[Apropos the title, see here.]
In the early days of the regime, we attended a briefing every morning at 0800 hours in the pavilion. One day, the Commodore himself addressed us.
“Men,” he said, “If the regime is to succeed, and succeed it will, we must hunt down the nincompoops, the dunderpates, and the chumps. They are legion. We must hunt them down, round them up, and then inject their brains, one by one by one, with a serum. At this stage the serum is experimental, but early tests on the brains of stoats show promise. You will know George A B Dewar’s dictum that ‘craft, cruelty, concentration – these, with a wonderful suppleness, are the characteristics of the stoat… No animal’ he goes on to say, ‘has the stoat’s reputation for devilry’. How true that is. Yet once the serum has worked its way into their brain-jelly, the guinea pig stoats, if I may use the term, become what we might call regime-fit. And it is an essential part of our programme that our nincompoops and dunderpates and chumps, they too, in their massive numbers, become regime-fit. So you will hunt them down, men, starting today. Nincompoops commonly gather in chalets on mountainsides. The dunderpate will be found in our cities, in the vicinity of important railway stations, or queuing up at kiosks. As for chumps, they tend to inhabit nests, like vipers or robins. You will be divided into three squadrons, with different-coloured socks, and go hence on your essential mission. Any questions?”
My hand shot up.
“To which squadron have I been assigned, O Commodore?” I shouted, with absolutely sincere enthusiasm.
With his mastery of detail, the Commodore was able to rap back at me that I was to be second-in-command of Chump Squadron. My socks would be gash-gold vermilion.
Later that day, after clambering over a hedge in the rain, I saw my first chumps’ nest.
“Look!”, I hissed to my squadmate, “Over there, next to the pylon. If I am not mistaken, that is a nest of chumps.”
There were several foolish people, encamped in a sort of bivouac, behaving foolishly, as chumps would, at a picnic, say.
“Ach, God!” cried my squadmate, channelling Rupert Brooke, “Is that not an evocative sight?”
“Is it?” I replied, irritated. I was already fossicking in my knapsack for the serum.
“Yes,” he said, “Does it not evoke for you that wonderful poem by Dennis Beerpint? How does it go? We ate breakfast in the coppice, squatting on our haunches. Our breakfasts were more toothsome than our lunches. Something something something, in the shade of elms and larches. We tried to stop the toast and jam from smearing our moustaches.”
“Have you taken leave of your senses?” I snapped. “First, it is mid-afternoon, so whatever they are picnicking upon, those chumps are not engaged in breakfast. Second, they are squatting under a looming electricity pylon, not under elms and larches. And third – ”
“Yes, I suppose you are right,” he interrupted, “But still, it is an evocative sight. It seems such a pity that we should destroy it by setting upon them and injecting their brains with the serum.”
“We must do our duty,” I said.
“Would Dennis Beerpint have done his duty?” he asked, irrelevantly. He reached into his knapsack and took out a sketchpad and pencil. “At least let me capture the essentials of this evocative scene with paper and pencil. Then when we are back at camp I can work it up into one of my noted mezzotints.”
It was then I realised that my squadmate was none other than Rex Tint, the noted mezzotintist. And thus I learned an invaluable lesson, about poetry, and mezzotints, and chumps, and picnics in the rain. I poured the serum, every last drop of it, into a ditch, and there and then I vowed to do all in my power to topple the regime. We never returned to camp. Instead we joined the chumps in their nest, and shared their toast and jam. I smeared some on my moustache. It felt like a badge of honour.
R : Oh for God’s sake!