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22 October 2014

Apparently

The word 'apparently' is one of several words that has been stolen from the English language in a daring raid on a secure vocabulary facility in Oxford. Police were first alerted to the theft at about eight o'clock in the evening when a man out walking his dog noticed that the gates to the facility had been forced.

The Oxford storehouse was built in 1882 and the English language has been housed there ever since, excluding the duration of the Second World War when it was removed to a disused salt mine in North Wales for safekeeping. The original stone building has since been augmented with modern alarm systems and a coded locking mechanism. The words themselves are kept in airtight containers - away from light sources which may cause them to fade - except when they are made available for study by academics or loaned to museums.

Police have not suggested a motive for the theft, although it has almost certainly been stolen to order. Most words are currently kept at Oxford but there are still a few in private hands. Original English words are therefore highly sought after, with verbs in particular fetching huge sums. For example, the word 'shatter' recently sold for over three hundred thousand pounds and the irregular verb 'porunk' was listed with a reserve price of half a million by one auction house, until it was subsequently revealed to be a fake.

Adverbs can still fetch a fair amount on the black market and it seems that there is no shortage of unscrupulous collectors who wouldn't baulk at breaking the law to get hold of one. For some time there has been a thriving overseas market for stolen words and it used to be a favourite technique to smuggle them out of the country hidden in the pages of a book. Now, the internet has made such methods redundant and it is a simple enough matter to simply email the stolen word to its recipient. All of which means that the word is most likely out of the country already, and there is probably very little chance of ever recovering it, apparently.


21 October 2014

Today on the Dog Exchange

There was frantic action on the Dog Exchange this morning after a sharp dip in Terriers sparked a run on Airedales, Jack Russells and West Highland Whites. Not surprisingly, Greyhounds got off to a cracking start and gave everyone a good run for their money. Trading stabilised by lunchtime, with Foxhounds putting in a strong showing and there was a steady rise in the unit price of Labradors.

Whippets were bullish but Bulldogs failed to whip up any interest. Pundits were confidently expecting some movement in Bloodhounds during the afternoon, although they remained sluggish throughout the day and only began to show any signs of stirring around teatime.

But today was all about Border Collies. When news broke of high-pressure blowouts during the English National Sheepdog Trials, investors were sent into a spin and trading had to be briefly suspended to prevent panic selling. Hopefully an improved performance tomorrow will prove that there's life in these old dogs yet.

Our tips for the week ahead: Deerhounds are likely to be going cheap, but let sleeping Bassets lie.

Dog Prices


20 October 2014

Robo-Assist

Following the installation of self-service checkouts some years ago, a store in North Shields has decided to go one stage further. The EasySave Megamart has eight such checkouts, although supervisors were always on hand to help customers use them. Now, to further reduce staff costs, these supervisors have been replaced by Robo-Assist, a 'robotic assistant' that can come to a shopper's aid if they are unable to use the checkout.

The store says that customers who experience problems using the self-service checkouts, but who are unable to use Robo-Assist, need not worry. There will be a senior supervisor to help, although the plan is for this senior supervisor to ultimately be replaced by a user-friendly touch screen information panel.

The company has not said what advice they would give to people who have problems using the self-service checkouts, are unable to use Robo-Assist and also find themselves bewildered by the user-friendly touch screen information panel. Probably shop somewhere else, we would imagine.

Such eventualities apparently do not concern the owners of the EasySave Megamart, who are pressing forward with their plans to develop what they call a 'completely automated shopping experience'. In addition to the self-service checkouts, they already have robotic shelf stackers and automatic trolley park attendants. They dismiss any suggestion that a completely automated store is impossible. After all, they reason, three years ago they replaced the manager with a sandwich toaster and as far as they can tell, nobody appeared to notice.


17 October 2014

MOLLUSC

The Department of Work and Pensions, the UK's benefits nobbling agency, has instigated a multi-million pound programme to reorganise its mail opening system. Opening letters without losing them, damaging them or accidentally stuffing them down the back of a filing cabinet is a very tricky operation, and it takes great skill, diligence and the usual compliment of opposable digits to get it right.

It also represents a significant portion of the DWP's workload, along with... well, all the other stuff they do, I suppose. Having meetings and knocking out press releases, I guess. Anyhow, previously mail was sent to one of twenty-nine mail opening centres where it would be opened, defaced, processed and finally lost by one of the department's four hundred highly-trained mail operatives. Unfortunately this process could take up to six weeks - longer during the summer, when staff found that they couldn't be arsed. A radical shake-up was needed.

The DWP's MOLLUSC programme was designed to do just that. MOLLUSC (Mail Opened & Left Lying Under Some Carpet) streamlines the whole process by reducing the number of mail opening centres to only one. This centre employs just two people - one who's really handy with a letter opener the other who sweeps all enquiries under a rug.

It's a big rug.

The top brass at the DWP are already said to be delighted with how the programme is working. Not only has it facilitated drastically reduced running costs, it has also allowed them to divert more resources into dreaming up spurious reasons to sanction claimants.


16 October 2014

The Problem with Fairies

University of the Bleeding Obvious:

Our guest today is David McGog, MP for Shepton Bassett, who has been in the news lately in connection with a very unusual issue. Mr McGog, thanks for joining us. I think it would be fair to say that the policy you have recently advocated has taken a few people by surprise?

Mr David McGog:

Oh no, I don't think so. Many people, like me, believe that a rise in VAT to twenty-two percent can be put into effect quite painlessly, enabling us to maintain funding for public services without hurting retail sales. Now, what we -

UBO:

No, Mr McGog, I was referring to your other suggestion.

