wot i red on my hols by alan robson (canis prandium)
Dog Day Lunchtime
Most lunchtimes Jake and I go to the park where he can run off the lead and gallop around to his heart's content, chasing after all the interesting smells, and making a nuisance of himself by stealing frisbees and tennis balls from other dogs. On one of our first trips to the park, when both of us were still getting used to the wide open spaces, we met a chocolate labrador who came running straight over to us, wagging his tail furiously and grinning with a mouthful of long, white dagger-like teeth. Several yards of tongue dangled from his mouth, flapping up and down in time with his bounces as he ran towards us. A waterfall of drool sprayed through the air. When he got close to us, he put on all the brakes and skidded to a stop, thowing up a fountain of mud over my trousers. He stood there panting as Jake walked daintily over to him and took a long careful sniff at his bottom.
"Hello Booki," said Jake.
Booki took a long careful sniff at Jake's bottom.
"Hello Jake," said Booki. "Do you want to play chase?"
"That's my favourite game," said Jake. And they were off! They raced hither and yon, jinking and swerving, turning on a sixpence. Sometimes they miscalculated and bounced off each other, but they didn't seem to care about that.
"Let me teach you a new game," said Booki.
"What's it called?" asked Jake. He is a dog who likes to have things properly categorised.
"It's called I'm going to grab your collar and try to strangle you," said Booki.
"What are the rules?" asked Jake, puzzled. "How does it work?"
"Like this," said Booki, and he grabbed Jake's collar and tried to strangle him with it.
"Oh, I see," said Jake and he grabbed Booki's collar and twisted it firmly.
The two of them spent a few minutes rolling around in the mud choking each other until they both ran out of air. They let go of each others' collars, panted for a while, and then they played chase again.
"I can jump through that fence over there," boasted Booki.
"Bet you can't," said Jake. Jake had approached the fence several times on our walks, but had always retired from it, defeated by the complexity of the problems it posed.
Booki raced over to the fence, leaped up to it, and shot through to the other side between two strands of wire. He stood there proudly staring at Jake aross the fence. "See?" he said.
Jake walked carefully up to the fence and sniffed each strand of wire one by one. He gingerly poked one paw through the gap between the strands. Then he poked the other paw through. Now he was standing awkwardly with his feet on the ground on both sides of the fence. The fence wire pressed hard into his tummy as his weight dragged it down. Making a huge effort, he clumsily dragged his back legs through, one after the other. "Hey!" he shouted. "Look at me! I'm on the other side of the fence!"
"Now do it faster," said Booki and he leaped back through the fence again.
"I'll try," said Jake. He backed away from the fence so as to give himself plenty of room and then he raced up to the fence, closed his eyes, and launched himself at it. He shot through between the wires, landed awkwardly on the other side, lost his footing and rolled over a couple of times. When his momentum died down, he bounded back on to his feet. "That was fun!" he said. "Bet you can't catch me now." And he raced off with Booki in hot pursuit. Just to prove that it hadn't been a fluke, they jumped through the fence a few more times as they chased each other. It didn't slow them down at all. Clearly Jake was now a fence expert.
"Got any more tricks?" Jake asked Booki.
"Watch this!" said Booki. He dashed off to the river that meanders through the park, leaped high into the air from the riverbank and belly-flopped down into the water with an almighty splash. It looked very impressive. Shoals of fish, screaming in terror, scrambled to get out of Booki's way. A lady paddling in the shallows gave a sudden shriek. "An eel has just nibbled my toes!" It was not clear if she was complaining or boasting. Booki paid no attention to her. He swam across the river and climbed up on to the opposite bank. "Hey Jake," he called out, "I bet you can't catch me now!"
Jake was very impressed. "How did you do that?" he asked. He'd investigated the river several times in our visits to the park, but all he had ever done was paddle in the shallows. He had always refused to go out of his depth. But this time, with Booki's example to guide him, he paddled tentatively towards the middle of the river. Suddenly the ground beneath his feet disappeared. For a moment he vanished beneath the surface, but he soon reappeared, spluttering and spitting. His legs thrashed furiously and then, as if by magic, he was at the other side. "Now I can catch you, Booki," he yelled and they were off again, grabbing at each other's collars, rolling and tumbling in the mud. They crossed the river several times in their mad games. Jake soon lost all his fear of the water and turned into an expert swimmer. Clearly Booki was a really good teacher as well as being lots of fun to play with.
