Ford Madox Unstrebnodtalb’s Diary 15.1.13

The diary of Ford Madox Unstrebnodtalb, on this day one hundred years ago:

I gargled. You gargled. He, she, or it gargled. We gargled. You lot gargled. They gargled. That was the gargling done, and it remained only to regargle before getting down to the lesser business of the day, the gargling and regargling being, of course, the main business, on this day as on every day in the current dispensation.

I know for a fact that some queer folk like to gargle with stuff that comes prepared in bottles available from the chemist’s shop, such as Dr Baxter’s “Zippy” Fragrant Spitting Fluid. I abhor those concoctions. I make my own, a mixture of ice cold water scooped from the duckpond, table salt, crushed violets, vinegar, and goaty milk. The precise quantities of each ingredient I measure out in my so-called “gargling jar”, which in truth is just an ordinary jar with horizontal lines scratched on the side with the sharpened ends of a pair of sugar tongs. It has served me well these forty years, and will I hope continue to do so for as many more years as the Lord sees fit in His ineffable wisdom to grant me. Not that I am a religious man. Pious yes, religious no. If there is a Lord, then He is a phantom in my head, lodged somewhere between the brain and the skull, forever eluding the forceps of enquiry.

I must admit that there are days when, having gargled and regargled, I find myself at something of a loose end. On occasion I throw caution to the winds and repair to the bathroom to gargle one more time. Spellbinding as this can be, I know it only staves off the inevitable, which is to buckle down to all those non-gargling activities with which I am afflicted. On any given day these might include: not gargling, taking a constitutional round and round the flowerbeds, scooping water from the duckpond, plucking then crushing violets, milking several goats, resisting the temptation to regargle, firing off a letter to the editor of the Gargling Gazette, shimmying up and down a rope ladder as part of military training for a war I am convinced will never come, dispensing alms to beggars and widows and orphans, communing with my spirit guide, hooplah!, polishing the gargling jar, and writing in a crabbed and barely legible hand in my diary. Today I did some of these things, not others, but with a heavy heart. I felt drawn, irresistibly, to the bathroom sink, to gargle again, though I knew it was madness.

Dr Baxter himself, in spite of his “Zippy” potion, warns against the dangers of overgargling in a pamphlet distributed by an urchin in the village square. I do not think the urchin receives a farthing for his labours. Come rain or shine he stands there, weedy and disease-ridden, handing out pamphlets to passers-by. “Sickness Of The Brain Brought On By More Gargling Than Is Wise And Proper” are the words emblazoned on the cover, below which appears a mezzotint by the noted mezzotintist Rex Tint showing a horrifying brainsick mad person in the throes of unreason. Why does Dr Baxter at one and the same time manufacture and sell his spitting fluid while dissuading people from wishing to purchase it? The only reason I can think of is that he is brainsick himself, perhaps from overgargling.

My own head, it must be said, or the brain inside it, has not yet succumbed to lunacy. I feel my phantom Lord, nestled within, would tell me were it so. He said nothing today, which I count as a perk. And so to cot.

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