Archive for the 'Prose' Category

10 Celebrities With Crumpled Blotting Paper

It’s amazing to consider the number of celebrities who have, somewhere in their possession, a sheet or sheets of crumpled blotting paper! Check out our exclusive guide:

1. Clothgard Nitpick
2. Junket Sprawl
3. Inspip Pip
4. Loopy Tugendhat
5. Ned Birdtalon
6. Oppidan Chumpot
7. Fab Geese
8. Tinie Tempah
9. Arpad Unstrebnodtalb
10. O Bodger

You may also enjoy:
10 Celebrities With Heads The Size Of Plums
10 Celebrities Who Spit On The Poor
10 Celebrities Mistaken For Sausage Dogs By Myopic Vicars

Tarleton On His Balcony

Exciting news! Tarleton is back on his balcony! He is eating a plum! It is a Carlsbad plum! He gazes across the city and the wasteland into the distance, where the pinky-russet peaks of the Pinky-Russet Mountains shimmer in the haze! From one of Tarleton’s ears dangles a piratical earring, but there is no piratical parrot on his shoulder! He has, though, acquired, since last we met him, a wooden leg!

Tarleton’s brief, we might recall, was to gouge and hew. Gouge and hew he did, heroically, losing a leg in the process. But he did not complain. He showed fortitude. I was encamped at Fort Hoity, he said to himself, and then at Fort Toity, so it is only meet that, in forts, I show fortitude. No wonder Tarleton was showered with petunia petals by adoring peasants. There remain a few petals in his hair, for it is a long time since he shampooed it.

It is a long time, too, since last he stood upon this balcony, eating a plum. It is so long ago that he only dimly remembers. More vivid are the memories of Fort Hoity, with its ostriches and bandages and zinc, and Fort Toity, with champions arrayed along the crenellations, and games of spit-in-the-gutter. It was between forts that Tarleton lost his leg to a crocodile.

In the middle ages, returning crusaders brought with them the embalmed bodies of crocodiles, which were wrapped in chains and hung from the ceilings of cathedrals. Tarleton did not think of his gouging and hewing as a crusade, but it was, oh it was.

He spits out the plumstone into the palm of his hand, makes a fist, and, taking careful aim, tosses it over the edge of the balcony down into the shallow pool around the fountain. How many Carlsbad plumstones lie there, barely submerged! He has never once missed a toss. Tarleton turns and withdraws into his chamber. His head is full of squeaking imaginary bats.

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.

*

If you have enjoyed this folderol, please consider making a donation to the Hooting Yard Fund for Distressed Out-of-Print Pamphleteers.

x-click-butcc-donate

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.

Toots

Toots clattered up to the post office counter, sore perplexed.

“Hello Toots, what can I do for you today?” said the friendly postmaster.

“I am sore perplexed,” said Toots, “I have lost my Maytals.”

The postmaster was hard of hearing, and had been ever since a traumatic childhood incident when he was inadvertently placed in too close proximity to a klaxon for the duration of a lengthy Communist Party rally.

“If you have lost your marbles, Toots, you’ll be wanting a psychiatrist, not the postal service.”

Toots repeated himself, louder, and with exaggeratedly precise movements of his lips.

“Oh I see,” said the postmaster, “But what makes you think I can be of any assistance?”

Toots went on to explain his belief that the postal service, engaged as it was in the great work of sending and delivering sundry items all around the world, was the obvious agency to consult if one wished to track down something lost, in this case his Maytals. The postmaster took his point, with certain reservations which he kept to himself.

“I will keep a lookout for them, Toots,” he said.

Toots, whose sore perplexity was now etched deeper than ever upon his countenance, was dissatisfied with this response.

“Are you not able to do something more than that?” he screeched, alarming, in the queue behind him, several persons among whom was a skivvy from the Big House up on the hill. The postmaster asked, not unreasonably, what Toots would have him do.

“Some kind of tracking,” said Toots, “With post office dogs, bloodhounds, tracking, or tagging, the sending of telegrams or telegraphs, uniformed post office runners, I don’t know, notices slapped up in post offices across the land, vans scouring the countryside, the full weight of the postal service thrown behind the search … “

“Let me stop you there,” said the postmaster, “While I serve this skivvy from the Big House.”

