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For your Contemplation and Self-improvement!!!

The Golden Throne of the Kabuku

The Chief of the Kabuku tribe of Northern Kenya had traditionally been crowned on an ornate and priceless golden throne which had been handed down from father to son for many centuries, and was the most precious possession of this shrinking band of plains warriors. It was guarded day and night and kept in a special grass house larger than any of the others. A Kabuku warrior would happily surrender his life to protect it. It was so precious that only tribe members of as certain status were even allowed to look upon it, and only the Chief or his eldest son could ever sit upon it, and even then only on certain clearly defined occasions.

Inevitably stories of the golden throne spread to neighboring tribes and nomads of the region, but so fierce were the Kabuku in defense of their treasure that nobody dared wage war on them or try to take it away. There had been attempts in the remote past, and not a man of the would-be plunderers had returned alive.

With the passage of the years, however, the Kabuku tribe grew smaller and many of its young men went off to work in the city so that they could buy Levi jeans and live in slum tenements instead of the spacious and generally comfortable grass houses of their forefathers. Word began to spread that the golden throne was no longer so well defended, and a new campaign to defeat the Kabuku might not fare so badly as those of the past. Neighboring tribes came together for a great meeting to discuss the possibility of taking the golden throne away from the Kabuku, selling it in the city, and using the proceeds to buy Levi jeans and slum tenement accommodation for everyone.

Naturally, word of the fomenting unrest reached the elders of the Kabuku, and they had a great meeting also, to determine a strategy for the protection of their wonderful golden asset. After much consideration it was decided that the throne should be hidden away in a specially constructed loft high in the roof-space of the great throne-room, and the warriors would then spread the word that it had been stolen in the night and was no longer in the possession of the Kabuku tribe.

The secret compartment high in the roof-space of the grass building was duly constructed, and with a great effort from many warriors the heavy golden throne was hoisted up there and safely stowed, and the entrance-hatch hidden behind a dense wall of freshly-cut river-willows.

When the joint war-lord of the combined tribes of the region came to deliver to the Kabuku Chief an ultimatum concerning the tribe's surrender and handing-over of the throne, he was met in the empty throne-room by the Chief himself, sitting in an ordinary willow-woven chair, with not a sign of the golden throne or any evidence of where it might have been hidden.

Disappointed, the war-lord turned to go, whereupon there was an ear-splitting ripping of grass fibers and the golden throne came careering down from the loft on to the head of the seated Kabuku Chief, killing him instantly.

And the moral of the story? People who live in grass houses shouldn't stow thrones.


The Tools of the Trade

When I left the Royal Air Force after the end of the Second World War I went to work as a civilian aircraft mechanic and fitter at Luton Airport. Many of the smaller airports at that time were able to earn extra income by providing servicing facilities for the mushrooming fleets of short-haul civil airliners, which, a generation later, would become the package holiday carriers that have so changed the lives of ordinary working people throughout Europe.

The facility had already been running for a couple of years when I got there. The Douglas DC3 Dakota was the mainstay of the small commercial fleets, and the boys had become very adept, not to say slick, at turning these around quickly, fully serviced and fully checked. There was so much business available that turnaround time was actually the biggest factor in determining the profitability of the operation.

Under the pressure to get things done quickly, the boys at Luton had designed, indeed invented, a number of special-purpose tools of which the Douglas Aircraft Company knew nothing. Some of them were constructed in our own little machine shop at the facility, others, the more elaborate and expensive ones, were manufactured to order by a larger engineering firm which is still in business just outside the town of Luton. These tools were stored on a numbered rack at the rear of the hangar. Tool 1 was a giant screw-clamp used to compress the DC3 undercarriage coil-springs to make it easier to change the telescopic shock-absorbers. Tool 2 was a specially designed hand-pump which allowed the main hydraulic header tank to be drained and refilled without removing it from the bulkhead. Tool 3 was an ingenious pop-rivet removing tool that clamped on to the head of a rivet and allowed it to be drilled-out without damage to the aluminum panel below. And so on.

When a job-sheet came through it usually specified which tool should be used to make the task as speedy as possible. It would say something like "Remove main wheel brake-drums using Tool 6 and insert modified expansion cylinders". We soon got to know how the special tools were used and which tool was intended for which purpose.

One tool had a rather amusing history. This was Tool 8, a rather complicated hydraulic wrench with a specially-shaped handle and a remote activating control which caused it to apply either right or left torque to its captive nut. It had been designed to remove or replace a particularly inaccessible fixing-bolt behind the fuel pump on the main engine block. In reality it was useless. The tool had been suggested by one of the maintenance technicians, who drew a rough sketch of what he had in mind together with rough measurements, and sent them to the Engineering Manager for approval. The EM was very impressed with the design, and asked one of his subordinates to produce a more accurate drawing, with exact measurements, and a full specification to have the item constructed by the Luton engineering firm. This was done, but due to a cock-up the accurate drawings and specifications were sent off, but with the original (very approximate) measurements instead of the accurate ones. The engineering firm of course made the tool to the measurements given, which were in some instances as much as a centimeter out, and the resultant very expensive tool was totally useless. The idea of modifying it was discussed, but looked pretty well impossible.

