Sunday, 28 September 2008

A Case Of ‘Bloggins’

We were sitting around discussing Britain’s chances in the next Olympics when young Pinker suddenly asked, “I say, whatever happened to H--- , haven’t seen him for ages.”
“Went gallivanting off abroad. Said he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone where he was going. Probably too embarrassed to come back now, or banged up in some hellhole. Another case of ‘Bloggins,’ I’m afraid,” said Moreton.
“Bloggins? What’s that? Is it like Parkinson’s?” asked Pinker.
There was a slightly embarrassed silence, then finally Moreton explained, “Not exactly, more a type of mania I suppose. Well, I better tell you the story. For a start, ‘Fred Bloggins’ wasn’t his real name. It was a matter of “pas devant les domestiques.” We used a – what do you call it – a pseudonym when talking about it to spare the feelings of his mother, who worked here in the kitchen for many years after her husband died young, prematurely worn out from his time in trade. You may recall her duck a l’orange at Christmas. And of course her plum puddings were magnificent.”
“Hear hear!” said old Ferraby, but Moreton, who didn’t suffer fools gladly, just gave him one of his looks.
“Bloggins’s undoing was reading too many spy stories, for he had an overactive imagination, and he would sit up half the night, convinced they were based on fact, and that everyone was either one of our agents, or a foreign spy. He said he just knew the Club had been set up as a front for the Secret Service. It simply didn’t register with him that it would be overly obvious, and unnecessary (there being already many other clubs with members involved with foreign travel and exploration). He had joined because he had heard nobody was allowed to talk on Club premises, and he thought, Aha, that must be to stop anyone revealing secrets!
“He soon found out the silence rule had only applied to the front lounge when it became an extension to the Club library, holding the latest periodicals. But he would sidle up to some group having a quiet conversation in one of the back rooms, and try to insinuate himself into it. When that got him nothing but the cold shoulder, he decided everyone was talking in a secret code he hadn’t been initiated into yet. The fact that to preserve confidentiality, every member has a Club name taken from myth or literature didn’t help. He was convinced these Club membership names were Secret Service agent code names.
“Above all he craved “action.” He would propose expeditions abroad, saying it just wasn’t good enough, all these fellows sitting around when the world was going to hell in a handbasket. “Look at these newspaper headlines,” he would say, “China, Africa, Asia. Time to get out there and set the world to rights, just like Diogenes would have done.” He was told that if he had bothered to do any research, he would learn Diogenes did no such thing, and spurned politics. Also, the Club could not finance such expeditions. Engaging in political activity was against the Club’s charter, its viability depending on the tax deductions it got as a registered charity.

So he changed tack and began trying to get himself included in others’ plans to go on archaeological field trips abroad and the like. “I know what really goes on,” he would say, tapping the side of his nose. This approach gave some the wrong idea. As Ellis delicately put it, “Well, he’s certainly not sharing a tent with me.”
“He would puff himself up and lecture the others on their lack of moral character. “You chaps can waste your life away lazing about,” he would say, “me, I’m made of sterner stuff. There comes a time a real man needs to stand up and be counted. Of course, you need someone to show you the way, give you the idea, that’s my role.” Other members began avoiding him, not wanting to listen to what Simons called this pious piffle. Someone gave him a copy of Don Quixote for Christmas, but he didn’t get it, and was seen underlining key words looking for the secret code.
“It was now obvious he was so na├»ve he’d believe anything as long he could see evidence of a vast conspiracy – you know, “people in low places, people in high places, their names would astound you” – that sort of thing. It was only a matter of time before someone saw an opportunity to exploit his mania for their own ends. No-one wanted to play Sancho Panza to his Don Quixote, but Carstairs thought Bloggins himself would make a useful Sancho Panza in some convenient cause.

