The web pages of Stephen Penney

UL Guest Speech, 2002

I've always thought that the guest speaker has a difficult job at a dinner. They can never be quite sure what sort of audience they're going to get. So when I was asked to speak at this dinner, I thought I'd better seek some advice. I spoke to some people that have attended this dinner before to find out how guest speakers had got on in the past. The results were not encouraging. In fact, I was even given a list of people I should tell to shut up right at the start of the speech before the heckling commenced, but I seem to have lost it. I also found out it was not only insults that were often thrown - large vegetables had been known to have been projected at speakers past. Well obviously I hoped to avoid this, so I sought advice about what the subject matter could be. The best advice I got, albeit completely unhelpful was "It doesn't matter Percy, just make it good". I tried to find out what guest speakers had talked about in the past, but it seemed no one could remember. This, I decided, worked in my favour, as whatever I talked about would soon be forgotten about by those present.

One Person's advice was simply "Take the piss out of Oliver Cross". I thought that this might be rather unfair, as I'd never met the chap. I was instructed to draw attention to his speech at this dinner. This speech was recited to me, but as it was only two sentences long it wasn't of much use.

Someone told me that the details of previous dinner could be found on the society's web page, but report that water pistols had been used in the past as aids to heckling provided no comfort at all. I sat reading the web page late one night after probably a few too many drinks and found that a couple of things stood out.

From the secretary's report from last year I read:
"This year Roger Booth married Cathy Ford-Hutchinson and David Sparling".
Interesting I thought, before realising the sentence finished on the next line with "married Gill Palmer".

I'm glad to see people take their jobs as seriously as they should: from the Auditor's report from last year: "I am satisfied that these accounts are a true and fair representation of the position as at 31 March 2000. (They were rubbish but I've redone then)".

Giving a speech can be a nerve racking experience - in fact I remember when I gave my first speech I thought it drew a number of parallels with something else that people are often nervous about:
- You're worried that your performance isn't going to be up to scratch.
- You're worried that you'll be compared to other people.
- You're worried that you might have a problem with the length.
- Alcohol can certainly impair performance so you have to be careful there.
- You're worried that it might just all be over too soon.
That's right - I thought it was a similar experience to ringing your first peal.

I thought that I’d turn yet again to the web and use a site called “googlism”. In case you haven’t heard of it, Googlism looks around the web and tells you all that it knows about a subject. Its results are often inaccurate, and worst somewhat disturbing.

I thought I’d ask it what it though about public speaking. It returned the following:

Public Speaking is no joke. It is a little intimidating and a painful experience.

Well that didn’t help at all, so I asked it what it thought about some other subjects:

Apparently “bellringing“ is nearly as old as civilisation, but isn’t entirely unique. I’m not entirely sure what it meant by that.

So what about some people in the society, does it know anything about them?

Glint is not linear in wavelength.
Roger Bailey is under a gag order, but is now back after successful surgery.
Mark Bennett is a man with too much time on his hands.

So what did it think about me?
The first few results were somewhat flattering:

Percy is a rather likeably guy.
He is chiefly known as a “philosophical novelist”.
Percy is indeed a heroic saint.

It went rather downhill from there:

Percy is their family dog
Percy is so curious that he hides in the dark one night waiting to see what happens to the bag (no idea what that’s all about.
Percy is sitting on the table studiously ignoring a piece of carrot we gave him.
Percy ostracised by his peers because he is both fat and effeminate.
Percy is doomed to die in the autumn.

So what about the society? Apparently:

The UL is ‘flexing’ its standards.
The UL is the latest to succumb to semiconductor charms.
The UL is concerned about the proximity of screw to existing wires.
One site returned:
The UL is a pretty damn awesome band.

What ever you think of it, it is my privilege to propose a toast to the society this evening, so if you’d raise your glasses: The society.