Archive for the 'Prose' Category

Biblical Apocrypha

And the Lord said “Gather ye wool, and using needles thou shalt knit the wool into the form of a chicken. And thou shalt stuff the chicken with kapok and place it upon thy mantel. But the chicken shall lay no eggs, nor shall it cluck, for it is a false chicken, of kapok and wool, and an abomination unto the eyes of the Lord. And it shall be cast down from thy mantel, and unravelled, and the kapok stuffing scattered, yea, upon the four winds, and the wool strewn across many fields on thy father’s land. Thus sayeth the Lord, regarding false chickens, and other counterfeit poultry.”

The Book Of Ipsy Dipsy Doo, chapter 5,891

Double Otters

If you are in the vicinity of a riverbank, and you see two otters, this is known as Double Otters. Mark your little dun cardboard slip accordingly, in pencil, and take it to the kiosk. The man at the kiosk – argumentative, boisterous, catarrh-riddled, dismal, eggy (as in the Beatles’ song), flip, gaunt, horrible, ill, jaded, knock-knee’d, lascivious, mordant – will exchange your slip for a prize, usually a biro or a balloon.

He is a fallen man. When you are not looking, he will blub into a napkin.

Bim and Bam

Bim cut his chops with chocks. But Bam bamboozled Bim. Bim fought back with flex. Bam unleashed his flocks.

What are we to make of this? That Bim was holy, and Bam was not? Or quite the reverse? But wherein does holiness reside? We know it does not reside in holes, the holes, for example, in Bim’s socks. There were no holes in Bam’s socks, for he was a darner. Or it might be that Bam went sockless. Either way, we know that Bim had never set eyes on a darning-needle, not even the Darning-Needle of Doom.

The Darning-Needle of Doom is the one that pierced Bam’s soul. At its prick, he heard a bell toll. It tolled for Bam, but it did not toll for Bim. Bim was on his uppers. He drooled into a cup. It was a tin cup he won in a wrestling match. His opponent? Bam.

Oh, Bim and Bam. They are inseparable. When Bim looks in a mirror, he sees Bam. When Bam looks in the same mirror, having snatched it from Bim, he sees Bam too. Of course he does! You nitwits! What else would Bam see in a mirror but himself, reflected?

Why then does Bim see Bam in the mirror? Perhaps it is the angle he holds it at. Bim is ignorant of the great mysteries of geometry. But so is Bam. Bam had no schooling to speak of, nor can he speak, for he is mute. Bim babbles.

Bim and Bam the flowerpot men, raucous as crows, yellow as custard. They preen in the sunlight dappling the hideous hills of Hoon. They are gits and they know it. It is time you knew it too, and now you do.

Squelchy Buffers

Most buffers are not squelchy, but some are, some are. I am thinking, in particular, of the buffers in the submerged portion at the end of the line at Pointy Town. They are not just squelchy buffers, they are very squelchy buffers, at times exceedingly so, Adding to their squelchiness is the fact that the approach to the buffers, for several hundred plodes, is equipped, at regular intervals, with baffles, of both metal and sponge. The baffles first appear in the unsubmerged portion of the line but continue in the submerged portion until we are within spitting distance of the squelchy buffers themselves. Not that we would actually spit, for that would contravene the by-laws, unsurprisingly.

The poet-in-residence at Pointy Town Terminus, Dennis Beerpint, has recently published an anthology entitled Shall I compare thee to a squelchy buffer?, the answer to which would appear to be “no, I would rather you didn’t” (see Canto XXVII in the collection). Beerpint spent many long hours perched on a camping-stool, half-submerged, close by the squelchy buffers, smoking his pipe and jotting down his matchless poetic aperçus with a propelling pencil in a notepad. Curiously, he had nothing whatsoever to say about the metal and sponge baffles, although it is possible he is saving them for a second anthology which, like the first, will be available at the Pointy Town Terminus Kiosk.

Hoplites often disport themselves near the squelchy buffers, in historical reenactment tableaux vivants, but they do not hop.

