Madazine - Part Two

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
A further batch of strange items on a variety of themes, predominantly humorous.

Submitted: January 04, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 04, 2017





After passing every test since its appearance in 1905, the Special Theory of Relativity is finally tottering. Professor Ovis Jopp, the lean, seven-foot-two, green bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’ announced yesterday that he has propelled a material object to beyond the speed of light.

In the green room of his fjordside home, the jubilant professor explained all. “It was a fairly simple experiment,” he said. “I merely went out into the grounds of my house, taking an ordinary torch with a green bulb, the latter borrowed from my daughter’s playroom. I attached to the glass a film of joppium, a sub-hydrogenic element which I made and which is, I believe, the only humanly-contrived artifact of zero mass in existence. Under the film was an infra-microscopic motor, also made of joppium. I switched on the torch and, by delayed action, the motor. I saw clearly that the film was projected beyond the torch beam, indicating a velocity greater than that of light. I timed the experiment with my own watch, which has never lost more than five minutes a day. I entered a neighbour’s garden and recovered the film, which was singed at the edges – a minor hitch that I can overcome by employing an ablation shield, made of a joppium isotope. This is my greatest feat so far.”

If Jopp’s findings are confirmed, this will be an astounding breakthrough, causing us to wonder once again why there has not yet been a special award for this superman of science. Rumour has it that he recently rejected, for the seventh time, nomination for the Nobel Prize in his field. Sources close to Jopp suggest that he considers such an accolade inadequate for a man of his accomplishments, and that he is disposed to wait until someone devises an honour commensurate with his status.

As so often in such matters, there are sceptics. Professor Jopp’s would-be nemesis, the five-foot-four tall, five-foot-four round, hairless ‘Swedish Savant’, Dr Terps Dunderklap, is foremost among them. Interviewed near the nurses’ quarters of a Kalmar hospital, he was convulsed with laughter. “Not for the first time, Jopp is hoist with his own petard,” he guffawed. “If he would rid himself of his mania for greenery, he might make a passable junior laboratory assistant. By the way, his timekeeping was hopelessly inadequate. I would have been happy to lend him my watch, which would have sufficed, as it is reliable to within ten minutes a week.”

The doctor was asked to elaborate. “Gladly,” he said. “Jopp’s main mistake was an elementary one. He used green light and as I have established, the photons concerned are heavier than those of white light and therefore travel slower. Consequently, even with the extra impetus of the joppium motor, the existence of which I doubt anyway, Jopp’s film could not have broken the light barrier. But for the fact that he does not have the necessary intelligence, I would consider the man a charlatan.”

Dunderklap continued: “It is possible for a material object to exceed light-speed. I proved this last year, but did not publish my findings, as I considered them unimportant. My experiment was similar to Jopp’s, except that I used, correctly, white light. I capped my torch with a sheet of dunderium, an element of nil mass, which I invented, incidentally beating Jopp in that respect, too. I used a zero-impulse motor with the same properties as the sheet and achieved superluminary speed. You may inform old Grassface that he need not nose around for details, as there is only one dunderium assembly, and wild horses would not induce me to tell him that it is in a safe-deposit box in the bank next door to my home.”

This wrangle will surely continue.

* * *

Sadsack Publishing Company

Dear Mr Underthwaite

Thank you for your letter and welcome to our haven for new writers. We know how weary you must be after labouring so long and hard over your book ‘Reminiscences of my Early Years (1930s and 1940s) in a Yorkshire Mill Town.’ At 18,000 words, the work is only about a quarter of the average book-length, but we are sure you put heart and soul into so noble an opus and if, after what follows here, you choose to submit the manuscript, we shall strive to do it justice.

It is as well that when sending the synopsis, you mentioned having contacted us before any other fringe publishing company, as this gives us the opportunity to acquaint you with what you can expect if you approach our competitors. We have devoted some effort to this matter and have compiled a list of points typically raised by organisations operating in this field. These are given below in bold type, followed by our interpretations. Gird your loins and read on.

