“And as you can see from this graph here, I don’t really know how to use PowerPoint,” droned the speaker.  It was a valiant effort, to be fair.  For someone who definitely wasn’t tech savvy, the very fact that one axis went up and the other went across was the sign of a thoroughly decent attempt, and something to be applauded.  Truth be told, if he hadn’t drawn attention to the shoddiness of his bar chart nobody would’ve noticed anyway – most people’s eyes were firmly shut to protect them from the veritable smorgasbord of slide transitions.

To Robert, sitting in the audience with a can of Stella and a falcon on his arm, the whole thing was a total hoot.  He’d been far past drunk since the second talk of the day and was now sitting happily sozzled, taking in very little and haphazardly tossing morsels of bread into the air for Franz to catch in his beak.  Every now and then he would permit himself a roaring belly laugh, entirely at random and completely unrelated to whatever was showing on the board at the time.  At first the other conference attendees found this routine mildly entertaining, but once he’d guffawed at the statement that ‘50% of subjects with acute liver cirrhosis also experienced heart attacks or strokes’ the room rather turned against him.

When Professor Garfield took the stage for his presentation on ‘Kidney stones – I can’t get no satisfaction’, two stewards moved in for the forced removal.  Eight seconds later they were hastily retreating, covered in peck marks, talon scratches and henna tattoos.  “Let that be a lesson to you, fascist scum,” was a very unusual line for the professor to open with, but it certainly caught everyone’s attention.

As the presentation continued it soon became clear that it was really really boring.  A Mexican wave of yawns travelled around the room (which could have gone unnoticed if the participants hadn’t also stood up with grand panache).  No fewer than seventeen games of hangman were simultaneously taking place, as well as eight games of noughts-and-crosses, ten of battleships and eighty-five of Monopoly (Stoke-on-Trent edition).  Realising that a grand total of none of his ‘listeners’ were actually doing it, the Prof decided to make fart noises with his mouth until somebody noticed.  Four hours later, a research assistant raised their hand to ask a question.  Prof. Garfield stopped and motioned for her to speak up.  Unfortunately she interpreted his actions as an offensive gesture and reported him to the local ombudsman.  Robert collapsed in hysterics and sicked up some lager; Franz gratefully received it.

At this point, the events manager walked into the lecture theatre to check on how things were going and why no one had turned up for the coffee break or lunch.  Finding everything to his satisfaction he left and went to Barbados where he fell in love with a waitress, set up a school for the underprivileged, and found a lovely shell which looked shiny if you held it in just the right way.

All of a sudden, someone got Mayfair and Park Lane (you know, the ones round the back of the Port Vale stadium), and everything kicked off.  Laptops were smashed, chairs were ripped out of their fittings, and many bits of otherwise-clean paper were scribbled on.  Shirts were ripped, ties were peanutted, and one attendee had some feathers pulled out.  At the end of it all, sixty conference goers were taken away to hospital; everyone else went to prison, or Sainsbury’s – I can’t remember which.

The room was left empty; the smashed-up furniture, spilled blood and burning curtains the only indicators that anything had ever happened.  The events of that day were seldom to be mentioned by those who survived to tell the tale, but generally when the subject was raised there was one thing on which they all agreed – it was most definitely the best seminar series they had ever had the good fortune to attend.

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The man in the top hat and tails was obviously anxious but the police officer was unfazed.  Having endured the copper’s heavy questioning at length after being plucked from the wedding in the middle of his best man’s speech he was quite clearly champing at the bit to continue where he’d left off – right in the middle of an anecdote about the groom, a heron and four pounds of liquid explosives.  “Is that everything officer?  Can I get back now?”  The policeman gave him a slight nod and an origami gerbil.  “Yes sir, that’s everything – the formal service can resume.”

As the door closed behind the red-faced speech-writer to a huge swell of “Nick got nicked!  Nick got nicked!” the officer made his way to the next room at the conference centre, hoping that one of the inhabitants might be able to shed more light on the criminal enquiry he was unfortunately having to make.  Room 22 turned out to be hosting a meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the minister who answered the knock seemed unable to offer up much information that was not already known.  “Around quarter past 12 there was this huge bang – you couldn’t miss it.  Everybody in here heard it, that’s for sure.  I was saying to Judith – that’s my wife – that it sounded like a car had fallen off the roof, but Miriam – that’s my wife – was of the opinion that it was more like a roof had fallen onto a car.”  The officer reflected on this for a moment.  “So, your wife thought she heard falling masonry?”  The minister looked confused – “Who are we talking about here – Ruth?  Sarah?  Naomi?”  “Erm…  I think it was Miriam you said.”  “Oh, of course – I always get her confused with Rebecca – that’s my wife – and her sister Hagar.”  “Another wife?” the policeman inquired, his mind swimming.  The minister shot him a withering look.  “Don’t be disgusting – marrying my wife’s sister?!  What do you take me for?!”  Slightly abashed, the young constable scanned his notepad and his Nectar card before stating that he thought that was it as far as his enquiries were concerned.  “Yes sir, sorry to disturb you but these things have to be done.  Anyway, the Mormon service can resume.”

The Mormon thanked the policeman for his time and gave him a church leaflet, recommending he “bring his wives along some time”.  Wondering what his civil partner would have to say about this he made his way to the adjacent suite, Room 14, and tapped on the wood.  The door was opened by an Indian man in chefs’ whites.  “You will have to be quick I’m afraid – we’re right in the middle of a manic lunch hour.  We’ve had quite enough disruption already what with that huge metallic eagle crashing down the stairs earlier.”  “No, no, Sanjeev,” came a shout from behind the tandoor, “It was a great big terracotta nun jumping in the lift.”  “You are having a massive joke Hasif,” came a shout from within the tandoor, “It was a china badminton court doing the 100m hurdles.”  Fearing that this was one conversation unlikely to reel itself in the lawman backed out of the steam-filled room.  “It’s okay boys, I’ll leave you to it.”  “So, you are saying,” said Sanjeev, “that our korma service can resume.”  “Exactly that,” assented the officer, closing the door behind him and wiping away the sweat from his forehead with a man-sized tissue – 6 foot 2 and long in the leg.

The next few inquiries resulted in keeping a tenor away from his choral service, a medium from her paranormal service, a Stargate mechanic from his portal service and a bouncer from his shift (i.e. his doorman service).  With no further leads but plenty more speculated theories for the source of the earlier commotion (including a diabetic gorilla running out of shampoo, a rhododendron bush experiencing a lifetime’s growth in a nanosecond, and a morris dancer achieving reincarnation as a stegosaurus while hiding in a dustbin) the policeman made his way to the only remaining door – the final room for investigating on this level; Room 465C.  With a heavy heart, wary of what bizarre sights might meet his eyes this time, he reluctantly raised his fist and announced his entry with a rat-a-tat-tat.  With one hand still on the handle, he gazed inside – and what he saw caused his jaw to drop and his eyes to open wide…

It was a conference.  A decidedly standard, mundane conference.  Men in suits – ordinary suits – all around a great big table – a startlingly average table.  At one end a young businessman stood in front of a whiteboard chock full of diagrams – straightforward understandable diagrams – giving a talk about business things – very usual topics of discussion.

“Can we help you?” asked the presenter.  The policeman sank into a chair with an enormous smile – odd decor for a chair but the design brought a smile on his own face too.  “Believe you me,” he exuded with a relaxed sigh, “You’ve done quite enough for me already.  If there’s one thing I can tell you, it’s this…”