Rogue Mail

I always do it. I always fall for the Spam. The more creative stuff, that is. The run of the mill, the 'Earn $$$ now' or 'Shaved mules in 1001 positions' gets deleted instantly. But the ones that try to trick you into opening them by pretending they're from someone you've met...I am an eternal optimist. There was a porno one, I remember, whose subject line went something like, 'Remember me? I was that girl who thought you were hot.' Well, no, I didn't remember, but perhaps it had slipped my mind. True, I hadn't had any social contact with females I wasn't related to for a good many months, but you never know. Maybe a girl chatted me up, and then I banged my head and forgot about it. It can't hurt to open it and see.

Or the one just last week that ran, 'I lost your phone number' from 'Liz M.' Again, I had no recollection of giving my phone number to a Liz M or a Liz of any letter, but, again, I may have done so but subsequently had a brain seizure. When I opened this it turned out, quite cleverly, to be selling a Memory Improvement course.

Or that one, 'Here is that secret information you requested.' Ooh! Ooh! Maybe it got sent to me by mistake! Insider information, Michael buy shares, get rich quick. Or, or, a spy ring of some sort, Michael investigate, do big Nancy Drew number, become hero, save world. Well, it can't hurt to open it...oh, God, more shaved mules, where do they find them?

I even, regular as clockwork, open those con-mails titled 'Are you trustworthy? Please help me.' What desperate plea for succour, what call to noble battle is this? 'Sir, your name has been given to me as that of an honourable man...' Ah, yes, even in the remotest corners of the globe the name of Kelly rings out as a clarion-call in the fight against tyranny, a symbol of hope to the downtrodden. '...My father, the renowned baby-strangler General Zod, left a fortune of $100 million which I am unable to access without your help...' Such a let-down.

Those conmen are crap, crap, crap. I mean, quite apart from the fact that (a) everyone knows it's a con and (b) even before everyone had heard of it, anyone but a retard could work out that it's a con, it appeals to the baser instinct of greed, and most people I think are basically good. Who dreams of helping some sordid dictator or war criminal escape with his ill-gotten gains? Only politicians and bankers, and they are too busy running their own cons to check their mail.

They would have better luck with something appealing to instincts of gallantry, something closer to the original Spanish Prisoner con, in which the prisoner in question was a beautiful princess. They should make up a big romantic story, set in one of those little Balkan or ex-Russian countries no-one can keep track of. Even give it a fake name, Ruritania or Madeupograd. 'I am a beautiful princess. I have been imprisoned by my evil Uncle Boris. Please help me.' And then you'd fly out to meet her, and they could stage a little adventure for you. You could be chased by thugs and so on, be shot at and get in a car chase, and have a sword fight, and then they'd sneak you into the jail disguised as an old washerwoman to meet the princess, and then you'd pay a bribe to the guard to have the princess smuggled out - your entire life savings, but you wouldn't mind. And afterwards the princess would say, 'I'll never forget you,' and give you a farewell kiss before being whisked off to safety by her loyal adherents, and she'd promise to make you a Count or something when she regained her throne - and maybe give you a medal on account, the Ruritanian Order of Honour, just like a little chocolate coin on a ribbon - and you'd be happy as Larry, so long as you never tried to look the place up in an encyclopaedia. With the help of a few blindfolds and so on they could stage the whole thing in the Magic Castle at Eurodisney after hours.

Anyway, it seems I will never learn. But if I hadn't been such an eternally hopeful twerp I would never have opened Celia's mail and so would have missed out on all the minutes of intrigue and speculation it provided.

'Mi Vida Loca!' was the subject-line and logically it had to be spam, because it was delivered to a pseudonymous account I had only used once or twice, to promote my page in newsgroups or post gibberish on the 10 Downing Street website. To the best of my recollection no-one I knew had the address. Still, I wasn't quite sure. So I opened it, and for once it wasn't spam, but nor was it from anyone who knew me. It had, as it turned out and as I quickly realized, been mis-addressed and had never been intended for my eyes.

