Joost Van Dongelbraacke’s Peppery Constitution

Joost Van Dongelbraacke’s peppery constitution is the subject of not one, not two, but three new publications, a book, a pamphlet, and a monthly magazine. One might think that the constitution of a suburban shaman is too thin a topic to support a regular periodical, particularly such a fat and glossy one, but that is to discount the monomania of its editor, Tilly Whelkstallholder. Tilly is a woman of considerable intellectual energy. Early in life, her ambition was to become, like Eva Crane, a pivotal figure in the world of beekeeping for half a century, but she had to abandon this plan when it became clear that, try as she might, she simply could not get her head around the difference between bees, wasps and hornets. She would stare for hours at photographs, or illustrations, or dead bees, wasps and hornets suspended in aspic or a similar jelly, but all that happened was that her brain became a fuddled and fuming thing, and she had to go to the canteen at Hubermann’s department store for a reviving cup of tea.

It was over one such refreshment that she first encountered the name Joost Van Dongelbraacke. The suburban shaman had been invited to respond to a Q & A in that week’s issue of Dashed Beekeeping Ambitions magazine, and Tilly found some of his answers fascinating. For example, asked who he would invite to his ideal dinner party, Van Dongelbraacke listed Jack and Bobby Charlton, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Previte, and Eva Crane, among some two hundred guests. In response to the question “O Joost, why hast thou forsaken me?”, he reportedly answered with a stream of heavily sub-edited invective. What really took Tilly’s fancy, though, was the revelation that Van Dongelbraacke had a peppery constitution. Downing what remained of her cup of tea, she hurried out of the canteen, popped in to a kiosk to buy a bus ticket and a carton of expensive Paraguayan cigarettes, and dawdled impatiently at the bus shelter until the number 5724938 arrived. Settling herself in the seat just behind the driver, she plotted the first edition of Joost Van Dongelbraacke’s Peppery Constitution Monthly Magazine as the bus juddered along the muddy lane out of town, past the swimming pool and the heron enclosure, down through the big frightening tunnel and out onto the sycamore- and lupin-lined highway, picking up speed as it screeched through villages named after French film directors, swerved off towards the Blister Lane Bypass, then thundered inexorably downhill parallel with the derelict funicular railway until it reached the bus depot on the outskirts of the tiny and gruesome fishing village where Tilly rented half a barn during the summer months. It was winter, so she had no key, and had to clamber in though a funnel at the back of the other half of the barn and then smash down the connecting door with an axe. A week later, the first issue of her magazine appeared on the shelves of Old Ma Purgative’s pie shop and newsagent’s.

It sold out within minutes, for the grubby fisherfolk of the village had a seemingly unquenchable enthusiasm for the work of Simon Schama and, ever canny, Tilly had persuaded the historian to contribute a cover story. Schama had never even heard of Van Dongelbraacke, but Tilly had given him free rein to write whatever he liked, and then edited the piece by inserting the suburban shaman’s name, and references to his peppery constitution, at whim. If Simon Schama complained, she reasoned, the threat of her axe to his spectacles would silence him. As we have seen, Tilly was a dab hand with that axe of hers.

Another reason for the sales blitz was that Tilly gave away one of Old Ma Purgative’s homemade celery and beetroot pies with each copy of the first issue. Now, the Old Ma was as tight-fisted a crone as you could imagine, and Tilly had to pay for every single pie out of her own pocket. Having spent the last florin of her offshore hedge fund to produce the magazine, and as ignorant of complex financial instruments as she was of the difference between bees and wasps and hornets, Tilly was forced to go to her bank manager to beg for a loan. Like the emptied hedge fund, her bank was based offshore for legal, or possibly criminal, reasons, and the scuppered trawler in the cabin of which the bank manager held court like a latterday Neptune was a day’s hard rowing out at sea. By dint of an oar mishap, Tilly’s little boat ran aground on Scroonhoonpooge Sands, invariably described as “treacherous” by those in the maritime know. She wasted a precious week living off rainwater and eels until rescued by a floating zoo. By chance, the zookeeper captain was both the uncle of the bank manager and a lifelong devotee of Joost Van Dongelbraacke, and he gave Tilly a handful of cash to buy sufficient pies from Old Ma Purgative. It is a minor tragedy that Tilly never spoke to the captain about her dashed beekeeping ambitions, for by a further eerie coincidence, this polymathic nautical zookeeper had, some years past, devised a completely idiot-proof method for telling apart bees and wasps and hornets, which even Tilly might have understood.

All that was a few months ago, and even though there are no more free pies, and Simon Schama has refused ever to write for it again, Tilly’s magazine continues to befuddle those marketing experts who predicted ruin. It is now on sale not only in Old Ma Purgative’s pie shop and newsagent’s, but also in Hubermann’s, and copies can be consulted in the Library of Congress, although Tilly becomes tight-lipped when asked precisely which Library of which Congress, and some suspect she may be referrring to a cupboard belonging to the Pang Hill Butchers’ Shops Trade Association.

I began by saying that Tilly’s magazine was one of three new publications devoted to Joost Van Dongelbraacke’s peppery constitution, the others being a book and a pamphlet. I realise now that I misread an item in the latest newsletter from the Pang Hill Butchers’ Shops Trade Association, and that neither the book nor the pamphlet exist. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting sick and tired of irresponsible butchers peddling falsehoods or ambiguities in their trade publications. And don’t get me started on grocers, fishmongers, and pastry shop proprietors. It’s time something was done. Start writing your placards!

3 thoughts on “Joost Van Dongelbraacke’s Peppery Constitution

  1. Frank,

    Like you I cannot abide people who spend all day discoursing on fictional, or otherwise non-existent texts and authors. It is enough that we should have to cope with fictional athletes, never mind apocryphal authors and their un-written tomes.

    I believe that Dobson once wrote a pamphlet decrying this modern tendency to confuse that which is real and that which is mere folly – would that it were not out of print as I would gladly thrust copies of it in the curmudgeny faces of those trade publications editors.


  2. Mr Key,
    I decry in the most verbose, guttural, and wheedling terms your correspondent Tristan Shuddery…
    His denial of Frictional Athlete Bobnit Tivol is to my sens…..
    Oh… I see… Fictional…
    Please ignore the above as you would ignore an intemporate Norwegian iconoclastic gamekeeper…

  3. Mr. Key,
    I too would like to decry in the strongest possible terms (although I fear that the strongest possible terms only really amount to writing the words “the strongest possible terms”, more’s the pity) any fictional characters at all, and I reserve particular vitriol for fictional characters who decry other fictional characters.

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