Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Hampstead Flat-Earthers

More from the occasional series of bits of my own scribblings; today, excerpts from an allegedly humorous story that I must get round to finishing one day.

"Founded in the year 1977 the aim of the Hampstead Flat-Earth Society was never spelled out exactly. I intended it to be an exercise in competitive erudition of the highest standard, in an atmosphere that was unremittingly enjoyable, socially, gastronomically, intellectually, aesthetically, and in any other ways that might come to my notice. In this also I intended to exact the highest standards and always did so. Any lapse from rigour or conviviality, however small, was severely reprimanded, in the friendliest way, of course, and greater lapses could, and sometimes did, result in summary expulsion..."

"It became a very exclusive Club. Famous for its atmosphere, for its erudition and for its sometimes riotous behaviour. The night Peter Berkeley was threatened with expulsion for quoting the Poetic Edda in modern Norwegian it took three waiters and a couple of passing policeman to restore a form of order. We made the papers that night, too, but the press failed to understand the origin of the discussion. They said we had all drunk too much, but we did not need to be fuelled with drink to become heated about matters such as these. They are important..."

"Such discussions were not uncommon, and were an essential part of the club. How could we maintain the highest standards if we did not care passionately about error and weak thinking? Points of information or challenges to the speaker were regularly made by the throwing of bread rolls or the knocking over of furniture. Grant Lewis once questioned a member’s data on the transmission patterns of scrapie in New Zealand sheep by means of a frozen chicken. The subsequent debate was quite riveting, involving as it did, stuffed olives, chewing tobacco, an occasional table, three volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and a long phone call to the Biology department of Auckland University. I could not follow all the details but the speaker turned out to have been absolutely right and the frozen chicken was withdrawn in a manner befitting a gentleman, as were the olives and other technical interventions..."

"John Keates was elected to membership one particularly lively evening. To the objection that he was dead his proposer pointed out that what the mind seizes as beautiful must be true, and the idea of Keates’ still living is unquestionably a beautiful one.

Protagoras the Sophist should never really have been permitted to join, having no obvious merits, but the argument his proposer submitted was so convincingly tortuous that we had little choice but to admit him. His membership was subsequently revoked, however, when it was discovered he had made comments about the sun crossing the sky in a four-horse chariot for which he made no attempt to provide any empirical evidence.

Groucho Marx was also proposed at one time, but it was felt that he was certain to decline membership if offered it..."

Constructive abuse is welcome, as ever.

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