We are not in the vanity publishing business. We are in the vanity publishing business.

You will be involved in a cooperative effort: author and publisher. No, you won’t. You have already done the real work in writing the book. Now you will be asked to foot the bill, in advance, for the supposed partner’s contribution. After you have coughed up, the house concerned will have no financial exposure, nor will it incur any other risk.

We offer you the services of our expert editorial staff. That would be Jeremy (32), scion of a middle-ranking aristocratic family. Faced with disinheritance if he didn’t start work, J., who achieved the seemingly impossible by failing university examinations in (a) Art Appreciation and (b) Media Studies, realised that he would have to shape up. Therefore, he joined his old friend and bedmate Annabelle, of impeccable Sloanie credentials. She came up with the idea of founding a business that couldn’t cost much, even if it failed.

You will benefit from our array of sophisticated technical equipment. We borrowed a desktop publishing rig from Annabelle’s sister Evangeline, who was unable to use it, on account of the length of her fingernails.

We have an unrivalled range of media contacts. Not entirely accurate. Jeremy distinguished himself by frequently outdrinking his Irish crony Liam, who later penned two articles for a local rag in some dreary backwater, then drifted into leglessness after the twenty-eighth rejection of his seminal work ‘The Fall of Vercingetorix.’ Annabelle was in touch with an ex-lover who ran a small offshore radio station. Her offer to reinstate the provision of ‘certain favours’ for a consideration was declined.

Our facilities extend to producing your book on the Internet. Of course they do, but consider that many net-users are in search of pornographic entertainment. The rest will probably not have the stamina to get through the thicket to reach your work, regardless of its value. Remember also that book prices via this medium are high, so even slim paperbacks of limited appeal will most likely be offered for £12/15 – hardly tempting to prospective buyers rightly suspicious of pig in a poke deals.

You must accept that in this competitive world, results can be disappointing. Well, that’s dead right. Steel yourself for half a dozen sales, max.

So, Mr Underthwaite, you will see that we are ‘telling it like it is’. You might derive some comfort from learning that we are trying to spare you a good deal of time, effort and postage costs in pursuit of an elusive goal.

Should you wish to proceed, please note that you need have no inhibitions about presenting your work, irrespective of its standard. At the rear of our premises we have a lean-to – well, it’s more like a kennel – in which we confine our in-house hack, Minnie. She is fresh from rehab and, given continued sobriety, will be happy to convert any garbage we receive into acceptable English.

You will have gathered that we do our best to be objective, while trying to avoid discouraging new authors. Perhaps the appropriate expression is ‘tough love’. If you are still disposed to avail yourself of our services, please send your MS., together with a cheque for £4,950, on receipt of which we will do all within our power to advance your writing career. Alternatively, you could spend the same amount on a sea voyage, during which you might find a doting widow, willing to set you up, provided that you are prepared to do whatever may be necessary as a quid pro quo. In our view, your chances of literary success are about the same either way.

Don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of further service to you.

Yours sincerely,

Jamie Stoat
Literary Adviser

* * *

The Demographic Time Bomb

Much has been made of the problem posed by our rising age profile. How are we to make adequate provisions for our senior citizens? This thorny issue was referred to that distinguished thinker, Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor of social studies at one of the UK’s leading universities. Long regarded as perhaps our most eminent observer in this field, Sir Bertram, senses honed by a short break spent in a public park opposite his home, accepted the commission and has delivered his views, couched in characteristically trenchant terms. They are given below:

I am happy to offer a solution to the supposed problem caused by our increasing longevity. This is a fairly simple matter and should have been dealt with below my level. Most of the furore surrounding the issue emanates from disproportionately vocal types, mostly business executives in early middle age, who wish to ensure post-retirement continuance of their extravagant lifestyles. These people should realise that they are already being rewarded far beyond their contributions to our common wellbeing. They have yet to learn the difference between need and greed. I believe Gandhi was credited with making the first reference to this distinction, though I had the same thought, possibly earlier than he did – our two lives overlapped by twenty-odd years.