Occasionally, it has been remarked that prose will simply peter out.

Summa Theologica

Things have been quiet here for a while. That is because I have been concentrating on completing my masterwork, the Summa Theologica. As its title indicates, this is a theological summary which attempts to explain the ways of God to Man – or at least to my readership. It has involved untold research, over many years, the collection of thousands, if not millions, of notes, all written painstakingly in pencil on Nabokovian index cards. Now at last I have set about the task of marshalling all this into a coherent narrative that is at once jaw-droppingly erudite and also as readable as any airport bookstall blockbuster.

The opening sentence is, in a sense, the summa theologica of the Summa Theologica. Having consulted my notes, I wrote:

It is blindingly obvious, to even the most dim-witted and wet-behind-the-ears six-year-old, that there is only one god, all-powerful and all-knowing, and that is the hideous bat-god Fatso.

Unfortunately, after writing this, I reached an impasse. It is, indeed, blindingly obvious, so what else is there to say? The simple truth is that we must all bow down or, better, prostrate ourselves upon our bellies, like the creatures that creep upon the earth, before the terrible countenance of the hideous bat-god Fatso, for ever and ever Amen. If you do not grasp that fact, then you are doomed, yea unto the umpteenth generation, and you will eat nought but nettles and drink nothing but evaporated milk flavoured with the bitter tears of grumpy German film directors, and you will be dressed in rags, and the rags will be besmirched with the blood of slaughtered innocents, and your limbs will flail helplessly, and your brain will boil.

If you require further evidence of the unflinchingly brutal reality of the hideous bat-god Fatso, see here.

Andorran Vandal

There was a happy conjunction of words in the Guardian crossword the other day. When solved, the leftmost column on the grid read ANDORRAN VANDAL. Remarkably, these were precisely the words which appeared, in the form of punched-out holes, on the small piece of dun cardboard spat out by the Hooting Yard Analogue Topic Generating Machine, a piece of gubbins I had knocked up for me by a boffin.

Most writers will tell you that the question they are most often asked is “where do you get your ideas from?”Most writers will also tell you that it is a brain-numbingly stupid question to which there is no pat answer. But I have no difficulty answering it. For many years now, I have not had to summon a single idea in my head. Instead, what happens is that a variety of arcane and abstruse data is fed into the Hooting Yard Analogue Topic Generating Machine and, after humming and buzzing for a while, it spits out a small piece of dun cardboard on which is punched out a word or, more often, a few words, thus providing me with my topic and freeing me from the tedium of having to think of anything myself.

So remarkable was the coincidence of my given topic being replicated, exactly, in the Guardian crossword, that I fell out of my chair. How often does that actually happen in real life? But I did, I toppled from my chair and lay sprawled on the carpet, dribbling. After some minutes, I realised that this was a far more comfortable position than sitting in the chair, so I stayed put. The only drawback was that my pencil and paper were up on the desk, and I could not reach them. Still, it was very restful on the floor, so I dozed off. That is why nothing appeared here, on that day, about the ANDORRAN VANDAL, nor indeed has anything appeared here for several days in a row. I have become regrettably enamoured of lying on the floor, dribbling and dozing.

Had I the pep to tell you about the ANDORRAN VANDAL, you would learn that this was a sobriquet once given to Babinsky 2, the idiot half-brother of the lumbering walrus-moustached serial killer Babinsky. Babinsky 2 earned the name during a period in which he went rampaging around Andorra smashing up telephone kiosks and daubing ruderies upon road signs. He dressed in full Andorran national costume while so engaged, and was thus mistaken for a native of that mountainous land.

Further details can be found in a footnote on page 841 of A Thick, Chunky History of Vandalism in Andorra, From 1554 Up To Last Thursday (Spurious Tomes, 2016).

Undone By Foxgloves

Yesterday, I noted that Elspeth, a character in the soap opera These Plastic Betrayals, was undone by foxgloves. This prompted a letter from Dr Ruth Pastry.