Over the next few days Booki and Jake cemented their friendship. If Booki heard Jake barking, he would drop everything and race towards his friend. If Jake spotted Booki in the nether regions of the park he would zoom away from my side as fast as he could go. The two of them were inseparable.
They played tug o'war with sticks and it quickly became a favourite game. Once Booki found a dead duck on the riverbank so they played tug o'war with that for a while until it disintegrated.
"Let's not play tug-a-duck again," suggested Jake. "It doesn't last nearly long enough."
"Mmmfffmmfffmf," agreed Booki through a mouthful of feathers and feet.
One day, as they were playing I'm going to grab your collar and try to strangle you, a rabbit came bounding by. Booki immediately dropped Jake's collar and set off in hot pursuit. Jake, always keen to learn a new game, raced after him. But try as he might, he could not keep up with Booki. Never in the history of the world has a dog sprinted as fast as Booki sprinted that day. But it did him no good. The rabbit was clearly in training for the Olympics, and it seemed highly likely that the beast would fail the mandatory drug test as soon as it entered any of the official events. It easily kept well ahead of its pursuers. Jake soon gave the whole business up as a bad job – he was trailing his friend by several dog-lengths and Booki was pulling further and further away from him. Then the rabbit vanished over the horizon. Booki immediately screeched to a halt and gave up the chase. He went panting back to Jake.
"Why did you stop chasing the rabbit?" asked Jake. "I thought you were getting quite close."
"I stopped because it ran over the horizon," explained Booki.
"I don't understand," said Jake.
"It's obvious, dumbo," said Booki. "No matter how fast you run, the horizon never gets any closer. It's always there ahead of you, just out of reach. Once the rabbit managed to get over the horizon the chase was over. It had gone where I could never follow. Mind you, the race was fun while it lasted. One day I'm going to catch one of those things, you just wait and see."
"What will you do with it when you catch it?" asked Jake, intrigued.
"I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," said Booki complacently. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
"Very profound," said Jake. "But I don't think rabbits are evil. They might be fun to play tug o'war with though..."
"No," said Booki. "They're too loose and flexible. I think they'd tear to pieces even faster than ducks do."
Over the years, the science fiction and fantasy field has produced a number of critical analyses, some of them really quite scholarly. Many of the early critiques of the genre are still well worth reading today, even though a lot of the books that they discuss have long since vanished into a well deserved obscurity. Both Damon Knight and James Blish had collections of their criticisms published by Advent in the late 1960s. And if you want proof that their work has stood the test of time, those books have recently been republished as DRM-free e-books by Reanimus Press. I urge you all to go to that web site and spend a lot of money. Trust me, you won't regret it.
Long before he made his name as a novelist and anthologist, Damon Knight was an extraordinarily insightful critic of science fiction and fantasy. His collection of essays In Search of Wonder is pointed, wise, and as an added bonus, often screamingly funny. One of the books that he criticises into oblivion is Point Ultimate by Jerry Sohl. When Sohl read what Damon Knight had to say about his novel, it was reported that he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. So he did both. I've never read Point Ultimate and I doubt if you have either so you might wonder if there is any reason to read what Knight had to say about it. Well, yes there is. Knight himself justifies his own critical approach by pointing out that:
The critical method is to take things apart. The critic uses the same sharp-edged tools on all stories, but good stories resist; bad ones come to pieces. One of these tools happens to be laughter...
And that says it all in a nutshell, really. In Search of Wonder is far more than just an examination of a lot of long-forgotten and very bad books, it's a master class in exactly how to take a story apart so as to see just what makes it tick (or what prevents it from ticking at all).
In their day, Knight's essays were hugely influential. One of the big SF names at the time was A. E. Van Vogt. He was often mentioned in the same breath as Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke. However Knight's scathing examination of his work in an essay called Cosmic Jerrybuilder effectively destroyed Van Vogt's reputation for all time. He slid rapidly into obscurity and these days he is largely forgotten. I'm actually rather sorry about that – I imprinted on Van Vogt at a very early age and I still love his books dearly. Intellectually I know that Knight was completely correct in his analysis. Van Vogt really was a terrible writer of terrible books. But sometimes emotion gets in the way of intellect, damnit.
