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The Great Bell

The king of the short-sighted and stunted people, a wise old man, acting on the wishes of his people, had ordered that a giant bell designed to strike hourly be built. The engineers of the land, labouring hard and long, have duly produced a bell, gigantic in all proportions, and it is now hoisted on a huge platform at the centre of the country. The bell, however, fails to strike at the required times. To resolve this problem, the king calls a general assembly.

 

"My people," the king begins when the people have gathered, "We greet you!"

     "Great king of ours we greet you!" the people respond.

     "My loyal and beloved people, we greet you!"

     "Great king, we greet you! We greet you!! We greet you!!!"

     His brow deeply creased, the king acknowledges the cheers of his subjects with grave nods and settles into his throne.

     "The Great Bell has been finished," he proclaims.

     "Yeeaah!!!" the people cheer. "Long live the king!"

     "But," he cautions, "the bell is not yet working properly."

     Well-disposed to their king, the short-sighted and stunted people are quick in offering suggestions.

     "Set more engineers on it!"

     "Hire some foreign engineers!"

     "No! Consult the Oracle!"

     "Yes! Consult the Oracle!"

     "That's it! The Oracle!"

     The cries go on and on until the old king raises his hand.

     "My loyal and beloved people," His Majesty says, "We appreciate your concern and interest in our Great Bell. However, we doubt if this is a matter for the Oracle. Besides, the engineers know what the problem is. But they have not been able to solve it. That is why we are gathered here today"

<  2  >

     The people can barely wait for His Majesty to finish.

     "What is the problem?"

     "Why can't the engineers solve it?"

     "What sort of engineers are they, fake ones?"

     "They shouldn't be paid!"

     "They should be caned!"

     "I say they should be hanged!"

     "Yes, hang them!"

     "Hang the engineers!"

     The passionate short-sighted and stunted people rail on until the royal hand goes up again. "My loyal people," His Majesty coaxes, "We doubt if this is a hanging matter. The engineers have done a great job. Why should we hang them for a problem they can't solve? Remember they are a part of us too. Indeed, we think they should be highly rewarded for their work!"

     "Yes, I agree. Let's reward them!"

     "A cow with a bell for each!"

     "Yes, one man; one cow!"

     "Fair enough, one man; one cow!"

     "No! A white bicycle is better!"

     "But that is the king's official vehicle!"

     "A black one then. A black bicycle for each man!"

     "That's better, one man; one bicycle!"

     "Agreed. One man; One bicycle!"

     "But the Great Bell is not yet working properly!"

     "I wanted to say that."

     "Well, now someone else has said it."

     The king smiles and strokes his curly grey beard as he muses over his subjects. One minute they want a hanging, the next they want to hand out rewards. He is still smiling as his hand goes up.

<  3  >

     "My beloved people, we believe the first thing we should do is find out what the problem is. Why is the Great Bell not working properly?"

     "Yes, yes, yes," the people agree, "why?"

     "The answer to that," His Majesty declares, "can best be provided by the Chief of Engineers."

     "Summon the Chief of Engineers!"

     "Let him come before us!"

     "People!" His Majesty proclaims and the arena quickly acquires a major attribute of cemeteries: the silence of the dead. "My beloved people," His Majesty says, his voice softening, "we give you the Chief of Engineers. He will tell you what is wrong with our Great Bell."

     A lanky monocled man with wire-brush grey beards appears on the dais where the king sits with his entourage. He presses his monocle lightly as he executes a slight bow before the king. Then he whips a sheaf of papers out of his pocket.

     "Great king I salute you. With your kind permission, Your Majesty..."

     The Monarch acknowledges the salutation and motions for the Chief of Engineers to proceed. The latter faces the people. "Great people I greet you!"

     "Chief of Engineers we greet you!"

     "The problem with the Great Bell is that it fails to strike at hourly intervals as it had been designed to do."

     The short-sighted and stunted people, a great talkative lot if there has ever been one, display their vaunted mettle of the tongue.

     "Did you hear that man?!"

     "Hey you! Don't we know that already?"

     "Did they say this man is the Chief of Engineers?"

