Extracts from the Club Diary

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August 16th, 1889

Nobody likes to admit to an addiction; especially when the substance abused is as apparently innoccuous, yet as subtly damaging as the subject of this diary. It reflects a lack of foresight on the part of the participant, a naivete if you will, in not predicting the inevitable social humiliation, concordant upon the revelation that they lack sufficient moral probity to avoid the pitfalls of temptation. It is my hope that, having confessed privately to one-another that we share this particular craving, and having incorporated our club with all due secrecy and pomp, we may now indulge in our infatuation. Morever, it is my hope that we may do so secure in the knowledge that no murmur of our Habit may reach the world at large -- or worse, the Press.

It being the case that our Club is a secret body, admittance to the membership of which is by invitation only -- and then to the most close-lipped and trustworthy of fellows -- I feel it incumbent upon me to start a journal of our activities. Accordingly, I declare this Club Diary to be open. The duty of maintaining it falls upon the shoulders of the chairman of the executive; therefore, in my capacity as co-founder of the society, I shall maintain it until the time comes to hand over our records to my successor.

I feel that it is necessary to describe the foundation of our society in some detail, in the interests of posterity. Clubs are worthless without traditions; consequently, the sooner our traditions are codified the more secure we shall be. It is unquestionably true to say that our addiction is an overwhelming pride and passion that is most exclusive in its intensity. It is also true to say that virtually none of the countless horde who indulge in the heavenly beverage on any given day feel any inkling of the true importance which we ascribe to the decoction, or the passion with which we pursue it. That is not to say that we are insane; merely, posessed ... beings of a great innate sensitivity, capable of perceiving the delicacy of flavour, the stimulation of the senses, to an exquisite degree forbidden to the lumpen mass of humanity. Quite why this might be so eludes me; indeed, the determination of this cause is the very raison d'être of the Club, and of the select few who are capable of perceiving its importance. We are truly a breed apart, isolated and obsessive. Indeed, we are so rare a type that had two of us not met quite by accident one day, it is possible that this club should never have come into existence.

I had known for some years that I was unusual in my predilection for the object of addiction; long before I met Smith-Carrington I learned to conceal my desires in the presence of those who might greet them with scepticism or laughter. To most people of any worth, the idea of squandering a small fortune on the import of such a substance would appear imprudent at best, or even sinful. To actually contemplate going into trade to support the habit would be seen as the mark of a lunatic. Luckily my modest inheritance sufficed to enable me to purchase a warehouse, and by the most circuitous of routes I established a connection with a certain shop-merchant who harboured ambitions above his station; thus I was able to maintain my addiction without becoming the laughing-stock of society. There is nothing like an overriding passion in life to teach one the true value of commodities; my merchant profited greatly, and I, for my part, did not do badly. Thus I was able to make my addiction self-financing; and even to expand my activities, researching new sources of supply and living in a manner commensurate with my social status.

I first met Smith-Carrington at one of Mr Oscar Wilde's dinners. As was his habit, that notorious socialite had invited as eclectic an assortment of guests as he considered conducive to an elevated but stimulating evening. On this occasion his list consisted of a number of people of high birth but questionable morals, and a smattering of interesting but shady types whom he trusted to enliven the proceedings. Actors, actresses, impresarios, inventors, explorers and prestidigitators were all laid out on display for their lord's and ladyship's edification. I understand that I was in the category of those who were to be entertained, by virtue of my birth if nothing else: Smith-Carrington may have been on the converse side, but in such cases it is sometimes difficult to tell. In any event, I found myself sitting opposite him at the dining table. I had read of Smith-Carrington's exploits in the wild and untamed jungles of the Congo, but had passed them by; when I enquired after them politely that gentleman regarded me rather mournfully. "I searched, but alas the object of my search was not to be found," he said. "Two years in the foetid jungle, pygmy headhunters and snakes and mountains as steep as Eiffel's Tower to be climbed every day; yet it was all in vain!"

