The infinite monkey theorem

The infinite monkey theorem.

The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard, for an infinite amount of time, will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. And I quote Wiked pedia here :

‘In this context, “almost surely” is a mathematical term with a precise meaning, and the “monkey” is not an actual monkey, but a metaphor for an abstract device that produces a random sequence of letters and symbols ad infinitum. The probability of a monkey exactly typing a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of it occurring during a period of time even a hundred thousand orders of magnitude longer than the age of the universe is extremely low, but not actually zero.’

‘In 2003, lecturers and students from the University of Plymouth Media Lab Arts course used a £2,000 grant from the Arts Council to study the literary output of real monkeys. They left a computer keyboard in the enclosure of six Celebes Crested Macaques in Paignton Zoo in Devon for a month, with a radio link to broadcast the results on a website.

Not only did the monkeys produce nothing but five pages consisting largely of the letter S, the lead male began by bashing the keyboard with a stone, and the monkeys continued by urinating and defecating on it. Phillips said that the artist-funded project was primarily performance art, and they had learned “an awful lot” from it. He concluded that monkeys “are not random generators. They’re more complex than that. … They were quite interested in the screen, and they saw that when they typed a letter, something happened. There was a level of intention there.’

Well there we go: the chance of a monkey exactly typing a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is extremely low, but not actually zero.

As is fitting of the City which is the birthplace of Dr Johnson, there are some fine avenues and houses in Lichfield. After Eddington had finished his day at the branch, he walked out of town and down a generous, tree-lined road, and made his way home to his splendid Georgian house. He didn’t see me following him. I took note of the address and vowed to return.

But first a history of the typewriter, courtesy of Wiked pedia:

‘A typewriter is a mechanical or electromechanical device with keys that, when pressed, cause characters to be printed on a medium, usually paper. From their invention in 1868 through much of the 20th century, typewriters were indispensable tools for recording the written word. Widely used by professional writers and in offices for decades, by the end of the 1980’s, word processors and personal computers largely displaced typewriters in the settings where they previously had been ubiquitous in the western world.’

Where did the millions of typewriters go to die?

Again, courtesy of Wiked pedia :

‘As of 2009, typewriters were still used by some U.S. government agencies. As an example, it was reported that in 2008 New York City purchased a few thousand typewriters, mostly for use by New York Police Department, at the total cost of $982,269; another $99,570 was spent in 2009 for the maintenance of the existing typewriters. New York police officers use the machines to type property and evidence vouchers on carbon paper forms.’

Good cop, baf cop.

Obviously, mistakes were made. Have you ever tried to use a typewriter and not made a mistake? This led, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, to the creation of a whole new business of correction fluids; some brand names being Liquid Paper, White-out, and the better known, ubiquitous, Tipp-Ex.

Where did the millions of typewriters go to die?

Is there a mountain somewhere of platen, ribbon spool, type wheels, keys and shift bars? At least we know where one typewriter went; as on completing the novel Beautiful Losers, Leonard Cohen is said to have flung his typewriter into the Aegean Sea.

Back to our friend Eddington …

A few weeks after our initial meeting, I am in my car outside his beautiful house and awaiting his return from work. I have prepared well for the rendezvous: I have with me a vintage Remington typewriter (and note with interest, dear reader, that Remington were makers of both typewriters and firearms). In a carrier bag, I have a ream of A4 paper, a print out of Act 1 from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a compact disk, a roll of parcel tape, and a litre of Tipp-Ex; the latter costing me a great deal of trouble and expense.

I spot Eddington in the rear view mirror. Right on time. I bet he is never late for an appointment. He probably owns several alarm clocks, a fear of being late. Well, he will be alarmed in a minute, and will probably be very late for work tomorrow. If he makes it through the upcoming test, that is. He is walking down the road with no outward concern as to the pain he inflicts on the population on a daily basis. Carefree, and liquid of assets, he clearly has no understanding of an empty fridge, a struggle to find extra pennies when needed, doesn’t have to chose between food or fuel. He is one of those with money. One of the chosen few.

Now one of the chosen.

He walks up to his front door, puts the key in the lock, opens it and bends down to pick up the post. It is at this point I run up and kick him. He stumbles forward into the house and hits the rather splendid tiles in the hallway. (There is no way he is going to have a night on them.) I close the door behind me. Before he can recover I have him in a police-grade arm lock.

‘One move Eddington, and I will dislocate your arm.’

I could simply pull his arm out of the socket, but I have him by the right arm, and, as the majority of people are right-handed, do not want him to be further disadvantaged, and so kick him in the head. He is rendered unconscious, which gives me time to prepare for our evening of fun and the test I have so patiently devised.

No real play, but the stage is set. He comes too … finds himself tied to a wooden chair and facing a round table. On the table I have artfully placed the Remington and the bottle containing the litre of Tipp-Ex. His CD player is primed and ready to play the CD, and generally I am happy with the way things have so far turned out.