Dear Mijnheer Key, she writes, presuming me to be a Dutchman for reasons best known to herself, I could not help noticing that in the latest episode of These Plastic Betrayals, Elspeth is undone by foxgloves. Now, I yield to no one in the sheer intensity of my admiration for your sure grasp of just about everything in the known universe – with the obvious exception of ornithology, of which you are quite dramatically ignorant – but I must confess as I read these words I spat out my lukewarm vitamin-enhanced milk ‘n’ Lucozade pep drink, all over the tablecloth, embroidered, as it so happens, with a design of foxgloves, by the noted tablecloth designer Dot Foxglovecloth.

Certain other details in the episode, such as vinegar dusks, and stunned nightingales plummeting from rooftops, have the unmistakeable stamp of verisimilitude, of actual phenomena in an actual world actually occurring. But to be undone by foxgloves? Come, come, Mijnheer Key, this strikes me, and I am sure many others, as a fancy born of an overheated brain. I think you would be well advised to go and lie down in a darkened room with a cold compress upon your forehead, and perhaps a cassette recording of sounds designed to encourage relaxation, such as the songs of whales, the breeze rustling through a clump of aspens, or Aleister Crowley invoking the Great God Pan.

Yours more in sorrow than in actuality, Dr Ruth Pastry

It is always a pleasure to hear from Dr Pastry, and I usually reread her letters several times before adding them to the bundle, tied with pink ribbon, which I keep in a cardboard box underneath my sink. On this occasion, however, I tossed the letter aside after a single reading, and am minded to set fire to it later, after I have set out on my very own Quest For Fire, babbling in an artificial primitive language devised by the late Mancunian polymath Anthony Burgess.

Dr Pastry will, I hope, forgive me for asserting that she has no idea what she is talking about, whereas I, as always, do. Unlike Dr Pastry, I have scoured the literature, and found innumerable – innumerable! – instances, particularly in soap operas, of characters being undone by foxgloves, unhinged by petunias, and unmanned by primroses. I cannot actually provide any concrete examples here and now, obviously, because I have far better things to do with my time, such as going on a Quest For Fire, and eating my breakfast, and gazing disconsolately out of the window at the crows on the lawn in the rain, and it may well be that I have not really scoured the literature and not really found any examples of floral undoing, or unhingement, or unmanning, whatever that latter might mean, and my claim to have done so is but the product of an overheated brain, but let us not forget that in the country of the Swiss roll, the roll is Swiss.

Now, if somebody will hand me a megaphone, I will shout my head off from a vantage point on a promontory looking out over the vast wet hysterical sea, and I shall frighten the fish and the dolphins and the plankton and the krill, and I shall awake the Kraken!

These Plastic Betrayals

These plastic betrayals, oh how they discomfit me. Harken, child, harken. Elspeth is keening next to the ha-ha, undone, again, by foxgloves, again. Of Hubert, the verbal mash is clogged, as if by butter unclarified. The child preens near the fort.

They are taking a heronry census. Noddy’s cap snagged on a twig. Elspeth miscounted the bobbins. Of Hubert, oh Hubert!, where is he in that mosh pit? A flock of seagulls might pass unnoticed before the gong is sounded for supper.

The clairvoyant, Hetty, wears night-vision goggles. The child’s toffee apple lies untouched on the windowsill. Elspeth has come unstrung. Of Hubert, dear Hubert, word comes of bathtub gin. They count the herons again, using tally sticks.

What will become of this parcel of land? Soil ne’er smelled so soily. They gathered around the box to watch Blunkett weeping, again. The grain of his voice is tape-damaged. Elspeth drops her empty teacup on the rug. The child genuflects. Of Hubert, silly old Hubert, no angels wassail.

These vinegar dusks tug me to The Clappers. Hetty is up in the tower. The distant Carpathians shimmer. A dog returns to its vomit. Elspeth, and poor Hubert, and the child, pore over photographs. Blunkett in extremis. Hubert’s weasel moustache.