Toots slumped in a corner of the post office, woebegone and weeping. The skivvy bought a single postage stamp, plopped it into a pocket of her apron, and trudged out and along the street past the haberdashery and the butcher’s and the fairy grotto, over the bridge across the canal and along the lane through the spinney up the hill to the gaunt iron gates of the Big House, along the path by the turnip beds and the stone statues of daredevil wartime aeroplane pilots, across the lawn and down the alley along the side of the house, in through a door tucked almost imperceptibly in a porch, down a flight of stairs into a gloomy corridor, until she reached the door of her scullery. She took from a different, deeper pocket of her apron a huge iron key, inserted it into the lock, turned it, and pushed the door open. In the pitch black of the scullery she heard the sudden rattling of chains and fetters. Locking the door behind her, she flicked a switch, and a lightbulb on the ceiling cast a dim glow, revealing a huddle of ska musicians, chained and fettered.

“I have pots and pans to scrub,” she announced, “So, my Maytals, play your ska music to cheer me in my chores!”

And soon enough the scullery was loud and joyful with the strains of “Monkey Man”.

The Expurgated Lovecraft

The other day I met a man who has devoted the past several years to a singular literary project. His aim is to produce a bowdlerised version of the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft, in which all reference to the spine-tingling and the spooky, the eldritch and the uncanny, is expunged. I was able immediately to grasp the value of this scheme. Lovecraft is a fascinating writer, but there must be many potential readers who are deterred from his work because, quite frankly, they do not wish to get the collywobbles. Excise the spine-tingling and the spooky, the eldritch and the uncanny, and an entire new constituency of fans will be created.

I asked my new friend how he went about the creation of an expurgated Lovecraft. He explained that he began by simply deleting all the terrifying adjectives, adverbs, verbs and nouns. This had the unintended consequence of rendering much of Lovecraft’s prose “bitty and near-incomprehensible”, as he put it. Whole passages were reduced to strings of prepositions. Though commendably brief, the resulting text lacked heft. So then, he said proudly, his real work began. He realised that he could reinstate a certain amount of readability, and up the word-count, by replacing, for example, Shoggoth with a pretty vase of flowers, or hideous tentacles with gambolling bunny rabbits. I pointed out to him that some people – not least myself – found rabbits utterly frightening, and he promised to look again at his revisions.

Then he bid me farewell, and I sat alone at the café table, mercilessly correlating all the contents of my mind.

The King And His Retinue

Here comes the King, clopping along on his horse. His retinue, today, includes an Elk, Peacock, Shark, Butterfly, Lion, Tiger, Rabbit, Book, Coat, Boot, Hare, Rake, Barrel, Caterpillar, Pigeon, Yard Stick, Snail, Match, Turtle, Owl, Rhinoceros, Antelope, Watch, Skull, Cat, Cow, Giraffe, Priest, Mummy, Humpty Dumpty, Squirrel, 5 Fishes, 2 Indians, 12 Faces, 3 Mice, 11 Dogs, 3 Eagles, 5 Letters, 5 Ducks, 2 Camels, 3 Elephants, 7 Men, 2 Monkeys, 2 Cymbals, 4 Birds, 4 Bears, 4 Goats, 8 Frogs, 2 Seals, 3 Beavers, 9 Sheep, 3 Ladies, 5 Horses, 5 Pigs, 2 Chickens, 4 Alligators, 2 Boys, 2 Babies, 2 Combs. It is a curious retinue, but then he is a curious King. His father said as much, when the King was yet a Prince.

“The Prince,” said the old King to his wife, the Queen, languishing at death’s door as usual, “Is a very curious young man. There is for one thing the business with the buttons. There is for another thing the shape of the head. I fear he will become a curious King when his time comes.”

The Queen groaned and asked the King to summon the nurse to replace her mustard plaster.