Carstairs was what they euphemistically refer to as “Foreign Office.” There’s someone like that in every Club, dues paid by the Foreign or Home Office, to keep a weather eye on members. Carstairs took him aside one day and told him tales that had Bloggins’s hair standing on end. After that, at least he clammed up. But soon he was hinting he was going abroad. “Hush-hush, can’t talk about it,” he would tell everybody who would listen, “the walls have ears, you know. They have spies everywhere. No one is above suspicion.” And with that, he went.
“The following year the Secretary received a letter from the Consul in some remote flybitten hellhole. Bloggins had lost his papers, but claimed he worked for “a certain department in Whitehall.” He gave his address as the Club, and said they knew all about it. The Club Secretary replied he was certainly not there on Club business. The Foreign Office naturally denied all knowledge of his presence in the country. Details were few, but apparently he had tried to organise an uprising against the big American mining company there. He had told the locals they were being enslaved and should fight to be free, like Englishmen. He had made speeches that managed to offend everyone. “Like a bull in a china shop,” the Consul wrote.
Club lounge
“After one especially insensitive speech about the locals’ treatment of women, there was a riot, and he had to flee over the border. There was a woman behind this of course. “Cherchez la femme,” as Carstairs would say. Bloggins had met this native girl who wanted him to take her back to England with him. She had helped him across the frontier, and he had promised to marry her and make her an English lady. Complications had ensued when it emerged she was only about thirteen. He then said he wanted to adopt her, and she could stay with him in Streatham, where he had a small flat. “I’m going to save her soul,” he said.
“But the local missionaries weren’t having any of that, and sent her back to her family. He himself had malaria and goodness knows what else, and couldn’t travel. But one day he disappeared from the mission hospital, and it emerged he had hitched a lift on a mission supply lorry and crossed the border again. Looking for the girl of course. Said he wanted to save her from a life of servitude. “I’m on a mission too,” he told the local church mission driver, “You see, I can teach her modern western ways, enlighten the poor benighted thing.”
“But he didn’t speak the local lingo, and just wandered about lost in a wretched state, pestering the locals, until he was arrested and accused of being a British spy and agent provocateur. He cracked up totally at this and began laughing hysterically. “The Foreign Office will tell you they’ve never even heard of me,” he laughed. “And as for the church, well, you know the Bible is really written in code, but it’s all been covered up,” he added knowingly. They soon decided he was one of those harmless cranks who waste police time with their attention-seeking behaviour, and despatched him to the mission-run sanatorium.
“Then one day two years on, he turned up again, having staggered off a tramp steamer at Southampton. On his return, he found he had been reported killed, declared legally dead, and was now homeless and penniless. Too proud to turn to his widowed mother for help, he ended up living in the park. He had a sort of shelter there in the bushes, and each morning would scavenge food scraps thrown out by the hotel across the way. It was ironic that finally here he was doing something in the style of the original Diogenes. We saw him less and less, until one day he was just gone for good. He would never talk about what happened in any case. “Mum’s the word,” was all he would ever say, tapping the side of his nose and smiling.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Why I hate slavery!

The Diogenes Club has a tradition of engaging with the world, meeting with it on its own terms and hiding any agenda it may have so as to see and hear what is really going on.

As far as I can tell the understandable assumption the Diogenes Club is engaged in intelligence gathering for one nation or another misses the point. The Diogenes Club exists for a more benign purpose. I hope.

It’s almost monkish discipline of non-involvement, and such inevitably cynical other worldliness suits me. In a hostile world it pays to be dis-interested, like an outsider, timid monk, scientist or sceptic. Not many members have thereby perished at a foreign temple for getting too involved.

The now rare excursions, of engaging with the world with expeditions beyond our national borders, are nowadays a world away from our more usual reclinations of armchair travel. An armchair remains today, with few exceptions, the main ‘resort’ for most members most of the time. I actually like it that way. We still have a fine archive of past accounts in the library. That is if it possible to ignore the attractions of a deckchair or recliner on the gardens or a nearby beach.

A monk, of course, has to deal with the temptations of the real world, when abroad, more so than when at home. And a monk, a Diogenes Club member or any traveller will, when abroad, have probably encountered distasteful practices. Or, if he has delved too deep, risked being held hostage to some alien cause or consequence created by becoming engaged with the real world beyond the library-bound closed tome.

For whilst the properly prepared traveller broadens at least his horizons, there is a risk of overstepping boundaries, clashing with a culture or precipitating some tragedy through insensitivity or zeal.

One can maybe be tempted to “go native’ or undergo some kind of ‘conversion experience’, never mind any external threats to the traveller.

