Search Results for '"Fort Hoity" "Fort Toity"'

The Cadet And The Angel

Puny, neurasthenic Cadet Vig was on sentry duty outside Fort Hoity (4 points) when an angel of the Lord appeared unto him (12 points). Cadet Vig trembled in terror (2 points).

The angel of the Lord appeared to be perplexed. It opened its ring-binder, and looked carefully at the weedy cadet, and then at its paperwork, and then at Cadet Vig again, and then back to its paperwork, and its brow furrowed. For the purposes of its earthly visitation, the angel had made use of a hole-punch and inserted all its papers into the ring-binder. Normally, when shimmering in its celestial halls, the angel had each individual sheet affixed to a wall with drawing-pins, the mass of papers spread out for visual oomph, as is the practice with serial killers in television dramas (6 points).

“You are puny, neurasthenic, and outside a fort,” said the angel, “It says here you should be stately, plump, and inside a martello tower.”

Cadet Vig did not know what to say in response, so he merely quaked (2 points).

“Well, never mind.” said the angel, slamming shut the ring-binder, “What fort is this?”

“Fort Hoity,” said Cadet Vig, truthfully.

The angel reopened its ring-binder (1 point), rummaged through the papers, found the entry for Cadet Vig, and said, “According to my records you are meant on this day at this hour to be on sentry duty at Fort Toity” (8 points).

Cadet Vig was on the point of swooning. His legs turned to jelly as he realised that, yet again, he had misread the duty roster. Captain Nitty would be furious (10 points)! The milksop cadet had an awful vision of months stretching ahead doing potato-peeling punishment. How long, he wondered, would it take him to cross the eerie marshes to Fort Toity? Could he get there before Captain Nitty discovered his mistake? He had a sudden bright idea.

“Is it in your power,” he asked the angel of the Lord, “To transport me instantaneously to the sentry post outside Fort Toity, far away across the eerie marshes, so I will not get into one of my pickles with Captain Nitty?”

The angel once again consulted the contents of its ring-binder (6 points).

“Yes,” it said, eventually, “That is well within my power. But I am minded, instead, on this starry starry night, to shower you, Cadet Vig, with teeming thousands, nay millions, of points, more points than any cadet under Captain Nitty’s command has ever been awarded.”

Now Cadet Vig did swoon, He crumpled to the ground, next to the sentry box outside Fort Hoity. As he lay there, robbed of consciousness, innumerable golden shining points rained down upon him. And when he woke, the angel of the Lord had vanished, and stars glittered across the boundless firmament, and here, clanking towards him in full armour, came Captain Nitty, his face purple with rage, his eyes like burning coals (2 points), and Cadet Vig, for the first time in his puny life, was not afraid. He cocked his blunderbuss and took aim at Captain Nitty. He had millions of points!

This story has accumulated a total of 53 points, if I have tallied them correctly.

Tarleton On His Balcony

Exciting news! Tarleton is back on his balcony! He is eating a plum! It is a Carlsbad plum! He gazes across the city and the wasteland into the distance, where the pinky-russet peaks of the Pinky-Russet Mountains shimmer in the haze! From one of Tarleton’s ears dangles a piratical earring, but there is no piratical parrot on his shoulder! He has, though, acquired, since last we met him, a wooden leg!

Tarleton’s brief, we might recall, was to gouge and hew. Gouge and hew he did, heroically, losing a leg in the process. But he did not complain. He showed fortitude. I was encamped at Fort Hoity, he said to himself, and then at Fort Toity, so it is only meet that, in forts, I show fortitude. No wonder Tarleton was showered with petunia petals by adoring peasants. There remain a few petals in his hair, for it is a long time since he shampooed it.

It is a long time, too, since last he stood upon this balcony, eating a plum. It is so long ago that he only dimly remembers. More vivid are the memories of Fort Hoity, with its ostriches and bandages and zinc, and Fort Toity, with champions arrayed along the crenellations, and games of spit-in-the-gutter. It was between forts that Tarleton lost his leg to a crocodile.

