The Catholic Church is today reeling from the news that, just hours after investing Pope Benedict XVI, his value has collapsed and he is now next to worthless.
“We felt that we should try to capitalise on John Paul’s tireless work over the last 27 years,” explained Cardinal Angelo Sodano, “and so we opted for high-risk, high-return stock in an online casino. We never thought this would happen. We thought our faith in God would see us through.”
But the investment turned sour when the NASDAQ dropped sharply in the mid-afternoon. At the beginning of the day the 78-year old Pontiff was valued at $12m, about the size of a settlement to an abused altar boy. The stock is currently worth only $20, or about the price of enough communion wine to get near the poor kid in the first place.
The leaders of other religions have reacted with muted sniggering. “I’m not saying it was divine intervention,” commented Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Segni, “but you’ve got to admit it’s pretty poor timing to launch your papacy during Passover. That kind of thing could tick a deity off a little.”
The one true God did not return messages left with his office and was unavailable for comment.
The quest for knowledge is not a selective one: the truly wise want to learn about everything. At Project Brainstorm, we are not truly wise, or indeed wise, or, for that matter, truly, but it is right on our To Do list after redecorating the inside of the chicken coup with a madras sauce. And so, we ask the universe, “what else must we learn?” And the universe responds, “Please sir, take a ticket and wait in line”. For at the delicatessen of information, some servings come in plastic tubs, some come in polythene wrapping, but all are now measured using the metric scale and are priced accordingly.
For everything needs an explanation. A thing without a reason is like a brick on the staircase: you keep on tripping over it at night. All thinks have a purpose, but sometimes those purposes are harder to see. Often we focus on the big topics and miss the little ones, though they too have a reason. So, to make an attempt to address this tragic imbalance, we present Toenails… Explained*.
It may not be obvious when you look at them, but toenails are very much like fingernails, only they grow in the wrong place. That is to say, they grow in the right place for toenails, but the wrong place for fingernails. It is not uncommon to find a fingernail that has not paid attention and grown on the toe instead, though they would never admit their mistake. Occasionally, prospective nails miss the mark entirely and end up behind the left ear, where they experience a mild vertigo, sometimes with rice.
Toenails, like all nails, are made of a thick plastic that does not rust. Young toenails are around one to two inches long, though a fully-grown adult toenail could reach in excess of forty yards. The longest recorded toenail was so big it had to be measured in minutes, and reached nineteen hours. The shortest was zero centimetres and owned by Ryan Macclough of Huddersfield, England. Many dispute that there actually wasn’t a toenail there at all, but Guinness officials ruled the record was allowed. Toenails even shorter than this were allegedly found on the remains of a prehistoric male discovered in South California, but the body was lost in a bin before it could be properly verified.
Of course, most people choose to trim their toenails. In ancient times, this was done by goats that were trained to nibble the ends away. This practice was stopped when Queen Elizabeth I of England was entirely eaten by a goat that forgot to stop. Because of an ancient English law that said that any animal eating the reigning monarch should be forced to take his or her place on the throne, the goat ruled England from 1596 until its death in 1603, but did not leave an heir. It did leave a hair, which was given a place on the Royal Council of Advisors to James I. The king immediately repealed the law and fired all the Royal goats, from a cannon.
With no convenient animals around, the ruling classes of England were forced to look to other countries for pedicural replacements. In 1609, the explorer and cabbage artist Henry Hudson brought back a primitive form of nail clipper from his journeys around the Orient. The man to whom they had belonged and from whom Hudson had stolen them from was enraged the following morning to find his nail clippers had gone, and immediately declared war on England. His invasion was easily put down by the English forces when everyone else stayed at home, though he did manage to take Plymouth for a couple of hours. Since that time, nail clipping has grown in popularity and is now a recognised national pastime, behind blindfolded pantomime.
