Nine Years Ago

I am afraid the Key head is an entirely empty thing at the moment. So here, to keep you entertained, is a piece that appeared nine years ago today, on 3 April 2004, though it was written – and published as a pamphlet – long long ago in the last decade of the previous century. It is entitled Sidney The Bat Is Awarded The Order Of Lenin.

Like many bats, Sidney spent much of his time hanging upside down in a dark, damp cave. Both of his parents were still alive, and on Saturdays he would visit them. They lived in the attic of a museum, and enjoyed swooping, wings aflutter, around the heads of any museum employees who came up to the attic, which was used as a clutter-strewn storage area. The museum housed collections of electromagnetic apparatus, galvanometers, and cast iron mesmeric engines. It was the most renowned museum of its kind in the land, numbering among its exhibits not only Von Ick’s Patent Trance Mechanism but also an archive of papers from the laboratory of the great celery scientist Kapisko.


Figure 1 : One of the museum exhibits

Professor Maud Dweb was the chief curator. Her in-tray was piled high with complaints about the bats in the attic. One young assistant janitor, on his first ever visit up there, had been literally frightened out of his wits. He had been removed to a sanatorium in remote mountainous country, and his family, despite most of them being brain-addled, had made known their intentions to prosecute the museum. One of the land’s most relentless lawyers had been paid a retainer. Professor Dweb decided to act.

One Saturday evening, after the museum had closed, when soon the full moon [would] swim up over the edge of the world and hang like a great golden cheese (in the words attributed to the shade of Oscar Wilde by the spirit medium Hester Travers Smith), the curator ascended the staircase to the gloomy attic. It was the work of minutes to set a number of bat-traps in the darkness. As she made to leave, Professor Dweb stumbled over a crate containing the world’s only surviving example of Bickering’s Superb New Hinge, banged her head on the wall, and dropped to the floor, unconscious. Sidney’s parents swooped low, and perched – do bats perch? – on her back.

sidbat2Figure 2 : Diagram of the attic

At that very moment, Sidney flapped in through the skylight. He and his parents exchanged greetings, in bat-language. They told him what had happened to Professor Dweb, who was sinking into a catatonic stupor. Sidney was most disappointed, for he could not see any fun in flapping around someone who was unconscious. She wouldn’t be scared at all! He resolved to arouse the curator, and at once began to make hideous bat-like squealing noises directly into her ear, flicking his wings against her temples. It took some time, but eventually Maud Dweb woke with a start. Then she screeched, flailing her arms at the mischievous bat. She fled the attic, slamming the trap-door behind her, leaving the fiendish bat-traps to do their work.

An hour later she was back in the attic, armed with a torch. She found Sidney hanging upside down from the rafters. “Well, young bat,” she announced, “Inadvertently, you have performed a great service to your country! Had you not woken me from my stupor, thieves would have made off with the museum’s most prized exhibit! I was only just in time to nab them! Fleeing from you, I went downstairs to find a pair of counter-revolutionary ne’er-do-wells about to make off with Darjeeling’s Anti-Imperialist Galvanising Motor! You are – as a mere bat – probably unaware that this machine is a potent symbol of our glorious revolution. I shall recommend to the General Secretary of the Party that you are given an award in recognition of your deed. Well done!”


Figure 3 : Counter-revolutionary ne’er-do-wells

Sidney’s parents patted him proudly on his bat-head. Professor Dweb dismantled the bat-traps. The full moon shimmered through the skylight.

2 thoughts on “Nine Years Ago

  1. I owned a copy of this delightful childrens tale and regaled my daughter with it frequently. Happily she has now recovered.

    Alas, thinking I was done with bedtime stories I foolishly handed it on to a member of Edsel Auctioneer to share with his offspring.

    Perhaps I shall print it out today and relate it to banished Jr at bedtime.

  2. Bats do not scream. They click. They send out streams of clicks that bounce off objects and into their ears.This is echolocative and they “see” with sound. These clicks are too high for us to hear but are very loud: like a 12 bore at five feet. In order that the bats do not deafen themselves they have an adaptation to the ear bones. The ear bones (a-hip bones a-thigh bones….sorry) dislocate after every click and relocate again. But the big philosophical question is this. Let us hope it falls into your vacant brain like a thunderous haggis…..DO BATS HEAR IN COLOUR?

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