My cousin Bartholomew “the Colonel” Swallow has always been my hero, and today I am especially proud because the rest of the country is to join in singing his praises.
Bart got his nickname working at a fried chicken restaurant in high school, but clung to it later in life when it served his efforts overcome a great disability and build a lasting national institution, one that has improved the lives of thousands of disadvantaged people across the country.
He was the founder and first President of the world renowned Castorian National Institute for the Bland (C-N-I-Bla).
For most people the complete loss of one of the senses would be devastating; some would see it as the defining event of their lives. But for Bart, it was merely a setback and another obstacle doomed to fall in the face of his iron will and commitment to live life to the fullest.
He lost his sense of humour during the second Good War while working as a government communications officer at the Castorian National Defense headquarters.
Although Bart had studied Classical Alliterations at the Royal Metaphor College and planned for a career in creative writing, he decided to join government service immediately upon graduation. He was attracted to the job by duty to the nation and supplemental dental insurance.
Then one day - while trying to dislodge a piece of chicken from his teeth and preparing text for a movie poster-style government advertisement promoting “Shock and Awe,” he was hit directly on the forehead. Looking at the light sabres, smoke, and flashy colours on the poster, he was struck for the first time by the realization that the strategy of bombing in heavily populated areas would not mean a violence-free victory for the forces of good, but rather massive civilian casualties and the destruction of essential water and health system infrastructures.
"My colleagues had warned me to never stare directly into the spin," my cousin told me years later. "But I was so preoccupied by the chicken fragments - and then, suddenly, it was too late."
Bart went completely bland within an instant. Although he had seen any images of the death and destruction associated with the War on television and in the Department's background documents, he always found it abstract and easy to ignore. Now, he could not shake the realization, once it had hit him, that this stuff was, in fact, part of war.
The blow to his temple that caused immediate blandness meant a complete loss of his ability to function within the context of irony. He was placed on long term disability and relieved of his Communication Officer duties.
For many, this would have spelled the beginning of a life of isolation and withdrawal. But Bartholomew Swallow would not accept that prognosis and resolved to resume his career as a strategic spin doctor and possibly, one day, even as a writer in the imaginative arts.
He designed his own personal program of rehabilitation creating a library of books of humour and humour writing and pioneered their conversion into audio format. For those who have lost the sense of humour completely and are “stone bland” as they say, the concept of humour is very difficult to rebuild.
So, my cousin developed his own unique system of coupling his humour reading with the funny stimulus of his other senses.
"At first, I chewed bubble gum and drank bubbling beverages while reading humour to make the associations," he explained. "Then, when my claim for medical expense was approved, a nurse therapist would tickle me as I studied humorous material."
Bart’s library and his humour simulation techniques were eventually shared with other bland and partially bland Castorians, and this network formed the core of what is now the Castorian National Institute for the Bland.
The C-N-I-Bla has chapters in mortgage insurance bureaus across the country as well as at the head office of the Department of the Treasury where Bart works today as the Senior Director in charge of redefining accountability and the review of policies affected by new policies.
Until today, he has been largely unheralded outside of bland circles, but this afternoon Bartholomew - the Colonel - Swallow is being honoured for this work as well as his role in creating the C-N-I-Bla with the Castorian National Medal for Services to the Bland.
The award was created to honour one of our former Prime Ministers.
It is a great day, but unfortunately, many of the attendees will not be able to appreciate the humour in it.