I will not dwell upon the lower strata of society, as they comprise people whose working lives are mostly drab, and whose retirements will be similar. Still, those concerned are undoubtedly worthy and essential – they also serve who only stand and wait. That is just as well, since if everyone were to erupt simultaneously in a collective burst of creativity, the result would be intolerable.

What matters here is that the angst-ridden upper-echelon characters have no knowledge of how they will feel when they become OAPs. Let me remind them of the words of T. S. Eliot, viz: “In the last few years, everything I had done up to the age of sixty or so has seemed childish.” Not having his text to hand, I do not know whether he mentioned that by the time people reached what he clearly considered the age of wisdom, they no longer care much about anything. They are also aware that their thrusting juniors wish to see the last of them.

When the relative youngsters reach seniority in years, the wiser ones among them will grasp that their task is to contribute what they can, rather than seize what is available. They will understand that the coveted mansion or yacht they acquired will soon be owned by someone else, who will say: “Yes, this once belonged to an industrial or commercial bigwig. Can’t remember the name.” Is that to be your epitaph? The hot-shots I refer to should take a leaf from my book by slackening off, as they are too screwed up. Indeed, only last week a man I had hitherto considered an adversary was kind enough to compliment me on the looseness of my screws. I was mildly flattered and will send him a bottle of my dandelion wine.

Now, I am being paid to offer a solution, and am pleased to say that this is the easiest money I have ever earned. My proposal is that a Ministry of Demography be created, the person in charge to be of less than cabinet rank, reflecting the fact that the brief concerned will be of relatively minor importance.

It is interesting that when ageing people are asked what ambitions they have, many of them place travel before anything else. This is inexcusable, as it is bad enough that these respondents are no longer in the economic mainstream. If, in addition to this, they wish to ruin the environment with their globetrotting, there would seem to be little reason for their continued presence.

The job of the proposed ministry would be to arrange selective culling of the aged. Not being an uncaring man, I suggest that there should be a voluntary element. Those who wish to depart – a cohort the size of which will, I suspect, be much larger than most of our sociologists imagine – should get first go. Only after that clearance would compulsory arrangements be invoked. Naturally, those involved in creative work would be spared the axe, rather in the way that those in reserved occupations are exempted from the blood and guts part of warfare. I recall the unpleasantness of 1939-45, by the end of which event I filled a vital role in the corridors of Whitehall. Imagine the waste if I had been disembowelled while trying to gain a few feet of some Continental battlefield. Horses for courses is the phrase that comes to mind.

Should forced winnowing be necessary, it would be conducted in descending age groups, in which respect I urge older citizens to think of the benefits of calling it a day. No need to continue dealing with tiresomely bland meals, trying to don socks while standing on one foot, fiddling with plastic cards, or generally wondering how to make increasingly unwilling bodies do their minds’ bidding.

I advise those worried about a hereafter to consider that they will go to either (a) complete oblivion, which has its attractions, i.e., it offers neither good nor bad experiences, or (b) a plane higher than ours and detached from physical matters. There is no need to worry about going to Hell. We’re there now, as anyone with a modicum of sensitivity knows.

What I am proposing is a win-win situation, in which those oldsters who want to go will be accommodated, while those who are removed compulsorily need have no qualms. I submit this answer as the most reasonable one to what is, after all, a prosaic question.

* * *

Venturesome Vacations

Excellent results have been announced by Hairshirt Holidays Ltd., British subsidiary of US giant, General Hazards Inc. These companies are dedicated to catering for those who wish to ginger up their breaks with a significant element of risk. UK Chief Executive Wayne Bumpkin was in effervescent mood after revealing the figures. “We’ve no time for wimps,” he chortled. “Aside from the fact that we don’t accept anyone under eighteen, neither age nor gender matters, as long as our customers come up to scratch. Just contact us and we’ll try to tailor the danger to your requirements.” Hairshirt usually obliges, as happy vacationers confirmed.

