The Great Ecstasy Of Tiny Enid

Like Kaspar Hauser, she was an enigma. Like Petra Von Kant, she wept bitter tears. And like Woodcarver Steiner, she knew great ecstasy. But was it a religious ecstasy, or was it, as for Woodcarver Steiner, related to ski-jumping at championship level?

Had she been so inclined, there is no doubt that Tiny Enid could have been a top skier in spite of her club foot, for we know that she never allowed that infirmity to dissuade her from the most remarkable exploits. Hang-gliding, hot air ballooning, pole-vaulting and daring undersea rescues were among her many accomplishments, and she was only narrowly pipped to the post in a vinkensport contest when her finch, Edgar, became rattled and chirped susk-e-wiat instead of susk-e-wiet in the final minutes. Yet we have no evidence that Tiny Enid ever strapped on a pair of skis, nor dwelt in an area of snow fallen on sloping ground.

Equally, however, if hers was a religious ecstasy, we are hard put to identify to what brand of supernatural belief it could be ascribed. Those who knew Tiny Enid crinkle in glee as they recall that, like Benjamin Péret, she spat at Catholic priests, so I think we can rule out the Ratzingeristas, as we can confidently dismiss any connection to Aztec fundamentalism, given Tiny Enid’s reported remarks on Temaxcaltechi, the goddess of sweatbaths, whom she described as “far too sweaty”. This is not the place to examine Tiny Enid’s somewhat unseemly preoccupation with both human and divine sweat, for we must keep on track.

That track is the one we hope would lead us to know the source of Tiny Enid’s great ecstasy. With Woodcarver Steiner we know where we stand, as we do with Saint Teresa of Avila and any number of visionary enthusiasts and mystics through the ages. But what can we say of the great ecstasy of Tiny Enid except that it remains a puzzle? We know she experienced such ecstasy, for we have the mezzotints, done from the life, by the mezzotintist Rex Tint, which depict Tiny Enid in great transports of joy. It is true, as Rex Tint’s sister Dot Tint pointed out, that in many of these mezzotints Tiny Enid could more accurately be described as chuckling or giggling in a childish way at slapstick scenes of pratfalls and larkabout, rather than convulsed in spiritual ecstasy. But let us not forget that in one of the most well-known of the mezzotints Tiny Enid is shown so convulsed, standing next to a clown with unmistakeable beads of sweat upon his brow and great patches of perspiration visible under the arms of his clown costume as he reaches up to flap his beclowngloved hands in some sort of funny business. Tiny Enid would never have laughed at a clown, sweaty or not, for she feared them as she feared nothing else on earth, ever.

Trawling through the various biographical documents which survive, I have found no indication that Tiny Enid ever professed any religious impulses whatsoever, nor, for that matter, any more broadly spiritual leanings. Indeed, all accounts agree that she was a severely practical type of heroic infant, never more essentially herself than when solving very concrete problems, usually involving the rescue of persons imperilled. One thinks, for example, of Tiny Enid abseiling down a crevasse to deliver a life-saving polythene bag of nutritious bread pudding to the half-starved, half-frozen polar explorer Sir Blinky Cheeselip, or digging a tunnel under the Vindervandersee to reach a trio of extras from a Werner Herzog film trapped in a subterranean pool rife with blind albino aquatic tentacled beings each with thousands of razor sharp fangs and unassuageable appetites. One pictures Tiny Enid kicking a git in the head with her big black boot.

Perhaps, we must ask, it was her reveries of such deeds which sent her into her great ecstasies? We ask, but for the time being we cannot answer “yes” with any great conviction, not until much further work has been done to disentangle the hugely complicated legacy Tiny Enid left in her heroic, infantile wake.

Sanctity

OutaSpaceman dropped me a line to point out that I failed to observe the feast day of St Mungo last Monday, 14th January. Remiss of me, I know. To make up for such an inexplicable oversight, let me draw your attention to St Prisca, whose feast day is today.

