Pale Horseman

He was exceedingly pale, and he sat astride a horse. He was the Pale Horseman. The horse was an elegant nut-brown something-or-other, with splendid fetlocks and a terrific mane. I use the word “terrific” because it was terrifying, that mane, on that horse. It certainly terrified the horseman. Why do you think he was so pale?

Clip-clop along the lane went the horse, through dense forest, and the horseman sat tall in the saddle, like the best of heroes in a cowboy film. Here it is worth noting that, though there are cowboys, there are no boy cows. All cows, wherever in the world you roam, are girls. As for the horse, be it a girl horse or boy horse, that does not matter to us, and nor did it matter to the horseman, who shuddered as he contemplated its terrific mane. But he pulled himself together, and clip-clopped onwards, or rather the horse clip-clopped, while the horseman sat.

The lane stretched from Pointy Town at one end to Tantarabim at the other. If you are familiar with the geography of this land – and if you are only half-educated, you damned well ought to be – you will know it was a very long lane indeed. The point where we met the Pale Horseman, deep in the dense forest, was roughly halfway along the lane. He was on his way from Pointy Town to Tantarabim.

There were many inns on or just off the lane, at which travellers such as the Pale Horseman and his horse could spend the night. Each inn was named after an album by Jethro Tull, except one, known as Exotic Birds And Fruit, which shared its name with an album by Procol Harum. This anomaly was occasioned by muddled thinking on the part of the Nomenclature of Inns Pursuivant. It was a costly misattribution. He was taken out and shot.

As it happened, the clearing in the forest where the execution took place was just yards away from where the Pale Horseman stopped his horse, that morning. He was intent on paying homage to the Pursuivant at the spot where he had fallen. While his horse scratched its innocent behind on a tree, the Pale Horseman stood with head bowed in the clearing, muttering a few words under his breath. Then, as a mark of devotion to the departed, he placed on the ground a piece of fruit taken from his pocket. It was a toffee apple.

Returning to his horse, the Pale Horseman saw that it was disconcerted and fractious, its mane even more terrific. Although he was already deathly pale, such was his terror that the Pale Horseman visibly blanched. In the dense forest, he was surrounded by wood, so had a French person been present, they could have described him as “blanche doo bwa”. He remounted his horse and set it off at a clip-clop towards the seaside belvederes of Tantarabim.

That night they stayed at the Catfish Rising inn. It was home to a cat, but not to any fish, unless one counted a few blennies, dead on a slab in the kitchen, ready to be served for supper. The Pale Horseman was not fond of fish, and opted instead for jugged hare with a side helping of smokers’ poptarts. These vittles did nothing to alter his pallor. Anent the inn, in its stables, the horse was fed and watered from a cement trough. Somewhere in the night, owls hooted and swooped upon small terrified scurrying mammals.

Usually, whenever I recite this story, I pause at this point and invite questions from the audience, if there is one. Sometimes there is not. I have told this story while standing on a dais in an empty barn. But if one or two are gathered to hear it, the questions most often asked are Why is the Pale Horseman going from Pointy Town to Tantatrabim? and Please level with us, is the Pale Horseman a personification of Death? Very occasionally someone will ask me to explain what was so terrifying about the horse’s mane. But nobody, nobody, has ever asked What was the horse’s name? or Did the horse become fractious because it thought it was going to be given the toffee apple as a snack?

Whatever questions I am asked, I like to give full and detailed answers, at great length. Thus, for example, I might find myself listing every single album release by Jethro Tull. Not only do I give the album titles, in chronological order, but I will add the track listing and full credits as shown on the sleeve of the original release. If in puckish mood, I will also recite, from memory, any liner notes, which, in the case of Thick As A Brick (1972), can take up most of the afternoon. If in even more puckish mood, I will do the same for the complete Procol Harum discography. My knowledge of horsemen and horses is equally encyclopaedic, so by the time I am done answering questions, any audience members still awake will almost certainly have forgotten the story so far. They may even have had the Pale Horseman and his horse and the lane from Pointy Town to Tantarabim wiped from their puny brains, while they fixate upon, say, the precise pattern upon the headband habitually worn by “stout, nimble” Glenn Cornick, bass guitarist of Jethro Tull from 1968 to 1970.

When I resume my tale, therefore, they barely notice that the Pale Horseman and his horse are clip-clopping slowly, slowly along the lane in the opposite direction, from Tantarabim to Pointy Town. When I have them stop around half-way, at the clearing where the Nomenclature of Inns Pursuivant was shot, and the Pale Horseman retrieves the votive toffee apple, removes its cellophane wrapping, and feeds it as a snack to his horse, some in the audience put up their hands to ask how in the name of heaven the Pale Horseman knew the toffee apple was there, lying on the ground in the clearing a few yards off the lane, but I shush them and tell them the time for questions is over.