Bank cashier Sharon Gourd (29) of Wembley was interviewed after paying £650 to spend a week immersed in liquid coolant siphoned from a nuclear reactor. Asked how she felt, she said: “A little blue, but basically radiant.” Stroking her newly acquired tail, she added: “An extra nose must be a plus, and talk about afterglow … .” Bumpkin maintains that this is just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of spin-off from the atomic power programme, and that the leisure subsidiaries will eventually be bigger than the parent industry.

Doncaster architect Norman Thinstaff parted with £800 for ten days of virtually non-stop snorkeling in a San Diego shark tank. He was not available for comment, though his brother described him as a bit cut up, but more than satisfied.’ Mr Thinstaff was particularly pleased with the cuisine, having – before he was removed for medical treatment – remarked that he was fed like a fighting cock, albeit intravenously.

Muriel Tautbow, an 87 year-old widow from Slough, chose the High Fives holiday, costing £480. This involves leaping from a fifth-floor window onto – or not onto – an inflated, ten-foot-diameter safety cushion, which is computer controlled, changing position randomly at three-second intervals over a space of fifty by fifty feet. “It’s totally unpredictable,” beamed Bumpkin, “but we do allow the clients five minutes of guessing time before they jump, during which period spectators may wager on the outcome. After that, all bets are off. I can tell you that Mrs Tautbow was concussed, but said she didn’t mind, as that was better than migraine.”

Soon, holidaymakers will be able to undergo the Polar Bare experience, which will leave them naked at the North Pole, their clothing embedded in ice, thirty miles distant from them. The only directions they will be given for recovery of their apparel will be to proceed due south, but as they are not told which longitude to select, this is not helpful advice at the most northerly spot on the Earth. When asked to comment on an allegation that Hairshirt’s aim was a zero survival rate, Bumpkin was shocked. “That’s a wild exaggeration,” he said. “There may be casualties, but we expect that many people will come through. Frankly, the only real problem we have is constant nit-picking by insurance companies.”

* * *

First Reply From Planet X To Emissary

Dear Dweedles

Your initial report duly received, as were the appendices, which are of truly intolerable length, this being the first of the bones we have to pick with you. Was it really necessary to send us such a bundle of bumf? You are excessively verbose, so it is no wonder you encounter battery trouble, which we hardly need point out has cost implications. Please note that the expense account for your jaunt is not unlimited. You have been away for two hundred years (Earth time) and what do we have to show for this but one planet that just might do? Maybe the long time you have spent alone has affected your thought processes.

As for the observations concerning your supposed indispensability, be advised that we have a couple of trainees who could give you a run for your money in the matter of hopping around the galaxies via cosmic wormholes. Nobody has exclusive possession of such skills. You may be interested to learn that as a final test in astronavigation, these two cadets took a short journey to a star twenty-odd light-years from here and returned safely to us, three days before their trip started. That’s what we call travelling.

You will see that your query concerning what we would do without you was injudicious, as it caused us to consider that question. Oh, dear, perhaps you have tripped over your tongue, which would not be a surprise, considering the length of that organ.

Kindly let us have more details, and in doing so, remember that we are not occupied solely by a growing population here. Our star is warming up and we are experiencing some discomfort. There is an element of urgency.

Keep up the mediocre work.

Best wishes from Mission Control.

Watch out for a sharp reaction from Dweedles.

* * *

Power To The People

Professor Ovis Jopp, the lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’ yesterday rocked the world of physics to its foundations once again when he disclosed the result of his recent experiment with nuclear cold fusion. The professor, speaking in the green chamber of his Stavanger laboratory, was exultant. “This is perhaps the greatest boon to humankind of all time,” he said. “At a stroke, I have consigned to the dustbin forty-odd years of global research and milliards in expenditure. Soon, thanks to my efforts, people everywhere will have energy galore at negligible cost.”

According to the slender sorcerer, a grateful populace will be able to power up the world with complete impunity. Following his normal practice of working solo, Jopp first devised his equations, then put them to the test. He started from the premise that other scientists had been on the wrong track all along in trying to harness hot fusion, which he says is ridiculously wasteful. He also discounted the ‘cold’ efforts of others as unenlightened, since they were based on a faulty grasp of nuclear physics. “They sought to utilise what I have already demonstrated are non-existent sub-atomic particles,” claimed the professor, referring to his earlier work in that field.

