Madazine - Part Ten

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

Submitted: February 01, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 01, 2017




The Reference

From: Parkwood Brickworks
Old Lane
Lower Otterby
20 August

To: Smith & Company
12 New Street
Upper Otterby

For the attention of Ms Hortense Topplewell

Dear Ms Topplewell

Thank you for your letter of 18 August, in which you request a reference for Paul Drooplock, who I understand has applied to you for a position as a night watchman/security officer.

Mr Drooplock joined this company on 6 May and left us two weeks ago. He was employed first as a shot-firer in our quarry and later as a general labourer. His first day here was marked by the collapse of our production office. He had called there to speak with the yard foreman, who was not there at the time. While waiting for him, Mr Drooplock lit a pipe – he was unaware that smoking is not allowed here. Regrettably, he did this while standing over a bowl containing several machine parts which the foreman had immersed in petrol for the purpose of removing grime. Burning tobacco fell into the bowl, causing a fierce blaze. Mr Drooplock rushed from the office, emerging unscathed. The building was wrecked. However, it was old and scheduled for replacement, so we merely expedited our plans.

Two weeks after the accident described above, Mr Drooplock was taking a short cut to the quarry by way of our kibbler shed, where large clods of clay are reduced to small pieces. On that day we had run out of dynamite and Mr Drooplock’s senior colleague had given him permission to use his initiative. He absented himself for an hour and returned with a basinful of nitro-glycerine. On entering the shed he tripped over a shovel and inadvertently deposited the basin onto a conveyor belt, which shook considerably as it passed over rollers. As you may know, the substance Mr Drooplock was carrying is notoriously unstable. It exploded, demolishing the structure and severely damaging the kibbling machine. Once again Mr Drooplock was able to hurry from the scene and escape without injury. Happily, the kibbler operator had left the building to take a tea break at the time, so he was also unhurt.

Immediately after the mishap with the nitro-glycerine, we transferred Mr Drooplock to general yard work. Two weeks later he had occasion to call at the milling house, where the kibbled clay is crushed to powder, which is later stamped into raw bricks. Unfortunately, during Mr Drooplock’s visit, the miller had a fit of hiccups. He pointed to his back, indicating the need for a firm pat, which he was unable to administer himself. Mr Drooplock obliged, with considerable vigour. This resulted in the miller rolling over the guard rail and meeting his death under the two six-ton grinding wheels. We concluded that Mr Drooplock had been doing his best to help his workmate and that he was not to blame for what happened.

A month later there was a further occurrence. We operate the traditional way by placing unfired bricks in kiln chambers. This is done manually by setters, who work in pairs. When a chamber is full, its mouth is closed  with finished bricks, whereupon firing is done by coal, shovelled in from above. Shortly after one of the chambers in our number two kiln had been sealed, someone noticed that a setter was missing. It was assumed that he had left for home, and no further thought was given to the matter until the following morning, when he did not report for work. As he lived alone, we were unable to establish what had happened to him. We became concerned, opened the chamber and found that the poor fellow had been immured and had perished in the heat. It was rumoured that shortly before he bricked up the chamber, Mr Drooplock had been involved in an argument with the deceased employee. However, this was hearsay and nobody was prepared to testify to it.

Apart from his being present at the scene of each of the four above-mentioned incidents, Mr Drooplock’s three-month spell of employment with us was largely uneventful. On the whole, he did the work assigned to him to the best of his satisfaction.

We hope that the above information will be helpful to you.

Yours sincerely

Artemius Poskin
Personnel Manager

P.S. As you have invited Mr Drooplock for an interview, perhaps you would do us a small favour by asking him whether he knows what became of twelve sticks of gelignite that vanished from here on the day he left us.

* * *


He’s at it again. Kevin Spout, inventor extraordinary, is working on a remarkable new project. No doubt some Madazine readers will recall Mr Spout’s last venture, which was an attempt to bore to the Earth’s centre and bring up a variety of high-value metals. The scheme was aborted after two weeks, when Kevin drilled through his own foot. Discouraged by this setback, he turned his fertile and restless mind to an endeavour he had been thinking about for some time. As with his last exploit, the venue is the Spout family’s home in the suburbs of Sheffield, Yorkshire, England. However, on this occasion that is merely the headquarters, as Kevin’s plan is all about mobility. Once again, our occasional science reporter, Axel Griess, was invited to see how the work is progressing.

The intention is to get more people travelling by bus and to this end Kevin has come up with the revolutionary notion of a triple-decker vehicle. “I’ve always been good at lateral thinking,” he said, “and I got this idea by fusing together two apparently unconnected things. First, I was watching a film which had a clip about one of those huge road trains – a truck and a couple of trailers – crossing the Northern Territory in Australia. Not long after that, while driving through town here I happened to look at the window of a restaurant. I saw a picture that seemed to be an artist’s impression of a triple-decker sandwich – four slices of bread interspersed with one layer of salad, one of cheese and one of beef. It dawned on me that the road train comprised three things in horizontal format while the sandwich was the same in a vertical layout.

“I spent the rest of that day seeking what proved to be an elusive connection, finally making it just before midnight. Once one has grasped something like this, it seems so simple. My brainwave was to envision a triple-section horizontal object as vertical and apply the result to the field of public transport, hence my idea for a bus with three decks. This will enable us to make much better use of our limited road space.”

