Our first example of uncontrollable flapping about and twitching took place in a pantry cluttered with jars in much disorder. Some of the jars contained goo or curd or pips or suet, in varying quantities, and some of the jars were empty. None were clean. All the jars had a coating of grime, as if they had lain untouched for many moons, as indeed they had, for this was an abandoned pantry. The lids of the jars would not have been easy to loosen had a determined person entered the pantry bent upon loosening the lid of any one of the jars, perhaps to eke out some goo or curd or pips or suet, or perhaps to pour into one of the empty jars a new and exciting substance. And hark! Here comes such a person, a wheezing person stomping down the passage towards the pantry and kicking the door in. He is a liveried attendant gone to seed and become a brute and he is holding a hammer. He has come to smash all the jars in the pantry for he has lost all sense of decorum. And then an Angel of the Lord appears, all a-shimmer, and commands him to lay down his hammer and leave the cluttered jars untouched. This is when the person begins flapping about and twitching uncontrollably, for about thirty seconds, in fear and shame, before fleeing the abandoned pantry. That happened on a Thursday.
The second example involves a peasant and a cow and many bees. It was a Saturday. The peasant had trudged into the field to take a close look at the cow, for the cow had been fractious and the peasant was concerned. Though unlettered, the peasant had a goodly store of country wisdom and was confident that if the cow was sick he would be able to identify the nature of its malady and cure it. Like many a tragic hero in fiction, the peasant sought redemption for an enormity in his past, an enormity committed due to a character flaw. Careful study of tragic heroes will reveal that they often have such a flaw. One thinks of Coriolanus, for example, or Dobson. Neither the nature of the peasant’s fatal flaw, nor of the enormity for which he sought redemption, need concern us here, for this is not a tragedy, it is just an example of uncontrollable flapping about and twitching. In any case, it is reportage rather than fiction. That being so, the reader is entitled to hard facts, rigorously researched, and the winnowing out of all fluffiness. That is why I have employed a Hooting Yard Fact-Checker so you can be absolutely sure that what you read here is the pure and unvarnished truth. Obviously you need to have confidence in the person charged with the fact-checking, and that is why I fought hard to get someone for the job who I know can be relied upon. Yes, it is easy to laugh at an ex-schoolteacher pushing sixty who still wishes to be known as “Sting”, but this was the man, remember, who first pointed out to the world that “Russians love their children too”. It is just such acuity of insight that makes him perfect for the job I have employed him to do, and for which I pay him a pittance each month. “Sting” has promised to set up a separate Hooting Yard Fact Check website, so we can all look forward to that.
I ought to point out here that, just as you can rely on me (and “Sting”) to provide you with big tough facts, so in return I expect a degree of attentiveness from you. Toe-tapping, head-scratching, and sloshing out of the ears with some sort of wax-crumbling fluid, these can surely wait until my report is done. That is the bargain we strike.
Now we’ve got that cleared up, like a rash, we can return to the peasant and the cow and the bees. But wait! You will want to be sure that they are bees, and not hornets, or wasps. Wait for a minute while I fire off a quick instruction to “Sting” to check up on that. Hmm. I have just realised how apposite his absurd nickname is for such a task.
OK. I have sent my missive and imagine that, as I write, “Sting” is checking his encyclopaedias and databases and whatnot. Unless I tell you otherwise, you can assume that the bees we are about to encounter in our second example of uncontrollable flapping about and twitching are indeed bees.
So the peasant with the tragic flaw trudged into the field to look at the cow, hoping to ascertain the nature of its sickness. Because it was a Saturday, the field was muddier than usual. The cow was standing more or less in the centre of the field, gazing at nothingness in a cow-like way. Its hocks had lost their shine, and the cardboard tag stapled to one of its ears was smudged. In this day and age, it is quite common for cows to have pieces of cardboard or plastic stapled to their ears, serving a number of purposes, and the staplers used are not so different from the staplers used in offices up and down the land. “Sting” told me that.
As he approached the cow, the peasant tried to dredge from his brain some of the folk wisdom with which it had been crammed since infancy. He remembered “If your cow is sick on a Monday morning / Go and spit upon a spade just as the day is dawning”, but that was no use to him, as it was Saturday. He remembered “Cow, cow, blotchy and stiff / Spray it with a bottle of Jif”, but that particular spell lost its efficacy when Jif products were renamed Cif as part of a marketing exercise early in the 21st century. And he remembered “Your cow is sick, it’s got bird flu / But the Russians love their children too”. As a piece of countryside lore this was useless, of course, as it did not suggest any remedies for the sick cow, but it is evidence of the extent to which the terrific profundities spouted by my fact-checking employee have entered the collective wisdom of the world.
Be that as it may, before the peasant got a chance to inspect the cow, a swarm of bees came in from the west, and buzzed menacingly about his head. Cue his uncontrollable flapping about and twitching, perfectly understandable in the circumstances. The bees harried the peasant until he turned tail and fled the field on that Saturday morning. The cow, by the way, had only a minor ailment, from which it recovered without human intervention, although I understand that it is currently in a cow-based twelve-step programme in an adjoining field. As for the peasant, he would have to await a new challenge to redeem himself from the peccadillos of his past, whatever they were.
We move on now, breathlessly but with vigour, to the third of our examples of uncontrollable flapping about and twitching. Forget pantries, forget peasants, this is a case of unearthly sci-fi stuff, set on a spaceship roaring through galaxies unimaginably distant, on a Tuesday evening. Captain Biff Bucklebim is at the controls on the deck of the USS Milquetoast Jesuit. He is a bit like Captain James T Kirk from Star Trek, but has a larger head and a speech impediment. As he likes to joke, it has been no impediment to his rise through the ranks of Starship Command, which has been meteoric. Captain Biff is still only twelve years old, although such are the warps and wefts of intergalactic travel that he is simultaneously ten thousand years old, and yet unborn, and akin to a god. Hard to get your head round, I know, and probably too much of a challenge for “Sting”, who is still working on those bees.
The USS Milquetoast Jesuit is sponsored by L’Oreal, and is powered by light-reflecting booster technology, just like Andi MacDowell’s hair. Captain Biff is contractually bound to use various L’Oreal hair products, but if he had his way he would smear his ginger mop with grease from the engine room. He is that kind of captain. When danger threatens, as it often does, he tousles his mop with one hand while punching the starship’s complicated control panel expertly with the other, all the while barking out commands to his crew. His accent is a curious mixture of Wyoming, Luxembourg, and vampire. He is extremely fond of Janacek’s String Quartet Number One, “The Kreutzer Sonata”, and likes to have it played by the starship band at moments of high peril. When they are otherwise engaged, for example if they have been beamed down to a newly discovered planetoid to give an impromptu concert of Thomas Beecham Lollipops, Captain Biff loses his rag and flies into a temper tantrum, with much uncontrollable flapping about and twitching.
I hope you have found these three examples helpful. Please add your own in the Comments. And please note that as soon as “Sting” gets back to me about the bees, I will add his findings here as a post scriptum.