Grabber had an afterlife, bewinged upon a cloud, plucking sweetly at a harp. That, at least, was his dream, from which he awoke, tense and troubled, in his cell. He was a lifer, convicted years before of murder most foul. Are there, he often wondered, less foul murders, for which his sentence would have been commensurately less than life? He read up on the law, but nothing lodged for long in his head, for he was easily distracted. It came as a surprise to him how many distractions could occur to a lifer in a cell. The sheen of the buttons on his stripy tunic. A stain upon the ceiling. An ant scuttling across the floor. Buzzers buzzing and bells clanging somewhere far off. From his window he watched clouds scud across the sky, clouds that prompted his dreams of an afterlife in heaven.

O! Grabber! Grabber! What hast thou done?

He can no longer remember the foul deed, committed in his cups after a night on the tiles. Cups and tiles. They could be suits in an old Tarot deck, along with whisks and arrows. There used to be arrows on his tunic, but one day they came and gave him a new tunic with stripes. They did not explain why. They never explained anything to Grabber. They gave him his food in a bowl.

It was while scoffing his food one day that Grabber fell to musing about Little Miss Muffet. She sat, famously, upon a tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Now Grabber found this distinctly curious. Curds, and more especially whey, would as like as not be served in a bowl, as his food was. Why, then, did Little Miss Muffet take her bowl from the serving hatch all the way outside towards the tuffet where she sat? Why did she not remain indoors, as Grabber did? Grabber had no choice in the matter, of course, but he felt sure that, in Little Miss Muffet’s circumstances, he would take his seat in the canteen rather than prance outside into the fields, in search of a tuffet. Her behaviour made no sense to him.

Grabber thought too about other characters, Little Jack Horner and Mary, Mary Quite Contrary and Rumpelstiltskin and Henry Kissinger, among others. These thoughts went nowhere, and Grabber never reached any conclusions. He lay flat on his back in his iron cot and the days passed.

O! Grabber! Grabber! Every hair on your head has been counted!

He once tried to count his own hair, which he allowed to grow long, but one day, without explanation, the prison barber came to his cell and hacked away his tresses. It was the same day they swapped his tunic. There was something else of significance that happened on that day, but he no longer remembered what. He kept no journal, having no pencil. He had requested a pencil, once, and been given a cushion. It was a tiny cushion filled with straw. The straw still smelled of the farmyard, and caused Grabber flights of reverie. They were confusing flights, for he had never set foot on a farm. The closest he had come was the village green, where he roamed in his cups after a night on the tiles and took a brick to the head of a mendicant sleeping anent the horse trough in the moonlit night. He took that brick to the mendicant’s head twenty, thirty times, in an inebriate phrenzy.

O! Grabber! Grabber! Undo what thou hast done!

But it could not be undone. It can never be undone. Only the buttons on his stripy tunic can be undone, but Grabber does not undo them, for if he did he would only button them up again.

Life. . . With Buttons.


When considering Borneo, it is extremely important to differentiate between the Wild Man of Borneo and the Wild Men of Borneo. The first thing to grasp is that the Wild Man of Borneo was not one of the Wild Men of Borneo. Obviously, he was a Wild Man, and thus if one lumps together, indiscriminately, all the Wild Men of Borneo, then one is forced to concede that the Wild Man of Borneo was, in the round, one among the Wild Men of Borneo. But in another respect, and one that is crucial, as we shall see, the Wild Man of Borneo was not, by any stretch of the imagination, one of the Wild Men of Borneo.

A second point. of utmost importance, is to bear in mind that neither the Wild Man of Borneo nor the Wild Men of Borneo had any connection whatsoever, apart from the nominative, with Borneo. All three – for there was but one Wild Man of Borneo, obviously, and, less obviously, two Wild Men of Borneo – were citizens of the United States of America. The Wild Man of Borneo was originally German and arrived in the United States as a teenager, while the Wild Men of Borneo were natives, the one born in New York and the other in Ohio.

To be absolutely clear, I ought to confess that in the foregoing I have ridden chronologically kim-kam, putting the Wild Man of Borneo before the Wild Men of Borneo. In truth the Wild Men of Borneo (born in 1825 and 1827) precede the Wild Man of Borneo (born in 1862).

We can perhaps better distinguish the Wild Men of Borneo from the Wild Man of Borneo by lodging their given names in our heads. The Wild Men of Borneo were Hiram W. Davis and his younger brother Barney Davis. The Wild Man of Borneo was Leonard Borchardt.

Without wishing to complicate things further, it is well worth noting that the latter, the Wild Man of Borneo, was commonly known as Oofty-Goofty. He acquired this sobriquet from his habit, when covered in tar and horsehair and locked in a cage and fed raw meat, of uttering a fierce cry of “Oofty-Goofty!”. Neither of the Wild Men of Borneo is ever recorded as having used these words, if words is what they are. The Wild Men of Borneo were noted rather for their prodigious feats of strength, wrestling skills, and what used to be called mental imbecility.

Having digested all of the above, we should be able with confidence to tell the Wild Man of Borneo from the Wild Men of Borneo. Equally helpful, if not more so, is the knowledge that, next time we disembark from a boat, its sails billowing in the southeast Asian wind, upon the shores of Borneo, should we then encounter any wild men, though they may be indubitably wild men of Borneo, given their wildness and location, they will be neither the Wild Man of Borneo nor the Wild Men of Borneo, with all three of whom we are now serviceably familiar.

It would be interesting to know if either the Wild Man of Borneo, or the Wild Men of Borneo, had a familiar, in the sense of a grimalkin or witch’s familiar. I do not think any of them did, but I would not wish to pronounce upon this definitively without learning more, much, much more, about both the Wild Man of Borneo and the Wild Men of Borneo.

Incidents In The Life Of A Git

Readers will know that from time to time I find inspiration from cryptic crosswords. For decades, it has been my daily habit to tackle the Guardian crossword, with occasional forays into those of other newspapers. Today I have been particularly impressed by 4 Across in the Guardian. The clue reads:

Incidents where git punches crusty things behind back of cafe (8)

I have not yet solved this, but while it is fresh in my mind I thought it useful to transcribe it here, mostly as an aide memoire to myself. You lot can look forward to an examination of such incidents in a forthcoming sweeping paragraph of majestic prose.