Eddington makes a sound like a turkey. He clears his head and throat and turns to look at me. There is shock and tears in his eyes, and a deep purple bruise on the side of his face, but only a faint look of recognition. Maybe I kicked him too hard? I hope I did not overdo it, as I need him to be fully alert so as to take part, enjoy the experience.

‘Hello Eddington. Do you remember me? We met a few weeks ago, when you informed me that my financial situation warranted a removal of my cheque card and book. Well, Eddington, the card was one thing, but the removal of my book, any book, was too much for me – an author – and Arthur, it looks as if your time has come.

He starts to cry. Boring. Boring. He pleads to my higher self (he has no idea), and this goes on for a few minutes, but let it go as I cannot physically damage him any further. I stroke his hair in a calming manner. He relaxes, ceases crying, sniffs back the tears, becomes pet-like and begins the mental struggle for survival. I inform him of the rules of the test, tell him that if he passes the test I will let him live. It is obvious to the both of us this cannot happen, but he is desperate to believe it can.

I place a sheet of paper into the typewriter.

Don’t you just love the sound as the paper is put into place and the platen is moved? The virgin paper could herald the start of the greatest novel written, a work of such outstanding beauty and poetry that makes men and women weep, or find God … Of course, it could turn out the other way, and be a hash of syntax and error – a collection of letters and words laid down without proper thought and understanding, and so be vile and useless fodder for the literary critic.

Let us see …

I explain the Rules of the Game to Eddington.

‘Arthur. Your time has come. You will be interested to know I have recently been researching The Infinite Monkey Theorem, which I am sure you are aware of, and which states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time, will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. In the interests of both the randomness of the act and funnery, we are going to attempt to give credence to this theory. As we do not have the time for the complete works, we – by which I mean you – are going to put the theory to test by using Hamlet. Act 1. If you make a mistake, you start again. If you make an another error you start again. Unlike the monkeys in the Theorem, you do not have infinite time, but have three chances to get it right.’

‘Do you understand?’

He protests. I hit him hard on the cheek. (He did not get chance to show me the other cheek, proving the fact that the meek shall inherit fuck all). He offers me money. I tell him it is not about money, that is about statistic and authorship, the skill of typing sans mistakes, and that I am running out of patience and the game is about to begin. I tell him if he refuses to play, I will kill him.

‘Ready Arthur?’

I clear my throat, pick up the print out of Hamlet, and, for good measure, punch him on the back of the head so as to stop his tears and nasal fluid drip. I realise that I have forgotten a major part to the game and am angry at myself because this would mean that the game would be null and void, and a waste of planning, and monkey set before typewriter.

‘Arthur, I forgot something important. It is my fault; a result of nerves, so don’t blame yourself. Obviously monkeys cannot read, and therefore have no way of knowing which letter corresponds to which letter in Hamlet. And although you may have, statistically more chance than they – as you may be familiar with the QWERTY layout – we have to try and make this as fair and as scientific as possible’. I retrieve the parcel tape and wrap it around his face, covering his eyes and nose (but leaving the mouth and ears free of tape). He struggles, shakes his head from side to side, makes it very difficult for me. The resulting tape coverage looks very unstylish and partially covers his mouth too. As a result, he looks like a parcel from Hell. I grind my teeth, growl in response. Why the fuck cannot these things to done without some unseen element ruining the marriage between fantasy and fact? Maybe Dostoevsky, in Crime and Punishment, is talking of the same when he says:

“Actions are sometimes performed in a masterly and most cunning way, while the direction of the actions is deranged and dependent on various morbid impressions – it’s like a dream.”

I take deep, measured breaths, regain my composure, pick up the printout, and fighting the impulse to sever some of his fingers, focus on the book in hand.

‘OK. Scene 1. Elsinore. A platform before the castle.

Arthur, I want you to type out the following passage, see if you pass the test.’

I take his hands and place them gently on the keyboard. No surprise to see them shake. He pleads with me. I punch him in the back of his head, hurt my fist. I tell him and tell him that there are no more chances, that this is it. If he doesn’t play the game I will kill him.

I clear my throat and begin again.

‘OK. Scene 1. Elsinore. A platform before the castle. I want you to type out the following passage. Ready?’

‘FRANCISCO at his post. (Full stop). Enter to him BERNARDO. (Line break).

BERNARDO. (Line break).

Who’s there? (Question mark)’.

‘OK Arthur, go for it. The best of statistical luck. And, as a sporting man, I will not worry about the use of capital letters for the names of Bernardo, or the Francisco kid.’

‘Type it Arthur’.

It is amazing what a little pressure does for (the) man, and spirit, and he fingers the keys and gets ready for the test; clearly having some typing experience, he hits the letter F, and I am impressed, and so is the letter. He moves his typing finger to feel the next key, moves across by one key, and hits the ‘R’. So far, so good. He feels his way to the left, and hits the ‘A’, and I am genuinely excited. He then makes a mistake: in trying to find the ‘N’ he misses (or miss counts), and we wind up with an ‘M’.

