Smudge is a cute mutt but getting her to pose for a photo is like plaiting fog. She will not sit still, insists on wriggling like an eel and looks in any direction except the one required. We had a family outing, and found ourselves in a country park, in the wilds of Nottinghamshire. I think I need to send her to modelling school.
I went to Scunthorpe Wine Circle last night as they had a comedy act on. I can’t remember all of the material I laughed long and hard at, but his opening gambit stayed with me:
“My wife has decided we’ll sleep in separate beds from now on. My bed will be in Lincoln and hers will be in Liverpool.”
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
“Depends what you mean by “fairest”, Luv. Some folk mean “blonde” when they say “fair”. Others mean “just” or “sporting” or “egalitarian”.”
“You’re a magic mirror: I’m consulting you about beauty. Am I not the most gorgeous creature in the world?”
“I think “creature” is a mistake, to be honest, Luv. This is difficult enough without getting non-species specific.”
“All right! Am I the most beautiful woman in the world then?”
“Of course you are.”
“Why “of course”?”
“You own me. I’ve made a judgement that you want to be the most beautiful. Therefore, you are the most beautiful.”
“But am I REALLY the most beautiful?”
“Well, I think so, of course, but these things are very subjective.”
“That’s not good enough. I want you to tell me that I’m REALLY the most beautiful.”
“You’re REALLY the most beautiful.”
“But would you still say that if I didn’t own you?”
“But would you still say that if someone else owned you?”
“But wouldn’t she, your new owner, I mean, wouldn’t she want you to say that she was the most beautiful?”
“So what would you say then?”
“Look Luv, I’m doing my best here. My job is to please. I don’t know what my new owner looks like. Isn’t it enough that you’re the most beautiful owner I know?”
“Am I not the only owner you know?”
“Well, strictly speaking, yes, but I think you’re beautiful.”
“What’s the point in having a magic mirror, if I can’t get a straight answer?”
“With respect Luv, you don’t want a straight answer.”
This is the age of the “one stop shop”. Across the world, supermarkets are replacing the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker with convenience stores. I do most of my shopping in supermarkets because I crave their convenience and low prices. At the same time, I miss the quality and personal touch the little shops used to provide.
For other purchases, I’m a little more choosey. I don’t expect or want my dentist to syringe my ears, or cut my hair, whilst he’s checking my teeth. I want a specialist, not a “jack of all trades” or “all-rounder”. Similarly, I’m content to see my G.P. with my minor ailments but, if there’s something seriously wrong with me, I want a specialist. I don’t expect my G.P. to be expert in every field of medicine. I wouldn’t want a good all-rounder administering my oncology, or an ear, nose and throat wallah fiddling with my aorta!
Monogamous tradition dictates that your partner must be an all-rounder. We expect him/her to provide care, attention, love, support, social interaction, entertainment, sex, and we expect to provide the same in return. It is not reasonable to expect anyone to be expert in every aspect of partnership. The very best we can hope for is a good all-rounder, with expertise in the one aspect most dear to us. Even this compromise is difficult to find and nigh-on impossible to sustain over decades.
So, is there a case for single service providers in lieu of a one stop shop? Is the only perfect partner actually not one man or woman but a collection of people, chosen for their skill sets? Logically, I think yes. Emotionally, I’m less convinced. What do you think?
“We scrap seven out of every eight bells we make.” An uneasy hush fell over the boardroom. Arthur scanned around the worried faces. He had their attention now. “This is costing us a small fortune. We have to find a way to make each bell right first time, or this company is going under.”
Derek, the purchasing manager, spluttered into life. “But we’ve been round this loop umpteen times Arthur. We can’t afford the new molds we need to solve the problem of casting surface finish. It’s poor surface finish that makes them go scrap: well, the majority of them anyway.”
Mike, production manager, grunted an agreement.
Arthur fought to control his temper “We cannot just accept this situation. If we don’t come up with a solution, we’re finished. This company has been founding bells in this town for two hundred and seventy years. We have to find a way to keep us going until we can fund the new moulds.”
“Can’t we borrow the money for the molds?” asked Mike without any conviction.
Tim, accounts manager, chipped in “Come on Mike, you know we’re stretched to the limit. The bank is twitchy enough already. They won’t let us take on any more debt.”
Arthur clenched his fists, then forced himself to relax. “Right, enough of this. I don’t know what any of you planned to do for the remainder of this week but, whatever it was, forget it. Go and find a solution for this problem. Surf the net, ask your granny, spy on another foundry, I don’t care but I don’t want to see any of you again until we have a solution we can work with. Now, go to it.”
Two days later, Arthur was at his desk and nearing despair. The management team had done a lot of scurrying but no-one had offered any useful ideas. He suspected the scurrying was more associated with looking for alternative employment than answers to quality problems.
