Wednesday, 28 November 2007

What's In A Name?

Giles Gestapo was not the sort of person that people took to easily. His name didn’t help for a start. It made people think he wasn’t somebody you’d want to spend time with. The ‘Giles’ made him sound upper-class and the ‘Gestapo’ – well, it made him sound like a not very pleasant German person.

Ironically, however, he was neither upper-class nor German (nasty or otherwise). His parents ran a not-very-successful village shop in Derbyshire and had named him Giles after a Leeds United football player. And the name ‘Gestapo’, although rare these days, could in fact be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times when the word meant ‘Bringer of rabbits’.

As Giles had grown older and begun to realise that his name could become a serious hindrance, he contemplated changing it to Giles Rabbit-Bringer or Giles Bringerofrabbits or even Giles Rabb-Itbringer. Giles Rabbi T. Bringer he dismissed immediately. Indeed, whatever permutation he thought of sounded just as silly as Giles Gestapo. So he gave up and decided he’d just have to live with it.

However, this proved to be a BIG MISTAKE as his dissatisfaction with his name gnawed away at his soul and seriously affected his personality to the extent that the few people who knew him were not in the least surprised the day Giles was accused of murder.

* * *

Stacey le Garde (who, incidentally, had recently changed her name from Catherine le Garde) was screaming her face off that the toaster was buggered: “It’s shagged my bleedin’ Jumpstarts!”

“Poptarts!” Giles yelled back from the next room. “They’re bloody Poptarts!”

* * *

Suspicion immediately fell on Giles the moment Stacey’s body was found in the bath. She was fully clothed and totally immersed in water, clutching the aforementioned electric toaster to her chest with both hands. (Although Stacey had been wrong about the toaster being buggered earlier, it was certainly buggered now.) On first inspection, the police pathologist surmised that death had been caused by electrocution. However, the subsequent autopsy revealed that there were no less than six Poptarts firmly wedged in Stacey’s gullet.

Although the police were initially convinced that Giles had cold-bloodedly and premeditatedly murdered the woman with six Poptarts and a fully functioning electric toaster, they gradually began to accept his story that this was simply a tragic, though somewhat ingenious, case of suicide. During the early stages of their investigation, they had had serious doubts that anyone would deliberately cram six Poptarts in their mouth and then run a fifteen-metre extension cable to the bathroom, attach a toaster and then get in the bath with it. However, further examination of the evidence led them to the inevitable conclusion that they really couldn’t be arsed to argue the toss about it. This conclusion was in no small measure due to the following facts which the police unearthed during their intensive enquiries:

  1. Stacey frequently used peroxide to dye her hair.
  2. She habitually chewed gum.
  3. She had a pierced navel.
  4. She often wore those minuscule thong things, half of which are visible above the tops of the jeans.
The police made other equally damning discoveries but it was essentially these four pieces of evidence which ultimately convinced them that Stacey was quite frankly no better than she ought to be and, if indeed she had been murdered, probably had it coming to her anyway. Besides, Stacey had no family and no friends, and so nobody was likely to kick up a fuss on the murder or suicide front.

On informing Giles of their decision not to press murder charges, he received the following stern warning: “We’ll overlook it this time, Gestapo, but we’re warning you sternly that if you ever so much as murder someone in the future, we’ll have your bollocks for….. for…. for something you really won’t want us to have them for. Got it?”

* * *

Not long afterwards, Giles finally did change his name, primarily to escape the media attention focused on him in the aftermath of ‘The Curious Affair of the Poptart/Toaster Murder/Suicide Incident’, as it came to be known. Henceforth, Stanislav Stiffdick lived a quiet and unassuming life until the day he brutally murdered his not-very-successful Derbyshire village shopkeeper parents in their bed.

This time, the police wasted no time in arresting and charging Giles (or Stanislav). This time, there was no escaping the fact that the victims were not only as good as they ought to be but possibly even slightly better (despite evidence that Mrs Gestapo once chewed gum for a bet and Mr Gestapo sometimes put his pet ferret, Nigel, down his trousers). This time, therefore, suicide was not an option.