In the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri, nail clipping was included for the first time as an Olympic sport. The gold medal was eventually won by Frenchman Jean Claude d’Claude, who clawed his was to victory after a clean round on the final day. The UK medal hopeful, Roger Teeby, was disqualified after the contest, despite finishing second, when it emerged that he wasn’t even in St Louis at the time, and didn’t know he was supposed to be competing. This was the one and only appearance of nail clipping at the Olympics, and in 1908 it was replaced by a small Yiddish man wearing a vest.
Of course, toenails have often been associated with controversy. In the mid 1950s, it emerged that rich young men from banks in London were taking trips to former British colonies in Africa and hunting the natives for their toenails. The toenails of Africans used to be worth thousands of pounds sterling and were used to make handles for ornamental cutlery. This was banned in 1963 when it was proven that the Africans involved did not do so voluntarily, and that most of the bodies went to waste once the toenails were removed.
This brings us to the end of a focus on toenails. We hope it has been informative, petulant, divisive, radiant, expansive, dwindling, lusty and above all, isotonic. If this topic has been of interest, read it again. You probably missed something.
*Many thanks to Alaka Prodham, a person, for suggesting the title. This has set a nice precedent. If you want something explaining, send us an email.
With the general election just 17 days away, now is the time to feign an interest in politics. But with today’s hectic lifestyle, who has the time? To help you with this problem, Project Brainstorm is committed to presenting the vital information in as concentrated a form as possible, so that you can quickly get through the tedious necessity and stop thinking. Consider us the absinthe of politics.
Today, we begin with a discussion of the major issues and a summary of what the parties say about each. In later articles, we will move on to directly telling you what to think, and we hope to bring you the election results sometime around May 2nd, allowing you to spend the rest of that week in bed.
When the Labour Party unveiled their election banner reading “Who do you want running the country?”, they were uncharacteristically direct and to the point. Many people consider this question when deciding how to vote. Opinion here is divided perhaps more than anywhere else.
-The Labour Party think it should be Tony Blair.
-The Conservatives think it should be Michael Howard.
-The Liberal Democrats think it should be Charles Kennedy, but know this just isn’t going to happen.
-The British National Party think it should be Nick Griffin, but realise it’s tricky to run a country from a prison cell.
The second major issue is taxation. The country earns around a trillion pounds each year, and about half of that is taken by the government. They spend this money providing vital things like the army, the National Health Service, pensions and the Millennium Dome.
-The Liberal Democrats want to raise taxes, and strangely seem to be advertising the fact.
-Labour want to raise taxes, but have the decency to lie about it.
-The Conservatives want to cut taxes, and fire people when they don’t lie about it.
-The BNP insist we wouldn’t need to pay taxes if it wasn’t for all those sponging bastard asylum seeking bastard spongers.
The third major issue of the election is Iraq. Were we right to invade in the first place? Should we now be pulling our troops out? Did the Prime Minister deliberately mislead the country over weapons of mass destruction? These questions, among others, weigh heavily upon the average voter as he considers against whose name to place his cross.
-Labour think that they’re just right and we should stop asking questions now.
-The Conservatives backed the war when it started, but have gone strangely quiet since it turned out not to have been the best idea since slicing bread after all.
-The Liberal Democrats opposed the war all along, and are now looking strangely smug.
-The BNP think a hundred thousand dead foreigners is a good start, but are wondering what’s taking so long.
Finally come public services. The main parties regularly come up with headline-grabbing initiatives to save the railways or the NHS, and in all the excitement it’s easy to forget what they said. The politicians are more guilty of this than most. So what do they actually intend to do about public services? The policies may be summarised as follows;
-The Liberal Democrats want to increase spending until they start to work properly.
-The Conservatives would cut taxes until they couldn’t afford to run any public services, so would privatise them wherever possible.
-The Labour Party have already privatised air traffic control, hospitals, schools and the London Underground, but use sneaky three letter acronyms like ‘PPP’ or ‘PFI’ instead of the word ‘privatise’ so that you don’t notice. They plan more of the same.
-The BNP were privatised in 2002. But, because they have a sneaky three letter acronym, you didn’t notice.
