Face To Face
It has happened at last. Professor Ovis Jopp, the lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’ and his foremost detractor, the five-foot-four tall, five-foot-four round, tressless ‘Swedish Savant’, Dr Terps Dunderklap have had their first meeting since childhood. What a battle! There was never much doubt that the two men so often described as the Northern Lights would put on a spectacular show, but probably few guessed correctly how events would unfold.
Long before it took place, the encounter was attended by problems, among which was the question of venue. Jopp was unwilling to visit Sweden, while Dunderklap was adamant about not appearing in Norway. Denmark came to the rescue by offering a space in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens. Then there was the issue of a moderator. Jopp proposed his old friend Sir Dudley Stroan of Cambridge. Dunderklap countered by suggesting Dr Margaret Transpond of Harvard. It was finally agreed that, as both principals were born in Holland, a Dutch person would be appropriate. The job was accepted by the renowned palaeontologist, Ruud Djestiurs of Rotterdam.
A last-minute obstacle arose when the tee-total, non-smoking Dr Dunderklap objected to Professor Jopp’s insistence on availing himself of his well-known greengage wine and green seaweed cigars during the event. This was settled by an agreement that the gladiators would sit a minimum of four yards apart.
Those expecting a joust in the outer realms of science were doomed to disappointment, perhaps in part because a jarring note was struck at the outset by the master of ceremonies, who said he did not anticipate difficulties, as he was accustomed to dealing with fossils. That this attempt at light-heartedness discomfited the two behemoths of badinage was clear from their body language.
Owing to frequent audience participation, a totally accurate record of the verbal exchange that followed cannot be presented. Perhaps the best course is to recount what was audible, omitting interruptions. This is done below, as far as possible verbatim, beginning with the professor’s opening comments:
Jopp: The Sap of Stockholm and I have exchanged words only once since our formative years. That was when he phoned my secretary, demanding words with me. I gave him two, and there are no prizes for anyone guessing which ones they were. I suppose the reason why he persists in assaulting me is that he is resentful because, to use a stellar analogy, I outshine him by several orders of magnitude. Possibly the best comparison would be to think of us as featuring in the Hertzsprung-Russell star diagram, in which I would appear in the top right-hand quadrant – the supergiants – while Dundles would be at bottom-left, among the other dwarfs. Still, even such a body must have shone at some time, so maybe it is better to be a has-been than a never-was. As I recall it, the charmless cherub did once achieve fleeting notoriety by destroying his school classroom during one of his unfailingly catastrophic experiments. Pick the bones out of that, Your Hairlessness.
Dunderklap: This is a no-brainer, so will be about right for my supposed adversary – I cannot call him a genuine opponent, for to reach that state he would need to rise unimaginably from his present level. As for his invariably disastrous efforts in his laboratory, let me say that Jopp got the green tint in that silly beard as a result of his farcical dalliance with what he mistakenly regards as science. The visier of vacancy remains in denial, refusing to accept my superiority. Mercifully, I have to think of him only once in a while, and when doing so, I usually also call to mind the famous comment that genius involves 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Jopp has surely raised the latter figure to 100%, thus eliminating the former. By the way, I recall that his parents considered naming him Zeno, after the Greek gentleman famous for propounding paradoxes. That would have been fitting, as the riddle in this case is how Joppie managed to avail himself of the highest level of tuition, from which he emerged as a mental vacuum. My point, I think.
Jopp: The malignant microbe excels himself. He constantly snaps at the heels of his betters – how numerous they are – but never reaches their throats. Hardly surprising, as the poor fellow’s physique precludes him from eyeball contact with anyone of normal size. When called upon to refute the assertions of this querulous quack, I also call to mind the Arabian Empty Quarter. Compared with what takes place between the ears of the poisonous pygmy, that area is a hive of activity.
I am told that Dundie the Dismal has a laboratory. Pardon my sniggers, but he needs that like a Trappist needs a telephone. I don’t wish to make a habit of descending to his level, but as he has alluded to percentages, I can’t resist mentioning the recent findings suggesting that we humans share most of our DNA with chimpanzees. Klappers may well be unique in having chalked up the whole lot. Incidentally, he is wrong about my name. My parents were not thinking of Zeno of Elea – the paradox man – but Zeno of Citium, founder of the stoic school, and goodness knows I need all the stoicism I can muster when dealing with the puerile pest here. Also, if Dunno were right about my education and its outcome, that would be an irony, not a paradox. Another foul-up for the uncrowned king of the faux pas.
