On the pier a milksop bellowed. He was shouting at the sea. Ordinarily, we do not think of bellowing as something milksops do. But this particular milksop was that rare creature, a bellowing milksop. He felt compelled to mince to the very end of every pier he came to, there to bellow at the terrible sea.
His bellowing was largely wordless and incoherent, like a performance piece by Yoko Ono, though every now and then a sliver of sense could be picked up by an alert listener. These fragments were noted down by his Boswell, with a propelling pencil in a notepad. The milksop’s Boswell, whose name, fortuitously, was Boswell, followed the milksop from pier to pier, lagging always several paces behind him. Boswell himself was no milksop. He had once been a wrestler of average repute.
Here is a sample page from one of the notepads:
The pier at Imber, St Bibblybibdib’s Day, morning, weather balmy.
O vast wet sea!
Glebe of Havoc!
Neither hoity nor toity!
War is over if you want it!
Dexy’s midnight runner beans!
When the milksop’s bellowing had exhausted him, and he slouched panting on the pier, his Boswell tucked propelling pencil and notepad into his pocket, took the milksop in his arms, and carried him all the way back along the pier to the seaside boarding-house where, earlier, the pair had rented a pair of rooms. He deposited the milksop on his bed, then went to a nearby cafeteria to work up the latest slivers of sense into a grammatically impeccable letter to the editor of the local seaside newspaper. Few if any of these letters were ever published.
In the evenings, Boswell would listen to the foopball results on the wireless while the milksop traced, in a gazetteer, a footpath to the next pier. As darkness fell, lanterns were lit, and cucumber sandwiches were scoffed.
The milksop was usually too exhausted from his bellowing to make conversation with Boswell, but every now and then, if he swallowed a vitamin supplement, he might manage to ask Boswell to recount an anecdote from his wrestling days. Boswell was reluctant to do so – he was still plagued by nightmares involving half-nelsons and blind tags and dusty finishes – and he found excuses to demur. He would complain of a fictional sore throat, or point out of the window at strange swooping nocturnal birds, or even sometimes march out of the boarding-house and down to the beach to dig pointless holes in the sand, leaving the milksop alone, sprawled on his bed, weakly picking breadcrumbs from his chin and depositing them in a bedside breadcrumb tin. It had no lid.
So many piers, so much bellowing, so little sense. They were golden years, that now resemble lead.