After pausing to take a swig of his homebrewed beer, Kevin went on: “I believe that people have toyed with this notion from time to time, but nothing has come of it until now. My finances didn’t permit me to make the vehicle from scratch, so I bought two old double-decker buses, removed the upper deck from one of them, placed it atop the other and added an extra flight of stairs. I shall soon apply for a licence to run my bus on the public highway, and while dealing with the paperwork I shall also seek permission to get an exceptional concession allowing people on the top deck to smoke tobacco. That will calm their nerves, which I suppose might be a bit jangled in the early journeys.”

Reservations have been expressed by some experts, notably Oleg Ostrogoth, former advisor to the Moscow public transport authority. He said: “Having studied Mr Spout’s project, I foresee difficulties. I am most concerned about the stability of his bus, as it is twenty-one feet in height and its sides have flat surfaces of over five hundred square feet. I mention in passing that anyone occupying the third deck of the bus will need something more soothing than tobacco to retain their equanimity. However, this man seems resolved to proceed, so we shall see what happens.”

The Spout family’s long-suffering next-door neighbour, widow Alice Neutron (94), was alarmed. “Kevin’s last escapade was foolish enough,” she wailed, “but this seems even sillier. My late sister once said that as an innovator, he was deft. I think she got the wrong vowel in that last word.”

Kevin is undismayed by adverse comments. “Most advanced concepts are sneered at when they’re introduced,” he said. “They almost always catch on and mine will be no exception. I have given a lot of thought to this scheme and carried out a variety of rigorous tests on my bus. I have no doubt that it will emerge from its road trials with flying colours.”

Madazine’s Axel Griess is not a happy man. “I don’t normally think of myself as the downbeat type,” he said, “but on this occasion I feel very apprehensive. If I’m any judge, this idea will fly like a brick. The inaugural trip is scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday, so we haven’t long to wait.”

Excerpt from the South Yorkshire Evening Gleaner, Wednesday: Local inventor Kevin Spout today drove his revolutionary triple-decker bus on its maiden outing, starting at his home in a narrow side street. The only passengers were six representatives of the local media, including a reporter from our paper, all of them on the third deck. Thirty yards into its journey, the vehicle brought down eight telephone lines radiating from a roadside pole to nearby houses. Turning into the next street, it did the same to two lines of bunting, strung up for a local celebration.

Out on the open road, Mr Spout proceeded uneventfully for two miles before encountering a bridge, which sliced off the top four feet of the bus, causing the passengers to hurl themselves to the floor. Mr Spout did not stop for any of the incidents just described. The bus came to a halt only when it was buffeted by a crosswind which blew it over onto its left side. It demolished part of the perimeter fence of an artificial insemination centre, allowing six bulls to escape, four of them still free at the time of this report. Fortunately for the top-deck occupants, the vehicle’s fall was slowed to a gentle topple by the ten-foot-high fence, so nobody suffered anything worse than an assortment of cuts and bruises.

When interviewed by the police, Mr Spout said that he was disappointed at having achieved what he described as only a partial success. He was very surprised by his vehicle’s failure to withstand the wind, as he had tested its resistance by tying together two brooms, resting the brush end of one of them against the side of the bus at the highest point he could reach, and pushing hard. “I couldn’t move it an inch,” he said. On being asked to give his reaction to the discomfiture of his passengers, he replied: “Of course I’m sorry that they had a little scare at that bridge but after all, these news hounds don’t rank high in our social order. Maybe the experience will induce some of them to take up more useful occupations. By the way, I know some scaremongers were forecasting that I would hit the odd lamp-post. I didn’t, so I hope they are eating their words.”

We shall follow the aftermath of this strange incident and report again in due course.

Madazine’s Axel Griess, who followed the bus from a safe distance in his car, is still speechless.

* * *


Dear Earthlings,

As readers of Madazine, we who are composing this letter know that you have already received a message from Planet Zog. Here is one from Planet Goz. You may wonder why we are choosing to communicate with you via what is usually considered a humorous organ. We shall explain this below.

You have been under scrutiny for some time and we can no longer refrain from imparting a few comments to you, starting with the point that there is a particular cosmic society to which you do not belong. We refer to celestial bodies where the technique of mental image projection (MIP) has been developed, allowing members of the participating civilisations to communicate with each other by thought alone. As you must realise, this means that they can pass information across the Universe instantaneously, thus avoiding the untidy processes of grappling with the speed of light, finding the space warps so beloved of your science fiction writers, and other such nonsense.

There are MIP member planets throughout the Cosmos, some of them in your vicinity, monitoring your activities and transmitting details to the rest of us. Others are of course far away from you, the distance in our case being nearly two thousand light-years. In addition to this, there are extraterrestrial beings with this projection power – among you now incognito, so any planet in our ‘club’ is able to keep abreast of what you are doing and could contact you in this way. For no special reason, we have been asked to be the first to do so.

A further technique which you have not yet mastered is the interception of light beams on their way through space and the viewing of their content, much in the way that you watch television. This means that the Earth’s whole past is visible at various points in the Universe and that this history is transmitted from place to place and observed by beings using MIP. We are aware of your former supercontinents, the dinosaur period and so on. By the way, your geologists have done quite well in their efforts to explain the evolution of life on Earth.

