Monday, February 26, 2007

My day in Court - Part II

Hello all
Sorry for the delay in writing this second part of the happenings in Kings Lynn. It was down to a bout of espionage by a disgruntled employee, combined with having to finish a particularly exciting experiment involving Ravel’s tapeworms. For those of you who don’t remember, my no.1 research assistant is host to some tapeworms that appear refractory to every drug to which normal tapeworms are susceptible (Read the original story here). In the present experiment, I was determined to finally remove at least one of their number using an experimental compound from ground dung-beetle carcasses. Ravel should make a full recovery from the side effects of my latest tincture within a week or two.

But I digress. Please read Part I before going any further. Here is part 2 of the story…

We were all standing in the gents toilets at Kings Lynn magistrates court, wondering why Denise, my shy but somewhat masculine receptionist, was insisting that we should pay close attention to what happened next, and not to judge the situation until we were aware of all the facts.The door of the cubicle swung open, slowly. Denise motioned to whoever was inside to come out, with firm but gentle words. After a few moments of coaxing, we were presented with the sight of someone, ostensibly male, who looked both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Someone smaller than myself, of stocky build, dressed in black leathers from head to toe, dark aviator-style sunglasses, black cap perched at an angle on the head (those of you familiar with the characters of the late and lamented Kenny Everet may choose to recall the image of Sid Snot at this point) Nothing particularly unusual so far, but then I noticed 1) that the person’s hands were tied in front of the body with a black silk scarf, and 2) that the person was sporting a gag (also made of black silk). <‘Dr McCrumble’, began Denise, in her trademark low-pitched voice that some of you may recall from her video. ‘This is your former accuser, Toby Hancock-Jones. Or, as I prefer to call him, Dog-worm No 3. He responds to that name now, don’t you Worm?’The emotion of astonishment does, I have to admit, visit me on occasion, but never quite with so much of a left hook as this double-whammy. I was momentarily hit by such fierce confusion that I had to look at Dolores to check that I was still standing on terra firma. She too was open mouthed, and from the wide-eyed expression of Ravel, I felt at least sure that I hadn’t misheard anything. ‘Toby, is that you?’, I asked eventually.

Toby nodded, but said nothing.

Denise lent towards me and whispered, ‘I would remove his gag, but I’m not sure he wouldn’t scream yet. He’s almost gained my trust Dr McCrumble, but we’re going to take no chances given the situation. Isn’t that right Worm?’

Toby nodded again.

‘What the…how…’, I stuttered, unsure of where to begin with the heap of questions that had started to form in my mind.

‘I haven’t got time to explain here Dr McCrumble', said Dolores. 'I’ve written it all down and posted a letter to the Institute. All you need to know right now is that the charge of assault has been dropped. You are free to go home, Dr McCrumble, and you too Mrs McCrumble, and you too Ravel. You can all go home. Toby isn’t going to cause you any more trouble. But you must go now. We have to leave.’

‘Denise…I…’, I tried to say something, but the gravity in her voice (which was pitched even lower than usual) made me unsure that I could say anything that wouldn’t sound stupid. Something profound had happened, and I was immediately filled with a scientist’s curiosity to find the answer, but somehow I recognised it was neither the time nor place to start an interrogation. In any case, Dolores already had hold of my arm and was pulling me towards the door. I could hear my wife muttering something about tampering with the witness as we crossed the threshold. I looked back to see Denise waving at me. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I could see a tear streaking down her heavily made up face.

We encountered my solicitor in the corridor outside the court. I could tell she was agitated by the way she was shouting at her assistant to ‘eat the bastard’s cock for breakfast.’

I didn’t bother to enquire as to whom she was referring, and chose instead to stand some distance away until she turned round. As my solicitor caught sight of us, she clamped her mobile-phone shut and made in our direction, her tight features betraying an underlying tension.

‘There you are Dr McCrumble. Good news. You may like to know that Mr Hancock-Jones has just instructed his solicitor to tell the court that he no longer wishes to continue with this case, and has withdrawn the allegation of assault. You have no charge to answer, and are free to go home. I have been told that Mr Hancock-Jones has apologised for causing you any previous harm, and wholly accepts what happened was a misunderstanding. Frankly I’m surprised, I have to admit, as until this morning I was convinced….well, never mind.’

