Pirouette And Volte Face

One foul sunlit morning in the late 1950s, Dobson sat at the breakfast table gazing into space, like a man whose head was entirely vacant.

Whatever is the matter, Dobson?” asked the out of print pamphleteer’s inamorata, Marigold Chew, between mouthfuls of boiled cornflake ‘n’ duck’s liver mush, “You are gazing into space like a man whose head is entirely vacant.”

On the contrary, my darling dearest pippety-poppet,” said Dobson, “My head is a teeming maelstrom of almost inhumanly complicated thought process doo-dah.”

Oh? And of what are you thinking?” asked Marigold Chew.

Well, my little pumpkinetto, as you know I have recently been reading – or rather rereading – or rather rerereading – the Memoirs of the plucky club-footed fascist tot Tiny Enid, and I have been struck by the passage in which she recounts how she taught herself to execute, simultaneously, a pirouette and a volte face.”

The pirouette must have proved tricky with that club foot of hers,” said Marigold Chew.

Oh, that was the least of her worries,” said Dobson, “And as I am sure you recall, Tiny Enid was a preternaturally agile tot in spite of her infirmity. No, the difficulty she had to overcome was to succeed in rotating her physical body 360 degrees at the very same time as making a mental rotation of just 180 degrees, for if you think about it for a moment, or, as I have been doing, if you think about it throughout breakfast, the volte face is but half a pirouette. If the volte face continued through 360 degrees, one’s mental position would be identical to what it was at the start, just as, in a pirouette, one returns to one’s original physical position. You see?”

Yes, Dobson, I grasped that much immediately. That is why I have continued tucking into my breakfast while you are prattling. You should eat your mush before it goes cold.”

I am quite partial to cold mush,” said Dobson, “In fact I think I will leave my bowl and tuck into my breakfast after I have paid a visit to Old Ma Brimstone’s Ballet School next to the post office, where I can brush up on my pirouetting skills.”

And without another word, the out of print pamphleteer donned his Uzbekistani Yak Herder’s boots and crashed out of the door into a sudden and unexpected downpour, the bright battering sun having vanished behind thunderous black clouds sweeping across the sky, terrible as an army of Corbynistas marching with placards.

Trudging along the towpath of the filthy canal, Dobson turned his mind to considering a topic upon which he might attempt to perform a volte face while practising pirouettes. He ran through a series of subjects in his head. Aztecs, bleach, corrugated cardboard, dingly dells, eggs, funk music, geese – geese! Geese made him think of swans, and sure enough, just ahead, upon the canal, elegant yet savage, he saw a swan. Dobson had always hated swans. Well, perhaps he could force himself, while spinning round and round at Old Ma Brimstone’s Ballet School next to the post office, to spin his mind round, but only halfway round, through 180 degrees, so that by the time he completed his physical 360 degree pirouette, he would love swans, adore them. It was worth a try. Resolute, he pressed on through the mud.

Several hours later, Dobson crashed through his front door, sopping wet, just as the clouds dispersed and the sun reappeared in the sky, as bright and battering as Felix Randal’s great grey drayhorse’s sandal.

Oh hello Dobson,” said Marigold Chew, “How did you get on?”

Remind me never to go near that Ballet School next to the post office ever again!” cried Dobson, “Even if I have to go to the post office! I do not know what qualifications Old Ma Brimstone possesses, but I very much doubt she ever gained a diploma in the teaching of pirouetting technique. Each time I attempted a pirouette – while thinking about swans – I lost my balance and toppled over, and each time I toppled over I bashed my head on a hard jutting solid something-or-other, beside which Old Ma Brimstone insisted I practise. My bonce has suffered so many thumps that my wits are quite, quite bedizened and I cannot remember what I was doing at that confounded Ballet School in the first place. I am going to go and lie down in a darkened room and wallow in self-pity.”

As Dobson turned away, Marigold Chew reminded him that he had an uneaten bowl of boiled cornflake ‘n’ duck’s liver mush, gone cold.

The out of print pamphleteer spun round, through a full rotation of 360 degrees.