Arthur heard a little tap at his door. “Come!” he barked. Sally Atkins, their only remaining apprentice, poked her head around the door. “I’m sorry Mr. Taylor, could you spare me a moment, please? I can come back later if…”
“No Sally, come on in and sit down. What can I do for you? How’s your granddad?”
“He’s fine Mr. Taylor, thank you: enjoying his retirement but still reminiscing every day about his years making bells here.”
“So, what’s up?”
“I’ve been thinking about this problem with the molds. I thought of a way of doing it. I know it’s not perfect but I think it might just do as a temporary fix.”
“OK” said Arthur, dubiously. “Have you asked Mike Donaldson about it?”
“Yes, I told him but he said I was being stupid. But I’m sure it can work.”
“Mike’s been making bells here for thirty years.”
“Yes, I know that: he was my granddad’s apprentice.”
Arthur had to laugh at that. “OK, so what’s your idea?”
“We make twenty-eight different sizes of bells. The molds are matched: inners and outers. If we use the correct size outer but a size smaller inner, we will cast a bell with a much thicker wall. It will mean a lot more machining to get them down to the correct size but we’re bound to remove any surface defects in the process.”
“Good grief, that’s brilliant. Sally, that’s just perfect. It’s so simple yet absolutely effective. Thank you, thank you so much. Why didn’t we think of that? You’re so clever. God, I could kiss you right now. Come on: we’ll go and explain it to Mike and get him started.”
I wrote another piece for The Inkwell’s Half-hour Challenge under the theme “Bells”.
“Yes, this is Dave Probert. Who am I speaking to, please?”
“You don’t know me Mr. Probert. It’s best for all concerned if we leave it that way. Let’s just say I’m a friend of a friend or friends. You may call me Mr. Bell. I am of your brotherhood. I have a favour to ask of you for a brother in need.”
Dave was trying to think fast but going around in circles. The Brothers Of The Bell had helped his son Kevin with a string of bad debts, when Kev’s plumbing business looked to be going under for want of cash-flow. It had seemed mysterious at the time: no names, no faces, just anonymous voices on phones. But the people who owed Kev money had paid up P.D.Q., even those who seemed to have no money to pay.
Dave was aware all was silent. Mr. Bell was waiting a reply.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Bell?”
“You are employed as an Evidential Exhibits Officer at Lincoln Crown Court.”
Dave stiffened with dreadful anticipation. “I am.”
“The case of The Crown versus Landy is to be heard there next week. You will loose the CPS’s exhibits for this case before the trial commences.”
“I can’t do that. I’d get caught. Everyone would know it was me. It’s such a high profile case: it’s been in all the papers. Everyone knows that Landy is guilty. His fingerprints are on the knife and the victim’s blood is on Landy’s clothing.”
“I am not asking you for a legal assessment Mr. Probert. I am calling in the debt you owe to the Brotherhood. We did not ask any questions when you requested our help with your son’s cash-flow embarrassment and we don’t intend to offer any answers to you now. You only need know that your brother is in need and that you are in a position to help. We expect your help, Mr. Probert.”
“But that’s completely different. Kevin had done nothing wrong. He was owed that money fair and square for work he had done in good faith. Landy is a cold-blooded murderer and gangster. He deserves everything he gets.”
Mr. Bell barked an interruption “Mr. Probert!” then reverted to the quiet calm “None of that is your concern. You need only do as the Brotherhood has requested: nothing more, nothing less.”
Dave was scared but angry too “I won’t do it.”
There was a pause, then slowly Mr. Bell said “You should not say that, Mr. Probert. I find your attitude most disappointing. It displays an unprecedented lack of gratitude for our efforts on your son’s behalf. It also shows a breathtaking lack of understanding. Do you imagine that your son’s debtors paid him willingly? No, Mr. Probert: they paid him because we knew how to ask. The Brothers Of The Bell ask in ways that people find very persuasive.”
There has been a lot of discussion of feminist issues on various social media, following the brutal rape and murder of Nirbhaya. Most of the outcry is emotional, necessary and laudable. Predictably, there is a small minority seeking to blame the victims for the problem: skirts too short, drinking alcohol, not chaperoned, &c. Thankfully, the vermin spouting these lies are relatively rare (albeit not quite rare enough).
What I also detect is a worrying undercurrent that seems to suggest that feminist ideas and ideals are pro-woman but anti-man. I believe this is fundamentally flawed. I am proud to declare that I am a feminist. I absolutely believe that equality of opportunity is in the best interests of both sexes.
In my experience, women who are respected, supported and feel safe, are more likely to be happy. Women who are happy, keep men happy. I don’t know of any other way that works.
So, it follows, that feminism is in the best interests of even the most selfish man, and all the rest of us too.