Hark! I hear barking! The sound of dogs! It is an unclean sound, for dogs are unclean, as are such beasts as pigs and lobsters, according to my well-thought-out worldview. I was taught early to shun dogs and pigs and lobsters, to flee from their presence if they did not first flee from mine. Without the fleeing, theirs or mine, I would become contaminated by their uncleanness, and need to wash and wash and wash with water and soap and borax and purifiers until my flesh was raw and all trace of dog, pig, lobster was wholly eradicated, even down to the tiniest speck of filth. For filth it is, so I know, for it is written. I first fled from a dog, or it may have been a pig, or a lobster, when I was so tiny I barely remember, and have pieced together the events as best I can by repeated and indefatigable questioning of Bog Horvath, the family wizard. I fled and plunged into a pond, screaming, and soap and borax and purifiers were tossed in to me by the Cleansing Monkey from its booth anent the pond. I trod water and rubbed and scrubbed and eventually clambered out of the pond and ran home, there to burn a corn dolly and make a paste of the ash and to smear the paste upon my forehead and remain so marked until the setting of the sun, as it is written. That was so long, long ago, and in the years since there have been many other ponds and Cleansing Monkey booths and corn dollies burned to ash, for the world is filled to bursting with dogs and pigs and lobsters. They cannot always be avoided, in the run of a day. Bog Horvath, the family wizard, explained to me that the unclean must coexist with the clean, to teach us. If dogs and pigs and lobsters were obliterated from the face of the planet, or even, laughably, deemed to be clean, as they are by some among the damned, then the litanies we learn would lose all sense, and that surely cannot be. I know, when I see the stain upon my forehead in a looking glass, that I am righteous, at least until nightfall, and that any further dog or pig or lobster come roaming into my Zone Of Cleanth that day will be repelled, as if by great force, for so it is written. Bog Horvath, the family wizard, has been most helpful in clarifying the status of apes and monkeys. Some are clean, as obviously are the Cleansing Monkeys in their booths by ponds and meres and lakes, but others are unclean, creatures of filth to be shunned. When I was still a child, my ma and pa had not properly grasped what Bog Horvath, the family wizard, was teaching, and they brought into the house, as a pet, an unclean ape, I cannot remember what kind exactly. It was not sufficient, then, just to burn a corn dolly. The house itself had to burn, with the ape and my ma and pa inside it, while Bog Horvath, the family wizard, and I stood outside on the path, beside the clump of vetch and the lupins, watching the purifying flames roar. When all was ash, he took me away with him to the Mad Rasta, or school, where he taught me, through a combination of magick incantations, brain probes, and a pointy stick, how to cherish all that is clean, and to despise all that is unclean, and to know which is which. That is why, today, grown aged and tall, with my huge untidy beard and thrice-bleached tunic, when I hark to the barking of approaching dogs, I fear them not, nor the grunting of approaching pigs nor the clacking of approaching lobsters. I wait until they are close enough to be seen. If they are large and fierce and terrific, I flee. If tinier, and timid, I stand my ground, and, as I was taught many moons ago by Bog Horvath, the family wizard, and as it is written, I cow them, the dogs or pigs or lobsters, by jumping up and down, as if equipped with a trampoline, and I flail my arms in the air like a wild thing, and I scream my head off. And then they flee from me, these filthy unclean beasts, be they dogs or pigs or lobsters, or certain apes and monkeys. That is the righteous way. You will not see the damned behave so. That is why they are damned, to flames and perdition, and to be eternally poked at with the pointy stick of the Supreme, the Magnificent Bog.

Tugboat Tales, Number Two

I disembarked from the Ship of Fools, and stepped aboard the Weltschmerz Tug that would carry me to shore. The woes of the world weighed down the tugboat’s captain, who would not, or could not, hide his disgust. I was his only passenger, and as he steered towards the Island of Pomposity, he spewed forth a litany of misery, piling one curdled complaint upon another until I had to stop my ears with corks. The sea sloshed, and smelled of rotting aquatic death. I could see the land. It was close enough that I could make out various pompous ladies and gentleman promenading upon the harbour wall, in fustian and crinoline and tweed. But hours passed and the Weltschmerz Tug never seemed to get any nearer the shore, though the engine was chugging away, belching foul black blooms of smoke, poisoning the seabirds. Was I to be stuck forever between foolishness and pomposity, trapped aboard a tugboat with a world-weary captain moaning and spitting and cursing, corks in my ears and bile rising in my throat? Yes, I was, and this, I would learn, was very Heaven.