     "I greatly fear for that Great Bell!"

<  4  >

     "Look, why won't the Great Bell strike at hourly intervals?"

     "Tell us why not what!"

     "Speak, man speak!"

     "He is speaking! But until you shut up you will never hear him!"

     "You too shut up!"

     "After this, meet me at the well, you'll see yourself!"

     "Hey you two, shut up!"

     His Majesty's hand goes up. "People, people, control yourselves. Chief of Engineers, please continue."

     The Chief of Engineers plunges in. "The Great Bell won't strike because a big spring restrains the hammerhead."

     The people are incensed.

     "Well then, take the damned spring off!"

     "I can't believe my ears!"

     "This man should be caned, I say!"

     "Is this the Chief of Engineers?"

     "Incredible!"

     "I doubt if he can engineer a pot of soup!"

     "That will be too much for him! Can he engineer food into his stomach?!"

     "I bet he couldn't engineer his wife into pregnancy!"

     "Oh, what a shame!"

     Again, His Majesty's hand institutes silence.

     "My beloved people," he teases, "stop heaping abuse on the Chief of Engineers. Allow him to explain things to you. After all, he is the Chief of Engineers."

     The Chief of Engineers thanks His Majesty and directs a gaze of long-suffering at the people. "The spring holding back the hammerhead cannot be removed because it's removal will cause the hammerhead to fall and wreck the Great Bell. We can not allow that to happen. It will be a grave calamity."

<  5  >

     "So what is the solution?" comes the retort from the people.

     His Majesty gives a royal throat-clearing. "My beloved people, it is you who must offer suggestions to be considered by the engineers."

     Elated at the chance to show their problem-solving prowess, the short-sighted and stunted people fall over themselves.

     "Put a screw through the hammerhead to hold it in place then remove the spring."

     "Nonsense! Add more steel to the hammerhead to--"

     "Rubbish! Place the hammerhead in a vice-like grip so--"

     "You're dumb! That hammerhead is not strong enough--"

     "And you need to hang a bell around your neck so people will know a cow is coming! The hammerhead is not the problem! The problem is the spring--"

     "Are you the only one here? Please let me say something--"

     "No it's my turn--"

     "It's mine--"

     "Mine I say!"

     The wise old king raises his hand. "People, people, control yourselves! Everyone shall have a say. But first let's hear what the Chief of Engineers think of the ideas we have heard so far."

     The Chief of Engineers, looking up briefly from the paper he has been busy scribbling in, clears his throat. "Thank you, Your Majesty. Eh, we can't put a screw through the hammerhead because it will cease to be moveable and we can't compromise that. Adding more steel will totally destroy the design function of the hammerhead. A vice just won't work; we already tried. I should add that the hammerhead is strong enough so that isn't the problem. Finally, removing the spring as I have already explained is not an option."

     "Thank you Chief of Engineers," His Majesty says. "Now we will hear more suggestions. We urge you to be orderly and respectful."

<  6  >

     Chastened by the king's words, the people are momentarily shy. But they are not known for being able to keep mum.

     "Perhaps we should redesign the Great Bell."

     "I disagree. A bracket is what's needed."

     "What bracket is he talking about?"

     "Search me; I have no idea!"

     "Perhaps we should use another spring to counter the action of the first spring."

     "I wanted to say that!"

     "Spare us please! You always wanted to say that."

     "A spring might work."

     "But it would have to be a stronger spring."

     "A more taut spring!"

     "Yes! Make for us another spring!"

     "Indeed! Set a spring to tame a spring!"

     Up goes the king's hand again. He motions to the Chief of Engineers to comment on the spring issue.

     "Thank you, Your Majesty," the Chief of Engineers begins, scratching his eagle head. "I must confess that we did think of another spring initially. But we discarded the idea because it's a likely two-edged sword. It may work, but it may also fail, causing a design nonperformance and possible malfunction that could lead to the destruction of the Great Bell. In fact the original design called for a reversing spring. But we abandoned it because of the inherent danger."

     "But there's a good chance it might work, not so?" someone queries from the front ranks.

