These are dark tunnels, these Puckington Tunnels, and I have dwelt within them, since snacking on that carton of yoghurt, for over a hundred years.
That innocent little sentence, the conclusion to a piece about the Puckington Tunnels, caused a good deal of consternation among the Hooting Yard readership, and brought to the postbox a number of letters of complaint. This one, from Olivia Funnel, is typical:
Dear Mr Key, she writes, I am well aware that the Hooting Yard canon is riddled with inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and indeed with sheer ignorance, but this time you have outdone yourself. At the end of The Puckington Tunnels we learn that the narrator has been trapped in said tunnels for over a century. This makes a nonsense of much of the preceding text. Even if we take at face value the unlikely longevity of the narrator, we are left with a number of problems, to wit:
None of the genres of lit referred to â€“ chick, git, and zadiesmith â€“ existed one hundred years ago, so how is the narrator aware of them? How, too, does he or she know about David Lammyâ€™s lamentable appearance on Mastermind? If the tunnels are a magnet for tourists and part-time troglodytes, and one cannot escape from the system once one has entered it, surely the place must be teeming with bewildered folk? There are other stupidities in the text, but those will do to be going on with. I think your devoted readership deserves clarification of these matters, otherwise I will not be the only one whose life will be blighted irreparably by flummoxment. Yours sincerely, O Funnel (Ms).
I was not a little perplexed by these matters myself, so I asked the narrator to address them. It was a simple enough matter to communicate with him using the awesome power of Woohooboo. Here is his reply:
I am pleased your correspondent does not take issue with my remarkable longevity, but it is still worth explaining that it is accounted for by certain properties of the air within the tunnels. What these properties are I cannot say, but I know I have never felt fitter in my life and that my lung capacity is that of a fifteen-year old. I tested it myself, only yesterday, with a plastic-and-cellophane lung analysis kit, so that is no idle boast.
With her queries about my knowledge of bang up-to-the-minute popular culture, Ms Funnel makes broad assumptions without pausing to think things through. Can she really imagine that there is a spot on the globe, albeit a subterranean spot, that has escaped the ubiquity of zadiesmithlit? If anything, I would say that in the Puckington Tunnels we outdo much of the world in our devotion to the trendily headscarved faux intellectuelle writer. There is a cult of Zadie down here, and the totems of Jeanette Winterson have been toppled at last! And of course we receive regular consignments of chicklit and gitlit to keep the troglodyte zombies out of mischief. I confess that it is unclear to me how our lit is delivered. It is, I think, something to do with motors and rails and pulleys and vacuum tubes.
Regarding the appearance of the numbskull Lammy on Mastermind, my knowledge of that came to me in a vision of almost Blakean intensity. Enough said.
I have spoken of â€œweâ€ and â€œusâ€ and it is true that I am not alone in the tunnels, that we have a thriving community here, kept busy crawling on our bellies and reading lit. But there are fewer people than one might imagine, given the number of tourists and weekenders. When he constructed the tunnels, the â€œhuman moleâ€ placed near the entrance a bottomless viper pit, modelled on the one at Shoeburyness, and a majority of visitors plummet down that, screaming. He was a proper caution, that Puckington.
It is to be hoped that Olivia Funnel and the other serial whingers are satisfied with this compelling report from our man in the tunnels. What he has to say makes complete sense to me, and if holes remain in his narrative, then let it be a narrative with holes. Dennis Beerpint once wrote a poem with holes in it, and it proved to be his most popular work, far outselling his usual twee doggerel.