. For example, if you are required to appear at a tie and tails affair, by all means turn up in your casual attire. On such occasions you should rush in late and explain that you were detained on the moors, strangling a recalcitrant gillie, or beating beaters who didn’t come up to scratch. Your sartorial incongruity may lead to your being regarded as mildly eccentric, but you will not be ostracised because most of the others present are likely to have had similar experiences and will understand.

I must touch upon the subjects of alcohol and tobacco. The former is easy. Try to avoid beer. You may give as your excuse the fact that the volumes involved give you digestive problems, even though your innards may be able to cope with barbed wire and bleach. You can do the same with respect to most spirits, but you really should take brandy because at many gatherings, the men will insist on a post-prandial session with that beverage and smokes, and you must join them. By all means indulge in wine, but don’t get too involved in discussions about it, as this area can be a minefield.

The noxious weed is a delicate matter nowadays. You should eschew cigarettes, which are widely frowned upon. A pipe is permissible, if you can get one that stays alight for more than two minutes at a time. However, the right choice is cigars, and here I can give you some useful guidance. You are sure to find that a number of your companions favour top Havanas, and if you are not yet initiated here, prepare yourself for a shock. Naturally, you wish to be considered ‘one of the chaps’, and you will discover that the best that Cuba has to offer costs about a pound per minute of burning time.

Now here is a vital pointer. You will notice that some of your chums will leave their cigar bands in or around ashtrays. Find a reason to stay behind after the others have gone, then pick up the discarded bands, take them home and put them on much cheaper cigars. This will help you to create an impression of affluence. A chap in one of my clubs got away with that for a long time, using Cuban bands on cheap smokes, which were all he could afford. But be warned. His behaviour was noticed. He was an insensitive man, his pachydermic hide seemingly impervious to the thickening atmosphere of opprobrium that built up around him. In the end, a quiet word from the club secretary persuaded him to resign.

A further point you should bear in mind is that intellectual pretensions are not welcome in the social stratum you have selected. Each of those around you will have had an education and some of them may even remember bits of theirs. If you have some special knowledge or talent, don’t labour it, or you will soon be deafened by snores.

The subject of music is likely to arise in your get-togethers. You may be asked for your views on, say, Shustakovsky’s forty-ninth symphony, often referred to as ‘The Interminable’ because no orchestra can, with any decency, get through it in less than two hours. If you have an opinion, by all means give it, but should you be out of your depth, say that a childhood accident rendered you tone-deaf, so you cannot comment.

I could go on, but Madazine’s editor, Will Rider-Hawes, who is an old friend of mine, has limited the length of my observations. “Don’t give me a wordfest,” he said. Still, with the above counsel as your lodestone, you will not find it difficult to navigate your way into the company you wish to keep. Good luck.

* * *

Editor’s note. Some Madazine readers will know that we don’t usually deal with highly topical matters. However, exceptions are made on occasion and the item below is one of them. Our mail today included a letter which intrigued all of us here, and I hope it will be of general interest. One reason for publishing it is that the writer is of the same vintage as yours truly, so I’m showing oldster solidarity. Here we go:

BREXIT BULLETIN

To the editor of Madazine.

Dear Sir,

It occurs to me that your readers may be interested to learn that I have started a new career – in my eightieth year at that. Allow me to explain. There has been much talk of late concerning a possible British exit (Brexit) from the European Union. Having decided to specialise in this subject, I am gathering as much socioeconomic data as possible, in order to become the world’s first, perhaps only, brexitologist. Admittedly this may be a short-lived occupation, possibly as brief as four months, but I have already made a dramatic discovery, as follows:

According to rules devised by an anonymous group of officials, only six of the EU’s twenty-eight countries will be able to depart in the way Britain is considering. The reason is that any land wishing to pull out needs to coin a snappy word for its intended action. This must be limited to two syllables, which are to include ‘exit’ plus the first two letters, in English, of the country’s name. The ‘exit’ part must be enunciated distinctly, so where the second letter of the name is ‘e’, this cannot be counted as part of ‘exit’, meaning that Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark are disqualified. For example, Belgium would be ‘Be-exit’ which is three syllables.

Under the regulations described above, the only members allowed to leave the Union will be Britain (Brexit), Croatia (Crexit), France (Frexit), Greece (Grexit) Spain (Spexit) and Sweden (Swexit). There can be no question of a Slexit, as this could apply to either Slovakia or Slovenia, so both are barred on the ground that there is already more than enough confusion in Brussels.