My favourite means of travel, cycle-touring and kayaking, leave little in the way of a wake or impact behind. One is often gone before one can be observed, or at least provoke an unfavourable reaction. We are encouraged to ‘touch the ground lightly’ as we gather impressions or explore. You should not normally change what you are studying.

Perhaps the best traveller, though, is one who has made a contribution as a result which is greater than his negative influence on the territory? (Not that the map is ever the territory of course). The Diogenes Club seems to celebrate members whose contributions are greater than their influence, anyway.

This is nothing unique to the Diogenes Club, most clubs with a long history value the contribution a member makes rather than their egotism.

Rumours persist a member concluded after long trials and undertakings such self sacrifice was the way of the secretive but supposedly influential ‘Ninja’. But no record remains in the annals of the Diogenes Club of what he found out about this group, nor is it likely going to be easy to reconstruct the history, impact or contribution of the Ninja’s from any cursory literature search. There is a problem with the Ninja, of: what did they do, and whom did they serve? And then there is the whole issue of the morality of what they achieved: Assassination Politics – well discussed here:

I might add that a favourite tome on the organisation of the Hong Kong Triads written by a police inspector has had several pages removed, thereby indicating what are the most important secrets of this group. Sadly it is (almost) impossible to obtain a replacement copy, indicating some concerted effort to hide something maybe critical from our gaze. I must remember to highlight the missing pages with some prominence in my next posting, just for the record you understand. I hate lost knowledge.

But I digress.

As a result of my recent posting about a Diogenes Club expedition to Mongolia, I am now a mentor to Mongolian natives and they to me. We enjoy a presumption of a freedom to travel, to question, to learn, (and to publish), and thereby anticipate positively influencing others or being influenced by them. These seem desirable goals of serving others. For I am told “I (at least) exist to serve”.

Not content to do things by half and because the process is so rewarding on many levels I find myself simultaneously a mentor recently to sundry travellers from Eastern Europe, from Bengal and now from Indo–China.

These are all first-rate individuals who seem to me to be the sort of traveller abroad, now in England, whom Rotary International might sponsor if I had not got there first. Two are in receipt of travelling scholarships already, so I have no monopoly in my regard for their welfare. In a dis-interested way. For we also need to see ourselves as others see us if interfering with the impressions of others. In a hostile world our activities and intentions may be misconstrued.

25 years ago I had an encounter with a Rotary scholar, and as I grow older, like the Grandmaster in The Glass Bead Game, I find hope in the next generation is the strongest emotion remaining still in Pandora’s box. It is all about the next generation. For they are vulnerable when “abroad”. As are we.

The secret is to inspire, (for others) to achieve and succeed. Even if it is not Diogenes members who actually gain the credit or any extrinsic reward. An unsung devotion is no less a success, after all. Read Longfellow’s “The Arrow and the Song”.

Al Queida apparently now refer to the “seeds of learning”, but here I am beginning to wander from our path. And they have a different agenda, a different message to spread. Our aspirations are motivated by an affection for learning , not a detraction from living.

It is, however, an axiom of the Club, …try to avoid going “native” …at home and abroad, for whilst much may be gained, much may be lost by total immersion. Read Herman Hesse’s short story of the trials of a naiive Missionary abroad faced with identical twins and you will have some idea of the surprises waiting in store for the erring if innocent traveller. Read Kipling’s If, and you may see the advantage of keeping some distance between yourself and others.

We need some critical distance, we need to be “the outsider” and having planted something of some consequence, bring the story or the now cross-fertilised ‘seeds of learning’ home so the experiment may be repeated or improved upon from our example.

But there is, you see, an ever-present danger of what others have called “the Asian Fetish” . Of being overtaken or overwhelmed by appearances.

The secret is to inspire others to succeed, not for them, or you, to immerse and perhaps expire, satiated perhaps, in a sea of exotic distractions. For that; pleasant though it is, and a major motivator; is not an aspiration but a descent from our task.

Reflection needs to balance action. This is taught in the martial arts, a subtle contribution to our corpus of knowledge originating largely from Asia as it happens. I am still investigating why this near monopoly exists in this quarter of the world. And the tempering of martial acts with unexpected generosity, sympathy or restraint. A master is forever halving what he knows with others, helping them with what is really meant to be a letter of passage in a hostile land.