He went on: “It is merely a question of manipulating the groat, which I described in a recent paper. The ingenuity lies in the low-tech approach. I took a tube of green plastic, into which I inserted two groats before sliding a number of jubilee clips along the outside and using a couple of them to crimp the ends. Next, using remote-controlled screwdrivers, I tightened the clips progressively, thus leaving the groats with, as it were, nowhere to go except into each other. I must confess that the first test was disappointing, as the slow progress towards fusion suggested that the operation would take 80 million years. I realised that more groats were needed, so introduced them, reducing the time factor by many millions. It was quite simple.”

The professor explained that any element, or any combination of different ones, can be made to fuse. “The larger the groat, the bigger the bang,” he quipped, doodling on a pad of green blotting paper. “I have already clarified that the mass of any atom is defined by the size of its groat. For example, that of the dominant uranium isotope produces two hundred and thirty-eight times as much usable power as does its hydrogen counterpart, hence the familiar term U238. However, one can choose one’s element, since all groats are identical in properties and vary only according to size.”

Jopp’s words leave some experts unconvinced, the main detractor being, as so often, the short, hairless, quasi-spherical ‘Swedish Savant’, Dr Terps Dunderklap. Located in a Stockholm pole-dancing club, he was scornful. “‘Sage of Trondheim’ indeed,” he hooted. “I prefer to think of Jopp as the Norwegian nincompoop. As usual, he is in error. The only thing he has got right is his description of the groat. I admit that I was wrong in contesting his earlier findings in that area, and regret my reference to his theory as ‘groatesque’. However, having exposed his stupidity so often, I can afford to be magnanimous on this occasion.”

Brushing a muscular blonde from his minimal lap, Dr Dunderklap continued: “I have proved that cold groat fusion is possible, but in only one way. The desired effect can be produced by cooking groats in an oven made of dunderium, of which I have a monopoly. It is difficult to avoid being disrespectful to a man with so much facial hair as Jopp exhibits, but I will try to be objective. Let me just say that if you are intent upon scaling the heights of his intellect, you will get by with a very short ladder.”

Further developments are expected.

More of Professor Jopp’s exploits coming up.

* * *

Advanced Anatomy

The following communication, envelope unstamped, was found on the doormat of our head office. Well, let us not be pretentious, our only office. We do not know the writer’s address. Here is what he has to say:

Dear Sirs

It is with a heavy heart that I, a male feminist – I am tempted to say philogynist, but don’t want to seem too highbrow – put pen to paper. Why the woeful tone? It is simple enough. I have been noting for some years that our females are progressing in various ways, not least in the field of education, where I understand that they are outpacing males. While applauding this, I feel compelled to draw attention to a most distressing development in the physical area, to wit: the manner in which the ladies are handicapping themselves. Permit me to explain.

For the last two months, I have been watching people who use mobile telephones. In an effort to gather a representative sample, I have monitored a thousand of them on the streets of this town, with alarming results. Of those observed, 780 were females, leaving only 218 males. The indication is clearly that we are on our way to a partially one-armed society, the ladies being in the lead. In due course, they will be born with one upper limb permanently attached to an ear by means of a mobile phone. This will put them at a serious disadvantage in terms of dexterity. We shall no longer hear of women raising three children to tertiary education level, while simultaneously writing best-selling novels and cooking gourmet meals. They will not have enough free digits. Being predatory by nature, the males will seize upon this, first by noting what is happening to the females, then by exploiting it.

This is not the first time I have been a voice in the wilderness. However, I hope that on this occasion my words will be heeded. Ladies, the remedy is in your hands. Don’t say you were not warned.