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St Prisca was a child martyr, and you can read all about her in The Book Of Saints And Friendly Beasts by Abbie Farwell Brown. You will learn how, “Small and defenceless though she was, she did not fear to tell everyone what she believed and Whose Cross she followed. So she soon became known as a firm little Christian maiden.” When you have read this stirring tale, and wept, yet felt strangely uplifted, I recommend some of the other stories you will find there, such as Saint Keneth [sic] Of The Gulls, Saint Launomar’s Cow, Saint Fronto’s Camels, and Saint Werburgh And Her Goose. That should be quite enough saints to keep you occupied and out of mischief.

NOTE : It strikes me that St Prisca comes across as a Christian version of heroic infant Tiny Enid, many of whose exploits have been recorded here. I am not aware to what, if any, religious persuasion Tiny Enid adhered, but I shall do some research and let readers know in due course.

Diktats By Blodgett

Blodgett went to the library one day and borrowed Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. He took it home, read it at one sitting, and was never the same man again. He identified so closely with the character of Mister Kurtz that he hit upon the conviction that he actually was Kurtz. Reincarnation is a foolish idea at the best of times, and to imagine oneself to be a fictional maniac reborn is doubly foolish, but that was Blodgett for you.

Over the following day he put his affairs in order, having resolved to set out for his very own heart of darkness. Lacking the means to travel to somewhere remote, he trudged across the cow-strewn fields until he reached the village of Much Snuffling, where he barged into the tavern and installed himself at an empty table in the snug. From here, he issued diktats, beginning with the announcement that he was a charismatic demigod to be worshipped by the Much Snufflingites. They rapidly fell into line, impressed by Blodgett’s booming voice, great hairy fists, velveteen cummerbund, and the headdress of glittering beads and bones and teeth and feathers he adopted.

At first, his diktats were surprisingly sensible, relating as they did to such matters as animal husbandry, crop rotation, rural post office opening hours, and other mundanities of countryside subsistence. How Blodgett knew about these things in the first place is an ineffable mystery. One is tempted to think he had a concealed laptop and was sneakily looking things up on the wikipeasantry website, but later, when it was all over, he was injected with a newfangled truth serum and passed muster when denying such subterfuge. Perhaps, as he claimed, it was simply that he was imbued with the spirit of his fictional alter ego, a multitalented polymath, rather like the late Anthony Burgess. Incidentally, I have always wondered if it is true that, when casting Apocalypse Now, his film adaptation of Conrad’s novella, Francis Ford Coppola’s first choice to play Kurtz was Burgess rather than Marlon Brando.

Anyway, as is the way with these things, Blodgett’s initial common sense soon gave way to demented megalomania, and his diktats became ever more ludicrous. He took to commanding not merely the sulking peasants of Much Snuffling but the sun and the moon and the planets. Celestial bodies tend not to adjust themselves in obedience to the ravings of a wild-eyed loon sat in the corner of the pub, and their lofty indifference first baffled Blodgett and then enraged him. So thunderous did his mood become that the Much Snufflingites held a secret meeting one night when Blodgett had taken to the hills to shout at the sky. With great presence of mind, they sent for heroic infant Tiny Enid, who arrived the very next day and booted Blodgett all the way back across the cow-strewn fields to his hovel.

He spent a day muttering to himself, and then returned Heart Of Darkness to the library, dutifully paid his fine for it being overdue, and chose another book. Next week, you shall learn what a pickle he got himself into after reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and convincing himself he was the reincarnation, not of Mister Kurtz, but of Hester Prynne.

Tiny Enid And The Gormless Nipper

CLUBFOOTED TOT WINS HEROISM CUP. This was the headline on the front page of the Daily Brouhaha that first brought Tiny Enid to national attention. Until then, her heroic exploits were known only to a few. Her intervention in the case of the gormless nipper changed all that, at least for a while, until a fad or frippery came along to divert the fickle public. Yet some of us have not forgotten the heroic infant, and it is important that a new generation be reminded of her deeds.