"Oh dear," I said, as the servants wheeled in the coffee. "You were searching for a medicinal compound of some description, were you not? The curators at Kew --"

I stopped, for my nostrils were momentarily occupied with the aroma of roasted beans. I sniffed surreptitiously, hoping nobody would notice; luckily Smith-Carrington's attention was directed elsewhere, and my immediate neighbours were chattering contentedly to persons invisible from my perspective. I inhaled deeply and closed my eyes.

It was a cheap blend. Perhaps it had been imported from Arabia, but the cherries had been heated before they were pulped, and the roasters had been lazy. Indeed, the very beans had been roasted at least two days ago. Yet for the sake of propriety I must drink this evil brew! I shuddered slightly and tried to compose myself. I shall have to have words with Mr Wilde's butler, I thought. Then I opened my eyes again and looked at Smith-Carrington. He looked pained.

"My dear fellow," I said, "is anything the matter?"

"Nothing of any consequence," he mumbled through his moustache. Soto voce: "if only I had found it!"

This was most intiguing. I was left no alternative but to be blunt: "pardon my ignorance, but pray enlighten me: just what precisely were you looking for?" I enquired.

Smith-Carrington looked at me for a long time, as if deciding whether I was worthy of his especial confidence. Finally he made his mind up and spoke: "it is not so much a thing as a process," he said quietly. "The diaries of Pastor Moelitz of Dusseldorf -- who as you may know was martyred by head-hunters nine years ago -- were subsequently recovered by the intrepid Major London. They contained a reference to what he called the Drink of the Gods. It is known that certain related species of coffea canephora exist in the uncharted wilderness which has not yet come fully under the dominion of the Empire. They are believed to be of unusual potency and quality of taste. Meanwhile, it is also said that the headhunters and savages have a secret process by which they extract the most heavenly --"

He was interrupted by the imposition of a china cup before him, into which a servitor poured a generous serving of such slop as I would not allow to pass my lips, had I but the choice. A similar vessel appeared before me: I sniffed again, apalled. Smith-Carrington for his part, wore an expression of mute resignation. Our eyes met. "You have a greater than average understanding of the bean," I whispered. I snapped my fingers for a servant, passed the woman my card: "pray pass this to the gentleman opposite me," I instructed her, my heart pounding most unpleasantly. For it was my business card that I had handed out; if my estimate of Smith-Carrington's character was incorrect, then I should be ruined. However, as I surmised from the set of his shoulders as he drank the vile brew out of politeness toward our host, my guess was right.

A chap who would willingly spend two years in deepest Africa searching for the ultimate cup of coffee, yet who would uncomplainingly partake of the vile brew we were served that night, in the boudoir of the most notorious libertine and socialite of the age; such a man was, quite unmistakably, a fellow spirit. Like me, he was unmistakably trapped in the grip of the most potent addiction of our modern age. And, from the moment I discovered that I was not alone, the subsequent formation of our Club became inevitable.

January 7th, 1890

In its first six months, our club has prospered. There are now six of us: myself, Smith-Carrington, the Marquis of Brentford (who is second son of Lord Sandleford), an American entrepreneur called Joyce, Chapman Frazer (who is chief engineer of the London and District Railway Company), and Boddington, my shop-keeper.

Perhaps the latter requires some explanation. This club of ours is astonishingly eclectic, collecting fellows of character regardless of their birth or station in life: the one requirement is that their passions be governed by the pursuit of the sublime beverage. Our membership, indeed our very existence, is a closely-guarded secret; names are put forward by our existing fellowship, and must be unanimously approved. Early on, it became apparent that there were advantages to be had in allowing foreigners, like the American Joyce, to join: to encompass such worthies as Boddington in our ranks was but another step, although it was not taken without some soul-searching. Still, if we do not encompass as members those worthies of the artisan class who are most skilled at making the apparatus that we require, how on earth are we to proceed with total secrecy? Thus, Boddington is not merely a hireling but a member; and although this brings with it certain problems of a social nature, they are not altogether insoluble.