The King, then Prince, was six when these words were spoken. Now he is sixty-six. He has been the King for over half a century. It is almost as long ago that he put the business with the buttons behind him. The shape of the head, being physiological rather than whimsy, was not so easily discarded. And yet, over the long years, the shape of the head had changed, slowly gradually glacially, as it moulded itself better to fit the crown atop it. The crown had been struck for and first worn by the King’s great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, though we ought not try to be too precise about the number of greats. History can be treacherous the farther back we delve.

Ahead of the King now, as he clops on his horse, are the motorcycle outriders. There is a significant number of them also at the rear of the retinue, just behind the 2 Babies and 2 Combs. The motorcycle engines purr, their purr a constant below the rhythmic clopping. The King’s tape-recordist skitters now ahead, now behind, now in the midst of the retinue, never satisfied that he has found quite the perfect spot to immortalise the sound of the King’s progress through his island. Today’s recording, however imperfect, will fill the airwaves of the radio station for the next week or more. The King’s subjects will listen, rapt, as they go about their grind.

Today’s sniper is stationed, foolishly and predictably, at the sixth-floor window of one of the replicas of the Texas Schoolbook Depository building in Dallas. These clapboard but highly accurate constructions have been placed at intervals along the King’s route, specifically to lure and entrap foolish and predictable would-be assassins. Sure enough, with minutes to spare before the King and his retinue hove into the sniper’s sights, a SWAT team takes him out with extreme prejudice. The SWAT team have been awaiting the signal from their base in a replica LZ 129 Hindenburg airship hovering high in the clouds above the replica Schoolbook Depository.

There is always the possibility that the King may be threatened by a sniper who is both intelligent and unpredictable, and there is a Plan B to deal with such a situation. I hope I am not giving too much away by revealing that the 2 Monkeys, 4 Bears, and six of the 9 Sheep in the retinue are not quite what they seem.

The King himself is not even aware of Plan B. It was thought best not to tell him. He has never really regained his wits since a sniper’s bullet felled his father, the old King, over half a century ago. Hence his relentless criss-crossing of his island kingdom, astride his clopping horse, with his curious retinue, to no apparent purpose, and with no apparent end.

Monkey In Ice

Slaloming from my chalet down to the post office, I stopped short when I saw, at the edge of a crevasse, a monkey encased in a block of ice. I am no expert on monkeys, and I was not sure what kind of monkey it was. It was between a quarter and a third of the size of an average human, if such a thing exists. I made a note with a propelling pencil in my jotting pad to remind me of the precise location, then carried on down to the post office at the foot of the mountain. I transacted my business – at this distance in time I cannot remember what it was – and made my way to the funicular railway station, stopping off to buy a pastry snack and a bag of plums.

I told the conductor that I wanted to alight before my usual, chalet level, stop. He raised one eyebrow and gave me a quizzical look, but dinted my ticket with his metal ticket dinter without further comment. The windows of the carriage were steamed up, so I could not see a thing outside. I lit my pipe, and we began to creak slowly upwards.

I got off when the conductor gave me the nod, and trudged over to the crevasse. In my absence, the block of ice had not thawed one iota. If anything it had frozen to even more adamantine solidity, not surprising given the foul weather. The sun had been obscured by clouds and mist and bad air for three or four days on the trot. I tapped my bemittened knuckle on the ice, but of course the monkey inside did not stir. How could it? It too was frozen solid.

My first thought had been to melt the ice in situ, releasing the monkey dangerously close to the crevasse. If, upon regaining consciousness, it bounded off in the direction of the gaping chasm and looked as if it might plunge to its death, I hoped to forestall such a calamity by tempting it with plums, or pastry. But while aboard the funicular railway, I had become peckish, extinguished my pipe, and eaten half the plums and the entire pastry. I had to rethink my plans. It would make far more sense to haul the block of ice up to my chalet, and to melt it there. This would have the advantage that I could immediately put the frozen monkey in a place of comfort – my sofa or my bed – so that when it eventually awoke it would be less likely to panic and plunge down a crevasse.

