String And Wood And Tin

Lonely, he made a companion of string and wood and tin, and sat her at his window, as if she were looking out. And whenever he returned from tiresome jaunts, she was there, framed in the window, to welcome him home.

But when he was at home, she had her back turned to him. She was facing the outside world, immobile, yet desperate to go frolicking dizzily into that world, where other things of string and wood and tin were surely to be found.

Bellhop’s Catbrain

At the hotel, the bellhop had, implanted in his head, the brain of a cat. His own brain had been removed and sat in preserving jelly in a jar on a shelf in a cupboard in a lab. It was a locked lab, the only key to which was kept in the pocket of the mad crazed lunatic boffin who had carried out the brain-swap, during a thunderstorm on the previous Tuesday. This boffin habitually assumed the guise of a janitor, and performed janitorial duties the better to hoodwink his hoodwinkees, of whom there were several dotted about the site, from the parking attendant to the secretariat. The secretariat consisted of but a single secretary, into whose head the boffin planned to insert the brain of a badger, having first removed the secretary’s actual brain and placed it in preserving jelly in a jar on a shelf in another cupboard in the lab. He calculated that the use of two different cupboards would prevent him from muddling up the two different brains, the bellhop’s and the secretary’s.

Each cupboard was itself locked, as locked as the lab, and the boffin-janitor thus had three keys to cope with. To anybody unlettered in the art and science of locksmithery – that is to say, to as near as dammit every single person present upon our gaily rotating planet, alive or dead – the three keys appeared to be identical, or at least so similar one to another that they could not be told apart. Thus, affixed to each key by a looped length of cord cut from a bootlace was a small rectangle of cardboard. On each rectangle was written, in a biro shortly to be exhausted of its ink, in draughtsmanship staggering in its delicacy, as if learned and perfected in an earlier century when penmanship counted for something among the educated classes, and surely too beautiful for the usual effusions of the humble biro, an indication of the lock the attached key was designed to unlock.

The labelling of the keys was simple, and thus resistant to misunderstanding by anyone but a halfwit. “Lab”, “Cupboard with red door”, “Cupboard with yellow door”. The boffin-janitor could think of no circumstance that might cause him to muddle the keys, save for the unscheduled repainting of the cupboard doors, in different colours, over a bank holiday weekend, by contractors hired and brought in from some area beyond janitorial control. That such a thing could happen was so egregious that he tossed the idea aside, much as one might toss a tossable bittybob down a well, were one passing by a well, clutching a bittybob for which one had no use. There was a well in a field between the hotel and the lab. The boffin-janitor passed it on most working days, but had never tossed anything into it.

Nor had he drawn any water from it, for he could not. It was a dry well. It had been dry for some years, by dint of subterranean engineering works not unconnected to the construction of the car park anent the lab, and another, larger, more distressingly bleak car park that served the hotel. The works had been carried out, in their underground phase, by a team of what used to be called navvies, the brain of each of whom had been removed and in its place implanted the brain of a mole. All the removed brains had been stored in preserving jelly in jars on shelves in cupboards in the lab, but one night malfeasance had occurred, conducted by highly-organised ne’er-do-wells. It was on the morning after this enormity that the boffin-janitor went tootling into the nearest village to parlay with a locksmith.

In reporting these matters, it may be that I have got some of the details wrong. I was drifting off to sleep when my papa told me the tale, which he himself had heard from an old pal of his, a frequent guest in many an hotel, a travelling salesman who dealt in exotic rugs and carpets, whose name I seem to recall was G. I. Gurdjieff.

Bib

Pity me, O people of Switzerland. I am a Swiss soldier, and I languish in a Swiss dungeon, under sentence of death. My crime? I sang, in a public square, the milking-song Khue-Reyen. And thus I was condemned. I broke the law, and now I must pay the price.

For comfort, in my cold Swiss subterranean cell, I clutch to my cheek the Bib of St Bibblybibdib. There is a story to tell of how this sacred relic came into my possession. It is not a particularly arresting story, but I will tell it anyway, to pass the time before I am dragged from my dungeon to the gibbet, and hanged by the neck until I am justly dead.

