Archive for the 'Monkey Feng Shui' Category

On The Ebbing Away Of The Age Of Gilded Tin Baths

[The vacancy between my ears shows no sign of being filled, so here is another blast from the past (February 2007).]

There is no one left alive who witnessed the ebbing away of the age of gilded tin baths, nor do we have any written records of that time. The pitiful smidgen of information we do have has come down to us in the form of incomprehensible pictograms and a pair of 78 rpm shellac discs, and these are locked away in a concrete bunker far, far underground, beneath the Museum At-Or-Near Ack. The bunker is only accessible through a heavily padlocked orrin hatch, one of very few such hatches ever manufactured, based upon a patented hatch design which, despite what you may have read in the sorts of magazines beloved of the conspiracy-fixated, has absolutely no connection with US Senator Orrin Hatch (Rep., Utah).

Those of you with even a smattering of knowledge about hatches and bunkers will understand how hard it is to get anywhere near those pictograms, those 78s. When last one of our investigators examined the hatch, she reported back that it showed no signs of having been opened since the notorious Blötzmann Incident (1956). The reckless idiocy of Blötzmann’s intervention has been thoroughly dissected in Pebblehead’s bestselling paperback A Man And His Shovels, so I need not rehearse it here.

Our investigator – codename Hortense – reported something else. She said that the metal ladder which forms the final stage of the approach to the bunker was rife with scratches and dents and had buckled in a few places. This is new. The ladder has until now been kept in pristine condition by the maintenance team at-or-near Ack, whose rigorous training is well-attested. Hortense was unable to posit a convincing explanation for the ladder damage, and for the time being the file has been put aside. When I say ‘aside’, I mean literally that, placed on the right hand side of my desk, next to the pot with the bonsai pugton and the framed photograph of Bing Crosby embracing a howler monkey. Had I classed it as an ‘active’ file, it would be in the wire tray on the left hand side, alongside my important stationery, buzzer, message funnel, and metal tapping machine. The area of the desk immediately in front of me is kept bare, so I can think clearly. I know this sounds as if I have fallen victim to the fad for feng shui, but that is not the case. In fact I am minded to say that Mr Crosby’s howler monkey would benefit more from feng shui than I would. Incidentally, you may have been told by some earnest nitwit that the correct pronunciation of feng shui is ‘fung shway’. Not so. It is actually ‘fong shoo’, or possibly ‘fing shoy’.

What I was thinking clearly about at the moment was not Hortense’s report on the damaged metal ladder, but a more urgent matter. That very morning the postie had brought me a package containing a miniature shellac disc wrapped in greaseproof paper. There was also a letter, obviously written by a mad person, claiming that the disc was a copy of one of the two discs locked in the bunker, and that if I listened to it with care I would learn many, many interesting things about the ebbing away of the age of gilded tin baths.

Now, you must understand that in all my years of service to the Commission I have never heard even a whisper that such a copy existed. My first impulse was to smash the shellac into smithereens, for I have a short fuse and am not to be dallied with by poltroons. Wiser counsel was provided by Hortense, who offered to listen to the tiny 78 on her Mikiphone and to appraise its contents with her unorthodox yet piercing intellect. I gave her the go-ahead and, as I so often do, sat contemplating the blue eyes of Bing Crosby and the black eyes of the howler monkey, pondering on the ineffable mysteries of existence.

I was snapped out of my reverie when Hortense came dashing breathlessly into my sanctum, her face twisted into a rictus of Lovecraftian terror. Throughout my life I have been plagued by nosebleeds, and the one that began to flow the instant Hortense crashed in was the big potato, as they say. I was far too busy flapping around trying to find a cloth to staunch the gore pouring out of my nose to listen to my investigator’s gibbering. By the time I had recovered myself, Hortense had swooned, and in so doing, she banged her head, causing – as we later discovered – complete memory loss. She never did remember what she heard on that shellac disc, and nor was she able to recall at which railway station she had rented a luggage locker in which to put the disc for safe keeping. I remonstrated with her, of course, but with a faint heart, for despite my ferocious temper I am a complete softy in the presence of amnesiacs.

