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A brand-new post-modernist tale for our times today!

Many people have died and left their bodies to science, but the only person who ever specified that he wanted his body left to the science of meteorology was Captain Humphrey Wantage.

"We’ve had a WHAT delivered to the front door?" said the head of the London Weather Centre.

“Body, sir,” said the doorman. “Corpse of the late...” he consulted the invoice...."Captain Herbert Wendover."

The doorman of the London Weather Centre was not a very good reader. Yes, forty years, man and boy, Jed Kirkup had been doorman of the London Weather Centre and had never owned up to being illiterate. Everyone else knew he was, of course, which is why he had never been promoted.

What nobody knew, except him, was that when Jed Kirkup had joined the London Weather Centre originally, he thought he was joining the London Heather Centre, but had been unable to read the name over the door. He was mad about heathers, so much so that he had named his first child Erica. Shame it had been a boy. But I digress.

“Wait there,” said the head of the London Weather Centre down the phone. “I’ll come down and sort this out. There must be some sort of mistake.”

The head of the London Weather Centre was Sir Basil Bellwether, a man whose only talent was for being in charge of things. Dear reader, have you ever wondered how people who are natural born leaders ever get to the top? How is their talent ever spotted when they are callow, useless subordinates? It makes you think there is something to be said for the hereditary principle after all, so that queens and kings are born into leadership situations instead of having to work their way up from the bottom.

On the other hand, do you think that, if the position of Prince of Wales was filled competitively, Charles Windsor would have got the job? But I digress...

Sir Basil Bellwether had been in charge of the London Weather Centre for twenty years. There was now nothing about weather forecasting he couldn’t handle.

Except dead bodies.

“Some kind of protest is it, Kirkup?” said Sir Basil, approaching the doorman at the grand entrance to the London Weather Centre and staring gingerly down at the face of Captain Humphrey Wantage, sticking out of the top of a large bag.

“Some chap killed in a cold snap who’s decided it’s all our fault and has sent his cadaver here as a protest? Or someone knocked dead by a falling tree on a night when we said there wouldn’t be any wind, and the wife has sent the corpse round to try and shame us? Look, weather forecasting isn’t an exact science, Kirkup...”

“I know that, sir. But it’s not a protest. I think the bloke has donated his body to science. He wants us to have his body.”

“What!?” Sir Basil read the note attached to the body. By gum, Jed Kirkup was right. The late Capt. Wantage had donated his body to the London Weather Centre. He had not specified for what purpose. All the note said was: “I have received more pleasure from listening to your weather forecasts over the years than from any other part of the Today programme. Please use my organs for more research into weather forecasting, and tell John Kettley I think he’s got a smashing voice."

“How on earth did the blasted fool think we can use his body for weather forecasting?” said Sir Basil, half out loud.

Much to his surprise, Jed Kirkup answered the question.

“Auguries, Sir?”

“Augurie?” said Sir Basil.

“The Romans used to forecast the future by looking at people’s entrails and reading them, sir. Like tea leaves, but more drastic.”

“I think that was just animals,” said Sir Basil.” And I don’t think they were used for weather forecasting, more for the entire future. Anyway, how did you know that, Kirkup? I thought you were ...”

He paused.

“Illiterate, sir?” said Kirkup. “There’s more ways of learning things than out of a book, sir. And people who can’t read sometimes have better ideas than those who can.”

“Indeed?” said Sir Basil. “Then come up with a good idea for disposing of this body.”

“Certainly,” said Kirkup. "Rub out ‘I leave my body to meteorology’ on the label, write in ‘I leave my body to metallurgy’ and send it all round to the London Metal Centre.”

“By Jove,” said Sir Basil,” I think you’ve got it!”

Well, I can’t see exactly how this post-modernist tale is going to end yet, so we’d better have another episode tomorrow. Don’t miss it!

The Independent Tuesday Jan 13 98


© Caroline Kington