In Competition No. 2393 you were given the first 101 numerals representing the value of π and asked to supply a piece of prose in which each word has the number of letters corresponding to the figures, zero to be represented by a ten-letter word.
My thanks to Martin Kochanski for this idea. The consensus was summed up by Mae Scanlan’s final words: ‘Callous, diabolical, crafty villain, Jaspistos!’ Hilary and David Wade get the top £30, and the other prizewinners, printed below, have £25. I have included my personal effort (without reward) just to show that I’m prepared to swallow my own medicine.
‘It’s a maze. A prize conundrum. No bloody doubt.’ Our guest shrugged miserably. ‘Mycroft? Unusually, not in the Diogenes Club. Honest Mr Holmes, this one has panicked him, I’m certain.’
‘Certainly seems irrational. Or singular.’
‘Scotland Yard?’ I suggested. ‘Baffled, I assume?’
‘Naturally,’ the Inspector confessed, not mincing words. ‘A mysterious crime, executed by miscreants’ — Lestrade’s accents fell fearfully — ‘more than human, gentlemen.’
‘No, not miscreants,’ replied Sherlock. ‘A single mind.’
‘My thinking, Watson, is elementary.’
‘Moriarty!’ exclaimed Inspector Lestrade, gaping at Sherlock. ‘Impossible! Not your “Napoleon of Crime”! But isn’t he d—–’
‘A surmise,’ interposed Holmes, ‘clearly premature.’
How I love a witty performer! He speaks, while the House quietens, willingly waiting, expecting fun. My own favoured Tory talker is superb, ever top for jokiness. Yes, Mr Cameron regularly sends Parliament in stitches, giggling over a wisecrack. Plainly a clever, pragmatic man, carefully preparing for stardom, David, I anticipate (prime minister if colleagues manoeuvre smartly), will certainly take over. Other possibles in the leadership contest: Osborne’s a decent chap, comparably Duncan or Willetts. Ancram is uninspired. Rifkind’s tediously competent. Redwood’s cuckoo! Up Cameron’s revolution! He’s well suitable, so David boy gets an ‘A’. I predict modernism’s leader, Cameron, ascendant.
Sea, a pier, a beach encrusted in shells, boats and gulls, sweeping panoramas — nothing analogous can, by any standard, beat living by silver seas. Can any thinking man of average alertness truly contradict me? Maritime delights have a matchless glamour, a beauty exceeding all. Confirmed urbanites who enthuse about a superstore often disagree. No enchanting waterside habitat will enrapture them. They exist, bewitched by the metropolis, chasing frippery. I prefer this delightful resort to anything buried in industrial detritus. Seascapes, fishermen, breakers, shells in sunlight — wonderment, all mine, pleasure to enjoy! Men such as I, a seaside enthusiast, really possess happiness.
How I wish I hadn’t succumbed to offers wiser men would distrust. Samantha’s hostess proposals had, in all apparent ways, charms to excite even old men. Moreover, she, in initial exchanges, swore resolutely to entirely overlook what I privately confess — a rather excessive age. Closeness developed: Sam clearly loved a chessboard, bowls, charades or backgammon. Caressing greeted each proffered tiny gift until, answering to her primordial desires — diamonds! A lonely week wretchedly ensued. No Samantha. Months of researches entailed demeaning discovery. Samantha showed up, diamonds decorating her neck, cuddling an awful boy. Lost to a — a loutish, adolescent, spotty, scruffy profiteer!
How I fear a night stillness! In twilit quiet the birds’ chanting gradually softens, enjoining day to end. Outlines grow vaguer, as sounds from far off suddenly wax to ominous intensity. Every perception is absurdly enlarged into a realistic feature. I listen nervously, all attention straining for ghostly steps — a visitation madly imagined to obliterate normality. Breaths come shallowly; then real panic encircles me; the horrendous silence acquires a bodily form, gruesomely shaped in devilish figure to annihilate rational cognitive processes....
Daylight renews my habitual steadiness. All this palpably is fancy, but even so I, a sceptic, frequently endure serious misgiving.
For a time I voted dutifully, as people still did, after weighing political comment carefully. But in the hustings held lately it seemed that any old attitude, sad or cynical, illiberal, inane, intolerant or wilfully ignorant, held a perverted respect. I looked forlornly for unpopular solutions but nowhere could I altogether avoid kneejerk or irrational prejudice. Instead, pure mendacity gave Tony Blair advantage in all uninformed circles, creating a malign aura, outwitting Howard: an outright appeal to calculated populism. Pollsters predicted moderate losses; no minister deprecated the rank ideology of smear and lies as I, a sceptic, understood. Bloody general elections!’
‘May I make a point?’
‘Nearly every man likes drinking — sometimes lightly, sometimes, sad to say, savagely. Wild scenes of public orgy are not uncommon. Why, in Glasgow Scotchmen abuse themselves by swigging paraffin neat. I represent decency, I honour restraint and therefore deprecate the alcohol habit. I ...’
‘Balderdash! Utter nonsense! Be civilised, reasonable. Puritan bias paralyses your mind. Think logically. To ban usquebaugh invites ridicule. I assert that abstention stinks. It affronts nature, is abominable, reverses universal tradition. Humanity cannot go entirely unconsoled. Get wise, Malvolio. My shout. Now, come on, a ...a snifter?’
‘Temptation? Heaven forfend, Aguecheek!’
No. 2396: Clever-boots
Sports correspondents can be intellectually pretentious. You know the sort of thing: ‘The principles of Occam’s razor were amply demonstrated at Elland Road yesterday...’ You are invited to supply a description of a sporting event by such a journo. Maximum 150 words. Entries to ‘Competition No. 2396’ by 9 June.