The doctor is coming, on his bicycle. Stunned nightingales plummet from the rooftops. Now the child wails for a choc ice. These iron nostrums, oh how they break us. The box in the corner has collapsed like a pudding. Harken. Harken, to the lovely gunshots.

Breakfast, the next day, veered from egg to herring. The copper came with his truncheon. Hetty’s garb was polka-dotted. They awaited the final heronry count. Pips were spat into the empty grate. Blunkett seemed a distant memory. Wolves circled the grange.

There will be no further episodes of this shabby soap opera. There was a damning review in The Slop Bucket. “Incoherent gibberish from first to last.” And – pffft! – it is swept away and gone.

The Imitation Of Christ

At a loose end, I signed up for Pilbeam’s Crash-Course in the Imitation of Christ. Earlier in the day, plodding through the streets, I had been given a leaflet. The hawker who handed it to me was a person of regrettable grubbiness, and some of his filth inevitably besmirched the leaflet, which was smudged, with the effect that I misread The Imitation of Christ as The Imitation of Chris.

Chris who?, I wondered, hoping that Pilbeam was taking an overfamiliar tone with regard to the actor Christopher Plummer. It so happened that I was wearing a Tyrolean jacket not unlike the one sported by Plummer in his career-defining role as Captain Von Trapp in the film version of The Sound of Music. Dressed so, I felt I would have an excellent chance of crashing through the crash course and perhaps winning a plaudit or two.

Alas, a falling raindrop washed away the smudge and I realised the course was about Christ rather than Christopher Plummer. Still, I was, as I said, at a loose end, so I headed for the hall where the course was to be held, and I signed up.

Throng and hubbub packed the hall, but I found an empty seat and sat down. Soon enough, a fellow I assumed to be Pilbeam appeared on a dais at the front. The first thing he said was “I am not Pilbeam”

Had I been lured here under false pretences? The speaker cut a pale and widdershins figure and was almost as grime-splattered as the hawker in the street. It may even have been the same man, no doubt a rascal. But I had nothing better to do, so I continued to sit and listen.

I am sorry to say that Pilbeam is not able to be with us today. He has been incapacitated by Mitteleuropean pig flu, and has asked me to deputise for him. While I would never make so bold as to compare myself to Pilbeam, please be assured that you are in good hands. I have spent many years studying under Pilbeam, eating from the same table, having my hair cut at the same barber’s, with the same pair of scissors, and wearing the same size shoes, like Beckett and Joyce. My name is Lars, rather than Pilbeam, but I can say truthfully that I am the next best thing to Pilbeam when it comes to delivering this crash course.

So let us turn now to the crash course itself, the aim of which is to furnish you with the skills necessary to imitate Christ. As it is a crash course, we will not be seeking to imitate Christ in every particular. If we tried that” – he chuckled – “we would become so Christ-like there would be a risk of blasphemy. Far better, according to Pilbeam’s precepts, to imitate Christ in a limited way, enough for us to benefit and to become holier than we are, but not so much that we threaten the unique and ineffable goodness of Christ Our Lord Himself.

I trust you are all keeping up. Excellent. In what way, then, shall we imitate Christ? You will all, I hope, be familiar with the story of the Gadarene swine. It is to be found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, in Matthew 8 : 28-32, in Mark 5 : 1-13, and in Luke 8 : 26-33. Briefly put, a poor man possessed by demons begs Christ to release him from his torment. Christ duly casts the demons out of the man, and into some nearby pigs, which thereupon go rushing headlong into the sea, and drown. Certain details differ in the three accounts, but that is the general idea.

Now, Pilbeam states that we can imitate Christ by driving a herd of pigs into the sea, or indeed into any large body of water. We need not worry our little heads about finding a man possessed by demons, and all that hullabaloo. For our purposes, we take a crash course shortcut by imagining we have cast the demons out of the man and into the pigs, and we simply goad the pigs into the water and make damn sure none of them manages to make it back to shore. The important thing, in accurately imitating Christ, is drowning the pigs. Any questions?”