     "Yes," says the Chief of Engineers. "There is a good chance. Indeed, synchronising the clock flywheel with the hammerhead and bell mechanism will be much easier with a second spring. But it will involve very extensive calculations to establish a reasonable margin of safety. This is because the addition of a second spring will automatically draw us closer to the threshold of unacceptable uncertainty. What that means is that we may succeed in activating the bell mechanism to function as per its original design concept, but we would also unwittingly trigger a disparity in the displacement caused by centrifugal forces that can only be corrected, as I said earlier, by extensive calculations. The slightest error could be very dangerous. Empirical equations to aid the safety factor must be deduced through elaborate configurations aimed at establishing the right degree of tautness and the spring's potential displacement under the prevalent centrifugal forces acting on--"

<  7  >

     "Please! Please! Spare us!"

     "Ah! My head is getting heavy!"

     "Is he speaking English?"

     "I doubt it very much!"

     "I thought my hearing had gone bad!"

     "You engineers should work out all the calculations you need to work out--"

     "Yes! We only want to hear the Great Bell toll at every hour, to the proper count!"

     "Good talk, good talk!"

     "But," the Chief of Engineers strains to be heard, "but the safety margin is so miserably low that the slightest--"

     "Damn your safety margin!"

     "Aren't you the Chief of Engineers?"

     "I wonder! Go deal with your safety margin!"

     "Make for us a spring!"

     "Oh yes, a spring!"

     "A spring is the best check for a spring!"

     "We want a spring!"

     "We must have a spring!"

     "A spring then," comes the concluding remark of His Majesty, throwing his royal weight behind his people.

 

And so the engineers do their calculations, worrying crazily over safety factors. Eventually they build the spring and install it. The king then sets a date to unveil the Great Bell. On the appointed day, the entire country gathers at the centre of the country under the Great Bell.

 

"My loyal people, we greet you!" His Majesty begins the greeting protocol. Prayers and exhortations that the Great Bell may bring fortune and fame to the land soon follow. The king then delivers his speech.

<  8  >

     "My truly loyal and dearly beloved people," he declares in royal tones, "it is with great joy that we welcome you to this historic unveiling ceremony of our Great Bell."

     The people clap and cheer. His Majesty, holding firm to his royal tone, carries on.

     "During the course of the year, we have all laboured greatly to build this Great Bell. With its completion, the Great Bell shall serve eternally as a testimony of our greatness in purpose and unity. Our great engineers who designed and executed this Great Bell have done us all a great service. They are our great pride. As such, it is with great happiness that we announce the royal gift of a great cow, with a bell, to each member of the design and building team."

     "Yeeaah!" the people cry, clapping and stamping their feet.

     "In addition," the king continues, "they shall also receive a black, 3-speed bicycle!"

     "Yeeaah!!" the people cheer again.

     "And since we all had a hand in this monumental endeavour," the king rides on, "we shall not only wine and dine together at our great palace after this, there will be great gifts of all sorts for everyone!"

     "Yeeaah!!!" the people scream.

     "With this great endeavour," His Majesty, now really in his royal element continues, "we announce our coming of age to the world. Henceforth, we shall be known by all as a great people, led by a great king, and achievers of great things!"

     "Yeeaah!!!!" the people roar.

     "Therefore," the great king pauses for a great royal effect, "as I pull this lever, that we might all enjoy the first tones from our Great Bell, I urge you to raise a mighty shout to our greatness!"

     His Majesty duly pulls the lever.

<  9  >

     BANG!

     The Great Bell tolls.

     "Yeeeeaaaahh!!!!!" the people thunder.

     CRACK! CRACKER-CRACK! CRASH! TWANG! YAKATA! SPLIT! GBOA! WHOOM! GBISH! POOF!

     "Ooooh--!"

     "Aaargh--!"

     "Oh noo--!"

     "My good--!"

     "What--!"

     "Oh my--!"

     "Help--!"

     "Please--!"

 

From the land beyond the cliffs, deep in the hinterland, comes word of the total demise of the momentarily great short-sighted and stunted people, on the day of their great achievement.

 

The End

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