I have never been much of a voyeur, but as Celia had a lively writing style and a gift for narrative I cannot deny that I was entertained by the unasked-for peek into someone else's life. But the primary appeal for someone of my temperament lay not in her accounts of her everyday joys and woes, the ordinary details of the daily warp and weft of existence which, I admit, can often be poetic and golden, but in the glimpse it gave me, quite inadvertantly and almost certainly misleadingly, into something utterly...well, you will see, as I reproduce the salient portions of Celia's mail below. I have changed all names (including that of 'Celia') and cut out the more mundane, or personal, passages, but have not otherwise altered it.


No I haven't got rid of it! I never will! I nearly persuaded one of my neighbours to buy it from me (at a loss, of course) but in the end he backed out. I can't even give the bloody thing away! I tried to pass it on to Cheryl but she didn't want it in the house. I begged Tom to take it from me but he pleaded his kids as an excuse. I'm stuck with the bloody thing until I die, and meanwhile it squats in a corner mocking me and spoiling everything. I can't sleep for worrying about it. I can't give it back, and I can't dump it. Please, please, please find someone to take it - I wouldn't inflict it on you, hon, but someone you don't like.

Yeah, it was a bit awkward at the weekend, but not as bad as I feared. Derek's little Problem is still causing trouble and J. is going spare trying to cover for him. I talked to him more this time but he was wet as always. ...

[Deleted, a lengthy account of a shopping expedition and then a charming but rather private paragraph about a romantic flirtation.]

Things are still mad in The Glasshouse. We finally lost Carrington DeVilliers. The Colonel is still barking and is convinced Troy is going to defect to MMV and is paranoid about what he'll take with him. Troy has been acting really strange since he got back from Zurich, actually, so he might be right for once. ...

[Deleted, some entertaining comments on the personal habits of people I don't know and girly gossip about people getting boyfriends and having babies.]

Please never mention the words 'cheese' or 'Bishop's Stortford' to me again. I still feel so humiliated.

[Girly expressions of affection deleted. Arrangement for a possible rendezvous and piss-up involving more variables and contingency plans than the D-Day Landings deleted.]

See you soon darl,
Celia xxx

I was somewhat uneasy for a moment when I realized I had read a stranger's mail. My primary emotion, however, was one of deep envy for the exciting life the sender seemed to lead. I was jaded and bored with my own existence and was sent into a happy little reverie speculating on Celia's.

For one thing, she was obviously a spy. 'The Glasshouse' had to be a euphemism for her secret headquarters. They were engaged in some sort of cat-and-mouse game with the suave supervillain Carrington DeVilliers - they had lost him - either he had managed to elude their surveillance or their agents had finally shaken off his sinister henchmen, by means of cunning tricks with taxis and department store changing rooms. Her colleague Troy had been brainwashed by the shadowy MMV organization in Zurich, or fallen prey to a honeytrap perhaps, but her canny boss The Colonel was keeping a weather eye on him. ('Carrington DeVilliers' and 'MMV' are my substitutions, but I assure you the originals were equally suggestive.) Oh, yes, yes, obviously the truth was something boring like she worked for an ad agency in some hideous glass office and had lost the Carrington DeVilliers account to a rival. But a man can dream, can't he? And obviously secret agents didn't send out office gossip via unsecure e-mails...well, come to think of it, they did things like leave top secret documents in laptops on trains, so maybe they did.

So too I spent an entertaining couple of minutes speculating on the nature of Derek's Problem. Since she referred to him being 'wet as always', this was fairly obviously incontinence. The long-suffering J. had evolved various stratagems to try and conceal this affliction from their friends, such as making him wear a knee-length poncho, and talking about a cat that pissed on all the chairs.

And I was deeply ravished by the juxtaposition of cheese, Bishop's Stortford and lasting humiliation. This enigma continues to tickle and tantalize me. Did Celia, as part of some orgiastic bacchanal or in order to fulfill a wager, run through the streets of Bishop's Stortford naked save for a strategically placed cheese triangle? Was she, in that sleepy and otherwise blameless little town, initiated into some strange, debased, lactose-fixated S&M cult, ridden around the room by a fat Justice of the Peace and forced to sniff a really ripe Camembert until she begged for mercy? I like to think so.