In the middle ages, returning crusaders brought with them the embalmed bodies of crocodiles, which were wrapped in chains and hung from the ceilings of cathedrals. Tarleton did not think of his gouging and hewing as a crusade, but it was, oh it was.

He spits out the plumstone into the palm of his hand, makes a fist, and, taking careful aim, tosses it over the edge of the balcony down into the shallow pool around the fountain. How many Carlsbad plumstones lie there, barely submerged! He has never once missed a toss. Tarleton turns and withdraws into his chamber. His head is full of squeaking imaginary bats.

The Rancorous Hobbledehoy

The Rancorous Hobbledehoy is an old folk song collected by the old folk song collector Tick Vange. He was roaming the rustic goat-strewn byways of that splat of land between Fort Hoity and Fort Toity one day when he stopped to lean against a fence and smoke his pipe.

In his memoir of old folk song collecting, Collecting Old Folk Songs In The Vicinity Of Fort Hoity And Fort Toity : A Memoir, Vange wrote:

As I leaned there, against a fence, puffing on my pipe crammed with a goodly swug of moff, o’er the greensward came drifting to my ears, as if from far far away, a haunting melody, played on a pig whistle. It was haunting in the way one is haunted by a grisly ghoul. The hairs on the back of my neck bristled, a shiver ran down my spine, the blood drained from my face, I trembled and I shook, and I piddled in my stylish Italianate faux peasant trousers. What damnable tune was this?

The year was 1937. It was the day after the Hindenburg Disaster, of which Tick Vange knew nothing. His only interests were pipe tobacco and the collection of old folk songs, and he was barely even aware of the existence of airships.

I worked on the assumption, he wrote elsewhere, that anything flying about in the air above my head must be a bird of one sort or another. Having not a jot of interest in ornithology, I could thus safely ignore flying things.

As Vange listened, the melody grew louder and clearer, and he realised the pig whistle was accompanied by singing. The voice was plaintive and grating, like a corncrake with a broken heart. One meets such birds in fables, of course, but this was brute reality.

Peering over the fence into the distance, Vange saw, approaching o’er the greensward, a pair of what he took to be peasants, the one tooting the pig whistle, the other singing. And as they grew closer still, he was able to make out the words.

Here sleeps the rancorous hobbledehoy
On a bed of filthy straw
Oh do not wake the hobbledehoy
Until the crow does caw
The crow will caw and the pigs will snort
The asp will hiss and then in the fort
Our captains brave will come clattering through
Red with the blood of the orphans they slew
All but one who fled and hid
Oh such an ill-tempered kid
They will hunt him down, they will find that boy
They will slay the rancorous hobbledehoy

“I must ask these putative peasants,” thought Tick Vange, steadying himself against the fence, “If their song commemorates an episode in local peasant history. A fort is mentioned, which may be Fort Hoity or Fort Toity. Either fort, or indeed both, might once have witnessed a massacre of the innocents as is alluded to in this haunting plaintive grating song.”

But as the tooter and the singer came ever closer, the old folk song collector saw that, far from being local rustic persons, they were in fact the very picture of metropolitan sophistication, dripping with pearls and dallying with impossibly long cigarette holders. With a start, Vange recognised them as none other than the world-famous music hall variety act Mr Peevish & His Lovely Wife Gwendolyn. What in the name of all the saints in heaven were they doing trudging o’er the greensward?

Tick Vange heaved himself up to his full height, a creditable six-foot-six in his socks, and raised his arm to halt the duo. He was eager to question them closely regarding The Rancorous Hobbledehoy. But they passed him by, without acknowledgement, continuing on their way, tooting and singing. Vange watched them vanish into the distance, in the direction of Fort Hoity, or possibly Fort Toity. He was uncertain of the terrain.