I hate cold mush!” he declaimed.

From whatever perch in an ethereal plane she was looking down upon Dobson, the plucky tot Tiny Enid applauded him.

You see?” she whispered through the aether, “It can be done!”

But Dobson’s brain was shattered, and he remained oblivious. And then he toppled over for the umpteenth time that day.

Tiny Enid And The Gigantic Colourful Bewinged Flying Insect

One la-la-la morning, Tiny Enid was limping along the cliffs at the edge of the Big Frightening Sea when, across the sky, zooming directly at her, came a gigantic colourful bewinged flying insect of unknown provenance. Most infants would have screeched in terror and cried for Ma or Pa to rescue them, but of course the plucky fascist tot was not most infants. She raised her arms, as if in terror, to pull the wool over the huge airborne being’s eyes, if it actually had any, and screech she did, but it was a screech not of fright but of blood-curdling menace. It was so terrific a screech that the enormous brightly-coloured mothish type of thing was immediately deafened, playing havoc with its complicated navigational head integuments, and it plummeted forthwith into the broiling waters where, unable to swim, it drowned.

Tiny Enid let fall her arms and patted the pocket wherein she carried her tiny toy Mannlicher-Carcano sniper’s rifle which, in spite of being tiny, and a toy, was a devastatingly effective firearm.

“I am glad I did not have to use my trusty sniper’s rifle to slaughter that curious wing-flapping monster,” she thought, “For it remains fully loaded and I can put the bullets to better use, should I happen later this morning to come upon malefactors and ne’er-do-wells roaming the cliffs.”

As indeed she did, but that is another story for another, more gruesome, time.

Vladimir Konashevich, illustration from 'The Muddle' by Kornei Chukovsky, published 1923

Illustration by Vladimir Konashevich, 1923

Rotating Withers

For me, the highlight of the recent Old Scratchy Black And White Newsreel Footage Of Tiny Fascists Film Festival was the exceedingly rare old scratchy black and white newsreel footage of Tiny Enid. The plucky fascist tot was filmed, possibly in the Old Town of Plovdiv, clomping along a street, in a polka dot dress, dragging behind her her club foot and withered leg.

This latter detail allows us to date the footage fairly precisely. In her Memoirs, written in her dotage, Tiny Enid recalled what she dubbed “the year of rotating withers”:

Then it so happened that I awoke one morning to discover that my left leg – the one which ends in a perfectly normal, as opposed to a club, foot – was withered. Being a brave and plucky tot I did not whimper, as so many girlies would have done, but dragged myself downstairs and tucked into my breakfast of milk slops, after which I got on with my day as usual.

The next day, Tuesday, my leg was still withered. But when I woke up on Wednesday, my left leg was as sound as before, but my left arm was withered. This withering lasted for three days, until the Saturday morning, when it was my right arm that was withered, while my left arm was wholly unwithered. Come Sunday, my right arm was back to normal but my right leg was withered.

And so it went on, turn and turn about, limb by limb. Only one was ever withered at a time, but invariably one of the four, either an arm or a leg, was withered, every day. Of course I coped admirably with these witherings, and never uttered a word of complaint, but I did wonder if I might ever return to being fully sound of limb, permanently, apart of course from my club foot.

It occurred to me that the unwithering of one and the withering of another must of necessity take place while I slept, for it was a discovery I made each morning when the alarm clock jangled me awake at six. I thus decided to forego sleep, and kept myself awake by singing rousing songs and smashing crockery. However, even as plucky a tot as I could only remain awake for so long before, as a poet might put it, the waters of Lethe closed over my head. When I woke up, my right leg, which had been withered, was unwithered, and my left leg was withered.

Eventually, and not before time, I decided to consult a physician. There was newly arrived in town a doctor with the splendidly appropriate name Ague-Palsy. I rapped my knuckles on his door, was ushered in, and he took one look at me and announced, in his gravelly voice, that I was suffering from rotating withers. This was not a malady I had ever heard of before, obviously, or I would have been able to diagnose it myself.