Now, to describe our business. We meet every week, in a room above the coffee shop in Greek Street, Soho. The room has been furnished to our taste, and is artfully concealed from the street; to reach it, one must enter the shop, proceed through to the stock-room, and pull down a trapdoor behind which lurks a cunning extensible stair. The stairwell is lined with cupboards, within which we keep our 'special' supplies; the brew of which is not now, or ever, for sale to the hoi polloi.

Our room was once an attic: now it is a spacious club, lit by the new electric lamps, and equipped with all the apparatus necessary to our study. There are beaten copper jugs of Ottoman manufacture; a frightening steamer of Italian design that roars and foams; numerous beakers and grinders and roasters of all descriptions; and a cooking range upon which to heat the brew. There is another attic, which is not yet furnished; Chapman Frazer proposes to convert it into a workshop, the better to serve as the laboratory of our craving. He also proposes that our priority for this year should be to acquire as a member an apothecary or pharmacognocist. Frazer is nothing if not organised.

These resolutions were passed unopposed at our first annual meeting:

Firstlythat membership of the club should be contingent solely upon acceptance by all the existing members; that membership should in the first instance be limited to thirty souls; and that membership, once granted, should be for life.

Secondlythat it is the purpose of the club to identify and determine the root cause of our addiction, with the view of equipping us to control it. In the meantime, a secondary purpose is to research the most efficient possible way of satisfying our craving.

Thirdlythat to these ends each member should donate at minimum two hundredths of their worth to the club. That a hardship fund should be established such that, in the event of indigency, a member stricken by circumstances might be allowed to make use of club facilities without fee until such time as their fortunes recover.

Fourthlythat this being a gentleman's club, no women should be admitted.

Fifthlythat as a club established within the realm of Her Majesty's dominion, no treason or like-minded abominations should be countenanced under the auspices of this club; and that members of the club, being also Citizens of the Empire, should at all times bear in mind their patriotic duty.

Sixthlythat the club should remain secret under all circumstances, and that the event of its public exposure should be sufficient cause for it to be summarily wound up.

God save Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and all those who live under her!

August 16th, 1910

How time flies! It is with the greatest gratification imaginable that I recall that our club has now survived for more than two decades, and has now reached its majority. Perhaps this is a suitable point at which to recall our grand history; the childhood of our endeavour, so to speak.

We now have fully thirty members, as directed by our charter. Since our foundation, three have died and one has been committed to an asylum; thankfully, none have had cause to make use of the hardship fund. Our membership is predominantly based in London, although Joyce remains staunchly committed to us; perhaps the prosperity of his shipping enterprise in New York has something to do with his enthusiasm, for he makes a point of visiting at least twice a year.

The club is still above the shop, but the back room has now been converted into a combination warehouse and laboratory by Chapman Frazer. Rodworthy of the Botanical Gardens at Kew, and latterly the incumbent of the Chair of Pharmacognosy at the School of Pharmacy in Brunswick Square, has devoted part of his time to a cataloguing of our obsession; he is a grand fellow, and has contributed more to our understanding of the botanical origins of our drug than anyone else save, perhaps, Smith-Carrington.

For his part, Smith-Carrington was instrumental in obtaining for us a supply of the astonishing Wolf Coffee of Java on his expedition of 1893; this decoction is prepared by the passage of the beans through the gut of the rare Javanese cherry-eating wolf. The acids and other perfusions of the wolf remove the cherry and treat the bean itself to a most strange fermentation, following which the raw ejecta may be obtained from the spoor of the animal. The resultant bean, once cleansed, has a most astonishing and subtle flavour, quite unlike that of the same beans prepared by the traditional method of sun-drying the cherries. Sir Bosworth Hughes of the Royal Society is currently working to isolate the responsible reagents from the gut of the cherry-eating wolf; it is his hope that one day we shall be able to drink Wolf Coffee without the need for the lupine intermediary, so to speak. This is a matter of some importance to those of delicate sensibilities.