NOTE : Tugboat Tales, Number One is here.

A Regalia For Princes And Grandees

“The quality is moderately hot, proper for winter or summer. The drink is declared to be most wholesome, preserving in perfect health until extreme old age. The particular virtues are these: It maketh the body active and lusty. It helpeth the headache, giddiness and heaviness thereof. It removeth the obstructions of the spleen, it is very good against the stone and gravel. It taketh away the difficulty of breathing, opening obstructions. It is good against lippitude distillations, and cleareth the sight. It removeth lassitude, and cleanseth and purifieth acrid humours and a hot liver. It is good against crudities, strengthening the weakness of the stomach, causing good appetite and digestion, and particularly for men of corpulent body, and such as are great eaters of flesh. It vanquisheth heavy dreams, easeth the brain, and strengtheneth the memory. It overcometh superfluous sleep, and prevents sleepiness in general, a draught of the infusion being taken; so that without trouble whole nights may be spent in study without hurt to the body. It prevents and cures agues, surfeits, and fevers by infusing a fit quantity of the leaf, thereby provoking a most gentle vomit and breathing of the pores, and hath been given with wonderful success. It (being prepared and drunk with milk and water) strengtheneth the inward parts and prevents consumptions. It is good for colds, dropsies, and scurvies, and expelleth infection. And that the virtues and excellencies of this leaf and drink are many and great is evident and manifest by the high esteem and use of it (especially of late years) by the physicians and knowing men of France, Italy, Holland, and other parts of Christendom, and in England it hath been sold in the leaf for six pounds, and sometimes for ten pounds, the pound weight; and in respect of its former scarceness and dearness, it hath been only used as a regalia in high treatments and entertainments, and presents made thereof to princes and grandees till the year 1657.”

From a 17th century pamphlet on the subject of tea, quoted in Byegone England : Social Studies In Its Historic Byways And Highways by William Andrews, (1892). He also quotes from an Edmund Waller poem, thus: “The Muses’s friend, tea does our fancy aid / Repress those vapours which the head invade”.

Pang Hill, Potatoes, And Grunting

Well, stap my chives, what a day! Those of you who have studied the comments posted under the Book O’ Days postage will know that today is both Potato Day and Grunting Day. That being so, I set my alarm and was up and about before dawn to ensure I was in time to follow the annual parade from Pang Hill Orphanage. There they all were, the tinies, still half-asleep, each clutching a potato in their freezing little hands. Many of the potatoes were severely blighted with the spraingue, but that is only to be expected. Grimes, the Pang Hill allotment-keeper, has not really been doing his job properly since he was struck by lightning in that terrible storm on Saint Bibblybibdib’s Day two years ago, but whenever it is suggested that he retire and give up his post to a more sprightly replacement he casts eerie spells. Birds fall from the sky, hollyhocks shrivel and die, and Pang Hill is overrun with rabid squirrels. It really is best just to leave Grimes be.

Spraingue blight or no, the orphans were all present and correct huddling in the porch of the orphanage at the crack of dawn, ready for the parade. As the first rays of that mighty orb, the sun, appeared on the horizon, the Pang Hill Orphanage Choir Conductor bashed his stick on the metal plate wedged in Grimes’ cranium, and the tinies, all forty of them, struck up their superb rendition of Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis, arranged for high-pitched infant grunting. And as they grunted, they began to march, through sludge and puddles, from the grim orphanage, across withered lawns, all the way up into the hills, where they placed their potatoes in a pile outside the lair of the Grunty Man. Then they marched empty-handed all the way back to their base and brickish home, grunting Muila ni meps, the Choir Conductor’s own composition for groans and grunting, which is basically just Spem in alium sung, or rather grunted, backwards, the sort of thing Brian “One Brain” Eno might record, and probably has done. Once safe back inside the orphanage, all the tinies were given a radish and some goaty fluid for breakfast.