And so it is that they never get to hear how Death was visited upon Tantarabim, how every last Tantarabimite, from aged crones to tots and tinies, toppled over and died at sight of the Pale Horseman, as due punishment for some ancient sin, and how for a hundred years or more it was home only to swarms of flies and maggots, and nobody dared utter its name.

Cocking A Snook

Cocking a snook is an age-old custom in Pointy Town, harking back to the days of Bruno La Poubelle, or even earlier. It is unrelated to the snook-cocking practised elsewhere in the world. That is not the same thing at all. No it is not, oh no. No.

What am I talking about, then, when I talk about the specifically Pointy Town practice – or praxis, as the postmodernist philosopher Jean-Luc Postmod would put it – of cocking a snook? Am I just babbling incoherently? No, I am not, oh no. Not at all.

We may go back to the ur-text in this matter, the centuries-old Great Book of Bruno La Poubelle, in which we find this passage. Granted, to the modern reader it is gibberish, but bear with me. Have patience. This is what we read:

Wheat! Goosepeck ouch. Sit, Fido. Rubber papa hemingway in storm drains. Kew Rhone sow’s ear, wah wah pedal bin. Birds without ears. Oo look teabag. Hen coop protocol baffling. Fiery, fiery Fido sit. Pictures of Jap girls in synthesis. Religio medici urn burial. Early Scritti, natty Jah, natty cock, natty snook, natty dread.

Roughly translated, this means … well, it is so roughly translated it can hardly be called a translation. I for one can make head nor tail of it. The important point is that the words “cock” and “snook” can both be spotted in the passage, and in close proximity, so that tells us something. What does it tell us? At the very least, it tells us that both “cock” and “snook” were words in usage in Pointy Town at the time of the composition of the Great Book of Bruno La Poubelle. So we are getting somewhere. Oh yes we are.

When I suffered a burst appendix, and they put me on a stretcher, I had visions. Yes I did, I’m not making this up. One of these visions was of an ancient Pointy Towner, out gathering snooks. I saw the vision as if through a mist, a thick mist, such that I could not clearly discern the Pointy Towner. Put it like this, I wouldn’t be able to identify him in a police line-up. The same is true of the snooks he was gathering. Oh thick, thick mist! How you blurred my sight as I lay on that stretcher with a burst appendix!

In another vision, following swiftly on the first, the ancient Pointy Towner was cocking the snooks he’d gathered. This, too, was obscured by mist, more’s the pity. And more’s the potty, if you want to know, and I’m sure you do. I’m quite sure. Oh yes I am. There was a hell of a lot of pottiness abroad at that time. What a time it was! A potty time, pottier than ever before or after, even now …

Now the gold is turned to lead
And you are lying in your bed
With curtains drawn across the night
Oh hug your pillow! Hug it tight
Though you may plead and you may pray
The Grunty Man is on his way!

Flipping Heck

Flipping Heck is a small village equidistant between Pointy Town and its twin town, Pointytwin Town. Pointy Town is pointier, oh so much pointier, than Pointytwin Town, which is itself pointier than most comparable towns, and certainly oodles more pointy than Flipping Heck, which is not pointy at all.

The pointiness of Pointy Town and, to a lesser yet significant extent, of Pointytwin Town, are topics often remarked upon in the tavern at Flipping Heck. In fact, the Flipping Heck taverneers rarely talk of anything else, unless it be their gutters and drains and sewers and subterranean catacombs and ossuaries and tunnels, when, that is, they talk of anything at all, for much of the time in the tavern they do not speak at all, but cup their tankards in their big hairy villagers’ hands, gazing morosely into the fug.

Within the tavern the fug is thick, but it is even thicker outside. It is very difficult to see where you are going in Flipping Heck. Quite apart from the thick fug, there are no signposts, nor do the lanes have names, and nor do the hovels have numbers. There is a postman, but his comings and goings are shrouded in mystery, and nobody will swear on a bible that they have ever seen him.

There is one bible in Flipping Heck, and it is kept chained to a lectern in the village church, St Bibblybibdib’s. The vicar is from overseas, far far away overseas, and speaks in his own strange guttural tongue, or rather shouts, oh how he shouts, his Sunday morning sermons can be heard for miles around. It is said you can just about hear them from the western outskirts of Pointy Town and the eastern outskirts of Pointytwin Town, if the air is still and you prick up your ears.

The air, though, is rarely still, for tremendous and terrifying winds howl across the flat expanse of marshland between Pointy Town and Flipping Heck and between Flipping Heck and Pointytwin Town. It is the sort of marshland in which a fertile imagination will summon into being sprites and ghouls and, occasionally, escaped convicts It is said that the lumbering walrus-moustached psychopath Babinsky lurks somewhere in the marshes, sharpening his axe and biding his time until one night he will lumber into Flipping Heck and slaughter the first-born. It is the thought of such a calamity that hangs in the air unspoken in the village tavern along with the fug.