I put up my hand.

In your opening remarks,” I piped up, when pointed at, “You said that Pilbeam could not be with us because he is suffering from Mitteleuropean pig flu. Could it be that this whole crash course is his way of exacting vicarious revenge upon the flu-ridden pigs he blames for his condition?”

There were several gasps from the audience. Lars paused, menacingly, before responding.

Seldom,” he roared, eventually, “Seldom have I ever heard so vile a calumny! O, vile!, vile!, the calumny you have committed upon poor saintly bed-ridden Mitteleuropean pig flu-ridden Pilbeam, that paragon among crash course tutors in the Imitation of Christ! How dare you, sir, how dare you?”

I’m sorry,” I said, “It was just a passing thought, that was all.”

Lars seemed mollified, if only slightly.

There is a fourth, apocryphal version of the story of the Gadarene swine,” he said, “In Pilbeam 6 : 42-51. Here, after driving the pigs into the sea, Christ has his henchmen – sorry, Apostles – attack the man from whom demons have been cast out, beating him insensible with spades and shovels before injecting his bruised and battered body with a virulent strain of Mitteleuropean pig flu and then abandoning him on a remote atoll far, far out at sea. Usually we do not attempt to enact the Pilbeam version on this crash course, for want of a volunteer, but on this occasion we shall take great pleasure in doing so.”

And Lars clapped his hands and summoned his Apostles – sorry, henchmen – and they dragged me out of the hall and off towards a coastal pig farm, and the vast, wet, unforgiving sea.

Reds Under The Bed

In the United States, during the 1950s, people often found Communists hiding under their beds. That this was a common phenomenon is clear from the historical record. There are numerous contemporary accounts, of which the following is a typical example. It comes from a letter written to his local newspaper by a solid citizen in one of the Midwestern states.

One day last week, just after turning in for the night and settling down to sleep, I became aware of a rustling noise under my bed. I was far too tired to get up, so, taking my torch from the bedside table, I leaned right over and, with my head upside down, shone the torch under the bed. I was startled to see, lying on the floor, an urbane and stylishly-dressed man who had about him something of the air of an important State Department diplomat. He was faffing about with bits of microfilm.

Who the hell are you and what are you doing hiding under my bed?” I cried.

Oh, good evening,” he replied, in the cultured voice of an East Coast Mandarin, “I’m so sorry to disturb you. Allow me to introduce myself. Hiss, Alger Hiss. This is a fine piece of carpet, by the way, very comfortable.”

While he was saying this, he was hurriedly stuffing the bits of microfilm into the pockets of his expensive jacket to conceal them.

I’m pleased you like my carpet,” I said, “But you haven’t explained what you are doing under my bed.”

Alger Hiss ignored my question and took from an inside pocket of his expensive jacket a pamphlet, which he thrust at me.

I wonder if I might interest you in this pamphlet,” he said, “It gives a Marxist-Leninist perspective on the current crisis and is well worth reading, should you wish to remove the imperialist blinkers from your eyes.”

I’m not one for bookish learning,” I said.

Well, it’s a pamphlet rather than a book. Perhaps you could leave it on your bedside table and pick it up later.”

Perhaps,” I said, but at that point Alger Hiss unleashed upon me a strange bright-eyed gaze of fiendish Communist hypnotic power, and I promptly fell into a deep, deep, and troubled sleep. When I woke up, he was gone, and there was no sign he had ever been there, save for the pamphlet on the bedside table, which I handed over to my local FBI agent for analysis.

Although we have many similar accounts, what has been lacking to date is counter testimony from Communists themselves, explaining what they hoped to achieve by hiding under beds. All the more welcome, then, is a new book by the pseudonymous “Agent X”. It is entitled Why I Spent Much Of The 1950s Hiding Under The Beds Of Solid Citizens, and is a rollicking good read, or at least it would be were it not padded out with lengthy passages of indigestible Marxist dialectic and incoherent socio-economic blathering. I have extracted the key passage so you do not need to read the whole thing.

