Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Get thee to a nunnery

'Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?'

In Hamlet, the eponymous hero tells his mistress Ophelia: 'Get thee to nunnery!' But Ophelia does not heed the command of her lover. Instead, she drowns herself in a lily pond.

Yet what if she had? What if Ophelia had hied herself to a distant convent and taken holy orders? What would have befallen her? 

What follows is an account of....


Having quit the palace of Elsinore, the fair Ophelia arrives at the nunnery and is ushered into the hallowed chamber of the Mother Superior, who explains to Ophelia that if she wishes to enter the Sacred Order she must take a strict vow of silence. 
"Under the vow you will only be permitted to speak TWO WORDS once every ten years," the Mother Superior tells Ophelia. "Are you willing to be bound by this unbreakable rule?"
"I am, Holy Mother," replies Ophelia.
"Then welcome, my child," says the Mother Superior. "Off you go, about your work, and I'll see you again in ten years time."

Ophelia leaves the chamber and spends the next ten years scrubbing the floors of the convent, working in the kitchen, and labouring in the garden in the wind, the rain and the sun. Ten years later she returns to the Mother Superior's chamber.

"You have now been with us for ten years," says the Mother Superior. "Under the strict rule of our Sacred Order you are now permitted to say two words. What would you like to say?"
"BED - HARD," said Ophelia.
"That's fine," says the Mother Superior. "Now off you go back to your work and I'll see you in another ten years time."

Ophelia returns to her work in the convent, scrubbing the floors, working in the kitchen, and labouring in the garden in the wind, the rain and the sun. Ten years later she returns to the Mother Superior's chamber.

"You have now been with us for another ten years," says the Mother Superior. "Under the strict rule of our Sacred Order you are now permitted to say two words. What would you like to say?"
"FOOD - ROTTEN," said Ophelia.
"That's good," said the Mother Superior. "Now off you go back to your work and I'll see you in another ten years time."

Ophelia returns to her work in the convent, scrubbing the floors, working in the kitchen, and labouring in the garden in the wind, the rain and the sun. Ten years later she returns once more to the Mother Superior's chamber.

"You have now been with us for another ten years," says the Mother Superior. "Under the strict rule of our Sacred Order you are now permitted to say two words. What would you like to say?"
And then Ophelia broke down and began to scream aloud: "I've had enough! I can't take any more! I want to go home! I want to go home!"
The Mother Superior looked at Ophelia.
"And about time too!" she told her. "You've done nothing but bitch ever since you've fucking been here!"

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Holbein's The Ambassadors & Shakespeare's Richard II

The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger.

The Ambassadors, by Hans Holbein the Younger, was painted in 1533. In addition to being a double portraiture, it is famed for the long greyish mark twisted slantwise across the bottom of the picture, which, viewed at an acute angle from the edge of the frame, appears as a human skull seen in perspective.

A reference to this or similar paintings can be found in Shakespeare's play Richard II, in which the character Bushy uses it as a simile:

For sorrow's eye, glazed with blinding tears,
Divides one thing entire to many objects, 
Like perspectives, which rightly gazed upon
Show nothing but confusion; eyed awry
Distinguish form.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Zo d'Axa and his Political Ass

In the year 1898, the French anarchist and satirist, Zo d’Axa, decided there were so many phoney asses in his country’s National Assembly that they were scandalously devaluing the currency. 

So he decided to present to the electorate a real ass, a pure, genuine, thoroughbred, white donkey that he baptized NUL [None], and invited the people to:
'Vote Nul and make your voices heard!'

In a series of articles Zo solicited his compatriots to support Nul as their elected representative:

'In our endeavours we have tried to find a master that no one dreamed of. .... Now, the honour has fallen on me to present the Master of the People. Please be sympathetic. The ass for whom I seek the suffrage from you, my fellow citizens, is a most charming accomplice. A loyal and excellently shod donkey with a silky coat, delicate hamstring, and a most beauteous voice.'

The day of the election arrived, and lo! from atop the hill of Montmartre, Nul swept forward, imperiously seated on a chariot, like Julius Caesar on a triumph through Rome. Escorting him were Zo and a company of his loyal supporters. Zo later described the proud moment as 'the ass paraded through the streets, past walls decked with banners and placards'. 

Proclamations were handed our to the gathering crowds exalting them to....
'Think, dear citizens. You know that your elected representatives deceive you, have deceived you, will continue to deceive you. ... Therefore, vote for Nul! Vote for an ass!'

The spectators laughed and applauded! Women threw flowers! Men doffed their hats! The procession continued through the Latin Quarter and finally arrived at the Senate, where it was greeted with rapturous applause from the university students.

Then, at around 3 p.m., the atmosphere changed. A sinister cloud appeared above them in the form of the police, as ever taking the law into their own hands. The officers erected a barrier at the end of the Boulevard St. Michel. Then the officer in charge ordered Zo to lead Nul to the nearest police station. 