So now I sit at my desk looking into the eyes of the crooner and the howler, and Hortense reclines on a sofa somewhere far away, having her brain massaged by nuns. The truth is, she was the only investigator I had, all the others having been taken from me by the blithering fatheads upstairs. And now Hortense is gone, and Hortense’s memory is gone, and I wonder if the ebbing away of the age of gilded tin baths is also gone, irretrievably, vanishing into the past, its splendours never to be rekindled in the minds of men and women in this baffling age of pap.

Monkey Divertisements

We have already learned how one can guarantee a tea party free of monkey divertisements by the simple expedient of dangling, on the end of a length of string suspended from the ceiling over the centre of the tea table, a large sugarlump. And we have seen that this tactic has the additional advantage of preventing the guests from putting their brains in their pockets.

But let us say we are contrary sorts who wish, at tea parties, to encourage both monkey divertisements and the placing of brains in pockets. Is it sufficient, in such a case, merely to snip the dangling string, with a pair of scissors, and to chuck the piece to which the gargantuan sugarlump is attached into a waste bin, or to secrete it in a drawer?

Would that it were so straightforward! Alas, at tea parties as in life, there is a freight of woe before we may bask unburdened in Elysium (cf. Grimes). By all means remove the string and the sugarlump, but do not expect at once to find monkeys cavorting around the tea table, nor your guests to pluck their brains out of their skulls and place them in their pockets. More needs to be done.

First, you are advised to hire the services of a monkey feng shui consultant. I hasten to add that this is a person who has expertise in feng shui for monkeys, not a monkey who knows about feng shui. Several poor raddled souls of my acquaintance have plumped for the latter, and in due course lost the shirts off their backs, and a lot more. A generation ago, punks used to parrot the line “Never trust a hippy”, and, echoing them, one could well add “Nor a monkey who claims credentials in the ancient Chinese system of aesthetics believed to use the laws of Heaven and Earth to improve one’s life by receiving positive qi”. Certainly that is a mantra some extremely astute ex-punk-persons recite daily (cf. Savage).

To attract monkeys to create divertisements among the cakes and tea-strainers at your tea party, you will have to create the right conditions for them, and this is where a qualified monkey feng shui consultant proves a boon. They tend to charge quite high fees, and rarely accept payment in nuts, so be warned that your tea party overheads will be steep. By “overheads” I do not mean the string affixed to the ceiling, because you have already deposited that in a bin or drawer, along with the massive sugarlump dangling from it.

Please, please, give the consultant free rein, no matter how abstruse or ridiculous a kerfuffle they kick up. Qi is volatile stuff, a bit like ectoplasm, and monkey qi particularly so. Clinics up and down the land are filled with persons who came a cropper thinking they could dismiss their monkey feng shui consultant half way through his or her shenanigans and finish off the job themselves. No, just let them get on with it. Your parlour will look like the wreck of the Hesperus by the time they have completed their work, and your wallet be empty, but monkeys of all sorts will beat a path to your door come teatime.

Persuading your guests to put their brains into their pockets is a task yet more challenging. In this case, there are, as far as I know, no consultants to consult. You must go it alone. Do not make the childish error of leaving, on the sideboard, a trepanning drill, and hoping for the best. I am sick and tired of explaining that boring a hole in the skull is utterly inadequate if one wishes for complete removal of the brain (cf. Felix). You will need a saw. Actually, unless you have top of the range disinfectant facilities, you will need as many saws as you have tea party guests. The last thing you want, as your guests sip tea poured from a majestic Delft teapot, ornamented with paintings of fat little Dutch shepherds and shepherdesses tending pigs, and monkeys jump and swing and shriek and otherwise provide divertisements, is to have a troop of inspectors from the neighbourhood skullsaw hygiene community support hub bashing the door down and halting the tea party on grounds of by-law infraction. And they will, they will, believe you me.