While there are other issues on the table, such as the Liberal Democrats’ policy of compulsory silly names for candidates (‘Lembit Opik’ and ‘Sir Menzies Campbell’ to name but two) or the Conservatives’ policy of statutory minimums for bandwaggons jumped upon, we have covered the four that form the basis of the election campaign. You now know all that you need to, and to avoid unnecessary boredom you are advised to avoid watching the news or reading the papers until after the election. In just over two weeks you will feel the warm, fuzzy glow of casting your vote, and can return to reading about celebrity boob jobs for another five years.
I decided it was time I got a job. It was either that or a parking fine, and I decided one paid better than the other, so I drove off and headed for the job centre. I was a little off-target and ended up at the job right. Fortunately, I didn’t go to the job left. I wasn’t even sure if there was a job left. I guessed I’d have a better idea when I checked at the job centre.
I waited in the queue at the job centre for my turn, so to pass the time I watched the decorator who was painting one of the walls. After a few minutes, he stopped working and waited for the coat of paint to dry, so I watched that. It wasn’t that bad. I turned to look at the other side of the room, where I watched a kettle boil from start to finish.
Eventually it was my turn to speak to the job advisor, so she led me inside to a boxfile on the third shelf and told me to have a seat. There was paperwork everywhere. She asked me if I thought there was a draft in here, so I told here I thought so but I wasn’t about to search for it. She began by taking my name and address: I demanded that she give them back immediately. It’s bad enough not having a job, without not having an identity as well.
Then she asked me what skills I had. I said I could type in shorthand. She asked me how fast. I said one hundred words a minute so she asked me to prove it by copying out a page of text she had on her desk. After a couple of minutes, I had typed thirty-nine words. I told her I could type at one hundred words per minute, but I could only read at about twelve. The explanation took a quarter of an hour, because I could only speak at four words a minute. Thankfully, that’s how fast she could listen. She said that if that was the case I should just type something from my head. After one minute, I had typed two words, because I couldn’t remember how to spell the second one.
She asked me if I had any other talents. I said that my face was instantly recognisable. She smiled and said that she thought she had seen my face before when I came in. I said I thought the same thing this morning in the bathroom, but I just couldn’t remember where. She said in that case, she had the perfect job for me, and handed me a card. It was a Hallmark card congratulating me on getting a new job. The job description said Professional Scapegoat. I thanked her and left the way I came in: with a slight limp and humming the tune to “Goldfinger”.
The office of my new employer was at the end of a cul-de-sac. I became worried immediately I was in a dead-end job. I was directed up the stairs by a hat stand, which was pointing that way, and found the boss’s office. He was expecting me, standing behind the door with a penny whistle, which I got a blast of as I entered. It deafened me in one ear and blinded me in the other. The whistle, he explained, was blown at the start and end of the shift. I asked how people knew which one was which. He said that was a good point and made a note of it on his tambourine.
The job, he started to explain, required me to be on hand to take the blame. I asked what sort of blame. He replied that we mainly dealt with human blame, occasionally animal blame, and where it was needed electrical, adhesive or pudding blame. I received pay bonuses for meeting my blame target, and a special hair bobble. Apart from a secretary, a work experience boy and the five piece jazz band that played by the photocopier, I would be working alone. I etched all of this information into the table with a Swiss army knife, folded it up and put it in my pocket. Then I was directed to my office with an appropriate hatstand.
The office was just slightly narrower than the door, which was fine because so was I. I was just working out the microwave when a lady entered the room from above. She said she had the office next to me, vertically, and that we would be sharing a ceiling. I said that surely my ceiling was her floor. She said that’s not the way she looked at it, so I tried to look at it in a different way and pulled my shoulder. That didn’t help so I pushed my shoulder. My shoulder didn’t like that and shrugged me off.
