} Well, you see, it all started when I was summoned by the Oracle. The
} summons took the usual form, that is, one of the senior priests - Otis,
} in this instance - came and grabbed me by the ear and dragged me to the
} Oracular Chamber, struggling and protesting. He propelled me into said
} Chamber with a well-placed boot on the seat of the pants. I sometimes
} think that the Oracle believes my resulting entrance - bursting in and
} falling on my hands and knees - is some sort of deliberate devotional
} exercise on my part, which shows you how much *he* knows.
} Yes, yes, I'm getting to the point. What happened next on this occasion
} was that the Oracle held up a scrap of paper and asked, "Zadoc, what
} the hell is this?"
} Now you have to be very careful when the Oracle asks something like
} "Zadoc, what the hell is this?" because, more often than not, the
} question has some hidden meaning. But I couldn't divine what that might
} be, so I went for the direct approach and hoped for the best. "Lord, it
} looks like a piece of paper."
} "Is that what it is?" asked the Oracle, adopting his usual tone of
} ponderous sarcasm which is, if you want my opinion, unbecoming of a
} supreme being. "Well I never! Thank you for clearing that up for me,
} Zadoc. I'm so glad I summoned you clear across the temple and dragged
} you away from whatever important loafing you were getting on with so
} you could supply me with that piece of intelligence."
} "Will that be all, Master?" I asked hopefully.
} "Idiot!" he bellowed. "Of course it's a piece of paper! But what is its
} It was as I feared: he was in one of his ah-Grasshopper-one-hand-
} clapping sort of moods. I prevaricated. "Ah well, what is the
} significance of any item of everyday stationery in the grand scheme of
} things, after all? Do Post-it notes really matter? Do paperclips? And
} what is one to read into those balls of rubber bands all wrapped around
} each other that you so often find in the bottom drawers of other
} people's desks? Could it be that..."
} "Shut up, shut up, shut UP!" cried the Oracle. "For bog's sake, Zadoc,
} all I want to know is, did you slip this piece of paper under my door
} this morning?"
} Enlightenment dawned. "Oh, *that* piece of paper!"
} "Yes, *that* piece of paper! The one with the question about using
} email and the Internet. Well, did you?"
} "Yes, Master."
} The Oracle heaved a sigh and ran his hand across his brow. "Thank
} goodness we got that sorted out. Who's it from?"
} I was puzzled by this sudden obtuse question. "Why, from me, Master."
} "THE QUESTION!" he screamed, and buried his head in his hands. Perhaps
} he had a headache. That would explain why he was so particularly tetchy
} "Oh, ah. From a supplicant. He asked me to give it to you."
} "Which supplicant?"
} "I don't know. They all look the same to me."
} "So how would you like me to answer?"
} "Well, far be it from a humble worm of a priest like me to give you
} tips on answering questions, but I would have thought something along
} the lines of..."
} "No, merde-for-brains! I don't want to know what my answer should be, I
} want to know how I'm going to answer!"
} Damn, he'd gone cosmic on me again. I did my best. "The way I see it,
} Master, is that somewhere in that gigantic intellect of yours there is
} a little bundle of neurones whose sole purpose in life is to recognise
} strings of words that form a question. Now these neurones must be
} linked to a colossal array of..."
} My discourse was interrupted by a paperweight hitting me on the
} forehead. When I recovered consciousness, I saw that the Oracle had
} regained some of his composure. Random acts of violence often have that
} effect on him.
} "How do I normally transmit my wisdom to supplicants, Zadoc?" he asked
} equably, changing the subject.
} "By email?" I ventured.
} "Very good! Go to the top of the class. But this supplicant doesn't
} know how to use email, does he? He tells us so. So how do I communicate
} with him?"
} "Snailmail," I said with more confidence. These at least were questions
} I could get a handle on: simple and to the point.
} "So you made a note of the supplicant's address, did you?" he asked
} "Oh." I realised it had all just been another one of his traps designed
} to make me look foolish. It's so unfair! My mother will tell you how
} bright I really am.
} "Didn't think so," said the Oracle. "So here's what I've done. While
} you were lying there admiring the ceiling, I wrote my answer on the
} back of this self-same slip of paper. You may now deliver it to the
} supplicant personally."
} "How should I do that?"
} He switched back to ponderous sarcasm mode. "Well, far be it from me to
} give a humble worm of a priest like you tips on delivering messages,
} but I would have thought something along the lines of putting the piece
} of paper in one hand, opening the door with the other and then..."
} "No, Master," I cried, my agitation causing me to forget myself to the
} extent of interrupting him in mid-rant. "I meant, how do I find this
} "That's your problem," said the Oracle mercilessly. "If it were me, I'd
} start next door. Cheer up, Zadoc - there can't be much more than 6
} billion people in the world who don't know how to use email. It has to
} be one of them."
} So anyway, the upshot is, I'm here to ask... Oh, it wasn't you, eh? No,
} I didn't really expect it would be. You wouldn't happen to know whether
} your neighbors are Net-savvy, would you? Well, thank you very much for
} your time.
} Fifteen down, 6,049,401,806 to go.