Yours sincerely

T. Edgar Wongle (Aged 76)

Editor’s comment: Close but no cigar, Mr Wongle. As it happens, our staffer Trixie Larkspur has just carried out a similar but much more extensive survey. Her figures around town were almost identical to those mentioned above – she also counted 1,000 mobile phone users, finding that 749 were females. However, unlike our correspondent, she widened her exercise by including several rail and bus journeys, where the male/female split was near enough fifty-fifty. More significantly, Trixie took in people who did not use mobile phones at all – over 90% of the total. Our conclusion: keep chatting, girls: you have little to fear. As for you, Edgar, we suggest that as you proclaim yourself (we assume proudly) a senior citizen, your metier might be bowls, or painting – anything but social commentary.

* * *

Special Offer

“Good morning. Cre – “

“Yes. Sorry to break in. Could you connect me with Mr Lumb, please?”

“No can do, madam. Rodney Spoonbill here. I’m taking all calls this afternoon. It’s the staff Christmas party and I started work here yesterday, so I’ve got the short straw. I don’t yet know Mr Lumb, but I’m sure I can help you, today of all days.”

“I see. Is this a special occasion – aside from the festivities, I mean?”

“Indeed it is. We have a two-for-one offer.”

“Really? That seems odd for your business. How does it work?”

“Basically, it’s quite simple. If you are thinking in terms of a disposal, you need only extend the scope to take in another prospective decedent. For example, if you have an ageing family member who is, so to speak, on the brink, you might wish to consider whether there is a second person dear to you and approaching the same state. In that case, there might be an opportunity for both parties to leave us simultaneously at no extra cost. Two for the price of one, you see.”

“Well, what you say leaves me floundering a little, but I’m usually considered quick on the uptake, so I’ll try to enter into the spirit of things, Mr – “

“Rodney is the name. And you are?”


“Okay, Marion, or shall I say Mazza?


“Right. Now, how do you feel about our idea?”

“I’m not quite sure, really. Of course, there is my father.”

“Yes, a common situation. Elderly gentlemen tend to be as cantankerous as they are frail. They’ve been through a lot, you know, and some of them don’t want to face another full winter. Forgive my saying so, but judging from your timbre, I take you to be a lady approaching maturity of years. May I inquire as to the age and condition of your pater?”

“Let’s say he’s over seventy and deteriorating. Too crotchety for my liking, though he’s always been a bit that way, so his present state is no guide. All things considered, I don’t think he’s long for this world. Also, he has annoying literary pretensions.”

“Excellent. It’s easier when they conform to type. These old lads usually think they have something to say, but don’t realise that no-one wants to hear it. By the way, you’re not recording this conversation, are you?”

“Of course not. Why should I?”

“No reason, I’m sure. However, we have a number of suggestions which might, if I may say so, accelerate matters; hasten the natural process, as it were. I can’t mention them on the phone, but if you could call in – “

“We’ll see about that, but what do you mean? Are you hinting at a supplement to his daily fare?”

“Far be it from me to indicate that, but does he have any . . . ah . . . peccadilloes that might be helpful.”

“Well, he makes his own beer. It’s skull-cracking stuff, so I don’t think he’d notice a fairish squirt of cyanide.”

“He wouldn’t notice it for long, but we could discuss that later. Now, how about the second . . . er . . . possibility?”

“Nothing doing there. The only other candidate would be my mother. She’s about the same vintage as the old man, but fit as a butcher’s dog. Anyway, we get on well.”

“Ah, that’s a shame, particularly in view of the garden gnomes.”

“How do they come into it?”

“We’re including them in the special offer, free of charge. They’re hollow and very popular as repositories for the . . . ah . . . remains. People get comfort from looking out at their lawns, knowing that their loved ones are nearby. Customers are allowed to choose between plastic and concrete.”

“What’s the difference?”

“The plastic ones last longer, but the concrete jobs are healthier.”

“Well, I’ll think about it but I can’t see how I could take advantage of your twofer. Also, I’m just wondering why anyone in your line of work should be making these proposals. I mean, we all know that you’re allowed to advertise nowadays, but this strikes me as wee bit ghoulish. Are you trying to drum up business in the wills and testaments area?”

