I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing

I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I think I have the makings of an excellent singing teacher. I am to pedagogy as a duck to water. There is nothing that cannot be taught by ferocious spittle-flecked shouting accompanied by thumps on the head with a big stick. It is true that my field of expertise is ornithology, not singing, but I have taught even the most recalcitrant dimwit to identify four different types of bird, with as near as dammit a twenty-five percent success rate. The birds were a swan, an owl, a wren, and an ostrich.

I’d like to teach the world to sing, and the world is rather larger than the classroom in the cellar of Pang Hill Orphanage, where I currently teach. In fact I have never taught anywhere else, as far as I can recall. And I have rarely taught anything other than bird identification skills, apart from occasional sessions of boot-scrubbing, mucking about with saucepans, and guttural German. But pedagogy courses through my veins like blood. The more recalcitrant dimwits among the orphans often develop nosebleeds after my thumpings, so I know what blood looks like, even though it is not my field of expertise.

Another reason I am well suited to the task of teaching the world to sing is that I awake every morning with a song in my heart. Often it is a tuneless and monotonous dirge, which is the best I can muster when I wake in a foul temper, as I usually do. My attic bedroom at Pang Hill Orphanage is dark and dismal and icy cold, even at the height of summer. I have been told this is something to do with local atmospheric conditions, but such conditions are outwith my field of expertise, so I cannot judge the truth of the claim. Sometimes a frail and freezing robin will come and perch on my windowsill of a morning. I think it is a robin, though it is difficult to tell through the grease- and grime-smeared window. But at the sight, albeit blurred, of a feathered friend, the song in my heart is a cheerier and more up-tempo one, such as “Withered And Died” by Richard and Linda Thompson.

Before I teach the world to sing, then, I will make a start by teaching the orphans to sing. But before I teach the orphans to sing, I will hone my singing-teacher techniques – shouting, big stick – by teaching monkeys to sing. There is a Monkey House at Pang Hill Zoo, over on the other side of the hill beyond the viaduct. Through bribery and threats I obtained a key to the Monkey House. I think the janitor who passed me the key assumed I wanted to gain access to the monkeys for unseemly purposes. Well, let him think what he likes. I will betray him to the zoo authorities in any case, and he will languish in a prison cell while I teach the monkeys to sing.

UPDATE : I have discovered that most of the monkeys in the Monkey House at Pang Hill Zoo are howler monkeys. They can already howl their little heads off like nobody’s business. My work is done.

Knud Padde

In Forbrydelsen, the 2007 Danish TV crime thriller known here as The Killing, there was a minor character, appearing in just three of the twenty episodes, named Knud Padde. I confess that I have forgotten pretty much everything about the character but for his name – but what a name! Knud Padde ought, surely, to have his own spin-off series.

I can imagine him, dapper in his Danish duds, as one of the Four Norsemen of the Apocalypse, alongside Lars and Bengt and Erik, a quartet of impossibly sophisticated Scandinavians, noble of brow and fond of herring. I am assuming, of course, that “Norsemen” can refer to any old Scandinavian, not exclusively those from Norway, though if we had to export Knud Padde and his fellows to Norway then so be it.

We could, after all, put them on the banks of a fjord. What would the Apocalypse look like, viewed from a fjord? I asked fjord- and Apocalypse-expert Tarleton Buchbinder for his thoughts. He never called me back. I think he was taking a very long bath, in his tub, listening to a cassette tape of inspirational speeches by Patricia Fripp, sister of the guitarist Robert, husband of popstrel Toyah Wilcox.

Toyah’s big hit was “It’th A Mythtery”, and I think the Knud Padde TV series ought to have a mystery element. The mystery could be some unspoken horror in Knud Padde’s past, or in Lars’s past, or Bengt’s past, or Erik’s past, or perhaps in the pasts of all four of them, the unspoken horror that brought the four of them together in the first place, on the banks of a fjord, in a high and icy wind, noble of brow and fond of herring.

This needs work.

The Day Of Grunting

Today is the Day of Grunting, when all around the world, from Aargau to Zug, people join together as one in celebration of that terrifying figure of children’s most awful nightmares, the Grunty Man.

When you have stopped trembling, you may wish to consult this collection of pieces in which mention is made of our dear grunting pal. Think of him, lurking in his filthy cave, grunting and grunting and grunting until the cows come home*.

* NOTA BENE : I have been asked to point out that no cows actually live in the Grunty Man’s cave, so they are never going to “come home” to it. This suggests that the grunting of the Grunty Man will continue for all eternity, just as it has been going on since long, long before the dawn of time.