The now dead vicar who preceded the present incumbent of St Bibblybibdib’s led a campaign to make Flipping Heck more pointy, if not quite as pointy as Pointytwin Town, certainly far less pointy than Pointy Town, but pointy nevertheless. There is very little evidence of his efforts, save for his tombstone in St Bibblybibdib’s churchyard, which is a little bit pointy when viewed from a certain angle in a certain light during certain phases of the moon.

The moon is a silver disc in the sky. Such is the fug in Flipping Heck it is barely visible to the villagers, merely a blur of milky light far, far above their heads. But they rarely look up. Their thoughts, such as they are, are directed down, to their gutters and drains and sewers and subterranean catacombs and ossuaries and tunnels. Once it was possible to reach both Pointy Town and Pointytwin Town through the tunnels, but for more than a century now they have been blocked. Rumour has it that, when he is not lurking in the marshes, Babinsky prowls the tunnels, dragging his blood-drenched axe behind him, singing his horrible song.

Dobson’s Invitation

In the autumn of his years, Dobson received a letter asking him to contribute to a symposium. Such invitations were rare for the out of print pamphleteer, and he became unreasonably overexcited. Unable to think clearly, he wolfed down his breakfast and went for a brisk walk along the towpath of the old canal, shouting and chucking pebbles at swans. When he arrived home, sopping wet from the torrential downpour, he reread the letter. Apparently, what the sender called his “unique insight” would be welcomed for a symposium on The Importance Of The Cummerbund As A New Romantic Signifier, With Particular Reference To Spandau Ballet.

Dobson had questions, but unfortunately his inamorata Marigold Chew, who he felt sure would know about these things, was off on a week-long gallivant. The pamphleteer had a vague idea what a cummerbund was, but that was about all of the symposium title he understood. He knew a bit about the Romantics, but what was a “New Romantic”? What exactly was meant by a “signifier”? And, most befuddling of all, was there really a ballet troupe resident at Spandau prison in Berlin, and if not, what on earth did the two words, thus conjoined, refer to? These were his questions.

As he pored over the invitation, Dobson felt his excitement bubbling up again. He could barely recall when last he had been invited to anything, let alone an important symposium. Leaving the unanswered questions to waft in the mists of fuddle, he dashed off a letter of acceptance, not forgetting to ask that his bus fare be paid and a cup of tea provided. Then he crashed back out into the rain to buy a stamp at the post office and to plop his reply into a letterbox.

On his way home along one of the less salubrious boulevards of Pointy Town, it occurred to Dobson that the answers to his questions could conceivably be common knowledge among the riffraff. It would not be the first time he discovered that things of which he was wholly ignorant were known by the most wretched and unsightly specimens of the lower orders. A gruesome little twerp, for example, had once vouchsafed to the pamphleteer not only the names of the four Liverpudlian moptops, but also told him which one wore spectacles and was married to an avant-garde Japanese performance artist. This information had proved invaluable when Dobson came to write his pamphlet Several Anagrams Of OO NOOKY, Informed By My Unique Insight Into Popular Culture (out of print).

So it was that the pamphleteer buttonholed a number of hoi polloi in the street, shouting at them about romanticism and signifiers and ballet in German prisons. But by now the torrential rain had grown rainier and more torrential, and all those whose help Dobson sought swept past him, pausing only to curse or spit or kick. When eventually he made it home he was none the wiser.

Dobson sat at his escritoire for hours, pencil poised over a blank sheet of paper. He was at a loss. Then he had a brainwave. He would go to the symposium and extemporize! So long as he included the key words, repeatedly, in whatever he said, he felt sure he could carry it off. Had not Laurence Olivier done the same when performing Shakespeare, babbling nonsense occasionally just to amuse himself and to disconcert the rest of the cast? And after all, this was an academic symposium, when nothing anybody said would make the slightest bit of sense anyway. Dobson tossed his pencil aside and went to slump in an armchair, gazing out of the window at crows in the rain.

The day before the symposium, a further letter arrived from the organisers.

Dear Dobson, it read, I am afraid we are unable to pay your bus fare and cannot provide you with a cup of tea. We are therefore withdrawing your invitation. Toodle pip.

In the spring and summer of his years, a younger Dobson would have parlayed this crushing disappointment into a pamphlet of sweeping paragraphs of majestic prose. Now, he merely slumped at his escritoire, moaning and weeping, for days on end, until Marigold Chew came home.

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A Map Of Pointy Town

Over the past few weeks I have been following an intriguing flurry of correspondence in the readers’ letters section of Bestial Grunting magazine. It began back in October – the “yellow month” – with a query from a certain Mr. P. X. Pyx, who wrote “I have been trying to obtain a map of Pointy Town, without success. Can any of your readers point me in the right direction?”

In the next issue there were several replies, but most of them were facetious. They suggested plenty of directions in which Mr. Pyx might point himself, but the respondents were just having a spot of fun. The only sensible letter came from someone who described themselves (in an unpublished addendum) as an Official Pointy Town Tour Guide. It is worth mentioning here that such a position does not exist, as the only known tour guides in Pointy Town are resolutely unofficial, and proud of being so. But let that pass. This (unnamed) correspondent made the not unreasonable point that Mr. Pyx needed to divulge his own location before anybody could hope to have a clue in which direction he should be pointed in order to face either Pointy Town itself or a kiosk where he might make purchase of a map thereof. The editrix of Bestial Grunting awarded this letter five stars, and rightly so.

