It was my intention today to use this space to compile a list of nitwits. The idea was to save you, gentle readers, from having to work out for yourselves who was, and who was not, a nitwit. You could simply memorise my list and then, whenever you saw or heard a nitwit, you could cry “Nitwit!”, and pay the nitwit in question no further regard, thus freeing up your time for more salubrious pursuits than being exposed to nitwittery. If your cranial integuments were unequal to the task of memorising the list, you could print it out and carry it with you at all times, in pocket or reticule, hoisting it out to check it when in the presence of a possible or probable nitwit.
I am not suggesting that you do not know a nitwit when you see one, but I thought it would be helpful for you to have a ready made list. Ah, but already your eyes are scanning the splurge of text below this line, and you see no sign of a list. Did my plan gang agley, and if so, why, for heaven’s sake?
Well, jumping out of bed before dawn and plunging my head into a pail of ice-cold water, as ever, I began compiling the list within that same head, wet and freezing. There would be time enough to write down the names of this first flurry of nitwits when I repaired to my escritoire after breakfast, breakfast today being eggy, accompanied by a single smokers’ poptart, washed down with liquefied vitamin-enriched pap. The difference between common or garden pap and liquefied pap is that the latter is runnier, and can be poured into a beaker for the swigging therefrom. Common or garden pap, while still runny, when compared say to a potato or a block of suet, is usually served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon. I know these things.
But I am leaping ahead of myself. Let us return to where I was doubled over with my head plunged into a pail of icy water. The names of seven or eight nitwits sprang to mind before I lifted my head, took a gulp of air, and replunged. During the second immersion I thought of several more nitwits. One more deep breath, and the third and final plunge, and before I was even wrapping a towel around my freezing head I had a mental list of at least a score of nitwits.
I just need to clear something up here before we proceed. I may have given the impression that I am only capable of thinking of the names of nitwits at such times as my head is immersed in ice cold water. Not so! I can as well summon the names of a legion of nitwits with my head wrapped in a towel, or indeed not wrapped in a towel or any other swaddling, just plonked atop my neck breathing in the air, fresh or foetid as may be. Don’t get the wrong idea.
So, as I prepared my breakfast eggs ‘n’ smokers’ poptart ‘n’ pap, with my habitual ritualistic precision, I congratulated myself on having made a splendid start to my nitwit list. And here I must confess that self-congratulation is my fatal weakness. I have been known to give myself a thunderous round of applause simply for completing a mundane task, for instance making my breakfast, or tying my bootlaces. In my defence, I would point out that I only do this because it was recommended to me by the author of the only self-help book I have ever read. In Clap Yourself Stupid! – Ten Steps To A Dementedly High Level Of Self-Esteem, Dr Bruce Terrific – pictured on the back cover wearing splendid moustachios and a cravat – suggests not only applauding oneself but also patting oneself on the back using a patented arm-extension device, striking one’s own medals from milk-bottle caps, and playing tape recordings of the cheering of hysterically overexcited crowds, cleverly modified so they sound as if they are bawling one’s own name through tears of happiness and joy. I have found these methods work wonders, and it is now at least three weeks since I have compared myself to a worm wriggling in the muck.
More names of nitwits popped into my head, now dry and slightly warmer, as I ate my breakfast. I was impatient to get to the escritoire and to start writing them down. At this point, I began to wonder whether I ought to simply scribble the names down, one after another, on sheets of notepaper, or if it would be better to make use of a stack of index cards. If I gave each nitwit their own individual card, I would have space for annotations. These could prove invaluable. Already, in my mental list of nitwits, I had two nitwits with very similar names, differing in fact by only a single letter. Granted, they were both nitwits, through and through, but the nature of their nitwittery varied – one was a saintly nitwit, the other a knave and jackass – and it would not do to mix them up. It also occurred to me that, as my list lengthened, there may be a similar similarity in the name of a nitwit and the name of one who was not a nitwit by any stretch of the imagination. I did not want the users of my list to call its reliability into question by making the assumption that I had included a non-nitwit on a list of nitwits or, worse, that I had declared one who was quite clearly not a nitwit to be a nitwit. Were that to happen, I would run the risk of being called a nitwit myself. Perish the thought!
If only the thought had perished. But it began to gnaw at me, before I had even finished my breakfast, before I had even got as far as my escritoire, and my notepad, and my stack of index cards, and my pot of propelling pencils. Should I be on the nitwit list?, I asked myself, over and over again. Sometimes I answered no, sometimes yes, sometimes I left the question hanging, and it hung over me like the sword of Damocles, to the point where I got all wibblywobbly and frightened and jellylegged and fretful. Hoping for some kind of succour, I reached for my self-help book and stared at the photograph of Dr Bruce Terrific. His black and white eyes gazed back at me, curiously unreadable, fathomless, cold. It was like looking into the unreadable fathomless cold eyes of a swan.
I received no succour, no answer. Mopping up the last bit of egg with the last corner of smokers’ poptart, I decided I could not take the risk of being dubbed a nitwit. If I were called a nitwit, I might become a nitwit, my name at the top of my own list of the names of nitwits. It was a prospect too horrible to contemplate. I banged my fork on my plate and stood up, and I walked right past my escritoire, out through the door, into the freezing cold, and I gulped the icy air, as dawn came crashing across the sky.