I received instructions from Yuri, my Moscow handler, that I was to be a “sleeper”. Unfortunately, the microfilm bearing his message was damaged by pigeons, and it was not entirely clear to me how I was to proceed. Sleeping seemed to be the gist of it, however, and my faith in the Party was unshakeable, so I did not question how useful this would be in fomenting the great proletarian revolution and bringing the hated capitalist United States to its knees. Instead, I found a darkened room with a bed in it and lay me down to sleep.

But something was not right, and I soon realised what it was. The bourgeois comforts of mattresses and pillows and blankets were a terrible distraction, classic techniques of the degenerate system to lull me into false consciousness – or, in this case, false unconsciousness. I eschewed them, and lay down instead in the dark, on the floor, under the bed. Soon enough, word got out among my fellow spies, and we were all at it. Happy days!

Some of these “sleepers” were so fanatical, and so devoted to the cause, that a quarter of a century after the fall of the Soviet empire there are still thought to be several Communists hiding under beds in the American Midwest. Solid citizens, be on your guard!


For this recipe, I read, you will require a bag of frozen crinkle-cut oven chips, six cans of Squelcho!, a turnip, a parsnip, a punnet of Carlsbad plums, and the head of a pre-slaughtered pig.

So I went to the shops and bought a bag of frozen crinkle-cut oven chips, six cans of Squelcho!, a turnip, a parsnip, and a punnet of Carlsbad plums. Obtaining the head of a pre-slaughtered pig proved more difficult. Not one among the parade of shops I frequented had any such thing in stock. The butcher’s, which was my best hope, had its shutters down, and a scribbled sign posted on the shutters announcing closure due to rampant infectious disease, though it did not specify whether this referred to the butcher himself or to his supply of meat.

Sitting on a municipal bench, eating one of the Carlsbad plums, I wondered if I might make a vegetarian version of the dish, using a pig’s head fashioned from marzipan. But my skills as a sculptor or moulder have atrophied since the heady days of my youth at the Institute For Sculpting And Moulding, and I was not convinced my efforts with marzipan would yield anything that looked remotely akin to the head of a pig, By the time I had eaten a second Carlsbad plum, it was clear to me that I would have to go in search of a pre-slaughtered pig and remove its head.

It is surprisingly difficult, in this day and age, to find a dead pig in a small town. I wandered into the countryside, keeping my eyes peeled, peering into bogs and ditches. This proving fruitless, I made my way to the top of a bluff, from where I could see for miles around. The climb was onerous, and when I reached the summit I was thirsty, so I opened one of the cans of Squelcho! and downed it in a single glug.

Gazing out across the countryside, I shouted “Dead pig! Dead pig! Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

I hoped, by this means, to coax into view a peasant, pushing a wheelbarrow in which rested a pre-slaughtered pig. Such a sight is not uncommon in the countryside, or so I am given to understand from my reading of various bucolic texts. In the pauses between my repeated shoutings, I fell to wondering – if an urban person could be urbane, was there an equivalent countryside quality, in which a rustic person could be rustice? I had no opportunity to find out, for after an hour or so atop the bluff, not a single peasant had appeared.

The day was hot, and I noticed that my bag of frozen crinkle-cut oven ships was almost entirely thawed. I was also conscious that I had depleted my stocks of both Carlsbad plums and Squelcho! Unless I returned home in haste, I would end up consuming all the non-pig’s head ingredients for the recipe, and my day would be wasted.

I skittered down from the bluff, like a gambolling lamb, and headed back through the fields of muck towards town. All the while I was racking my brains trying to think of an acceptable substitute for the pre-slaughtered pig’s head. What did I have in my cupboard? Pink wafer biscuits? Peas? A bowl of fayooz? A jar of pickles? Several contaminated cocktail sausages? Blubber? Somehow none of these seemed quite right, nor even remotely suitable. If I was to vary the recipe, then the least I could do was to use something’s head.