“Wills and testaments? I don’t understand, Mazz . . . er Marion. We have no interest in that department, or anyway, not a direct one. We’re merely trying to be competitive in a field in which we have many rivals seeking to get a share of a market which is hardly elastic. There are about three-quarters of a million departures each year, and everyone in our line wants a piece of the action. After all, we are a crematorium.”

“You’re what?”

“A crematorium!!”

“You’re coming through loud and clear. There’s no need for you to speak in exclamation marks, Mr Teaspoon.”


“Sorry, but we’ve been talking at cross purposes. I understand everything now.”

“Oh, goody. Would you like to share the insight?”

“Yes. I’m phoning from my car and didn’t have the number I wanted, so I called Directory Enquiries. Got a chap who seemed to be hard of hearing and I had to repeat the request several times.”

“I see. How is that relevant?”

“I was trying to contact my solicitors. No doubt the silly fellow confused Cremmerton & Lumb with crematorium. Goodbye, Mr Spoonful.”

* * *

The Node Bulletins: Number Three

Kyrgyzstan, 28 June. Having put Tashkent behind us, we have begun the true expedition. Largely at the idiosyncratic insistence of Thoroughbrace, we are to follow a route that makes a clean sweep of the ‘stans’. We have already encountered Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, and shall proceed from here to Tajikistan and Afghanistan, then over the Delhi Sang Pass into Pakistan. Bracers, as I have dubbed our transport executive, was petulant when I vetoed his suggestion that we backtrack to Kurdistan and later loop over into Chinese Turkestan. I mollified him by pointing out that both places are not at present countries as such, but regions, the latter partly in countries on our route anyway. A nice diplomatic touch, I thought.

Pugh continues to give cause for concern. Yesterday, he decided to hone his skills when leading us out of the last village we stayed in. This spot had only one street, running east-west. Not wishing to interfere, I allowed Pugh to guide us into the setting Sun for two hours before I remarked that the Pamir Mountains lay in the opposite direction. Retorting that he was merely testing us, Pugh agreed to an about turn. I took issue with him, but he was defended by Flatpole, whose basso profundo grunts reminded me of the call of a wild boar I once heard in the Carpathians.

We shall soon be obliged to abandon our vehicle and proceed on horseback. I shall not be sorry, as Thoroughbrace, initially quite amiable, has become querulous. I told him in London that we would need spare parts, but he appears to have infinite faith in his inventiveness, plus a large supply of yak gut. He is wrong, as we proved today, when we covered eight miles, the last six by pushing our car.

I shall have trouble maintaining the group’s morale, but am not downhearted.

A further Node Bulletin coming soon.

* * *

To Jail Or Not To Jail

The problem of overcrowding in our prisons having become acute, it was decided that the matter should be examined by a respected independent party. The authorities felt that they could hardly do better than call upon that outspoken arbiter, Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor of social studies at one of our leading universities. Fortunately, he made himself available and got to work at once. His findings are as follows:

Notwithstanding the fact that this matter clashed with my intensive course of bassoon lessons, I am obliged to the parties concerned for referring it to me. It is a bagatelle, but one takes what one can get. Incidentally, this gives me an opportunity to comment publicly on the hate mail I have received following some of my earlier exertions. I have been accused of casuistry, sophistry and speciousness. Rather than reply to the rabble in question on an individual basis, I hereby inform the authors of this scurrilous nonsense that their pratings are being treated with the contempt they deserve.

My answer to this prison question is two-pronged, being based upon consideration of the numbers incarcerated and the financial implications. The cost of keeping a person in jail has been put at figures ranging from £25,000 to £42,000 a year. I will accept the lower figure, which seems more than enough. If I lived alone, I could get by on far less than this, though of course I do not need a warder – a point that one of my above-mentioned castigators might care to note.

I understand that our prisons are full, having about 80,000 inmates. The first part of my solution is simple, as it involves only the crime of burglary. My information is that about 15% of prisoners are in this category. These people are confined in what I can perhaps best call colleges of criminality, where they are able to sharpen their existing skills and educate themselves in other nefarious practices. I recommend that we let these offenders go free and that we distribute to their victims most of the money saved by not jailing. The Home Office would be the appropriate conduit.