There were a half-dozen of us, six Swiss soldiers, camped on a hill above a Swiss village. Our orders were to await the dawn and then to charge, screaming, down to the village and to lay it waste. Doing so, we were told, would bring us one step closer to victory over our foe.

And so we charged, and so we screamed, and so we laid waste. And among the buildings to which we laid waste was the village church. And in the sacristy of this church was kept, in a bejewelled casket, the Bib of St Bibblybibdib.

Was it the real Bib, or was it one of the dozens, even hundreds, of counterfeit bibs thought to be held in parishes throughout the cantons of Switzerland? We did not know. We were rough tough Swiss soldiers, not men of God. That is why, in deciding which of us should carry off the Bib as his war prize, we cleared the surface of the altar in the village church of its holy bric-a-brac, and played a game of cards upon it. We played My Lady’s Pudding under knock-out rules, and I was the last Swiss soldier standing.

And so I was given first dibs on St Bibblybibdib’s bib.

I will carry it with me to the place of Swiss execution, if they will let me. Whether they do or do not, at this hour of my death, pity me, people of Switzerland.

Fragment

Sick at heart and improperly trousered, the vicar galumphed across the fields towards the viaduct. Not for nothing was he known as the vicar of the viaduct. Air wafted about his head, tiny little flying insects perched ephemerally in his hair. He had his sermon all prepared, committed to memory, for the service of the blessing of the crutches. The sun blazed down. Brave Helios!

You Will Fail, Laurence

You Will Fail, Laurence is the title of a book which appeared to me in my dreams last night. It was a children’s book, written in very short, staccato sentences, and lavishly illustrated with detailed, brightly-coloured drawings – in spite of the fact that Laurence spent much of his time enveloped in what my dream insisted on calling “fog-storms”.

An additional curiosity was that I was looking at a facsimile of the book online, and the dream suggested that the book itself did not exist, this digital version being a hoax perpetrated by japesters for reasons which must remain unutterably mysterious.

The Squeamish Vagabond

I am the squeamish vagabond
I swoon when I see blood
And I see blood aplenty
As I trudge through slime and mud
As I roam from copse to spinney
I see corpses widely strewn
Of slaughtered tramps and vagrants
I fear I’ll join them soon
For I’m pursued by a violent foe
A fiend from the bottomless pond
I tremble and piddle in my pants
I’m the squeamish vagabond

Naming The Fruits

When the panel met for the final time, to sign off on their deliberations of the previous six sessions, it was brought to their attention that they had completely forgotten to name one of the fruits.

I have here a punnet of this fruit,” said the second secretary, “It has somehow escaped the panel’s attention heretofore.”

There was a hubbub of consternation, which is a very different thing to other hubbubs, such as the hubbub of outrage or the hubbub of rapidly-donned camouflage jackets. Hubbubs of all kidneys, however, diminish eventually, and when this one did, one among the panel who happened to be wearing an unnecessary camouflage jacket, said:

Let us take a close look at that punnet.”

Would it not be better to look closely at the unnamed fruit contained in the punnet, rather than at the punnet itself?”

These words were spoken by a panel member who had been conspicuously silent ever since the first session, when he had pulled out of the bag, metaphorically, the word “clementine”, to denote the clementine, one of which he then pulled out of a paper bag, literally.

Sage heads nodding in agreement, the panel members gave their undivided attention to the items of fruit in the punnet. After some while, one asked his fellows:

Have we already made use of the word ‘grape’?”

We have. But you are clearly thinking this fruit requires a one-syllable name.”

Indeed.”

On what grounds?”

Oh, just look at it! Look at them! In their punnet! I am sorry to sound so exasperated, but only a dolt or a halfwit would dub that fruit with a multisyllabic name. It cries out for something simple, and short, and blunt.”

The passion of this outburst convinced the other panel members of its general truth. Passion need not always denote truth, of course. More often it can lead to all sorts of human error, particularly when it crosses the line into hysteria. Consider the example of massed Corbynistas with their placrads.

