On Counting Corks

See these corks aligned upon the baize. They were placed so for a purpose. Count them. Count the corks and when you are done totting them up write the tally in chalk upon the board. The board is affixed to the wall with tacks. So we have totting and tallying, tacks and corks. We have baize too, and chalk, and the board on the wall. Isn’t this exciting?

What we are witnessing here is the birth of a new pastime. After all, everything has to be invented, at one time or another, even traditional games and pastimes. There was a first time people played draughts or chess or billiards or shove ha’penny or nine men’s morris. And so we see cork counting played for the first time. If it does not catch on, this may be the only time. We are perhaps witnessing something unique. That is what makes it exciting.

It would be equally, but differently, exciting if cork counting does catch on. If it becomes a popular pastime, with its own subculture, just imagine how you will be able to tell tales of how you were there at its birth. Goggle-eyed cork counters will stand you drinks till kingdom come to hear you tell your tale.

You can, if you wish, embroider your tale, so that in addition to the totting and tallying, the tacks and corks, the baize and chalk and the board on the wall, you add other elements, ones not yet mentioned, like the sawdust on the floor and the shiny shiny glint of the tacks, or ones you have made up, like the cloud of ectoplasm hovering at head height in the room and the volcano erupting just outside the door. Astute listeners, as they come back from the counter bringing the drink they have stood you for the joy of hearing your tale, may raise an eyebrow at your invented embroideries if those embroideries are outlandish. Both the ectoplasm and the volcano could be considered to be so. But even the most outlandish of embroideries, if delivered persuasively, and made vivid by flamboyant waving of the arms as you speak, has the advantage of grabbing the attention of those of your audience who are unimpressed by the mundane detail of the totting and tallying, the tacks and corks, the baize and chalk and the board on the wall, the sawdust on the floor and the shiny shiny glint of the tacks. Remember that such things are the everyday currency of certain people’s lives, in which they have forgotten how to take an interest.

This is why you need to take care to explain that what you witnessed, on that long ago day, was the birth of a popular pastime. Drive this point home with absolute ferocity. If there is hubbub, you may need to shout your head off to be heard. The danger is that the more gormless members of your audience, whose daily lives are filled with totting and tallying and tacks and corks and baize and chalk and boards on walls, all in entirely different contexts, will fail to appreciate the sheer excitement of these mundane items when they are clumped together within the specific realm of a brand new leisure activity. They will stand you no drinks if they think you are boring them to tears.

It is also a good idea to make the actual counting of the corks upon the baize more thrilling than it tends to be in practice. One way to do this is to have a stammering tallyman, whose struggle to spit out the number “six”, for example, creates an atmosphere of Hitchcockian suspense. Or you might drop in to your tale, casually, the observation that the initial alignment of the corks upon the baize was skew-whiff, and they had to be taken away into an anteroom and buffed with a rag, and realigned before the totting and tallying could take place. There are several more strategies for injecting excitement mounting to unbridled hysteria in even the most workaday telling. You will be able to tell if you are succeeding by keeping an eye out for beads of sweat appearing upon the foreheads of your audience, or by listening for yelps and cheers, or by totting and tallying the number of drinks you have been stood by the assembled company.

When your tale is done, there will probably be a flush of enthusiasm on the part of the crowd to recreate the birth of the pastime. Someone will fetch a roll of baize. Another will gather corks. There is bound to be someone with a pocketful of tacks, quite possibly tacks with a shiny shiny glint. A board will be found and affixed to the wall, and somebody will volunteer to run off to the butcher’s to get a piece of chalk. You will almost certainly be picked to be the tallyman, in which case you should adopt a pretended stammer the better to inject the Hitchcockian suspense so decisive in the success of your tale-telling. The scene is set for an exciting end to the evening. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, there is so much, so much that can go wrong. It is heartbreaking. You would weep if only you knew, weep and wail and gnash your teeth and rend your garments. The trials and tribulations of Job would be as nothing compared to what could befall you. Sackcloth and ashes would seem the veriest luxuries. It is best you do not know, not now, not yet. Go ahead. Stand in the sawdust. Align the corks upon the baize. Count them, tot them up, write the tally in chalk upon the board tacked to the wall, the tacks glinting so shiny shiny. There will be time enough, later, to do the necessary uncounting of the corks.

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