Had he had any interests other than pipe tobacco and the collection of old folk songs, he might have read a newspaper once in a while. Had he read that morning’s edition of Daily Airship Disaster News, he would have learned that among those who perished in the Hindenburg Disaster the day before were world-famous music hall variety stars Mr Peevish & His Lovely Wife Gwendolyn.

The Cardigan Book

The wool for this cardigan was spun by cretins among churns and hubbub at a revel in a barn. It has been described as a cardigan fetching and comely and Stalinist, though also, it is fair to admit, as unprepossessing. It may be pertinent that the person who considered it an unprepossessing cardigan is a wool-ignorant knave from a rival village. But it is a view, and ought therefore be registered, in the Cardigan Book.

The wax seal on the front of the Cardigan Book is stamped with an image of a sheep. It is more accurate to call it a wax blob, for it does not act as a seal. It is purely decorative, and was added to the cover by the village waxer to give the book, he said, an antique air. We have only been keeping the Cardigan Book for the past two weeks.

All villagers are required to inform the village cardiganist of the views expressed upon their cardigans, whether the views be those of their fellow-villagers or of strangers, such as the wool-ignorant knave from a rival village. It should be noted that his own village has no Cardigan Book to speak of.

Initially we kept the book in an anteroom of Fort Hoity, but we have since moved it to a locked chamber in the tower of Fort Toity. The door to the staircase of the tower is guarded by a pair of trained yet savage swans. Their honks when alarmed can be heard for miles, even in the rival village from whence the wool-ignorant knave came lumbering across the fields.

There were many sheep in the fields, so many sheep they cannot be counted. They are shorn now, and the cretins in the barn spin their fleeces into wool for the knitting of. There is hubbub in the barn, among the churns, for the revel goes on, it goes on and on and on, and will go on until all the revellers drop exhausted on the sawdust. Then, still, the cretins will spin. They will spin and spin until all the wool has been made into cardigans, and the views of each and all on each and every cardigan entered in the Cardigan Book.

Oh how hopeless is our village! We cannot see straight. We put on our blinkers and wait for the rain.

On Your Favourite Forts


I was pleased to note, in this week’s newsletter from World Wide Words, that Michael Quinion turns his attention to hoity-toity. He tells us that the original meaning was “frolicsome, romping, giddy, flighty”:

Hoity-toity derives from the long-obsolete verb hoit, meaning to “indulge in riotous and noisy mirth” (have you hoited recently? it’s supposed to be very good for you) or to “romp inelegantly” (again from the OED; is it even possible to romp elegantly?). Where hoit comes from is uncertain, although an early form suggests a link with hoyden, which is now an unfashionable way to describe a noisy or energetic girl but which at the time could also mean an ignorant or clownish man. This is probably from the Middle Dutch heiden, a heath, hence a yokel; if so, hoyden is a close relative of heathen.

Curiously, the estimable Mr Quinion has nothing to say about Fort Hoity and Fort Toity, the favourite forts of Hooting Yard readers. In fact, other than a few military history buffs and Uncle Tobys, you lot may be the only persons who actually have favourite forts. I conducted a sort of straw poll on this matter by buttonholing a random selection of pedestrians between here and Nameless Pond.

“Excuse me,” I said, standing in front of them so they could not pass, “May I ask you which is your favourite fort?” I did not get a single coherent or sensible answer. Perhaps had I armed myself with a clipboard and a biro and a high visibility jacket the results would have been different. But on the evidence of my admittedly unscientific survey, I am forced to conclude that one hundred percent of riffraff infesting the streets of my bailiwick early on a Saturday morning care not a jot for forts of any kind. Some of them seemed not to know what in heaven’s name I was talking about. That is the modern education system for you.

As fanatically devoted Hooting Yard readers, you already knew, or at least suspected, that you were members of a select band. Now you have further confirmation, in that you can most definitely claim to be among that minuscule portion of the populace who have a favourite fort. My research, such as it is, tells me that you are pretty evenly divided between Fort Hoity fans and aficionados of Fort Toity. I have not analysed the stats in great detail, partly because there aren’t really any reliable stats on this matter, and partly because, even if there were, I doubt that I am capable of the drudgery necessary to analyse them. I have better things to do with my time, such as smoking and staring out of the window at crows while listening to Essay On Pigs by Hans Werner Henze. It’s a godawful racket, but it drowns out the sound of the neighbouring tinies, whose screeching would otherwise unhinge me.