I stayed up in the hills, though, hoping to spot the Grunty Man creep out of his lair and gather up the forty potatoes left to him as an offering. It is thought that such a gift will assuage his grunty wrath for the year ahead, or at least until next week. But of course there was no sign of him, because he stayed inside his foul and stinking den, glued to his laptop, watching Tony Blair give evidence to the Chilcott Inquiry, and grunting throughout. But were they grunts of approbation or disdain? Only the Grunty Man knows, and it would be a brave and foolhardy person who attempted a mind-meld with that extraordinary, and extraordinarily pea-sized, grunty brain.

pang hill orphanagePang Hill Orphanage, before its becrumblement

Ritual Goat Sacrifice : Latest News

Last week I remarked on the brouhaha that would be stirred were a British (as opposed to a Japanese) Prime Minister to be attacked by a killer robot. I am now trying to cope with the idea of our political masters indulging in ritual goat sacrifice – perhaps not every day, but quite often. According to today’s Guardian:

Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, has found solace in an unusual form – the ritual slaughter of goats.

Zardari has a black goat killed every day at his Islamabad house to ward off “evil eyes” and protect himself against “black magic”, according to a report in Dawn, Pakistan‘s paper of record.

Spokesman Farhatullah Babar confirmed the president practises sadiqa, or the sacrifice of an animal whose meat is distributed among the poor. “I have seen it been done. Not exactly every day, but quite often, yes,” he told the Guardian.

But he denied its purpose was to fend off malevolent spirits. “The main belief is that this practice invokes the pleasure of God. The corollary is that bad things will not happen, of course, but that’s a matter of interpretation,” he said.

I don’t see the slaughtering of goats as Gordon Brown’s thing, but it would make sense with someone like Geoff Hoon.  He looks like a goat-killer, as does his partner in that recent failed coup, Patricia Hewitt. I expect the failure was due to their being so busy tippy-tapping conspiratorial drivel into their Blackberries that they forgot to sacrifice a goat at the propitious time. As for Miliband 1 and Miliband 2, they strike me more as the type to interpret the bloody entrails of ritually slaughtered poultry.

God’s Grandeur

I was out strolling by the canal the other morning when I was accosted by an ACRONYM – an Asbo-Carrying Ruffian Of Narrow Yob Mentality. He growled something unintelligible at me in his barbaric innit-spreche, which I countered by telling him, as bravely as I could, that I offered him the chance to turn himself from an ACRONYM into an ACROSTIC – an Asbo-Carrying Ruffian Of Spiritual Transfiguration In Christ.

Without waiting for his reply, I whipped out of my pocket my much-thumbed paperback copy of the Selected Poems of duck-mesmerising Victorian Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, and immediately began to declaim, in a booming voice, “God’s Grandeur”.

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; / It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil / Crushed.”

The ACRONYM was too sunk in his vacuity to react in any perceptible way, but the words of Hopkins are shocking and mighty and irresistible, and I knew I had the upper hand.

Nearby, on a leaf, a mealybug unfurled its wings and soared high into the heavens.

My work was almost done. I took the ACRONYM by the hand and led him towards the church, where Father Boggis waited with an old rugged cross and a handful of nails. I patted my pocket, feeling for the hammer I carried there. I looked forward to landing the first blow, nailing to the rough wood the filthy ruffian hand I held in mine.

NOTE : For readers outside the UK, it may be helpful to explain that an Asbo, or ASBO, is itself an acronym, for Anti-Social Behaviour Order, a terrifying deterrent to scalliwags, innit.

The Sky Over Pointy Town : Standard View


As part of our exciting series Meteorologically Significant Pictures From Pointy Town And Thereabouts, here is what boffins describe as the “standard view” of the sky, if one is looking up into the firmament when standing slap bang next to the horse trough in Chris De Burhg [sic] Square. Apparently, there are occasional days when the sky looks a tiny bit less threatening, but they are few and far between in the span of years allotted to most of us, including tortoises.