In 1977, Knight published The Futurians, an account of the early lives of some of the young men and women who would one day come to have a huge influence on the development of science fiction. Some of them became editors, some of them became writers, some of them became critics and some of them became anthologists. Some of them became all of these things at one time or another. They married and they divorced and they co-habited with each other turn and turn about, and they seemed constantly to be squabbling. But between them they defined modern science fiction and turned it into gold. If you like juicy gossip about many now very famous names, you'll absolutely love this book. I have a first edition on my shelves which is covered in brown spots as the cheap paper on which it is printed slowly disintegrates. So I was very pleased to pick this one up from Reanimus Press as well.
At about the same time that Damon Knight was writing the essays that make up In Search of Wonder, James Blish (using the pseudonym William Atheling Jr.) was writing his own critical examinations of the SF field. These were published in two volumes as The Issue At Hand and More Issues at Hand. Later, under his own name, Blish added a third book to the series which he called The Tale that Wags the God. Like Knight, Blish examines a lot of deservedly long-forgotten stories, and from them he draws many useful conclusions about how fiction in general really should be structured. Therefore, to an extent, these essays are writing manuals as well as being sharply precise and scholarly criticisms.
Not all of the works that Blish and Atheling examine have fallen away into obscurity. Some of them have triumphed over the test of time and have now come to be regarded as classics of their kind. A good example would be Atheling's very long and carefully thought out essay on Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. The points that Atheling makes about the novel are just as appropriate today as they ever were. The essay has a lot to say about exactly what it was that Heinlein might have been up to when he wrote what many people now consider to be his magnum opus. All by itself, that essay is worth the price of the book. But it isn't all by itself of course. Many other jewels lurk in these waspish and scalpel-keen articles.
I have no idea if Reanimus Press plans to re-issue any other Advent titles, but I hope that they do. It would be lovely to welcome Alexei Panshin's Heinlein in Dimension back into print along with its more general companion volume SF in Dimension. I'd also like to see the Tuck Encyclopedia and perhaps Theodore Cogswell's Proceedings of the Institute for Twenty-First Century Studies. It might also be useful to have the very fannish All Our Yesterdays by Harry Warner Jr. as a companion piece to Knight's The Futurians. Warner's book is a history of American fandom in the 1940s and it overlaps to an extent with Knight's work. I intend to keep a close eye on the web site of Reanimus Press in case any of these gems appear. Watch this space...
Arkwright is a new novel by Allen Steele. I confess I'm a bit of a sucker for Allen Steele's books and I enjoyed this one a lot even though the basic premise is really rather daft. Nathan Arkwright, we are told, was a famous and best-selling author of science fiction novels. He was a contemporary and friend of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein, but he outsold all of them. He uses the enormous fortune that he has earned from the sales of his books to set up a foundation that is charged with developing a star ship...
The novel is a fix up, cobbled together from novelettes each of which takes place at least a generation after the previous one – the foundation's goal really is a very long term project indeed. I was quite amused to find that the first section, in which we learn much about Nathan Arkwright's beginnings as a science fiction fan and (eventually) as a novelist makes use of a lot of material culled from Damon Knight's The Futurians. Since I'd just re-read that book I was, of course, very familiar with the people and the events being discussed! It was a lovely bit of icing to find on my cake.
By its very nature, each section of the novel introduces a whole new set of characters. This can be a little unsettling – you've just got to know the people well when suddenly their grandchildren take over the story. But Steele is well aware of the perils involved in a structure like this and he handles the transitions elegantly. And of course, all is not always sweetness and light. Not everyone is in favour of the project and at times it seems to be heading into a crisis. The crises are all believable and that only serves to make the drama stronger.
The theme of the story (and some of the technology) is very similar to that of Neal Stephenson's recent novel Seveneves. However I think that Allen Steele makes a much better job of it than Stephenson did. Certainly he is much more entertaining. His characters are more alive, more identifiable with. Seveneves was largely narrated by ciphers, cardboard characters preening on a soapbox, and preaching in infodumps. Allen Steele does not make this mistake. He never lets the technology overwhelm the humanity of his characters (so to that extent, I suppose you could call the book a family drama just as much as you could call it a science fiction novel). Arkwright is a more absorbing read than Seveneves which makes it, I think, a much better book.