Over the years, several readers have asked me to give a clear and highly amusing account of the differences between Fort Hoity and Fort Toity. I suspect that such requests are based not on any genuine keenness to be able to tell the forts apart as much as a desire to have some justification for plumping for one fort over the other. It is, after all, a mark of the truly ‘with-it’ Hooting Yardist that they care enough to choose Fort Hoity over Fort Toity, or, of course, Fort Toity over Fort Hoity. Nobody wants to admit to not giving a hoot one way or the other, as if they were the riffraff in the vicinity of Nameless Pond.

But while it is easy enough to cry “Fort Hoity!” or “Fort Toity!” when asked which is your favourite fort, far more difficult is the supplementary question, “Why?” Personally, I never ask that myself. I never wish to entangle my readers in potentially brain-numbing mental gorse bushes. As far as I am concerned, it is enough that each of you has a favourite fort. But great heavens to Betsy, some of the tales I have heard from Hooting Yard picnics and charabanc outings and mass singalongs, indeed from any occasion where two or more Hooting Yard readers gather together! Here is one such tale, related in a letter received from one T. Thurn:

Oh wondrous and resplendent Mr Key!

I wish to tell you about an incident that occurred at a recent Hooting Yard outing. A quartet of us had gone on an otter rescue mission, but the circumstances in themselves are not important. When we were still some distance from the riverbank, one of my companions asked me which was my favourite fort, Fort Hoity or Fort Toity? “Fort Toity”, I replied. Then she dropped a bombshell. “Why?” she asked. I realised I was quite unable to answer the question, as I have no idea of the difference between the two forts, other than a vague inkling that Fort Toity is a bit smaller then Fort Hoity. I was forced to dissemble. I pointed at the sky and yelled “Look!”, hoping there would be a flock of some kind of birds visible. Alas, it was one of those birdless days, so I had to pretend I had spotted unusual patterns of light and shadow presaging the collapse and ruination of the empyrean realms. I got away with it this time, but I would be grateful if you could provide a clear and highly amusing account of the differences between Fort Hoity and Fort Toity so that, next time I am asked, I will be able to justify my plumping.

Yours frolicsome, romping, giddy, and flighty,

T. Thurn xxxx

Must I do all the work? If T. Thurn had any strength of character he would refrain from bothering me with his tiresome whinges. I have gaspers to smoke and crows to watch and combative Teutonic din to listen to! It would be a simple enough matter for any true devotee to read through the collected Fort Hoity and Fort Toity references and to compile their own list of plumping reasons. That should keep you lot occupied until the morrow.

Skew, Whiff

Mr Skew and Mr Whiff went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. They met at the foot of the hill, at a point equidistant from Fort Hoity, where Mr Skew was aide-de-camp, and Fort Toity, where Mr Whiff had charge of the goats. It did not need two to fetch and carry a pail of water, but Mr Skew and Mr Whiff were Brothers Of The Salt, and whenever a pail of water was needed, either at Fort Hoity or at Fort Toity, they would arrange to meet and stroll up the hill together, arm in arm, fraternally.

They were able to stroll, rather than clamber and pant and strain, because a pathway had been cut into the hill at a very gentle gradient, winding round and round and round until it reached the top, where the well was. The well had its own pail, attached to a hefty rope. Mr Skew or Mr Whiff would lower this pail to fill it with well-water, raise it, and pour the water from the well-pail into an empty pail. Either Mr Skew would have brought an empty pail from Fort Hoity, or Mr Whiff the same from Fort Toity. It was within the bounds of possibility that Mr Skew and Mr Whiff would both bring empty pails at the same time, but this never, ever happened. The water replenishment schedules at Fort Hoity and Fort Toity never quite clicked into alignment.

