"Prime wethers and ewes firm to one shilling better,' is, to my mind, a far more important statement that 'Two hundred and sixty miles an hour and a range of eighteen hundred and fifty miles,'" said my little friend, the monologist. Then he calmly resumed his soup and his silence.
I have often wondered what the loquacious old humbug seeks to achieve with these enigmatic beginnings.
Invariably his opening gambit involves a cryptic remark of this nature, followed by a long pause that can have no purpose unless he hopes one day to tempt me into some childlike request for elucidation that will flatter his strange vanity.
But now, as hitherto, I countered with a glance of mild inquiry and a tacit indication that I was prepared to listen should he again become vocal.
Our tactics at this stage of dinner always seem to me to resemble some absurd sort of parlor game of the "intellectual" type. I feel I should answer for instance: "Animal, mineral, or vegetable?" or, perhaps, "Does it live on sea, air or land?" or something like that. But, so far, I have resisted the temptation to witness his reaction to such a remark.
On this occasion, my small, bald friend finished his soup, ordered his entree, brushed his moustache lightly with a corner of his table napkin, and carefully considered the wine list before he decided to pursue his theme. I have a suspicion that he was thinking busily all this while of what the theme would be.
"As you will already have gathered," he said at last, "my remark referred to two newspaper headlines, which I encountered lately. The first (about edible beasts) was published in some remote section at the back of the paper; the second (about aeroplanes) was given the dignity of what is called, I believe, a 'front page spread'.
"And, from a newspaper point of view, the arrangement was perfectly correct. Any editor, with a sense of what are known as 'news values,' is well aware that the public which he serves is infinitely more interested in the speed of racing aeroplanes than it is in the gradual rise of commodity prices.
"It is a world full of paradoxes. I, for one, have not the least idea where all this craze for speed is going to get us.
"In all the known history of human endeavor and achievement, 'Quo Vadis?' is the one great question that presents itself for man's earnest consideration. Yet how few of us ask it, or trouble to seek a solution. But surely the goal, whatever it is, must be a great one, else why are we in such an urgent haste to get there?
"Food, to my mind, is a matter that has troubled the world persistently through the centuries. The ancient tale of the great migrations of peoples is ever a tale of the quest for food. All great wars have, in the last analysis, been wars for food. Yet now, when the world has more than sufficient food for all, wars are still discussed and threatened. I wonder why?
"With food for all in abundance, the great question before man today is one of price and distribution. A terrific question to which an earnest few apply diligent minds, while the great majority turn aside to watch a speeding aeroplane.
"Speed, speed and more speed! For some unexplained reason man is far more interested in his new togs than in - Yes? What is it?"
The question was addressed to a waiter, who whispered earnestly into my bald friend's ear.
"Quite so. I shall come now," said the monologist. And, turning to me, he explained apologetically, "I am sorry," he said "that we cannot continue our interesting discussion. I have just been told that an eight cylinder car, that I think of purchasing, is at the moment ready for my inspection. A marvellous job - sixty miles an hour cruising speed, and capable of doing over eighty! You will excuse me."
The, without a blush or the batting of an eye, he left his food and was off and away to inspect his new toy.
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-04|