Some readers may consider this drastic, but I hope they will bear with me. I am reminded of a former colleague who lives in a suburb much affected by this type of crime. He recently caught a burglar in the act, though was unable to detain the culprit. That was the fifth time that my old friend had experienced this trauma, and I feel sure that he and his wife, both pragmatic, will accept my logic. As I shall demonstrate, they would have found it beneficial.

In this field, there could be a flourishing business, energising the wider economy, possibly to the extent that the ‘breaking-in’ element might wither away. There would have to be a firm tariff. Let us say that an initial offence would qualify for one year in jail, with persistent transgressors attracting longer sentences. The periods would be notional, as nobody would be imprisoned.

As it happened, the man almost apprehended by my ex-colleague was later arrested and proved to be a first-offender. Under my system, he would have been assessed as a candidate for one year in jail. If, for the sake of argument, we put the cost of proceedings against the wrongdoer at a quarter of that of a year’s imprisonment – and why should it be more? – the residue would have accrued to my friend and his wife, who would have been delighted to receive £18,750 in compensation. They could have replaced all losses – some with upgraded items – had their house redecorated, treated themselves to a new car and had an extravagant holiday.

Extended to a currently imprisoned number of about 12,000 burglars – even assuming them to be one-year types – the figures are impressive. The cost of incarcerating 12,000 people for one year at £25,000 a head would be £300million. By the method I suggest, about three-quarters of this sum would be injected into the economy almost immediately, instead of by the unreliable trickle-down effect with which we are faced at present.

One could imagine this idea becoming very popular, with commensurate social connotations. Retailers and tradespeople would experience a boom. The beauty is that the system would be self-perpetuating, miscreants always remaining free to conduct their normal business. In due course there would be a surfeit of desirable items, giving rise to an increased black market. Even this could be positive, as an export trade might develop, improving – albeit unofficially – the balance of payments position, in which the UK account is in the red. And let us not forget that what goes round, comes round. Having pocketed their ill-gotten gains, the thieves and spivs must be minded to spend them. How better than by indulging in the ‘shop till you drop’ mania? A boon to the economy. Here, I appeal to the criminal elements. Never mind the tax havens. If you get your loot in this country, plough it back into our economy.

There would be a downside, affecting mainly insurance companies and security organisations, since it would not be sensible for people to protect their house contents. I envisage a situation in which those who had not been burgled for a while might advertise the fact, perhaps with something like an estate agent’s sign, indicating that they had not been ‘done’ for several months, thus soliciting the attention of larcenists. The householders could go out for an evening, leaving doors and windows open, secure in the knowledge that they would return to a property stripped of valuables. I submit that if this proposal is accepted, it will result in significant economic gains.

The second part of my solution might be more controversial. I propose that all those not covered by my first recommendation be imprisoned according to the system currently prevailing, but that the sentences be nominal. Once jailed, the inmates would be released on an eeny, meeny, miny, moe basis, the prison governors periodically drawing lots to decide who would be freed. Laugh if you will, but consider that would-be petty felons might be discouraged by the thought that if they were to be caught, their original sentences, often light, could by pure chance be extended indefinitely. At the top end of the market, murderers and their like would perhaps take their chances, but they form a small minority of jail inmates. Anyone contemplating a little shoplifting or pocket-picking would, I suggest, think twice. I am inspired by the quasi-scriptural connotations of this idea. After all, it represents random punishment for what is to the victims random crime, thereby demonstrating that we are a single great entity and that what an evildoer does to one party affects all of us.

If my suggestions are adopted, our prison population will decrease rapidly. This could produce a situation in which we might see an advertising campaign, inviting people to spend a night or two as paying guests in one or other of our half-empty jails – full British breakfasts included – with a financial plus to the prison service and, by extension, to everyone.

Like the Chancellor with his budget, I commend these proposals to the House – in this case the forum of public opinion.

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