It pays to ensure that each guest is partnered by an intimate acquaintance, that is, a person whom they will trust to saw through the top of their skull in readiness for brain removal. If such pairings prove impossible in advance, you will need to devise some ice-breaking party games before everyone sits down to tea. Try playing Fumbling With Mother’s Brooch, Poke The Pin In The Sheet Of Cardboard, or Catholic Persecution, each of which is guaranteed to wholly obliterate shyness or social unease.

You also need to provide each guest with an overgarment, to be worn over their stylish tea party apparel. It is unlikely that any of them will attend already dressed in something with pockets of suitable size or lining. Study a scale model of a brain and compare it with the size of an average pocket and you will understand what I am saying. The nature of the pocket’s lining is equally important, and those of the overgarments you distribute among the guests ought to be of satin, or of a fabric equally rich and smooth. Remember the brain, in all its miraculous complexity, is but a fragile thing (cf. Finch) and while resting in the pocket must be cosseted.

It is wise to make some preparations for the replacement of the brains within the skulls at the end of the tea party. Here, I very much recommend that you first shoo the monkeys out of the way. To avoid any brain being plopped into the wrong skull, with untoward consequences, each one ought to be marked with a symbol, and an identical symbol imprinted on the forehead of the corresponding brain’s owner. You can use a magic marker for this. If you are not gifted with the ability to draw startling and memorable symbolic forms, the monkey feng shui consultant probably is, though they will charge extra for doing so. The symbols should also be marked upon the sawed-off portions of head, for obvious reasons. To guard against future dislodgement, once the brains are back within the crania and the tops of the skulls are resting on the correct heads, use glue or some sort of industrial welding equipment to fix them firmly in place.

As soon as the last guest has waved goodbye from the porch, you may wish to retrieve the string with its gigantic sugarlump appendage, and hang it once again from the ceiling. This will keep those monkeys at bay, so you can have a well-earned nap.

Next week, we will look in more detail at the fat little Dutch shepherds and shepherdesses, and the pigs they tend, both as teapot decoration and in brute reality.

Twitching Antennae

There hasn’t been much key-tapping here at Haemoglobin Towers today, what with such distractions as the monkey feng shui consultant and the sandpaper palaver. But a few things twitched the Hooting Yard antennae, among them:

The imminence of a global pig flu epidemic

The fact that it was once common, in fashionable society, to call a humble or paid companion a “toad-eater”

The splendid news that Resonance magnifico Ed Baxter appeared in the Independent On Sunday list of 100 people who make Britain happy

Bela Tarr’s film The Man From London, characteristically slow and grim and bleak and black and white, contains a scene with a pair of tailors reminiscent of The Fast Show

There is a Hooting Yard Appreciation Society on Facebook, with 28 members and little or no activity

If I can rouse myself from indolence, I will insert links so readers can scoot off elsewhere on the web to investigate these matters. If not, you shall have to do your own research, which will no doubt be good for your moral fibre, if not mine.

Disquieting Ploppy Noises From Behind The Panel

Dobson wrote extensively during the period when he was hunkered down in a janitorium. The key pamphlets from this time were collected in a compendium and published as a thick paperback with a garish cover design suitable for sale at airport bookstalls. It is thought to be the only instance where Dobson’s name was embossed in gold. Alas, this failed to impress the reading public, and very few copies of the book were sold, although we should bear in mind that I write of a time before mass commercial aeroplane travel, so there were fewer airports, and even fewer airport bookstalls, and only a handful of customers frequenting those that did exist.

