Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Episode 20: A stately pleasure-dome? No, just the punctuation warehouse

Onesie watched the hostile couple as they disappeared through the café door, this was turning into a bad morning. When he’d woken slumped on an uncomfortable bench in Fibonacci House and found that his quarry – Onesie didn’t even know his name but thought of him as Scowl – had disappeared, he gulped. How could he tell Criminal and the others that he’d failed to keep tabs on Scowl? Onesie wandered around the building in the off-chance of a sighting but soon realised this was futile and contacted Criminal. An angry rant later, Criminal made his way to Fibonacci House where Onesie was searching the publicly accessible places.

Although he felt uneasy in the presence of Criminal and his friends, he knew they were likely to ease his passage to acceptance. Truth was that Onesie felt uncomfortable among most adult words, he struggled to follow conversations and always seemed to laugh at the wrong moment. It was different in the company of younger, more frivolous types with whom he could relax and engage in banter. The circles among which manufactured pop groups moved were most to his liking….and they liked wearing onesies! But for the moment, his fate seemed in the hands of those guys from the C-block.

After an hour’s fruitless search through the various cafés and libraries with Criminal, Crook and Cad, the three departed with instructions that Onesie continue the hunt. He did so without enthusiasm and was surprised to encounter Scowl as the guy slumped at the table. Onesie was now thoroughly confused - even when he alluded to his friendship with Criminal and the others, Scowl didn’t appear at all concerned. Was Onesie as derided as that by everybody?

As he walked disconsolately around Fibonacci House, he saw an important-looking person who was issuing orders to two other numbers. The important-looking man wore a shirt with a monogrammed 1 on the pocket which Onesie deemed to be a good sign so he bounded over to the group.

‘Hello. I’m Onesie.’

1 turned, stared at Onesie and grimaced.

‘What is this?’ he barked at his attendees. ‘Who gave permission for my name to be appended with a letter? Find out more about 1C immediately.’

‘Hur, hur, hur,’ chortled Onesie. ‘Not 1C, Onesie. Y’know…Onesie, like this cool outfit I’m wearing.’

1 looked at Onesie with renewed interest. ‘Onesie, I am afraid that I do not know you but I think we should talk. My name is 1. This is 99. This is 999. This is 1001. They are my personal assistants. I would like to hear more about you and your attire. Do you have some time to spare?’

‘I don’t know,’ replied Onesie, paused for a second and then began to laugh. ‘Hey, I’m only kidding. Yeah, I have some time to spare. Onesie is always happy to talk to somebody who shares his name.’

‘Excuse me, I do not share your name. I am 1. You are Onesie.’

‘Well, it’s the same difference, isn’t it?’

‘That is impossible. It is a false assertion. How can something be the same and different? Please amend your statement.’

‘OK, whatever. You guys take things kinda serious. Lighten up, man. Be like Onesie, have a smile on your face and look for the funny angle.’

1 remained silent and beckoned Onesie to follow him as he issued commands to his assistants. 999 raced in front of him to press the button for the lift which would take them down to the first floor. Onesie giggled and nudged 1.

‘Hey, you must be kinda important to get this treatment.’

1 smiled for the first time since they’d met. ‘I am 1. I am important.’

Back in the annals of time, the task of assigning names to landmarks around Wordsdrow was given to Bibliophile, putting his knowledge of literature to good use. A small river ran along the southern edge of Wordsdrow and Bibliophile named it the Alpha: a nod both to Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and to the omnipresent letters and words. The Alpha marked a boundary for many words and numbers and beyond it, away from the towering A-Z blocks and their spacious, verdant surrounds and the modernist Fibonacci House nestled a drab edifice, the punctuation warehouse. It was a particularly unappealing example of Brutalist architecture, so much so that Ubiquarian thought the monolithic block which gave temporary accommodation for words not yet admitted to the OED was welcoming and cheery by comparison.

Those words who'd visited the building reported that the punctuation marks lived in something close to factory conditions. This always caused unease although ‘I know we’d be a bit of a mess without them but, basically, they’re just flunkies,’ was a typical comment from words about punctuation marks. Ubiquarian winced as he remembered the number of times he’d nodded in agreement to sentiments such as this but that was then…he’d been in his Crusade guise.

