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 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.
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
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.”
“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, 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
I was not at all certain whether I had any advocates, I could not find out anything definite about it, every face was unfriendly, most people who came toward me and whom I kept meeting in the corridors looked like fat old women; they had huge blue-and-white striped aprons covering their entire bodies, kept stroking their stomachs and swaying awkwardly to and fro. I had been told that at least three advocates would be assigned to represent me, but if so, where were they? And could the case proceed without them?
I wondered if I had somehow come to the wrong building. Perhaps this was not the law courts, but some other branch of some other institution of some other regime in some other country on some other continent. After all, there was a blank period of several hours, between my waking up on my pallet of straw in the barn annexe and my arrival here, several hours of which I could remember nothing save for the plaintive cry of a curlew, and a smashed saucer on the linoleum.
Dizzy in the head, I sat down on a bench and lit my pipe. People continued to mince and waddle along the corridor, seemingly with purpose. None of them spared me a glance. None of them announced themselves as my advocate. Perhaps I was in the right building but on the wrong floor? I had noticed, as I entered from the street, that the building was impossibly tall. The top of it was invisible, engulfed by clouds.
Puffing on my pipe ought to have calmed my nerves, but, like poor Neddie in Brand Upon The Brain! (Guy Maddin, 2006), I was a bundle of tics. The case – if it were ever heard and judged upon – could spell my ruin. I had been accused of plagiarism by the publishers of the weekly children’s comic The Hammer Of Christ. Among the most popular strips in that penny woeful was that recounting the adventures of Buster and Radbod. I was deemed to have stolen these characters when I began to issue my own weekly children’s comic, Buster And Radbod. It was true that, in all particulars, my Buster was identical to the original Buster, my Radbod to the original Radbod, and that some – well, all – of the adventures I related in my comic differed not a jot from adventures pursued by Buster and Radbod in The Hammer Of Christ. But apart from those wildly improbable coincidences – and is it not a feature of coincidences that they are wild and improbable? – there really was no comparison. The paper-size and pagination of the comics was different, my drawings were somewhat cack-handed, and the sale price of my publication was four times the price of the dreadful rag I was accused of copying.
In spite of this, and of my protestations of innocence, I had been summoned to the court to face the full wrath of the law. But how could I marshal a defence without my promised advocates? Slumped on the bench, it dawned on me that my predicament was not dissimilar to a situation faced by Buster and Radbod in one of their adventures, which had appeared in The Hammer Of Christ Vol. XLIV No. 8 and, coincidentally, in Buster And Radbod Vol. I No. 1.
What happened was that the frolicsome duo were summoned to the law court, an impossibly tall building, the top of which vanished in the clouds. They had to answer a charge brought against them, the essence of which was that they were false replicas, or doppelgangers, of the purported real Buster and real Radbod. It is a stupendously exciting and suspenseful story, as the pair roam the corridors on the many many floors of the building, knowing that at any moment they may come face to face with … themselves! Particularly enthralling – and psychologically complex for a children’s comic strip – is Buster and Radbod’s growing realisation that they may not be real, may be simply fictional two-dimensional simulacra. Complexity piles on paradox because, of course, neither Buster nor Radbod is real – they are comic strip characters. But so are the so-called real Buster and Radbod they will encounter, at some point in the story in the building in a corridor on a floor.
Somehow these reflections made my own situation less fraught. I tapped out my pipe, rose from the bench, and went in search of my advocates. It seemed to me now that I would be able to spot them easily among the teeming throng. They would look identical to me! All three of them! I hunted them along all the corridors on the floor, and then I tried the other corridors on the other floors, one by one. But before I found my advocates, I noticed a curious thing about the many steep and crowded staircases in this building. As long as you don’t stop climbing, the stairs won’t end, under your climbing feet they will go on growing upwards.
The first sentence, and the last, were translated from the German by Tania and James Stern. Everything in between was not.
Gus was pipped at the post. It was one of those huffington posts, recently erected at strategic points across the land, by diktat. They were named in honour of Puissance Huffington, the tiny orphan child who, by some inexplicable chain of accidents, now reigns over our realm. Nobody expected frail little Puissance to rule with an iron fist, but she does, and then some!
Like so many citizens, Gus had assumed that Puissance would be a benign queenlet. It was perhaps this naivete which led to his undoing, when he entered a contest in the weekly children’s comic The Terrible Wrath Of Christ Our Saviour. Readers were asked to supply a caption for a drawing which showed an innocent farmyard scene, typical of our country. Mischievous Gus wrote something disobliging about a hen, unaware that every single caption submitted to the comic would be scrutinised, personally, by Puissance Huffington. She could not read, of course, so pressed into service a man of letters who loitered somewhere in the bowels of the palace. When this sickly one-legged fellow read to Puissance the words written by Gus, she was outraged.
“I am very fond of hens,” she is reported to have said, “And I will not have disobliging things said of them, no siree!”
And she told the man of letters to aim his crutches in the direction of the Palace Git, conveying instructions to have Gus arrested. And so within hours of writing his unwise words, Gus found himself chained to one of the huffington posts in one of the less salubrious parts of the country, populated for the most part by ne’er-do-wells, halfwits, and Corbynistas. Eagerly, they pelted Gus with pips, as Puissance Huffington decreed.
In retrospect, we can appreciate just how fortunate Gus was to have committed his crime in the early days of the reign of Puissance. For her power made the little orphan child ever more vindictive and cruel, and it was not long before she declared that miscreants should be pelted, not with pips, but with plumstones.
Ah, the manifold complexities of the human brain! In my dreams, as I slept last night, there was a starring role for Rumer Godden. Quite what she was up to became unclear the moment I awoke, and now I remember nothing at all, save that she had a very important part to play in whatever was going on in my sleeping head.
But why? I have never read any of her books. I had to remind myself, with a tiny bit of morning research, that she was the author of (among much else) Black Narcissus. I know almost nothing about her. Yet here she was, unsummoned, at the forefront of my unconscious mind.
At least I did not bash her about with a wooden chair, as once – in dreams – I bashed Roy Kinnear …