Mr Skew and Mr Whiff arranged their meetings at the foot of the hill by bell and flag. The one was audible, the other visible, across the expanse of marshland that separated Fort Hoity from Fort Toity. The bell might not be heard if, say, fighter jets on practice runs were screaming across the sky, nor the flag be seen if there was a thick and eerie mist o’er the marshes. That is why Mr Skew and Mr Whiff, between them, had devised the system of using both bell and flag, just in case. Fighter jets can come screaming without warning, mists can descend in the blink of an eye.

On their strolls along the path slowly slowly gently up the hill, the one carrying an empty pail and the other empty-handed, Mr Skew and Mr Whiff would babble to each other of the latest doings and frolics and fights and hatreds and recriminations and savageries and vexations and plots and schemes and jollities and japeries and flaps and trysts and couplings and comings and goings at Fort Hoity and Fort Toity. To an outsider such as you or me, it was unremittingly tedious blather.

Of more interest, perhaps, were the various birds which swooped through the air, sometimes very close to the heads of Mr Skew and Mr Whiff, as they strolled. Alas, I have mislaid my binder of ornithological resources.

Mr Skew was deaf in one ear and Mr Whiff blind in one eye. The accident that caused both maimings was the source of their close bond in the Brotherhood of the Salt. It had happened many years ago, in the last century, during – but in no wise related to – the Vietnam War. It was a Thursday morning, and by chance Mr Skew and Mr Whiff, not then known to each other, were in the same field, a field of mown hay, the one crouching, the other jumping, I have no idea why, and the accident which robbed the one of half his hearing and the other of half his sight involved  a torrential downpour and thunder and lightning and howling winds and a flock of innumerable birds. Without my binder I cannot be more specific. In their confraternity Mr Skew and Mr Whiff made a pact never to speak of what happened in that field on that wet windy storm-wracked bird-haunted morn.

They went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. We shall leave them there, half way up the hill, babbling inanities the one to the other, unidentified birds swooping about their heads, the aide-de-camp and the goat-keeper, Skew and Whiff, far from their forts. The sun is obscured by clouds.

Slobbering Dauphin

In a piece marking the death, at 85, of General Alexander Haig, Christopher Hitchens described the fifty-ninth US Secretary of State as a “slobbering dauphin”. This phrase will be more familiar to Hooting Yard readers as the one commonly used to refer to Prince Fulgencio’s sickly, pipsqueak son and heir, whose official title was His Luminous Magnificence The Princeling Balthazar Clovis Agamemnon De Pig De Pig Of Oogah And Sluice In The Islands Of Widdecombe Sound. That was what it said on his badge. But everybody, including Prince Fulgencio himself, called him the slobbering dauphin, when they were talking about him or, indeed, talking to him.

A typical exchange might go as follows:

Prince Fulgencio : Good grief! Ever since we arrived here at Fort Hoity where I am to review my trooplets and cut a princely dash, you, slobbering dauphin, have been slobbering away and quite taking the shine off my regal jib.

The Princeling : Slobber slobber slobber.

Prince Fulgencio : There, you are at it again! Yes, slobbering dauphin, I am slapping my forehead hard, for you leave me at my wits’ end. Perhaps it is your forehead I ought to be slapping, if I did not think doing so would make you slobber all the more!

The Princeling : Slobber slobber slobber.

Prince Fulgencio : There is only one thing for it! While I remain here at Fort Hoity I must have you out of my sight, so you must go to Fort Toity, a mile or two yonder across the glinka, and stay put. You may take a little groupuscule of henchpersons with you. Now hie thee hence, slobbering dauphin!