The most important point we have to convey to you is the one that concerns your behaviour. An example of this is the pictures we are seeing now on Goz. Among other things, we are looking at the Roman invasion of Britain. We could, so to speak, go into fast forward or backward mode by contacting other MIP members, but are content to take our time on this occasion. In several parts of the Milky Way, your second world war can be seen. The latest incident passed to us here involved a convoy of supply ships heading for Murmansk. Thirty-six of them set out and two thirds were sunk in transit. Sheer madness.

Those of us who have viewed your past alternately smile and despair at your conduct. The whole of human history is dominated by almost ceaseless conflict. It seldom seems to occur to you to discuss whatever differences you may have and to share what you jointly possess, instead of thinking in terms of competition or battle. Even now, after all your bitter experiences, you appear to be engaging in a race to explore outer space, with several countries vying for leadership. Really, it’s like watching an institution for the profoundly disturbed. What a shame that you don’t try more cooperation and less rivalry.

It is not really for us to interfere with your activities, but we cannot resist stating that you could stop the nonsense at once. How? Well, our assessment is that nearly all of you, wherever you live, are peaceful and friendly unless stirred up by demagogues. We recommend that you isolate those of your leaders disposed to bellicosity, equip them with all the instruments of mayhem they want and place them in confined areas, permitting them to do as much slaughtering and maiming as they like among themselves, while leaving the rest of you to get on with your lives – and each other.

Incidentally, we note that you are trying to spot interplanetary rocks floating around in your area. There are more of these than you have yet detected. One big chunk is very close to the Earth and seems likely to give you a severe blow in the near future. This could kill half the human race. Of course that would not trouble you too much, as you are breeding like rabbits – more foolishness – so you would doubtless repopulate quite quickly. Anyway, we suggest you increase your efforts to find these bits of debris.

If you will accept a further cautionary word, we would advise you to take better care of your planet, or it will tire of you and shrug you off. Remember that your own naturalists have concluded that over ninety-nine per cent of the species ever to live on the Earth have already come and gone. Even if you do mend your ways, you will probably follow that trend. If you don’t behave more responsibly, your demise is almost certain. And please forget any ideas you have about colonising another planet. The care and maintenance of heavenly bodies needs far more skill than you have shown to date. Get your present habitat right before you venture elsewhere.

Having offered you some guidance, we shall now note your progress. If you proceed in the right direction, you might eventually be offered admission to the MIP society, but be warned that this would require you to move far ahead of where you are at present. Now, we promised to indicate why this message comes to you via a predominantly amusing channel. In case it hasn’t already dawned on you, the reason is that you are the laughing (and crying) stock of the Universe. Shape up!

Yours sincerely,
The Council of Planet Goz – and all other Gozlings

* * *


To Nigel Gloater-Hogg: Head Of Human Resources

From Walter Grobble: Section Leader, Arrears Department

Dear Pigface

This is the letter I have been longing to write for ten of the eleven years I’ve sweated in the Dickensian hell-hole we call General Property Maintenance Ltd. Having looked long and hard for another job in such a difficult labour market, I’m delighted to tell you that I have secured a position with our rival, Smith & Sons.

Over the years, I have repeatedly seen my most innovative efforts nullified by toadies, some of whom now sit in judgement on me. Not being a sycophant myself, I do not understand the lickspittle mentality, but I won’t labour that theme, as I have no wish to indulge in bitterness or recrimination.

You may have noticed from our annual parties that I am not normally much of a drinking man, but today I have brought a dimpled bottle to the office and shall be indulging. As you know, I have a slight defect in my right leg, so with that and a few shots inside me, I’ll probably leave here with an unusually pronounced list to starboard.

I am well aware that the practice of working a period of notice is outdated, so I shall depart with immediate effect, by which I mean at five o’clock this evening. I am writing this immediately before I start work at 8.30 a.m. No doubt it would give you great delight to have a couple of your security goons frog-march me to the exit, then send out an office junior with my jacket and the few personal effects in my cubicle – I shall have a proper office in my new employment – but you will not get that pleasure. The items in question are already outside in my car, being looked after by my wife and four children, who will do some shopping, then call for me when I bolt from this ghastly treadmill.

As both we and Smith & Sons are in the same town and engaged in the same kind of work, I rejoice to say that I shall soon be instrumental in putting GPM Ltd. out of business. What fun that will be. However, I am mindful of the fact that you once, long ago, did me a risibly small favour and I am not one to forget such things, nor am I the type to bear grudges. Therefore, when you are at a loose end, as a man of your limited abilities is certain to be after becoming unemployed, you may contact me at Smith & Sons, where I am sure that I shall be able to find an opening for you – in the mail room!

Yours exultantly,
Walter Grobble

From Nigel Gloater-Hogg: Head Of Human Resources

To Walter Grobble: Section Leader, Arrears Department, to be delivered by hand before 5.00 p. m.

Dear Walter

Thank you for your letter of resignation, which I received this morning. You are certainly forthright, a quality much valued by this company. Your intention to leave us at five o’clock today is noted, as is your observation regarding our security staff. You need not have had any concern with regard to the second point, as only those departing employees who have occupied senior and sensitive positions are escorted to the exit by the officers in question.

I have no recollection of having done you the favour you mention, but I have tried to be helpful to many of our workers over the years, so one good turn more or less might easily be forgotten. Anyway, it’s nice to know I was able to carry out that act of kindness, whatever it was.