I was tempted at this point to return the gents toilet, but Dolores must have read my mind. She grabbed my arm as I began to turn and told me that we were all going to have a nice cup of tea before we headed back to the hotel. Sitting in the small cafeteria, we sipped our tea from polystyrene cups in silence, each of us mulling over the extraordinary sight of Denise and Toby in the gents toilet. It was a bit bemusing and unsettling. What I couldn’t yet understand was how these two complete strangers had met, nor what Denise had done to Toby to make him withdraw the accusation. Then there was the somewhat disturbing use of both a bind and a gag...

‘Kidnap!’ I blurted as the squares of the picture puzzle in my head suddenly fell into place. Several heads, some wearing helmets, swivelled in my direction.

‘Shhh,’ hissed Dolores. ‘Do you actually want to leave here a free man?’

I began dissembling something about Robert Louis Stevenson to divert the helmets' attention away from the idea that a crime had just been committed. But the idea was now firmly rooted in my mind. I became increasingly agitated as we finished our drinks. Part of me wanted to run over to the policemen and confess to what I had just witnessed. But my sense of self preservation was also strong, and I could envision all manner of untoward consequences of reporting this apparent ‘crime’. In the end it was Ravel who drew a line under my philospophical tussle. He said, ‘in my home, this happens all the time. We shrug our shoulders and say thankyou for small mercy. We put past behind our asses and look with our eyes into the future. Let’s go home boss.’

I looked at Dolores as she put her hand on our arm. ‘Lets go dear’, she said gently. ‘You can try and work everything out…silently… in the car on the way home.’

I was forced to accede to their persuasions and gestured that we should depart the magistrate's court. As we were exiting, we passed my solicitor, who once again was shouting into her mobile phone. Outside, the rain was lashing down. I sighed upon realising that I had left my umbrella in the car. Ravel must have read my mind, for he told us to remain standing whilst he brought the umbrella. It occurred to me as we stood there, that I had not one but two of the most loyal employees anyone could wish to have. What was going to become of one of them - Denise - I had no idea. As for Ravel - well I was already planning an experiment to address a long-term problem of his that would offer a substantial improvement in his quality of life. Just before leaving the Institute I had received a box from Ethiopia containing the remains of 200 dung beetles. If my theory was correct, these beetles were going to provide a non-invasive solution to Ravel’s refractory tapeworm infection, and thus remove the need for surgical extrication. A better way to reward loyalty I couldn’t imagine.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Why can't we all just get along?

Hello all

Back to writing stuff. Before I finish the story of what really happened in Kings Lynn, I thought I would have another go at the writing competition organised by Toshiba. I've given up on trying to be humorous, at least for this week, and instead offer something more serious. Here, then, is my attempt to answer the question: is hate a stronger emotion than love?

"Hate is a destructive emotion. If hate were a ‘stronger’ emotion, in the sense that it predominates and excludes the emotion of love, we may expect to find that societies the world over prefer anarchy over stability. But the truth is that most communities exist for long periods without imploding. War can sometimes be the result of ‘hatred’ for one belief system over another, but is equally likely to be a calculated attempt to extricate resources (territory, oil etc) from a neighbouring population. In such cases, political and/or religious zealousness takes centre stage, and the protagonists may stir up feelings of hatred amongst their supporters to strengthen their cause.

Love and hate arise from different aetiologies. We derive feelings of love via the genetically controlled production of endocrine products under specific, well defined encounters (boy meets girl, girl meets shoes etc). We are programmed to love things because that is how Mother Nature has determined we exist in stable groups and find a mate. Love is an indigenous and spontaneously expressed emotion that takes various forms - children show unconditional love for their parents, boys love racing cars, etc, whereas hatred is a latent emotion that can be targeted and tends to emerge though either personal experience or indoctrination. We are not programmed to hate anything in particular, but we do hold the ability to hate in our genes.

Now, that’s not to say that expressions of hate cannot match those of love in terms of what we would do as a consequence of experiencing these emotions. People go to similar extremes, irrespective of their feelings. For example, I’ve received death threats from someone who said they hate me, and a girl once threatened to kill herself if I finished with her, because she loved me. I didn’t succumb to either threat. Forunately I am still alive, and the girl in question became my wife (she wasn't the same person who threatened to kill me, though she has threatened emasculation on occasion). The strongest emotion I felt during either episode was guilt - such a strong emotion in some people that it never goes away."

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What's been going on?