Dr Ague-Palsy proved to be an experimentalist. He was working at that time with an entirely new type of gas which he had either discovered or invented, it was never clear to me which. He prescribed a series of daily “gas baths”. The basic idea was that I filled the tub with piping hot water, pumped some of his gas into it, and then splashed about, playing with my toy ducks, for half an hour. A week of this regime, he said, and each of my four limbs would be free from withering for the foreseeable future.

I am pleased to report that this experimental treatment proved highly efficacious, and at the end of the week I was completely cured of rotating withers. He did not warn me of the side-effects of his new gas, which made me three times as plucky and reckless and fascistic as I had been before – so that was an added boon!

Eerie Mavis

Readers will be familiar with the plucky fascist tot Tiny Enid, but I have only recently learned of the existence of her cousin and sometime playmate, Eerie Mavis.

IMG_00000070

Eerie Mavis spent much of her time loitering in a barn, mucking about with lengths of string and rotting fruit and pliers. She is said to have had an affinity with jackdaws, though it is not clear how this manifested itself. Eerie she may have been, but she did not have the power of flight, and her speaking voice was more akin to the mutter than the caw. Indeed, one of the eeriest things about Eerie Mavis was her constant, incomprehensible, and somehow menacing muttering, which began as soon as she woke from sleep on her straw pallet in the barn, and continued all bloody day until, in eventual exhaustion, she flung herself back on the pallet, and the Land of Nod. Even then, she was known to mutter in her sleep.

You could trust Eerie Mavis with a box of matches. She showed no signs of pyromania, and indeed could be counted on to douse any conflagrations which may erupt in the farmyard. She never seemed to be far from a spigot, and showed both delicacy and determination when handling a hosepipe.

She was not a musical tot – the eternal muttering put paid to any ambitions she may have had as a songstress – but could be spellbound by the sound of electric guitars played in the screeching heavy metal style, and also by the softer toots of the piccolo. When so spellbound, she would drop her string and fruit and pliers, and stand stock still, close by a spigot, in her slightly lopsided way, and shut her eyes, and levitate, an inch or so off the ground. Her muttering did not entirely cease at such times, but it became quieter.

Her slight lopsidedness had no apparent physical cause. She did not, unlike her cousin Tiny Enid, have a club foot, and wore no corrective boot. Passing farmyard adults would occasionally try to straighten her up, by means of gentle coaxing, to no avail. In a tape recorded interview, conducted decades later when she had become a crone, Eerie Mavis revealed that she had always stood bolt upright, and it was the farmyard itself that was lopsided. Alas, it had by then long been covered by concrete, and no land surveyor could attest to the truth of her claim.

A double biography of Eerie Mavis and Tiny Enid is long overdue. There is one in the works, from the pen of Pebblehead, but many obstacles lie in his path, not least the fact that each time he completes a page, no sooner has it rolled off his typewriter than it is snatched and borne away in the beak of a jackdaw, up into the blue Alpine skies, irretrievable, irretrievable, lost, lost, lost.

Tiny Enid’s Diary 4.1.34

Tiny Enid’s diary for this day in 1934.

Milk slops for breakfast, washed down with gin. Read a fascinating article in The Ipsy Dipsy Doo about Mussolini, Il Duce in faraway Italy. Having thoroughly digested it I decided to set off for the railway station to make the trains run on time. This is precisely the sort of activity a plucky tot such as myself ought to be engaged in.

On my way to the station I encountered a tearaway pulling the wings off flies. I kicked his head in and then made him glue the wings back on using a glue composed of his own blood, spittle, and bone marrow. Then I made him swear a solemn vow to be an upstanding citizen for the rest of his natural life. It is a shame such ne’er-do-wells can no longer be transported to Botany Bay.

Thinking of Botany Bay made me think of botany, so I paused by the railway embankment to pick some peonies and marigolds. Because of my deeds of derring-do and penchant for violence people often forget that I am just a simple little girly and take great pleasure in my flower press. Sometimes I fancy I hear the flowers shrieking as I press every last smidgen of life out of them.