Since adopting his new profile, he felt a freedom which allowed him to revise some of his old convictions. Fraternising with numbers had been an eye-opener and the evident desperation of limbo words to gain official acceptance was arresting. Now, he was about to experience something else new. The idea to visit the punctuation warehouse came when he and Treason went to the 1 Over The 8 bar in Fibonacci House. It was still early in the day but it was an auspicious occasion and a drink seemed appropriate.

‘You know, we have things pretty easy, really…as words, that is,’ he’d said as they sat down with a drink. ‘Here, the numbers seem to strive a bit more and if you could see the efforts made by some limbo words to catch the eye, you’d feel a bit antsy.’

‘Look at you, all on the side of the oppressed,’ she smiled and then raised a hand. ‘I know, I know...your support for the disadvantaged has never been in doubt. Wouldn’t it be good if we could harness all the disparate groups here towards one common cause?’

‘And what’s to stop us?’ Ubiquarian enthused. ‘I’m pretty much a free agent at the moment and you’re, well, you’re…What do you intend doing now anyway? Are you going to return to T-block?’

‘I guess so but I like the idea of doing something positive around Wordsdrow. Rebel often mentions some punctuation mark who’s supposed to be pretty enlightened. I can't remember his name - it's either \ or & - but Rebel has a really high opinion of this guy. Of course, we just scoffed at the idea of a punctuation mark being able to grasp ideas which we consider more our field of expertise but us words can be as blinkered as anyone.’

Ubiquarian suggested that they visit the building and they chatted cheerfully en route.

‘Rebel’s an amusing guy. He told me once about his inherent desire to oppose everything and how, for him, the ultimate act of nominative determinism would be to rebel against being a rebel and become the most conformist word around. That level of thinking would frazzle my brain.’

‘Yeah, he is good fun. OK, here we are. Christ, it is a bit grim-looking, isn’t it?’ Treason said as they approached the revolving door which admitted them to the punctuation warehouse. ‘What do we tell them…that we’re looking to check out some new punctuation marks?’

‘Hmmm, that makes us sound a bit sinister. I know that Fetish has some sort of a thing about commas and hashtags and spends a lot of time hanging around here.’

‘Uggh! He’s a real creep, Fetish. Dissident had to visit him about something once and said Fetish’s room was really squalid…punctuation mark catalogues and manuals on various font sizes, not to mention a lot of locked cupboards. God knows what he keeps in those.’

‘I think we should just say that we’re trying to extend our circle of acquaintances. Maybe we should ask to see \ or &. Can you remember which of them Rebel referred to?’

‘Pretty sure it was &. Crikey, do they all really exist in this space? Dingy or what?’

The main reception hall of the punctuation warehouse was sparsely furnished with little more than a large desk in the centre of the atrium. Behind this desk, ? swivelled on her chair and looked inquisitively at the new arrivals. Around the rest of the lobby, figures sat on any available seats, most of them wearing sweatshirts with a logo showing individual punctuation marks which presumably identified them: !, %, “, @ among those who caught Ubiquarian’s eye. The image which came to his mind was that of convicts: had the logos been those of arrows, the resemblance would be complete.

A wave of sympathy washed over him as he strode towards the desk and asked ? whether & was in the building.

‘And where else might he be?’ laughed ?. ‘I’ll page him. Take a seat.’

As they squashed into two spaces, they noticed some disinterested looks in their direction before the general conversation resumed. Soon, a tall man entered the foyer and was directed towards them by ?

‘Hello, I’m &. I believe you were looking for me.’

Next episode: Punctuationists and punc rock....


  1. It's a pity you used 101 as I thought you might have been able to work something in about Room 101 and George Orwell and the like.

    1. Agggh! Room 101...why didn't I think of that? But now that you've thought of it for me, Adrian, I'll have to put it to use. One of George Orwell's recurring themes is that history can be re-written and that's even more applicable to a blog. Watch this space, I just need to spend some time in the Ministry of Truth!

    2. Oh, the power, the power! History now re-written or, more prosaically, slight changes to episodes 13 and 20.


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