If you want a symbol of the cold war, you really don't have to look very far. Berlin from the late 1940s onwards epitomises all the things that the cold war was about and the city appeared as itself (and as a symbol) in countless novels set during that period. Until recently, I'd have said that Len Deighton wrote the definitive Berlin/Cold War novel when he published Funeral in Berlin in 1964. But now I'm starting to change my mind. John Lawton's The Unfortunate Englishman is his second novel about the secret agent Joe Wilderness, and so far the series seems to have raised the art of defining the ambiance of cold war Berlin to new heights.
At the end of the first novel (Then We Take Berlin), Joe Wilderness was left out in the cold. In a moment of confusion, he had shot someone who was not what or who they seemed to be. Now he is being held in prison and his future seems bleak and grim. But MI6, in the person of his father-in-law, wants him back in the fold. So strings are pulled.
It seems that the British have unmasked a spy. Leonid Liubimov (aka Bernard Alleyn) has passed on who knows what or how many secrets to the Soviets. But eventually he gave himself away, of course, and now he is languishing in Wormwood Scrubs prison. But the Soviets have captured a British agent of their own. Geoffrey Masefield is currently incarcerated in the Lubyanka. In a delicious irony, Masefield was one of Joe Wilderness' protégés...
Anyway, it is agreed by the movers and shakers that it would be best all round if the two agents could be exchanged. And where better to do it than Berlin, Joe's old stamping ground?
Naturally all is not as it seems (nine tenths of the plots of all the best Berlin novels are always deeply submerged). Everybody has their own agenda and the only thing you can really say about the plot is that it has more twists than a corkscrew – and that's quite an apt simile given that one of the motives behind Joe's actions is his attempt to lay his hands on ten thousand bottles of a fine vintage Bordeaux wine of dubious legality.
This is a deeply cynical and manipulative novel, just like the cold war itself. It's an attitude that always seems to be reflected in the stories about that period. I suppose it adds a degree of verisimilitude. I vividly remember several spy exchanges that took place in Berlin during the 1960s for reasons similar to those described in the novel (and I'm sure there were many others that we were never told about). So to that extent, everything about the story rings true. And, as seems to be compulsory in these kinds of novels, all the heroes are bastards and all the bastards are heroes. Sometimes the two groups overlap.
Michael Innes was the pen name under which J. I. M. Stewart wrote more than fifty crime novels. Under his own name he also wrote a fair number of contemporary mainstream novels as well. In real life he was a fellow of Christ Church College, Oxford and by the time he retired in 1973 he was a full professor. He spent all his working life in the academic community. His speciality was English literature and aspects of his specialisation occur again and again in both his crime novels and his mainstream novels.
But don't let that put you off. His novels are not the stodgy wodges that his background might imply. Instead they are witty and although they are full of literary allusions, the erudition is never laid on with a trowel. Rather it sneaks up on you when you least expect it, and suddenly overwhelms you with a pithy turn of phrase. His prose repays careful reading. Subtleties abound.
The Ampersand Papers is the 31st novel that he wrote about his detective Sir John Appleby. Not that it matters. The books are all stand alone and can be read in any order.
One day Appleby is strolling along a Cornish beach when a body falls out of the sky and narrowly misses him. The body turns out to be that of Dr. Sutch, an archivist, who has fallen from the North Tower of Treskinnick Castle, the stately home of Lord Ampersand. Ampersand himself, an impoverished peer, has hired Dr. Sutch to search through his piles of mouldering old family papers. There are rumours that a nineteenth century Ampersand had close ties with Wordsworth, Shelley and Byron and somewhere in the archives there may be letters from these worthies and perhaps even manuscripts. If so, they could represent a considerable fortune. There are also older and darker family rumours concerning quantities of Ampersand gold that the family retrieved from the wreck of a Spanish galleon that foundered on the Cornish coast during the abortive Armada of 1588. It may be that the gold is still hidden somewhere in the castle. Both suggestions seem to have intrigued Dr. Sutch and he was hot on the trail of each of them when he was rudely stopped in his tracks.