Meetings With Remarkable Buntings

I was commissioned to write a fat book entitled Meetings With Remarkable Buntings. Biro poised, I was about to set to work when it occurred to me that I did not know whether I was meant to be writing about birds or those decorative strings of triangular flags festooned at festive occasions such as gala days. I rang the publishers to find out.

The person I spoke to sounded about twelve years old and was brimming with confidence, in spite of being clueless. As soon as I uttered the word “bird” she started to babble excitedly about something called Twitter. I slammed the phone down. I was able to do this because I was using a proper telephone, one with a receiver resting on a cradle. With these new-fangled mobile horrors, one cannot slam them down in a satisfying spat of ill temper without risking breakage.

I decided my best bet was to write about both types of bunting and, with the twittery inanities of the publisher sloshing in my ears, took up my biro to write about the bird. But then I paused. The title of the book spoke of Meetings With buntings. I would have to go and find a bunting and commune with it. Now, my ornithological ignorance is staggering, and frankly I wouldn’t know a bunting from a nuthatch or a pipit or a starling or a wagtail. So I rang the Emergency Bird Information Hotline.

The person who answered the phone sounded about twelve years old and was brimming with avian confidence. I told her I wanted to know all there was to know about buntings.

“Do you mean the bird or the decorative strings of triangular flags festooned at festive occasions such as gala days?” she asked.

“Well, you’re the Emergency Bird Information Hotline,” I said, “So I mean the bird, obviously.”

“It might seem obvious to you,” she said, “But you would be surprised how many enquiries we receive about the decorative strings of triangular flags. We are a very festive organisation, forever holding fetes and galas, and so we have bunting hanging permanently outside our headquarters. I think that is why people call us when they want to know about non-bird bunting as well as bunting the bird.”

“Well I want to know about the bird,” I said, but she was prattling on regardless.

“Actually we are having a little garden party this afternoon in celebration of the common chaffinch. Would you like to come? You’ll be able to see our display of bunting – the decorative strings of triangular flags, that is, rather than the birds. But there will be a couple of stuffed chaffinches for you to look at if you want to know more about them.”

“I want to know about the bunting, not the chaffinch!” I shouted, and slammed down the phone, again.

In my rather satisfying spat of ill temper, I went for a walk by the pond and chucked pebbles at swans. Then it occurred to me that I ought to attend the garden party so I could commune with the non-bird bunting. Then at least I would have something to write about. I pranced home and rang the Emergency Bird Information Hotline again. A robotic voice informed me that the line had been disconnected. I repaired to my escritoire and picked up my biro.

Over the course of my life I have met many remarkable buntings, I wrote, lying shamelessly, but who would know?, None more so, perhaps, than Bunting, the Swedish halfbreed skimmel horse which became a film star. Bunting played Pippi Longstocking’s horse Lilla Gubben in a series of films directed by Olle Hellbom.

Of course I had never actually met Bunting, and my knowledge of horses is as patchy as my knowledge of birds, but I felt I was getting to grips with my material. Birds and those decorative strings of triangular flags festooned at festive occasions such as gala days and Emergency Bird Information Hotline garden parties in celebration of the common chaffinch could take a back seat for the time being. By the time I’d finished with Bunting the film star horse, we would be firm friends and boon companions, at least within my head.

I made a mental note to ring the publisher and suggest we amend the title of my book to Meetings With Remarkable Buntings Inside My Head. Then I carried on writing, daddy-o, like a man possessed of unfathomable horse-based inventive genius.

Self-Indulgence At Croydon In Fruit

The Oxford University Press recently published Volume VIII of its majestic Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The latest book – a snip at £110 – is devoted to the Diaries, Journals, and Notebooks. As a good Catholic, Hopkins kept a record of the sins he committed, and this new edition includes the previously suppressed details. We learn, for example, of frequent bouts of ”O.H.” (“old habits” – I think we can guess what that means) and of occasions when unseemly thoughts are prompted by the sight of choristers, “cart-boys”, and other young men.

But several other entries are suggestive of the fathomless depths of the poet’s sickening depravity and moral turpitude. He confesses in the privacy of his diary to “looking at and thinking of stallions” and worse, much worse, “self-indulgence at Croydon in fruit”.

How Hopkins escaped prison is one of the enduring mysteries of Victorian Jesuit literature.


Tosspot In A Bivouac

An old favourite from the archives, first posted in 2008. Two words have been added to the original text, giving beetle-browed students of Key Studies something to write an essay about.