The gormless nipper was roughly the same age as Tiny Enid, and of roughly the same diminutive stature, but otherwise the pair of them might have inhabited different planets. Where Tiny Enid was heroic, the nipper was gormless. Where Tiny Enid showed valour, gusto, and dash, the nipper was gormless, gormless, gormless.

The nipper was raised in an orphanage not unlike Pang Hill Orphanage. It was a monstrous black brick building crumbling upon a hillside. One winter’s day, the gormless nipper was leaning out of a window gazing gormlessly at the sky when he fell, landing in a gormless heap in the snow. Instead of trudging back to the huge iron door of the orphanage and rapping his tiny fist upon it until the kindly matron let him back in, the gormless nipper wandered off, away from his grim black brick home, ever further away, until he was quite lost. Thus began a series of accidents and misadventures which befell him due to his gormlessness. Stopping to rest at a level crossing, his cravat was singed by sparks from a passing locomotive. When he made to untie the cravat to look more closely at the singeing, he half-strangled himself and lost consciousness. Swooning, he fell forward so that the very top of his head almost touched the railway track, and when a second locomotive thundered past seconds later he received an inadvertent haircut, his locks torn out by the screeching metal train wheels. Had he had a mirror when he awoke from his swoon, the gormless nipper would have seen that he now had the appearance of a tonsured friar. He roamed onwards, crossing the tracks, and fell into a pond. Minuscule aquatic beings within the pond attached themselves to his skin and burrowed through to his innards, where they fed upon his tissue and squirted out pond-venom. They were microscopic beings (actual size), so the gormless nipper was unaware of their parasitic sucking and squirting, and the amounts of pond-venom were so infinitesimally small that even the most advanced scientific apparatus would be unable to detect them. Nevertheless he began to feel off colour and when, eventually, the venom reached his brain it had the effect of increasing, rather than alleviating, his gormlessness.

The nipper slept that night in a byre, surrounded by cows. Discovered at dawn by a florid-faced farmer, he was set to work pulling a plough through a field. The winter sun blazed on his tonsure and turned the snow to slush, and by the time he was done ploughing, the nipper’s socks were soaking wet. He took them off and hung them up to dry on what he thought was a washing line. Alas, it was an electricity cable running from the farmer’s generator to a new-fangled power spade, and the gormless nipper was jolted by a shock of sufficient voltage to make him queasy. So when, shortly afterwards, the farmer fed him a bowl of soup, he vomited it up all over the freshly laundered farmyard kitchen tablecloth, an heirloom embroidered with unbelievable delicacy by the farmer’s great great grandmother. Understandably furious, the farmer kicked the gormless nipper all the way down the lane into the village square at Scroonhoonpooge and abandoned him there.

Dazed and sore, still queasy, and with the pond-venom coursing through his vitals, the gormless nipper slumped against a plinth. The village beadle found him there, tonsured and sockless and with sick on his sleeves, and accused him of defiling the statue of frizzy-haired minstrel Leo Sayer atop the plinth, which was the pride of the village. Thrown into a dungeon, the nipper slept fitfully that night in the company of mice and beetles.

The next morning, the beadle handed the gormless nipper over to a brute to whom he would be apprenticed for the next six months. Day in, day out, the brute sent the nipper to the bottom of the sea in his bathyscaphe, from where he had to plunge into deep sea trenches and collect bioluminescent organisms. The goggles of his diving suit did not fit snugly, and the gormless nipper gradually began to lose his sight. When he was almost blind, the brute rowed him out to sea and left him marooned on a whelk-encrusted rock.

And there he may have perished were it not for Tiny Enid. One day, eager to do a heroic deed, she sailed aloft in her hot air balloon and spotted the gormless nipper weakly trying to prise the very last whelk from the rock. Rightly judging that he was far too puny and famished to hoist himself up any rope she might dangle down to him, Tiny Enid set her burners roaring and ascended high enough to snare a cumulet. Tying a quickly-scribbled message to the bird’s leg, she propelled it in the direction of the Air Sea Rescue Station at St Bibblybibdib, then descended again until she was in shouting distance of the gormless nipper.