But it was too late! The revolution had begun! The crowd smashed their way through the barrier and marched to the Palais de Justice, the Law Courts. 

Sadly, it was the moment that the police had been waiting for. They pounced, grabbed Nul's chariot, and led the people's would-be anointed representative away. 

Zo was philosophical:

'Like a vile politician the animal had gone sour. The police towed Nul away, the Establishment guiding him. ... For the moment Nul was only a candidate like any other. The police station opened its wide doors and the ass was with his friends.'

The forces of order had prevailed. The Revolution was over.


Sunday, 26 April 2015

Doing the gemba walk

'Faster, you scurvy scum! Faster I say!'
Productivity manager doing the gemba walk.

In Japan they have a word - kaizen. The word means ‘good change’ and has been adopted by Japanese and international corporations as a term for business management and productivity.

They have another word - gemba. The word means ‘the real place’ and is used by the Japanese police for the scene of a crime. 

Gemba too been adopted by business in the phrase the genba walk, used to describe managers who prowl the work area looking for problems to solve and to keep the workers on their toes. 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Napoleon Bonaparte - Portrait of a dictator as a young writer.

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s first and last novel, Clisson et Eugenie, was published in France in 2007 and in English translation in 2009. 

Set in 1795, the action of the 17-page epic novella centres around a young French general of Corsican origin who spends several weeks in an enchanting residence near Lyon. He is 26 years old and weary of making war, and finds solace from his melancholy in the arms of 15 year old Eugenie. 

Seven years of bliss follow, and then the general, now 33 years old, is called once more to the service of his country. Then, tragically, he is wounded in battle and sends news of his misfortune to Eugenie through one of his officers. But alas the officer does not return and his beloved Eugenie does not write to him. 

Feeling doubly betrayed, our hero launches himself headlong into the next battle, and is killed by a thousand wounds.

The dejected Emperor contemplates his betrayal.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Artificial Intelligence - Jesus needs you!

'I think the development of full Artificial Intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow, biological evolution, couldn't compete and would be superseded.'  

Stephen Hawking's dire warning has fallen on stony ground for Florida pastor Reverend Christopher Benek. Far from it, Rev. Benek believes that we should embrace robots as our brothers and even convert them into Christians.

'I don't see Christ's redemption limited to human beings,' he said in an interview. 'It's redemption of all creation, even Artificial Intelligence (AI).'

He also surmises that AI may one day 'lead humans to new levels of holiness.' 

He could have a point. But why limit ourselves to baptising robots? What about robot marriages (or at least civil partnerships)? Inter-AI marriages - a photocopier to a shredding machine? Will we need Pre-natal Clinics for Pregnant Computers? Where will it end? Reverend Benek may have opened up an ethical as well as a technological can of worms.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Elvis has left the galaxy

In the City of Ottawa in Canada there is an organization called The Elvis Sightings Society. 

The three founding members set up the society in 1989 as they believed that 'contrary to popular opinion (and petty details such as police and coroners' reports) the King was very much alive'.

Of course, sightings of Elvis have been made around the world since his untimely 'death' in 1977. But all were either deluded, fraudulent or genuine cases of mistaken identity. 

Because we can now exclusively reveal that Elvis was in fact abducted by aliens from a nearby galaxy and taken to a planet where he now works as a waiter in a downtown restaurant.

Elvis is content in his new life, the more so as the aliens are all generous tippers, and he hopes to rise to the position of head waiter before too long.

Acknowledgement: Details on Elvis Sightings Society from their website

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The day the World's Biggest Diamond was found

The uncut World's Largest Diamond

On a sunny day in January 1905 Thomas Powell made his regular descent down the Big Hole diamond mine in South Africa. 

Little is known about this humble employee of Premier Diamond Mining Company. But what is known is that on that January day he emerged from the mine brandishing the largest diamond ever to be ripped from the bowels of the Earth. A diamond so large that it filled his entire hand and weighed in at an astonished 621 grams. 

Thomas took his trophy to his foreman Frederick Wells. Frederick took it to the mine owner Thomas Cullinan. Thomas C. took it to an expert for confirmation that it was indeed what he thought it was. The expert took it... No, the expert didn't take it anywhere. But he confirmed that it was definitely a diamond. And then the terrible question arose - What shall to do with it?

After two years a buyer for the world's largest diamond emerged in the shape of the South African government. The politicians in Pretoria had decided that it would be a nice present for the English monarch King Edward VII on the occasion of his sixty-sixth birthday. And so the diamond was purchased for the sum of $150,000 and then sent across the seas to England.

The almighty diamond was presented to the king on 9 November 1907. And he was ecstatic! But that same terrible question once again arose - What shall we do with it? The decision was taken to have it cut into several stones and to use them to adorn the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.

The job of cutting up the world's largest diamond was entrusted to Joseph Asscher of Amsterdam. Legend has it that he had a doctor in attendance in case his made a fateful error during the cutting and had a heart attack. He completed his work several months later when 9 large stones and 105 little pebbles were delivered to the king.