He has typed ‘FRAM’.

Oh dear. I shout for him to stop, shove his hands from the keyboard. ‘You made a mistake on the fourth letter, Arthur; it should have been an ‘N’ but you have typed ‘M’. I rip out the paper, enjoy the resulting sound, the reluctance of the typewriter to let it go, replace it with a clean sheet, and tell him ‘OK, two more goes Arthur’.

Not for the first time, I find myself in a different place than envisaged. The stench of his fear makes me wonder if he maybe has a drink problem, or is maybe a consumer of asparagus, but no real worry, as this will now, no doubt, be a mystery solved.

‘OK. Take two. Go for it Arthur….’

Reluctantly, and far slower than the first time, he types out the letters.

F… R… A… N… I am overjoyed to see him add C… I… S… C… O… and I tell him to stop, as I need to scroll the paper, and remind him of the next words to be typed:

I encourage him with the words: ‘At his post. (Full stop)’.

After a huge level of concentration from Arthur, we get FRANCSICO AT HIS POSR.

I order him to STOP. I take a minute to calm myself down. I tell him it is an excellent try, but we have an ‘R’ at the end, instead of a ‘T’. I rip the paper from the typewriter, put in a clean sheet.

‘Last attempt Arthur.’

He has lost the plot, is crying without abandon; his hands shaking, and by this point he is so fucking scared that he fully commits with abandonment and vigour and types out ‘FEANCSICO HOD PIST.’ (I feel my disappointment begin to suffuse. I ask him him to hold on. I scroll the sheet and watch him struggle …)



I urge him on; whisper into his taped ear, ‘go for it Arthur… go for it’, and we end up with:





I tell him to stop. I study the letters and note with interest that – unlike the monkey’s in the Media Lab Arts course version – he has only managed to type the letter ‘S’ once. The futility of the whole enterprise envelopes me. I tell him we both need a break.

He is exhausted, but is not without a hint of optimism in his voice when he asks me how he has done. A high achiever? First-born? I lie, tell him all is so far spot on, and I am going to make myself a coffee. I order him not to move. I take the bottle of correction fluid and plastic bag into the kitchen, switch the kettle on so as to mask any sound. I empty the correction fluid into the bag. I have to move my head away from the resulting fumes. I take a reflective minute, stand at the doorway and look at Eddington, then back at the bag of fluid. Depression descends, and I am momentarily stunned. I lean against the doorway, wondering if I can let him live, let this chapter end here, when with a rush, a revitalisation, a renewal of energy and purpose, realise that I have no choice, I must finish what I have started, complete the ending and edit it later as planned.

I take the bag of fluid, and position myself behind Eddington. I tell him that he has done a remarkable job, but there is one final edit needed and inform him that it is why I have the correction fluid. In one quick fluid movement, I open the bag, swing it in front of his face, covering it, hold the bag tight as he struggles against toxic fumes. He doesn’t struggle for long. After the final correction, I tie the bag tight, knot it behind his head. Eddington looked like a low budget creature from outer-space. I remove the bag, decide that, acttually, he looks more like a snowman, lmore like somebody suffocated by circumstance and Tipp-Ex.

feel empty, the killing giving me little pleasure, and think that maybe when I look back later and have edited out his urine and faeces and desperate actions; maybe then I will feel some pleasure, some form of release.

I retrieve the typewriter and paper and parcel tape, pick up the crumpled sheets embossed with typing errors, put them in the hallway, next to the front door. I go back into the kitchen and remove the jug, and place this next to the door too. I turn to look back at the whole sordid scene and remember the CD. During the test, I had forgotten that I had brought along the CD for an audio backdrop to the kill. Fuck.

I take the equipment back to the car and place it in the boot. I return to the scene: Eddington, tied to chair, physical proof that this has been a reality. I walk over to the CD player, choose ‘Repeat track’, and press ‘Play’. The music I had chosen fills the room. The lyrics are not great – somewhat repetitive – but the song has that certain quality which means that after hearing it once, it is hard to get the song out of one’s head.

The sound of Lennon–McCartney fills the room. I close the door behind me. From outside his house, I hear the muffled sound of one the great tracks from ’66. And on route home, the Fab-Four accompany me on my journey.

Paper back writer (paperback writer)

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?

It took me years to write, will you take a look?

It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear

And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer,

Paperback writer.

It’s a dirty story of a dirty man

And his clinging wife doesn’t understand.

Their son is working for the Daily Mail,

It’s a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer,

Paperback writer.

Paperback writer (paperback writer)

It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few,

I’ll be writing more in a week or two.

I can make it longer if you like the style,

I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer,

Paperback writer.

If you really like it you can have the rights,

It could make a million for you overnight.

If you must return it, you can send it here

But I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer,

Paperback writer.

Paperback writer (paperback writer)

Paperback writer – paperback writer

Paperback writer – paperback writer

(Paperback Writer: Recorded and released by The Beatles. Written by Paul McCartney and credited to Lennon–McCartney. 1966.)

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