Now I must address a very significant point. No doubt you will have had your nose to the grindstone since writing your letter, so you may well not have heard a rather distressing news item which came to our ears today. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that there was a terrible accident at the premises of Smith & Sons shortly before nine this morning, so apparently less than an hour after your letter was completed. I understand that the incident was something to do with a gas main, though that may be just a rumour. Irrespective of the reason, Smiths’ premises were totally destroyed. Fortunately, nobody had started work, so there were no personnel casualties.

The blast caused all operations to cease, and on hearing the tragic tidings, the directors of Smith & Sons called an emergency board meeting, the upshot of which was that no attempt will be made to rescue the business. It is now defunct.

Walt (I hope you will forgive the familiarity), having accepted your resignation, we must of course see the matter through, so we appreciate that you will part company with us this evening. With this in mind, I feel it incumbent upon me to mention that you have no formal qualifications of any kind and that you came to us direct from a four-year spell of detention at her Majesty’s pleasure. What was it? Oh, yes, fraud – multiple charges if I remember rightly. Still, you served your time. In fact you did so without remission for good behaviour. Something to do with attacking another inmate, wasn’t it? But we have no wish to dwell on the past.

In view of today’s events, I imagine that you may find yourself in an awkward position after you leave us. We are a humanitarian company – you will perhaps recall that we overlooked that little matter of the petty cash discrepancy that occurred two years and eleven weeks ago. Should you wish to contact me at your leisure, which I feel sure you will have, I think we might be able to find an opening for you – in the mail room.

Best wishes,

* * *


Announcer: I’m sure we are all grateful to Fred Green for enlightening us about so many aspects of gardening. Now, we have a few minutes left for listeners to phone in with their queries. You may have gathered that Fred does not take prisoners, so be prepared for some forthright responses. Let’s have our first question, please.

Caller: Hello. I’m Edith Loambarrow and I’m from Longacre in Somerset.

Green: Well, we all have our troubles, but what’s your question?

Edith: I have a problem with my agoraphobius. I keep it in the back garden, which faces south and the poor thing just doesn’t seem to like the Sun. What am I doing wrong?

Green: Everything! The clue is in the name, as anyone with a grain of sense would realise. You must have heard of agoraphobia. The plant’s yearning for a confined space, preferably a dark one. You should do something similar to what I did with my agoraphobias. I put them in a windowless cellar.

Edith: Oh, thank you. Did they flourish?

Green: How would I know? They’ve been locked in there for nine years. Does anybody have a more interesting question?

Caller: Good morning, Fred. My name is Shrubs and I live in Birmingham.

Green: You have my sympathy on both counts. What’s your difficulty?

Shrubs: I’m having a tough time with a patch of carnivorias. I was advised to dose them with bone meal, but they don’t seem to like it. What food would you suggest?

Green: Dead simple. Carnivorias love meat. Give them rare steak, but just watch out how you approach them. If they haven’t been fed for a while, toss the stuff to them from a safe distance. If you get too close, they’ll have your arm off as soon as look at you. Next!

Caller: G’day, Greeno. I’m Bruce Dongle, from Western ’Stralia.

Green: Oh, come off it. Nobody rings a UK gardening programme from Oz. What’s your game?

Bruce: Straight up, mate. I live near Eighty Mile Beach. That’s a good way –

Green: I know where it is. Up beyond Perth and a bit to the right.

Bruce: Close enough.

Green; Well, I’m passably fluent it Strine, so you may speak freely. What’s eating you?

Bruce: I have a real headache with delirium tremens in my front garden.

Green: I can see how that would affect your head but this kind of thing is usually best dealt with indoors.

Bruce: Not sure what you’re driving at there. My worry is that they’re getting out of control. I’m up to the hips in them. Have you any ideas?

Green: Yes. The problem is your geographical location in the Southern Hemisphere. The best thing you can do is dig up your DTs and replant them with the heads down. That way, the blistering heat out your way will shrivel the exposed roots at the same time as the tops are fighting a losing battle in trying to flower underground.
Bruce: Great. I’ll do it. Good on yer. I’ll get right –

Green: Just a minute, haven’t you forgotten something?

Bruce: What?

Green: You said ‘Good on yer,’ but you didn’t say ‘cobber.’

Bruce: Hey, I’m not that much of stereotype.

Green: You could have fooled me. Anyway, make sure your DTs don’t fight back. They can sometimes make a last stand by emerging from the soil, or even coming through your walls, in the form of green and yellow lizards and giant insects. If that happens, leave the plants alone and lay off the booze.

Bruce: Okay, cob . . . er . . . Greeno, I’ll do what you say.

Green:  Goodbye and good luck, Bruce. Now, it seems I’ve time for one more question, if we can keep it short, so get a move on, whoever you are.

Caller: Hello, Mr Green. My name is Daisy Meadowbloom and I’m from –

Green: Never mind where you live. Nobody cares. What’s up?

Daisy: I’ve been having a great deal of trouble trying to get a bed of amnesias to flourish. I’m doing everything my local garden centre manager tells me to do, but I just don’t have any success. Can you tell me what to do?

Green: You’re in the same position as the first questioner, in that the name tells you everything you need to know. Amnesias, right? Just forget them and they’ll do as much for you. That’s all for today.

* * *


Another product of the astonishingly creative mind of Yorkshire inventor Kevin Spout was displayed today. This time the venue was a football field a mile or so from the Spout family home in Sheffield. Madazine’s science reporter Axel Griess was invited to view the proceedings.