Deluge-Vision courtesy of Book Patrol

About Ivan Clank

Is it not curious, the manner in which the most disparate things interconnect? The way in which we find linkages, some flimsy, some as sturdy as iron chains, between persons and places and objects and events? If Mr Raven, the club-footed inquiry agent in The Strange Affair Of Adelaide Harris by Leon Garfield, could continue devising his spidery diagram beyond the bounds of that book’s plot, would he not eventually encompass the whole world within its web of foul intrigue?

These idle thoughts, bubbling gently in my brain while I stared out of the window hoping to see a heron, or a cow, were prompted by the recollection that Ivan Clank, the bailiff whose grisly demise was mentioned in passing in Variation On A Theme Of Scott Walker, was, albeit briefly, a member of the Pointy Town chapter of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club. He had left, or rather been booted out, before the picnic excursion described here yesterday. In fact, if the membership records are to be believed – and why should they not be? – Ivan Clank’s time in the club lasted but twenty minutes. At 4.25 on the afternoon of a gorgeous summer’s day, he paid his sub, signed his name in the ledger, and received his badge and card and list of rules and regulations and passport-sized photograph of Tuesday Weld and a celebratory slice of flan. A note appended at 4.45 on the same afternoon declares that “Ivan Clank, Membership No. 835, bailiff, has left, or rather been booted out of, the club”. No explanation is given. The handwriting appears to be that of the secretary, Mr Thubb.

In itself, this would be of minuscule interest, but hark! What is that we hear? It is the pencil of the pamphleteer Dobson, scratching across a page of one of his writing tablets! In a further interconnection to warm the cold, cold heart of Mr Raven, we learn that Dobson actually wrote a pamphlet about Ivan Clank and his fugitive Tuesday Weld Fan Club-related activities. The pamphleteer seems first to have become aware of Ivan Clank when he read an account of the bailiff’s gruesome destruction at the hands of brigands in The Daily Bailiff & Brigand Herald. He liked to keep up to speed with these things, did Dobson. The paper’s legendary “Recommendations For Further Reading For Those Whose Curiosity Has Been Piqued” column pointed the pamphleteer in several directions, most of which he failed to follow up. But he did learn, somehow, about Ivan Clank’s membership of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club, and its abrupt termination, and he even seems to have gained access to the membership records, which is a wonder, all things considered, what with one thing and another, from whichever angle you look at it, all in all, shambeko, shambeko, hal-an-tow.

The resulting pamphlet is not one of Dobson’s best. Ivan Clank, The Bailiff, O Is He Dead Then? is a curdled and bickering text, unleavened by any of the pamphleteer’s usual majestic sweeping paragraphs. It purports to be a potted biography of the bailiff in which the Tuesday Weld Fan Club hoo-hah is seen as pivotal, but Dobson does not say what it is that pivots upon it. Instead he launches into a character assassination of Mr Thubb, a man he had never met and of whom he knew not a jot. It was lucky for Dobson that he was not prosecuted for libel, though that would have been an unlikely outcome given that the pamphlet sold just two copies, both to buyers overseas with more money than sense. It is a sad reflection upon the state of pamphleteering, or possibly just of Dobson’s pamphleteering, that it was his best-seller that year.

Being A True Account Of The Discovery Of The Tomb Of Anaxagrotax

Be it known that on the fourteenth day of the month of March in the year of picklings last, MR THUBB, the Hon. Secretary of the Pointy Town chapter of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club, hired a charabanc for the purposes of an excursion to outlying parts of the said town, there to picnic and exchange pictorial collector’s cards of Tuesday Weld, her contemporaries and her peers.

That the driver of the charabanc was a man of frightful countenance and evil reputation. That he was said to have phantom limbs, additional to his given limbs, and that though these could not be perceived by the human eye in ordinary daylight, they were nevertheless present, and said driver might be said to have the form of a gigantic spider were he ever seen whole.

