Letter P

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A typical speech by Margaret Thatcher sounds like the Book of Revelations read over a railway station public address system by a headmistress of a certain age wearing calico knickers.

Clive James

I am thoroughly in favour of Mrs Thatcher's visit to the Falklands. I find a bit of hesitation, though, about her coming back.

John Mortimer

Both found in the book Wit by Des MacHale

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

HL Mencken

Found in the book Strictly No! by Simon Hills

A budding M.D.'s first Pap smear — the subject of significant anxiety and dread — was often administered to an unconscious female surgical patient. (Nowadays, enlightened medical schools will hire a "pelvic educator", a sort of professional vagina who allows the students to practice on her and offers personalised feedback and is, in my book anyway, a nominee for sainthood.)

Mary Roach

From her book Stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers

They call their horrid children after saints
  And educate them by such dubious means
They eagerly succumb to strange complaints
  Or turn psychotic in their early teens.

James Fenton and John Fuller

From "Poem against Catholics" in New Review (1976).
These two authors also wrote a series of six limericks — Nuns — that would, I'm sure, have delighted Norman Douglas.

Vatican One, for good or ill,
Declared the pope infallible.
Vatican Two, the recent sequel,
Made pope and bishops more coequal.
And that is why, betwixt you and me,
The pope isn't calling Vatican Three.

But should there be a Vatican Three,
Each bishop with his wife will be.
And if there were a Vatican Four,
Each bishop would have her husband, or more.
Ecclesial power remaineth, Oremus!
With men who can claim, "Testiculi habemus!"
But millions of women think it ridiculi
To base empowerment on a pair of testiculi!


He has done no work except for occasional periods when for a week or ten days he showed considerable promise as an automobile salesman before launching himself on another potvaliant and fatuous rigadoon.

Hervey Cleckley

From "The mask of sanity" (1941).
From the psychotic to the psychopathic, courtesy of Gail Armstrong's rather wonderful, though now discontinued, openbrackets blog.

Although plastic was brought into industrial use in 1909 by L.H. Baekeland of Yonkers, it was not until after World War II that the modern miracle substance was used in a wide variety of consumer goods, among them speedboats, dentures and flamingos. Previously flamingos were made of cement. Before that they were made by other flamingos.

William E. Geist

In The New York Times.

He went to boarding school in Yorkshire, but showed only limited aptitude for learning, and left at 17 to become a reporter on a local newspaper in Bristol. He enjoyed the job, and later applied for a bigger one on the London Evening Standard. The editor, Charles Wintour, a chilly Fleet Street veteran, quizzed him sternly: "I gather you're interested in politics," said Wintour. "Who's the Home Secretary?"

"Look," blustered [Tom] Stoppard, "I said I was interested, not obsessed."

William Langley

From his "Profile: Sir Tom Stoppard" on the Telegraph web site, 11 June 2006.

but now i'm sadly lowercase
with the occasional italic.

Roger McGough

Visit this wonderful man's web site
Living in Eastleigh, it would be "Pointless" to remark on the local venue this superb, deceptively simple, poet uses.

It was at the age of seventy-three that I almost understood the form and the true nature of birds, of fish and of plants.


My favourite Japanese artist.

Insufficient attention is paid to real costs. In some cases it would be cheaper not to install the equipment, but whenever it is needed to send each student in a separate chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce to use the same equipment at another institution.

Charles F Carter

Speaking at a conference on Universities and Productivity.

A panacea. The infallible solution for all problems in system design — if you have two components that are supposed to mesh but don't, design an interface to mediate between them. You will then have three components that don't quite fit together instead of two. This is a 50% improvement.


In "IBM Guide to the VS APL Workspace Library", circa 1975.
A not-entirely serious definition of "interface".
It used to be surprisingly difficult to sneak any humour into IBM software manuals, though I managed to get away with the old classic "On a clear disk, you can seek forever" in the first edition of the CICS Application Programming Primer way back in 1984. Committee reviews are sometimes not much fun. As for getting humour into, say, a computerised telephone voice response unit... read on.

Hello, Welcome to the Psychiatric Hotline.
  o    If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.
  o    If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2.
  o    If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5 and 6.
  o    If you are paranoid-delusional, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.
  o    If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.
  o    If you are manic-depressive, it doesn't matter which number you press. No one will answer.


Found somewhere on the "Web".

Please key in the model and serial number of the product you are calling about.

The model number is the series of 12 letters and digits that is visible when you push the unit away from the wall, work your head into the gap using a crowbar and No. 10 machine oil, and train a beam of ultraviolet light on the lower three centimeters of the right-hand rear surface of the appliance. If the model number is obscured by dust or cockroach detritus, wipe it with a soft, lint-free cloth soaked in a solution of ordinary rubbing alcohol, Kirschwasser, and formaldehyde.

The serial number is the 37-digit number inscribed by means of laser nanotechnology on the underside of the unit and is not visible to the naked eye.

When you have entered both numbers, press the pound key.

Evan Eisenberg

From "Our Options Have Changed ...". in Slate magazine, 30 Aug 2004.
A more modern variant.