“Fear not, nipper!” she cried, “I am Tiny Enid and I have alerted the Air Sea Rescue Station at St Bibblybibdib to your sorry plight by attaching a message to the leg of a cumulet. The bird is flying its little heart out even as we speak, and soon a lovely big lifeboat will scud across the waves to rescue you. Preserve your energy, and stop trying to prise that last whelk from the rock, for soon you will be sitting at my kitchen table wolfing down a slap-up hot dinner of non-seafood items!”

And so it was that, nine months to the day since he had fallen from the orphanage window into the snow, the gormless nipper returned to his grim black brick home. He was driven there by Tiny Enid herself, in a hired charabanc, on the day after she was awarded a tin cup for heroism. The gormless nipper had managed not to be sick all over Tiny Enid’s tablecloth, and a few eye drops from her mysterious cabinet had restored his sight. The hair had grown back where it had been ripped out by the locomotive, and his heroic rescuer selflessly gave him a pair of her own socks to replace the ones still hanging neglected from the farmer’s electricity cable. Had Tiny Enid known that the nipper was riddled with microscopic aquatic parasites squirting pond-venom, no doubt she would have found a way of exterminating them. She was that kind of girl.

Rummaging In An Abandoned Satchel

The other day I had some harsh words to say about the out of print pamphleteer Dobson’s song-writing skills. “No one with any sense has ever listened to a Dobson song more than once”, I wrote. Well, it seems I was mistaken. I was rummaging in a satchel that I found abandoned on a canal towpath, and I came upon indisputable evidence that at least one sensible person admired a Dobson song so much that they recorded a cover version of it. The song in question is one of the pamphleteer’s settings from the Book of Isaiah.

Hooting Yard readers are a wise bunch, and I would not be surprised to be deluged with letters accusing me of making up the whole satchel-rummaging incident in some foolhardy attempt to chivvy up Dobson’s reputation. I therefore arranged for a local snapper to take a snapshot of what I found, as proof.

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I am now going to have to go and lie down in a darkened, cork-panelled room while I mull over what this extraordinary artefact tells us about (a) Dobson, and (b) Tiny Enid.

Thanks, by the way, to boynton.

Puny And Dying

Yesterday I listened, belatedly, to a Little Atoms interview with Jonathan Meades. (It’s available for download here – the second one, dated 11 May 2007, though the earlier interview is well worth your attention too.) Each Little Atoms show has a musical interlude, often chosen by the guest. The magnificent Meades, perhaps the only reason to watch television these days, picked La canzone dell’amore perduto by Fabrizio de André. Not being at all familiar with Italian cantautores of the late twentieth century, his name was new to me, but I adored the song, so I decided to find out more. You can go and read his wikipedia entry, as I did, and do further research if you so wish, as I haven’t, yet.

The entry devotes a paragraph to de André’s kidnapping by Sardinian bandits in 1979, which is interesting, but I thought I’d draw your attention to two other things, mentioned in passing, that particularly intrigued me.

De André’s first wife was named Puny. This is a superbly Hooting Yardish name, isn’t it? I do not think it will be too long before a character named Puny turns up in a piece of prose here, perhaps one that features heroic infant Tiny Enid. I recall that somewhere or other I refer to a book or film entitled I Was Puny Vercingetorix, and though puny there was intended as an adjective rather than as a first name, I may have to revisit that in the light of my new knowledge.

The other thing that made me slap my forehead with glee was the title of de André’s second album – or rather, the contrast between it and the titles between which it was bracketed. (Forgive those two ‘between’s, I can’t think offhand of a more felicitous way of putting it.) The first album was called Volume One, and the third was dubbed Volume Three. Yet for some extraordinary reason, the title of what a lesser artist would have called Volume Two was instead Tutti morimmo a stento, or We All Died Agonizingly.

That’s the thing about Jonathan Meades, he provides you with new and unexpected avenues to explore, even when he’s just picking a piece of music.