Once upon a time, I was scrabbling down the lower reaches of a mountainside, through shingle and scumble and bracken, when I chanced upon a tosspot’s bivouac. It was a surprisingly well-made bivouac, using branches from larch and beech and bladdernut and sycamore trees to form a roof upon which sufficient foliage had been empacted to provide sterling shelter from hailstorms and tempests, although the weather was in fact spectacularly clement. Clement, too, was the name of the tosspot, as I soon learned, for I immediately struck up a conversation with him, as is my habit when I encounter mountainside people.

I learned that he had taken to his bivouac after fleeing. Fleeing from what?, I asked, but he seemed reluctant to tell me. Someone with a less acute insight into human nature than I may have put this down to coyness, but I spent many years studying under Glaggy and Dampster, so I knew there was more than simple shyness behind his diffident mutterings, and I determined to winkle the full story out of him.

So I grabbed the tosspot around the neck with one of my huge bear-like hands, lifted him off his feet, and shook my other huge bear-like hand, made into a fist, in front of his face. As Dampster taught, by attuning one’s fist-shaking to a very precise rhythm, the half-strangled subject is quickly placed in what Glaggy termed a “confessional brain-zone”, akin to having been injected with a truth serum. As I suggested, it took years of training to perfect the technique, and I am afraid a large number of fully-strangled hamsters and stoats lie buried in the grounds of the Institute.

Five minutes later I was fully apprised of the reasons why the tosspot had fled to his mountainside bivouac. He had been employed as an extra in a heist film set on a submarine. Sterling Hayden may have been involved in the production, but this was not entirely clear. What came shining through the tosspot’s account, however, was the claustrophobic atmosphere on the set, which was actually a real, decommissioned submarine. The tenebrous, leaking interior had been slightly refurbished to include heist movie essentials like an intricate security system and a safe full of gold bullion, but otherwise it remained cramped and hot and riddled with clanking machinery. After six days filming, during which time he had to lean against a damaged pump looking mordant, the tosspot had cracked. Tearing off his submariner’s green tunic and cap, he stumbled out of the submarine, swam to the surface of the tank in which it was docked, scrambled up a ladder to the studio canteen, and fled, until he reached the mountainside, where with unaccustomed competence he constructed his bivouac using already fallen branches from larch and beech and bladdernut and sycamore trees, and the foliage thereof, where I bumped into him as I scrambled down from the mountain peak, upon which I had been making an invaluable study of the nesting habits of the mountain lopwit.

Later I was to discover that the continuity person on the film set, distraught at the vanishing of Clement the tosspot, and unable to find anyone of a similar physiognomy to lean against the damaged pump looking mordant, advised the producer to abandon the project. It remained unclear whether this producer was Sterling Hayden, or possibly Hume Cronyn. Either way, the film was never finished.

I put down the tosspot and gave him a look of reproach, and then I carried on down the mountainside in sadness and sorrow.

Gunner Pitkin

Gunner Pitkin found himself stranded behind enemy lines.
He hid in a barn.
There was a cow in the barn.
It was an enemy cow.
Back in the field tent, Gunner Pitkin had had dinned into his head, by the captain, where his duty lay.
It was an enemy cow, so he had to kill it.
Gunner Pitkin was not the brightest of men, but he realised that if he used his gun to shoot the cow, the noise of the report could alert the enemy to his presence in the barn.
Back in the field tent, Gunner Pitkin had had dinned into his head, by the captain, that part of his duty was to avoid capture at all costs.
Gunner Pitkin looked wildly around the barn, seeking an instrument by which he might bring about the death of the enemy cow, but silently.
He saw a churn and a hoe and a spade.
Gunner Pitkin put down his gun and picked up the spade.
He approached the cow.
Gunner Pitkin hoisted the spade high, ready to bring it bashing down repeatedly and relentlessly upon the cow’s head.
Then it occurred to him that there lives the dearest freshness deep down things, even cows, even enemy cows.
He put the spade down.
Gunner Pitkin lay upon a bale of straw and fell asleep.
Several hours later he was captured by the enemy.
In the prisoner of war camp, Gunner Pitkin occupied his time making toy cows out of balsa wood and dough.
By the time the peace was signed on Luneburg Heath, he had made hundreds of toy cows.
They can now be found in a museum, a converted barn in a daffodil-splattered field that used to be behind enemy lines.

Tribulations Of The Buttonmaker

Tribulations Of The Buttonmaker is an opera by the French-Aboriginal Australian composer Di Géridu. It has not been performed since the early 19th century, possibly because of its vast cast, loopy libretto, and/or musical pomposity.