It is a shame,” said Arpad, the senior member of the panel, “That we have already registered ‘passion fruit’ as a fruit name.”

On that point,” said his immediate table-neighbour, “Can anybody explain why, in some cases, we have used the word ‘fruit’ as part of the fruit name? I am thinking of the passion fruit and the kiwi fruit, which you will recall we named at Thursday’s session. Why are we labouring the word ‘fruit’ when it is blindingly obvious that the thing denoted is a fruit?”

Before anybody could answer this reasonable query, there was an interruption from the radio transmitter. The lovely strains of Xavier Cugat And His Orchestra gave way to a gravely-voiced newsflash. There had been a bittern storm over Ulm. Cugat resumed.

How about ulm?” piped up Binns, “A punnet of ulms?”

It is tempting,” said Arpad, “But I have two objections. First, the fruit may thereby become too closely associated with the city in Baden-Württemberg where this bittern storm has just occurred. Second, I think we are all agreed that most fruit-names benefit from beginning with consonants. Not all, but most.”

The panel then worked through the alphabet, appending consonants to “ulm”. After a vote, they agreed unanimously on “pulm”. When the second secretary came to write the new fruit-name in the register, he was momentarily distracted by the cry of a bittern, booming from the marshes anent the manse, and he accidentally transposed the middle letters of the word.

And hence the plum.

Lupe Node

Lupe Node, the carrier, O is he dead then? My fruit-bowl all emptied. He carried my fruit, Lupe Node, in his manly muscular hands, plums in punnets and hawberries in hopkins. The sun battered him, as he sashayed from orchard to pier, to my kiosk, this man o’ fruit, Jesuitical in his furrow-browed beanstalk bitterness. A man of few words, and those the names of fruits, names he made up, embroidered, spat out like plum-stones, chewed like nettles, O Lupe Node, forsaken by a God whose mercurial recklessness – those divine spasms! – came twitching in rags and schmutter. Pips haunted him, Lupe Node, lodged in his pocket-crannies, scattered in his locks, curly black and slathered in lac. Do not taunt him now, in his grave, on his uppers, worm-lunch, bird-roost. They named a pond for him. No fish thrive inwith it. And yet in memory of Lupe Node I take my paper bag of baggings there each March morning sodden by rain and stamped by yearning. Crumbs fall. Necks sag. Galoshes splosh.

Ornithology

Ornithology, when pursued recklessly, breaks bones. This aperçu first appeared in Dobson’s pamphlet Oh! One Merry March Morning I Climbed A Tree The Better To Investigate, At Close Quarters, The Nest Of A Wren And, Losing My Footing, I Plunged To Earth, Landing Awkwardly And In So Doing Broke My Collarbone, Subsequently, In Making My Report To The Triage Nurse, I Blamed The Wren, I Blamed The Wren! (out of print).

Of late, there has been something of a kerfuffle in Dobsonist circles occasioned by the publication of a new monograph on the pamphlet. Upstart young Scandinavian critic Knud Pantryboy argues, in his essay, that there is not a jot of truth in the pamphleteer’s hysterical prose. Controversially, he suggests that Dobson was making a stab at writing a piece of fiction.

Dobson never climbed a tree in his life, writes the hot-headed Dane, and he would certainly have been unable to distinguish the nest of a wren from that of any other of the approximately ten thousand, four hundred and four types of birds, many of them extinct, which grace, or have graced, the blue skies of the ever-rotating globe we call the Earth.

Pantryboy also makes the point that no evidence exists to suggest Dobson’s collarbone was ever broken. He dismisses as “obviously fraudulent” the pencil sketches, purportedly based on X-rays, which appeared in the compendium Pencil Sketches Based On X-Rays Of The Bones Of Several Twentieth-Century Writers compiled by the quack medical illustrator Tosh Quackpencil. The half-dozen sketches of Dobson’s collarbone each show signs of traumatic shattering, but Pantryboy argues, persuasively, that the pictures were executed during a thunderstorm.

Why, though, would Dobson have risked his reputation by inventing this tale? While admitting that he does not know the answer to this question, Knud Pantryboy suggests that the narrative is a veiled reference to a singular episode in the pamphleteer’s childhood.