The most intriguing to me, though, was that first paragraph, with its eldritch tale of an unnamed Thing she could not be rid of which was turning all the joys of life into ashes in her mouth. This reminded me of nothing so much as Robert Louis Stevenson's story of 'The Bottle Imp', the cursed bottle which grants all its owner's wishes but which, if it be found in their possession at their death, consigns them to eternal damnation. It could never be thrown away or given away, but had to be sold on to someone else, who must be fully aware of its terrible powers, and for a lower price than the current owner had paid for it. Down the centuries the sale price had crept inexorably lower as it passed from hand to hand. If you bought it for a penny you were screwed, as you could never get rid of it. In fact, if you had paid a few pence for it you were in trouble, for who would buy it from you knowing the difficulties of disposing of it for a lower price than that? Plainly, Celia was in this predicament. She had bought some bottle-imp or magical idol with similar properties for about 5p and used it to gain material wealth and a desirable media job, and was now frantically trying to find someone foolish enough to buy it from her more cheaply lest she be condemned to eternal torment. Sleep? Of course she could not sleep, her nights filled with visions of endless hellfire and the screams of the damned. By day she tries to distract herself with shopping sprees and nihilistic cheese-orgies, but whenever she returns home the imp is there, pressing its hideous face against the eerie green glass of the bottle, mocking her. "Soon, Celia," it croons. "Soon you burn, my pretty. Prada and Gucci and Edam frottage cannot save you. Soooooon."

All whimsy aside, this is still a puzzle to me and that still seems to fit better than any other explanation. I mean, re-read that first paragraph. What is going on there? The prosaic explanation, I suppose, is that she is referring to some hideous ornament or something. An unwanted gift of some sort? Then why does she refer to selling it 'at a loss, of course'? If she bought it herself, why buy something so hateful? Why does Tom invoke his kids as a reason not to take it? What manner of thing squats in a corner and mocks a person? That sounds like a monster to me. Why is she so sure that she will be stuck with it until she dies? Why can't she give it away to a charity shop or something? Why can't she dump it?

(Oh - belatedly, it occurs to me that she may very well be referring to a broken fridge.)

I will never know, and it is good that I will never know. There is little enough mystery in modern life, and in mystery begins imagination. Naturally I wrote to Celia and told her of her mistake. She wrote back, tersely and rather coldly, informing me that the intended recipient had an e-mail address very similar to my pseudonymous one - and adding, quite unnecessarily I thought, and quite unnecessarily snottily, that she trusted I understood the information in the mail was confidential and that I would not disseminate it in any way. (I think I have pretty much stuck to this - no more than a few thousand people visit this website - besides, if Agent Troy really is about to defect to the MMV the public has a right to know.) Obviously, it was out of the question that I should presume to quiz her about the Thing in the Corner, still less Derek's Problem or her peccadilloes with cheese. But even if she had spontaneously volunteered an explanation - whatever it was, it would have been disappointing, and on the whole I was glad not to know.

This was a year or more ago now. By this time 'Celia' has probably forgotten most of the trivial little incidents recounted in her mail. She has, I hope, disposed of her mocking albatross long since and is able to sleep carefree at nights. But stumbling on her mail again recently - I never did have the heart to delete it - and remembering the childish fun and genuine mental stimulation it had briefly afforded me, it struck me what a fine piece of accidental art that errant missive was. A fairly straightforward recit of everyday events, transmuted, by being torn out of context, into a thing of mystery and exoticism.

It further struck me that there must be many people in the world who would be as delighted as I was to receive such a mail. To serendipitously find one day, in the midst of soul-sapping spam, curt business communications, and banal salutations from antipodean great-aunts, an unexpected window into another world.

