A Formula of Thoughts

“A stitch in time saves nine is a formula one. A bad handyman is a handyman without his own tools is a formula two. Elephants never remember the same thing twice is a formula three. Every person has their own pecking order of these formulae, all different, some subconscious, created from a single over-arching formula that encompasses all such sub-formulae – but sometimes a sub-formula comes out into the open in the form of a ‘formula one’ proverb or saying like a stitch in time saves nine. This process is in many ways a template for how language itself is learnt and then used, i.e. a deep transformational structure followed by a looser structure that in turn becomes a public expression quite different from the deep structure that generated it….”

The speaker paused to pick up a glass of water from the table where his notes for his lecture were piled worryingly high. Judging by the depth of the remaining pages left unturned, he must have effectively only just started and Susan fidgeted in her seat, while rolling her eyes at her boy friend sitting next to her. The title of the lecture – THE SUB-FORMULAE OF AESTHETICS – should have warned them that it would be tough going, but you needed to attend at least 80% of lectures – unless you could obtain a Doctor’s certificate to justify a lower %.

A bad lecture heard is a good lecture spent. Susan laughed to herself as these words entered her mind unbidden. Thoughts thought were generally sillier than thoughts expressed. More words again invaded her mind as she tried to struggle against having more unbidden thoughts and, consequently, she turned her attention back to the lecturer who had already resumed his speech after a sip of water. She had thus missed some of his words – or they had avoided her flypaper thoughts to which they should have stuck.

“…and so we reach the point of defining the single over-arching formula from which all our thoughts and sayings derive…”

At that point the lecture hall’s fire alarm fluttered into full brazen alert from a chirruping start that had now been happening for what seemed longer than it actually was. On most occasions that this had happened in the past, it had been a drill … But suddenly smoke was rising from the lecturer’s pile of notes, upon which he threw the remains of the water in his glass. A no smoking policy in all parts of the University did not apply to his own study-office, it would seem, where the smouldering dog-end had first hidden itself among his papers just at the point where he had written: “A trigger-happy alarm is better than no alarm at all.”

And the students – Susan and her boy friend included – scuttled towards all possible exit points in the hall with no due attention to the official fire exits. A minor fire is a major one in the making, she thought, as she and her boy friend and seven others climbed over a ‘no exit’ barrier into the Vice Chancellor’s private sunken garden.

They were never seen again, having become a formula of thoughts that flowers often embraced. A chain of nine daisies joined together by imaginary stitches.

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