That the cost of the hire of the charabanc and driver was met by subscription to the excursions and picnicking fund of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club, administered by the Hon. Treasurer MR BRIMSTONE. That MR THUBB and MR BRIMSTONE were at loggerheads by cause of imponderables and fathomless mysteries known to none but they and their wives and the late beadle, MR FLAIL, perished of an ague in the month of February past. That the relict of MR FLAIL was confined to a madhouse wherein she did knit, in a phrenzy, in all her hours of wakefulness.

That the charabanc driver, by name BINNS, having agreed a route to the picnicking spot with MR THUBB, did diverge his vehicle up into the hills, whence his intention was to deliver all the excursioning members of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club into the clutches of the Grunty Man, who dwelt in a lair in said hills. That BINNS was to gain no pecuniary advantage from this treachery, in that his sole purpose was mischief and malfeasance. That the babblings of the excursionists within the charabanc excited them to such degree that none took cognizance of the divergence.

That much frost and ice lay on the roads in that month of March for it was a bitter season. That there was no grit to be had nor wherewithal of Pointy Town civic gritting persons to spread it upon the roads if there had been, for they were in dispute with regard to their stipend and held banners in a throng outside the civic hall and had tubs which they thumped with main force. That notwithstanding his great merit as a driver of the charabanc, BINNS caused the vehicle to skid ski-skaw-skoo off the appointed way and go plunging into a ditch some four miles as the crow flies past the Bypass at Blister Lane. That had BINNS taken the route agreed with MR THUBB such accident would never have occurred.

That the gentlemen and ladies of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club conducted themselves with decency and aplomb. That those who had been hurled from the charabanc assisted those who remained within its twisted wreckage to make their escape. That they gathered in the ditch and sipped with due daintiness from flasks of soup piping hot. That the Hon. Correspondence Secretary, MRS GLEETY, distributed to all Dr Gillespie’s Famous And Trustworthy Brain Powders For The Alleviation Of Disorders Of The Nerves And Integuments. That tears of emotion were shed when it was seen that MR THUBB and MR BRIMSTONE were putting aside their differences in the face of calamity and were shaking hands with each other with manly forbearance.

That a considerable time elapsed before it was noted that the charabanc driver BINNS was not present with the others in the ditch. That said BINNS had taken to his heels at the first opportunity. That his fleeing gained much expedition from the fact that his visible heels were accompanied by any number of phantom heels. That the direction of BINNS’ fleeing was into the hills, where he threw himself upon the mercy of the Grunty Man with terrible bewailings that he had failed in his appointed task. That the Grunty Man was a stranger to mercy and grunted loud and awful grunts and dragged BINNS into the depths of his lair. That not hide nor hair of BINNS was ever seen again on this spinning earth.

That the composure of the members of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club was a magnificent thing and a pride unto Pointy Town. That when wounds were bandaged and shattered bones set with splints, they clambered forth each and every one from the ditch to make the journey home on foot. That night fell and they lost their way yet did not once screech in terror nor complain of chill. That they kept their spirits up by calling one to another the titles of feature films in which Tuesday Weld had appeared, to which another would respond by calling out the name of the character she had played in said feature film, so that MR BRIMSTONE might call Rally ‘Round The Flag, Boys! and MRS GLEETY call Comfort Goodpasture, or MR THUBB call The Private Lives Of Adam And Eve and the Hon. Picnics Secretary MRS BLEARS call in return Vangie Harper.

That such jollies were brought cruelly to a close when it happened in the darkness that MR THUBB collided with an enormous block of masonry and was knocked insensible. That MRS GLEETY had exhausted her supply of Dr Gillespie’s Powders but was able to revive MR THUBB with a draught of arquebusade-water from a canister within her handbag. That it was resolved to remain in the lee of the enormous block of masonry pending the break of dawn, for it provided some shelter from a wild wind which now was roaring. That to pass the time until dawn, the excursionists hummed tunes made famous by Dudley Moore and Pinchas Zukerman, respectively the second and third husbands of Tuesday Weld.