Smith-Carrington's second expedition of 1895, in search of the legendary Cannibal Coffee of Borneo, was not a success. However his personal effects were recovered by his bearers and his pith helmet and left femur occupy pride of place in our trophy cabinet. We shall remember him fondly.

Chapman Frazer became intrigued by the potential of the Cappucino Machine introduced by the Marquis, and embarked upon a plan to construct a new High Pressure Percolating Engine. As an operator of steam locomotives, I am sure he knows precisely what he is doing in this respect; nevertheless, I humbly requested him to conduct his initial experiments away from the club premises, lest the apparatus should explode. This proved to be a prescient request.

I am not the most mechanically-minded of men, but a short description should suffice. The Engine resembles a small locomotive, the wheels of which are removed; there is an apparatus by which they can be allowed to grind beans in bulk. The Engine, for its part, is intended to percolate coffee under pressure: grounds are dropped into the cylinders by means of a cunning valve that opens on the backstroke of the piston, and the live steam emitted from the cylinder head is condensed and poured into a cup. It produces a brew of most remarkable potency, but it is somewhat sooty in taste; and after five cups the piston becomes mired, so the Engine must be stripped down.

Frazer's collaborator, the Scottish physicist Macintyre, maintains that Radium is the answer.

Finally, there is the matter of Suffrage. The Marquis' daughter Camilla is, like her parent, an afficionado of the heavenly brew; she has pursued her addiction as far as any of us, to the extent of having purchased a plantation in Jamaica. More gravely, she has discovered the existence of our Club and last year attempted to inveigle her way into our premises: this caused a scene of considerable anguish and recrimination. I should like it to be recorded that I am a great supporter of women, as my wife and daughters will testify; I should like nothing better than to be remembered as a benefactor of the fair sex: but I must say that enough is enough. Whether or not those demented harridans obtain the satisfaction of their unreasonable demands for suffrage, we shall have no women in this club. This is a high-minded institution dedicated to the pursuit of the sublime beverage; likely as not, were we to admit women they would introduce embroidery, or worse still, insist on drinking tea.

December 1st, 1917

Sad news. Stansbrook Taylor, our founder and Chairman, passed away in his sleep last night, aged sixty-eight. He will be remembered for as long as the Club continues to exist, as a gentleman and an afficionado of the old school. We owe him a great debt of gratitude for the establishment of this institution, whatever opinions we might hold in respect of his more extreme views.

For my part, as newly admitted member and, to my surprise, Club Secretary (the majority of the membership being away at the Front, regardless of their age), I will attempt to discharge my duties will all possible grace and efficiency, to maintain the society during these harrowing times, and to uphold the traditions of the Club in all ways -- save one.


Lady Camilla Sandleford

Club Secretary

January 19th, 1919

The War is over, and Our Boys are coming home. It has been a trying time; in the last six months, a dastardly Zeppelin captain discharged his bombs over Soho, and the club windows were shattered by the blast. No less than six members gave their lives for King and Country during the course of the war. Many other events transpired, so that the Club is changed almost beyond recognition. Perhaps it is a mercy that Stansbrook Taylor and Horace Smith-Carrington are not alive to observe it today. Although their dream continues, it has taken on the strangest of forms.

First, permit me to take stock of the state of the Club. The original premises are still standing, and are now owned outright by the Club, as is the shop below. The retail establishment is managed by Boddington and Sons Limited as one of their own. Boddington is remarkably hale and hearty in his old age, and his eldest son appears likely to follow him into the Club, which would be no bad thing. The finances of the Club are in excellent fettle, thanks to my father and to Stansbrook Taylor, who included the Club as a beneficiary in his will.

And now to our activities. The Chemical Committee continued to work throughout the War, albeit at a slow pace. Their activities focus at present upon the pressing need to determine what makes the difference between a merely passable and a superb brew. This work was hampered until recently by U-boat activity, but looks set to proceed at a gallop in the near future.