One early airport bookstall worthy of note was that opened at Tantarabim Rustic Airfield by Marigold Chew’s cousin Basil Chew. Basil was a peg-legged pear-shaped man with tremendous Ruritanian moustachios, a fuddle-headed entrepreneur whose every business scheme failed. He simply had no grasp of reality, his view of the world being at once mistaken, hallucinatory, and plain wrong. If one were unkind, one would call him a blockhead. But he had charm, and winning ways, and when he twirled those fine moustachios people swooned with besotment. Thus he was able to convince a few foolhardy financiers to back his airport bookstall, where, under the delusion that aeroplanes flew at the speed of a peasant trudging along a muddy country lane and that passengers would need extremely fat books to keep them occupied, he stocked only mighty tomes of great and forbidding length. Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, Robert Burton’s The Anatomy Of Melancholy, Boswell’s The Life Of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Comprehending An Account Of His Studies And Numerous Works, In Chronological Order; A Series Of His Epistolatory Correspondence And Conversations With Many Eminent Persons; And Various Original Pieces Of His Composition, Never Before Published: The Whole Exhibiting A View Of Literature And Literary Men In Great-Britain, For Near Half A Century, During Which He Flourished, and Henry Darger’s The Story Of The Vivian Girls, In What Is Known As The Realms Of The Unreal, Of The Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused By The Child Slave Rebellion were, in fact, the only books available at Basil Chew’s bookstall until, under pressure from his cousin, he agreed to carry the gold-embossed Dobson compendium. During the six months the business lasted, he did not sell a single book, and was kept afloat only by his sideline in toffee apples, in-flight pastry novelties, and moustachio wax.

A compelling reason for the lack of success of Dobson’s big fat book is not so much its preposterous length but that, curiously, he did not include an account of the most interesting thing that happened during the janitorium period. This was the series of events that have elsewhere been described as Dobson And The Disquieting Ploppy Noises From Behind A Panel, the title given to a ravishing essay by ravishing essayist Maud Glubb. A close reading of La Glubb’s text reveals many fascinating details, but is far from complete. Most annoyingly, we have no idea of what the panel, from behind which Dobson heard disquieting ploppy noises, was made. Was it teak, or tin, or mahogany, or lead, or hardboard, or deal, or zinc, or beaten gold, or corrugated cardboard, or iron, or papier maché, or bauxite, or empacted goat hair, or plastic, or balsa wood, or formica, or stitched-together pelts from slaughtered wolves, or bronze, or marble, or dough, or gases suspended in a solid state? Glubb does not tell us.

What we do know is that, sprawled upon the floor one Tuesday morning in April, the pamphleteer was disquieted by ploppy noises, the source of which he soon traced to behind the panel, whatever the panel was, and whatever function it played within the janitorium. We know, too, that as a result of his disquiet he rummaged in a drawer for a chisel with which to prise apart the panel from whatever it was fixed to, in order to ascertain the nature of the ploppy noises and to staunch them. We know that he failed to find a chisel nor any chisel-like tool with which to accomplish the task. That nothing in the nature of a chisel was to be found in the drawer, within a janitorium, is perplexing, and it is a point to which ravishing essayist Maud Glubb returns later in her ravishing essay. We know that Dobson leaned against the wall and lit one of his acrid Paraguayan cigarettes and puffed upon it as he bent an attentive ear to the continued ploppy noises, and we know that anon the ploppy noises petered out and that Dobson stamped out the butt of his Paraguayan cigarette with his boot and that he clumped out of the janitorium into the April morning and took a turn around a nearby pond. We do not know what the weather was like, and we do not know whether the pond was populated by ducks, or geese, or swans, or indeed if it was home to a grampus or a kraken. Unlikely as the last two may be, remember that the pond in the grounds of the janitorium was no ordinary pond, as you will know if you have read Dobson’s pamphlet Some Arresting, Diverting, And Frankly Sensational Factoids Regarding Certain Ponds I Have Had The Pleasure To Take A Turn Around, In All Weathers, Arranged In Alphabetical Order By Pond Name. Some have pointed to the pamphleteer’s use of ‘factoid’ rather than ‘fact’ to cast doubt on the veracity of this pamphlet, but it should be borne in mind that it was written at a time when Dobson was beset by benign seizures in his cranial integuments and he was not his usual self.