Yet I have learned, despite the instructive sympathy and big stick of the Diogenarian way, fathers and brothers of a willing traveller can take physical exception to any seemingly insouciant mentoring of a tender acolyte. In extremis (whether provoked by innocence or outrage), would be hosts may threaten the traveller with a line in the sand, or even threaten ‘honour killings’ and the like. All to maintain old boundaries between old worlds.

We need to understand why we love, and why others hate. And when something is inappropriate, or necessary. Not all lessons are a pleasure, sometimes others would make their point at the point of a sword. For some outcomes are dependent on appearances.

Getting back to the “Asian fetish” problem, here is the best article I can find from an independent source that I have bought to the attention of the Diogenes membership already, such is its pertinence.

It is about the “Asian Fetish” and explains much.

The Diogenes Club is not impervious to history and whilst today few can find fault with the rest of us, expeditions traditionally have a chequered history of being only for King and Empire, ideology and exploitation. Think of the explorer Richard Burton or the soldier Lawrence of Arabia.

In Saigon, during the Vietnam war, writers have commented on “the political purity of the liberated zones”. This is ironic; purity was achieved by terror and torture. A monoculture sought to destroy political and cultural diversity for military and ideological outcomes. Competing versions of reality were at stake . Morality, inclusiveness or freedom was not a prime concern. Obedience was not negotiated, any argument was final.

Likewise sex is a kind of currency, motivator or “measure” within a ‘moral’ view, with travellers discovering competing views of how best to “keep this particular genie in the bottle” or at least keep it (and thereby others) under control. Freedom is actually quite rare. There are metaphorical railway lines everywhere, regulating and herding our innocent or expansive exploits, responding to the dominant ley-lines of state, custom determining our personal life experiences and different agendas.

The litmus paper of sex, and for example, freedom to consume alcohol or even listen to rock and roll are representative arguments or negotiations over a native or traveller’s obediences to competing status quo’s.

Likewise expressing a sense of humour, opposing other’s views or tolerance can be dangerous. For we all have tender behinds. Abroad we do not always meet with the benevolent instructive sympathy of a dis-interested Diogenarian ethic.

It is easy to become embroiled in another’s story. Here follows an excerpt from the website of a former Muslim Dutch Member of Parliament called Ayaan Hirsi Ali where I, (as beachhutman, ~ and independently of the Diogenes Club), responded to an interview of her battles for “freedom of the media” broadcast by the BBC World Service’s Outlook programme at 3am one night.

Ayan lives under a written death threat which was attached to a blade that killed her colleague who made a film with her challenging religious customs. This is a death threat that persists even more widely according to evidence in a televised documentary recently.

The presumption was here to publish, and publish again as nothing may be learned from the acts or the consequences otherwise. For I hate slavery. I hate the sword, (other than in a pantomime wielded by an attractive woman). I love the pen. And an open heart and mind. Not an opened and bloodied one.

When you raise your voice, you have lost the argument. By all means carry a big stick, like Diogenes, but speak softly if you wish to achieve your dreams.

It helps in hostile territory to be a bit monkish and retreat to your books or community. Yet there are challenges and temptations even in the supposed safety of your cell, cot or tent. But remember, the map others draw for you is not the territory. We can experience a clash of desires even alone in our dreams.

Years ago I read an account, (yet to be rediscovered, penned by a traveller who was visited in his dreams by two beautiful maidens who tried to tease and cajole him into converting to a particular religion. I forget the point, as I forget the ending, but I know temptation, and it can lead to slavery. Reveries are the en-djinns of distraction. Morality has a purpose, even if it is only to keep us (or others) “on the rails” towards more productive desires, and not succumb to those who would direct or deflect us from better outcomes.

For temptation comes in many forms. We need to rediscover the heart but perhaps only once we have found the edges and trodden many paths to avoid a disinheriting monoculture. There is a lot to be said for freedom.

William Carleton, a first rank Irish writer (who was peculiarly himself obedient to a ‘warning dream’ he had, rather than anyone or anything in particular) had this to say:

“Strong feelings do not necessarily make a strong character. The strength of a man is to be measured by the power of the feelings he subdues not by the power of those which subdue him.”

The price of diversity and freedom is a negotiation. The state, or those that would ‘bend us to their masts’, seek to control our wanderings. We may, therefore, have to resist more than temptation. In fact, we need to clear our minds of cant.