Kevin explained that his latest idea had come to him while he was listening to a radio programme concerning the possibility of astronauts landing on Mars and returning safely to the Earth. “The speakers chose to ignore the main problem,” said Kevin. “As matters stand, we shall be unable to leave this planet until we have got rid of the junk we have sent up to encircle it. We are quarantined by our own trash. I know I am not the first to notice this, but I intend to take the lead in doing something about it.”

Armed with this notion, Kevin constructed a rocket which he says is the forerunner of a much bigger version, soon to be produced. Both are two-stage machines, fuelled by a combination of refined petroleum (RP - 1), oxygen and hydrogen, both liquefied, plus a secret ingredient which will be revealed later.

As with other rockets of this kind, the task of the large first stage is to hurl the craft up to a certain height, then the smaller second stage takes over to place the payload into an orbit that can be varied as required. The final operation in this case is the deployment of a funnel-shaped scoop, intended to emerge from the nose cone and expand, then gather up any space debris it encounters. When it is full, a membrane closes over its mouth and the apparatus falls back into the atmosphere and burns up. The objective of today’s test was to reach a sub-orbital position and establish that all the parts worked as planned.

Blast-off was at ten o’clock this morning. The launch pad was an array of pallets, borrowed from a local warehouse. About two hundred spectators watched as Kevin strode to the base of the rocket and started the first-stage ignition by lighting a short fuse. He then retreated swiftly.

The craft ascended at a much slower rate than predicted and ran out of fuel when well short of the altitude its designer had in mind for the first phase of the operation. As it came to a halt, two of its four tail fins, intended to act as in-flight stabilisers, fell from the housing. This unbalanced the rocket, which immediately swung through one hundred and eighty degrees and began to fall, retracing exactly the path of its climb.

A further and more alarming development came almost immediately after the rocket had begun its descent. The second stage was activated and the craft hurtled down at tremendous speed. Though the scoop deployed, it inverted at once in the updraught, like an umbrella in a high wind, so had little or no braking effect. The crowd, having moved in from the football field’s touchlines, scattered back. The rocket, with its engine still roaring, plunged through the middle of what remained of the launch pad and burrowed into the ground to a depth yet to be ascertained, but certainly great.

An inquiry began at once. It emerged that Kevin’s assistant, his cousin Donald, had run out of super glue when fixing the tail fins. In order to meet the tight schedule, he had resorted to using the only material he had to hand – wallpaper paste. When taken to task by Kevin, he pointed out that the rocket’s base was slightly squared off, so the four fins could be regarded as two pairs, on what he called the port and starboard sides. He said that if numbers one and three, or two and four had failed, all might have been well. As it was, numbers three and four, both on the same side, had become detached and this caused the imbalance.

Having remonstrated with his assistant for the use of an inappropriate bonding agent, Kevin learned that he had made an even greater error himself. This came to light when he tried to find out why the rocket had performed so sluggishly in its climb from the launch site. He discovered that after assembling the craft correctly, he had then wired up the two engines in the wrong sequence, so the second-stage unit had tried to do what had been expected of the much more powerful first-stage one. Seconds after the fins failed and the rocket upended, the larger engine took over and caused the rapid descent.

Kevin was philosophical, claiming that the operation had not been entirely fruitless. “You have to admit,” he said, “that the original first stage was very robust, as it survived the downthrust of the second engine. I take a lot of comfort from that as I return to the drawing board.”

Axel Griess commented only that if Kevin had used this technique in his earlier attempt to bore through to the Earth’s core, he might have come closer to success than he did on that occasion.

* * *


Harry: Nice to see you again, Dave. Have a seat and tell me what’s on your mind.

David: Well, Harry, I’d like to talk with you in your capacity of chairman of the party’s local constituency. I’ve decided to explore the possibility of going into politics.

Harry: My dear fellow, I’m sure your motives are noble, but if you don’t mind my being frank, you’ve never struck me as the type. Are you sure about this?

David: Yes. It’s occurred to me that there aren’t enough of the right people in the House of Commons. I suspect the reason is that there is simply a shortage of applicants for the openings that arise.

Harry:  You’re way off the mark there. Countrywide, we have umpteen of them for every seat that becomes available. You’ve no idea how many people want to get their noses into the trough.

David: Trough? I don’t understand. My idea is to do something to improve the state of this country. I’d like to make a difference.

Harry: We all would, old boy, but most of us don’t manage it, and if you’re hoping to do it in the Westminster madhouse, I think you’ll be disappointed. If you were to get in, you’d have hardly any influence unless you were to climb a fair way up the greasy pole, and even then you’d never be able to do anything of which the civil service Mandarins didn’t approve – and they’re rarely enthusiastic about endorsing whatever the politicians wish to do.

David: Well, that’s a pity. I had visions of myself getting to the front bench and glaring across at the enemy.

Harry: Such innocence, Dave. Let me acquaint you with the famous conversation that took place some time ago between a new arrival in the bear pit and a senior backbencher. The newcomer used the very words you just did and the experienced chap said: “Wrong, my friend. The people facing you form the opposition. The enemy is behind you.”

David: Behind?

Harry: Of course. That’s the only location from which they can stab you in the back.

David: You’re beginning to depress me, Harry. I had thought that with my background as an economist –

Harry: Stop! I don’t want to stick the knife in, but we already have six economics experts in the list of applicants for our upcoming vacancy, and you know what they say about such people.