I have decided, therefore, to devote some time to the making of mail-art or creative spam. As a random act of kindness, I will send mail to complete strangers which will be calculated to divert, unnerve, amuse, puzzle, and above all set the imagination working. I can derive no possible benefit from this acte gratuite; if they reply to me, or to the pseudonymous accounts I will use, I shall not respond, for I have little time for e-mail correspondence these days, and besides it is better for my purposes to leave them mystified. I wish merely to fire a few potshots at my enemy, ennui, and pay forward the favour the universe did to me in sending me Celia's mail by helping others escape the quotidian round for a few moments. If I succeed only in annoying some busy people and baffling some dolts, that is fine by me too.

Below are some examples of the sort of mails I will be sending. I admit frankly that I have failed in all attempts to reproduce by design the sort of teasing conundrums and enigmas which Celia's mail artlessly evoked - the first couple are a sample of my experiments in that line. Instead, I tend mostly to the surreal and the deliberately sensational. They may at least serve to jolt someone somewhere out of complacency or boredom.



No, it's still there! I've asked the landlord to come and do something about it three times now but every time I open the cupboard it's there sucking the life from some small animal and inscribing runes on the floor in blood. It gives off some sort of energy field which interferes with the telly so I haven't seen EastEnders for a week.

In other news, Bob's little fetish is getting out of control and Helen is having a terrible time trying to cover for his constant trips to the mortuary and the graveyard - now he keeps asking her to paint herself green and lie there with her arms crossed on her chest, yuck!

Busy busy at work, Echelon One ordered an emergency sanction on the Ecuadorean Minister of Commerce and we don't have any reliable hitters in that part of the world so we ended up sending Sandra from the typing pool with an icepick down her bra. And that nice new boy from K Division that I had a crush on, he came back from Beijing with a control necklace and ten grams of semtex wired to his cerebral cortex, I had to order a sanction on him, shame. Still he wasn't really my type anyway, when they cut him up I saw he had pimples all over his back, ugh.

Have to go babe, take care


PS How could you bring up that weekend in Chichester! I felt so degraded. Please never mention the words 'pubic hair' or 'Van de Graaf generator' again.



It has to be tonight. I will provide the scorpion. You bring the hoover. Bring whoever you need to aid in the ceremony, but remember - no-one born in January or October or on a date that is divisible by 3.

Doubtless you have heard the terrible news from Luxembourg. The Eye has been apprised and steps are being taken. An emergency consignment of breadcrumbs was flown out but Odin alone knows whether it will reach them in time. The Gibbon will issue further instructions at the appropriate time. We can take heart from the heroism of the Delta Child - to improvise repairs with milk-bottle tops! Magnificent. Truly, he is The One.

Orion endures.


PS. I know you were shaken by that scene in the crypt of Norwich Cathedral. It had to be done, but I still feel unclean myself. Oblige me by never mentioning the words 'Nancy Reagan' or 'hedgehog' again.


Hi there,

How's it going? I hope everything is OK your end especially with regard to...shall we say... the trombone and muesli situation, need I say more?

Same old same old here, except that Aunt Beagle has moved into the attic, taking her Johnny Cash records with her, and is refusing to come out until Marmaduke apologizes for his remark about her pencilcase. She subsists on a diet of old woodchip wallpaper and gelatine cubes. Ronald is liverish, but then when isn't he? Woodhouse continues to hump my leg at the dinner table and thinks I don't notice. Herve has a new wen.

Have you heard from Hieronymus or any of the old Young Calvinist gang? Someone told me a while back that Sendak got lifted for collecting hyacinths the old-fashioned way if you take my meaning, but it may have been just a rumour. At any rate he's been keeping a low profile since the Trope Day debacle. Fancy turning up with an unhousebroken buffalo, of all things! It was in very poor taste especially considering Ziggy's little problem, although that's practically cleared up since he took the raspberry treatment at Bonn.

Speaking of which you may be interested to know that Emma and Ling-Ling have moved into a new hut - the old one had grown too small for their gillimot collection, which they have now decided to arrange according to wingspan.




