Uncle Phil's Books

10, Mary Slessor Street
United Kingdom

Return to Home Page


Uncle Phil's Anecdotes

De minimis curat lex.

I blame that Murphy, myself. Yes - that Murphy. The one with the Law. You’d think that a bloke who had the temerity to formulate a Law and the arrogance to put his handle in front of it would at least take the trouble to do his research properly and to get his facts right. OK, fair enough, the old chap had thought about the Meaning of Life for a bit, had rationalised the crying need for a Law, had jump-started the little grey cells, primed the pump with a few gallons of strong black coffee, put quill to parchment, (this was in the days, my children, when word-processing meant row on row of gaunt, ill-fed clerks perched above uncomfortable desks in draughty unheated offices, cratchitting out impeccable copperplate for hours on end as if their lives depended on it, which of course they did), and set down for the edification of a grateful posterity his Law, which postulates, for those of you who’ve spent your lives in a penal colony in up-country Alpha Centauri, that “whatever can go wrong, will.” Although if you’ve ended that far up Crap Creek you’ll have probably worked the Law out for youself by now.

Which is fine, as far as it goes. You know the kind of thing. All that guff about pieces of toast dropping from clumsy fingers, gravitating wiltonwards, and landing without fail butter side down. Although the tale is told of two earnest young Talmud students in a Hebrew seminary somewhere, (and God’s creatures don’t come much more earnest than that) having spent months trying the toast experiment to test the law, nervously approaching their learned rabbi and querying as to why it didn’t always seem to work, as the toast would alight butter side up as often as not, and Why, O Wise One? The sage thought for a spell, and said “It’s obvious. You must ‘ve buttered the toast on the wrong side.”

Apocryphal, if you ask me. Murphy can’t have been Jewish with a name like that. I bet it was originally called Moishe’s Law, and the gentiles hijacked it and anglicised the name. Or rather, hibernicised it.

I was thinking about Murphy and his output whilst walking back from the bank. I’d run out of readies for a change, a subject that deserves a law all of its own, but one thing at a time. Now - for reasons which I’m sure are quite valid, but to which as a mere customer I was obviously not deemed important enough to be made privy, the branch of the bank with whom for the last few years I’ve been carrying on a war of attrition has been demoted, turned into a sub-branch offering counter service only, and all the accounts have been moved to a much grander branch, a few miles away. Serve it right, say I. But this corporate come-uppance has necessitated the issuing, all in separate envelopes (I’d swap their mailroom budget for my income any day) of new account numbers, cashpoint cards, PIN numbers, chequebooks and paying-in books, cheque guarantee cards, closing statements from the old branch, opening statements from the new, in fact all the paraphernalia that the bank seem to need in order to look after my £49.37 for me, this being the maximum amount of my hard-earned dosh that I’m prepared to trust them with at any one time, seeing as how when I originally opened the account, they expected, nay, insisted on, several references as to my good standing, but turned very sniffy when, quite reasonably, I thought, I pointed out that they’d effectively be in possession of my money rather than me theirs, and so demanded from them the same courtesy.

Have you noticed, incidentally, that should you make a minor mathematical miscalculation and inadvertently overdraw by a few quid the bank’ll send you a letter full of such righteous indignation that you can feel it glowering at you through the envelope while it’s still sitting on the doormat lording it over the junk mail, but banks themselves seem incapable of the most elementary arithmetical computation, like matching the number of tellers to the number of windows.

Anyway, there I was with about 3p to my name, having blown my last couple of quid the previous evening on a packet of fags (this was written some time ago) from the patel on the corner, so at about half-eight I climbed into the B.O.W., which is short for ‘Battered Old Wreck’. and relates to an eleven-year-old Capri with a quarter of a million miles on the clock and an almost sexual attraction for other mobile metalware, trees with Capricidal tendencies, architectural protuberances with attitude, and Obstructions to the Queen’s Highway in general, resulting in a sort of rumpled, lived-in look to the bodywork. It acquired its nickname from a girl I’d had a fling with, who when I tipped up on her doorstep for the first time with an armful of forecourt flowers and a couple of bottles of decent claret (I believe in getting my priorities right) declared “And you can stick that battered old wreck out of sight round the corner. I’m not having that parked in my drive all night.” That’s what I like. A lady who sets out the game plan good and early. Saves all that pussyfooting around, you should pardon the expression. So I stuck the B.O.W. round the corner like a good boy, and retrieved it next morning, bleary-eyed but with a satisfied smile on my face. The girlfriend, for reasons which I won’t go into here, didn’t last the course, but the car’s nickname, or rather its acronym, remained as her legacy.