The Czech Republic is a special case. It cannot qualify by starting its name with ‘The’, as no country is permitted to use the definite article in its name for the purpose of this exercise. However, the Czechs might be accepted as potential departees by opting for the ‘Cz’ start. This could be controversial because it may cause argument about pronunciation. On seeing it at the beginning of ‘Czexit’, most Anglophones would regard it as ‘Cexit’, with an initial ‘s’ sound, thus failing to identify clearly the country concerned. A case – albeit a weak one – has been made for ‘Chexit’, with an initial ‘Ch’, as in chug, in conformity with English articulation. This has so far proved troublesome because (a) it does not use the correct two opening letters, as widely recognised and (b) even the ‘Ch’ might be interpreted by some people as having a ‘k’ sound, as in Charisma.

The Czech problem is being discussed by the European Commission but a directive on it will not be produced for at least two years. It must take its place behind the knotty questions of cuboid tomatoes (for optimum packing), harmonisation of the shapes and sizes of carrots and – most contentious of all – the proposed straightening, on health and safety grounds, of all boomerangs sold in the EU. With respect to the last point, advice is to be sought from a specialist. Rumour has it that the job might go to a certain dinkum Aussie who is an expert on the ancient weapon. He is a retired seafarer, known to his friends as The Admiral. This grizzled tar is reputedly the world’s most decorated naval man, so bemedalled that when in full dress uniform he lists to port. According to a usually reliable source, he has indicated that he will be available as soon as he has replaced the crumbling corks on his bush hat.

Undoubtedly my researches will unearth other important points, but I submit that the above will do for a start. Incidentally, it has not escaped my notice that in international parlance, our country is more correctly defined as the UK, which includes Northern Ireland. For the purpose of the study described above, that point will be ignored.

I shall keep you informed of further developments.

Yours sincerely,

A. Spleen-Venter
Founder and Principal, Institute of Brexitology

* * *

RULING THE WAVES

The East Yorkshire seaside resort of Bridlington was today the scene of the latest experiment conducted by the redoubtable Sheffield engineer and inventor, Kevin Spout. This time he has turned his attention to seafaring matters, hence the coastal venue. Once again, a number of representatives of the media had been invited, among them Madazine’s science reporter, Axel Griess. Many local people also attended, hopeful of seeing something spectacular.

Before carrying out the trial, Kevin explained the train of thought that led to it. He said that he had been wondering for some time why it takes so long for ships to get from one place to another. In particular, he had been thinking of the time, some years ago, when he crossed the North Sea from Hull to Rotterdam. “It took ages,” he groaned. “I embarked at about six o’clock one evening and reached my destination at eight the following morning. I found that ridiculous then and I still do, but I’ve only recently been able to deal with the matter.”

Spectators were then asked to examine the result of Kevin’s work. This took the form of an open sailing boat, fifteen feet long. The mast and rigging had been removed and Kevin had fitted to the flat stern two rocket engines, designed and manufactured by  himself. They were mounted in parallel, port and starboard, above the rudder. He has plans for much larger vessels, including freighters of several thousand tons, and he claims that there is no obvious limit in terms of size.

When he first announced what he proposed to do, Kevin attracted some scepticism from several marine engineers, perhaps foremost among them being leading German expert Hans Poopdecker. “I cringe in anticipation,” he said. “Mr Spout declares that he wishes to demonstrate that Britain still rules the waves. He is more likely to show that it waives the rules. How is one of his contraptions going to cope with forty-foot Atlantic rollers?” Kevin dismissed this pessimism, saying that he has studied oceanic conditions and that the ships he intends to produce will cut through the billows like knives through butter.

After the public inspection, Kevin continued his address, saying that one of the biggest problems confronting rocket engineers is throttling. Traditionally, their machines were either on at full power or off completely. He added that some progress had been made by large companies in recent years, but that he was far ahead of the field, in that he had perfected a system by which his engines can be controlled to any desired level of output, from very low up to maximum.