The appeal of this story does not derive from its detective novel aspects. Indeed, it is not at all clear that there is even a detective story taking place. When a body turns up in these kinds of books, it is natural to assume that a murder has happened. But what if it really was an accident? The staircase to the North Tower from which Dr. Sutch fell is a notoriously rickety and dangerous structure. There is a pleasing ambiguity here that is never properly resolved.
What makes this story so much fun to read is the clever characterisation and the terribly British dialogue. The overly-pedantic speech patterns of Dr. Sutch contrast beautifully with the gruff heartiness of Lord Ampersand himself and also with the vapid witterings of his wife. The book is full of subtly understated donnish humour (which is not unnatural, given that the author was a don) but if you blink you'll miss it. It's a very short book, scarcely a novella by today's bloated standards. That's probably a very good thing because you really do need to read every word of it. If you skim read, you'll miss all the jokes and then you'll start to wonder what all the fuss was about.
In my teens and twenties one of the more influential, and at the same time enigmatic, political figures in the world was Chairman Mao Zedong, the Emperor (in all but name) of China. Many of my friends described themselves as Maoists and there was a definite Maoist influence on a lot of the protest movements that rocked the West during those years. I always found this hard to come to grips with. I had no trouble understanding and appreciating the more traditional Socialists, Marxists, Leninists and Trotskyites whose perennial arguing enlivened many a boozy evening. But when the Maoists spoke all sense seemed to drop away and I could never follow their arguments. Everything they said seemed to be made of social and political candy floss that melted away before you could taste it. Like everybody else, I had my little red book, the Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (the spelling of his name varies depending of the transliteration scheme in fashion at the time of writing). Indeed, I still posses it. But it sheds little light, though the individual essays are often fascinating (and sometimes contradictory – perhaps that's why one of the essays is called The Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People).
Over the years I've read several biographies of Chairman Mao in search of enlightenment and while I'm happy that I now understand the formative influences on his life and the major political events that he manipulated and that shaped him, I'm still not sure that I properly understand what it means to be a Maoist. The Cultural Revolution, for example, left me cold even while it was taking place and nothing I have read since has ever been able to convince me that it had any virtues at all.
The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Li Zhi-Sui is yet another biography of Mao, better than some, not as good as others, and it has shone a little bit of light on my bewilderment. The author, Li Zhi-Sui, was Mao's personal physician for the last twenty years of the Chairman's life and so he was uniquely placed to see the man at his most vulnerable. The book has lots of nice sensationalist aspects to it – Mao, it is claimed, was a satyriac, never happier than when indulging in orgies. He never washed (occasionally he'd wipe himself down with a damp sponge), he never brushed his teeth (he just gargled with tea) and he refused any treatment for the mild venereal disease with which he infected all his concubines (he claimed that since he was symptomless, being just a carrier, and since the girls could easily be cured when the disease manifested itself in them, there was absolutely no point at all in treating him). Despite these less than salubrious aspects of his personality, he never lacked for bed partners. I suppose that says something about the aphrodisiac effects of absolute power.
Li Zhi-Sui seems to claim that Mao had a whim of iron. His decisions were often arbitrary, taken on the spur of the moment and motivated by self-interest rather than by being based on any solid philosophical underpinning. The famous split with the Soviet Union was far more about a clash of personalities than it was about ideologies. Khrushchev and Mao simply couldn't stand the sight of each other.
Mao was extremely well read in both classical Chinese literature and in the philosophical treatises of Marxism and Leninism. Li Zhi-Sui also records that Mao tried to teach himself English by translating Marxist-Leninist tracts. (Rather him than me – I've attempted to read several of those things and they really are quite a struggle to get through, no matter what language you try and do it in). However despite being himself an intellectual, Mao had a deep distrust of intellectuals as a class. He claimed that history was shaped by the workers and the peasants. In some vague way, he saw intellectuals as being a corrupting influence on the purity of the masses. By that definition, of course, the Cultural Revolution starts to make some sort of sense. If there was a constant theme running through it, that theme was "the re-education of intellectuals in the virtues of the masses". If you want to change that phrasing to "the persecution of intellectuals and their elimination as a class by working them to death in hard labour camps", I won't argue with you. The two phrasings are clearly synonyms, which is why I always found the Cultural Revolution bewildering of course. As far as I am concerned, the implementation never lived up to the theoretical justification.