Dunderklap: Jopples is as arrogant as ever. He has more snot than a schoolboy’s coat sleeve. I don’t wish to go over old ground, but note that he recently spent some time addressing the vanishingly small. That seems appropriate, as it is a fair reflection of his mentality. Regarding the ridiculous jopposcope he claimed to have invented, I have proved to my satisfaction that ordinary electron microscopes, if connected cleverly enough – perhaps I am alone in being able to do this – produce perfect results, while avoiding the huge distortions inherent in Jopp’s absurd device. Incidentally, I find it quite amusing that he is always telling us that he needs to make further adjustments to his various gizmos and supposed findings. He reminds me – in that respect only – of Leonardo da Vinci, in that he has more unfinished work than a convention of builders. This is just a throwaway line, of which I have many. Are we now at forty-love to me? I am losing count.
Jopp: There is no need for the mobile misery to keep score, as the result was always a foregone conclusion. I don’t care to speak ill of the brain-dead, but if this mordant mole insists on exhuming our past differences, I cannot avoid thinking of his recent comment about the disparity between our IQs. I concede that he may be right about a difference of 250 points. If the scale goes up so far, I will accept a figure of 300 in my case. This would place Dr Dummkopf at 50, and considering that the norm is 100, that would make him a half-wit. This seems reasonable. He may have occasional synaptic flickers, but they are similar to the death throes of certain heavenly bodies, which usually shed a little light over a limited area. In case he fails to get the point, this is a compliment of sorts – goodness knows he could use one.
Dunderklap: The mindless mountebank is always offensive. However, as he has accorded me a little backhanded flattery, I will do the same for him. When he visited California a short time ago, I referred to him as the true San Andreas Fault. I now retract that remark, as it is clear that whatever may be produced by the geological feature concerned could not cause anything like so much damage as would result from the adoption of even the least maniacal of the jopperator’s demented ideas. I accept that he is a man of letters, the first ones that occur to me being d-o-p-e. Game, set and match, is it?
Jopp: Ah, all bitter and twisted, are we? I hardly need to defend myself against so feeble a foe, but the odd joppservation would not come amiss. It is strange to think that in his adolescence, the dunce of dunces had the makings of a physicist’s gofer, but he was deluded all along in considering himself a man of science. That was pure wishful thinking. When one considers the places where he is usually found by the media – I mean the precincts of exclusively female establishments – one cannot but regard him as an actual or a potential flasher. In fact I once sent him a dirty raincoat, but he didn’t get the message and never thanked me. I suspect that pipette is a word he associates with someone he might find in a dance hall. Frankly, I have lost patience with Dunderpate and any day now I shall drop-kick him into orbit.
Dunderklap: My self-appointed peer – surely no-one else could classify him as such – has an ego the size of all outdoors. It would save us all much trouble if he were to take on some mundane task. Just to protect everyone, I nominate him for the job of repointing the Great Wall of China. That would allow him to develop his crazy ideas without threat to the rest of us. He is bad enough with pencil and paper, so let us hope he never lays hands on a slide rule, let alone an electronic calculator.
Jopp: My less than learned friend – if I may corrupt the language of barristers – continues to disappoint us. He is a legend in his own mind. Having no taste for trading insults, I wonder why he abuses me so. Possibly the reason is his failure to match my feats. His first love was local astronomy. He should have stuck to that, as he has such a predilection for moonshine. Regarding his fatuous attacks on my work, I catch them like a ten-armed goalkeeper. By the way, Dumbcluck got his toy degree from one of those universities which bestow their accolades without requiring anything as inconvenient as study. I speak of Bachelors of Bunkum, Masters of Mendacity and Doctors of Dissimulation. A month’s national average income in these parts is about the going rate for the title of one’s choice.
Dunderklap: How sad that my antagonist cannot raise his game. As ever, his main handicap is lack of cerebral candlepower. I do not share his love of vilification, so with regard to our respective merits as scientists, I am content to let the public judge.
J: And so it shall, you imposter.
At this point, the war of words and the attempts at mediation by the much-harried Ruud Djestiurs became unintelligible. A further confrontation seems unlikely, though the above-mentioned Ms Transpond has offered her services, on the basis that female intervention may impart a certain ameliorative influence.
These are dark days for science.
* * *