Giles/Stanislav continued to proclaim his innocence to the last but the evidence against him was damning in the extreme. If he had been content with merely sabotaging his parents’ electric blanket to transform it into a lethal weapon, he might even have got away with it. But when the pathologist discovered four Weetabix (all totally devoid of milk or even sugar) firmly stuck in each parent’s gullet, the police knew they had their man.

On being convicted and sentenced, Stanislav Stiffdick (nĂ© Giles Gestapo) stood solemnly in the dock, his head bowed, and mumbled, “I never meant to be a cereal killer.”

* * *

There are on this occasion, dear reader, not one but three morals to be drawn from this tale:

Moral 1: Never trust anyone whose surname is the same as the name of a secret police organisation (e.g. Sheila Kayjeebee, Montgomery Mossad, etc).

Moral 2: You can get away with murder but only when your victim isn’t, or victims aren’t, at least as good as he/she/they ought to be.

Moral 3: When Shakespeare wrote those immortal words, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, he’d obviously never heard of Giles Gestapo.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

The Meaning of Life

Once upon a time, there was a disaffected hamster called Doris who had spent her entire life alone in a metal cage. When she was very young, the children had played with her frequently but, after a few months, they stopped visiting her altogether. Since then, she would walk for hours and hours each day inside the little plastic treadmill in the cage just to pass the time.

Of course, she had plenty of time to think and ponder. She would often ask herself questions like: "What purpose does my life serve?", "Was I really put on this Earth just to walk round and round inside a treadmill all day long?", "What's the point? It doesn't even produce electricity."

Such musings did not help Doris's state of mind in the least. On the contrary, they just made her more and more disaffected about her role in The Great Scheme of Things. Her frustration grew stronger and stronger with every turn of the wheel until one day she realised what she had to do.

"I must escape," she said aloud to herself as the wheel came to a sudden halt. "That's it! I must escape and travel far and wide throughout the world until I find someone who can answer my questions once and for all."

Doris was delighted with herself for finally having made the decision to take action rather than constantly wallow in self pity. Her excitement grew day by day at the thought of eventually discovering The Meaning of Life but first she had to be patient. Every so often, the person who brought her food would accidentally leave the door to her cage unlatched. She would just have to bide her time until it happened again.

It was several days before the opportunity to carry out her escape plan arose. When it did, she waited until after dark and then gently eased open the door to her cage. She made her way stealthily across the kitchen floor and then out through a window that had been conveniently left open. Off into the night she sped, her heart singing as she ran.

Time passed and Doris did indeed travel far and wide throughout the world. Unfortunately, however, she still hadn't found a single living creature who could give her a satisfactory answer to The Ultimate Question. Her disaffection returned steadily until she had almost reached the point of abandoning her quest for good. And then, one day, she found herself in what was probably the deepest and darkest jungle on the planet.

"Right," she said to herself. "This is my last chance. If I don't find the answer here, then I'm off back to the treadmill for good."

Venturing warily into the jungle - because, as I said, it was very deep and very dark and, after all, Doris was just a small hamster - the first creature she came across was a baboon.

"Excuse me," said Doris politely, "but could you tell me The Meaning of Life?"

"The Meaning of Life?" repeated the baboon. "Well, that's obvious, isn't it."

Doris's heart leapt in anticipation. At last she would have her answer.

"The Meaning of Life, my little furry friend, is having the reddest bottom in the jungle!" and, with that, the baboon abruptly turned its back on Doris and pointed to what she had to admit was probably the reddest bottom she'd ever seen in her life.

"Er, I see," muttered Doris. "Well, I really must be off now. Thank you for your time. Most - er -informative."

Crestfallen once again, Doris delved even further into the jungle until she met a vulture. In response to her question, the bird merely scowled and curled its beak: "What do I care about The Meaning of Life? I feed on Death."

Some hours later, a fox suddenly appeared in front of her.