It was an embarrassing and wasteful mistake, but rather than try to find a scapegoat the EM simply took the technicians aside and explained to them that everybody was going to have to cover up. He would issue job-sheets referring to Tool 8, but he would put a second number in brackets, which would specify the actual tool to be used. The mechanics also, in their notes, should refer to Tool 8 every now and again so that senior management would think it was being used. If everybody wrote up the official reports and talked about Tool 8 as though it was a useful item, then nobody would ever know that they had wasted something over a thousand pounds on the thing (which in the early 1950s was an absolute fortune!).

And so the secret of Tool 8 was never discovered. People would commend it loudly when the management were about, or even take it down from the rack at break-time and scratch a bit of wear into it with a flat-file, or bash the handle a bit with a hammer to scuff it up. Each time a new employee (such as myself) came to the shop, he had to be taken to one side and the history of Tool 8 carefully explained to him so that he would understand what was going on. It was important that everybody knew that no matter what was said about Tool 8, you never actually used the thing. Sworn to secrecy, the Luton technicians maintained the fiction about Tool 8 quite religiously, and nobody who wasn't in on the scam ever found out.

About ten years later Tool 8 was finally reported to have worn out, and the Engineering Manager recommended that a replacement would not be economically justified. They would be able to get along perfectly well without it.

And the moral of the story? Remember that no matter what anybody may tell you, it's never Tool 8.


The Forester Inns

If you lived in the English Home Counties in the 1970s then you may remember a chain of nine country restaurants and drinking-houses called the Forester Inns. They catered for the affluent young professional classes living around London's leafy suburbs, or a little further afield in the direction of such cities as St.Albans and Cambridge.

Although successful in the early years of that decade the inns began to go into a decline around about 1975, with the arrival of larger and cheaper restaurants and carvaries such as the Harvesters, and the American-style Little Chef and Happy Eater chains. Eventually the Forester chain was bought by the American Boling Wallace organization, who decided to re-launch them in a more suitable part of the market.

Boling Wallace believed that the Forester Inns had an image problem. Despite the rural-English sound of the name, the inns were in fact already too American: the design of the buildings, the furniture, appointments and decorations did not live up to the picture that the name "Forester" conjured up; they gave an impression of fake woodwork, plastic upholstery and Formica-topped tables. Essentially, they were competing in the wrong market.

Boling Wallace engaged a Paris-based firm of marketing consultants to advise them on adding a bit of "chic" to the failing chain of eating-houses. After extensive and careful market research the French firm came up with a proposal to remodel the inns on the pattern of Bavarian country ale-houses, with large beer-gardens, genuine wooden interiors and furniture, rough-cast plaster walls, lots of decorative brass-work, and, the piece de resistance, traditional reed-thatched roofs! It was the thatched roofs that had really caught the imaginations of the people they had interviewed, this was the element that would make a visit to a Forester a truly unique and memorable evening out.

The proposal was enthusiastically accepted by Boling Wallace, who set about finding people with the necessary traditional thatching skills, and sources of the right kind of natural reeds for the job. Surprisingly, this was not too difficult.

The project seemed to be going well and the company had commissioned a press and television advertising campaign to re-launch the new "chic" Forester Inns when they encountered their first real problem.

Although there were already numerous thatched buildings in the British Isles operating as public houses, restaurants or other businesses, these had been in existence, typically, for several centuries. To create a new thatched building and operate it as a public restaurant meant complying with all the modern fire, hygiene, health-and-safety, and building regulations. Reed thatch was regarded as a fire-hazard, and a medium likely to harbor vermin such as cockroaches and mice. Most local authorities refused point blank even to consider it as a suitable roofing material for a modern catering establishment. With the re-launch advertising and the interior refurbishment already well underway Boling Wallace were facing the prospect of having to reopen without the mainstay of their conception, the traditional thatched roofs, in place.

All kinds of compromises were discussed, such as the use of flame-retardants, fire-proof coatings and insecticides, or even switching to alternative imitation materials, some based on carbon fiber; but all these proposals were much more expensive, and most of the traditional thatchers declared themselves unable or unwilling to work with such new-fangled substances.

In the event, having gone far over-budget on the thatched-roofing project and having used up all of their advertising budget, the new owners were forced to reopen the chain with only three of the nine inns sporting a thatched roof of any description. The whole marketing exercise had been an embarrassing and expensive failure.

And the moral of the story? Don't count your chic inns before they're thatched!


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