The largest of the stones, at 530 carats, is now set in the royal sceptre and is known as the Star of Africa (Cullinan I). Next is the Second Star of Africa (Cullinan II) at 317 carats, followed by Cullinan III (94 carats) and Cullinan IV (63 carats). And so on to the minor stones hardly worth talking about.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Dawn Rose - a melodrama of unrequited whatsit

Episode One

O, my aching heart!

Dawn rose majestically over the golf course, hitched up her skirt and headed for the club house. She glanced at the luminous dial on her watch. Two-thirty in the morning.   What was she doing at this unearthly hour? Fleeing from her demons? Or was it fate had brought her to this place at this ungodly hour? She glanced up at the stars, but they gave nothing away. O, my aching heart! she screamed aloud. Her heart? She could hear it - boom! boom! - pounding inside her chest. But was it truly her heart she could feel and not her merciless soul deriding her for her inconsequential existence? My life, she thought, an unstamped letter lost and abandoned in life’s sorting office. If he wanted to leave why didn’t he just leave? Go back to his wife and his brats if that’s what he wanted. Why did he have to prostrate himself over the railway line and wait for the night express to tear him asunder? Her soul convulsed at the thought of it and she tried to shield herself from the feelings that were ripping her in half like a chain saw through a giant oak tree. I have my life before me! she heard herself scream just before she crumpled into a heap on the grass and listened again to her pitiless heart repeating its terrible litany.  

   For several moments she lay prostrate and then dragged her weary body to its feet once more. She struggled forward and it was like she were feeling her way through a swamp. If only her head would clear, she thought. If only my head would clear, she said aloud, as she fumbled forward to the club house door. It was here she worked and here that she first met Boris. O, that awful, magnificent, terrible day! Was it destiny had brought them together? Was there some fateful event at work of which they were ignorant of the machinations and of the consequences? She collapsed in front of the club house door and beat it plaintively with her fist and pleaded Why me? O, ye heavenly ministers, why me? And then her heavy eyes closed and she fell into a slumber.

   Two hours later, as the sun, its golden helmet shimmering in its brow, was scaling the wall of the glittering east, she roused herself from her slumber and clambered to her feet. Her head was heavy and hazy, and through the mist she could see the distinctive and unhappy figure of her father. Her father? Had she dreamed him alive while she slept, or what was it had disturbed his lost memory that now rose up inside her? Lost memory? No, it was never that, she could never forget her father, never forget cowering in a cupboard while he rampaged in a drunken rage around the house, never forget how he would take his anger out on any being that crossed his path, never forget his cussing and swearing as he tried to disentangle his own demons that were to torment him into an early grave. But was she not like her father in her savage loving of Boris? Was it not this that pushed him to that fateful, final act? I am my father’s child, she said aloud, and sank pitifully to her knees. Then she raised her arms imploringly to the heavens, and then beat her chest in a woeful and pitiful contrition.  

   Somehow, she would never know how, she made her way to her home and her tiny room, took a tin out from the cupboard, poured its contents into a small saucepan, and now sat nursing in her tiny hands a bowl of celery soup. She sipped the celery soup with a seductive celerity as though it were her last meal. Through the tiny window she could see raindrops forming on the glass and beyond them grey storm clouds sweeping in from the horizon. O, ye fates! Why are ye conspiring thus to bedevil me? She finished the soup and placed the bowl on a small table at the side of the chair. She looked at the ceiling, then at the wall, then at a floor, then raised her hands and cried: Oh, Boris, Boris, Boris!

To be continued........

Monday, 12 January 2015

Happy Bedford Day! ... Death thou shalt die!

It was the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt that started the fashion. To vanquish the ravages of Time and rend themselves Immortal, they decreed that their mortal remains be embalmed and then wrapped in strips of linen, a process known as mummification.

Centuries later the practice was back in fashion, this time using a process of cryogenics whereby the body of the defunct is frozen at an ultra-cold temperature in the hope that one day science will be able to once more restore the subject to life.

The first person to be frozen this way was Dr James Bedford, a psychology professor at the University of California. 

His rise to Immortality  began in 1965 and was sparked by an advertisement of the Life Extension Society (LES) looking for volunteers for a new technique of cryogenics that the organisation was pioneering.

Dr Bedford duly presented himself as a candidate for the exciting new experiment, and on 12 January 1967 became LES's and the world's first frozen mummy.

The first stage of the process was to remove all blood from the body and replace it with a fluid aimed at suppressing the crystalisation of the body's cells. The body was then frozen to a temperature of minus 200 degrees Celsius, and placed in a hermetically sealed container. And then the long wait began.

Dr Bedford's frozen body was initially housed in the garage of a certain Dr Robert Prehoda, but Dr Prehoda's wife was so panic stricken each time she went to the garage to get into her car, that it was decided to find a more suitable location. It currently resides in Arizona.

James Bedford is still awaiting his resurrection, and until the day arrives January 12th of each year is celebrated as Bedford Day.