The next time Dobson was disquieted by ploppy noises from behind the panel was a fortnight later. It was now May, the month in which the Dutch observe the Remembrance of the Dead and the Norwegians celebrate their Constitution. Being neither Dutch nor Norwegian, the pamphleteer had no reason to mark these events, yet he did so, loudly, with bellowing and strangulated cries, tears streaming down his face, and picnics. He was that kind of man, sometimes. It was on another day in May, however, when, shifting his writing desk from one side of the janitorium to the other, he again heard the disquieting ploppy noises from behind the panel. He had not forgotten his fruitless search for a chisel in the drawer, and was not so foolish as to repeat it. Instead, he shoved his writing desk aside, leaving it halfway across the janitorium, tiptoed up to the panel, and pressed one of his ears against it. For some reason, La Glubb insists on telling us it was his right ear. She can be given to such unnecessary detail – presented without a shred of evidence – and yet remain silent on matters of greater import, which makes her essay as infuriating as it is ravishing. Be that as it may, note that on this second occasion Dobson’s attention to the disquieting ploppy noise from behind the panel was much more focussed. In April, after failing to find a chisel, he had leaned insouciantly against one of the walls, smoking while he listened, whereas in May, look, he is crouching, the side of his head flattened against the panel, and his gob is innocent of a fag. Maddeningly, we do not know how long he remained in this creaky posture. Perhaps he was there all day, growing increasingly disquieted. What is beyond doubt is that the very next day he wrote a note in his journal. His tone is tetchy and bespeaks grumblement rather than disquiet, and it is clear that the ploppy noises are “getting to him”, as they say. Soon enough, however, the subject is dropped, and the following sixteen pages of the journal are filled with a draft version of a pamphlet upon Chumpot Patent Soap bars he was later to abandon, together with a few notes on gale force winds, Hedy Lamarr, and that dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

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Shortly after completing that journal entry, Dobson took an evening stroll. We do not know what phase the moon was in and, being quite staggeringly ignorant of celestial orbs, nor did Dobson. We do not know the precise route he took, once he left the grounds of the janitorium, although it is likely that he would have passed the canal lock and the tobacconist and the badger sanctuary and the recently-demolished community hub. Had he been eating cream crackers there would have been a trail of crumbs for a sleuth to follow, for the pamphleteer was a messy eater at the best of times, and especially so when in motion. We know, however, that he had sworn off crackers of all kinds at this time, mistakenly believing them to be the cause of the benign seizures in his cranial integuments. This idée fixe of his had caused a monstrous and prolonged argument with Dr Raymilland, and it was to be many years before their relations were mended. It is significant that Dobson never felt able to discuss his disquiet at the ploppy noises from behind the panel with his physician, for Dr Raymilland was a man with much medical experience of unaccountable noises, ploppy and otherwise, and he may well have been able to recommend a course of action, probably involving muffling, and cushions. All we know for certain is that, upon returning to the janitorium in darkness, Dobson poked his head around the door for a midnight check and heard again the disquieting ploppy noises from behind the panel. It is unclear what made him snap, but he made a sudden dash across the room and gave the panel a resounding kick with his boot. We do not know if he cried out as he did so, but afterwards, in the darkness, there was silence. The pamphleteer lit one of his acrid Paraguayan cigarettes and waited. His toes throbbed, for his boot was old and floppier than it had once been. He waited in the darkness, in the janitorium, in the silence, flicking the ash from his cigarettes on to the feng shui monkey puzzle carpeting system, until dawn broke.

Maud Glubb’s ravishing scholarly apparatus collapses at this point in her essay, and the next thing we know it is September, the month in which the Zulu commemorate King Shaka, after whom, of course, bestselling paperback author Pebblehead was named. Had Pebblehead been writing at the time Basil Chew opened his ill-fated airport bookstall, the peg-legged and pear-shaped entrepreneur would no doubt have thrown out his Prousts and Burtons and Boswells and Dargers, and stocked his shelves with the countless fat glossy potboilers churned out by that most indefatigable of authors. Apparently, at every minute of the day, somewhere in the world, someone is reading a Pebblehead paperback. Glubb is a very different kind of writer, and while we suspect that Pebblehead would never let his apparatus collapse, and we would never forgive him if it did, it is the kind of thing we expect from the ravishing essayist, and we do not let it trouble us. So, when we skip from the scene of Dobson on a night in May, having successfully silenced the disquieting ploppy noises from behind the panel with a flying kick of his boot, to a torrential downpour in October, and the pamphleteer slumped scowling in a bus shelter, smoking a mentholated Bolivian stogie, we simply press on, agog.