At the railway station, the dithering old station master, Mr Cribbins, was faffing about with flags and hooters. Needless to say he cannot make the trains run on time. I lured him to some sidings by pretending my little dolly was trapped in the rails, then buried him up to his neck in coarse sand. I read him the riot act, or at least a version of it improvised by Il Duce, translated into English by my mysterious mentor. Back on the platform, I took up Mr Cribbins’ flag and hooter and deployed them in such a manner that I struck fear into the hearts of train drivers throughout the land. It was a good morning’s work.

Later I cut this picture out of a magazine:

el-fascismo

On A Talisman

There is a big damp building and at the top of the building there is an attic and in the attic are stacked some wooden crates and in one of the crates, wrapped up in yellowing newspaper, there is a talisman of great significance.

The talisman in this case takes the form of a pewter dog. Neither the pewter nor the simulacrum of a dog is in itself significant, nor the combination of the two. There is a sense in which the talisman might as well be a plasticine shoggoth. The talismanic property of the pewter dog inheres in its significance, not in its physical form. That form is, in any case, ephemeral, for everything crumbles, everything on earth, eventually. The earth itself will crumble. We are speaking of unimaginable stretches of time, the consecutive life-spans of millions and billions, oh! uncountable, gnats.

The pewter dog in the crate has a terrible power. It has been forgotten, wrapped up and stored away in a crate among other crates in an attic in a big damp building now abandoned and, eek!, slated for demolition. So says the sign tied with tough plastic tags to a post outside the building. The word CONDEMNED is prominent, in big bold black block capitals. Bulldozers will be appearing any day now, grumbling along the street first thing in the morning, in the mist.

But who should come clumping along the street this moment, on a windy afternoon? Why, it is Tiny Enid! The plucky tot with the club foot, in her polka dot dress, has heard tell of the pewter dog. Do not ask how, for there are mysteries within mysteries where the doings of Tiny Enid are concerned. As she clumps along the street she is swinging a crowbar. She is going to break into the big damp building and rummage through its rooms until she finds the talisman.

Also coming along the street, from the opposite direction, is a copper. Constable Globule is an old-fashioned copper with a bristly moustache and an avuncular manner. He is also a man suffused with a terrible righteousness. He is a lay preacher in a small and peculiar religious sect, for whom a vast swathe of human behaviour is sinful and unforgiveable. Breaking into an empty big damp building with a crowbar, for example, consigns the perpetrator to eternal hellfire.

Tiny Enid does not believe in hell. Nor does she believe in heaven. It is difficult to say what she does believe in, other than her own heroics, and perhaps one or two tenets of fascist ideology. We could say, then, that the imminent meeting of Tiny Enid and Constable Globule, both approaching the big damp building from opposite directions, is equivalent to the meeting of an immovable object and an irresistible force. Which represents which is not a question we are qualified to answer.

Before they meet, however, there is a moment of congruence when, if we were to draw imaginary lines between Tiny Enid and Constable Globule and the pewter dog talisman in the crate, they would form an equilateral triangle. Hold on to your hats!, for this will prove to be a decisive moment in the history of the world. Were the triangle to be drawn between Tiny Enid and Constable Globule and any other object, any other object whatsoever, we would not be bandying about such a dramatic claim. But the talisman, remember, is significant, even if we are not sure wherein its significance lies. All we know, at this stage, is that somehow its significance is connected, in some unfathomable yet decisive manner, with both Tiny Enid and Constable Globule.

Interestingly, neither the plucky tot nor the copper are aware of any of this. Tiny Enid’s thoughts are bent on breaking and entering, with the aid of her shiny new crowbar. Constable Globule’s brain is filled with prayer, a silent prayer, one beloved of his sect. He is also on the alert for any signs of wrongdoing.

Now watch, as the tot and the copper move inexorably towards the points on the street where they will make up an equilateral triangle with the pewter dog in the crate in the attic of the big damp building. Do not cover your eyes, do not plug your ears with cotton wool. Be not afraid, for there is nothing to fear. The decisive moment is fast approaching. There will be wonders.