The Botanical Committee, under Professor Rodworthy and the Albanian, Kotcha, is conducting a definitive catalogue of all the plants of the family rubiacea, among whose ranks the sources of the divine bean are grouped. It is their profound hope that cross-breeding of plants may be employed to improve the brew.

The Engineering Committee continues to research improved methods of titrating the ground beans and expressing their essential ingredients in palatable form. The High Pressure Percolating Engine developed by Frazer was succeeded by a series of tests involving Diesel Engines; this research was funded by the Admiralty for a period between 1914 and 1916, during which the goal was to investigate the potential of unusual fuels for the propulsion of Destroyers.

The Committee is currently investigating autoclaves and very high-pressure steam generators as a route to the extraction of a better brew. However, there appears to be a fundamental limit imposed by pressures greater than two thousand pounds per square inch; at this point the coffee grounds adhere to one another. The result can be a nasty steam explosion, as Frazer discovered to his cost. Macintyre, for his part, is working with Sir Ernest Rutherford. He still maintains that Radium is the answer.

And now it is my sad duty to record the effects the war has had upon our ranks.

Marshall Joyce passed away three years ago, a victim of the U-boat attack on the liner Lusitania. His son, Marshall Jr., chose not to follow him into our ranks once he was appraised of the nature of our pursuit.

It is with regret that I note the death of Lieutenant William Stephenson. William was a gallant gentleman, and we shall all remember him with regret. He gave his life for Club and Country; the Hun shot him as a spy in 1918, having caught him infiltrating General Ludendorff's kitchen disguised as a maid. His objective was to determine the precise quantity and quality of ersatz coffee available to the Kaiser's General Staff; and, if possible, to adulterate it in such a way as to damage their morale.

My father, the Marquis of Brentford, passed away last year. He will be remembered.

Now I should mention our new members. We have our first member of the medical profession, Doctor Gerald Highsmith. I am sure that Doctor Highsmith will make valuable contributions to both the Chemical and the Botanical Committees. We have also been joined by the Norwegian atomic scientist Hansenn, who argues incessantly and amiably with Macintyre. I do not pretend to understand those gentlemen, but I am sure that something will come of their experiments.

A number of proposals for membership were black-balled. Notable among these was the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ulianov, now notorious for his bolshevist ways. A rascal and trouble-maker! I have no idea what Mr Wells thought he was doing in putting him forward. At the next annual meeting I shall propose a long-overdue change to Rule Four: that the word women be replaced by the term troublemakers.

August 16th, 1939

The political situation on this, the fiftieth anniversary of our foundation, is looking as grim as it has ever been. Czechoslovakia is no more; our engineers Dorsey and Haight-Evans have been seconded to the War Ministry to plan for the worst; and everyone is certain that Herr Hitler will attack Poland in the near future. I am taking action to ensure that the Club retains access to its supplies of coffee during the coming War; meanwhile, in view of the terrible prospect of the Strategic Bombing of cities, we are considering the possibility of removing our fittings to the country.

I write this diary sitting in the comfortable, leather and oak surroundings of the Club Secretary's office, downstairs in what was formerly the shop in Greek Street. It is no longer a shop, although we retain a dusty window display and a sign saying 'closed for repairs.' The entire premises are now occupied by the club; from the historic meeting-room upstairs to the bean stocks in the cellar and the machine-room in the back. I find myself at something of a loss when I think that we might shortly have to vacate these premises; there is far more than mere nostalgia here. Having been Secretary of the Club for the past twenty years, and involved in it since 1909, I am nevertheless astonished at the devotion which it inspires among us, and the changes that time has wrought.

If it is true that there are two cultures in this nation of ours, then it is trivially clear from a perusal of our Club that the majority of those who share our interest (an unnatural and extreme craving for the Great Beverage, that exceeds the bounds of propriety) are scientifically inclined. There are no artists, and precious few philosophers in our club. I am no longer the sole lady of the venture, but we are still in a minority and even, dare I say it, considered eccentric by our male peers.