Mind you, when folk ask me what kind of wheels I drive, I mumble “A B.O.W., actually,” and somehow they all seem terribly impressed, and bang on about how well German cars are made. How they all know that it was made in Germany, I can’t fathom. I’m not as au fait with the motoring scene as everyone else. Until I happened on the little plate under the bonnet one day when I was doing the annual oil and water bit, I thought that Fords came from Dagenham. (Which for all I know could be in Germany.) The only thing I can remember about Dagenham, other than that Sierras and Escorts are excreted from its alimentary orifice at the rate of several thousand a minute, is that they have something called the Dagenham Girl Pipers. Sounds more like Scotland. Geography isn’t my strong point, especially in relation to areas where I never go buying.

So, having extricated the B.O.W from the snowdrift that had built up around it overnight, I set off for work, via the nearest cashpoint. I did the magic with the card, putting it (eventually) into the slot the right way round, opening thereby the lobby door, activated the cashpoint machine and so on, keyed in my PIN, pressed all the usual tits, and waited expectantly for it to extrude my serving of nice crisp tenners.

I swear I heard the damn thing laugh at me, as its little screen lit up and archly informed me in an abusive shade of green that I’d keyed in the wrong number. Of course I had - I’d used the same one I’d been using for years. Could I remember the new number? One guess. Dead right. And while searching my pockets for the bit of paper I’d written it on, I realised it was safely at home in last night’s jacket, along with cheque card, Access, and all the other bits and bobs that you need these days to prove to a cynical world that you’re not Ronnie Biggs or Lord Lucan. Not that it would have made any difference if I’d had it. The machine had by now breakfasted on my card, and was giving me the electronic equivalent of a belch and two fingers. Has anybody ever caught you swearing loudly at and pounding helplessly on an inanimate little green screen set into a wall? The pretty girl who’d come in behind me obviously thought that I was two cups short of a teaset. I unhanded the machine and started to try and explain, but the more I said the deeper into the poo I seemed to sink. I doubt somehow that she was impressed, and reasoning that she wasn’t going to be over-receptive to a chat-up line on the subject of dinner that evening, I slunk out into the street, where the snow had begun to fall from a sky the colour of a pewter charger.

“No matter,” I thought. “I’ll drive to work via Acton”, which is where my old branch is. “They know me, and will cash me a cheque”. Easy-peasy. Back into the B.O.W.

There was Traffic. There was Weather. There was the Western Avenue, which anybody in possession of his sanity and a desire to stay that way would avoid like the plague at that time of day, when even on a fine summer’s morn it does a consummate impression of a long-term car park. But eventually I reach the bank, dump the B.O.W. into another snowdrift, and make to go in.

Now. Banks are always open during banking hours, aren’t they? That’s why they call them banking hours, innit? You can rely on ‘em, cant’cher? Well known fact. Set your watch by ‘em, right? Wrong. The doors were firmly closed, and on them was taped a notice bearing the rubric “Due to flooding this branch will be closed till further notice. All transactions should be carried out at our Harlesden branch.”

More bad language. Back into the car. Slide out of the snowdrift. Light up the last fag. Off we go, Harlesden-bound.

On the way, the BOW, wayward as ever, runs out of petrol.

Which brings me back to Murphy, and why I was trudging back to the shop in the snow, reasoning, rightly as it turned out, that the Gestapo would ignore the note that I’d put on the windscreen explaining the situation, and would have clamped the car by the time I’d borrowed some cash and returned to rescue it. Some days one just shouldn’t get outa bed.

What Murphy should have realised, had he done his job properly, was that his Law should have read “Everything will always go wrong, particularly if it can’t possibly.” I think I’ll name this new Law after its creator. James’s Law. Got a nice ring to it, that . Murphy, eat your heart out

© Phil James



Further Anecdotes

A Cynic's Philosophy
Scripture for His Purpose
All Greek to Me
Beef and Mustard
The Day the Music Died
Unconsidered Trifles
For Such is the Kingom of Heaven
Laid on with a Trowel
De minimis curat lex.


©Uncle Phil's Books 2004