The problem now was how to transport the block of ice up the unforgiving mountainside. Monkeys, I knew, were banned from the funicular railway, and with good reason. I was barely strong enough to clamber uphill unencumbered, let alone shoving, Sisyphean fashion, a block of ice containing a monkey ahead of me. For one wild moment I envisioned a helicopter swooping down, rope dangling, to ferry my cargo to the chalet. But of course the mountain, and its hinterland for miles in every direction, were a no fly zone according to Directive No. 17. What I had always found puzzling, incidentally, was the impossibility of finding out what on earth Directives Nos. 1 to 16 were. Nobody seemed to know, or at least nobody was willing to tell.

Then I remembered that I had, in my cupboard in the chalet, a very lengthy length of sturdy chain. It should be possible to affix one end of this to the block of ice, and to devise a contraption which, with minimal effort from me, for example dainty movements of my little fingers, would drag the block of ice up to my chalet. Satisfied, I lit my pipe and waited for the funicular railway to resume my journey up and home.

While I waited I peered at the monkey inside the ice, or as much of it as I could see, which in truth was very little. Sometimes ice is crystal clear, but this block was somewhat more opaque. It gave the monkey a blurred quality, as if viewed by a catastrophically myopic person, or seen in a dream. I had often dreamed of such monkeys, blurry, ill-defined, and ominously still. It had never occurred to me to wonder what these dreams might “mean”, as if they could possibly mean anything! Stalin has always seemed to me a far better guide than Freud. That is why I have a hammer-and-sickle emblem nailed to the door of my chalet, to announce my stance to any visitors, thus averting the risk of futile conversations.

And the funicular railway carriage arrived on schedule and I clambered aboard and I smoked my pipe and ate the remainder of the plums and I alighted at my usual stop and I went home and I devised a contraption to drag the block of ice up the mountain slope and I fetched the chain from the cupboard and I fixed one end of it to the bracket on the contraption and gave it a hefty tug to ensure it was secure and I started to make my way slaloming back down the mountain paying out the chain behind me until I came to the block of ice with the monkey inside it and I wrapped the chain round and round the ice and gave it a hefty tug to ensure it was secure and I returned to the funicular railway stop to wait for the carriage to take me back uphill and then I began to feel peckish again and instead of going home I slalomed down to the village and bought another pastry and another bag of plums and I sat on a stone bench next to a statue of Stalin and scoffed the pastry and the plums and when I was replete I fell into a doze right there on the bench and I dreamed of a monkey, blurry, ill-defined, and ominously still.

I can hardly believe that fifty years have passed since that day.

x-click-butcc-donate

.

Where Are The Snows Of Yesteryear?

Until yesterday, the snows of yesteryear were being kept in bins in a remote and refrigerated storage facility. Due to a security alert, however, the bins were moved during the night. A fleet of trucks ferried the snow, in the bins, to a secret location. The trucks were refrigerated as, too, we must assume, is the secret location. Because it is secret, I cannot tell you where it is. I don’t even know myself. But what this means is that we cannot answer the question, where are the snows of yesteryear?

Obviously we can answer that they are in a secret, refrigerated, location, but that is hardly satisfactory. The more persistent reporters from the winter weather phenomena press are unlikely to return to their igloo offices only to face the wrath of their white-bearded, icicle-strewn editors. No, they will think up ever more cunning ways to phrase their questions, hoping to trip up the snow authorities.

The snows of yesteryear, where are they?, they might ask, or Yesteryear, the snows of, whatever happened to them? Sooner or later a dimwit on the panel will blurt out the precise coordinates of the secret location, and frenzy will ensue.

Snow frenzy is akin to snow fury, and we are reminded of the bestselling paperback Like A Woman Scorn’d by Ella Snowfury. It was in fact by Pebblehead, writing under a pseudonym. There is a rogue edition purporting to be by Ella Thnowfury, copies of which have fetched sums as high as 15 New Pence on eBay.

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.

