A gastronome and a dramaturge were out a-walking one day when they became engulfed in an eerie purple mist. Though they knew it not, it was the sort of mist beloved of writers of phantasmal stories. In these tales, those exposed to the mephitic vapours emerge somehow changed. See, for example, the film The Incredible Shrinking Man, or, lethally, The Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel.
What happened in the present case was that the pair eventually stumbled out of the mist transformed into a gastroturge and a dramanome. At first they were unaware of the change the mist had wrought. They walked on, o’er the flint-strewn fields, until they reached the clump of pollarded willows by the canal just before the level crossing, where they shook hands and parted, promising to meet each other at the same spot the next day to go a-walking again.
It would be worth devoting a paragraph to that handshake, had I the words to describe it, or to convey its immense significance. What it was not was the kind of coded handshake performed by members of secret societies to signal to each other their shared affiliation. Rather, it was to all intents and purposes a perfectly normal and unremarkable handshake. Had you witnessed it, if, say, you were a peewit perched on the pollarded stub of a branch of one of those willows, you would very likely notice nothing unusual, and fly away, bored. Can birds be bored? That is a query for another occasion, when we are concerned with ornithological psychology rather than with gastroturgy and dramanomery, our current preoccupations.
We will continue into a second paragraph with the handshake, for we are not done with it yet. There is a verse by Dennis Beerpint where the poet writes, famously, In vegetation and in awe / They made a handshake last for hours. This was not that sort of handshake. It lasted for only a few moments, like the average handshake. It involved no special grasp, nor funny business. The right hands of the gastroturge and the dramanome, the ones they shook, were as near as dammit matched in size and in finger-numbers, in neither case being deformed in any way nor outwith the standard lineaments of the adult human hand. Look at the diagrams in Di Boffo’s Gallery Of Standardised Anatomical Limb Appendages, Book IV, and you will see etchings that could be drawn from posings by the gastroturge and the dramanome in person, had they been alive at the time of publication.
Which is by way of saying, as we embark on a third paragraph devoted to the subject, that there really was nothing remarkable about the handshake at all, save for the fact that it was remarkable. The difficulty is in articulating, in plain words, what was so remarkable about it. And believe me, it was, oh! it certainly was! The peewit – or the putative peewit – may well have flown away, bored, but we should not rely on a bored bird to tell us about the fathomless intricacies of human interaction, particularly when that bored bird is merely a notional bird invented as a conceit. It need not even be a peewit. It could equally well be a starling or a chaffinch.
But let us not labour the point, babbling into yet another handshake-fixated paragraph. We know the handshake was of immense significance. We know we have not the words to explain why. It may be a solace to recognise that the fictional peewit, or starling, or chaffinch, is in an even worse position, having no words at all, not even inadequate words, but merely tweetings and chirrups and similar birdy witterings at its disposal. Also, birds’ brains are tiny, much smaller than the brains of the gastroturge and the dramanome. And those brains, albeit both bigger than a bird’s, were about to succumb to unimaginable mental chaos.
Let us not forget that they entered the eerie purple mist as a gastronome and a dramaturge. Yet when they emerged, they had been transformed, in some inexplicable manner, into a gastroturge and a dramanome. As they shook hands by the clump of pollarded willows by the canal just before the level crossing, and parted, taking their divergent paths home, neither was aware of what had befallen them. Only slowly, as the day wore on, and their brains struggled to comprehend the cataclysmic changes, did the gastroturge and the dramanome begin to exhibit erratic patterns of behaviour. At first these were barely perceptible. But by the next morning, both of them had gone completely doolally.
By midday, less than twenty four hours since they had been engulfed in the eerie purple mist, both the gastroturge and the dramanome were under lock and key, confined in neighbouring secure wards in a Bewilderment Home. And there they would remain, for years to come, until boffins could work out a method of switching turge to nome, and nome to turge, without having to wrench their heads off their necks, or commit some similar, almost certainly fatal, procedure.
Meanwhile, the pair sat peering out of their windows at a peewit perched on the pollarded stub of a willow. Birds have no hands to shake, in greeting or in parting. Take note of that fact. It may prove useful to you, in the coming days.