All our office meetings are in the past. We never waste time by planning in advance to have a meeting. But if a conversation or (more often) argument seems to have turned up something interesting or troublesome we declare it a meeting after it’s happened, so long as at least three of us were present. Usually someone scribbbles down minutes then and there, and that’s the official record. But yesterday the dark shadow of efficiency poked its head in. Louise had got so cross with Simon’s vagueness and forgetfulness that she bought him a Loyal Lifelogging Loop which she straps round his head in the morning and which records everything he sees (or more likely fails to notice) in front of him and everything he hears all day until she switches it off in the evening. So we have a full record of what turned out to be Meeting number 266 (give or take a few dozen). (For new readers I should just mention that Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems is our bureaucratic [sic] correspondent and Monty Skew our political expert. Karela is a native of Zagreb. Manos is an inimitable Greek.)
Berthold: I heard our Manos saved a Chinese tourist from drowning down at the jetty yesterday.
Monty Skew: Had to really, considering that he’d pushed him in.
Manos: Monty my friend, I see you learn to twist a story just like those political crooked you write about. Of course I must save her. Fifty Chinese tourists on a jetty three metres wide! All I did only was step back a little to help a pretty one get into the launch safely, and that old man behind me was standing too close.
Self : Just as well we aren’t really on the tourist circuits. Though I know some of the businesses round the harbour would like to change that – want to build up the island’s reputation, they say.
Monty Skew : Nothing whatsoever to do with building up their bank balances then? I’d guess that’s the main motive for most of these committees trying to twin their village, town, rural slum or whatever with some charming spot that would make the ideal destination for a freebie.
Berthold : You seem a trifle confused Monty. Are they after the cash or a delightful holiday?
Monty Skew : Oh, so you see those as mutually exclusive, then, Berthold?
Self : But do you really think there’s no aspect of getting to know another culture, learning how different people live, and developing international friendship and all that?
Berthold : That surely plays a part.
Monty Skew : Pshaah
Karela : My uncle once tried to twin his town with a town in Serbia. Fortunately he did not succeed. He hoped to use the arrangement to poison that town’s water supply.
Simon : Golly!
Manos : That man went too far a little, but I think he was going in the right direction. What is the good in learning to understand people who are the same as yourself, only living in another country? Exeter, across the water from here, is twinned with Bad Homburg. Two comfortable middle-ranking cities in pleasing natural surroundings with many comfortable middle-class citizens. The very same bloody boring lifestyle in both. Your twinners in Britain should find a twin city in a strange place that is hard for them to understand, China, or America.
Monty Skew : How about Syria?
Karela : Why only try to twin cities and towns? Why not islands like this one?
Berthold : With Devil’s Island?
Self : That point about avoiding identical twins is not bad. A bit like what GBS said about marriage – one side or other should make a social gain out of it. But come to think of it, instead of the usual sort of stuff it really would be much more interesting to twin, say, Dortmund with a Lithuanian peasant farmer settlement, wouldn’t it? That should seriously challenge the mental capacities on both sides.
Manos : Or Luton with Athens? (Savagely) Ha!
Self : But seriously, I’m agreeing with you Manos. Let’s have twinning arrangements where the two sides differ in both type and size. That could really show us things.
Karela (sarcastically) : You mean like a French village twinned with the Kiel Canal?
Monty Skew : Very good Karela, I like it. But then the business about reaching over to another country is relatively unimportant. For instance you could instead twin – in the remotely unlikely circumstance that either side would ever agree to it – a stately mansion in the seigneuries of Surrey with a poor street in Leeds.
Berthold : Yes, and at least you will have no problems because of the EU falling apart and dropping Schengen.
Simon : What are shenguns?
Manos : Ah, you English –
Karela (interrupting) : I am not English, you Greek gorilla.
Manos : You English cannot stretch your minds enough. What are the most important differences between people that you should learn to understand? They are not differences of money, or place where you live, or language you speak. They are the differences of how you behave with other humans. Do you help them or use them, do you steal from them or give to them, do you admire them or do you think they are horrible? Differences of the human spirit. So if you want to make a twinning that may give you real differences then you have the chance but not like you have said before now. I give you an example. Take the accountants who work for the mayor’s office in an English city and tell them they will be twinned with a brigade of the Egyptian police or a hospital for the criminally insane in Bulgaria. Then you will have twinning that is worth something!
Self : Manos, I stand amazed, or perhaps I mean appalled. But I think that maybe adds up to a meeting! Will you take care of that Karela?
(Manos has asked me to say that he is available for twinning, either electronically or in person, with English people of culture and mature years, preferably wealthy but, please, no bankers! NB This website accepts absolutely no responsibility whatever for any actions, utterances or views of Manos committed or expressed outside the office of this journal.)