We count a number of remarkable men among our group. We have one Nobel laureate, three atomic scientists, two aeronautical engineers, and the deep-sea diver Carruthers. The Research Committees have almost subsumed the raison d'être of the club; they have published scientific papers and even a book (which has become the most respected text in its field). Nevertheless, the current direction of our endeavour is more practical than philosophical; great strides have been made towards extracting a perfect brew, but far less attention has been payed to understanding the nature of our craving.

Work on high pressure percolation was suspended after the explosion that caused the death of Chapman Frazer. Macintyre's sad and long-drawn-out demise convinced us that Radium was probably not the answer. However, new alleys are being explored all the time, and there have been remarkable successes.

Hansen has pioneered the application of atomic Cyclotrons to the brewing of coffee. His technique is to anodize grounds and fire them at a target of ice, a hundred times as fast as a rifle bullet! Sadly, the flavour of the grounds is damaged by the electroplating process he uses, and the necessity to maintain the Cyclotron's chamber in a vacuum may ultimately put an end to this line of research. In the meantime, he has proposed an experiment that requires the procurement of a rather expensive substance from Norway, that he calls "heavy" water. We have yet to vote on this expenditure.

Dorsey and Haight-Evans have been working on what they call a "fluidized-bed low-pressure steam turbine infusor" which shows great promise. It certainly produces a fine brew, but it has to be bolted to the floor and the noise it makes is unspeakable; the device had to be switched off after the Club received complaints from the Police. They are now working with a Mr Whittle from the Ministry, in the belief that a suitably modified version of their device might be used to propel a fast fighter aeroplane.

Wright and Kotcha have been investigating the use of explosives. Their device resembles a football; lenses of exotic explosive surround a sphere of raw beans, which are distributed across the surface of a globe of ice. When the explosives are detonated correctly an incredible brew results, but the timing is difficult to perfect, and all too often the result is a mushroom of slush followed by a black, gritty rain. I believe they have written a note to Professor Leo Szilard about it.

For my part, I confess that I am becoming a little tired of my duties as club Secretary. Times have changed, and the eccentric gentleman's club I recall from my childhood has been replaced by something altogether stranger; a loose and secretive association of scientists, searchers for a hermetic enlightenment that can be placed among the most ellusive holy grails of Science. Even Jung, our psychologist, believes that there is an absolute archetype for which the other scientists are looking: that far from the heavenly brew being a product of our aesthetics, our very existence is required by some strange teleology resulting from the potential of the ur-coffee for which we seek. The logic of the quantum is replacing the bonhomie of the club. And the clouds of war are drawing in ...

August 16th, 1959

The twenty-year report by the Secretary appears to have become a de-facto tradition of the Club. Consequently, I should like to take this opportunity to reiterate the great strides forward we have take since the last such report, on the eve of the Second World War.

Firstly, I should like to record, for the benefit of those who never had the privelige of knowing her, the great debt that we all owe to Lady Camilla Sandleford. Lady Camilla passed away four years ago, having been Secretary of the Club for thirty-five years. Under her auspices the club prospered; our holdings now include three plantations, a significant shareholding in Imperial Chemical Industries, and a range of assets sufficient to ensure our perpetual prosperity. Consequently, in 1952 the limit of thirty members was raised to one hundred, and academic sponsorship was mandated for ten research studentships in appropriate fields.

It is interesting to note that we have encountered no difficulty in selecting new members of an appropriate calibre. Indeed, the obsessive quality with which we persue our beverage seems to have percolated out into society at large; it is, after all, no longer considered a monumental faux pas to display such an overt technical interest in a social drug. Nevertheless, by unanimous vote of the Executive, it has been determined that we shall remain a Secret Society and that Rule Six shall remain effective in perpetuity. It is believed that public exposure would restrict our ability to conduct some critical experiments, and as the technologies we are exploring have military potential it would be counter-productive to expose ourselves to infiltration by Communist Spies.

