An old favourite from the archives, first posted in 2008. Two words have been added to the original text, giving beetle-browed students of Key Studies something to write an essay about.
Once upon a time, I was scrabbling down the lower reaches of a mountainside, through shingle and scumble and bracken, when I chanced upon a tosspot’s bivouac. It was a surprisingly well-made bivouac, using branches from larch and beech and bladdernut and sycamore trees to form a roof upon which sufficient foliage had been empacted to provide sterling shelter from hailstorms and tempests, although the weather was in fact spectacularly clement. Clement, too, was the name of the tosspot, as I soon learned, for I immediately struck up a conversation with him, as is my habit when I encounter mountainside people.
I learned that he had taken to his bivouac after fleeing. Fleeing from what?, I asked, but he seemed reluctant to tell me. Someone with a less acute insight into human nature than I may have put this down to coyness, but I spent many years studying under Glaggy and Dampster, so I knew there was more than simple shyness behind his diffident mutterings, and I determined to winkle the full story out of him.
So I grabbed the tosspot around the neck with one of my huge bear-like hands, lifted him off his feet, and shook my other huge bear-like hand, made into a fist, in front of his face. As Dampster taught, by attuning one’s fist-shaking to a very precise rhythm, the half-strangled subject is quickly placed in what Glaggy termed a “confessional brain-zone”, akin to having been injected with a truth serum. As I suggested, it took years of training to perfect the technique, and I am afraid a large number of fully-strangled hamsters and stoats lie buried in the grounds of the Institute.
Five minutes later I was fully apprised of the reasons why the tosspot had fled to his mountainside bivouac. He had been employed as an extra in a heist film set on a submarine. Sterling Hayden may have been involved in the production, but this was not entirely clear. What came shining through the tosspot’s account, however, was the claustrophobic atmosphere on the set, which was actually a real, decommissioned submarine. The tenebrous, leaking interior had been slightly refurbished to include heist movie essentials like an intricate security system and a safe full of gold bullion, but otherwise it remained cramped and hot and riddled with clanking machinery. After six days filming, during which time he had to lean against a damaged pump looking mordant, the tosspot had cracked. Tearing off his submariner’s green tunic and cap, he stumbled out of the submarine, swam to the surface of the tank in which it was docked, scrambled up a ladder to the studio canteen, and fled, until he reached the mountainside, where with unaccustomed competence he constructed his bivouac using already fallen branches from larch and beech and bladdernut and sycamore trees, and the foliage thereof, where I bumped into him as I scrambled down from the mountain peak, upon which I had been making an invaluable study of the nesting habits of the mountain lopwit.
Later I was to discover that the continuity person on the film set, distraught at the vanishing of Clement the tosspot, and unable to find anyone of a similar physiognomy to lean against the damaged pump looking mordant, advised the producer to abandon the project. It remained unclear whether this producer was Sterling Hayden, or possibly Hume Cronyn. Either way, the film was never finished.
I put down the tosspot and gave him a look of reproach, and then I carried on down the mountainside in sadness and sorrow.