The following week, a letter appeared undersigned “Mrs. P. X. Pyx, grieving relict of Mr. P. X. Pyx”. Alongside the printed, typeset version of the letter, a photograph of the original was reproduced, showing the smudges occasioned during its composition by Mrs. Pyx’s fallen tears, the better for readers to appreciate her grief. The widow explained that her late husband had dutifully followed the sundry pieces of advice given by the facetious letter-writers in the previous issue, but that in pointing himself in dozens of different directions at great speed, he had become dizzy in the head, and toppled over, and fallen into a pit of vipers he happened to be standing next to at the time. Mrs. Pyx added the plea that she herself now sought advice on obtaining a map of Pointy Town, as it was her dearest wish that her husband be buried clutching said map in his cold dead white hands, as soon as the authorities had devised a method of safely extricating his corpse from the viper pit. She did not divulge her location. Her letter was not awarded any stars by the editrix.

By the time the next issue of the magazine appeared, it was November, the “month of chrysanthemums”. Much of the letters page was taken up with protests that Mrs. Pyx had not been given any stars. Several readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions unless this injustice was corrected. The editrix devoted a full page elsewhere in the issue to a carefully-argued piece explaining her decision. Stars, she wrote, were not awarded lightly, and she was damned if she was going to cave in to the demands of her more petulant readers who misunderstood the protocols. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the letters editor plucking a star from the night sky, preliminary to affixing it to the print-ready page.

Eagle-eyed readers would have noticed, buried beneath all the letters of protest, a further letter from the soi-disant Official Pointy Town Tour Guide. He wrote that he was due to meet a mysterious “contact”, at a crossroads at midnight, who dangled before him the possibility that he – the “contact” – might identify a kiosk where a map of Pointy Town could be obtained, though only for rental, rather than purchase outright.

I missed the next issue of Bestial Grunting by dint of [illegible].

God alone knows what happened, but in the fortnight since I’d bought a copy, the magazine had changed utterly. It was now called New Bestial Grunting, the editrix had become the editrix-in-chief, the letters editor had been demoted to office janitor, and the readers’ letters page had vanished. In its place was a sheet of burnt and blackened paper giving off a distinct whiff of sulphur. When I tried to return the magazine to the newsagent, thinking it might just be a faulty copy, I found his kiosk shuttered and boarded up, and daubed with the sign of the cross.

Could all this be connected in some way to the dead Mr. Pyx and the quick Mrs. Pyx and their desire to obtain a map of Pointy Town? I had to concede the possibility. I determined, at once, standing in a puddle next to the abandoned kiosk, to pay Mrs. Pyx a visit and interrogate her, under Klieg lights if necessary. But then I realised that neither she nor her late husband had ever revealed their whereabouts. Like Pointy Town itself, she was unmapp’d, and I was lost.

star_yellow_small This article was awarded one star – Mavis Handbasin, Editrix-in-Chief

Annals Of The Seaside

One of the tragedies of our Age of Pap is that some of the greatest entertainers of the past have been largely forgotten and consigned to oblivion. And none more so than the titans of our seaside past, those who used to dazzle and delight teeming thousands of holidaymakers. The piers where once they trod the boards are themselves now mostly in ruins, if not vanished utterly. Yet once the roaring of the sea was drowned out by the roaring and cheering and laughter of the crowds gathered to see entertainments the like of which we shall surely never witness again. Now, all we have left are brittle, yellowing newspaper cuttings, such as this one, clipped from The Pointy Town Bucket & Spade, dated 18 November 1913.

Your correspondent trudged to the end of the Pointy Pier in Pointy Town for an out of season variety show. In spite of the torrential rain and bitter winds and the pervading stench of bilgewater and rotting fish, dozens of doughty holidaymakers packed out the Miss Blossom Partridge Memorial Variety Theatre for an afternoon of tiptop entertainment.

Top of the bill were those stars of the Pointy Pier, Mr Peevish And His Lovely Wife Gwendolyn. They did not disappoint. Mr Peevish was peevish and his lovely wife Gwendolyn was lovely. The “business” with the darned sock, the table-napkin, the funnel, and the screeching pipistrelle bat brought the house down. I myself was in floods of tears when lovely Gwendolyn sang the sentimental ballad “Oh bring me your winding-sheet, mother of mine”, for the performance of which she was wrapped in her mother’s actual winding-sheet, still bearing the bloodstains coughed up by that good woman in her extremity. That Mr Peevish remained thoroughly peevish during his lovely wife’s rendition is proof indeed of his consummate peevishness.