Thus is explained the otherwise puzzling fact that the spindly and sickly and slobbering dauphin found himself, that long hot summer, in sole command of Fort Toity. Freed from the repressive influence of his loathsome Papa, the Princeling’s slobberings grew fewer, and on some days he barely slobbered at all. Though there was, at Fort Toity as at Fort Hoity, a full complement of domestic staff, he spent much of his time in the first few days buffing the crenellations with a rag, until they glistened. When this activity exhausted his weedy constitution, the Princeling sprawled pallid and wan upon cushions, on a balcony, gazing for hours at the desolate glinka, with its few scattered clumps of lightning-blasted shrubbery and, dotted here and there, yawning pits of doom into which would topple, from time to time, such small blind stupid furry creatures as had strayed from their nestings and burrows in search of food. The sun was immense, and golden.

In his paperback potted biography of the Princeling, Pebblehead is at pains to point out that the slobbering dauphin’s balcony cushions were uncomfortable, and thus that his lolling upon them for untold hours was a kind of penitence. But penitence for what? Pebblehead does not say, at least not explicitly. At the time of the Fort Toity summer, the Princeling was but a pipsqueak youth, and had not the years behind him to have drummed up the kind of catalogue of crimes other writers have imputed to him, confusing him perhaps with his black-hearted father, or even perhaps with the deranged killer Babinsky, to whom, in later life, when he had grown an impressive walrus moustache, the Princeling bore more than a passing resemblance. Indeed, it became a tactic of Babinsky’s, whenever the coppers were closing in on him, to slobber, the better to outwit them. Certainly we have not one whit of evidence that the slobbering dauphin was involved in the series of outrages that took place in and around the glinka in the months before he was installed at Fort Toity. In any case, even had he harboured a desire to wipe out great swathes of peasantry, how likely is it that he would have crept about from place to place poisoning wells, when all he need do, as Princeling, was to drop a word in his father’s ear? Prince Fulgencio was always looking for any excuse to issue a ukase to his henchpersons and to have them clattering about the place on their fine ferocious horses bringing death and ruination in their wake. That was the kind of Prince he was, those the kind of henchpersons.

It is possible that Pebblehead mistranslated the ancient documents, getting “uncomfortable cushions” where he ought to have had “gorgeous embroidered pillows stuffed with duck down and a new kind of foam material soft as marshmallow”. The Princeling’s own jottings give no sense that he was consumed by guilt and the desire for uncomfortable cushion penitence, though they are difficult to read, because his slobbering was always at its most slobbery when he was writing, even during that blazing Fort Toity summer, when he slobbered less in general.

There was an amusing fashion, for a brief period in the latter half of the last century, for wealthy beat music combos to decamp to chateaux, there to engage in the dual activities of high debauch and the waxing of their latest disc. As we know full well, there is nothing new under the sun, that immense and golden orb that beat down, once, upon the desolate glinka and upon the balcony where the slobbering dauphin sprawled upon his cushions. And one blazing noon, his brain grown hot, the Princeling had a sudden thought, and clapped his hands to summon a henchperson.

The Princeling : Today I am able to stop slobbering long enough to speak coherently, Arpad. [For the henchperson's name was Arpad.] My brain is hot, and I have a sudden thought. I want you to go bustling about the villages on the edges of the glinka and round up some musicians. Players on the sackbut and shawm and pipe and drum and what have you. Bring them to me, at once!

Arpad : It will be enacted, O slobbering dauphin.

Arpad the henchperson was a frighteningly efficient fellow, and no sooner had he been given his orders than he was off, on a cart drawn by several horses borrowed from Prince Fulgencio’s magnificent horsery at Fort Hoity. As Pebblehead pointed out, for all his evil ways, Prince Fulgencio had done much to eradicate sickness among his steeds, and the Fort Hoity horsery proudly proclaimed itself to be free of glanders, headshaking, lethal white syndrome, mud fever, contagious equine metritis, rainscald, strangles, quiltor, hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia, choke, grass sickness, recurrent airway obstruction, cerebellar abiotrophy, lavender foal syndrome, pythiosis, poll evil, and many another common horse disease. So healthy and vigorous were the horses pulling his cart that Arpad made the rounds of the villages in a single afternoon, and returned to Fort Toity at dusk with various sackbuttists and shawmists and pipers and drummers, to the unbridled delight of the Princeling, who cut some capers and slobbered, and rewarded Arpad with a personal picnic basket.