McGog:

Ah, defence spending! Well, I do firmly believe that -

UBO:

Mr McGog, I suspect that you're being deliberately obtuse. You know, I'm sure, what I'm referring to. I'm talking about the policy that has got you splashed all over the newspapers.

McGog:

Ah, the...

UBO:

The fairies.

McGog:

The fairies, yes. Well, I do wish that people would stop going on about that. I made a few comments, briefly, during what I thought was supposed to be a private conversation, and the whole thing seems to have been blown out of all proportion.

UBO:

Can we take it that you now wish to retract your comments?

McGog:

No, no - that's not what I'm saying at all. I stand by every word. It is my firmly held belief that fairies are a menace and this government needs to introduce legislation to stamp them out.

UBO:

And you have the backing of your party in this?

McGog:

I have the support of many of my colleagues who feel equally strongly about this issue.

UBO:

But you don't have the support of the party leadership, do you? In fact, I understand you've had your knuckles rapped by your policy unit who've told you, quite firmly, to stay on message and stick to innocuous subjects like taxation and defence, rather than embarrassing your party with all this nonsense about fairies.

McGog:

Nonsense! Well I wonder if you would think it was 'nonsense' if you woke up one morning to find your property was overrun by the things, hmm? Crawling all over the place, tearing up your ornamental lawn and casting enchantments on the family cat, yes?

UBO:

No, I wouldn't.

McGog:

Ah, see!

UBO:

But then, since that hasn't happened, and isn't ever likely to, I feel safe in continuing to assume that what you're talking about is complete fantasy. Mr McGog, do you not think that your party's stance on taxation and defence spending is rather overshadowed - undermined, in fact - by all this stuff about fairies?

McGog:

What? Oh, stuff taxation! If my party can't get a handle on what's really important, then that's their problem. I tell you, we simply have to do something about the fairies. Oh, I'm sure you've had no fairy trouble, but then they're hardly likely to concern themselves with the likes of you and whatever high rise slum you inhabit. However, the decent, honest, property-owning people of Shepton Bassett are sick to the back teeth of them.

UBO:

Really?

McGog:

Yes, really! They swarm all over their flowerbeds, leaving their mess everywhere and bringing house prices down. And nobody's doing anything about it. Nobody! Not the police, not the local authority, not Keith Smarm.

UBO:

Ah, there perhaps we approach an explanation. Mr Smarm has just announced that he will be running against you for the constituency of Shepton Bassett in the next election. So this sudden interest in fairies is just part of your campaign strategy, is it not?

McGog:

Not at all. In fact, such a suggestion belittles what is, in fact, a very serious problem. One which the people of Shepton Bassett have a right to expect us to act upon.

UBO:

But it's strange that this issue seems never to have arisen before. You have represented Shepton Bassett for the last five years and yet, prior to the comments you made last month, there has never been any mention of fairies in your literature, on your website or in interviews. You have never raised a question in the House about fairies, and the occasional column you contribute to the local paper has been remarkable if only for its complete and absolute lack of any reference, whatsoever, to fairy folk.

McGog:

I think I may have mentioned something about it at a public meeting last March.

UBO:

No. No, you didn't. Mr McGog, it is my opinion that you have invented this fairy nonsense. You have fabricated a non-existent threat in order to manipulate the electorate into voting for you.

McGog:

Rubbish.

UBO:

You know that you cannot possibly win the next election based on your track record or your party's policies, so you are clutching desperately at straws, playing on the public's fear of shadows.

McGog:

That is an outrageous accusation! I am offended - not on my own behalf, but on behalf of the many hardworking, honest and decent people that I represent. How little you must think of the great British public, to believe that they could be so easily led. That rhetoric and rumour could whip them into a frenzy, make them malleable, bend them to my will.

They are not sheep. They are not imbeciles to be charmed by hyperbole and hollow compliments. They are intelligent, rational, level-headed, insightful, incisive and educated individuals who just happen to be suffering from a merciless infestation of fairies. They want someone to do something about it. They have a right to demand that something is done about it; that someone stands up to this appalling intrusion and says 'No More!'

And if I am to be that man, then so be it. If my fellow candidates are not equal to the task - if Mr Keith Smarm, or Mr Ross Smooth, or Mr Wilbur 'Jellyknees' Wombat-Trousers of the Monster Raving Loony Party are so eager to capitulate in the face of fairy Armageddon - then yes, I, David E. McGog will take up the gauntlet and gladly - nay, proudly - commit myself to the service of my constituents. The electorate shall decide and I am confident that they will make their choice wisely.

UBO:

Amen!

McGog:

Pardon?

UBO:

Doesn't matter. Mr McGog, thank you very much for your time.


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Recalled to Life Recalled to Life: The University of the Bleeding Obvious Volume 3

Stuffed with new material and old favourites, Recalled to Life is 280 pages of plumptiousness and very probably exactly what you need to prop up that wonky old table in the kitchen.

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Oswald

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Giraffes

The World Wildlife Fund announced this week that populations of Giraffes have now fallen to dangerous levels. "It's become a particular problem in recent years," said spokesman Harvey Mental. "Poachers are increasingly targeting giraffes for their legs, so that they can be turned into stilts to feed the latest western craze. We're doing all we can to stamp out this appalling trade, but everyone can play their part. When buying stilts please ensure that they are not made from the limbs of an endangered species. It's all very well striding about town like you're on top of the world, but try to remember those poor giraffes, rolling leglessly around Siberia, or wherever it is they live. Eh? Think on."

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