By now I was nearing town, so I looked around me with fresh eyes. All I had to do was to spot a living creature, seize it, slaughter it, remove its head, and pop the head into my pippy bag along with the bag of now unfrozen crinkle-cut oven chips, the turnip, the parsnip, and what was left of the cans of Squelcho! and the Carlsbad plums – both further depleted on account of peckishness and thirst during my long countryside trudge.

There were plenty of creepy-crawlies to be seen, but their tiny, tiny heads were hardly fit for purpose. Just as I was losing hope, I came upon a pond, at the edge of which a toad was flopping about. With a cry of inhuman savagery, I fell upon it, seized it, and strangled it. Then I bit off the head, spat it out, wrapped it in a sheet of greaseproof paper I happened to have in my pippy bag, and carried it home. I would not be able to follow the recipe with one hundred percent accuracy, but I felt confident that I could knock together a toothsome supper.

Alas, I did not consider that the toad I pre-slaughtered might be one of those toads that is highly toxic, But so it was. As I write these words, I am shaking violently, sweating, vomiting, and my own head has swelled to twice its usual size. I fear that what I tucked in to, an hour ago, after an exciting time at the chopping board, will prove to be my Last Supper.

A Fleeting Glimpse Of The Grunty Man

One of the incidental pleasures of reading the long-forgotten memoirs of obscure figures from our island history is to stumble upon fleeting mentions of that gruesome ogre of children’s nightmares, the Grunty Man. All of us, I think, can recall the shiver that ran down our spine when we sat at mama’s knee and she read to us tales of the fearsome Grunty Man, lurking in his cave and occasionally emerging into the light to grunt and grunt and lay waste the earth and grunt some more. Now we are grown we can look back with fondness on this loathsome fantastical creature, safe in the knowledge that he never really existed … or did he?

The other day, I was reading the long-forgotten memoirs of an obscure figure in our island history, the expatriate Hollander Joost Van Dongelbraacke. It is an unfathomably dull book, or I should say books, for Van Dongelbraacke managed to eke seven fat closely-printed volumes from what was, by any measure, a fairly uneventful life. I love this stuff and could read it until the cows come home. I was about half-way through volume three when, to my delight and consternation, I came upon this passage:

At luncheon that day I ate a goodly amount of My Lady Kent’s Pudding, but it had not been sufficiently boiled, or perhaps it had been boiled for too long, for shortly after digesting my third bowl-ful I suffered the most terrible mortification of the bowels and had to be carried from my place by the servants and deposited on an an ottoman in the smoking room where I moaned weakly and cursed heaven. Thereafter, to make recompense, when I was able to move I repaired to my private chapel and offered orisons to the Almighty that he might spare me from the horrors inflicted by skittish cooks.

I then determined to berate said cook, and had her summoned from the pantry, only to be told she was not to be found there. I strongly suspected her of being involved in unseemly canoodling with Mr Snippage, the gardener, and so I pulled on my out of doors boots and went striding through the grounds, past the filbert hedges and towards the ha-ha, where Snippage had his hut. While I was walking thus, waving my stick, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the Grunty Man, darting between the elms.

When I reached the hut I banged my fist on the door, hoping to disturb the gardener and the cook. But there was no response, and when I opened the door to peer inside, I found the hut was empty. My mood was now tempestuous, so on my way back to the house I berated one of the estate peasants who was pushing a wheelbarrow full of dead toads from one pond to another. Shouting my head off did me the world of good.

Back in the house, I settled in the library and spent a profitable hour reading a collection of sermons by Parson Freakpit. Outside the sky was louring and there were hints of English drizzle. I closed the book and thought longingly of the canals of my homeland. These thoughts were interrupted by a servant who came to inform me that the cook and Mr Snippage had been seen boarding the mail coach heading for the coast. I cursed heaven once again, kicked the servant all the way along the corridor, and, feeling a renewed mortification of the bowels, shut myself in the Thunder Box until it was time for supper.

For supper that day I ate a goodly amount of My Lady Kent’s Pudding.