I asked her what sort of thing’s she had taken the blame for. She said she had just finished taking the blame for a man who had sellotaped together an entire playground of children and mailed to Aberdeen. She worked with another man who took responsibility for the Post Office clerk who had weighed the package and put a stamp on it. Before that, she had accepted full responsibility for the M25 between junctions 12 and 23. She said it was important to accept blame early in this job to get noticed. Mostly, she accepted blame before ten o’clock, but some people got up at five just admit fault.
The lady walked out of the room and stood in the corridor for ten minutes before she returned to say she had be told to tell me that everyone was to meet by the jazz band for a team talk. I followed the lady out of the room, only I went through the side door, and she went back through the top one. The jazz band was tuning up as I sat down on the trumpet player by mistake while she sat down on the drummer on purpose and played a solo with him because she had left her sticks at the drycleaners.
The team leader went through the messages, with his finger when he poked them too hard, then said he had two announcements. The first concerned the delayed 14.12 service from Birmingham New Street to Reading, but the second was much more serious, and he dropped the ridiculous pose, from a height of about three feet. Someone had filled the water cooler with peas, and he wanted to know who had done it. Sensing that keeping quiet would not be a good start in this job, I stood forward and declared proudly that it was me, on a scrap on paper I handed to him.
Afterwards, when I was packing up my things the lady came in. She asked if she could have her ceiling back, now I was leaving. I said that that was fine. I then asked her if she could give the jazz band their trumpeter back for me, who I had accidentally picked up with my coat. As I left I saw I’d left my car double parked, and I had got a parking fine. Actually I got two: one for each parking. I drove away in the direction of the hatstand.
Pressure has been put on the government this week to try to make football matches more suitable for children to watch. Recently, it has been noticed that bad language and violence, caught on camera for TV audiences, has become much more widespread.
Member of the group Mothers Object to Football Offensiveness (MOFO) presented a petition to Parliament on Thursday asking for tighter controls over the content of football broadcasts. A spokesman unveiled some of their requests. “We would like to see more disciplinary action for a footballer swearing or fighting during the course of a match. There are a number of options. If red cards don’t work, then multiple match suspensions may help. If not, community service, short prison sentences or compulsory military service may let these men know we are serious.” It has also been suggested that the police and security services should have the power to arrest anyone suspected of being a footballer in possession of bad language, and held without charge until they swear their innocence and give themselves away.
Another member, Ms. Tricia Humbrage, claimed, “it is easy to think bad language is just words, but it is much more than that. In many cases, it is lead poisoning, chip-pan fires, advanced cases of malaria or legions of killer rats with sharp pointy fangs.” Ms. Humbrage then showed Breaking News a photograph of a fang sticking into the head of a small child. “Is this what we want to expose our children to?”
The FA has responded quickly. Steven Guttersnipe, speaking on behalf the FA Board said, “we fully understand the concerns of the parents in this situation, and though we acknowledge that these problems are inevitable in the heated arena of a football match, we are hoping to strike some form of compromise. We are especially interested in hearing from football fans, who we find are often not keen to venture their opinion about what they are watching and how they would improve football if they were in charge.”
The BBFC, a broadcasting standards and censorship board, has got behind the ideas of MOFO. In an official statement, they welcomed the ideas of banning all bad language and violence in football matches. Of course, if these measures were to be implemented, then they would not apply to the second half of weekday evening games, which is after the traditional watershed of 9pm, when all children go to bed to watch films and listen to rap music. They also discussed measures to introduce age-ratings on football matches, based on the expected level of offensiveness. Under current rules, most matches would automatically be assigned an 18 certificate. Concerns over these measures have been voiced by England’s schoolboy team, who would not be allowed to watch their own matches. The Board is also considering an automatic ban on Millwall, who would be immediately cut from the Championship and replaced with a picture of Michael Flatterly, a Lord of the Dance.
Of course, the best result would be achieved if a different attitude were taken by all those involved with football. Viewers of the BBC’s Match of the Day were shocked at the last Manchester United-Arsenal match when Alex Ferguson was caught punching rival manager Arsene Wenger repeatedly in the kidneys, after the latter had made a comment about Ferguson’s fat mother.