Thoughts On A Characteristically English August Bank Holiday

The rain it raineth in my brain
And outside too, upon the mud
I wonder will it ever drain
Or drown all life in a great flood
My sons are Japheth, Ham, and Shem
They’ve not one brolly between them
Before nightfall, when it grows dark
We had better board my ark
And take the animals two by two
We’ll have ourselves a floating zoo
Oh look! There is an aerostat
Hovering o’er Mount Ararat
Time’s out of joint, I got befuddled
I’m not Noah, I’m Key, empuddled
The rain it raineth in my brain
The rain it raineth, come rain or rain

Picnic Praxis

Oi!, writes Tim Thurn again, this time without even the small courtesy of addressing me by name, Not only do you neglect to issue warnings about bat-gods, but now you are making wild and unhinged assumptions about your readers, or at least about me. The other day you had the gall to “reassure” me regarding the bat-god Slosher by pointing out that he is only ever seen in the vicinity of marshes, “where he – [i.e., me] – is unlikely to practise his picnicking”. And what do you know of my picnicking proclivities, eh?

As it happens I often go a-picnicking at a particularly dreadful and eerie marsh, out beyond the Blister Lane Bypass and the Grimpen Mire mosh pit. Incidentally, if you ever feel compelled to disport and cavort with spastic exuberance, in mud, I wholeheartedly recommend this mosh pit. I am told by the OED that spastic may cause offence, but that is not my intention. I am using the word merely to indicate the kind of uncoordinated flailing about with which persons commonly comport themselves in mosh pits – at least, the persons and mosh pits of my acquaintance, of which there are oodles.

Just because I mentioned my picnic praxis of hoisting a placard and sounding a picnic-klaxon upon entering a field upon a picnic bent, that is not to say that a field is my exclusive choice of picnic spot. Far from it. There is an old “pop” number called something like Wherever I Lay My Hat, That’s My Home. Some years ago I wrote a frankly autobiographical version, retitled Wherever I Lay My Picnic Blanket, That’s My Picnic Spot. Over several verses I described some memorable past picnics in a variety of settings, including a field, the aforementioned dreadful and eerie marsh, a buttercup-splattered meadow, bosky hillsides, mountaintops, shores of lake and sea, haunts of coot and hern, multi-storey carparks, aerodrome hangars, the Blister Lane Bypass, the mosh pit at Grimpen Mire, Loopy Copse, the occasional pier and jetty, a bus shelter in Plovdiv, and the inside of my own head. That last one was a dream-picnic, ruined by a swarm of hornets.

I was so pleased with my song that I cobbled together a band to perform it and booked time in a recording studio. Interestingly, this was the first time my glockenspielist, Midge Ure, had ever set foot in a studio. At least I think he said his name was Midge Ure, though I may have misheard him. We pressed several hundred copies of the “waxing”, in coloured vinyl, and I still have most of them in a cardboard box under a spare picnic blanket in a cupboard.

Please let me know if you would like me to write a series of lengthy guest postages for you. I could cover all aspects of the infinitely intriguing world o’ picnics, in exhaustive detail. And I can promise you now there would be no mention of Slosher! (fingers crossed).

Yours picnicly, Tim Thurn

Fatso And Slosher

Hail to thee, O mighty Mr Key!, writes Tim Thurn, sarcastically, before lapsing into his usual embittered petulance, I’ve got a bone to pick with you. It is a good few years now since you revealed, without warning, the existence of the hideous bat-god Fatso, a god so hideous and batty and fat that I suffered from awful nightmares for weeks, nay, months. Eventually, with the help of several psychiatrists and a larder’s-worth of bottles of Dr Baxter’s Brain-Calming Syrup, I managed to get a grip on my life. Nowadays my sleep is relatively untroubled, except for those nights when I wake with a start and seem to see the hideous bat-god Fatso looming malevolently at the foot of my bed.

Imagine my horror, then, to read your postage the other day entitled The Smashed God and to learn that there is another bat-god, called Slosher. I don’t know what the opposite of blessing my little cotton socks is – I leave that for your readers to ponder – but that is what you have done, Mr Key. Maddeningly, you provided no description of the bat-god Slosher, save for telling us that he is a bat-god and his name is Slosher. In the absence of any other detail, my mind has been running riot, picturing a god even more hideous, more batty, and fatter than Fatso. Now they visit me nightly, Fatso and Slosher, or their ghostly apparitions, one on either side of the bed. I swear I can hear them squeaking. I have emptied the chemist’s shop of bottles of Dr Baxter’s Brain-Calming Syrup, and glugged the lot, but my brain is by no means calm.