My dear little fledermaus,

Your new metal claw will be fetching and I am certain that pretty soon all the ladies will be wearing one. Apart from the undoubted Bond-villain chic, I'm sure I do not need to ennumerate all the practical advantages of a mechanical hand capable of pincering through steel and grinding masonry into sand within seconds - you will be the envy of all your schoolfellows. That it seems imbued with a life of its own is, I agree, a trifle alarming - but the inadvertant massacre of the members of your lepidoptery club, while it must have been distressing for you, is in the long run a small price to pay for possessing such a marvel of science. Yet let me take a moment to regret the removal of your original lily-white hand, whose slender fingers I so fondly remember dipping, erotically, into a tin of creosote as you daubed slogans onto Madame Grutzner's underskirts that summer.
  While I am convinced of the necessity of young ladies being disciplined for breaches of etiquette, to have your hand chopped off for helping yourself to a second serving of porridge seems a trifle harsh. However the Doctor Mengele Deportment School has the highest reputation and the brochure your father showed me was most impressive - for example, few other academic institutes offer panda-hunting among their extra-curricular activities. As for all the wild talk of underground dungeons, radioactive lava-pits, and compulsory sterilizations of those who fail their exams - I put this down to mere chafery on the part of your chums. Speaking of which, I see you have again failed to send me a photo of your friend Doris. Frankly, my dear, I fail to believe that any schoolgirl can grow to be twelve feet tall, hormone injections from the matron or no.

Yours Ever,



Did it happen? Did it really happen my darling or did I dream it? Oh tell me tell me, write to me my darling and tell me that it really happened. Do you remember? Do you? Oh please please write to me and say that you remember. Tell me you remember like I do, every day, every hour, that you wear it next to your skin, that it burns into your flesh like the shirt of Nessus. Or have you forgotten? Have you made yourself forget? Have I lost you? Have I lost you to the world? O my poor weak darling did you let the world defeat us?

Was there rain? I remember rain. Tell me you at least remember the rain. Did it rain like the deluge on the Boulevard St. Germain and did we laugh like children and did you umbrella me with cauliflower leaves from the market in the Rue de Buci and say we looked like Adam and Eve in that picture of the expulsion from Eden? And Notre Dame silent and hunchbacked and the lugubrious gendarme and the flower-seller girl and then the bistro and the glow on our faces and everyone exhilarated and our hands touched as you lit my cigarette and we knew. Did you know? I knew. I knew and I blessed the rain and God damn you forever darling if you deny that rain.

And did we fall? Did we fall? Did we fall off the edge of the world together? Did I fall and did you catch me and bear me up and up and up beyond the roof of the sky? And afterwards your arms about me and my teethmarks fading on your shoulder like the marks of some lost henge from a forgotten civilization and the cat that came in through the skylight skinny and utterly ruthless like a streetgirl and you leaned on the balcony smoking and behind you the sky was purple, purple purple purple forever and the freckles on your back like a constellation I thought I could read our fates in and a sudden sound of accordions and then you turned to me again.

Come back to me, my beloved. I will wait for you until and at the end of time.

Your loving grandmother

PS. I knitted you a sweater



So, you think to escape from me, do you? This is how you repay me for everything I have done for you. Do you not remember that when you asked me to teach you to yo-yo you vowed to deliver yourself up to me body and soul? You were happy to make that vow, you begged me to take you. And now on the brink of the fulfillment of all your dreams you throw away all those years of training and self-sacrifice to become the bride of an entirely ordinary oaf with no more concept of yo-yoing than a tree. Yo-yoers are not meant to marry. You will now become a plump mindless hausfrau, your dexterous fingers become thick and fat with childbirth. I scream to think of it.

You could have been one of the greats. I have seen them all, liebchen - Korobiev, Caraway, Akamoto - but you, my treacherous darling, could have been the greatest yo-yoer of all time.

You allude cruelly to my deficiencies and say that I am trying to live my life through you. Yes, I was born without middle fingers. Yes, I had to grow up watching other people showing off their yo-yo skills, never me. Has this made me bitter? Psychotic? I think not. It merely enables to me see clearly what is important.

