Joost Van Dongelbraackeâ€™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 Hubermannâ€™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 weekâ€™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 â€œO Joost, why hast thou forsaken me?â€, he reportedly answered with a stream of heavily sub-edited invective. What really took Tillyâ€™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 Dongelbraackeâ€™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 Purgativeâ€™s pie shop and newsagentâ€™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 shamanâ€™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 Purgativeâ€™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
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, Tillyâ€™s magazine continues to befuddle those marketing experts who predicted ruin. It is now on sale not only in Old Ma Purgativeâ€™s pie shop and newsagentâ€™s, but also in Hubermannâ€™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 Butchersâ€™ Shops Trade Association.
I began by saying that Tillyâ€™s magazine was one of three new publications devoted to Joost Van Dongelbraackeâ€™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 Butchersâ€™ Shops Trade Association, and that neither the book nor the pamphlet exist. I donâ€™t know about you, but Iâ€™m getting sick and tired of irresponsible butchers peddling falsehoods or ambiguities in their trade publications. And donâ€™t get me started on grocers, fishmongers, and pastry shop proprietors. Itâ€™s time something was done. Start writing your placards!