12 APRIL 1940, Page 22


IT is the resourceful custom of certain persons to mitigate the tedium of railway travel by improvising dialogues calcu- lated to intrigue their fellow passengers. The usual prizes were offered for the best such passage of dialogue calculated either (a) to mystify or (b) to alarm the remaining occupants of a third-class railway carriage on a journey between Oxford and London. The essence of a conversation of this sort is, of course, that when it ends it should leave its audience in the state of alarm or mystification which it has created ; to supply, as the train draws into Paddington, a solution which removes the apprehension or interest that has been aroused during the journey is also to remove the whole point of the conversation. Several competitors committed this error, some even by the well-tried device of explaining that the conversationalists had been rehearsing a play. Instruments of death concealed in suitcases on the rack above the passengers' heads were also regrettably popular, the I.R.A. (it is perhaps unnecessary to say) making several appearances in situations of this sort— successfully only in the entry of Mr. Allan M. Laing. In several cases lunacy was—also rather conventionally—simu- lated. On the whole though the entries reached a fair' level of originality, those calculated to alarm being in general more successful, as they were also more popular, than the others. The first prize goes to Mr. Raymond Parsons and the second to Mr. Allan M. Laing, whose entries were both well designed to cause dismay. An entry from Leiden, admirably calculated to mystify, was opened by the Censor and—judging from the state in which it was received—must have exercised the detective wits of a whole Department.

First Prize.

"What kind of dog did you say bit you outside Oxford statior "A chow, I think."

"My God!"

"Why, what's wrong?"

"Was it very mad when it bit you?" "Well, it was making a terrific din and careered about miller strangely."

"And you have a slight headache as a result?"

"Why, how did you know?"

"I'm sorry . . ."

"Hell, man, what are you sorry about?"

"My uncle was bitten by a mad chow two years ago before he caught a train from Oxford to London. He went completely mad before he had reached High Wycombe."


"That is why I was so sure about the headache. One survivalg

passenger recounted to me the horrible tragedy some hours later and he mentioned that my uncle complained of a headache shortly after leaving Oxford station."

"What do you mean—surviving?"

"Well, you see, he went berserk and attacked the four occupants

of the carriage."

"Did he really kill them?"

"Kill? Why—he tried to cremate them. His strength must have been enormous for he knocked out the four other passengers

—all male. He never showed any sadistic tendencies before, yet

he tore out the eyes of three of them and flung them—the eyes—

on the luggage rack."

"God—how awful."

"The fourth passenger was knocked under the seat and forgotten."

"When was this foul outrage discovered?"

"About midway between High Wycombe and London. You see, he piled the three bodies on the mattress and then tried to set the carriage alight. Passengers in other carriages noticed the

flames and one of them pulled the communication cord."

"Your uncle?"

"He jumped out and was killed instantly."

"Don't get too alarmed, but there are five males in the carriage."

"And the next station is High Wycombe."


Second Prize.

(Conducted in stage Irish and a stage whisper.) "An' where did ye put the pineapple?"

"Sure, where would I put it but in me bag that's on the rack

foreninst ye?"

"Did Shaun give ye only the wan?"

"He did so. It's he's the cautious boyo." "Tell me, Michael, whin will ut be ripe, thin?" "Time enough, Conal: time enough. Lave it to me."

"It's the main secret spalpeen y'are, an' we sworn brothers.

Is ut safe where ut is, d'ye think?"

Sure, safe enough whilst me bag's sthraight up 'n down ; but

yer sowl to Morris Kelly if the bag falls over—an' it bumpin' about for all the worrld like Father Ryan on Phelim Donohue's ass."

" Mebbe Michael, ye'd betther have it down. 'Twould be safer, I'm atwixt yer knees." " Ach, Conal alarma, it's all right, I tell ye. Would ye have wan o' these holy Luthers from the preachin' north givin' it maybe a kick?"

"I would not, Michael. But me bowls go as wathery as Brian Rafferty's potheen ivery time the thrain rattles. Have it down, Michael dear, or mebbe it'll . . ."

"Wheesht, ye daft omadhaun. Ye've got nerves like Pat Hanlon's ould chandelier wid the glass bobbins itself. There, ntm: I'll lift it down, an' may Michael an' all his Angels kape yer big fate fr'm hoistin' us all to glory." "Michael, dear, is ut wan o' the colleges we're afther visitin'?" "Arrah, hould yer whisht, ye switherin' gossoon ye! Why shouldn't ut be the thrain itself, thin?"

" Howly saints, Michael, don't say it! It's jokin' y'are, surely. Is it you an' me to be sufferin' martyrs rr the cause? Ochone! To hear me life tickin' away like an' ould alarm clock. Ochone!"

ALLAN M. LAING. Proxime Accessit.

"My point is not that your proposition is unverifiable, but that it is a senseless noise."

"But on your own criteria that proposition is itself unverifiable, and therefore equally a senseless noise."

"No. I only hold the weak verification theory. You know the sort of experience which would give rise to-the feeling of unverifiability,

and therefore the proposition expressing that feeling is meaningful. So, as I was saying, your original proposition about the rightness of goodness is incapable of being intelligibly discussed. You admit the Egocentric Predicament?"

"In the modified form, yes. But how am I to know that you are using the expression senseless noise' in the same sense as myself? And even supposing I did, I can never know that the situation to which you apply it is one to which I should also. So the proposition that an unverifiable proposition is a senseless noise, is a senseless noise."

"But it would follow from that that the expression sensele,s noise' is itself a senseless noise, if it can never be used significantly."

"Certainly. And that is why I propose to ignore your descrip- tion of my proposition about the rightness of goodness as a sense- less noise. If the expression can't be used significantly it is meaningless, and if it is meaningless it can't be used significantly.