Like a saint in a medieval painting, Captain Nitty bore an attribute. Saint Clement, for example, is usually shown with an anchor, Saint John Chrysostom with bees, Saint Dunstan with a hammer and tongs, and Saint Vedast with a wolf carrying a goose in its mouth. Captain Nitty was often to be seen with a handful of breadcrumbs.
There are several photographs of Captain Nitty, taken by the Pointy Town High Street snapper F X Duggleby, in all but one of which his attribute or emblem is present and correct. Captain Nitty holds out his open palm, piled with breadcrumbs, as if proffering them to the viewer. (The exception is the picture of Captain Nitty pretending to fly. He is wearing a pair of wings made out of corrugated cardboard, satin and tat, and gazing into the middle distance with a look of startling stupidity. The chains with which he is attached to the ceiling of Duggleby’s studio are clearly visible, despite the photographer’s efforts to bleach them out with bleach.)
There are two different stories given as the origin of Captain Nitty’s traditional association with a handful of breadcrumbs. The first is that our hero was regularly sent on manoeuvres to a municipal park where insurgents, bent on toppling the regime, were said to use the flowerbeds, with their dazzling splurges of lupins and hollyhocks, as places of concealment. Anent the flowerbeds was a pond in which teal, mergansers, pintails and swans were rife. Soft-hearted – and, by some accounts, soft-brained – Captain Nitty liked to feed the ducks and swans by scattering breadcrumbs upon the surface of the waters. After the regime was toppled, he took much of the blame, “distracted by ducks” in the words of the official charge sheet. Unlike a saint in a medieval painting, Captain Nitty was not martyred, unless one considers a sentence of several months potato-peeling duty a martyrdom.
The other story is vastly more complicated and impossible to summarise. Readers would do better to study the seven-volume novel sequence Game Of Breadcrumbs, making notes all the while in the margins. Those of you without the patience or ability to read can instead watch the television adaptation, which has won a mantelpiece’s worth of awards, including the Silver Bauble for Best Swan and the F X Duggleby Memorial Pot for Most Innovative Use Of Bleach.