Hello all

Apologies for not continuing my account of what happened in Kings Lynn. I have been having innumberable problems with technology at the Institute. I thought it was an electronic gremlin and had to call in some IT specialists at great expense to fix the problem. Then, lst night, I caught my no.2 research assistant, McCavity, tampering with the wireless network router in my office. I had just awoken from a dream in which Timothy Hedgehog had begun using my computer to email details of my experiments to a group of dissident hedgehogs in Iceland. I was so alarmed that I had to go an make sure everything was OK. On entering my office, I saw McCavity bent over the desk, screwdriver in hand. Needless to say, an altercation occurred, in which McCavity accused me of ruining his relationship with girlfriend Chloe. I told him that was nonsense, but that I was instead going to ruin his career at the Institute by firing him on the spot. McCavity pushed me aside as he exited, promising to make my life hell in the future.

I take no pleasure in telling a staff member that their services are no longer required, but McCavity has serious issues that he needs to resolve before I could consider asking him to return to the fold. I hope that he uses the time now available to him to look inwardly.


P.S. Now that I am reconnected, and my workload has decreased slightly, I intend to tell you what happend in Kings Lynn in the very near future

Thursday, February 08, 2007

My day in court

Hello all

When I wrote the other day, I was preparing myself for a court appearance to defend an accusation of assault on Mr Toby Hancock-Jones, a man whom had tormented me as a child and whom I had met some months ago in the Norfolk town of Kings-Lynn. Our encounter at that time has been previously described, and I don't think I need to recount the tale again. The upshot was that I was due to appear in front of a magistrate in Kings Lynn yesterday morning at 11am.

I can tell you now, I did not keep that appointment. The following is an accurate account of what happened. Even outside the court I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...

Those of you familiar with this blog will know that occasionally I have taken the option to flee my persecutors rather than stand up to them (ref: Mccrumble Incognito). Such occasions have been the result of my desire to protect my family rather than myself, and I must confess that I was tempted in the hours before my scheduled appearance in court to run into the Norfolk countryside. But my constitution held firm, and in fact I slept soundly on Monday evening, after travelling down south to a small motel just outside Kings Lynn itself.

I was awoken by Ravel bringing myself and Dolores a cup of tea at the usual time of 6:15am. He'd insisted on joining us for the trip, aware that I was about to be tried for assault and wishing to show his support. On the one hand I was very grateful for his loyalty, but at the same time I was slightly perturbed by his choice of travelling garments. I don't know about you, but I would never consider travelling long distances in army surplus clothing. When I had asked Ravel about his choice of apparel, all he had said was, 'Boss, the unknown is waiting. It is best always to prepare for eventual exit in hurry with good defence.'

'You aren't planning anything are you Ravel?' I enquired as he delivered the tea to myself and Dolores.

'Good morning Boss', said Ravel, smiling. 'Good morning Mrs McCrumble. Yes, I am planning breakfast. I think it is safer if you eat in your room. I have ordered eggs and toast and coffee for the both of you.'

'I'm not too worried about my safety yet Ravel. You can intervene if they drag me off to the cells if you like...'

Dolores swatted me with her Marie Clare magazine. 'Don't give him ideas you berk.'

Ravel left us alone to drink our tea. Dolores was showing signs of nervousness already, so I tried to comfort her. She has been feeling a bit unwell lately, and has been worried that the stress of the forthcoming trial will affect the development of our unborn child. To counter the effects of her increased levels of cortisol, I have adopted a method of talking in a soft and gentle manner to the foetus whilst massaging the bump, in the hope that Dolores's endorphin/serotonin levels will rise and the foetus itself will a) learn to recognise my voice and 2) realise that the world outside is welcoming and relatively peaceful. 'Foetus, oh foetus, wakey-wakey', I said, as gently as possible, my face pressed slightly onto Dolores's belly. 'This is your soon-to-be father speaking. Are you there, oh unborn one?'

There was a sharp kick from within, a sign that the foetus was responding to my greeting. 'Good morning foetus', I continued, 'now today is a very special day and I want you to know that you might hear some things that sound unusual. That's because we've traveled a long way to a new place where the people talk a bit different. If you hear a sound you don't recognise then don't worry. It's just someone saying something nice about you...'

'Will you stop that?', cut in Dolores. 'You're going to make it think the world outside is one big happy love-fest or something. The sooner it learns that its father is a criminal, the sooner we can steer it off the path to self destruction. Why not tell it the truth? I thought that was your thing?