The “tree” is a picnic blanket. The “wren’s nest” is a sausage-on-a-stick. The “plunge to earth” is a fit of hiccups. The “collarbone” is another sausage on another stick. The “triage nurse” is International Woman of Mystery Primrose Dent. I rest my case.

It is undoubtedly true that La Dent used to appear, uninvited, at innumerable picnic spots throughout what Lumsden called “that brittle, squalid decade”. True, too, that it was both brittle and squalid. And equally true that Lumsden himself had his posthumous bones sketched, from X-rays, by Tosh Quackpencil. Nor should we ever forget that wrens, when gathered in huge numbers, can be extremely dangerous. Ornithology, when pursued recklessly, does indeed break bones.

Bolshevik Tomato Paste Scoop

I opened my briefcase and took from it my Bolshevik Tomato Paste Scoop. I was so pleased with it. I had snapped it up on eBay, where it was going for a song. The song I opted for was “Essay On Pigs” (1968) by Hans Werner Henze. Strictly speaking, this is actually five separate songs, but I got away with it. The Bolshevik Tomato Paste Scoop arrived in the post four days later. I will be sure to take it with me, in my briefcase, on my forthcoming trip, by hot air balloon, to the Lost City of Karencarpenter, far far away, beyond the mountains of madness, where night-penguins fringe a yawning abyss.

Disparate Horseflies

Ever since it ended, after eight seasons, in 2012, fans of the television comedy-drama Desperate Housewives have been hoping for a sequel. Now it appears their prayers have been answered. Next month sees the launch of a brand new television comedy-drama called Disparate Horseflies.

Set on a horse named Wisteria, the show features the amusing and sometimes not so amusing antics of a group of horseflies who live, parasitically, upon its shanks, withers, fetlocks, and other parts of a horse which I am sure you can list for yourselves. As the title implies, the flies are a varied bunch, apart from their all being flies of the horsefly family (Tabanus sulcifrons).

The cast comprises several actual horseflies, specially trained to act by tiptop thespian fly-trainer Cedric Flytrain. For the setting of Wisteria, an elegant if tubercular horse named Keith, resident at a stables in Vileshire, was employed.

Preview tapes have not been made available, but word has it that the first episode includes close-up scenes of grotesque horsefly behaviour which some viewers, and horses, may find absolutely sickening.

Shifting Sands

Oh look, shifting sands! If you stand quite still, and shut your eyes, and wait for, say, five minutes before opening them, when you do you will find yourself in an utterly different terrain. When you were not looking, the sands shifted, and now all is strange and bewildering.

On the beach at Shifting, a lovely little seaside town in Hoonshire, it is common to see people standing stock still with their eyes shut. It is common, too, to see looks of disappointment, even devastation, cross their faces, when they open their eyes to find the beach unchanged from how it was five minutes before. This is because the sands at Shifting Sands are not shifting sands. They are what are known as inert sands, roughly speaking. What shifting occurs, occasioned by the wind and the tides, is slow and imperceptible.

What they do have at Shifting Sands are perilous pockets of quicksand. Beware! Best not even to think about those pockets, for if you do, you will sink into the quicksand of your thought, and you won’t have the power anymore.

Elf-Help For Idiots

After writing dozens and dozens of books, self-help guru “Dr.” Bruce Terrific has had an epiphany.

It was always my aim to write more books than Tony Buzan,” he said in an interview with Buzantastic News magazine, “And having achieved that goal, I felt it was time to strike off in a new direction. It has also dawned on me that my self-help books serve only to increase the navel-gazing narcissism of readers who can’t see further than their own petty and squalid lives. Christ almighty, isn’t it high time people stopped helping themselves and instead helped others?

That’s why I am launching a new series of elf-help books. For too long, elves, fairies, and laughing gnomes have had to fend for themselves. Well, those days are over. From now on, my readers are going to be instructed in the best ways to devote themselves to the care and feeding of elves. Beat that, Tony Buzan!”

The first book in the series, Elf-Help For Idiots, explains how to darn an elf’s pointy hat when it becomes frayed.

