An illuminating tale
As Keats stepped from the bright sunlight of the city streets into the interior of the gentleman’s club he paused to let his eyes adjust to the gloom.
‘Ah, Mr Keats!’ said the receptionist from behind his desk, ‘Mr Chapman is expecting you in the library – top of the stairs on the third floor.’
‘Thank you very much Higgins’, replied the poet who, though an infrequent visitor to the club, needed no directions to find the library – invariably the quietest room in the building.
This morning was no exception. On entering, Keats noted that there were three people in a space which would have comfortably accommodated thirty. Chapman was seated in a leather armchair, evidently engrossed in the Times Literary Supplement. Keats sat down in an adjacent chair without disturbing his friend’s concentration, then coughed softly to attract his attention.
‘Ah, Keats! How long have you been there?’ asked a surprised Chapman.
‘Just a moment. I’m sorry to interrupt, but here’s that new sonnet of mine’ said Keats, taking a carefully folded sheet of paper from his jacket and laying it on the small table between them.
‘Capital!’ replied Chapman, ‘you know how much ...’ Chapman’s words trailed off as the light from the lamp beside his chair expired. ‘Good grief! Isn't that typical? I was reading turgid reviews by pretentious academics for an hour and perpetual light shone upon me, but no sooner was I presented with a piece of real literary merit than darkness descended.’
‘Ah, but you haven’t read it yet’ said Keats, with genuinely false modesty.
‘It’s a judgement founded on extensive experience, old boy’ answered Chapman, before calling in a louder voice: ‘I say, Professor Edwards, Major Smyth, could I have your assistance for a few moments?’
‘What appears to be the matter?’ asked a rotund and balding gentleman in his fifties whose face appeared from behind the Financial Times. In the farthest corner of the room an older white-haired member of the club left down the copy of Country Life he'd been leafing through and cupped a hand to his ear. ‘What’s that Chapman?’ he bellowed.
‘My reading lamp isn't working Major, I wonder could you both come over here for a moment?’
‘Lamp not working?’ repeated the Major quizzically as he crossed the floor. ‘I should expect it’s the bally bulb. They do that you know. Did I ever tell you about the time I was stationed in Trucial Oman ... ?’
‘I don’t see what you need us for’, interrupted the Professor,‘this isn’t one of those light bulb jokes is it?’
‘Hah!’ exclaimed the Major, ‘I’ll warrant it is – how many club members does it take to change a light bulb, what?’
‘Chapman, tell me you wouldn’t’ pleaded Keats.
‘Of course not Keats – you know me better than that! But it may take more than the four of us to resolve this difficulty. I’ll just summon a member of staff’ said Chapman as he pressed a bell on the library wall.
‘Some of them aren't bad though’ said the Professor. ‘For example, do any of you know how many philosophers it takes to change a light bulb?’
‘Philosophers!’, snorted the Major – never met one. How many?’
‘Hard to say actually – it all depends on what you mean by “change”’ answered the Professor.
‘Very droll I’m sure’, groaned Keats, ‘but all we need is a new bulb – come to think of it, I could just borrow one from a wall light ...’
‘Here’s one in your line then’ said the Major, turning to the Professor: ‘how many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?’
‘What do you mean “in my line” – I’m an economist – what are you implying?’ asked the Professor, clearly irate.
‘Eh, both very learned professions I'm sure’ interjected Keats. ‘How many econ ... I mean, how many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?’
‘Just one, but the bulb must really, really, want to change’ answered the Major, a grin of satisfaction spreading across his face.
‘Excuse me gentlemen, did somebody call?’ asked a liveried attendant from the library doorway.
‘A scotch and soda as you’re there, James’ ordered the Major before anyone else could respond.
‘Actually James, I rang’, said Chapman, throwing an irritated glance in the Major’s direction. ‘Would you kindly invite some of the members to step into the library?’
‘The members may not wish to be disturbed, sir. May I enquire why you desire their company?’
‘Of course, James. It’s perfectly simple. This reading lamp here has stopped working.’
A baffled expression flickered for an instant across the attendant’s face before his habitually inscrutable expression returned. ‘I’ll fit a new bulb directly sir, but I don’t think the matter requires the attention of the members.’
‘A new bulb? Total waste of good money! Our subscriptions are high enough as it is. Just bring up a dozen members’ ordered Chapman in a peremptory tone.
‘Chapman, for heaven’s sake’, exclaimed Keats, ‘what on earth do you want with such a crowd of people?’
‘Surely Keats’, replied the classicist wearily, ‘you must have heard before now that many hands make light work?’