So happy was the Princeling that his slobbering became uncontrollable, and he had to write down his instructions for the musicians, with Arpad at his side mopping the slobber into a cup so it did not drip upon the vellum. Although the original is lost, Pebblehead was able to reconstruct the Princeling’s scribble using the technique known as “boggle-eyed hallucinatory scribble reconstruction”, sitting in a darkened room kept at a constant chill, and with beetles scurrying across the floor. The bestselling paperbackist actually wrote two entirely different versions, because he was enjoying himself so much, but only one is suitable for family reading. According to Pebblehead, this is what the slobbering dauphin wrote:

While I was buffing the crenellations with a rag, and more so when I was just lying sprawled on cushions on the balcony gazing upon the desolation of the glinka, all the while I have been hearing noises in my head. Noises, I say? No, music, the music of the spheres, or at least between my ears. Now, I charge you raggle-taggle band of players to make this music known to the world outside my head, so others, including Arpad here, and the other henchpersons, and my father’s majestic horses, and the domestic staff, and all who dwell in Fort Toity, and beyond, beyond the glinka, in the villages from whence you came, and elsewhere, may hear it. For it is music destined to be immortal. It will outlast me, as it will outlast my terrible reproachful father, Prince Fulgencio, as it will outlast even you, who play it. For I command also Arpad, with or without the help of his fellow henchpersons, to devise, from polished magnetic pebbles and pointy bits of tin and interlocking wheels and belts made from the stretchy sinewy guts of badgers and the like, an engine to entrap and then to recreate this music, over and over again, so you need no longer play it and may begone from Fort Toity and return to your villages. So, begin to play upon your sackbuts and shawms and pipes and drums, and I will direct and guide you by gesticulation of my arms and legs and movements of my brow, and by slobbering.

The music thus created, by fits and starts and with much agon, sounded remarkably like the genre we know today as “smooth death metal”. Before summer’s end, it was blasted by Arpad’s engine across the glinka, from dawn to dusk, occasionally jaunty, sometimes pounding, but mostly just smooth and deathly and metallic, just as the slobbering dauphin heard it inside his head.

But the summer ended, as summers will, and one morning Prince Fulgencio came to Fort Toity, roaring his head off, on horseback, flanked by a trooplet of brutish henchpersons.

Prince Fulgencio : Well, slobbering dauphin, I have shut up Fort Hoity for the bleaker months, and am set upon a long and arduous journey to Castle Blunkett, there to hole up for the winter tormenting the peasantry and eradicating disease among the horses and guide dogs. I wish you to accompany me, for so vast is the castle that you can have your own wing to slobber in, slobber as you will.

The Princeling :  Slobber slobber slobber.

Then came a wind such as swept across the glinka on autumnal mornings, a bitter wind. Arpad helped the weedy Princeling up on to a horse, and off he rode, slobbering onto the horse’s magnificent shining mane, riding into the wind.

The Puckington Tunnels

It was a big fort, with delightful crenellations, and many flags, and it had the shiniest portcullis outside of Navarre. This was Fort Hoity, sister fort of Fort Toity, and an extremely interesting fort in its own right. For underneath Fort Hoity ran the Puckington Tunnels, those tunnels you may have come across in your reading, if, that is, you have been reading about tunnelling systems as a change from your usual diet of chicklit, gitlit, and zadiesmithlit.

There is a regrettable temptation to neglect the literature of tunnels and to be sidetracked by less meaty subject matter, by ephemera and winsomeness and the outpourings of knaves. I am not immune to such distractions myself, and in truth I ought to have done a lot more tunnely reading than I have, especially once I put my mind to writing about the Puckington Tunnels. There are huge chasms in my knowledge, and if I faced a quiz on the subject I suspect my score would be embarrassing. Perhaps not so bad as that of clueless David Lammy – unbelievably, the government minister for Higher Education – whose recent appearance on the television show Mastermind elicited such delights as his belief that Henry VII succeeded to the throne after Henry VIII, and that the surname of the Nobel prizewinning scientists Pierre and Marie was Antoinette. The nitwit was not asked any questions about tunnels, but we may safely assume he would have fluffed them.