The evening ended with a magic trick, or at least what I took to be a magic trick. Several members of the audience were of a differing view, and believed that Mr Peevish And His Lovely Wife Gwendolyn had indeed produced, in material form, emerging from a puff of smoke, the Great Beast itself, as described in the Book of Revelation. The police constable on duty was trampled underfoot as the audience fled in fear for their lives.

Later that evening I noticed that the streets in the immediate vicinity of Pointy Pier were covered in some kind of vile noisome sludge. Small fires were burning, and every sprig of vegetation was blackened and charred and dead, along with a goodly number of puppies and kittens which had unwisely strayed from the comforts of hearth and home.

Higgledy-Piggledy

The OED defines higgledy-piggledy as “without any order of position or direction; in huddled or jumbled confusion and disorder; with heads and tails in any or every direction. Usually contemptuous.” An early citation, from A new dictionary of the terms ancient and modern of the canting crew (1699) makes explicit the reference to “heads and tails”, defining the word as “all together, as Hoggs and Pigges lie”. This pig-based etymology seems to me to be thoroughly erroneous.

My own exhaustive and exhausting research has exhumed from historical obscurity, you know what?, it has been so damnably exhausting that I am going to have to break off here to take a nap. Assume several paragraphs of zzzzzzzzzzs.

That’s better. I am refreshed, and as if the nap were not enough I have also glugged a teaspoon’s-worth of Dr Baxter’s Frenetic Brain Activity Enhancement Cordial. So let us resume. My own exhaustive and exhausting research has exhumed from historical obscurity Monsignor Higledi and Doctor Pigledie, the one a priest and the other a physician. The spellings of their names are in accord with the OED’s earliest citation, from John Florio’s A worlde of wordes, or most copious, and exact dictionarie in Italian and English of 1598.

In 1492, or thereabouts, the monsignor and the doctor were commissioned, by Bruno La Poubelle, to take charge of the Keep Pointy Town Neat And Tidy campaign. This may seem anachronistically modern, in both its intention and its phraseology, but Bruno La Poubelle was ever a figure who transcended the petty bonds of time. Witness, for example, the well-known portrait of him, etched by noted etcher Rex Van Etch, in which he is clearly depicted wearing flying goggles and a Spandau Ballet tee-shirt.

A visionary he may have been, but Bruno La Poubelle made a terrible error of judgement in picking Higledi and Pigledie. The one was a butterfingers and the other was passing strange in a way we would today probably diagnose as clinical insanity. Which was which, monsignor or physician, I have not yet been able to ascertain from the documents. What they do make horribly vivid, however, is that no pair of fifteenth-century Pointy Towners could have been less able to make, let alone keep, things neat and tidy. Wherever they went, in those ancient boulevards, attempting to align things neatly and clear away clutter and chaos, they only made things worse. By the time Bruno La Poubelle put a stop to their activities, all of Pointy Town was a jumble of confusion, with even well-defined pathways crumbled and leading in jagged zigzags towards nothingness, or haystacks from the hinterland to be found plopped upside down in the middle of the town square, or horses behind the counters of pickle shops. There is a measure of truth in the observation that, more than five hundred years later, Pointy Town has never quite recovered. That is why, as soon as you enter the town, even today, you become lost, lost, oh hopelessly lost.

Pigs have nothing to do with it.

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The Farmer Rebukes His Spade

The Farmer Rebukes His Spade is the title of a painting by Cedric Farmpainter, RA. It has been described as his first great daub and as the jewel of the Pointy Town Municipal Galeria. The work itself was destroyed in an inexplicable bird-related cataclysm, and today exists only in the form of a mezzotint copy by the noted mezzotintist Rex Tint. Tint always claimed that he made his print by sitting in front of the original painting, gazing at it for hours, working steadily, but his account has been called into question by his own sister, Dot Tint. In her memoir of her brother, she wrote that he cannot have sat where he said he sat, having been barred from entering the Galeria or its grounds or appurtenances by dint of “insufferable pomposity”.

At this distance in time, we can never know which Tint, Rex or Dot, is telling the truth. All we have is the mezzotint itself, several thousand copies of which were printed and distributed by Rex Tint’s devoted and possibly insane patron, Walter Mad.

The Farmer Rebukes His Spade is a rustic scene. It shows a dreary and rainsoaked field, pitted with many a puddle. To the left, there is a tree, which may be a larch or box or plane or sycamore, against the trunk of which is leaning a spade, at an angle of forty-two degrees (it has been measured, precisely, by swivel-eyed enthusiasts). Next to the tree and the spade, in side profile, is the figure of a farmer, florid of face and fat of belly. One arm is raised, and one finger of one puffy hand is in mid-wag. The farmer appears to be shouting his head off in what one critic has described as “an unbridled and unhinged spewing forth of rancour and remonstrance”. In the top left corner, silhouetted against the bleak sky, there is a bird, almost certainly a small bittern which, as other sources confirm, was the favourite bird of both Rex Tint and Cedric Farmpainter. (See “Painters and mezzotintists wax elegiac about their favourite birds”, The Journal Of Mezzotint- And Painting-Related Ornithology, Vol XXVII, No. 8, August 1909.)