With regard to fuel, Kevin said he had opted to use a liquid oxygen/methane combination favoured by some experts for a Mars mission, but had added ‘a touch of Spout magic’ which ensured that his engines greatly outstripped the performance achieved by anyone else. He claimed that he had demonstrated this to his own satisfaction with extensive bench testing. When asked to disclose details concerning the nozzle exhaust velocity his method had attained, he declined, saying that such information is vital and might be helpful to anyone wishing to emulate his results.

For the maiden voyage of his craft, Kevin had decided to travel alone. The boat was towed to a spot just outside the harbour mouth. Having satisfied himself that his course was set for the European mainland, Kevin opened the propellant and oxidant feed lines and, with a cry of “Holland, here I come,” he pressed the starter buttons for the two engines.

What happened next will long be remembered by those who witnessed it. The boat zoomed off – in circles. Close observers noticed that the starboard engine had blazed into life, but that the port one had not. After the craft had, so to speak, chased its own tail for about a dozen rotations, Kevin got the recalcitrant unit going, albeit at far less than full thrust. This resulted in the boat moving in a tight arc. It hurtled towards Sewerby Head, a mile or so from the harbour, with Kevin trying to get control. He failed, and with the vessel heading for disaster, he leapt into the sea. The boat sped on, hitting the foot of a cliff and disintegrating into what one onlooker described as pieces the size of confetti.

As soon he had been hauled ashore and changed his clothes, Kevin conducted an inquiry. Within minutes, he was able give a summary of what had occurred. “There were two problems,” he said. “First, I gave my cousin Donald the task of ensuring that the feed lines to the engines were clear. I had devised a special tool for this operation, but Donald mislaid it after using it on the starboard side. He concluded that he would have to improvise and as he is a smoker, he tied together a number of the cleaners with which he rods out his pipes. After using them, he forgot to pull them out of the port fuel tube. When the propellant began to flow, it caused the cleaners, which are of cotton-covered wire, to wad up and block the flow. Eventually there was a partial clearance, which explains why the port engine operated at reduced power.

“The second point was that pressure and downdraught from the starboard engine forced the rudder leftwards, so the boat’s motion was circular until the port engine began to fire. When that happened, there was still a strong bias from the starboard side, so the course changed to a curve, as you saw. I was unable to correct the snag in the short time available. Overall, having established what went wrong, I regard the test as a qualified success.”

Madazine’s Axel Griess gave his brief and scathing opinion of the proceedings, saying: “I was not surprised to see Kevin going round in circles, nor was I taken aback by his being completely at sea.”

A date for the next trial has not yet been fixed.

* * *

FUNNY THINGS, NUMBERS

Tom: Good morning, Jim and Dan. We all know why we’re here. You’re  relative newcomers to rifle shooting and you’ve asked me to set up a little contest for the two of you. I’m happy to do that. I want you to fire for two fifteen-minute periods, with a break of half an hour between them. You can each fire as many rounds as you wish on both occasions. The only thing that matters is your total number of shots, divided by the bulls you score, giving you an average of shots per bull. The decisive factor will be your scores over the two rounds, taken in total.

You have one target each for the first round and I’ll put up fresh ones for the second. Bear in mind your inexperience and don’t be surprised if you get very few bulls. They’re quite a long way off and those circles in the middle are pretty small. To put things in perspective, I had a short session yesterday, using an identical target to the ones you have, at the same distance. I’m considered a pretty fair shot but I got only ten bulls with thirty-five rounds.

Your magazines hold five bullets, so you’ll most likely need to reload a few times. For that purpose you each have a box of replacements. You’ll also see that I’m providing you with a spare rifle apiece, in case of jamming or overheating.

I’d like you to take up your positions, Jim facing the right-hand target for the first round, then you’ll swap places for the second. When both of you have called out that you’re ready, you’ll hear a buzzer to give you the start and finish signals. I’ll keep score. Let me remind you that the prize is a bottle of brandy.

One hour later.

Tom: Well, here we are. It’s all over and I have your scores. Jim, in the first round, you fired sixty-four shots and got four bulls. Dan, you went rather slower. You fired thirty-six shots and got two bulls. So the first round went to Jim, with an average of one bull per sixteen shots against Dan’s one per eighteen.
 
Now to the second round. Jim, you slowed down quite a bit, presumably trying for greater accuracy. Well, you got it, with thirty-two shots, including four more bulls. Dan, you went a good deal faster than you did in the first round, with sixty-three shots, seven of which were bulls. So that round went to Jim too, with an average of one bull per eight shots against Dan’s one per nine shots.