Emboldened, In Gumboots

The tale is told of the volunteer brevet cadet who, in spite of his shocking weediness, was sent on a dangerous mission. He had to travel, alone, through a hostile environment – think belching volcanic gases, creeping tendrils and suckers, fierce slavering beasts with razor sharp fangs, turbulent rivers, turbulent skies, turbulent storms.

On the fourth day the volunteer brevet cadet arrived at a field station. By this time he was pallid, fearful, and all a-whimper. The field station commander tried to inject some vim into the puny little fellow. He sat him down with a canteen of hot Sumatran Breakfast tea and gave him a good talking-to, explaining that brevet cadets, whether or not they were volunteers, were expected to be doughty and tough and resolute, to jut their jaws in determined fashion, sometimes while clenching a pipe between their teeth, and to laugh with hilarity in the face of peril. The brevet cadet sipped his tea in a weedy way, and tried unsuccessfully to stop whimpering. Eventually, the field station commander issued him with a pith helmet, clapped him on the back, and sent him off for the next stage of his mission.

The field station commander was a man of unparalleled experience in this hostile environment, and he was confident that the brevet cadet would be emboldened by wearing a pith helmet, and that his whimpers would soon be a thing of the past. It pained him, then, when, six days later, he received a message by pneumatic funnel from the next field station along the line that the puny volunteer had tottered into the hut sobbing and wailing and quivering and generally lacking in resolution, bravery, and grit. The commander of the second field station bid him lie in a hammock and cranked up a gramophone player, hoping to increase his gusto by having the brevet cadet listen to stirring tunes played by the finest brass bands and dance orchestras. One recording in particular that was likely to do the trick was Enrico Pepinger’s version of “Hurrah Boys, Let Us March With Sprightly Tread Through Wild Lands Where We Fear Not The Buffets Of Those Who Would Cause Us Harm”.

After taking a nap and downing a canteen of hot Burmese Lunchtime tea, the volunteer was sent off on the next part of his perilous mission, enjoined by the second field commander to fear no buffets. But buffets came soon, for the brevet cadet now headed into territory more dangerous still. Here were huge plants oozing poison, earth tremors, the roaring and howling of unimaginably terrible monsters, magnetic anomalies, and many another sort of sight and sound and phenomenon that had the poor puny cadet piddling in his pantaloons.

By the time he reached the third field station, nine days later, he was feverish, shivering and shaking uncontrollably, half blind with terror, and calling out weakly for his Mama. He slumped against the door of the field station hut and begged for death to end his misery. And then, out of the hut came, not Death, but heroic adventuress Tiny Enid, who had flown in on her biplane just minutes before. She plucked the weedy cadet up and shoved him into the hut, where she poured four canteens of piping hot Batavian Twilight tea down his gob, wrenched off his standard issue dangerous mission footwear, and presented him with a pair of gumboots.

“Listen, puny cadet,” she said, not unkindly, “You have volunteered for this dangerous mission, and you will succeed! By wearing these gumboots, you will be emboldened, and one day you will return to HQ as a hero, a credit to your trooplet. Off you go!”

And so stirred was the brevet cadet by these words, and by the emboldenment he felt as he slipped his feet into the gumboots, that he strode off into even more hideous terrain, brave and strong and wholly free of fear, no longer with even a trace of weediness about his puny frame. And every word spoken by Tiny Enid was true, for six years later he came thundering back to HQ astride a huge rhinoceros, a pipe clamped between his teeth and a jut to his jaw, and the golden key to the secret fortress of the mysterious Adepts of the hidden tower of the invisible goat deity tucked in his saddlebag, and they festooned him with flowers and blew upon trumpets and pinned medals upon him and he was shipped homeward in great luxury, and was famed forever after as the no longer weedy volunteer brevet cadet.

Tiny Enid Takes A Nap

Tiny Enid knew how vitally important it is to take an afternoon nap. Because she was so often engaged in thrilling adventures, which usually involved kicking someone’s head in, she did not always find it easy to lull herself to sleep. As this rare picture shows, she was as resourceful a girl when it came to naps as she was when bashing up Prince Fulgencio’s evil henchmen.