My own copy of the mezzotint was unfortunately destroyed in the course of a sophisticated cocktail party which got out of hand and swiftly descended into an unsophisticated cocktail party and pitched battle.

Où sont les neiges d’antan?

Where are the snows of yesteryear?
They have been shovelled into a refrigerated container and ferried to a remote storage facility, also refrigerated, where they are kept in specially-designed “snow bins”.

How can I gain access to the storage facility?
With difficulty. As stated, it is remote.

Assuming for the moment that I have at my disposal a tremendous form of transport that could zoom me to the remotest parts of the earth in a matter of minutes, in which direction should I point it before depressing the big knob with “Go!” etched upon it?
You do not actually have such a form of transport, do you?

Well, no, but let’s just say that I did.
Your direction of travel would depend upon where you are starting from.

I am in Pointy Town.
There is plenty of snow in Pointy Town. Each winter it settles on the pointiest bits of town and remains there, cold and white and frozen, until the chirruping of little birdies in the springtime. Why in heaven’s name would you need access to the snow bins in the remote storage facility?

Whim.
Whim?

If whim is not a good enough reason, then let us say I have been appointed by the burghers of Pointy Town to compare our own snow with the snows of yesteryear, and to make my report accordingly.
These burghers, are they in their right minds?

That is a moot point. I know one of them suffered a bash on the bonce with a snow-shovel last winter and has not been quite the same since. He jabbers and drools and drools and jabbers, turn and turn about.
And was it this particular burgher who commissioned you to examine the snows of yesteryear?

Yes, it was.
Did you not stop to consider that any comparison you made between the snow currently enveloping Pointy Town and the snows of yesteryear would be futile?

They josh that my middle name is Futility.
So you are the go-to guy for fool’s errands?

I live in a Paradise of Fools.
I thought you said you lived in Pointy Town? Are you trying to pull the wool over my eye?

Do you mean eyes?
No, eye. I am Cyclopean.

A Cyclopean janitor of snow bins?
Yes.

Ah, I read about you in The Cyclopean Janitor of Snow Bins, a bestselling blockbuster paperback by Pebblehead!
In which, I have to say, I was wholly misrepresented, so much so that I have taken legal action with a view to having the entire run of several million copies pulped.

If you succeed, what will you do with all that pulp?
I will shovel it into an unrefrigerated container and ferry it to a remote storage facility, also unrefrigerated, and keep it in specially-designed “pulp bins”.

Would that be the same remote storage facility where you keep the snows of yesteryear?
No, the one is refrigerated and the other not.

So you would need to be in two places at once to perform your janitorial duties?
No, I would employ a Cyclopean pulp bin janitor.

If I pluck out one of mine eyes, could I have the job?
There is a waiting list of applicants.

How could I shove myself to the front of that list?
With sharp elbows.

Consider them sharpened!
Welcome aboard.

Wellbeloved Gutters

Meet me at midday at Wellbeloved Gutters, and we can swap dogs and consider the drainage.

Did I want to exchange Rags for Scamp? It did not seem as if I had a choice in the matter. It was not that I had any affection for Rags, he was flea-ridden and sick and dishevelled, but he was my Rags. Lord knows I had little else to call my own, certainly nothing else living and wheezing.

I used to have my own cart, on wheels, but it toppled down a slope and fell to bits at the bottom. I was distracted for a mere moment, by a bittern, or was it a plover?, but a mere moment was enough for me to let go of the handle of the cart and for its subsequent ruination. Then I was a man without a cart. Shortly afterwards, I obtained Rags, by accident, outside a milk bar. The dog attached itself to me. It followed me home, if you can call the wooden pallet in the shelter of the viaduct home.

I called it home, for a month or two, before fate swept me up and plopped me in a hotel. Rags had to stay outside, on a patch of ground near the car park. I fashioned a kennel for him out of bits of hardboard and nails. The patch was in the lee of one of the hotel’s huge forbidding windowless back walls. I know nothing of architecture, but it struck me as an unusually designed building. The innards were somewhere between palatial and gaudy. What a trick fate played to plop me there!

I tried to imagine Scamp – big, bounding, brisk, panting Scamp – sitting half-in, half-out of the kennel, eating from Rags’s bowl, in the shadow of the hotel. I tried and failed. So I went down to the lobby and asked for some notepaper and scribbled a reply.

I will meet you at midday at Wellbeloved Gutters. I am happy to consider the drainage. But a dog-swap is out of the question, for the time being.

I pressed a coin into the mitt of an urchin and sent him off to deliver my message. Then I obtained some bones and jelly and went out the back to feed Rags. His chain had been smashed to pieces, as if by a maniac’s axe. Untethered, Rags had fled. I returned to the lobby, slumped in an armchair next to a palm tree, and bunched my fists.