Where Do You Go To, My Lovely?

Peter Sarstedt famously asked “Where do you go to, my lovely, when you’re alone in your bed?” The simple answer to this question is that his lovely is not going anywhere. She is in bed, quite possibly asleep. Why, then, would the singer – whose first wife was a dentist – pose the query in the first place?

We can posit several solutions to this conundrum, and it is well worth doing so, for reasons which ought to be obvious – and obvious not only to the spouses of dentists, but to the general population also.

One theory, propounded by veteran Sarstedtist Loopy Tinhat, is that the question mark ought to appear after “my lovely”, and that “when you’re alone in your bed” is a new, separate sentence, the beginning of a rumination quite distinct from the opening query. In this reading, Sarstedt is about to make certain observations regarding his lovely in her bed, but he is interrupted before he is able to complete the sentence. Tinhat suggests the singer spoke from the dentist’s chair, when his wife was about to perform a tooth extraction, and told him to “open wide” just as he uttered the word “bed”.

Tinhat’s theory won broad support among the my lovely community until it was comprehensively demolished by researcher Lars Welk. Using dental records, slowed-down tape recordings, and a fiercely forensic brain, Welk demonstrated beyond sensible argument that Tinhat had no idea what he was talking about.

More persuasive, perhaps, is the argument laid out over several coruscating paragraphs by Ned Cakeboy in a paper published in The Journal Of Dental Hygiene & Sarstedt Studies, Vol XXIV No. 11. Pointing out that, just as doctors get sick and require the ministrations of other doctors, so dentists call on other dentists to faff about with their teeth when necessary. He goes on to claim that the bed in which my lovely is alone is a hospital bed, on wheels or casters. She is about to undergo particularly complex dental treatment, and has been wheeled, in her bed, from her ward to a dental operating theatre. Peter Sarstedt, paying a visit to his dentist lovely born of uxoriousness, armed probably with a bouquet of flowers, arrives at the dental hospital to discover that she is not, as he supposed, in her ward. Where did she go to?, he wonders.

I said there were several possible solutions to account for the singer asking such a seemingly stupid question, and I have tackled two of them. That is quite enough for the time being. In any case, these matters become decidedly more baffling when we consider that Sarstedt’s second wife was not a dentist.

The Only Sound

The only sound to tear the night comes from the man upstairs. His bloated belching figure stomps. He may crash through the ceiling soon. If he does so, the sound will cease. He will be lying on his back, on my carpet, covered in a film of dust and powder and debris. I will cast upon him a look of reproach, and poke him with the pointy stick I keep to hand for circumstances such as these. He may grunt, if still alive, or not, if dead.

When I prod his neck, I will dislodge from around it a delicate silver chain to which is attached a medallion. It bears a depiction of a saint, identified by an inscription as Saint Agur. I will be tempted to kick the bloated belcher in the head, on account of his stupidity. Is he not aware that this so-called saint is but a figment of the marketing department of a French cheesemaking concern? Not for the first time, I will be driven crackers by the blithering ignorance of my neighbours. As Dylan observed, it’s a wonder that they still know how to breathe.

The belcher from upstairs splayed on my carpet may or may not be breathing. But the sound of his stomping, mercifully done with, will now be replaced by the roaring of an idiot wind. Wild is the wind, and I hear the sound of mandolins. Can a man get no peace nor quiet in this damnable urbis? I will retreat to my kitchen for Phensic and marmalade. Somewhere I have a packet of twenty No. 6, but no light. I will rifle through the pockets of the bloated git on my carpet. I will give him a kicking as I do so.

But he is not there. He did not, after all, crash through the ceiling. The stomping of his bloated belching figure remains the only sound. Until, at last, day breaks, and it is joined by twittering birdsong, and the clink and clank of the milkman on his morning rounds.

Milkman, milkman, bring me curds and whey!

No – there is nothing for you today.

No milk, no whey, no curds nor cream.

Go crash through the ceiling of your dream.

References : S. Engel, B. Dylan. N. Washington, P. Strohmeyer-Gartside