Our scientists were active in a number of areas during the Second World War. Among other things, Dorsey and Haight-Evans worked with Whittle to convert their concept of a fluidized-bed turbofuser into an operational jet engine. Wright vanished for three years; it was not until a fateful day in August of 1945 that we discovered the ends to which his research into explosive lenses had been put. Sadly, Kotcha the Albanian proved to be unreliable. He returned to his homeland and was immediately spirited away to the Soviet Union, taking his work on ultracentriguation with him. We cannot estimate the extent of his contribution to the Bolshevik bomb program at this time.

Meanwhile, work continues apace. The discovery of the Double Helix has given a tremendous boost to the Botanical Committee, who are now making extensive use of the Boddington's Mark One Computer that now occupies the cellar of our former premises in Greek Street. When not employed preparing the accounts for the Boddington's Beverage Corporation, the computer is used to assist the X-ray crystallographic analysis of the enzymes responsible for the production of the alkaloid constituents of Coffee. The new Bioassay Team hopes to develop a means of characterising the aesthetic quality of a brew objectively, using laboratory instruments alone. This would be a great leap forward.

Our American chapter has recently recruited a number of German expatriates who are currently working for the NASA organisation (formerly NACA) on rocket propulsion of space vehicles. Herr Von Braun, perhaps best known as the architect of the A4 rocket, is particularly enthusiastic about the prospects of using cryogenic hydrogen-oxygen motors as a combination roasting/grinding and percolation technology. Promising results have already been obtained using a pre-chilled launch pad, several kilos of Jamaican Blue Mountain, and a prototype J-2 motor.

Following the Russian orbiting of a dog, some mice, and some plants, we are considering an experiment to evaluate the effect of free fall on coffee bush growth. Space botany is still in its infancy, but we feel that this is a field of some considerable potential.

August 16th, 1989

(Teleconference links established to continental branch chapters in New York, Tokyo, Naples, Hong Kong and Brazilia: proceedings to be published internally in hardcopy format, with accompanying videotape, not more than three months after the presentation.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, the centennial report.

Our club was established a century ago, as a select meeting-place for like-minded aesthetes and aficionados of the ultimate beverage. Over the intervening decades we have prospered and blossomed into an international organisation of unparalleled success. Our current membership is stable at six hundred and fifty two full members and forty-seven funded research fellows. We have chapters in six countries and members in eighteen. Our collective treasury portfolio has a balance of three hundred and ninety one million US dollars, yielding an income of forty-six million dollars this year; it is anticipated that our presence in the recombinant genetic engineering industry and our investment in the human genome project will yield a great return on our investment within the next decade.

I think we can fairly say that our club has been one of the great success stories of the twentieth century.

Advances in genetic engineering are now laying bare the secrets of the coffee plant. We will soon be able to breed a coffee bush that gives rise to the ultimate bean.

Meanwhile, our cognitive psychologists have been attacking the problem from the opposite direction. What, they ask, makes the difference between one of us and, for example, a tea-drinker? Why are we members of this society so obsessed by the ultimate brew, when most of the public are content to drink freeze-dried, decaffeinated arabica? We hope that we will shortly determine the answer to this problem. If nothing else, the human genome project will, within twenty years, allow us to test extensive models of the human neural chassis and predict who will grow up to be a caffeine addict, and who will be a dipsomaniac.

Our engineering laboratories have already produced the ultimate percolator. Using computational fluid dynamics and smart materials technology, the high performance liquid chromatographic elution system at the core of the JK-88 percolator is capable of achieving the ultimate balance of aroma and density, aftertaste and emollience, pentosans and tannins. The next step is to reduce the cost of the HPLC-E technology to the point where it can be mass-produced for less than the cost of a Boeing 757.

And yet, I know that there is unease among us. In the past five years, there has come about a collective malaise; a directionless wandering, an inability to look beyond our noses, beyond the research itself, and to analyse the meaning of the endeavour we are enrolled in. This is a critical failing of our Club. As our charter states, we are gathered together not merely to drink coffee but to understand why we drink coffee.