Jim: Good. Hand over the bottle, Tom.

Dan: Wait a minute. That’s not right.

Jim: Hey, don’t be a sore loser, Dan. You heard what the man said. I won both rounds, so where’s the argument?

Dan: I’ll tell you where it is. Tom, you said that the prize was to go to the man who did best in total.

Tom: That’s right.

Dan: Well, there’s no dispute about Jim having won the two rounds taken separately, but overall he fired ninety-six shots and scored eight bulls. That’s one bull per twelve shots. I fired ninety-nine times and got nine bulls. That’s one bull per eleven shots. I win.

Tom: He’s right, Jim. It seems crazy, but you won both rounds and lost the contest. Funny things, numbers. Here’s your bottle, Dan.

* * *

WEATHER
(Sunday evening)

Come tomorrow’s morn, there shall be storms the like of which ye have ne’er seen, nay, the like of which humankind itself in all its history hath ne’er known. There shall be rain in torrents, thunder and lightning, hurricanes that shall blast the land and lay waste to your forests, tempests which shall carry all before them and leave scarce a living crop in their wake.

Swollen, raging rivers shall o’erwhelm your feeble defences and hurl your habitations and all within them away to roiling, boiling seas. Nary an inch of your soil shall be left unscathed, nor shall any scrap of it remain above the floods. Tornados shall wreak havoc north to south and east to west and none shall escape them. Devastation shall be nigh absolute.

Tuesday will be a much better day, with light showers and sunny intervals. That’s the weather forecast. In a moment we’ll have the time signal, followed by the news.

* * *

PERPETUAL MOTION

The Yorkshire inventor and engineer Kevin Spout has been in action once more. On this occasion the venue was meadow, two miles from the Spout family’s Sheffield home. As was the case with public showings of his earlier innovations, Kevin had invited a number of journalists specialising in scientific matters. Madazine’s Axel Griess was present. About two hundred interested local people had gathered to watch the proceedings, which began at noon. In the middle of the field stood a flat-roofed wooden hut, eight feet high, twenty feet long and fifteen feet wide, with a floor of paving stones. It had a ceiling light and two mains power points.  Both field and hut had been made available by a farmer.

Kevin gained the crowd’s attention with a shout, introduced himself, then went on: “In a few minutes I intend to prove that those who have long contended that perpetual motion is impossible have been wrong. I know that many attempts have been made and all have failed. To make my point, I went into the area of electricity generation. I have built a simple turbine, consisting of only one hub and a single set of blades. I am aware that in commercial applications, many of these units are fixed together. However, such complexity is not necessary for my purpose today. I now request representatives of the media to accompany me to the hut and view the machine. There is not enough room inside to accommodate anyone else, so I ask members of the lay public to disperse around the perimeter of this field.”

The reporters followed Kevin into the cabin. Standing in the middle of the floor was the test equipment. It comprised a metal wheel, three inches wide and about two and a half feet in diameter. Attached to the rim were thirty-six steel blades, each eighteen inches long. They were evenly spaced, slightly over two and a half inches apart. The assembly rested on two steel stanchions fixed to an iron platform which was fastened to the floor. The whole construction was covered by a housing of clear Perspex which, as Kevin explained, was there to protect onlookers from air turbulence. At one side of the apparatus, a hole in the Perspex sheet allowed the hub to be connected to an electric motor by means of a hexagonal shaft. Protruding from the other side was a handle, attached to the hub in the same way.

Kevin explained the essence of his scheme. “The secret here is the positioning of the blades,” he said. “In a conventional turbine, they are all aligned at the same angle to each other. You will see that in my array, they are all at slightly different angles. It took me quite a while to find the correct configuration. The result is that I need only apply a modest initial impetus from the motor here, then I switch it off and it is not required again. When the blades begin to turn, the way in which they are set agitates the air between them, setting up eddies, which are self-maintaining. The machine spins faster, up to a certain number of revolutions, at which point it levels off, thus achieving perpetual motion. The handle you see at the side opposite the motor is a brake, which I shall apply manually to stop the test. If I were not to do so, the appliance would rotate at a steady speed forever, barring external interference.”