You will come back to me. You were born to our life. Your very fingers will lead you back to me. When your child comes out of you on that long cord it will remind you of nothing but a huge pink yo-yo and your fingers will of their own volition twine themselves in the umbilicus and spin the babe up and down. Then you will come crawling back. And I will turn you away and leave you to die screaming in the gutter with the knowledge of what you might have been.




By the time you read this I will be dead. It is the only way out. Orleanist agents have surrounded my bolthole. Jean-Yves has betrayed the House of Bourbon, his head turned by that dancing girl in Marseilles. It was he who killed Eduarde using a shellfish toxin administered via a poisoned bidet. He has paid the price for his treachery, though. I gave his location to the Bonapartists and many swine from both sides were killed in the shoot-out. But it is too late for me. Soon the foe will come and take me. They will put me in The Machine, and after minutes of excruciating torture I will inevitably give up the location of The Heir. Rather than betray my sovereign, I will be dead before they break in.

I know I can trust you to do what must now be done. You know that we are compromised and the House of Orleans will be coming for you next. I trust that by the time they get there you will already be dead and will have burned down our house. Smother the children in their sleep, it will be kinder. They will be as proud as I am to lay down their little lives for the House of Bourbon. The Heir will remember us when he ascends to his throne.

For I have good news as well, news that eases the bitter sting of death. I die joyously, for my mission was a success. The Plan is on course. The Weapon is ready. Soon the godless democratic mistake will be over and monarchy will be restored to France. The Heir will come out of hiding and the Orleanist pretenders and the Bonapartist scum will be exterminated. A new Sun King will restore the glories of old. We will make an alliance with the Stuarts in Scotland, smash England, destroy the Prussians, and hunt down the Hapsburg vermin before they can attain their foolish dream of restoring the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It is time for us both to die now. Outside, I can see the swine assembling The Machine and it sends shivers down my spine. Better I die like a man.

Farewell, my darling. You were a good Bourbon, a worthy agent for the cause. I also admired your bottom. Kiss the children for me before you stifle them.

I die now! I die for my King!


PS. I am writing this in English for extra safety. If you have trouble translating it ask old Mr. Lumiere from next door for help but be sure to kill him afterwards.


My dearest Miss Linders,

Further to our correspondence of Thursday last I regret to inform you that I will now no longer be entering my aunt for the novelty steeplechase at the village fete. Your decision to use landmines on the course in contravention of several international treaties can only be deplored. Several of the other proposed obstacles have also caused us some concern. In particular, my aunt objects to having to disarm ninja assassins with her bare hands, and this and the inclusion of pits filled with dung-tipped stakes was the final straw. You will doubtless reply that these matters were debated in open session of the parish council, to which I respond that it is my opinion that the cabal of you, the vicar and Mr. Beelzebub the new churchwarden are increasingly treating the council as your own private fiefdom, and that it is difficult to voice dissent when Mr. Beelzebub's black hounds patrol the room growling warningly at anyone who demurs and tearing the throats out of those who cast their vote against the leadership.

I wish to go on record as saying that under your aegis this year's fete will be an unmitigated disaster which will make us the laughing-stock of the county. I do not see how the centrepiece of the festivities, the much-touted virgin sacrifice, can be a success when, thanks to the vicar's assumption of the right of droit de seigneur over the parish maidens, not a virgin remains within Oakthorpe, and we shall be put to the embarrassing expedient of having to import one from a nearby village. Since the girl in question is to be crowned Queen of Oakthorpe prior to her immolation, it will be quite a blow to the pride of our community to see some gap-toothed hoyden from Bindleyford or Wenge ruling over us, however briefly.