Later, torrential rain fell on Wellbeloved Gutters. The rain drained away as rapidly as it fell, for they are highly efficient gutters, probably the most efficient gutters in Pointy Town.

The Ornithologist And His Helpmeet

“Hand me that chaffinch,” said the ornithologist to his helpmeet.

Now it so happened that the helpmeet was a dimwit who could not tell one bird from another. They all had beaks and feathers, so far as he was aware, but beyond that he wallowed in a seething maelstrom of bird-ignorance. How then, we might wonder, did he get the plum job of ornithologist’s helpmeet? And be assured it was a plum job indeed, as both plums and jobs go. It had been advertised as such, in the “Plums” section of the Daily Ornithological Helpmeets’ Situations Vacant listings magazine, price fourpence, available from several tobacconists’ kiosks in Pointy Town and environs.

On the night before he saw the advertisement, the dimwit slept in the open air, under a viaduct. This was not because he had no home to go to, for a home he had, and what a home!, a manse, with serried belvederes, and too many servants to count. But the dimwit, the day before, had foolishly gone a-wandering, and become hopelessly lost. This was what usually happened when he strayed from the grounds of the manse. Not only was he ignorant of birds, but he had absolutely no sense of direction. His Papa had tried to teach him to orient his position on our spinning globe by studying the sun in the day and the stars in the night, but such matters were not within his grasp. He had difficulty craning his neck at the correct angle so that his head, and eyes, were pointing at the sky. This was not on account of any malformation of his neck. It was more a case of absent-mindedness. He would begin to adjust his head to the correct angle and then be distracted by, say, the ground-level sight of a heron eating a mole, and forget what he was doing. He could not, of course, have identified the heron as a heron – nor the mole as a mole, he was such a dimwit! – but he would be transfixed by the spectacle, and gape, tongue lolling from his mouth, drool dribbling down his chin, until one of the servants was dispatched to come and collect him, tie him to the end of a tethering rope, and pull him gently back into the manse, where Papa, despairing, stood hunched between a globe and an orrery, spinning them turn and turn about, his eyes wet with tears.

Waking under the viaduct at dawn that day, the dimwit dithered and dawdled and found himself, some hours later, at a tobacconist’s kiosk hard by Sawdust Bridge. Anent the kiosk, in a puddle, sat a pile of unsold copies of the previous day’s edition of the Daily Ornithological Helpmeets’ Situations Vacant, tied up with string. What prompted the dimwit to undo the bundle and take a copy of the magazine and repair to a verdant arbour where courting couples had long ago scratched their initials and cackhanded hearts entwined on the now rotting wood of the ruined bench and sat upon the bench and leafed through the puddle-wet magazine and read and read again and read a third time the advertisement for a plum job as helpmeet to tiptop ornithologist Bruno La Poubelle we shall never know. What we do know is that, as chance would have it – or was it written in the stars? – Bruno La Poubelle himself came clattering into the arbour for a shifty fag break.

Clattering, because he was wearing his scarecrow suit, hung with myriad scraps of tin. Shifty, because his ornithological research station hut had been declared a No Smoking Zone by ornithologists even more tiptop than he.

The ornithologist and the dimwit fell into conversation on the shattered bench. At this date we cannot piece together what they spoke of, but far far away the Gulf of Tonkin Incident had recently occurred, so it may be that it acted as an ice-breaker. However it was, Bruno La Poubelle was persuaded, within fifteen minutes, that the dimwit would make a splendid and devoted helpmeet. He tied a tethering rope to his new employee and pulled him gently back to the hut.

After a cup of tea and a guided tour of the hut and another shifty fag break, the ornithologist uttered the fateful words.

“Hand me that chaffinch,” he said, only to be met with a look of staggeringly fathomless incomprehension. Shortly afterwards, one of the servants from the manse appeared, having tracked down the dimwit with bloodhounds. He found Bruno La Poubelle slumped in his chair with his head in his hands, and the dimwit standing beside him, clutching a marsh warbler.

Municipal Notice

The Terracotta Army Parade Ground at the salubrious end of Sawdust Bridge is closed to allow pointless works to take place. Much heavy machinery has been moved into place from the important roadworks on the Blister Lane Bypass, causing snarl-ups. The loudest of the machines will be switched on before dawn and chug and hiss and hoot all day every day for the foreseeable future. Citizens without earplugs who find themselves deafened should join the queue outside Dr Fang’s Clinic. Appointments will be made on an unthinking-fidelity-to-the-regime basis, but may be postponed until such time as Dr Fang is released from protective custody. Every citizen is expected to take part in the prevention of wolf attacks. The kiosk under the viaduct on the lane leading to Pang Hill Orphanage is currently shrouded in mist. It is an eerie and inexplicable mist, populated by seething teeming minuscule flying and buzzing things which sting. Soothing ointments can be procured from the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman, if she can be found, for she is wandering in the wild woods, jabbering under her breath, and communing with tadpoles. There is a new, so-called “modern windsock” at the aerodrome. Verses in its praise should be sent to the poetry editor of The Daily Hysterics for his consideration. Toffee is hereby forbidden.

