Miles Kington: Tales from the library, the recycling centre and Africa

Talking to his wife was sometimes like going through a job interview with someone who didn't really want to give him a job
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The Independent Online

Today: Three tales for our times!

1. For almost 50 years Sidney had kept two books in the bottom drawer of his desk. They should have gone back to the library in his home town when he was still at school, but he had never got round to it. The fines must be nearly £1,000 by now. Or £10,000. He'd never really worked it out. But on the day he retired from work and was clearing out his desk, he thought the time had come to take the books back, whatever the cost.

The library was still there. Its name had changed. It was now the Leisure Institute.

"I've come to return these books," he said.

"I don't think they are ours," said the lady. "We don't do books. Discs. DVDs. Games, yes. Interactive files. Infopacks. Not books. Haven't done them for years."

So Sidney took them home again.

MORAL: Honesty may be the best policy, but it doesn't half gum up the works.

2. All Roger ever wanted to be was a rock star, but the only job he could hold down was working for an aid agency, on famine relief in Africa. Whenever he came home, he would make demo discs of songs he had dreamt up in the bush and send them off to record companies, but none of them ever got back to him.

Until one day he was texted in the back of beyond by a major company who were very excited by one of his songs and urged him to rush home and sign a deal. Which he did, making a solemn oath as he did so that he would never return to Africa and get mixed up in famine relief again.

MORAL: Cui Bono?

3. "All I need to become rich," said Alan one day to his wife, "is one simple idea. Plus of course the verve, and pizzazz, and business sense, and oomph to make it work. But that's the easy bit. The hard bit is thinking of the idea."

"What kind of idea are you thinking of?" said his wife.

"Well, like flavoured crisps," said Alan. "Before someone thought of cheese and onion crisps, nobody had ever thought of it. Or like sunglasses. Protecting your eyes against the sun with tinted glass was such a simple idea, but il fallait y penser, as the French say."

"Why do the French say that?"

"It means, 'Someone had to think of it first.'"

"Then why didn't you say that in the first place?"

Alan ground his teeth. Talking to his wife was sometimes like going through a rather unpleasant job interview with someone who didn't really want to give him a job. He breathed deeply and slowly till the feeling went away.

"All right then, a new diet book," said Alan. "A new way of displaying the England flag. A new way of storing paper clips. A new way of displaying flowers on your lapel now that button-holes have gone. A new..."

"Come on," said his wife. "You can think of a brilliant idea for making money any time. Right now, we have to get the rubbish in the car and take it all down to the recycling centre."

At the recycling centre, Alan looked at the banks for paper, plastic, tins, old clothes and glass, and thought that "bank" was a funny word for them, as you got nothing back in return. But then he thought, you didn't get much back from real banks, either. Then he thought that there must be some other kind of bank that nobody had thought of. Then he had his great idea.

"People banks!" he said.

"What banks?" his wife said.

"People banks!" said Alan excitedly. "You take your unwanted friends down to the People Bank and find someone willing to take them off your hands! Swap them, maybe! Your old worn-out friend could become someone else's new mate!"

"It's crazy," said his wife.

Crazy or not, the idea caught on, and very soon Alan was running a chain of People Banks, and making a lot of money, and a lot of people were ending up in more congenial company than they had started out in. Including Alan's wife, who vanished from his ken after a visit to the new People Bank in Clapham, where they lived, leaving behind a handsome middle-aged blonde who was a lot more fun, and never said his ideas were stupid.

MORAL: Get a life. In fact, get someone else's if necessary.