David: No, I don’t. Would you like to tell me?

Harry: Well, you asked for this. The word is that if all the economists in the world were laid end to end, they wouldn’t reach a conclusion. I mean, you have to admit that people in your line have a tendency to predict every possible future scenario, then when one of those forecasts comes true they say: “There, I told you so.” Of course they draw a veil over all the wrong outcomes they foretold.

Davis: I’m so glad you said you didn’t want to stick the knife in. I shudder to think of what you’d say if you did.

Harry: I’m sorry, Dave, but you have to face it. In public esteem, economists rank at about the same level as estate agents.

David: That’s a low one, Harry. Anyway, economics is not the only arrow in my quiver. I’ve written quite a few articles for various national newspapers.

Harry: Even worse, Dave. Journalists are rated lower than the two lots I just mentioned. I think you should consider not considering what you are considering.

David: That’s quite a bit of consideration, Harry. Frankness seems to be your middle name.

Harry: I’m only telling you these things for your own good.

David: Well, I’m not discouraged. I believe I could be useful in bringing the left and right sides of our party towards the centre.

Harry: If you were to try that, you’d acquire the most damning description in your colleagues’ vocabulary.

David: What’s that?

Harry: They’d classify you as extreme middle. That’s a good way to make yourself unpopular. The factions love their infighting. It keeps them going. Anyway, I have another appointment shortly, so you’ll have to excuse me. However, if you don’t mind my being blunt –

David: I don’t see how you could be more so than you have been.

Harry: Look, Dave, I have to be brutally honest here. You’re simply not wily enough for what you have in mind. The biggest problem you’d have would be your credulousness. In fact, you’re just about the most gullible fellow I know.

David: I don’t understand you. Give me an example of what you’re saying.

Harry: All right, but remember you’ve brought this upon yourself. I’m thinking of the incident last year when I told you I’d been digging the garden over and had found a Roman coin, clearly stamped 49 B.C. and that I’d sent if off to get an assessment. You offered me a hundred pounds for the thing, without seeing it.

David: Yes, and even if you were given a lower valuation, my offer stands.

Harry: And you still don’t see what I mean?

* * *


To: The Manager
Supreme Appliances
34 High Street

Dear Sir

I tried to call on you this evening, only to find your premises closed at five minutes before the usual time, so I returned home to write this letter, which I shall deliver to you personally in a few minutes.

Last Saturday, I bought one of your Flatline 40 machines and I must say it is giving me a lot of trouble. As far as I can make out, the main difficulty is with the base unit, housing the thingummy at the left-hand side. This connects, or is supposed to connect, with the whatsit, immediately to its right. I don’t know whether both parts are faulty, or whether the first is failing to activate the second. Anyway, this is most unsatisfactory. That fact that I bought the item with a 25% price reduction does nothing to comfort me.

I have tried repeatedly to contact what you call, somewhat amusingly in my view, your 24-hour hotline, but it appears to be as cold as a creditor’s heart. On three occasions I was asked to wait for attention, which I did for fifteen minutes each time. When I made a final attempt to get through, there was no reply at all.

As this contraption fails to perform in the way it should, I insist on a refund of the £150 I paid. I suspect you might try to fob me off with a verbal message, so to forestall this I would like you to call at my home – 12, The Avenue – today, bring the money (cash, please) and take the machine away.

Yours disgruntledly,
Arthur Sprocket (Mr)

To: Arthur Sprocket
12 The Avenue

Dear Arthur Sprocket (Mr) – nice to see that you’re abreast of things, genderwise

I would like to say thank you for your letter, but am reluctant do so because I can hardly be expected to express pleasure when receiving a complaint – they’re quite tiresome, you know. When I finish writing this, I’ll bring it to your home and put it in the letterbox. I shan’t be able to stop for a chat, as I shall be on my way to a posh dinner. Honestly, the things I do for this business.

Your whining does not surprise me, as the Flatline 40 was never one of the best products of its kind. The earlier models in the same range, F-10, F-20 and F-30 were all verging on passable quality, as is the F-50, which replaced the 40.

It was perceptive of you to note that the problem lies with the two parts you correctly identified as the thingummy and the whatsit. The latter is dependent on the former, but as it happens, both are defective. The first three Flatlines were not fitted with these two parts, so they did not give us any trouble of the kind you mention, though Heaven knows we had numerous other headaches with them.

The F-10, F-20 and F-30 had the thingummy’s precursor, a German part, known in its country of origin as the Dingsbums, while in the F-50, the functions of both thingummy and whatsit are performed by a single device, the doodah, usually referred to in the US as the doodad or doohickey, among other names. Even this will soon be superseded when the F-50 is improved by the incorporation of two new gadgets, the gizmo and the whatyamacallit.

Let me take a moment to respond to your comment about our hotline. To be honest, that facility is a bit of a joke. The phone is manned day and night on an unpaid basis by an octogenarian insomniac who thinks he’s doing his bit for society – we’re not nasty enough to disabuse him of the idea. He tends to get close to dozing at times, but when he feels himself drifting off, he usually manages to activate the soothing ‘wait’ music – nice tune, don’t you think? He doesn’t know a thing about any of our merchandise, but he’s quite good at coming up with temporising remarks which put people off until the shop opens. We call him the procrastinator-general. That’s a real thigh-slapper, isn’t it?