Kevin asked the dozen or so viewers to separate into two small groups of about equal size and move to the ends of the cabin, so that they were as far from the assembly as possible. When they had complied, he bent over the motor, cried: “Here’s to cheap power for all time,” and pressed the starter button.

Shortly after the blades began to turn, Kevin pressed the stop button, stated that the apparatus was running under its own power, and stood back. As he had predicted, the wheel revolved at increasing speed. This went on for about five minutes, then one of the blades became detached from the rim, burst out of the housing and sped on to go through the cabin’s side wall and hurtle across the field. The other blades followed at intervals varying from about five to twenty seconds, all behaving in much the same way as the first had done.

As blades’ initial trajectories were largely determined by their velocities, their varying angles on leaving the wheel, and to some extent by the sides of the cage, their combined exits from the premises described a semi-circular path, up one wall, across the ceiling and down the opposite wall. The result was that when all of them had vanished, the cabin had been cut into two halves.

One of the onlookers then noticed that the electric motor was still running. He drew this to the attention of Kevin, who repeatedly jabbed the stop button, to no avail. The device ran until another spectator pulled out the lead connecting it to the mains power supply.

Kevin immediately instituted an inquiry. He asked the shaken journalists to step outside the hut and remain there until he could report his findings. In less than half an hour he gave an account of what he had discovered, saying: “I’m happy to tell you that the mishap was caused by two minor technical hitches. The first was that the stop button on the motor had a faulty connection. The second occurred because, as in earlier projects, I delegated some work to my cousin, Donald. I regret to say that he used his initiative. My specification called for the blades to be fixed in the usual engineering manner, by which I mean that when each of them was pushed through its designated hole in the rim, it was to be fastened by two nuts, one to secure it in position, one to serve as a lock.

“Unfortunately, Donald had equipped himself with only the securing nuts. When it came to locking, he had no spares and no means of getting any. He had the inspired idea of hurrying to a local store, where he bought a packet of small latex pads, sticky on one side. He cut holes in them and pushed one over each of the threads so that the adhesive surfaces fitted snugly against the securing nuts. Had he asked me, I would have told him that his plan was not workable. Unfortunately, he said nothing, as he feared being rebuked for his failure to procure enough components.

“I realise that you must be disappointed, but the good news is that I shall be able to build a new machine within two weeks and as soon as that is done I shall conduct another test. You will all be invited again. Thank you.”

Madazine’s Axel Griess, speaking from a nearby park bench, two empty three-litre cider bottles by his side, gave his verdict, his speech slurred. “Kevin began with one hut and finished it with two. Maybe he intends to start breeding the things. I’ll be around for the next trial but shall monitor it as well as I can from safe distance, probably Manchester.”

* * *

WHERE THE TOUGH GET GOING

Madazine’s roving reporter, Trixie Larkspur, has just visited one of our more unusual seats of learning. Her report is given below:


It is no common occurrence for an outsider to be invited to Hardknock School, so I was pleased to be one of the few. Situated on the North Yorkshire Moors, this establishment was once a Victorian workhouse. The building, of grey stone and forbidding appearance, is referred to by its few neighbours as The Pile. It is just about as remote as a habitation could be in our crowded country.

I was a little disconcerted on arriving at the main gate and seeing above it a wrought iron arch bearing the legend ‘Enter Not, Ye Faint Of Heart’. The words had obviously been repainted recently, as if to emphasise their import. I was greeted by the caretaker, Grampus, so dubbed because of his tendency to snort and wheeze prodigiously. I did not ascertain his real name. With a stream of unintelligible mumbling, he led me along a maze of gloomy corridors – no paint or even plaster in evidence here – to the study of the owner and headmaster, Desmond Bullymore.

Dismissing Grampus with an admonition to smarten his appearance, Dr Bullymore motioned me to sit on a straight–backed, uncushioned chair that would have delighted Frank Lloyd Wright. As many Madazine readers will doubtless know, that great architect was given to equipping his splendid houses with pain-inducing furniture of his own design.

The head of Hardknock School cuts an impressive figure. A former wrestler, he is six- foot-four, massively built, clean shaven and the possessor of piercing light-blue eyes. Though I understand he is close to sixty years of age, there is no trace of grey in his luxuriant black hair. He was standing behind his desk, and after giving me a chance to look him over, he took a seat in a huge swivel chair of studded red leather which nicely complemented the impressive and totally clear acreage of mahogany that separated us.