Binder : The 39 Piano Concertos

Binder’s first piano concerto had no piano part and was not a concerto. There was a piano in the second piano concerto but it was out of tune. The third piano concerto was deafening. The fourth gave Binder the heebie jeebies. Binder’s fifth, or the sixth as it is usually called, was performed in a submarine. Let us draw a veil over the sixth, by which I mean the sixth proper, rather than the fifth, with which it is often confused, performed as it is in a submarine. The seventh is that rare thing, a godawful din. Binder’s eighth, ninth, and tenth piano concertos are audible only to dogs. The eleventh features an electronically modified cat. No animals were harmed in the composition of the twelfth, but the score for the thirteenth piano concerto calls for the ritual slaughter of several otters. The fourteenth is pithy. The fifteenth is punchy. The sixteenth was dedicated to Stalin. The seventeenth is a carbon copy of the ninth. Piano Concerto No. 18 is so vivid it makes grown men weep and grown women have an attack of the vapours. The nineteenth has the charm of a sausage. The twentieth, the brilliant twentieth, is rudderless. Rudders, snapped off boats, are repeatedly and relentlessly bashed on the keyboard during the twenty-first. The twenty-second is popular in prisons. The twenty-third is full of grace. The twenty-fourth was used in a toothpaste advert. The twenty-fifth was written atop an important, stationary mountain. The twenty-sixth is fishy. Binder’s twenty-seventh is his longest piano concerto, a full performance lasting several years. The twenty-eighth consists of a single note, of the performer’s choosing, plinked twice and plonked once. The twenty-ninth is lost. The thirtieth is hidden. The thirty-first tugs at the heart-strings. The manuscript of the thirty-second is rolled up and stuffed into a jam jar, and there is still jam in the jar. The thirty-third is all that the thirty-second is not. The thirty-fourth gallops along like a horse. The thirty-fifth slithers like a worm. Binder said of the thirty-sixth piano concerto “de gustibus non est disputandum”. Raindrops kept falling on Binder’s head while he was writing the thirty-seventh. The thirty-eighth is a biography of Christopher Plummer imagined as a piano concerto. The thirty-ninth steers its way through choppy waters towards an island where brutes disport themselves in wild abandon before sinking into the sea.

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.

Scheme Of Things

Once upon a time there was a little Italian boy made out of wood. He wore a pointy hat, also wooden. In this age of grand illusion, he walked into my life out of my dreams, and forced his way into my scheme of things. This was somewhat unnerving, for it is not an everyday occurrence to find oneself in thrall to a wooden boy. But enthralled I was, to the point where the tables were turned and I tried to fit in with his scheme of things.

In order to do so, I felt I needed to gain a better understanding of what it was like to be made of wood. So I drove to the forest in a Japanese car. I parked at the edge, by a pond, and then I walked deep into the forest and stood there, pretending to be a tree, a pine or an elm. At first I was fidgety, but as the hours passed I found it easier to stand perfectly still, as if I were wooden. I swayed slightly in the breeze.

The little Italian boy made of wood had not followed me to the forest, for he could not drive. I wondered what he was up to, back in my chalet, perched on the edge of a glacier. It was a wooden chalet, so it suited him well, better, in fact, than it suited me. I felt so at home in the forest. Oh I so wanted to sprout leaves and buds!

Several months passed before I was forced to admit that I could not fit in to his scheme of things and that I was not, nor ever would be. made out of wood. I trudged back through the forest towards the pond where I had parked the Japanese car. It had been stolen. I sat on a tuffet next to the pond and I pondered. Pondering by a pond, not made of wood. The sky was immense and immensely blue.

It was a small mercy that I did not know the little wooden Italian boy was a delinquent rascal, and had burned down my chalet the instant I screeched away in my Japanese car. And yet the world keeps turning. That, after all, is in the scheme of things, whether one is wooden or – let us be plain – not wooden, not wooden at all, neither pine nor elm nor any of the other types of wood. They all burn.