Furthermore I reiterate that the prizes on offer for the various competitions are so extravagant as to be tasteless, and I urge you to revert to the practice that has served us so well in previous years of merely awarding a small trophy or rosette. I suppose a winged cat is a nice original prize for the winner of the marrow-growing competition, but to award the winner of the cake-baking contest 'Dominion over all the Earth for a period of seven years' frankly strikes me as vulgar. I might be less prone to object, however, if I was not so certain that the fix was in, and that the contest would again be won by your indifferent carrot-cake, the recipe for which my aunt maintains you stole from her.

Dr. J. Phelps


Dear Mr. Smethwick,

It is my painful duty to have to inform you that we will not be able to offer your son Laurence a place at the Longhurst Academy for Young Men of Promise. While Laurence came across at his interview as being of an exceedingly amiable and well-mannered disposition and no stupider than many of the candidates we accept, we feel that on the whole he is not suitable for us and that his needs may be better met elsewhere. I realize that this will come as a disappointment to you and you should not feel it reflects badly on you and your wife as parents. However, as our name suggests and as the terms of our incorporation under the bequest from our illustrious founder, Alderman Winthrop, explicitly lay out, this is an institution for young men, and in the course of the interview and the subsequent informal sherry party, it became apparent to more than one member of the examining board that Laurence is a cat.

Obviously, we cannot confirm this completely without a thorough medical examination of a sort we could not make without written consent from yourselves. But as our Matron Miss Helms has bred cats for many years, I feel that we may take her informed opinion, after several hours acquaintance with Laurence, as near to certain. Several other of the faculty had independently rendered the same assessment without benefit of her expertise, merely from observing Laurence's appearance.

The possibility occurs to me that you yourselves may not be aware of Laurence's feline nature. I note that you dress him in trousers, shirt, and other accoutrements becoming to a young man of a certain station in life and in all regards treat him as you would a more, shall I say without any prejudice, hominid offspring. While you warned me in your communications and our delightful telephone conversations that Laurence was in many ways an unusual youth, nothing in your manner indicated any awareness on your part that Laurence was anything other than a healthy, albeit eccentric, human male. With apologies for any distress I may cause, therefore, I feel it my duty to tell you frankly that Laurence is almost certainly not your son. Please believe me that in saying this I intend no slur on you or especially your wife.

It is my opinion that a mix-up has occurred somewhere, probably shortly after birth and before you took Laurence home. At risk of seeming to sound my own trumpet, I was one of those who from the start warned of the dangers of a Veterinary Unit being attached to the Longhurst Hospital, and now I feel vindicated.

Again, my apologies for being the bearer of bad news, and I wish you better luck placing Laurence elsewhere.

Yours Sincerely,
T. Batley, BA, Headmaster








FROM: Egon Krantz, Junior Undersecretary,
Department of Agricultural Harmonization

TO: Leon Duvall, EU Commissioner,
Department of Agricultural Harmonization

CC-ing to: Commissioner Duvall's home mail account

RE: Proposed amendments to artichoke standardization legislation

Dear Commissioner, as requested, a brief precis of discussions to date
together with my comments.

1. It is proposed to amend the existing legislation on the standardization of artichokes.

2. Artichokes are defined as a vegetable and pending further scientific evidence should IMHO continue to be for the foreseeable future.

3. The existing legislation, regulation 963/98, provides for artichokes to be classified into the following groups according to size:

- diameter of 13cm and over
- diameter from 11cm up to but excluding 13 cm
- diameter from 9cm up to but excluding 11 cm
- diameter from 7.5cm up to but excluding 9 cm
- diameter from 6cm up to but excluding 7.5 cm

4. Size is determined by the maximum diameter of the equatorial section of the head. The minimum diameter is fixed at 6 cm.

5. On a personal note, may I say how much I enjoyed exchanging ideas with you at the departmental mixer last February, and how much I appreciate the opportunity of working with you on this. Moreover I would like to thank you for the courtesy and consideration you have always shown me on those all-too-infrequent occasions when our paths have crossed. It was kind of you to notice my new haircut last week. No-one else did.