We soon learn that little had changed except the weather and Dobson’s preferred brand of cigarettes. He was waiting for a bus in the rain because he had been summoned to an appointment with the official in charge of the janitorium and of several other outlying facilities. This official, a preening autocrat of many hats, had been inundated with letters from the pamphleteer begging to be transferred from the janitorium on account of the disquieting ploppy noises from behind the panel. After that night in May, the noises had returned, insistently, and no amount of kicking the panel made them cease, as Dobson discovered to his cost. He had even gone to the expense of a brand new pair of sturdy boots with toughened toecaps, the better to kick the panel, but to no avail. So began his written pleas to the official. Dobson knew that among the outlying facilities attached to the janitorium was a cow byre, and it was to this dilapidated rustic hideyhole that he hoped to be sent. He did not confess, in his many missives, that he was unpractised in the niceties of cow care, and this may have been his undoing. As it was, the preening autocrat ignored all of Dobson’s letters, until they began to arrive at a rate of two or three per shift. The disquieting ploppy noises from behind the panel were steadily driving the pamphleteer crackers, and the tone of his letters was growing ever more hysterical.

As Maud Glubb observes, it would be instructive if we could compare the unrestrained prose of these desperate pleadings with the overwrought and majestic style of the middle-period pamphlets, but to date no Dobsonist of any standing has taken on such a task. There would, of course, be difficulties with the handwriting, for when Dobson’s brain was fuming his already crabbed and blotted scrawl became almost illegible. He is not alone among the greats in challenging the eyesight of those wishing to decipher his manuscripts. According to Jerome B Lavay, in Disputed Handwriting : An Exhaustive, Valuable, And Comprehensive Work Upon One Of The Most Important Subjects of To-day (1909), “Charlotte Bronte’s writing seemed to have been traced with a cambric needle, and Thackeray’s writing, while marvelously neat and precise, was so small that the best of eyes were needed to read it. Likewise the writing of Captain Marryatt was so microscopic that when he was interrupted in his labours he was obliged to mark the place where he left off by sticking a pin in the paper. Napoleon’s was worse than illegible, and it is said that his letters from Germany to the Empress Josephine were at first thought to be rough maps… Byron’s handwriting was nothing more than a scrawl. The writing of Dickens was minute, and he had a habit of writing with blue ink on blue paper”.

We must assume that, at some point in the first week of October, the preening autocrat smacked his forehead in despair at the tottering pile of letters arriving from the janitorium, for he took the unusual step of summoning the complainant to his headquarters. Fang Castle was situated high on a crag around which bats skittered and swooped. The bus from which the pamphleteer alighted in the teeming rain stopped at the foot of the crag, and Dobson had many, many steps to climb before he would reach the entrance to the castle. He was less than half way up when his ill-advised pink and yellow and polka dot Kennebunkport cap attracted the attention of several bats, and a passing crow. Startled, the pamphleteer lost his footing, sprained his ankle, and plunged into a clump of buttercups. He lay there helpless for three days, hidden from the bus route by a row of lupins and hollyhocks, Fang Castle looming above him high on the crag.

