Slaloming from my chalet down to the post office, I stopped short when I saw, at the edge of a crevasse, a monkey encased in a block of ice. I am no expert on monkeys, and I was not sure what kind of monkey it was. It was between a quarter and a third of the size of an average human, if such a thing exists. I made a note with a propelling pencil in my jotting pad to remind me of the precise location, then carried on down to the post office at the foot of the mountain. I transacted my business – at this distance in time I cannot remember what it was – and made my way to the funicular railway station, stopping off to buy a pastry snack and a bag of plums.
I told the conductor that I wanted to alight before my usual, chalet level, stop. He raised one eyebrow and gave me a quizzical look, but dinted my ticket with his metal ticket dinter without further comment. The windows of the carriage were steamed up, so I could not see a thing outside. I lit my pipe, and we began to creak slowly upwards.
I got off when the conductor gave me the nod, and trudged over to the crevasse. In my absence, the block of ice had not thawed one iota. If anything it had frozen to even more adamantine solidity, not surprising given the foul weather. The sun had been obscured by clouds and mist and bad air for three or four days on the trot. I tapped my bemittened knuckle on the ice, but of course the monkey inside did not stir. How could it? It too was frozen solid.
My first thought had been to melt the ice in situ, releasing the monkey dangerously close to the crevasse. If, upon regaining consciousness, it bounded off in the direction of the gaping chasm and looked as if it might plunge to its death, I hoped to forestall such a calamity by tempting it with plums, or pastry. But while aboard the funicular railway, I had become peckish, extinguished my pipe, and eaten half the plums and the entire pastry. I had to rethink my plans. It would make far more sense to haul the block of ice up to my chalet, and to melt it there. This would have the advantage that I could immediately put the frozen monkey in a place of comfort – my sofa or my bed – so that when it eventually awoke it would be less likely to panic and plunge down a crevasse.
The problem now was how to transport the block of ice up the unforgiving mountainside. Monkeys, I knew, were banned from the funicular railway, and with good reason. I was barely strong enough to clamber uphill unencumbered, let alone shoving, Sisyphean fashion, a block of ice containing a monkey ahead of me. For one wild moment I envisioned a helicopter swooping down, rope dangling, to ferry my cargo to the chalet. But of course the mountain, and its hinterland for miles in every direction, were a no fly zone according to Directive No. 17. What I had always found puzzling, incidentally, was the impossibility of finding out what on earth Directives Nos. 1 to 16 were. Nobody seemed to know, or at least nobody was willing to tell.
Then I remembered that I had, in my cupboard in the chalet, a very lengthy length of sturdy chain. It should be possible to affix one end of this to the block of ice, and to devise a contraption which, with minimal effort from me, for example dainty movements of my little fingers, would drag the block of ice up to my chalet. Satisfied, I lit my pipe and waited for the funicular railway to resume my journey up and home.
While I waited I peered at the monkey inside the ice, or as much of it as I could see, which in truth was very little. Sometimes ice is crystal clear, but this block was somewhat more opaque. It gave the monkey a blurred quality, as if viewed by a catastrophically myopic person, or seen in a dream. I had often dreamed of such monkeys, blurry, ill-defined, and ominously still. It had never occurred to me to wonder what these dreams might “mean”, as if they could possibly mean anything! Stalin has always seemed to me a far better guide than Freud. That is why I have a hammer-and-sickle emblem nailed to the door of my chalet, to announce my stance to any visitors, thus averting the risk of futile conversations.
And the funicular railway carriage arrived on schedule and I clambered aboard and I smoked my pipe and ate the remainder of the plums and I alighted at my usual stop and I went home and I devised a contraption to drag the block of ice up the mountain slope and I fetched the chain from the cupboard and I fixed one end of it to the bracket on the contraption and gave it a hefty tug to ensure it was secure and I started to make my way slaloming back down the mountain paying out the chain behind me until I came to the block of ice with the monkey inside it and I wrapped the chain round and round the ice and gave it a hefty tug to ensure it was secure and I returned to the funicular railway stop to wait for the carriage to take me back uphill and then I began to feel peckish again and instead of going home I slalomed down to the village and bought another pastry and another bag of plums and I sat on a stone bench next to a statue of Stalin and scoffed the pastry and the plums and when I was replete I fell into a doze right there on the bench and I dreamed of a monkey, blurry, ill-defined, and ominously still.
I can hardly believe that fifty years have passed since that day.
I have no doubt that the apparent monkey was in fact D Blaine, if that is the right name, enacting one of his unappetising, self-harming stunts … but that doesn’t stop this being a highly diverting account.