A Naval Story
First let me offer my apologies to my regular readers, who may have been expecting the next episode of ‘Virgil’s Aeneid’ to be posted last Friday; in fact although I have been trying to post this on Fridays, to keep up with Wordpress’s ‘Blog a Week’ challenge, there is no real ‘schedule’… Unforeseen circumstances kept me too busy last week, but I think I’m at least a couple of posts up on the ‘Blog a Week’ thingo, so I took a holiday; next episode will probably be this Friday, but don’t put your lifesavings on it!
In the meantime, I should let you all know that, as I come from a family with a long naval tradition (everyone in our family’s got navals!) here’s a Naval story my father told me, about the middle of last century… (or was it the one before?):
“I was steaming down the west coast of Africa,” my father said, “when we dropped anchor at a small coastal port; little more than a native village in a natural harbor, really… But when we went to the chief’s hut the place was a shambles; total destruction; their chief, so we were told, had just been killed in a terrible accident, so I asked the official I spoke to what had happened and he told me the whole story:
Apparently, about a year earlier, of all people, there was a ‘Dunlopillow’ salesman travelling through the region. He had stopped at the village to show the chief his wares, and the chief had been most impressed, but the latter foresaw a few problems:
‘Look here,’ he said, ‘you see how my hut is constructed: my throne of ivory and ebony weighs four and a half tons! The saplings which form the basic shell of my hut were grown around it specifically, until they reached the right height and were then brought together at the centre at the top and the walls were then thatched as per our usual custom… Now, while this gives me a magnificant hut and throne, it doesn’t leave a lot of spare room for the king-sized divan you showed me in your catalogue, no matter how much I’d love to purchase it…’
But the salesman was a resourceful fellow and was not to be put off!
‘Don’t you worry!’ He said, ‘White man’s magic can fix anything! You just sign this order form… I’ll accept payment in ivory, thank you… And I’ll deliver it as soon as possible; of course, you do realise it’ll take some time to have the bed shipped out from the UK?’
Well, the chief knew a man of his word when he saw one and this salesman had an honest face, so the chief signed the order form and the salesman went away.
True to his word, though, the salesman had come back to the village almost a year later to the day, bringing the most luxurious king-sized bed the chief – or anyone in the village – had ever seen. The chief was impressed, but still a little dubious, ‘Ah, my friend,’ he said, ‘it is every bit as wonderful as it looked in the catalogue! But have you solved the problem of where to put it?’
‘What problem?’ he said, simply, ‘We’ll just put a block and tackle in the roof and, whenever you want to lounge around on your bed, or whenever you want to go to sleep, you simply pull the throne up into the rafters and you can lay on your be underneath it! When you need the throne for official functions, it can easily be let down again and you can stack the bed on its end against one of the walls…’
Well, the chief was again most impressed with this solution, so he duly payed the balance on his account in elephants tusks and the salesman went away, having made enough on this one deal to keep him in luxury for the rest of his life…
But as luck would have it, a few weeks later… indeed, only a few days prior to our ship’s landing there, the chief was having a bit of a sing-song with a few of his old cronies that he wanted to impress, so he had the bed down and was lounging on in total luxury while his cronies supped their beer on the floor all around him. Then, all of a sudden, there was a loud, CRACK! and one of the rafters broke; the rest of them could not bear the weight of the throne and four and a half tons of ebony and ivory came down just like so many tons of bricks, and squashed the chief flatter than you could squash a bug…
“But,” my father then said, “there’s a moral to this tale…”
“Oh,” I asked in my innocence, “What’s that?”
“People who live in grass houses,” said my father, “shouldn’t stow thrones!”