The patent office

Here is a story I think is so funny, written by my very talented friend, Richard:


Martin had found the address, down a draughty lane between tall blackened brick buildings. The door was not obtrusive. It was set back from the lane. It was half hidden depending on the time of day and surfeit or lack of sunshine. It had retreated slightly into the deep frame that surrounded the door so it was lit only by the summer sun around mad dog and Englishman time.

A beam of sunlight shafted down into the depths of the canyon as the day dragged on until the middle and the sun rose in the sky until the angles grew congruent enough to allow the sun beam through, down past the polluting chimneys, onto the Welsh slates that had been ripped from a hillside in far Snowdonia. It slowly crept down the dirty, sooty brickwork, counting out the minutes in brick time until it reached the lumpy dirty tarmac where leaves and old newspapers had eddied into clumps waiting to be swept and dispatched to the town tip. The sun beam tip fingered down the bricks until it ran out of bricks and a rare event occurred. The sun illuminated part of the door, first it brightened the base and then it slowly crept up until if found a sparkle, a bright brass plate. The plate was small but lovingly polished each morning until the script was almost illegible, suffering from the same inferiority as the person it alluded.

Martin tried the handle and pushed the door. It didn’t give way, it was locked, no visitors were expected today. Martin banged on the door, first politely, tapping lightly with his knuckles and then using his fist with increasing abandon as no one answered his summons.

‘Excuse me,’ said a quiet voice behind him. ‘Are you looking for me?’

Martin turned . A young woman stood behind him. She was short, just up to his shoulder. She wore a dark green knitted jumper over a brown tweedy looking skirt. She had on a pair of back shoes. They looked like the sensible shoes worn by on duty nurses. Her ginger hair was pulled back ferociously and secured by an elastic band in a severe Croydon facelift. She was bouncing a set of keys impatiently.

‘Yes, if you are Jemima Doodlegregg,’ he said. ‘ I have an appointment at 12.’

‘That’s me,’ she said, shoving Martin to one side as she unlocked the door. ‘ You must be Martin Flounderberry, strange name isn’t it?’ Martin thought of an array of kettles talking about black pots. She pushed it open and walking in after giving the brass plate it’s daily affectionate polish with a cloth she rummaged from her over-large handbag, like greeting a dog after a short separation.

This drew Martin’s attention to the engraving on the brass plate, “Jemima Doodlegregg, Patent Agent” the Italic Helvetia script announced to the world.

‘Come on in, sorry to be late,  would you like a cup of tea, do you take sugar?’ she rattled off.

‘No problem, yes please, err yes.’ Martin tried to answer the volley of questions in the right order.

Jemima opened a cupboard door leading off the hallway. ‘Sit yourself down here while I get the tea.’

Martin sat and looked around the office. It was small with a minimum of furniture. There was a small, cheap, fairly new desk, anchored to the floor by contiguous towers of files. There was a small two drawer filing cabinet by the side of the desk that doubled as a tea table according to the story told by the rings embossed on it’s top. There were two kitchen type chairs, one behind the desk and one in front. That was the complete inventory of the office, no pictures on the walls, no family photos on the desk and no curtains dressing the grimy window that looked down on the alley and across to the blackened bricks. Unsurprisingly it was dark in the office so Martin dared to turn on the light provided by a single 13W low energy bulb directly over the desk.

‘Make yourself at home, why don’t you. Wasting my electricity like that,’ she said, flipping the gloom back on as she passed the light switch and placed the two cups carefully on their landing circles on the top of the filing cabinet. She squeezed carefully through the gap on the other side of the desk that was, thankfully, filing cabinet free. She sat in her chair behind the desk, grabbed he mug from the filing cabinet and peered at Martin through a gap between the towers of files and said. ‘Well, here we both are, what can I do for you?’

Martin thought firstly that he would be sarcastic and say that he was here for the small talk but thought it would probably be wasted so he launched straight into his story.

‘I want to patent a word,’ he said.

‘No, you can’t, said Jemima.

‘Why not? queried Martin. ‘You don’t even know what word it is yet.’

‘Doesn’t matter, once a word has been used and given meaning then it is in the public domain and so cannot be granted the protection of a patent.’ she sounded as if she was quoting from the Patent Agents Handbook.

‘But this word may have been used but it has been given no meaning.’

‘Every word has a meaning,’ she said authoritatively. ‘If one is found that doesn’t have meaning then the finder can take a liberal arts degree to find meaning where there is none – and there is none.’

‘What if I could prove that this one hasn’t?’

‘It is nearly impossible to prove a negative,’ she riposted.

‘If I showed you that it wasn’t on the search engines. not in the OED, not in Merriams and not in Wikipedia, would you start to believe me?’

‘Well, yes but the problem is that when you first search for it in say, Google. you are then adding the information that the word exists and so it is now embedded in  their data base. If you then search for it now, you will find it.’ This is what is called a Googlesquatch.’

‘Yes, but you will find there is no definition provided for the word so you see that I can prove that it has no meaning.’

‘What is the use of a word without meaning?’

‘It will only have a temporary meaning as long as I, the patent holder, will deem it to have one and that meaning will be decided by me.’ It is what is technically known as a meta etymology.’

‘I don’t understand any of that.’

‘Well, err, think of Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland. He said “When I use a word, it means what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”. It’s sort of the same as that. You could also think of it in a similar way to the meta fictional panel game on Radio 4 – Mornington Crescent. It will also follow the same rules as the rest of the English language so it will also exist in other forms.’

‘Such as?’

‘It can exist as a noun, gerund, adverb, adjective. It can be used in any of the tenses. It can be used in any POV and its form can be changed to meet the need of the context.’

‘OK,’ said Jemima, worn down by the Enfnurlinisation. ’I’ll start the patent pending papers. Has the word been in use before?’

‘Yes, there was once an advertising campaign – in the 50’s I think. It was used on bill boards all over the country. There was a little man in the centre saying in a speech bubble, “what does Fnurl mean?” There were ten other men in a circle surrounding him, pointing to him and saying, “he fnurled.” There was no meaning inferred though. How long before I can start using the word with full patented protection,’ asked Martin.

‘About two years I should think,’ she replied.

‘Fnurl,’ retorted Martin. ‘Oops, sorry for swearing.’

‘I didn’t realise you did,’ said Jemima forgivingly.

Martin finished his tea and made his way out. He couldn’t wait for the feeling of fnurlistion as he left the building through the brown door. The sun had long stopped shining on it, even the polished plate looked a little brassed off.

He trudged down the alley on his way home to take tea. He was desperately trying to think of another useful word to invent, Perhaps “aspungion?”. Had that already been done? He would do a quick search on Google as soon as he got home. He didn’t want to risk being discovered searching for the word on his mobile, here on the street.

© Richard Kefford    2017                                                                             Eorðdraca

This and Richard’s other Kindle books are on Amazon – Here

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