“You’re having a house-warming party,” said Augustus Sly.
We were sitting as usual in his scrofulous flat rather than my new home: the one to be celebrated in the get-together to which he referred.
“To which all sorts are welcome: friends, work colleagues, family, neighbours.”
“Yes,” I said. “All sorts and conditions of men. Regardless of age, gender, race or sexual orientation. Lawyers. Even estate agents. Though no bankers.”
“But not me.”
“I draw the line at students,” I said.
“I am your amanuensis,” said Augustus Sly.
“You’re still a student. Look at you and your drugget.”
Augustus Sly stared at this soft furnishing.
“Is Amy invited?”
“You said she was a metaphor.”
“Ha,” he said.
Augustus Sly stared at his feet.
“Is she a metaphor?” he said.
“She is as real as you or me,” I said. “But when it comes to parties I draw the line at students and metaphors.”
“You’re just like Richard Dawkins, “said Augustus Sly. “He has no time for metaphors, if the reports in the newspapers are to be relied on. Curious, that. The full and sufficient response to much of what he has to say to us is ‘But, Dawkins, you silly, can’t you see that it’s a metaphor?’.”
“When it comes to parties I draw the line at students, metaphors and Richard Dawkins. He hasn’t been asked. Curiously,” I said, “he is a Follower of the blog. But he has an assistant, a graduate student like you, who prints it out and then removes all the metaphors before showing it to him in case they upset him.”
“For someone who hates metaphors,” said Augustus Sly, “he has a remarkably robust belief in his own personal myth. If the reports in the newspapers are to be relied on.”
“I don’t think that he hates metaphors, I think he is haunted by them. I expect his deathbed conversion to decent Anglicanism – in many, many years’ time, I hope.”
“Enough,” said Augustus Sly, “of Richard Dawkins. Your blog: a lot of activity recently, but all in the Restricted Access section.”
“All except your bloody racist dog, whose charm, I have to say, does not emerge on the page.”
“Not racist,” I said.
“Whatever,” said Augustus Sly, waving a pudgy and not entirely ink-free hand.
“I worry about Jesus and the Rabbit,” I said, referring to the theme recently developed so vigorously – as those of you with the necessary permissions will know – on the Restricted Access section of the blog. “I worry about giving offence.”
“To Christians or to members of the lagomorphic community?”
“No problem at all. Offending is good for Christians,” said Augustus Sly. “Matthew 5/11. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. And rabbits can’t read.”
“That’s a relief,” I said.
“It is filthy, mind,” said Augustus Sly.
“Ah, well, filth is a free-for-all these days. Unlike offending.”
Augustus Sly made his thoughtful face. When he does that he looks just like Clive Myrie, off the television, finger to forehead as often as not. “So often,” he said, “offending comes from an inability to understand the other fellow’s underlying point of view. It is lack of imagination, or just laziness.”
“Tell me your thoughts, Augustus Sly,” I said, “on this occasion, even though you are my amanuensis and not the other way around.”
“Did you see,” he said, “the story about the Cadbury products in Malaysia?”
“It passed me by,” I said.
“Cadbury’s make sweet food products to sell in Malaysia. (I think it was Cadbury’s: it may be another confectioner.) Anyway, there is a substantial Moslem population in Malaysia, so Cadbury’s (if it is them) have their products certified as Halal-compliant. But someone tested one of their things and it turned out to have traces of pig DNA in it.”
“A serious matter. Slipped though, that did. Some worker had a sausage roll for their dinner and failed to wash their hands, I imagine.”
“So you might think, and so Cadbury’s probably thought. They withdrew all the products, apologised grovelingly and instituted an investigation. But a group of concerned Malaysians was not satisfied by this response. It did not go far enough, they said. They pointed out that if a Moslem man (I didn’t gather that they were so concerned about the women) eats a sweet product with traces of pig DNA in it that will sap his manliness and even have the result that when on his eventual death he approaches the Judgment Seat, he will have “a pig face”, which will be a black mark in the Paradise department.
“From there it was a short step to accusing Cadbury’s of doing it on purpose,” said Augustus Sly.
“For every man leaving crumbs in the bed there is a woman accusing him of doing it on purpose,” I said.
“For you and me,” said Augustus Sly, “the response, as with Dawkins, would be obvious. They didn’t do it on purpose because they don’t believe that stuff. The idea that a group of middle managers at Cadbury’s at one of those strategy meetings decided to introduce pig DNA into one of their little cakes so as to give customers pig faces post mortem and deny them eternal bliss is just silly. They didn’t think for a second that that would be the result. It’s just silly for the Cadbury’s middle managers but at the same time it’s entirely obvious to the group of concerned Malaysians.”
“Cultural assumptions,” I said.
“Crumbs? In the bed?” said Augustus Sly.
“It’s from an Ivor Cutler record,” I said.
“Of course it is. My father once had intercourse with a bear in Canada.”
We both laughed comfortably.
“See what I mean,” said Augustus Sly.
“Pure genius,” I said.
We laughed some more.
“Now can I come to your party?”