Before arriving at the school, I was given some details to help shorten the interview – the head is a busy man. I’d learned that Dr Bullymore founded Hardknock three years ago, and that the emphasis there is on physical rigour, with academic achievement decidedly in second place. My questions about the latter were subtly deflected, though I did later manage to sneak a word with one of the senior boys, who told me that as far as general education is concerned, the school has what he called a blank sheet in terms of passes. I have not yet been able to check this. The head has two degrees, a doctorate in Life Appreciation, awarded by the University of the Pacific Isles, and a master’s in Observing International Affairs, conferred by the Polytechnic Institute of Equatorial Guinea Dependencies, Southwest Division. My enquiries into the status of these bodies have so far elicited no information.

The school caters for a hundred and twenty boys, aged from eleven to eighteen, the only female on the premises being the matron, Mrs Broadbody, a stout lady of about the same age as the chief. Each day begins with the pre-breakfast ‘throw-in’, when half of the boys the toss the other half into the school lake, then those who have been immersed get out and do the same for the others, ensuring that everyone gets a dunking.

There are ostensibly formal lessons in the mornings from ten to twelve and afternoons from one to three. These take place in two huge classrooms and attendance is compulsory. However, the boys study whatever appeals to them, or nothing at all, if they wish to remain idle. Apart from the principal, there is only one teacher, the physical training instructor, Malcolm ‘Knuckles’ Magee. Before leaving, I met this shambling mountain of muscle and immediately ceased wondering how he got his nickname. During our very brief conversation, he said that he doubles – or it seemed to me dabbles – in the sciences.

The objective of Hardknock is to turn out tough, independent-minded young men, regardless of their scholastic prowess. Twice a year, once in winter and once in summer, the head arranges what he calls field exercises, each lasting five days. No notice is given of these, the idea being to hold them during particularly vicious heat waves or cold snaps. The boys are required to move at the double around the moors, carrying sixty-pound rucksacks and sleeping in the open air, regardless of weather conditions.

Dr Bullymore suggested that we walk around outside for a while. As we strolled towards the sports fields, he told me that soccer is not played at Hardknock because it is considered too tame. The main sporting activities are rugby and cricket and in neither game is any protective equipment allowed. Not surprisingly, injuries are common. In rugby, damages to various parts of the boys’ anatomies occur almost daily. When we passed a set of goalposts, I saw what was clearly a cartoonlike outline of a spreadeagled human body imprinted in the turf. My host said that this was the result of several boys piling atop a lad who was trying to dive over their last line of defence. Cricket also produces many casualties, especially broken shins and cracked skulls, almost all attributable to the absence of leg pads and headgear. This is part of what Dr Bullymore refers to as the hardening process.

I asked about the diet, assuming that it would be commensurate with the strenuous regimen. The head replied that this was indeed the case, informing me that breakfast is always gruel with a sprinkling of raisins. Lunch is invariably lard sandwiches. There is some variety in the case of the main meal. Mondays to Fridays, this is tripe and onions, weekends barley soup, with whatever roadkill the boys have gathered during the week. When possible, added flavour is provided by fungi from the nearby woods, though this is a chancy matter as the most common ones there are amanita phalloides and amanita virosa. On hearing this I remarked that these are perhaps the two most toxic things of their kind. The head quoted from The Book of Common Prayer, saying that in the midst of life we are in death, adding that the school had indeed had two deaths resulting from fungal poisoning, but that this kind of experience was helpful in keeping the boys on their toes in such matters.

While walking back to the main building, we encountered a lad coming the opposite way. Dr Bullymore cuffed him around the right ear, telling him to proceed more purposefully. The boy pointed at a plaster cast on his leg. “Sorry, sir,” he replied. “I’m trying. Really I am.” This brought him a clip on the other ear and the rejoinder that his best wasn’t good enough. The head told me that the lad had caught his leg in a gin trap in the school grounds, where the boys try to catch anything that might add to their food intake. That mishap was the second of its kind, the first one resulting in a leg being amputated.

I had hoped to stay longer at Hardknock but after an hour or so there I was dismissed rather brusquely by the principal, who had to deal with a report that a gorilla had been sighted in the orchard. “It’s probably one of the boys,” he said. “Most of them are indistinguishable from the great apes.” He asked me to see myself out, then strode off, bellowing for ‘Knuckles’ Magee to join him.