"The Meaning of Life, eh?" said the fox, slowly stroking his chin with his paw. "Yes, I think I can help you with that. The only thing is, I can't actually remember the answer off the top of my head but I know I've got it written down somewhere in my lair. If you'd care to come back there with me, I'm sure I could find it in an instant."

The little hamster gulped. She had heard about foxes and knew exactly what this one had in mind so she made her excuses and dashed off into the undergrowth before the fox could make a grab for her.

For days she continued on her journey deeper and deeper into the jungle. She met all manner of animals and asked each one her question. She asked a hyena who just laughed at her, a parrot who just kept repeating 'Pretty Polly' over and over again, and, most disappointingly of all, an elephant who told her that he had known the answer at one time but couldn't remember it now.

Soon afterwards, she came into a small clearing where an enormous lion lay dozing in the sun. Although Doris had heard about foxes, she knew almost nothing about lions and that was why she went straight up to him and poked him with her nose several times until he woke up.

"I'm terribly sorry to disturb you," she said, "but I wondered if you could tell me what The Meaning of Life is."

"You woke me up to ask me that?" growled the lion. He yawned and examined the hamster closely but then decided she was far too small to even constitute a light snack. "Well since I'm awake now anyway, I'll tell you. The thing is, as King of the Jungle, all life revolves around me and so I am The Meaning of Life."

Disappointed at having received yet another unsatisfactory response, Doris thanked the lion profusely and set off once again.

Some time later, she spotted an owl sitting in a nearby tree and knew immediately that her quest was almost at an end: Of course! A wise old owl. Why didn't I think of it before? Owls know everything about everything.

Doris greeted the owl politely and excitedly asked her question. The owl looked down at her from the branch it was perched on and tutted, haughtily raising its beak in a most disdainful manner: “The Meaning of Life? Of course I know The Meaning of Life. Owls know everything about everything, or didn't you know that?"

"Well?... Well?" Doris was beside herself with anticipation.

"Well what?"

"What is it? What is The Meaning of Life?"

"You don't think I'm going to tell you, do you?" snorted the owl. "I mean, you'd just go round telling everyone else then. Can you imagine the chaos that would cause?"

No amount of coaxing or cajoling could get the owl to utter the words that Doris so desperately wanted to hear and eventually the owl grew more and more irritated with the conversation and flew away.

Doris sank wearily to the ground, the tears already beginning to gush from her little hamster eyes. "What will I do now?" she wailed. "What will I do now? I’ll never know the answer. Never. Never."

"Answer to what?" came a small voice from behind her.

Doris turned to see who had spoken but there was no-one there.

"Down here," said the voice, and the hamster scanned the patch of earth in front of her until she finally spotted a tiny dung beetle.

"Oh, hello,” she said, still sobbing.

"Answer to what?" repeated the dung beetle.

"Oh, it doesn't matter. Really it doesn't." Secretly, Doris couldn’t imagine that something as lowly as a dung beetle would know what The Meaning of Life was so didn't think it was even worth the bother of asking.

"Of course it matters. You're sobbing your heart out. Now out with it."

"Oh, all right," said Doris, trying to stifle her sobs. "I just wanted to know what The Meaning of Life is, that's all."

The dung beetle paused for a moment and then beckoned her with his head: "Follow me."

Realising she was in very little danger from a dung beetle and not wanting to appear rude, she did as she was told. However, she was not in the least hopeful that her quest was about to be concluded.

After a few yards, the dung beetle stopped and said, "There you go," nodding his head in the direction of a large earthenware bowl on the ground.

Doris looked inside the bowl and saw an enormous number of small brown-coloured balls.

"What are they?" she asked.

The dung beetle looked up at her and grinned with pride. "Balls of dung," he said. "Made them myself I did."

* * *

And the moral of this little tale?

Not everyone thinks life has to be a bowl of cherries and, in any case, one person's bowl of cherries can sometimes be another person's bowl of dung balls!

(c) Xerika, May 2007