Her acidic comments usettled me, and I was unable to respond to the allegation. My obsession with telling the truth and nothing but the truth has enabled me, in the past, to live through a number of misadventures with a clear conscience, yet here I was, telling a bare-faced lie to my unborn child merely to massage its impression of the world, which would, in truth, be nothing like the picture I was trying to paint.

My conundrum, fortuitously perhaps, was not allowed to persist. Ravel appeared moments later carrying a tray with our breakfasts. He had, he told us, persuaded the kitchen to move our breakfast preparation to the head of the queue by telling the cook that we were 'Important VIPs with very short tempers'

We ate in silence. I could sense Dolores becoming more tense as we prepared ourselves for the day's ordeal. I tried to be cheerful, but my efforts were unrewarded. By the time we left the motel, I felt like I had already been condemned, and was on my way to the cells rather than the court.

It was only a short drive into Kings Lynn. The morning rush hour (such as it is in this part of Norfolk) had receded, and we arrived earlier than I had estimated. We parked up close to the magistrate's court and waited in the car until I saw my solicitor arrive. We exchanged solemn greeting before moving indoors.

Kings Lynn Magistrates court

Once inside we were told that we were briefed on the procedure and then told that we would have to wait a while until our case was called. There was nothing to do but hang around fidgeting and trying to make small talk. Dolores needed to sit down, but I felt that I could not relax and instead started to pace up and down. Eventually I found myself opposite a vending machine, and it struck me that my predicament had come to resemble that of a bag of cheese-and-onion crisps trapped at the back of the machine. Unable to free itself, kept in place by physical restraints, inching painfully towards freedom but always scarred with the stigma of having been a vending machine item.

I spoke to the crisps, as if only they could understand my torment. I went over the events of previous months, trying to come to terms with the things I have done, the consequences of my actions, the mistakes I have made. Was everything finally about to come crashing down?, I asked. Was I, Dr Joseph McCrumble, scientist-artist in residence at the Cumbernauld Institute of Parasitology, proud father of twin boys, faithful husband to my beautiful wife, some-time lecturer at various universities, explorer of distant lands, part-time celebrity, and all round good-egg, about to face the prospect of being tarred and feathered by a mob of vigilantes? And all because I dared to take a stand against a man who had ruined several years of my childhood with his mental and physical bullying. Had it all come to nothing?

I was welling up with pathos and self pity. I'm not proud of my emotional outburst, but under the circumstances I think it was justified. The small crowd were wide eyed with bemusement as they watched me thumping at the vending machine, my cries becoming ever more pathetic. Eventually someone came over and told me in a deep but feminine voice that I needed to put in 50p if wanted the crisps. The same person patted me firmly on the shoulder as they spoke. It was a large hand, and as it pressed onto my shoulderbone I was reminded of a time some weeks ago when a similarly large hand had been pressed on my shoulder in a very similar fashion. That time it had been my former receptionist, Denise, just as she told me she was resigning her post at the Institute for the 3rd new-year in a row with the words 'don't worry about me Dr McCrumble, I'll do what's right.'

This time it was -

'DENISE!' I cried as I put the voice and firm grip together. I spun round to see my receptionist standing there, resplendent in a dark purple knee length dress, a big smile on her broad face, her trademark sunglasses resting atop her golden hair. 'What, where?', I spluttered.

Denise removed her hand from my shoulder and told me to follow her. We moved through the small crowd, collecting Dolores and Ravel en route to somewhere beyond the waiting area. Everyone was surprised to see my recently departed receptionist and kept trying to ask her what was going on. To each answer, though, she would only say that everything was about to be made clear.

Upon reaching the men's toilets, Denise ushered us all inside. Dolores initially refused, but Denise insisted and essentially pushed us all over the threshold. One of the cubicles was occupied, but only until Denise knocked on the door. We all heard the toilet flush and watched with baited breath as slowly the door opened.

What greeted us was a sight I did not expect, but which was about to change the course of events in dramatic fashion.....

**********TO BE CONTINUED!!!!************

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Fearing the worst

Dear all

Not for the first time in the last few months, I am feeling the heat. Tomorrow I face my accuser in the court-room. For those of you who have only begun to read this blog, I should tell you that I'm up on a charge of assault on my childhood nemesis, Toby Hancock-Jones. The story of how we came to blows is in my book, and can also be found by following the appropriate label at the bottom of this post. Whether I will be allowed to blog again, I do not know, for I am also up against a lawyer well known for his ability to persuade juries in his clients favour, even if the client has the words 'Don't believe me' tattooed on his forehead.