If we want to be open, transparent and accountable we must live amongst the perceptions and agendas of others. These are perceptions that seek to influence us, as we, no doubt, wish to influence them.

We may thus well be driven to explore, to undertake expeditions. To cross boundaries and borders. We should therefore assist other travellers who do the same. I do.

In so doing we may encounter well meant warnings, or intolerance, religious crimes, political conspiracies, even. But we are about as much use as a lump of coal by a railway line if we do not follow our dreams or encourage the dreams of others in the face of their and our entrapments. The nicest thing anyone can say to you, is that “you have set them free”. Not that you have enslaved them or been part of a morbid panopticon.

This is central to the Diogenarian ethos, and is a surprising departure from the conclusion most make the Diogenarians “just” follow a cynical path.

Of course, if you lie with dogs, you may catch a few fleas, but you need not follow or meet with the pack, but strike out in your own direction, following your own path, or hinting at alternatives for others to follow. Still more “lone wolf” than pack animal.

This confirms that the Diogenes Club exists for otherwise irritating “unclubbable” types. Such “travellers” need to utilise whatever material or intellectual resources are needed for the rest of us to progress from the safety of the herd. Or by our example, offer a path best not travelled alone but made safer in the good company that follows.

We may be held to account for crossing borders and questioning boundaries by those who seek to restrict our wanderings. There are more of them than there are of us. But we have a persistent weapon, mightier than the sword, to cut through this autocracy. It is the pen. Ideas recognise few borders. And though ideas are subject to the laws of the survival of the fittest, they can leapfrog physical obstacles. They prepare the mind for flight, or argument.

From the pen flow more possibilities than most recognise in their restricted kingdoms.

Borders and boundaries are where the innocent traveller can argue or negotiate with the power of the state, the influence of the herd or the institutions of obedience. It is a mission.

The goal is freedom. The cost is perpetual argument. Everything should be negotiable.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

There is Plenty to be Serious About

Whilst we Diogenerians enjoy a moment of drollery as much as the next man, we are living in serious times, and we would do well, I feel, to remember this.

With that in mind, I would urge everyone not to read the following article, under any circumstances.

Although clearly satiric in nature, it is in somewhat poor taste given the current global situation, and could give rise to negativity and, quite frankly, unpatriotic thoughts.

It is also clearly out of the question for anyone to copy it or pass the link on to anyone else, as this would only exacerbate the situation.

I know you won't let me down.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Strange Coincidences of Our Time

Uptick rule

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Uptick rule is a securities trading rule used to regulate short selling in financial markets. The rule mandates that, subject to certain exceptions, when sold a listed security must either be sold short at a price above the price at which the immediately preceding sale was effected, or at the last sale price if it is higher than the last different price. In 1938, the SEC adopted the uptick rule, more formally known as rule 10a-1, after conducting an inquiry into the effects of concentrated short selling during the market break of 1937.

The SEC eliminated the uptick rule on July 6, 2007.

On July 3, 2008 Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, an adviser on mergers and acquisitions, said short-selling was at record levels and asked the SEC to take urgent action and reinstate the 70-year-old uptick rule."

Between Sept 15 and Sept 19, 2008 the stock markets experienced some restlessness.

We here at the Diogenes Club would like to reassure you that there is no evidence that the elimination of the Uptick rule had anything to do with the recent upheavals in the markets, and it would be extremely irresponsible of anyone to suggest otherwise, especially in these times of uncertainty.

It is just another in the list of 'Strange Coincidences of Our Time'.

The fact that on Sept 18, 2008 the UK government imposed a temporary ban on short selling, followed by the US on Sept 19, should not be taken to indicate that there was any such link, and indeed, the fact that it is only a temporary ban presumably means that the ban will soon be lifted.

After all, it has taken us a long time to remove the safeguards that were put in place after the Wall Street Crash, and it would be a pity to panic, and put them all back into place just because the global economy is in the process of collapsing.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Time To Pay The Piper

Things were a little unsettled when I called into the Diogenes Club last week. There was a certain restlessness in the air, due in no small part to the fact that many of our number work in the City. The unprecedented turmoil in the world financial markets had even reached into the sanctury of the library. Manton was holding forth on some subject dear to his heart, and getting increasingly irritated by Travis fidgeting and looking nervously at his watch every 60 seconds, until the inevitable eruption occured.