What rankles is that you make passing mention of Slosher, in among all sorts of other, non-terrifying, gods, for all the world as if you were innocently listing the contents of your picnic hamper. I presume you have a picnic hamper. If not, I have a couple of spares, for I am – or was – a very keen picnickist. In a fit of wild generosity, I would almost be prepared to send you one of my extra hampers, empty of course, in spite of the chaos you have wrought in my brain. That is the kind of decent picnickist I am. Unlike you, I issue warnings. When I plan to enter a field to lay out my picnic blanket, I first alert any cows, sheep, grasshoppers, etcetera of my intentions by hoisting a placard and sounding a picnic-klaxon. That is what you ought to do, or the prose equivalent thereof, when you are about to tell us about yet another hideous bat-god, be it Fatso or Slosher or, Christ have mercy upon us, any others you have up your sleeve that you have not yet divulged to your fanatically devoted readers who treat every syllable scribbled by your pen as holy writ.

There. I have said my piece for the time being. Now I am going to go and stand, windswept, embittered, and petulant, upon a suspension bridge, gazing into the distance, into a sky I hope will be innocent of bats and bat-gods.

Yours ever, Tim Thurn

I would like to reassure Tim that the bat-god Slosher is only ever to be spotted in the vicinity of the drearier and more squelchy marshes, places where he is unlikely to practise his picnicking.

The Smashed God

[This piece was originally posted on 23 August 2005.]

Poopsy Clutterbuck is not a suitable name for a god. For that reason, it became a terrible blasphemy ever to speak the name of the God of Gaar aloud. Those who disobeyed the law were banished from Gaar forever. They were put into airtight pods and the pods were stuffed into the sidecars of gleaming motorcycles, and thence ferried far far away, though few knew where they were taken, only that weeks or months later the motorcycle would return to Gaar, at dead of night, and the now empty pod removed from the sidecar and taken to a secret place where the pods were steamed clean and fumigated. I am one of the few who know where the blasphemers were banished to, for I was one of the motorcyclists.

Oh my, I can hardly believe how long ago it was! I am decrepit now, decrepit and wizened, and I don’t think I have kick-started a motorcycle for forty or fifty years. I loved that job.

In those days we had many gods in Gaar, but only one was authentic, the one whose name could not be uttered. In addition, we had fifteen green-eyed weasel gods, a pair of plastic marchmont gods, the hideous centipede god of Tuesday evenings, Bosh the crumpled god, eighty squirrel gods, numberless gods with two or more heads, even one god with no head at all, and a god whose breath ignited stars. We had the bucket god and the athletics track god, the god of railway platforms and the gods of puddles. Some gods were ephemeral, tiny things, like your mayflies. Others were massive and solid and permanent. But only one god was real, the God with the upper case G, the one whose name could not be spoken.

Nowadays, those of us who rode the motorcycles in the sidecars of which blasphemers languished, muffled, in pods, are thought of as fanatics. I still get sidelong looks of contempt or loathing when I go to the post office or the greengrocery. I was spat at in the street as recently as six months ago. When I buy my fireworks, they are invariably tampered with, so that they sputter rather than sparkle. I can’t remember the last time one of my fireworks went whoooosh!

My favourite god was the gas god. It made a tremendous growling noise and it was usually sixty feet high, but sometimes smaller. Every now and then, because I was a motorcyclist, it would carry out its godlike doings in my back garden, and I would watch from the window, entranced. Our windows then were made of cellophane, and I would prick holes in my window with the point of a sharpened pencil, the better to appreciate the misty wafts of the gas god.

I was a believer, yes, but never a zealot. I got my job as a motorcyclist because my mother had been one, because I was unafraid of the weather, and because I prayed that it would be so. Some of my prayers involved animal sacrifice, the evisceration of poultry on a stone altar, for example, but more often than not I would be found squatting in an alleyway singing snatches of Nimrod with not a hen in sight, dead or alive. I have always wondered which of my prayers were answered, for answered they were, on that joyous day when I was bundled out of bed and taken to motorcycle training school. I do recall sprawling in the muck in front of a statue of the beetle-browed god of the railway sidings and the pewter chicken, as a way of saying thank you. But I was young then.