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Suspension Chloriforeene from the State Library of Victoria, via Boynton

 

Tremendous Potato Urgency

One morning Tiny Enid awoke from uneasy dreams with a sense of tremendous urgency related to potatoes. She was based in Winnipeg at the time, and had taken a room in a motel of undoubted seediness. “I could not pinpoint the reasons for my sense of breathless urgency on that grim March morning,” she wrote, many years later, in her Memoirs, “All I knew was that potatoes had something to do with it.”

The heroic young adventuress eschewed the motel breakfast, a Winnipeg-style egg ‘n’ dough platter, sneaking out of a side entrance to avoid the man with the twisted lip at the front desk. The city was still new to her, and she had yet to locate any of the potato-related premises she felt such a tremendous urgency to visit. She limped across the plaza to her rented booster car and threw off its tarpaulin in one elegant sweep. Tiny Enid had been practising her elegant sweeping arm movements for some weeks, and the superb elegance with which she swept the tarpaulin off the car won her a round of applause from a nearby line of patient pastry persons queuing outside a pastry shop.

Before revving up the engine of her booster car, Tiny Enid tramped over to the queue. She wanted to find out if she would sense an aura of potato urgency here, so close to her motel. It was possible, after all, that among the pastries sold by the pastry shop could be pastries with a potato filling. Was that urgency that cracked her awake a premonition that a Winnipeg-based criminal mad person had poisoned the potato pastries? If so, it would make sense for her to be bang on the scene rather than having to speed around the city, lost, unnerved, and not knowing quite what she was seeking, nor why. So many of the adventures of the tiny adventuress had begun from these moments of curious intuition.

But it was still early in the day, and the pastry shop proprietor had not yet hoisted the shutters, hence the queue. Tiny Enid was hopeless at small talk, and she was at a loss how to engage with the still-clapping queue which was so impressed with the elegance of her sweeping arm movements. She pulled her sprightly black gold green crushed crepe hat down low, and pretended an interest in pebbles piled close to the pastry shop shutters. If her instincts were correct, she must be first into the shop when the shutters went up, before a poor innocent Winnipegite was felled by a poisoned potato pastry pie. Tiny Enid was a girl of impeccable manners, and she flushed with shame in anticipation of having to push aside the unkempt hobbledehoy who was first in the queue and who looked as if he had not eaten for a month.

Luckily, as the pastry shop proprietor appeared with a hook on the end of a wooden pole with which by some shenanigans he hoisted the shutters, there was a distraction. Over by the statue of prominent Winnipegite Elias Conklin, who had been the city’s mayor in 1881, a swarm of killer bees appeared out of the blue and set upon a defenceless old woman wearing her widow’s weeds. The massed buzzing of the bees was nauseatingly loud, and the reaction of the pastry shop queue was instantaneous. Even the starving hobbledehoy forgot his grumbling belly as the line broke up, sprinting over to the Conklin statue flailing impromptu bee-scarifiers.

Our tiny heroine took the opportunity to sneak into the pastry shop. Thumping the proprietor in the guts with her girly bludgeon, she incapacitated him with a few kicks to the head, swiftly located behind the counter every single piping hot pastry with a potato ingredient, and stuffed the lot of them into a canvas sack. She dragged the sack over to her rented booster car, chucked it into the boot, and sped away, just in time, for the killer bees had been confounded, the widow woman was safe, and the patient pastry people were heading back to the pastry shop with coinage clutched in their fists.

An hour or so later, having dumped the canvas sack of potato pastries into the river at the Forks, where the Red River meets the Assiniboine, and then driven around until she found verdant parkland, Tiny Enid slumped onto a tuffet, dusted off her sprightly black gold green crushed crepe hat, and lit one of her high tar Paraguayan cigarettes. Soon, she knew, she would have to hunt down the criminal mad person and bash them about, but for now, the world could take a pause, and she could sit on her tuffet and smoke and watch the coots and moorhens for whom a Winnipeg pond was home.