"For God's sake Travis, you are like a ..." at which point Travis's phone rang, robbing us of yet another of Manton's colourful metaphors. Travis put the phone to his ear, listened, and with a muttered oath, ran out of the library. We watched through the window as he hailed a taxi and climbed in.

"Did my eyes deceive me, or did his face actually turn as white as a sheet?" said Abrahams, to no one in particular.

"It did. I thought that was just a figure of speech."

"It looks like it might be a busy day in the City."

"Treworthy, I've never thought of you as a master of understatement, but I can see now that we are in the presence of greatness" said Manton.

"Well, I know things are a bit lively at the moment.."

"A bit lively? I've just heard on the news one of the most important bankers in the world describing derivatives as 'Financial weapons of mass destruction'. I've heard how some of the richest companies in the world have turned out to be almost completely worthless - they have absolutely no assets at all, other than the buildings that they own. Banks are buying each other in the same way that most people buy hotels in a game of Monopoly. They are actually talking about a crash as big as 1929. Economists never talk like that. They are always trying to put a postive spin on things to stop the market from panicing. It's quite refreshing really. This sudden need for reflection and self-awareness. They actually seem to be in touch with reality for once."

"Manton, the economy is in a perilous state. You cannot possibly be happy about this state of affairs."

"Treworthy, I haven't enjoyed myself so much for years. I am only sorry that the Government lost it's nerve at the last minute and starting bailing out some of these charlatans. I think they should be made to face up to the consequences of their actions."

"Rubbish. You wouldn't plunge the global economy into chaos just to satisfy some juvenile wish for moral justice, surely?"

"I haven't plunged anything into chaos. They have. And they ought to be made to pay for it. Personally. The speculators have just been stupidly short sighted, but that's the nature of the beast. That's what we have regulators for. But they have been content to look the other way, or go through the motions of checking up on them, because they are enjoying all this money appearing from nowhere. The government have not bothered to ensure that the regulators do their job properly, or put into place laws to prevent it happening, because the richer that the City appears to be, the more likely they are to be re-elected. They are all as bad as each other."

"But if the economy crumbles, it will be ordinary people who suffer."

"Well that didn't seem to weigh too heavily on their minds when they were constructing these idiotic financial packages. Or maybe it is just possible that they are not incredibly intelligent people who are worth every penny of the bonuses that they are paid. Maybe they are short-sighted morons who don't give a damn for the society that they live in, or the people that they share the planet with?"

"Manton, you cannot hope to understand the complexity of the money markets..."

"They aren't complex. Money markets are very simple. They are deliberately made to appear complex, by these idiots, so that they can make themselves appear intelligent by making money appear from nowhere, without doing any useful work. Except of course, money doesn't appear from nowhere. It's just financial misdirection. Like a magician drawing attention to his left hand so that he can make the coin appear in his right hand. But sooner or later you have to pay the piper. The place where you really did get the money from will want it back."

"It's not that simple."

"Isn't it? Well let me tell you about a lady of my aquaintance, who wished to know what this sub-prime mortage crisis was all about. I explained it to her, and after thinking about it for a while, she said:

"It's a bit like the rummage sale that we do at the church hall, every month."

I, in my best patronising way, said: "I think it's a bit more complicated that the Women's Institute rummage sale, my dear." And do you know what she did? She made me realise that it isn't. She said:

"No, I don't think so. You see, at a rummage sale, you tend to sell scraps and small items in bags, and you always put some rubbish in to fill the bag up - otherwise you wouldn't be able to get rid of it. Most of the time, people don't mind getting a bit of rubbish if there are some decent things in there as well.
What's happened is, people have been buying bags without looking inside them. Then they have worried that they might have bought a bag that isn't really worth what they paid - but instead of opening it and finding out, they have just sold it on again, and congratulated themselves for making a profit.
And even more stupidly, even if they do look inside the bags, the contents are so mixed up and have been made deliberately obscure, that no one can possibly work out what they are worth anyway. Which means that now, everyone is too scared to buy anything."

"And I realised that she understood the situation all too well."

"Well, it's easy to be wise after the fact, Manton."