Signed this day on behalf of the more irrational members of the Pointy Town Chamber of Tyranny by Ned Mudbag, wretch and scrivener.

An Evening With Jean-Luc Git

[With thanks to Banished To A Pompous Land.]

It was a stark and doomy night; the rain fell in torrents – except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in Pointy Town that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

By the light of one such scanty flame, had we a view of the scene, we might have spotted, prancing along the windswept street, muffled in a stylish Piet Van Der Groot greatcoat, that titan among cultural theorists, Jean-Luc Git. Slung around his shoulder was a satchel, and in the satchel was a copy, hot off the press, of his latest book. Did I say book? It was not a word Git used. He called it a texte or a (dis)course, of course. On this stark and doomy night he was on his way through the gusty streets of Pointy Town to read selections from his texte or (dis)course to a tavern full of intoxicated intellectuals.

They were intoxicated both by booze and by ideas, and nobody had better ideas than Jean-Luc Git. So the tavern’s hubbub was stilled, and there was an expectant hush, as the cultural theorist came crashing through the door. Without removing his stylish greatcoat, he crossed to the low stage where a lectern had been placed. Next to the lectern was a table on which stood a small glass containing a spiritous liquor of vivid hue. Git swigged it, took his texte or (dis)course out of the satchel, opened it on the lectern, and began to declaim.

For half an hour or so, everything went tickety-boo. Git recited his clogged impenetrable prose and the intellectuals furrowed their brows, nodded sagely, and tugged at their goatees. But then the cultural theorist said:

“… and so, in what we might call the helix of disengagement, we interrogate notions of structure, unstructure, dis-structure, mis-structure, and ur-structure by way of an investigation, doubly incoherent, both formal and informal, of the punctum of jouissance …”

From somewhere in the audience, there was a titter, which turned to a chortle, and very soon became a guffaw. It was followed by a heckle, couched in language so unseemly it is not fit for family reading. Git was stopped in his tracks.

“I beg your pardon?” he shouted.

“You heard what I said,” replied the heckler.

“How dare you impugn my jouissance!” cried Git.

But it was as if the occasional violent gusts of winds which swept up the streets of Pointy Town had come blowing into the tavern, as if the torrents of rain on this stark and doomy night had come flooding in. In the tumult, the cultural theorist’s jouissance proved no defence. He was undone.

Discussion points for your reading group.

What is a just course of action if as a cultural theoretician one’s jouissance is impugned?.

List the personality defects of the kind of barbarian who would impugn the jouissance of a figure as titanic as Jean-Luc Git.

Using scissors and cardboard, make a paper dolly dressed in a Piet Van Der Groot greatcoat.

Which tavern in Pointy Town do you think would be so irresponsible as to allow entry to a barbarian so culturally depraved that they would heckle Jean-Luc Git?

Do you think the “scanty flame” from the lamps that struggle against the darkness is symbolic of Jean-Luc Git’s jouissance?

Sag’ mir, wo die Blumen sind?

Pointy Town Egg Dream

Last night I dreamt I went to Pointy Town again. I went by way of the Blister Lane Bypass, where important roadworks were taking place. In spite of the fact that I have never in my life been within twenty feet of a pneumatic drill, I took it into my head that I wished, with all my heart, to take part in the roadworks. I hopped off my bus – a number 666 – dodged through the many container lorries thundering along the road in both directions, and, anent a muddy trench, grabbed hold of an unattended machine tool. With sure and steady thumb, I depressed the knob that spurred the machine to life, and proceeded to gouge out crumbly slabs of geological significance from the bottom of the trench. This being a dream, I was able to continue my deft roadworks until I reached the burning core at the centre of the earth. I stilled my machine, and dug through the final layers of rock fragments with my bare hands, and there I discovered an egg.

“This is the egg of the world,” I said, “I wonder what will hatch from it?”

With the egg nestled in a pocket of my Tyrolean jacket, I clambered back up to the earth’s surface. Oddly, instead of finding myself at the Blister Lane Bypass, I was in Pointy Town itself, near the viaduct, outside the Old Collapsing Abandoned Swimming Pool. The door was ajar, and I pushed it open without the least trace of fear and stepped inside. As I did so, I heard the egg in my pocket crack.

In the empty pool, with its distorting acoustics, a jug band, as if awaiting my arrival, struck up a jug band arrangement of “Mother Goose” by Jethro Tull. Was it a goose egg I had in my pocket? I fumbled in my pocket to hoist out the cracking egg. Something nipped my fingers, and I quickly pulled out my hand, eggless. Blood was flowing, far more copiously than one would expect from the tiny bite I had received. I waved my hand and my blood splattered the jug band. They played on, undisturbed.

That is the thing about dreams, they make no sense. They have no significance. I am not even sure what a jug band is. I have never engaged in rogue roadworks. I have never been to Pointy Town.