As to your current situation, I must say I am rather surprised that you, a local man, did not spot something amiss when you bought your Flatline 40. I can hardly believe you were unaware of the fact that we are not known for making special offers. When you saw that ‘25% off’ ticket, you should have smelt a rat. Caveat emptor is the expression, old boy. Our policy here is to get products onto the market and allow customers to discover and report faults. One might say that our motto is ‘let the mugs find the bugs’. Hey, I just thought that up. Good, eh?

Arthur, get real. There is no chance that we’ll give you a refund, and we are not prepared to take back your machine. You purchased it as seen, so this is a case of ‘buyers, keepers’.  You will have to either retain your F-40 or scrap it. I mean, you’ll hardly find anyone who will take it off your hands. However, we at Supreme Appliances are not heartless. Fairness is my middle name, so I’m prepared to do a deal. If you act quickly, you can have an F-50 for the full current price – it’s going up quite bit at close of business tomorrow and is already eye-wateringly more expensive than the F-40. This arrangement would require you to cough up – wait for it –  a further £430, in addition to the £150 you paid for that piece of . . . machinery you have now. Yes, I know, life stinks.

I realise that we live in an increasingly litigious society and it occurs to me that you might wish to take us to court, but we would then be involved in a small claims matter and you know how those things drag on. You could be embattled for years and most likely wouldn’t get anywhere in the end, as we at Supreme Appliances are pretty slippery types and know most of the dodges. I’d say your best course is the one I suggest. If you reject it, you’ll be stuck with that wretched F-40, which will annoy you no end until you ditch it. I’ll keep my proposal on the table until six o’clock tomorrow evening. If you haven’t accepted it by then, you’ll be out of luck.

Have a nice day,
Mike Fiddler, Manager

* * *


The great Robert Service wrote some stirring poems about the Yukon in general and the gold rush there in particular. We at Madazine like to think that if he had managed another piece, it might have been similar to the one composed recently by our sub-editor, Tom Bola. It is given below:


When the cry of ‘Gold’ went up, it rang out loud and clear.
We answered it in legions, with neither doubt nor fear.
I was in the fevered throng and barely gave a thought,
To obstacles ahead of us, or battles to be fought.

My job as an accountant was secure and quite well paid.
Yet off I went without a qualm, exchanging pen for spade.
‘Cobbler, stick to your last,’ how oft I heard those words.
And each time my prompt retort was: ‘Tell that to the birds.’

It takes all sorts to make a world, and most of them were there.
Young and old, short and tall, the cheaters and the fair.
Some were the intrepid types, surmounting every hitch.
Then there were the predators, with hearts as black as pitch.

A hundred thousand started out and only one third finished.
No wonder that on such a trek, the multitude diminished.
Of those who made it to the end, about an eighth found gold.
And some had problems keeping it, for that stuff’s hard to hold.

It wasn’t such a great surprise that many lost their all,
For pride is not the only thing that comes before a fall.
There’s pestilence or thieves or hooch, plus lots of other threats,
To move a man from sudden wealth to piling up the debts.

A ton of food at least they said, was what a man must take,
When heading for that fearsome pass that led to Bennett Lake.
The overseer weighed my sacks and found I’d come up short.
‘You’d better hop around,’ he said ‘and see what’s to be bought.’

The grocer was a canny chap, not interested in gold,
But he made a bumper profit on everything he sold.
At last with larder empty, he declared his business ceased.
Then hired a guard to escort him, and hurried off back east.

When we reached the Yukon River, we still had far to go,
And nearly every mile of it meant further toil and woe.
We built skiffs, canoes and kayaks, near any kind of craft.
I opted for the simple course and made a little raft.

I’d always seen myself as smart, not one of Nature’s fools,
But I was none too handy with a set of borrowed tools.
At length with task accomplished, I floated all the way,
Arriving at the diggings on a wet and windy day.

The waterway was tricky and the trip was long and tough.
Hundreds simply balked at it, and said they’d had enough.
Some lost their lives in rapids, while others fell to floods,
And I heard a number vanished, when foraging in woods.

I staked my claim and slaved away and had no wish to shirk.
But oh, how I got tired of that unrelenting work.
I have this flimsy cabin which I put up in a rush.
If you wanted to demolish it, you’d only have to push.

For near a year I laboured, from dawn to dusk each day,
Though nothing I experienced encouraged me to stay.
I didn’t see a speck or flake of what I’d come to find.
That well-nigh wrecked my body, and discomposed my mind.

I wound up slightly crazy and I got a taste for booze.
They say that happens frequently to men marked down to lose.
And destiny included me among the ones who fail.
Well, never mind, it’s over and I don’t intend to wail.

I’m weaker than a kitten and I’ve neither food nor drink.
Twelve months ago my mind was full of dinner suits and mink.
My roof leaks and the fire’s out and I can’t get foot to floor.
And hungry creatures lurk outside, a few feet from my door.

On top of other troubles, there’s this paralysing cold.
Minus forty-odd at times, or that’s what I was told.
I’m scrawling out this poem with a little pencil stub,
But I’d swap my paltry verses for an ounce or two of grub.

I’ve simply been unlucky and it’s senseless to complain,
But I’d like a dose of something strong, to ease this awful pain.
I’ve no more paper now to write a fitting epitaph,
So I guess I’ll just peg out, not with a curse but with a laugh.