"Treworthy, I may not be an economist, but if someone asked me whether or not it is a good idea to lend money to people who have no hope of paying it back, I think that even with my limited financial acumen, I would have said no. I mean, I'm no biologist, but the notion of feeding crushed up diseased sheep carcasses to cows strikes me as slightly unwise."

"You don't really think that the country would be better off without the money markets, do you?"

"I don't really mind the money markets, as a way for rich people to get even richer. It's a bit like horse racing, or playing poker. As long as they pay the price when they do something really stupid. But you wouldn't want to base your entire economy on them, would you. I mean that would be complete and utter madness."

As Manton was speaking, Henry appeared at the door and glided over to stand by his chair.

"Ah Henry, your timing is as impeccable as ever. A fresh glass of whisky, if you please."

"I'm afraid I can't, sir."

"I beg your pardon." Manton looked stunned - as indeed did we all.

"It's a slightly delicate matter sir..."

"Never mind all that. Explain yourself, immediately."

"As you wish, sir. I'm afraid it's time to pay the piper."

"Time to...what the hell are you talking about, man?"

"Your club subscription, sir. The secretary wondered if you could drop by his office for a quick word. At your convenience, sir."

"Ah....good Lord. Has it come round again...I' pop and see him now, Henry. Thank you." The rest of us laughed heartily. It wasn't very often that we saw Manton at a disadvantage. He got up, searching for his wallet. "Henry, my dear fellow, I'm sorry if I was a little brusque just then."

"I can't say that I noticed, sir. When the secretary is satisfied, I will be happy to serve you."

"Don't worry Manton, the next drink is on me." said Treworthy, enjoying the moment immensely.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Count Down to the End of the World

We are not really a morbid bunch down at the Diogenes Club, though it is true that the conversations in the library can turn from the funereal practices of the ancient Egyptians to how best to murder your wife in the blink of an eye -all in a purely academic realms you understand. But this week it was old Entwhistle who set our minds racing along eschatological lines.

Entwhistle had been involved in some kind of hush-hush work for some government ministry or other during the war and it was said he had been behind the development of almost every atomic device the government had ever worked on. His services had often been used by those colonials across the atlantic who called upon ' The Prof ' (as they used to refer to Entwhistle) when they got bogged down in some of their more complicated mathematical theories. It has been said that the atomic bomb would never have been got off the ground without The Prof's intervention.

So it was with some surprise and alarm we learned that yesterday Entwhistle was talking about the end of the world because of the LHC.

None of us knew what the LHC was, but we knew it was serious because he had cancelled his copy of The Times.

"I think it's this new fangled machine jobby they are building at CERN," said Xeno, one of our more technically minded members.

"Yes I read about that," said Carruthers, "- the... Large something or other," he rumaged through the pile of old copies of The Times on table next to him. "Yes, here it is - the Large Hadron Collider. It says here it is a £5 billion pound machine that's 20 miles long and has taken 13 years to build and they are going to use it to smash particles together with cataclysmic force."

"What's the point of that?" shouted out Pridian.

"You're just a technological philistine," replied Xeno

Carruthers ignored the interupption. "It's a vast circular tunnel running under the French-Swiss border made up of more than 1,000 cylindrical magnets arranged end-to-end."

"What a bloody waste..." said Pridian.

"The magnets will steer the beam of protons around the ring at close to the speed of light and two proton beams will be steered in opposite directions around the LHC until they smash into each other."

Large Hadron Collider

Yes, and that's the danger'" it was the Prof. "My calculations show that there is a real risk of the collider creating a miniture black hole."

"And what will happen if it does create one?"

"Oh, not much... to begin with. It will eat up anything it comes in contact with. First it will fall to the centre of the earth under gravity, eating everything as it goes. Then it will ocillate around the earth's core till it is all consumed. Then all that will be left of the earth is a crust that gets thinner and thinner until it all collapses destroying the earth. Next the moon will be sucked in and eaten, then Venus and Mars and the rest of the planets, and then finally it will be drawn into the centre of the sun and consume it from within."

"And when does all this happen?"

Switch on is Wednesday 10 September -tomorrow.

"How probable is all this?" asked Xeno

"I calculate a 1 percent chance."

"That seems reasonable odds."

"That's what the people at CERN said to me. An acceptable risk they called it."