6. It is proposed to restructure the classification as follows:

- diameter of 12.5cm and over
- diameter from 10cm up to but excluding 12.5 cm
- diameter from 9cm up to but excluding 10 cm
- diameter from 8cm up to but excluding 9 cm
- diameter from 6.5 cm up to but excluding 8 cm

7. The minimum diameter would thus be raised from 6 to 6.5 cm.

8. Artichokes of below 6.5 cm would thus no longer be considered artichokes under the new legislation.

9. Was that a new shirt you had on today? It suits you. You should always wear that colour.

10. A size variation tolerance of 10% by number is currently permissible for each grading of artichoke, with the partial exception of the smallest grade, none of which are permitted to be below 5cm in diameter.

11. It is proposed to lower this tolerance to 5% by number or weight.

12. Thus, under the new legislation any one batch of artichokes containing more than 5% of a smaller diameter by number or weight would automatically be reclassified to a lower grade. The point was raised that the 'or weight' stipulation may be redundant. More investigation is needed to determine whether it is possible for any given number of artichokes to contain more than 5% undersized by weight but not by number.

13. Your wife is a lucky woman. I hope she appreciates you.

14. It is proposed that in the case of the smallest grade to raise the minimum diameter for any single artichoke from 5 to 6cm.

15. Thus, under the new legislation any batch of artichokes of the smallest size grade may contain no more than 5% by number and/or weight below 6.5cm in diameter, of which none may have a smaller diameter than 6cm.

16. The Swedish artichoke, which tends to be the smaller than the average, would tend to fall below the new minimum length and would thus be properly re-classified as a small artichoke-type vegetable, more accurate if less catchy. This may incense the national pride of the Swedes and lead them to protest and even lay siege to the European parliament. It is possible that they would shed the civilization of centuries and revert to their Viking past, descending upon us in longboats, burning, looting and killing in their berserker rage. I envisage that none of our security measures would suffice to stop these atavistic madmen, armed with swords and axes, who would rampage through the building lopping off limbs and impaling our co-workers with terrible shouts of glee. I would find myself running frantically through scenes of appalling carnage, to you, my love. I find you in your office, valiantly fighting off three fur-clad maniacs with your bare hands. Though you fight like a lion, they overwhelm you, and you collapse wounded. Brave with my love of you, I seize the axe from the largest of them and with three swift strokes send them headless to hell, blood gushing in bright scarlet arcs over your neatly stacked Z-345 forms. I rush to you and cradle you in my arms and smooth your balding pate. Together we escape from the devastation and open a small pottery kiln somewhere near Hamburg.

Looking forward to your thoughts on this,



You will never get the sellotape back. Grandfather left it to me, he always intended that I should have it. How dare you seek to claim that he was not in his right mind? Just because he took to bathing with squirrels in his later years. You will never know the joy of a bath full of soapy squirrels, squeaking and frolicking in the late afternoon sun, but I am not ashamed to say that I have carried on the tradition in his honour. The fact is that you have always been jealous of my relationship with Grandfather. When he was in his final extremity, it was to me that he turned to safeguard his underpants. He knew as well I did that you would have broken up the collection and sold them abroad. Thanks to my efforts they are to be kept in Britain where they belong, that generations unborn may be inspired by them. On Tuesdays young persons from deprived areas are brought in to admire them, and leave chastened and awestruck and mellowed by a sense of the essential fitness of things; some even weep, soft cathartic tears of redemption. What know you of redemption, you grasping woman? You wallow in sensuality and wear bacon-rind next to the skin for the sheer debauched thrill of it.

The Lord alone knows to what foul purposes you would put the sellotape. You shall never have it, never! Do your worst, marshal your lawyers, but time is on my side. Out of sheer spite I am using it as quickly as I can. I am sellotaping everything I can think of. Yesterday I gave orders for all the cattle in the north pasture to be taped together in one sticky cluster. At this rate it will be gone in weeks or at most months. True, there are forty yards of it, but grandfather already used much of it in his experiments into high-speed heart transplant surgery - something else in which you took no interest.

I am ashamed to call you sister. In all conscience I can have no further truck with you. I may as well tell you now that it was I who dynamited your dovecote.