We know that Dobson was dismissed from the janitorium before the end of October, for there is a journal entry, clearly written on Hallowe’en, where he refers to his relief at no longer having to suffer the disquieting ploppy noises from behind the panel. What we do not know is whether he was writing from the cow byre. In a particularly ravishing passage in her ravishing essay, Maud Glubb drops hints that she has identified the precise location where Dobson was hunkered down on that Hallowe’en, going so far as to claim that she may even have it pinpointed on a map, but she does not say if she is talking about the cow byre or somewhere else entirely. Nor do we know what Dobson did at the end of his three days in the buttercups. When the sprain in his ankle eased, did he clamber up those many, many steps and confront the preening autocrat in Fang Castle, or did he shuffle to the bus stop and return to the janitorium? Meteorological records indicate that it was still raining heavily, so the pamphleteer would have been sodden through. Indeed, he may have been so soaked that he would have been forbidden to board the bus for fear that any puddles he created may have dribbled into the underfloor electrical wiring and caused the bus to explode or crash. Researchers other than Maud Glubb have pored over the records of bus mishaps for the relevant period, and there is a tantalising clue in a report in the St Bibblybibdib Parish Newsletter And Fold-Out Raffle Ticket which alludes to an exploding bus crashing near Fang Castle due to an underfloor electrical wiring fault during a torrential downpour, but the newsletter was only published twice a year and the date on this copy is unreadable, due to smudging.

In this morass of Rumsfeldian known unknowns, it is an unexpected delight to chance upon solid, incontrovertible fact. Here, reproduced without comment, is a passage from Digby Hoist’s memoir Out And About With Pebblehead:

That leap year, on the twenty-ninth of February, I joined the bestselling paperbackist on a hike. We roamed o’er hill and dale for mile upon mile, snacking on berries and weeds and drinking milk we eked from unattended cows in the fields. It should not have surprised me that Pebblehead had an enviable milking technique when presented with an udder. He is, after all, a man of parts. We investigated knots of furze and vetch and certain unnatural topiary sites as catalogued by Drain & Huffington. I demonstrated to Pebblehead a method of vaulting across rivers using a stick and a paperclip, and he showed me how to lure a badger from its sett with blandishments. Oh how we chuckled in a wry, manly way as we pranced across the loam! Scudding clouds overhead threatened drizzle, so in mid-afternoon we took refuge in a ruin. As we crouched on what looked to me like the ragged remains of a feng shui monkey puzzle carpeting system, once so unaccountably popular, I noticed that Pebblehead grew quiet. His moustache bristled, and his ears emitted wispy fumes. When I made to speak, he hushed me by wedging a shard of slate in my mouth and bashing the side of my head with his fists. The drizzle turned into a violent shower that lasted less than a minute, and then the sun blazed down on us again. I was all for leaving the ruin and continuing with our hike, for I was keen to show Pebblehead a pig enclosure I knew to be nearby, where the pigs were fantastic, but something in his demeanour gave me pause. He seemed strangely disquieted. Eventually, he began to speak, in a voice that was not his own. Instead of that familiar high-pitched, reedy squawk, like a drugged-up corncrake, his words boomed out, deep and deafening. I spat out the shard of slate and shoved my hands over my ears, but still that voice penetrated my soul as if I were in the presence of some ancient, terrible god.

“Behold the realm of Gaar!” said the Pebblehead who was not Pebblehead, “It is ruin now, but once, not so long ago, it was the place where dwelt my fiend. That spot where you crouch, puny specimen of humankind, was my panel, and behind my panel my fiend paid obeisance to me. To the imperfect ears of you earthly pipsqueaks, the horrifying and insane and magnificent and berserk ritual jabberings of my fiend sounded as but ploppy noises which caused disquiet rather than paralysing terror. One day my fiend shall return, and all shall be swept away. It will be swept away and gone.”

The voice ceased. Somewhere a linnet tweeted. The wispy fumes from Pebblehead’s ears dispersed, and his moustache stopped bristling. He looked at me, as if nothing had happened, and piped up “The rain has stopped, Digby. Let us go and take a cold hard look at those fantastic pigs you were telling me about!”

The Ebbing Away Of The Age Of Gilded Tin Baths

There is no one left alive who witnessed the ebbing away of the age of gilded tin baths, nor do we have any written records of that time. The pitiful smidgen of information we do have has come down to us in the form of incomprehensible pictograms and a pair of 78 rpm shellac discs, and these are locked away in a concrete bunker far, far underground, beneath the Museum At-Or-Near Ack. The bunker is only accessible through a heavily padlocked orrin hatch, one of very few such hatches ever manufactured, based upon a patented hatch design which, despite what you may have read in the sorts of magazines beloved of the conspiracy-fixated, has absolutely no connection with US Senator Orrin Hatch (Rep., Utah).

