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Date: 10/12/14

Them's The Rules - Officially

Googling yourself can often be a two-edged blade. Sometimes you don't want to know, but you find out anyway. Sometimes, however, it can provide a sudden jolt back into the past, and not necessarily an unpleasant one.

Anyway, in one of my occasional accesses of boredom last night, I went all self-seeking again. Two of the search results led to the excavation of an archaeological stratum of my past that I had all but forgotten.

(Google is the online version of the abyss - if you stare at it for long enough, it will stare back at you).

The first was - of all things - a list of 'quotable quotes', of which there are many online. But this one was in Dutch. Appended to my name was the following:

"Hoe luider en frequenter de ontkenning, hoe meer kans dat de beschuldiging juist is."

Now, I can't speak or read Nederlands as such, but I could puzzle out enough of what was before my eyes to recognise more or less what I was saying...

(I say "what I was saying", because this is what turned out to be the case; I am well aware, however, that I share my name - fairly uncommon as it is - with, for example, no fewer than two clergymen, and it wouldn't have been beyond probability that it was one of my namesakes who had come up with this particular aperçu).

The page (and it's here in case you don't believe me), describes me as "Engels graficus en publicist", which had me frankly baffled; I've never to my knowledge drawn a picture of any revolutionary figure, nor have acted as his PR chief. Google Translate wasn't much help beyond confirming that 'Engels' means 'English', which I found slightly disobliging. 'Graficus' it translates merely as 'graphic', which was no use at all; and 'publicist' means what it says, the language of obfuscation and calculated lies being, of course, universal.

Leaving attribution aside, however, I recognised the general form of the quote from something which I wrote well over thirty years ago. And this is where the second search result came in. But first, some wibbly-wobbly video effects and some severely overdone harp arpeggios...

Back at the age of eighteen (1980/81), I was browsing in a bookshop in Wrexham, something which I did a fair bit of whilst passing the time before catching the bus home from my sixth-form college. I don't remember which bookshop with any certainty now, although the most likely candidate was the small, independent Cymbeline which stood opposite the bus station.

Whichever it was, I was taken by the following front cover:

Scan of the front cover of a paperback book - 'The Official Rules' by Paul Dickson

Having schooled myself in the writings of Alan Coren, Paul Jennings and one or two others, this looked like a good read. I opened it and saw something like:

"BUCHWALD'S LAW: As the economy gets better, everything else gets worse."

Suddenly oblivious to the piercing glare of one of the women who staffed the emporium (completely without justification, given the proportion of my meagre wealth I spent there, mostly on the novels of Edmund Cooper), I flicked through and found something along the lines of:

"CUSHMAN'S LAW: A fail-safe circuit will destroy others."

This book (price £1.25, which wasn't that cheap then) suddenly became a must-have, as it played on two of my treasured prejudices: firstly, that the universe operates to clear rules; and b) that those rules contain the quintessence of undifferentiating malignity. I don't know if I bought it there and then, but certainly I did not long after, and shared its wisdom with my friend Alex. He, too, was taken by it - and he was an actual student of science and mathematics, so that gave it an added intellectual validation.

The book almost became my undoing, however. One day, in a dull Geography lecture about something which I cared as little about then as I do now (sorry, Mr Allmand, not your fault), I was hiding The Official Rules behind my briefcase on my desk and scanning its pages. I came upon the story of Murgatroyd The Kluge Maker (a version of which can be found here). When I reached the punchline, I started quietly giggling and went as red as a baboon's arse while I tried to contain the mirth, only barely succeeding. I learned an important lesson; or, at least, I recognised its importance - it didn't stop my being nearly thrown off a bus some twenty years later because of my reaction to a particularly funny footnote in one of Terry Pratchett's Discworld® novels.

The Official Rules accompanied me to Uni, where I discovered in due course that there was a sequel to that worthy work:

Scan of the front cover of a paperback book - 'The Official Explanations' by Paul Dickson

Straight to the bookshelf in my Hall garret it went, of course. This time the author, one Paul Dickson of another garret - Garret Park, Md., to be exact - chose to expand a little more on his earlier theme, veering sometimes into the aphoristic, viz.:

"PIETROPINTO'S PETER PAN PRINCIPLE: Marriages peter out or pan out."

This slight dilution of the formula only slightly detracted from my pleasure, as it seemed as if Ambrose Bierce and La Rochefoucauld had met up to go to the bar for the evening to see what they could come up with.

Anyway, where do I force my way back into the story? Well, either at this point or - as I suspect - after the reading of "Rules", I started thinking up a few such rules (or, as Dickson described them, 'lifelaws') of my own. In "Rules", Mr Dickson had foolhardily included an address to which people could send their own examples. I say 'foolhardily', but it could be seen by the more cynical as an excellent way of garnering new material without his having to do it all himself; true authors around the world no doubt nodded with sage approval of this approach.

In a spirit of showing-off, therefore, I sent off a page or three of both my own home-made brews and what I felt were suitable vintages from my general reading. A few months later, in my post pigeon-hole at Pantycelyn, I found a large envelope with "Air Mail" on the front. Going back to my room and opening it, I found a letter from the redoubtable Director of The Murphy Center for the Codification of Human and Organisational Law:

Scan of a letter

Along with (cue fanfare!) my Certificate of Fellowship!

Scan of a not-entirely-serious Certificate of Fellowship of The Murphy Center

So it was that the first major qualification that I was able to put after my name was not 'BA' (that came some years later, and only just), but 'FMC' - a proud boast.

However, I never got to see my name in print in an 'Official' anything, as I never came across any further volume in the series.

Back to last night, now. The second search item which came up when indulging in the electronic equivalent of picking at that little scab on your elbow (*) was a partial scan at Google Books which listed a work published only a year ago, entitled The Official Rules once more, but this time a compilation of not only the two volumes in my possession but - it seems - a number of later books on the subject.

(The sample is here, taking you straight to the bit with my name on it. The fact that it locates me in 'Dyfed' proves that I was in Uni when I submitted them. I take no responsibility for the way my mind worked in 1982 - I have enough trouble doing that now).

My quote, as you can see, was slightly truncated in the Dutch rendering, but here it is in all its glory:

"STAPLEY'S LAW OF DENIAL: The louder or bigger or more frequent the denial, the more likely it is that the original accusation was correct."

So finally I have proof that I have appeared in a real book, with pages and everything!

(Actually, I have appeared in another one, where I was quoted from a letter I'd sent to either the Gin-dependent or the Grundiad a few years ago containing the anecdote at the bottom of this page in The Gallery).

Now all I've got to do is wheedle my way into the 'Thanks' credits on the next Hecate Enthroned album (due next year, black-metal heads! Save your pennies - but not from the eyelids of the dead, thankyouverymuch), and I've got the set!

(*) As opposed to picking on that little scab at your elbow, which is a pastime currently available only to the ever-dwindling number of members of the Scottish branch of the Labour Party.