Oops! Tiny Enid has taken a tumble. She has a club foot, remember, and sometimes totters, for example if the paving slabs of a pathway have not settled flat, due to shoddy workmanship by paviours. And Constable Globule has spotted a misdemeanour. An urchin has discarded a toffee apple wrapper on the street. The copper swerves off his allotted course, to cross the street to apprehend the urchin and give him a ticking off. Then he will march him to a litter bin and have him dispose of his wrapper lawfully.

Now the triangle will never be formed. The future of the world will take a different course. Tiny Enid, winded from her tumble, and her crowbar having fallen down a drain, decides to return home. Constable Globule, having ticked off the urchin, goes to tick off further urchins. And far far away, in the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.

Dearth Of Thread

Dan Chambers sent me this snap of a sampler, taken in the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood. The provenance card states that it was made by a girl named Enid, aged fourteen, so, as Dan says, “maybe not so tiny”. But it may well be that the Museum has not done its research thoroughly, and that the sampler was made by an anonymous needleworker for Tiny Enid. What with the privations of the times (1933) there may have been a dearth of thread, not enough, at any rate, to sew both TINY and ENID.

enidsampler

Two Tinies

Dear Mr Key, writes Tim Thurn, Always keen to keep abreast of the latest happenstances in popular culture, last evening I sat me down with a mug of cocoa and a bag of filberts to watch the Mercury Music Prize awards. I was saddened to see that young pop person Tinie Tempah, who was shortlisted, failed to win. Anyway, as I dabbed away my tears, it occurred to me to ask you if Master Tempah is in any way related to that other excellent tiny, Tiny Enid. Please enlighten me.

Dear Tim, In this bewildering world it is critical that we can distinguish one tiny from another. Actually, that isn’t strictly true, now I come to think of it. What matters is that we can tell Tiny Enid apart from all other extant tinies.

Tiny Enid is a heroic clubfooted infant, usually dressed in a polka dot frock, much given to brave, even reckless, deeds of derring-do, and of pronounced Fascist sympathies.

I am not entirely sure who Tinie Tempah is, but I suspect he may be some kind of homunculus, possibly malevolent.

I hope this clears the matter up to your satisfaction.

Fee Fi Fo Saffron Walden

Recently I posted a piece about a giant who roars “Fee Fi Fo Fum!” and smells the blood of an Englishman, and a couple of years ago I became enthusiastic about Thomas Nashe (1567-c.1601) among whose works is the splendidly titled Have With You To Saffron Walden – which, alas, I never got round to reading. Had I done so, I would already have learned what I found out today.

Father had taken us to see John Gielgud in the title role [of King Lear] at Stratford-upon-Avon, and although Gielgud was marvellous, it was the words of Poor Tom, the Bedlam beggar on the stormy heath (actually Edgar, in disguise), that still rang in my ears:

Child Rowland to the dark tower came;

His word was still

Fie, foh, and fum!

I smell the blood of a British man!

“Did Shakespeare steal that from Jack and the Beanstalk?” I had whispered in Daffy’s ear. Or had the fairytale borrowed the words from Shakespeare? “Neither,” she whispered back: both had cribbed them from Thomas Nashe’s Have With You To Saffron Walden, which, having been staged in 1596, pre-dated them.

This is from The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley (2010), the second of his Flavia de Luce mysteries. These are new to me, but I am pleased to tell you that the heroine is an eleven-year-old amateur chemist and sleuth – a plucky and resourceful tot who bears a striking resemblance to our very own Tiny Enid, without the fascism and the club foot. It is a hugely enjoyable read, as one might expect from a book which makes mention of “a pair of gutta-percha motoring galoshes (‘Ideal for Country Breakdowns’)”.

Tiny Enid & Her Cardboard Submarine

This photograph has yet to be authenticated by the Tiny Enid Photographic Authentication Bureau, but appears to show a tot who could possibly be Tiny Enid standing next to her cardboard submarine. That the plucky little fascist had a cardboard submarine we already know. Remember that stirring line in the Memoirs, “I had a submarine and it was made out of cardboard”?

tinyenidsubmarine

Photo from the superb Ptak Science Books

Cavemen’s Chute-Pivots

[The third part of what may, somewhat to my alarm, become a series. See here and here.]

