The Barbarian At The Gate

One morning recently, I walked out of my house and along the path to my front gate, and there, standing on the other side of it, was a barbarian. Sensing that he was about to smash my gate down with mighty blows from the heavy wooden club he was brandishing, I moved to distract his attention by pointing up at the sky and saying “Oh look! A peewit!”

According to Pepinstow’s Bumper Book of Barbarians, barbarians are particularly partial to peewits, and will usually become much less barbaric in their presence. But of course, I had invented the peewit, I had pointed at nothing. I was merely playing for time. Soon enough, the barbarian at my gate would realise there was not a nearby peewit, and he would set about smashing down my gate and laying waste to anything and everything in his path, including me.

As he turned his head to look up, therefore, I dug into my pocket for a glob of plasticine, and swiftly fashioned it into a toy or model peewit. It was a pretty cack-handed effort, resembling a punch-drunk starling, or even Stalin, rather than a peewit. I hoped nevertheless it would serve to fool the barbarian and placate him for a minute or two.

This would give me time to make a call to the Defence of Civilisation Foot Patrol, who would come screeching up in their squad cars and Taser the barbarian. You might wonder why a Foot Patrol goes about in cars, but these are strange times, strange times indeed.

Before I had time to call them, however, the barbarian at my gate had ascertained that the sky was empty of peewits, turned his head back to glare at me, spotted the plasticine sort-of-peewit in my outstretched hand, made a series of mawkish icky cooing noises, grabbed the peewit in his huge hairy paw, and begun dribbling. Not for the first time, I gave thanks to Pepinstow.

But in the Bumper Book, Pepinstow advises strongly against the Tasering of placated barbarians. Apparently, this only redoubles their barbarity when the effects of the Taser wear off. Thus I was in something of a quandary. The barbarian, too stupid to realise that the plasticine peewit was not a real peewit, remained as if transfixed at my gate, thus blocking my exit. And I had an urgent appointment at the Village Wrestling Ring!

Also, it occurred to me that the manner in which the barbarian was mauling the peewit, in the mistaken belief that he was coddling it, meant that it would soon lose its peewity shape, and be once again a plasticine glob. As soon as the barbarian noticed this, he would cease the cooing and the dribbling and be once again barbaric. What was it Pepinstow had written? To the barbarian, mauling is coddling, or words to that effect.

I realised I needed a real peewit, one that could fly, and thus coax the barbarian to follow it, away from my gate. But where could I obtain a peewit at short notice? I rushed back indoors and logged in to the ePeewit website on my computer. I noted that there were a couple of fairly local peewit vendors, one of whom offered express delivery by drone. I tried to place an order, but as usual the ePeewit site was agonisingly slow and repeatedly asked me for my password and the name of my childhood pet puppy. I could not remember my password and I never had a puppy.

In desperation, I wondered if I could make my own flying peewit, out of plasticine, by attaching to it a propellor. I had a stash of plasticine, but where could I obtain a propellor? Could I make one using a couple of drinking straws? Damn Pepinstow for not addressing this eventuality!

Then I heard the first crunch! of my gate being smashed by the barbarian’s club. Clearly the plasticine peewit had lost its shape and he was no longer placated. I cowered in a corner, listening to the awful sounds of the barbarian destroying my gate, and my garden path, and my front door, and anything else in his way as he came lumbering, barbarically, into the room. I was about to cry out for mercy, using the wording recommended by Pepinstow, when the barbarian laid down his club, mopped his brow with a filthy rag, and said:

“Good morning to you, sir. I am Detective Captain Unstrebnodtalb. I come from a far country, and my brain is hot.”

NOTA BENE : Readers who have immersed themselves in Mr Key’s witterings since the last century may recognise this as an hommage to The Immense Duckpond Pamphlet (1990).

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