I'm not sure that this book has given me any deeper insight into what it really means to be a Maoist, but I'm not sorry to have read it. Mao was clearly a living embodiment of the cynical phrase that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Some of that was innate in his personality, but a large part of the nature of his rule was also because of the way that the Chinese society itself works. And in the final analysis I suspect that is why Maoism has always puzzled me so much. The Chinese are very alien – from my point of view they have a truly odd way of perceiving the world and of interacting with it and with each other. I don't think I'll ever understand or appreciate it other than superficially. Li Zhi-Sui was educated in the West and he had a good understanding of the Western way of doing things. That, together with his Chinese heritage and his privileged position in Mao's entourage, meant that he was uniquely placed to explain the phenomenon that was Chairman Mao to a Western audience. That he didn't always succeed probably says a lot about the difficulty of the task. Or maybe I'm just dumb...
Booki's mum is a nurse and her shifts do not always allow her and Booki to come to the park at the same time that Jake and I go. So not every day is a Booki day. Jake always seems a little bit sad if Booki can't come out to play. Booki's mum told me that when she works inconvenient shifts she sometimes takes Booki for a walk on Te Mata Peak. That gave me an idea.
"We live quite near Te Mata Peak," I said. "Next time you go there why not bring Booki round and he and Jake can romp in the garden while the grown ups have a sociable cup of coffee in the house."
"That sounds like a good idea," she said. "I'll do that."
So a few days later, her car pulled up in our driveway. Jake saw the strange car appear and he started to bark a warning. As soon as Booki heard Jake's voice, he sat up in the back seat and strained against his harness, eager to get to his best friend.
They dashed madly around the garden playing their normal choking games. Jake showed Booki his rope collection. They played tug o'war with several different ropes for a while, and then they had a wrestling match. Jake pinned Booki down with an inverted stepover leg trap camel clutch, and Booki conceded the contest. They stopped for a little rest and a drink of water.
"There's a nice stainless steel bucket full of clean water over here," said Jake, offering refreshments. "And there's some trays over there with flowerpots on them. Water has leaked through the soil in the pots and accumulated in the trays. Some of it's got slime as well."
"I think I'll take the flowerpot water," said Booki. "The slime sounds attractive."
They both took a long slurping drink.
"Ahhh, lovely!" said Booki. "Full of body."
"Yes," said Jake. "Just the other day I saw one of the cats burying a dead rat in the flowerpot in the middle of the row. So the water does literally have a body in it..."
"Yum," said Booki appreciatively. "You've really got a nice house here. It's got all the amenities. Ropes, tasty water, cats..."
"Thank you," said Jake. "I think it's rather nice as well."
"Have you always lived here?"
"No," said Jake. "I was born on a farm. I had my career all planned out. I was going to be a sheepdog."
"It's an honourable profession," said Booki. "But clearly you failed in your ambition. What happened?"
"It was my own stupid fault," said Jake gloomily. "I made a complete mess of it. I did something really dumb and blotted my copybook so badly that the farmer immediately gave me up for adoption. That's how I ended up here."
"What did you do that was so unforgivable?" asked Booki.
"Well," said Jake, "one day the farmer sent me out to count his sheep. I was quite thrilled to be given such a responsible task and I did the very best I could. I counted them three times just to make sure I got it right."
"How many sheep are there?" asked the farmer when I got back to him.
"Forty!" I said in a firm and confident voice.
"That's odd," said the farmer, scratching his head. "I only bought thirty-eight."
"Yes," I said to him. "I know. I just rounded them up!"
|Damon Knight||In Search of Wonder||Reanimus Press|
|Damon Knight||The Futurians||Reanimus Press|
|William Atheling, Jr||The Issue at Hand||Reanimus Press|
|William Atheling, Jr||More Issues at Hand||Reanimus Press|
|James Blish||The Tale that Wags the God||Reanimus Press|
|John Lawton||The Unfortunate Englishman||Atlantic Monthly Press|
|Michael Innes||The Ampersand Papers||House of Stratus|
|Li Zhi-Sui||The Private Life of Chairman Mao||Random House|
Acknowledgement: I'd like to say a big thank you to my cousin Ian Tindal who told me the dreadful joke that closes this story. Thank you, Ian. You're a star!