You will recall, I hope, the time when plucky tot Tiny Enid discovered the Waste Chute of History on the Large Flat Windy Uninhabited Plains. Well, to say she discovered it is something of a misnomer, for others had been there before her, not the least of whom was the very sensible Swiss researcher Erich Von Daniken (b. 1935).

As we know, by the time Tiny Enid came upon the Chute, it extended, as Rossi would put it, down, down, deeper and down, to the very centre of the Earth. So intent was she upon her mission that the wee adventuress never bothered to wonder when and by whom the Chute was built. Yet these were precisely the questions that exercised Von Daniken’s fizzing brainbox. Considering the matter with his characteristic cast iron logic, he worked out that there must have been a time, during its construction, when the Chute was much shorter, and only went a little way into the bowels of the earth. Could it have been, he asked himself, staring out of the window at Swiss cows in Swiss fields under the shadow of looming Swiss Alps, that the original Chute was in fact designed to terminate only a few hundred feet below the surface, at the point where it punctured, perhaps, the roof of a subterranean cave?

And if that were so, was it not the case that its purpose must therefore be not as a Waste Chute, but a Supply Chute? And whom else could it be intended to supply but a race of troglodyte beings inhabiting the subterranean cave, beings perhaps of extraterrestrial origin the velocity of whose spaceship, billions of years ago, had been so freakish that, when it crashed into our lovely planet, had simply kept going, boring through rock until eventually juddering to a halt in the cavernous underworld? Sipping his Swiss Schnapps, Von Daniken realised that his watertight theory actually accounted for the otherwise difficult problem of how the Chute had been built in the first place!

He was about to turn from his chalet window and sit down at his typewriter to bash out a bestseller when a further point occurred to him. As the years passed, the troglodytes, breeding like extraterrestrial space-rabbits, would surely have outgrown their habitation. They must have burrowed their way into other subterranean caves, setting up new colonies. Then they would have faced the problem of how to supply every outpost of their underground empire. Rather than building new chutes, was it not obvious that the simplest way was to retain the original Chute, but to fit it with a series of pivots, so that it could be directionally adjusted to serve each cave as required?

Clapping his Swiss hands with glee, Von Daniken was satisfied that his theory was utterly unassailable. In his mind’s eye, he could already see tottering piles of copies of his next bestseller, Chute-Pivots Of The Space Troglodytes?, eagerly snapped up not just by Swiss persons, but by his fans around the world.

What happened next was a circumstance even Tiny Enid herself would have been powerless to avert. Just as Von Daniken was about to sit down and begin typing, there came a knocking at his chalet door. He opened it and came face to face with a person from Porlock. Yes, that person from Porlock!

Hot Air Balloon Imperilment

She was a plucky tot, a heroic infant, and a little fascist… but was Tiny Enid also a feminist pioneer? On the face of it, the answer to that question seems self-evident. How else would one describe the club-footed young gal, pootling about in her clapped-out jalopy, puffing away at cheroots, essaying deeds of matchless valour, and giving a variety of malefactors a good kicking? Yet such were the constraints imposed by society on what was deemed seemly, Tiny Enid oftbetimes made great pretence of being a helpless weedy flibbertigibbety waif, ready to swoon away or throw a fit of the vapours. Sometimes she put on such a show even while performing one of her brave deeds. In this picture, for example, it looks as if Tiny Enid is about to topple from a hot air balloon basket, and is being saved by a pair of tender-hearted ruffians. She is, of course, acting out the part expected of her in a patriarchal culture. What is actually happening here is that Tiny Enid is cleverly distracting the ruffians – card-carrying members of the Communist Party, no less! – for, moments after the sketch was completed, she was back in the basket, her big black boot stamping on the neck of one ruffian while the other flung himself overboard in a cowardly escape from the tot’s righteous wrath.

balloon trauma

Picture courtesy of Agence Eureka