* * *

THE LAMPWICK LETTERS : NUMBER ONE

Dear Mr Amplegirth,

Thank you for sending me a copy of your essay about the Native Americans and their interactions with newcomers over the years. I accept your name for the people in question. They have at times been given various other titles but as far as I know, the one you use is now considered politically correct and I have no wish to risk getting my head in my hands by contesting this point.

In your covering letter you ask me let you have my opinion of the work and to confine my observations to its substance and to refrain from commenting on your style. That is just as well, as if you had given me a fuller remit, I would have had the odd bone to pick with you regarding certain aspects of your presentation, particularly the fact that you seem to have declared war on pronouns.

I am flattered that you have requested me to offer a critique, as I am by no means an expert in your subject matter. It is true that I have some modest reputation as an observer of the literary world, but my knowledge of your theme is no greater than that of the average passably well-formed lay person. However, I will try to do justice to the confidence you evidently have in me. You say that you intend to submit your dissertation to the writing forum of which you are a member and that you hope to receive an award for the best historical article offered this year.

Let me start by saying that I am somewhat at sea with your description of the contacts between the early voyagers from England and the folk they met. You refer to what were once called The Five Civilised Tribes. I do not like this term, as civilisation is in my view sometimes a subjective matter. Be that as it may, the point that causes me most concern is the names you give to those groups and others you refer to later in your paper.

Your note states that you employed a reputable man to do virtually all the research involved in the project, that you paid him a substantial fee for this, and that you are indebted to him for the portrayal of the various indigenous peoples identified in the text and for details of most of the incidents described. When you get to the end of this reply, you may wonder how well your money was spent.

You speak of the abovementioned five tribes as Cherripikkas, Chickpees, Sagoes, Tapiocas and Semolinas. Perhaps my education in this area has been neglected, but I have never heard of any such folks. Later in the manuscript you refer to other tribes, the names of which are new to me. It is a pity that you do not always state where they lived. I would love to know the locations of the Comandas, who you say were superb equestrians, and of the Peccadilloes and Companeros. Then you mention the Bluefeet. This is the first time I have seen any reference to them. You say they inhabited the far north and went barefoot, so possibly those two factors account for their name.

The section devoted to the Lewis and Clark expedition is replete with details about people the explorers allegedly met during their journey. I will not deal with all of the occurrences you relate, but I am bound to wonder exactly where Messrs L & C came across the Mandolins, another group of which I had not previously heard. A further surprise to me is your allusion the voyagers having met many Iraqis. I suspect you mean Iroquois. They inhabited a region far to the northeast of that covered during the famous journey, so I doubt that the encounters you report really occurred.

In a later passage you recount the supposed meeting between the two renowned men and a hunting party of Sombrero Apaches. I am very dubious about this. It is well known that there were several sub-groups of Apaches – from memory I think at least six of them – but I feel sure that Sombreros were not included. In any case, as far as I know, the Apaches did not normally roam around the area covered by Lewis and Clark. By the way, I recall that the young woman who was so helpful to them was known as Sacagawea, whereas you give her name as Titicaca, which is a lake in South America. I also point out in passing that the lady was a Shoshone, not a Shoeshiner.

I find your account of matters in the Southwest most intriguing, in particular the part in which you narrate the long pursuit of the Apache leader Gerontius by the men under the command of General Nathan Millpond. Here I did a little digging to satisfy myself. Nowhere could I find any allusion to the officer you describe as a brilliant strategist and master tactician. As for his quarry, please note that the only Gerontius I know of was a Roman fellow who died sixteen centuries ago. He was for a time Commander-in-Chief of a large army, so I imagine he would have given your military man a run for his money, had the two ever been adversaries.

If I may paraphrase a snippet from the old Native American lexicon, you seem to have chosen an unhappy hunting ground for your treatise. (Perhaps that remark is neither witty nor apposite, but the temptation to put it in is irresistible.) I could go on but hope I have said enough to persuade you that a further discussion with your informant might be helpful, especially if you feel you can wring a refund from him for what seems to me a highly questionable effort. I would further suggest that as your piece, though refreshingly original, appears to have no factual basis, you may wish to consider submitting it to the fiction category of your forum.

Yours sincerely,
Norman Lampwick, D.Litt.

* * *

 


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