* * *


There was a remarkable occurrence in the suburbs of Sheffield this morning, when local inventor Kevin Spout treated members of the media and public to the first trial of his latest invention in the engineering field. Spout’s supporters recently dubbed him Yorkshire’s answer to Leonardo da Vinci because he emulates that renowned Tuscan gentleman by embarking on a great number and range of ventures. His detractors retort that he also shares the Renaissance polymath’s tendency to leave jobs unfinished.

The result of Kevin’s current brainwave was displayed at a boating lake not far from his home. Before giving the demonstration, he explained what led to it. “I’ve always been good at lateral thinking,” he said. “For some years it has seemed to me that bridges are a colossal waste of materials and human resources. Just consider the miles of cable, the roadways and the vast amount of rock used for anchorages. It’s absurd. I was returning from a visit to the castle at Warwick, where I had seen the world’s largest trebuchet in action. As you probably know, these machines were used in medieval times as siege engines, usually to batter the walls of strongholds.

“When I conflated my two ideas concerning trebuchets and bridging gaps, I realised that the former could be adapted to deal with the latter, thus obviating a great deal of construction work. Clearly people need to go both ways when crossing stretches of water or chasms of whatever kind. Therefore, to avoid queuing, it is advisable to have two sets of apparatus, one for sending an object and one for receiving it, on each side. For today I have produced only one sender and one receiver. I now invite you to look at them.”

The sender was a huge trebuchet, built by members of the Spout family and modified for today’s purpose by Kevin himself. It stood a few yards from the lake’s edge, on the east side. The receiver was a long ramp, its high end about the same distance from the water on the west side. Kevin’s father, a garage mechanic, had fitted it with a braking system to ensure a safe and smooth descent for the propelled object. The two structures were about a hundred and fifty yards apart.

For those who know nothing of warfare in times gone by, a trebuchet can perhaps best visualised as a kind of gigantic catapult. A beam is fixed asymmetrically between two uprights, in such a way that its long end is nearly four times the length of the short one. A massive counterweight is attached to the short end, while the long one holds the weapon, or in this case the conveyance.

In order to enhance the force of projection, Kevin had fixed specialtensioning cables to the beam, linking them with a mechanism of his own design. His plan was to release them in such a way that the counterweight would be yanked down and the opposite end of the beam whipped up. No details of the weight at either end of the beam, the degree of cable tautness or the concealed linking device were disclosed, as Kevin fears industrial espionage for copycat schemes.

With the traditional trebuchet, a missile, usually a very heavy rock, was fixed to the outer end of the beam’s longer section. For today’s experiment, instead of a weapon there was a capsule about six feet long, designed to allow two people to travel in tandem. Kevin has much bigger versions in mind for the future. On this occasion, the passenger seats were occupied by dummies. Several people had volunteered for the trip, but their offers were declined.

The operation began when Kevin, assisted by his cousin Donald, who hadhelped him with his recent work on a rocket, freed the cables from their restraining wires. As the counterweight dropped, the capsule soared. Unfortunately, instead of describing the expected graceful arc and touching down on the receiver, it executed unintended moves in all three aerial axes, lateral, longitudinal and vertical, pitching, rolling and yawing wildly. After turning base over apex twice, it plunged into the lake just short of the west shore and forty yards south of the receiver, destroying two rowing boats. While the capsule was making its brief journey, the trebuchet, overtaxed by the strain imposed upon it, collapsed.

A two-man recovery team, Kevin’s uncles, hauled the capsule from the water, and on inspecting the dummies found that both had been decapitated and had lost their arms and legs. When they were reassembled, it was noted that they bore no marks consistent with serious injury to human passengers. “Maybe they were just scared to bits,” was how one wag put it.

When asked to explain the mishap, Kevin said: “I must confess that, as in the case of my earlier experiment with a spacecraft, I gave my assistant Donald too much responsibility when I allowed him to position the receiver. He did not mention until a moment ago that he has a problem with macular pucker in his right eye. As anyone with this complaint will know, it causes apparent shifts in the locations of distant objects. This accounts for the receiver being in the wrong place. I was too busy to notice this when arranging the launch.

“The somewhat uncontrolled nature of the flight was caused by two factors. First, the extra energy induced by release of the restraining cables was not quite at the right level. Second, I decided late in the day that I would not equip the capsule with the pair of stubby wings I had constructed in order to maximise stability. Although I have learned a great deal from the test, I cannot regard it as a complete success. I shall fare much better with the second one.”

Before today’s incident, no engineering experts had publicly expressed opinions about the project. It emerged afterwards that the event had been attended by Jim Popadomescu of Bucharest, a specialist in trebuchets. He said that he could have predicted the outcome but that nobody had asked him to offer his views and he did not want to make unsolicited observations before the event. However, he made the retrospective suggestion that a more satisfactory result would have been achieved by use of his propulsion system. This is based on the plaiting together of rubber bands, which he buys by the crateful from his local stationer.

Madazine’s Axel Griess had viewed the proceedings. When he was located taking a stiff brandy in a pub near the lake, he said that he did not wish to add much to the high level of exposure likely to be given to the trial. He did disclose that immediately after the crash, Kevin had found a moment to ask him if he might be interested in booking a passage for the next outing. “I refused,” he said. “While I yield to no-one in my admiration of Kevin’s ingenuity, I prefer terra firma, on the ground that it provides more ‘firmer’ and less terror.”

A date for the next test has yet to be fixed.

* * *


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