Let me assure you that our philosophers and semioticians are hard at work trying to determine the ultimate significance of our obsession. The nameless angst that besets the prototypical member of this club cannot be combated by any means other than a dose of the favoured brew, at this moment in time, but it is hoped that an exhaustive analysis of the teleology of coffee-drinking and a synthesis with the semiological significance of imbibement may eventually reveal to us the ultimate secret of why we drink coffee. This is a matter of vast importance. It is by the repetition of this small ritual that we bind together the entire world in which we move; without it, might not our entire civilization cease to exist? Perhaps we were placed on this planet for no purpose other than to comprehend the nature of our own most sublime yearnings.

In any event, it is with great pleasure that I can now reveal to you the plan for our next twenty years; to bring the benefits of our research to bear on improving the lot of the common man and woman ...

May 1st, 2019

Armstrong City, Mare Tranquilitatum, Luna nearside. Anne here. There are only six of us left. Six of us in the Club, in the entire solar system. And no-one at all on Earth.

I can't believe I'm dictating this. It's too dangerous; if anyone reads this file I'm stuffed. Even being found with a stash is enough to get you whacked for hoarding these days. So I guess this is the last ever Secretary's report. How the hell did we ever get here, cold turkey survivors flapping our wings in the airless claustrophobia of the main Lunar outpost and peering down through telescopes at the red devastation that hit our home world?

I blame the biotechnology group. Or maybe the Ethics Committee. They should never have given the green light to making major genetic modifications to macroscopic organisms. I mean, never mind the justifications; building a hybridized coffee bush, capable of thriving in the near-vacuum and frigid environment of Mars, a motile plant capable of eating anything that moved and thriving on virtually nothing but vacuum and sunlight, then testing it out on Earth, was just plain dumb. I guess they were enthusiastic, but that's no excuse. The idea of terraforming Mars with coffee bushes was a good one; a prolific plant, our very life blood, and the greatest of brews imaginable! Yep, they hybridized the red weed with the most appetizing, perfect strains of coffee ever to be cultivated -- then gave it the survival imperative of a hungry triffid. Just think, an entire planet of red coffee weed, adding to the sum total of human happiness, right? Jerks.

I suppose they were blind to the consequence. Look; our craving is an addiction. We've perfected it, honing it knife-sharp over a stretch of years; now it's more real than we are. Like it's got a life of its own. And the object of our addiction made flesh, once unleashed on the world, well ...

They field-tested it in Antarctica. Within fifty days the two hundred seedlings they transfered to the ice-cap had burst into flower and spawned. A forest of bushes spread out across the ice, plants shuffling in restless migration towards the sunlight. Alarmed, they tried defoliants: the red weed ate everything, thrived on agent orange, spat it right back at them. Some of the plants reached the edge of the icecap, outracing the chill of winter. Disaster; nobody had planned for what the bushes would do when they met sea water. The bushes thrived. Bitter and inedible to anything that swam, they matted the surface of the oceans and propagated furiously. Within weeks, enclaves arrived in Tierra del Fuego and Tasmania. A quarantine was declared: but smuggled beans bore fruit in Provence, and that was that.

Two hundred days. That's all it took to wipe out the entire botanical ecosystem of Earth. Biotech had engineered a superior photosynthetic pathway; and we are left to reap the bitter harvest.

Down-side, ten million survivors are going cold turkey, only this is one trip that's for life and beyond. Animals starve; food crop harvests wither and die. Wolf-breeding is a last-ditch resort, an attempt to save something that can harvest the red weed. Meanwhile, up here we're in quarantine. No shipments from earth; possession of live coffee beans a capital offense. (You never know what might hatch in the hydroponic vats ...) When I die, bury me with my best china set. It's going to be a long, dry year ahead. And it may be as much as five years before we can ride a shuttle down-side and pick up some more supplies.

Damn, but I'd kill for a drink ...

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