That when dawn came and examination was made of the masonry it was found to be covered in greatly mysterious inscriptions in an alphabet unknown to even the most erudite member of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club. That this was by common acclaim MR SHAMBEKO who was the author of many learned books, among them being a history of Pointy Town, a topographical description of the area around the Blister Lane Bypass, and a shot-by-shot analysis of the feature film I’ll Take Sweden, in which Tuesday Weld appeared as the character JoJo Holcomb. That in scraping clumps of mud from the masonry the better to view the inscriptions, it became apparent that much of the block remained submerged below the ground. That MRS GLEETY produced from her handbag a number of gardening trowels which she carried on the aborted excursion in case within the vicinity of the picnic spot had grown such plants as campions and hellebore and lupins for the digging up and transplanting to her garden behind the house on Turpentine Boulevard in Pointy Town. That those of the party not yet faint with exhaustion set to with a will a-trowelling away the mud to reveal as much of the enormous block of masonry as their efforts might allow.

That thus was discovery made of the ancient tomb of Anaxagrotax. That MR SHAMBEKO thereafter wrote an account of the discovery and embarked upon an extensive lecture tour of many countries. That MR SHAMBEKO never failed to acknowledge the inadvertent part played by the evil spidery charabanc driver BINNS. That it remains unknown who or what Anaxagrotax was or in what era he lived if ever he lived at all. That his tomb now gleaming is surrounded by a fence to deter souvenir hunters, and that propped against the tomb, in a plain wooden frame coated with protection against the elements is a publicity photograph of Tuesday Weld, taken circa 1963 during production of the feature film Soldier In The Rain, in which she appeared as the character Bobby Jo Pepperdine. That it is apt that a soldier stands guard in a sentry box beside the tomb of Anaxagrotax, and that it is raining, and that there is no roof upon the box, so the rain falls directly upon the soldier, whose badge declares his name as Private Pepperdine.

How To Spot A Criminal Maniac

“A few months after my father had diagnosed this case, an assault of the same nature was committed on another little girl living in the same house. In this case, however, the victim survived and was able to point out the criminal – an imbecile, afflicted with goitre, stammering, strabismus, hydrocephaly, trochocephaly, and plagiocephaly, with arms of disproportionate length, the son and grandson of drunkards, who confessed the double crime and entreated pardon for the ‘trifling offence’ since he had always done his duty and swept the staircase, even on the day he committed the crime.”

From Criminal Man, According To The Classification Of Cesare Lombroso Briefly Summarised By His Daughter, Gina Lombroso-Ferrero (1911). This was No. 27 in “The Science Series” edited by Edward Lee Thorndike, PhD, and F E Beddard, MA, FRS. Other titles included Fatigue by A Mosso, Nervous And Mental Hygiene In Health And Disease by August Forel, Mosquito Life by Evelyn Groesbeeck Mitchell, and The Interpretation Of Radium by F Soddy.

Variation On A Theme Of Scott Walker

His mother called him Ivan, then she died. His name was actually Dennis, but his mother was in the throes of death-rattle delirium, and she mistook him for the priest, Father Ivan Plunkett, who had been at her bedside but a moment ago. He had popped out to rinse his rosary beads under a spigot, because they were caked with muck. One does not often see a priest carrying a set of filthy rosary beads, but Father Ivan Plunkett’s parish rounds took him to many farmyards and barnyards, and through many puddles and ditches. Dennis’s mother’s was not the only death he witnessed that day. At certain times of year there is much slaughter on farms, much, much slaughter, and this was one of those times. Father Ivan Plunkett rinsed the muck from his rosary beads only to have them steeped in the blood of a hen before an hour had passed. He rinsed that blood away too, into a farmyard gutter, and he did not weep.

Back at the house, Dennis sat looking at his mother in her winding-sheet. He was perplexed that she had called him Ivan, for he had not put two and two together. He was soft in the head, and a worrier. If he was Ivan, he wondered, where was Dennis? He decided to set off in search of Dennis. That is, in search of himself. He put on his boots and a cloak and trudged out in the rain, squelching through the mud, calling “Dennis! Dennis!” in his surprisingly booming baritone until his throat was raw. Only the birds perched in the windswept trees answered him, cawing and cooing and chirruping, but Dennis was not so soft in the head that he thought one of the myriad birds was Dennis.

