IN GOOD STANDING • by Paul Dicken

The Bursar’s logic was simple. If the Aleph Club didn’t actually exist, then it would be eligible for all manner of tax-exemptions. The trick of course was convincing the local council, which had always been notoriously narrow-minded when it came to such metaphysical issues. Nevertheless, there was undoubtedly a form for that sort of thing; and at the end of the day it would just be a matter of filling out the necessary paperwork.

The Club President looked rather excited. He asked whether the non-existence of the Aleph Club would also help with its outstanding planning application. The Bursar said that it would. Ambrose looked even more excited. He asked whether the non-existence of the Aleph Club had any ontological implications for his bar tab. The Bursar said that it would not.

“I sometimes worry that I don’t actually exist,” said the Club Secretary. “But then I wonder who would be worrying about my existence if I wasn’t there to do it myself?”

“The Bursar, apparently,” said the Treasurer.

“Oh yes, I suppose that makes sense.”

“But how do we convince those damned bean-counters that we don’t exist?” asked the Major, who was forever spoiling things with awkward questions like that.

“Statistics,” replied the Bursar. But the threat of a little technical mumbo-jumbo failed to cow the rest of the Committee into submission, and so he sighed, and slowly extracted a loose-leaf folio of hand-written papers from his leather folder.


The Bursar explained that he had taken the liberty of employing a professional writer. This naturally provoked a barrage of spluttering and harrumphing, and for a moment the Chair of the Hanging Committee turned a ghastly shade of white. Ambrose was swiftly dispatched to furnish everyone with a stiff drink, which he was careful to charge to someone else.

The Bursar reassured the room that he did not ordinarily associate with such questionable individuals. Nevertheless, he had required the production of some very specific works of fiction.

“These are all short stories about a Gentleman’s Club, one very much like our own,” he said, indicating the folio of hand-written papers. “And in each of them, they meet to discuss how to convince the local council that they do not exist. For tax purposes, obviously.”

“Sounds riveting.”

“And you paid for this?”

“They are admittedly not very good stories,” the Bursar conceded. “The writing is rather lazy. Most of the characters do not even have names, let alone any backstory or emotional depth. Nevertheless, they do serve our purpose. For as you will see, all the characters in these tales are thoroughly convinced of their own existence. And they’re wrong!

The Bursar paused to allow the philosophical implications of this minor narrative contrivance to sink in. “So tell me this, gentleman,” he resumed. “If all of these fictional Club Secretaries and fictional Club Presidents can be so mistaken about their own existence — how can we be so sure about ours?”

There was silence in the room, punctuated with the occasional nervous cough.

“Well, I don’t know about the rest of you chaps,” said the Major at last. “But I’m pretty damned sure that I’m not some second-rate literary creation.”

At that, the Bursar immediately began flicking through his folio, and then flung it down on the table with a flourish. “That’s exactly what the fictional Major says!” he said, pointing to the text triumphantly.

There were audible gasps throughout the room. The Major’s eyebrows lifted so high his monocle popped out. The Club Secretary said that he wasn’t feeling very well, but then concluded that was exactly what a fictional Club Secretary would say, so it probably didn’t matter.


It was agreed that the Bursar’s plan was so ingenious that any other Gentleman’s Club finding itself in a similar position would inevitably hit upon the same strategy. And as the British Empire would obviously last forever, the number of Gentleman’s Clubs could only continue to increase. It therefore stood to reason that the number of fictional Gentleman’s Clubs would eventually far outstrip the number of real Gentleman’s Clubs.

“And at that point,” said the Bursar, “it is statistically more likely that any particular Gentleman’s Club contemplating their existence will in fact be a work of fiction, and therefore mistaken.” He looked around the room meaningfully. “Which means that our Gentleman’s Club is — statistically speaking — also likely to be a work of fiction, and therefore probably does not actually exist. And thus is eligible for all manner of tax-exemptions,” he added.

The Club Secretary asked whether he could still be a member in good standing if he didn’t exist, and that maybe he needed to join a fictional Aleph Club instead? Someone else asked where exactly they were going to store all these short stories proving that the Aleph Club didn’t exist, and Ambrose was volunteered to form a Working Group on the matter. Ambrose replied that the Working Group already didn’t exist, and the Club President congratulated him on his foresight.


In the end however there was a problem with the paperwork.

“This all looks in order,” said the nice man at the local council, handing the Bursar back his bundle of short stories. But he then went on to explain that if the Aleph Club was indeed nothing more than a work of fiction — as seemed statistically most likely — then it followed that whatever documents it produced to that effect would themselves be nothing more than a work of fiction. “And we can hardly go around accepting fictional documents now, can we?” One got the distinct impression from his tone that he had had this conversation countless times before with countless other Bursars in countless other stories.

Needless to say, the Aleph Club also had its planning permission refused; but they built it anyway without telling anyone, and this seemed to keep everybody happy.

Paul Dicken is a writer based in rural England.

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