On Tongs

See, see? Whether it be burning coals or sugar lumps, his manipulation of the tongs is peerless. He is a dab hand. The dab, too, a demersal fish, he has plucked from the tank with the tongs, with great care, to watch it wriggle, before allowing it to plop back in, where it sinks gratefully to the sandy bottom. Coal, sugar, dab: these are but three of his tong manipulations.

He was born to it. His papa thrust the tongs into his tiny infant fist. Papa was the Shatteridge Tongsman, as his papa had been before him, and his before his, all those papas stretching back generations since first the tongs were forged on the first Shatteridge Tongsman’s legendary anvil.

The first words he could speak were the words of the Song of Tongs. At six he was sent out from Shatteridge across the desolate tarpoota, practice tongs in his satchel. He confronted bears and monkeys and wolves, and human wolves in the form of the roaming tarpoota banditti. He learned the manipulation of the tongs.

Epp, dubbed Glabb, taught him further tricks. Sweeping movements, significant passes, sleight of hand, delicacy, deftness. The wonder was that Epp, Glabb, was blind. He prowled the castle ramparts with, it was whispered, long invisible tongs. Many a flunkey felt their pinch from an inconceivable distance. Even papa was in awe of Epp, or Glabb.

It was important to watch the wrigglings of the dab with great reserves of concentration, to memorise them. They told the weather, the crop failures, the outcome of battles. Not so the manipulation of the tongs with burning coal and with sugar lumps. Those were mere humdrum manipulations, to avert blazes or to sweeten infusions. It happened that a piece of burning coal might pop from the hearth on to the carpet, if the fire had not been properly set. Far better to pluck the coal from the carpet with the tongs than to let it burn and have need of flunkies with pails and buckets to extinguish it. It happened that an infusion might be bitter or sour and barely potable without the addition of a sugar lump. Better that it be sweetened than poured unwanted down the drain.

But the dab, the dab! Epp, dubbed Glabb, was the repository of the dab’s wrigglings lore. Incapable of seeing the wrigglings, he had them reported to him. Not by the Shatteridge Tongsman, whose job was to concentrate on the manipulation of the tongs. To have to watch the dab with piercing acuity the meanwhile would be asking too much, far too much. Thus by his side was the Dabwriggleman. It was another hereditary post, passed from papa to son. As for the dab, there was a pool for them, in the castle grounds. They settled there on the sandy bottom, being dabby, until such time as the tank dab died and had to replaced. Then the Dabnetman came lumbering towards the pond with his net. He cast it about with great skill, to ensure just one dab was caught in its mesh. And then he hurried, hurried, through the grounds and in the gate and through the hall and up the stairs and along the corridor to the chamber wherein the tank rested on its stilts, and he plopped the new dab into the water, and it sank to the sandy bottom, awaiting, though of course it did not know it, the twice-daily entrance of the Shatteridge Tongsman with his tongs.

Neither the Dabwriggleman nor the Dabnetman had any doings with burning coals nor sugar lumps, save to be warmed by the fire or refreshed by the sweetened infusions. Demarcation lines were stringent in that castle.

Stringent, too, at least by name, the Stringent Tongs. This was the pop group who played in the castle ballroom and who performed the Song of Tongs, at daybreak, at lunchtime, at dusk. A basic guitar, bass, drums trio, augmented on spectacular days by glockenspiel and Ponsonby hooter. They were old hands, drawn from the village. Subject, upon entering the castle, to a stringent code of conduct. The code drawn up by Epp, dubbed Glabb, or more correctly by his papa’s papa’s papa’s papa’s papa. It may even be that further papas be added to that litany. Generations who have patrolled the ramparts with, it was whispered, long invisible tongs.

When the Stringent Tongs return to the village, on so seldom days, they carry with them moths and spiders and beetles from the castle. They release them on the desolate tarpoota, and off they flutter and scurry and creep.


I have no idea what that was all about, really. Best to think of it as an outpouring from an almost empty head. When one has determined to bash out a thousandish words a day, and meets a day when there is little or nothing going on within the cranium, and when one feels reluctant to resurrect pieces from the past too often, then one writes merely what one can. Fingertips tippy-tap the keyboard keys, in a flurry, then a pause, then a flurry, then a pause, then haltingly, until there is nothing left to tap. Actually, I had to correct that, I tapped out “nothing left to yap”. Perhaps that is the more appropriate word – prose like the yapping of a dog, meaningless, and deeply, deeply annoying.

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