Those of you with even a smattering of knowledge about hatches and bunkers will understand how hard it is to get anywhere near those pictograms, those 78s. When last one of our investigators examined the hatch, she reported back that it showed no signs of having been opened since the notorious Blötzmann Incident (1956). The reckless idiocy of Blötzmann’s intervention has been thoroughly dissected in Pebblehead’s bestselling paperback A Man And His Shovels, so I need not rehearse it here.

Our investigator – codename Hortense – reported something else. She said that the metal ladder which forms the final stage of the approach to the bunker was rife with scratches and dents and had buckled in a few places. This is new. The ladder has until now been kept in pristine condition by the maintenance team at-or-near Ack, whose rigorous training is well-attested. Hortense was unable to posit a convincing explanation for the ladder damage, and for the time being the file has been put aside. When I say ‘aside’, I mean literally that, placed on the right hand side of my desk, next to the pot with the bonsai pugton and the framed photograph of Bing Crosby embracing a howler monkey. Had I classed it as an ‘active’ file, it would be in the wire tray on the left hand side, alongside my important stationery, buzzer, message funnel, and metal tapping machine. The area of the desk immediately in front of me is kept bare, so I can think clearly. I know this sounds as if I have fallen victim to the fad for feng shui, but that is not the case. In fact I am minded to say that Mr Crosby’s howler monkey would benefit more from feng shui than I would. Incidentally, you may have been told by some earnest nitwit that the correct pronunciation of feng shui is ‘fung shway’. Not so. It is actually ‘fong shoo’, or possibly ‘fing shoy’.

What I was thinking clearly about at the moment was not Hortense’s report on the damaged metal ladder, but a more urgent matter. That very morning the postie had brought me a package containing a miniature shellac disc wrapped in greaseproof paper. There was also a letter, obviously written by a mad person, claiming that the disc was a copy of one of the two discs locked in the bunker, and that if I listened to it with care I would learn many, many interesting things about the ebbing away of the age of gilded tin baths.

Now, you must understand that in all my years of service to the Commission I have never heard even a whisper that such a copy existed. My first impulse was to smash the shellac into smithereens, for I have a short fuse and am not to be dallied with by poltroons. Wiser counsel was provided by Hortense, who offered to listen to the tiny 78 on her Mikiphone and to appraise its contents with her unorthodox yet piercing intellect. I gave her the go-ahead and, as I so often do, sat contemplating the blue eyes of Bing Crosby and the black eyes of the howler monkey, pondering on the ineffable mysteries of existence.

I was snapped out of my reverie when Hortense came dashing breathlessly into my sanctum, her face twisted into a rictus of Lovecraftian terror. Throughout my life I have been plagued by nosebleeds, and the one that began to flow the instant Hortense crashed in was the big potato, as they say. I was far too busy flapping around trying to find a cloth to staunch the gore pouring out of my nose to listen to my investigator’s gibbering. By the time I had recovered myself, Hortense had swooned, and in so doing, she banged her head, causing – as we later discovered – complete memory loss. She never did remember what she heard on that shellac disc, and nor was she able to recall at which railway station she had rented a luggage locker in which to put the disc for safe keeping. I remonstrated with her, of course, but with a faint heart, for despite my ferocious temper I am a complete softy in the presence of amnesiacs.

So now I sit at my desk looking into the eyes of the crooner and the howler, and Hortense reclines on a sofa somewhere far away, having her brain massaged by nuns. The truth is, she was the only investigator I had, all the others having been taken from me by the blithering fatheads upstairs. And now Hortense is gone, and Hortense’s memory is gone, and I wonder if the ebbing away of the age of gilded tin baths is also gone, irretrievably, vanishing into the past, its splendours never to be rekindled in the minds of men and women in this baffling age of pap.

Zoo Library News Update

“We don’t have any books on feng shui for monkeys”

Los Angeles Zoo feng shui consultant Simona Mainini, quoted in today’s Guardian