Father Ivan Plunkett returned to his presbytery shattered by death. His housekeeper, Mrs Clank, a widow, made him a pot of tea. The pot was shrouded in a tea-cosy she had knitted for him, with great expertise, depicting, in wool, the martyrdom of Saint Spivack. His had been a gruesome death, and Mrs Clank had had much need of wool dyed deep red, for all the blood that spurted from poor Saint Spivack in his agony. It was a scene of great meaning for the housekeeper, for her late husband had died, fourteen years before, in an almost identical manner, at the hands of brigands. But he had not died for his faith, and so had not been canonised. Mrs Clank was too much of a realist to hope he ever would be. She busied herself dusting a statue of the BVM while Father Ivan Plunkett drank his tea and groaned.

Failing to find the shadow Dennis in the fields and farms thereabouts, Dennis was reluctant to return to the house of death wherein his mother lay, so he made for the village. He called in at the tattooist, and had the name IVAN emblazoned across his puny chest. He wanted it on his forehead, but the tattooist was an ethical man with a code to which he kept, against all blandishments. He knew Dennis, for as well as conducting his tattoo business, he piloted an air ambulance, and had many a time flown to Dennis’s mother’s bedside in recent months, as she suffered. Poor befuddled Dennis did not recognise him, and did not tell him that his mother had passed to the other side. Leaving the premises, Dennis did not fasten his cloak across his front, so his tattoo was visible to everyone who passed him in the village streets.

By nightfall, the slaughtering had ceased in all the farmyards save one. There, at Scroonhoonpooge Farm, the killing continued, in the eerie barn. Dennis stumbled in to the scene of horror on his way home. Soft in the head, he had strayed from his path in the darkness. The brigands were a blood-crazed and ruthless lot, but they were also, to a man, in thrall to rustic folk tales of ghosties and sprites and imps.

“Eek!” yelled the first who saw Dennis, “It is Ivan, come back from the grave to avenge us!”

Between straying from his path and entering the barn, Dennis had toppled into a ditch, and he was splattered with muck, as a zombie might be, clambering to the surface from its tomb in the churchyard.  With his piggy eyes and snub nose and scrupulously-tended bouffant slathered in pomade, Dennis bore a startling resemblance to Ivan Clank, the housekeeper’s husband slain by the brigands fourteen years before. As they scattered, terrified, into the night, leaving Dennis alone in the eerie barn with the dead and dying victims of their latest enormity, we might ask if it was indeed Father Ivan Plunkett to whom Dennis’s mother had called in her last moments. Might it have been, rather, Ivan Clank, the bailiff, her illicit inamorato of days long vanished?

Sonora Aero Club

“Detailed and annotated mixed-media images of heroic flying machines – Barnum and Bailey, Buck Rogers and Jules Verne all stirred together – mazes of exotic detail, circus-tent gas-bags, bicycle wheels, belts and pulleys – crazily painted pods shaped like the space shuttle boosters…”

The work of Charles Dellschau, a Prussian butcher resident in Texas, and member of the Sonora Aero Club secret society, obsessed with airships. Read a potted biography here, and look at some gorgeous pictures here. And for the next few weeks, those of you in or visiting London can see original works at the Museum Of Everything.


Those Cursed Scotch Pebbles

“I am sorry there are such occasions to clean your pebbles; you must make use of the powder to them by putting it in anything of substance, wherein it will not swim a-top of the water.”

The father, feeling unwell, frequently took water gruel. This was a proper vehicle for the powder.

“On Sunday morning, I again examined Mr Blandy. He seemed much relieved, but, on viewing his fundament, I found it almost surrounded with gleety excoriations and ulcers.”

“I always thought there was mischief in those cursed Scotch pebbles.”

Four extracts from an account of the case of Mary Blandy, given in Tales Of The Newgate Calendar by Rayner Heppenstall (1981)