A Word on Excellence

March 28, 2007 at 11:44 pm Leave a comment

So right now I’m wearing a fancy suit and sipping Cognac as I blog. This is because my life tends to careen wildly between annoyance and awesome and tonight is most certainly awesome.

While I’m tempted to leave it at just that, I feel the need to give you context given how I’ve been neglecting this blog lately. As you’ll recall, I’ve been attending fancy literary tea parties here as part of my functions in the Excellence League (which brings the total number of Leagues in which I am a member up to two). For those who don’t know, we get together, read favourite or original works of literature, and generally have a good time.

However, since the end of the year is approaching, it’s come time to wind down. Tonight was the night of the last tea party, and they really went all out for it. Ricky, one of the two main organizers, rented the school conference room, bought all kinds of party snacks, and generally tried to get as much of the student body (180 people) to show up as possible. We went down around 7 PM to set up, and I must say the room looked awesome by the time we were done.

Over the course of the night over fifty people came to listen to at least a few works, and as many as 15 read. Because I suck I hadn’t prepared anything original, so I read a short essay by Douglas Adams called “For Children Only”, which went over pretty well. Other highlights were Christian, who recited a speech from Henry V from memory (he’s a hell of an actor) and a short play each from Peter and Ricky, the two organizers.

As the night wore on, and people ran out of prepared work, they just went up and started talking, telling stories from memory. At the end, I myself went up and gave an improvised speech about the tea parties themselves. I started by referencing radio journalist Edward Murrow, who in the 1950’s had a show called “This I Believe” which asked famous world personalities to explain their beliefs in less than 500 words. A stunning array of people answered his call; baseball players who broke the colour barrier, world-famous politicians, prominent scientists like Albert Einstein. The challenge inherit in this, of course, was to make listeners think about and question their own beliefs.

With this as my basis, I went on to explain the importance of beliefs. I once heard beliefs described as “the idea that eating bread will make you less hungry”; assumptions so fundamental to our view of reality it would be impossible to operate without them. And yet beliefs can often be wrong, founded on ignorance or avarice rather than coherent thought. Only through the expression of contrary beliefs, beliefs which challenge our fundamental view of reality, can the truth be reached.

And that, of course, leads us back to the tea party. Over the course of the year, it has acted as a forum for people to come up and tell stories, explain ideas, and generally express their beliefs about the world. To come together and talk about the things most important to us is to search for truth itself. The whole thing was a stunning exercise in the exchange of ideas and beliefs.

Naturally, the speech ended with me thanking the organizers, Peter and Ricky.

Anyway, that was my night. I think it went over pretty well. And just so you don’t all feel neglected, I’m going to also post the Douglas Adams speech I gave. You’d better enjoy it; I’m almost certain I’m breaking copyright law with this.



You will need to know the difference between Friday and a fried egg. It’s quite a simple difference, but an important one. Friday comes at the end of the week, whereas a fried egg comes out of a hen. Like most things, of course, it isn’t quite that simple. The fried egg isn’t properly a fried egg till it’s been put in a frying pan and fried. This is something you wouldn’t do to a Friday, of course, though you might do it on a Friday. You can also fry eggs on a Thursday, if you like, or on a cooker. It’s all rather complicated, but it makes a kind of sense if you think about it for a while.

It’s also good to know the difference between a lizard and a blizzard. This is quite an easy one. Though the two things sound very much alike, you find them in such very different parts of the world that it is a very simple matter to tell them apart. If you are somewhere inside the Arctic circle then what you are looking at is probably a blizzard, whereas if you are in a hot and dry place like Madagascar or Mexico, it’s more likely to be a lizard.

This animal is a lemur. There are lots of different kinds of lemurs, and they nearly all live in Madagascar. Madagascar is an island – a very large island: much, much larger than your hat, but not as large as the moon.

The moon is much larger than it appears to be. This is worth remembering because next time you are looking at the moon you can say in a deep and mysterious voice, “The moon is much larger than it appears to be,” and people will know that you are a wise person who has thought about this a lot.

This particular kind of lemur is called a ring-tailed lemur. Nobody knows why it is called this, and generations of scientists have been baffled by it. One day a very wise person indeed will probably work out why it is called a ring-tailed lemur. If this person is exceedingly wise, then he or she will only tell very close friends, in secret, because otherwise everybody will know it, and then nobody will realize how wise the first person to know it really was.

Here are two more things you should know the difference between: road and woad. One is a thing that you drive along in a car, or on a bicycle, and the other is a kind of blue body paint that British people used to wear thousands of years ago instead of clothes. Usually it’s quite easy to tell these two apart, but if you find it at all difficult to say your r’s properly, it can lead to terrible confusion: imagine trying to ride a bicycle on a small patch of blue paint, or having to dig up an entire street just to have something to wear if you fancy spending the evening with some Druids.

Druids used to live thousands of years ago. They used to wear long white robes and had very strong opinions about what a wonderful thing the sun was. Do you know what an opinion is? I expect someone in your family has probably got one, so you could ask them to tell you about it. Asking people about their opinions is a very good way of making friends. Telling them about your own opinions can also work, but not always quite as well.

Nowadays most people know what a wonderful thing the sun is, so there aren’t as many Druids around anymore, but there are still a few just in case it slips our mind from time to time. If you find someone who has a long white robe and talks about the sun a lot, then you might have found a Druid. If he turns out to be about two thousand years old, then that’s a sure sign.

If the person you’ve found has got a slightly shorter white coat, with buttons up the front, then it may be that he is an astronomer and not a Druid. If he is an astronomer, then one of the things you could ask him is how far away the sun is. The answer will probably startle you a lot. If it doesn’t, then tell him from me that he hasn’t explained it very well. After he’s told you how far away the sun is, ask him how far away some of the stars are. That will really surprise you. If you can’t find an astronomer yourself, then ask your parents to find one for you. They don’t all wear white coats, which is one of the things that sometimes make them hard to spot. Some of them wear jeans or even suits.

When we say that something is startling, we mean that it surprises us a very great deal. When we say that something is a starling, we mean that it is a type of migratory bird. “Bird” is a word we use quite often, which is why it’s such an easy word to say. Most of the words we use often, like house and car and tree, are easy to say. Migratory is a word we don’t use nearly so much, and saying it can sometimes make you feel as if your teeth are stuck together with toffee. If birds were called “migratories” rather than “birds,” we probably wouldn’t talk about them nearly so much. We’d all say, “Look, there’s a dog!” or “There’s a cat!” but if a migratory went by, we’d probably just say, “Is it teatime yet?” and not even mention it, however nifty it looked.

But migratory doesn’t mean that something is stuck together with toffee, however much it sounds like it. It means that something spends part of the year in one country and part of it in another.
—Douglas Adams

Editor’s Note: Man, the Excellence League; this was one of those ‘lightning in a bottle’ things that really were only possible at the Castle. The place just seemed to be a perfect brew of weird and intelligent people ready to embark on mad schemes at any moment. I miss it, like I miss so many things from that year.

This turned out not to be the last meeting; on the last day a secret meeting was held of the rooftop of the dorms, dubbed “Project ‘Get Back'”. We sat around as the sun fell and traded stories and reminisced, eventually getting to a point where we were simply telling each other how much we valued their company. It was just one of those things, you know?


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