I am all bent out of shape now. A breakfast bowl of tomato soup is scant solace when all the gods have gone away. And to think that every god-jack of them disappeared over the course of a single weekend. As dawn broke on Saturday, the very air of Gaar was teeming with them. Slosher the bat god, the god of toffee apples, twenty little postage stamp-sized pneumatic gods, the clingfilm sausage god, a whole slew of gods decked out in kagouls, windcheaters and funny little pointed hats, all those magnificent deities, all devoted to Gaar and in turn worshipped by all the good people of Gaar. By Sunday night they were all gone. The upper case G God of Gaar whose name can never be spoken was the last to go. It was smashed to pieces at midnight in the town square, by some kind of elemental destructive cataclysm. No human agency could have wrought such ruin. I sip my cold tomato soup and mourn my gods still.

And now only I know to what crumbling seaside town we took the blasphemers, and I will never tell a soul.

Gay Limp Thief

[Thanks once again to R. Previous episodes in this exciting series are gathered here.]

So this tangle of thieves broke into the Phosphorescent Family Compound one night. They stole, from one larder, a bag of phosphorus, and, from another larder another, bigger, bag of phosphorus. Then they softly and suddenly vanished away, like Snarks.

In the morning, upon discovering the robbery, Old Pappy Phosph called the coppers. With inhuman speed, Detective Captain Cargpan was on the scene, sniffing about and writing things with a pencil in his notepad.

“Don’t you worry, Old Pappy,” he said, “I’ll have these ne’er-do-wells bang to rights and being roughed up in the police station basement by my boys by midnight, or my name isn’t Detective Captain Cargpan and I’m not sniffing about and writing things with a pencil in my notepad.”

Old Pappy Phosph put the kettle on for a cup of phosphorescent tea.

The telephone rang at one minute past midnight.

“Detective Captain Cargpan here. That noise you can hear in the background is my boys roughing up the thieves who stole your bags of phosphorus last night. I’m pleased to report we’ve caught them. Well, all but one of them, and he happens to be the one who knows where they stashed their loot. So the case is not yet closed. But don’t you worry, Old Pappy, with a bit more roughing up and some bone-breaking and skull-bashing and pincers and hammers and electric drills I think we’ll find our man, and, more importantly, your bags of phosphorus, possibly before I’ve finished speaking.

“The interesting thing about this tangle of thieves is that they might have been cobbled together by the casting director of a BBC drama production. They are achingly diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, even social class. It’s quite an eye-opener, and has certainly raised my consciousness and  my inclusivity awareness.

“More unusually, perhaps, the thieves run a gamut of body types, not from fat to thin or tall to short, as you might expect, but in terms of skeletal rigidity. At one end there is a bloke whose bones – the ones not yet broken by my boys – are almost fused together, so he is completely stiff from head to toe, while at the other end is a fellow with bones like jelly, he is absolutely floppy.

“In case you were wondering, the one who got away when we raided their den under the viaduct near the wasp sanctuary is gay and limp, so keep your eyes peeled in case you see somebody of that description.”

As he spoke, Old Pappy Phosph saw, climbing up the perimeter fence of the compound, the gay limp thief, come to return the stolen bags of phosphorus.

Ten minutes later, pinned to the wall of the kitchen, pierced like St Sebastian, so held in place awaiting the arrival of Detective Captain Cargpan, the gay limp thief confessed all to Old Pappy Phosph. He explained that his conscience was stricken and he regretted what he had done, and so he intended to return the stolen bags of phosphorus to their larders in hope of forgiveness.

“I don’t believe in forgiveness,” said Old Pappy Phosph, driving home another phosphorescent pin to more securely affix the thief to the wall.

“Ouch!” said the thief, not for the first time that night.

There is a moral to this story, and it is plain and simple. Don’t mess with Detective Captain Cargpan or with Old Pappy Phosph. Both of them will have your guts for garters.