Toby is able to afford the services of such a man because his father is doing rather well in the carpet business, and is determined to see me go down. Rumour has it that Toby has been suffering epileptic fits since I pushed him over in Kings Lynn, and that he is going to produce medical evidence to support the accusation that I am to blame.

I have contemplated many bad things in my life, but this is the first time I have come face to face with the prospect of losing my freedom. No doubt Dolores will tell you how it goes, if I am otherwise indisposed.

Stay well, my blogging friends. To quote the late, great Freddy, If I'm not back tomorrow, carry on, carry on.



P.S. As if reality was not harsh enough, Kim Ayres has cast me in the mold of uber-gangster over at bluntcogs Will the torment never end?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Designer babies

Hello all

I've been away lecturing most of the week, hence my absence from the blog. It hasn't gone too badly overall. After one lengthy session I even received a spontaneous round of applause! Very tiring though, with up to 6 hours contact time per day. I've got some more to do next week, then it's all over for another year.

The computer company Toshiba are still running their competition, despite a number of upsets. This week, they've set the question "Should prospective parents be able to determine their child’s gender?"

I was mulling over this very important question, one that society has a duty to address, and the answer to which has potentially far-reaching consequences, when my unborn foetus child interrupted with an early morning call for attention. Our conversation, somewhat coincidentally, ended up delving into the very subject posed by Mr Toshiba....

Joseph: Good morning No3

Foetus: Why do keep calling me no 3?

Joseph: Because you will be our third child.

Foetus: You mean I’m not the only one?

Joseph: Indeed not. You will be the sibling of twin boys. You’ll be the youngest of…

Foetus: Hold on there. Back up a little. First of all, tell me: what is a sibling, then what is a twin, then what is a boy.

Joseph: Oh dear, this could take a while…

Foetus: Try the executive summary. My attention span is somewhat bereft of longevity.

Joseph: Ok, well I think we should work in reverse order for ease of explanation.

Foetus: As you wish, but make it snappy. I’m beginning to curl up in the foetal position in preparation for a long sleep.

Joseph: Right. Well, essentially it is like this: you could either be a “boy”, or a “girl”. If you are boy, you will grow up big and strong. If you are girl you’ll be bit smaller overall but develop a larger bosom. These differences will determine your role in society.

Foetus: Blimey. So basically you’re saying that my life-chances depend on whether I am a boy or a girl. I had no idea. How can I tell which way my bread is buttered, to use a well worn metaphor?

Joseph: Well, there is a reasonably foolproof test. Even in utero, a boy will have something dangling between his legs, whereas a girl won’t.

Foetus: What, you mean this long thing sticking out of my stomach?

Joseph: Lower down.

Foetus: Hang on….humph, haa, no, wait, nearly there. No, I can’t reach. Damn. This space is just too damn small these days. Either it’s shrinking or I’m growing. So what am I, a boy or a girl?

Joseph: I don’t know. We didn’t bother to check.

Foetus: WHAT?

Joseph: It doesn’t matter. And calm down. In utero stress is bad for your development.

Foetus: Of course it matters! I need to be prepared. What if I don’t like being a boy or a girl? Why wasn’t I allowed to choose for myself after being given all the salient information? Why did you wait until 30 weeks to bring up this crucial issue?

Joseph: It was out of my hands I’m afraid. And anyway, I’m firmly of the opinion that we should not be allowed to choose whether anyone is boy or a girl.

Foetus: This isn’t about you.

Joseph: There’s a wider issue at stake here. You see, it’s very important that we allow Nature to strike its own balance between the number of girls and boys. If not, we risk putting the rights of the individual against the rights of society on an issue that is fundamental to population stability. It already happens though - In some places, especially where people are poor, boys are preferred because girls are considered an economic liability. Sometimes, girl foetuses are, er, not allowed to be born.

Foetus: Huh? So if I’m a girl I have to stay in utero forever? It’s getting so cramped in here I can barely move already!

Joseph: It's not quite like that I'm afraid. I think you’re a still bit too young to understand fully. You’ll be coming out of there whether you are a girl or a boy, don’t worry.

Foetus: Phew. Thank goodness. You had me worried there for a moment. The last thing I need right now is a gender identity crisis. I’ll see if I can work it out myself later on. You can leave now. I need to compose myself and gestate for a while. Wake me up for the Archers will you, there’s a good Voice-in-my Head.

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