Speaking of fluff, there is a surprising amount of it in certain sections of the Puckington Tunnels. Layers, or perhaps clouds, of dust would be explicable, but it is difficult to account for the incredible fluffiness to be found underneath Fort Hoity. After all, there is not a speck of fluff in either Fort Hoity itself or in Fort Toity, and though both forts contain their fair share of dust and orts and scum and grease-stains, all fluffiness has been eradicated, forever and ever, yea, e’en unto the Last Trump, by the installation of modern fluff obliteration technology developed by the computer giant Macrohard™. Yet take the staircase down from the Fort Hoity broom cupboard and enter the Puckington Tunnels, take a left and a right and a second left, and you will be in the section of tunnel dubbed the Fluffy Zone by those in the know. There are spits and spots of fluff elsewhere in the system, but in this part it is quite simply overwhelming. Nobody knows why.

Nor does anybody know why the tunnels were dug in the first place. We know who dug them, because they are named after their digger, Puckington, the so-called “human mole”, and we know when they were dug, for every time he turned a corner or began a new stretch or created a tributary tunnel, Puckington stuck pins in a panel to form the numbers of the date and hammered the panel with nails to the tunnel wall at head height, head height for Puckington being considerably higher than for most men, for he was eerily tall, and thus all the tunnel junctions are unexpectedly cavernous, quite unlike the tunnels themselves, through which Puckington himself could only move when stooped, or by crawling upon his belly like a creeping thing as mentioned in the Bible, a pocket-sized edition of which, in the Huckabee Version, he carried in his pocket wherever he went a-digging, as a sort of charm or talisman which he insisted protected him from tunnel collapses and subterranean mudslides. Obviously there must have been one occasion when he went out with his spade and his jackhammer and his crate of dynamite and his pickaxe and his other tunnelling paraphernalia but forgot to tuck the Bible into his pocket, for on a very rainy Thursday Puckington perished, buried under a ton or two of soaking wet soil the weight of which proved too much for the wooden props with which he had shored it up in the tunnel he was digging that day, a brand new tunnel far away from the tunnels he had dug under Fort Hoity and which bear his name still and attract many a tourist and many a weekend troglodyte.

It was as a sightseer with a bent for the loveliness of crenellations that I discovered the Puckington Tunnels. I came to Fort Hoity to see the fort, as did all those in my coach party. We were a gang of fort-freaks. It happened that I became detached from my pals when, straggling at the back of the group padding through the famed Fort Hoity corridor of cupboards, I stopped to buy a carton of yoghurt from the yoghurt cupboard person. So delicious was the yoghurt that I spooned all of it into my mouth there and then, only to find that the group had gone ahead without me and I was all alone. I blundered into the broom cupboard and followed the staircase down and thus found myself at the entrance to the tunnels. I was awestruck, as who would not be? At the time I jumped to the rash conclusion that the tunnels led directly underground from Fort Hoity to Fort Toity where, I supposed, a second staircase would take me up to the sister fort’s majestic pantry, an architectural wonder of the pantry and larder world if ever there was one.

I did not know, then, that the Puckington Tunnels were the work of a madman, dug without purpose, or direction, or sense. I did not know, then, that the tunnels led nowhere, that all their twists and turns and rises and plunges ended, if they ended at all, tapering ever narrower, in blockages of black adamantine stone. I did not know that Puckington had, in spite of their apparent chaos, designed his tunnels with a lunatic genius for precision, such that he, and only he, could ever find the way out. These are dark tunnels, these Puckington Tunnels, and I have dwelt within them, since snacking on that carton of yoghurt, for over a hundred years.