In Act One, Fulgencio the buttonmaker is beset by tribulations. He is attacked by an angry spider. His hat is blown off in a high wind. He chokes on a gobstopper. One of his buttons falls down a drain. He is excommunicated by the Pope. Brutes break both his arms. The weft of his tunic is in disarray. His villa is infested by peewits. He contracts a dangerous ague. Mice nibble his bootlaces. Another of his buttons falls down a different drain. His bowl of plums is poisoned. Malign sprites with pitchforks torment him in his sleep. The rent on his palazzo is increased. He is hoist by his own petard. Then he is hoist by several other people’s petards. He is followed everywhere he goes by a rancorous chicken. He develops an allergy to spinach. He accidentally drops another button down another drain. The earth trembles. The stars are blotted out. The sky falls down

Act One closes with Fulgencio singing the monotonous dirge “O! Woe unto me for I have been attacked by an angry spider and my hat was blown off in a high wind and I choked on a gobstopper and one of my buttons fell down a drain and I was excommunicated by the Pope and brutes broke both my arms and the weft of my tunic was in disarray and my villa was infested by peewits and I contracted a dangerous ague and mice nibbled my bootlaces and another of my buttons fell down a different drain and my bowl of plums was poisoned and malign sprites with pitchforks tormented me in my sleep and the rent on my palazzo was increased and I was hoist by my own petard and then I was hoist by several other people’s petards and I was followed everywhere I went by a rancorous chicken and I developed an allergy to spinach and I accidentally dropped another button down another drain and the earth trembled and the stars were blotted out and the sky fell down and I’m feeling so lonesome I could die”.

In Acts Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen and Fourteen Fulgencio the buttonmaker suffers further tribulations, until, as the curtain falls, the stage is littered with corpses and the angry spider scuttles off, stage right.

Seething Dobson

Dobson was seething. The twentieth century’s great out of print pamphleteer was sitting at his breakfast table absolutely seething. Pausing before spooning a dollop of marmalade-style pipless jellied-eel goo into her mouth, Dobson’s inamorata Marigold Chew observed “You appear to be seething, Dobson”.

“Indeed I am, oh light of my life,” said the pamphleteer, “I have a lengthy list of exasperations which I would happily recite to you, the better that you may understand the multifarious sources of my seething.”

“Perhaps not, Dobson,” said Marigold Chew, “Instead, I would rather that you seethe elsewhere than at the breakfast table. Have you considered going to Seething to seethe?”

“I have not,” said Dobson, “And where in the name of high heaven is Seething?”

“Seething is a tiny village in the county of Norfolk,” said Marigold Chew, “About nine miles south-east of Norwich. Its church, St Margaret’s, has a round tower, though that is not strictly relevant. I am told that the villagers of Seething often seethe, about all sorts of exasperations, and I feel sure you would find a welcome there.”

“Then seethe in Seething I shall!” shouted Dobson, and he rose from the table, pulled on his Ivory Coast crop-dusting co-pilot’s boots, and crashed out of the door into the teeming downpour. So heavy was the rain, so thick the mist, so broken his pocket compass, that the pamphleteer became almost immediately lost. When, eventually, he came to a halt, he was not in Seething at all. Dobson had wandered as far as the county of Cornwall, and found himself in the tiny village of Splat.

Dobson was splatting.


The Unsucked Toffee

One of the most perplexing cases to come to the attention of the psychic investigator Algernon Spooky was the so-called “affair of the unsucked toffee”. In 1922, at a crumbling manor house in Ghoulshire, there were reports of the spectral manifestation of an albino ghost, trailing in its wake several live chickens, a blind otter, and an invisible spider of monstrous size. Their appearances were accompanied by inexplicable hissing buzzing twanging rattling knocking drumming piping squealing yodelling whooshing ratatatting screeching moaning plopping grinding hammering giggling puffing whistling hooting gnashing gurgling wheezing bubbling grunting sucking noises.

Distressed beyond measure, the sole resident of the house, the Dowager Duchess Dipsy of Poxhaven, summoned Algernon Spooky to investigate. He arrived on a sopping wet Thursday, in the company of his illegitimate daughter Poubelle, who acted as his amanuensis, and a somewhat shady character, a half-pay army officer known as Captain Trubshaw, whose role in the party was unclear. Twitching and shattered, he seemed to spend most of his time slathering his less than impressive bouffant with hair oil and poring over pocketfuls of dog-eared betting slips.

After hearing Dipsy’s account of the ghostly phenomena over tea and muffins, Algernon Spooky declared confidently that he could entrap the phantom by luring it with toffees. He then proceeded to distribute a bagful of toffee sweets, removed from their paper wrappers, throughout the house. The foursome – Spooky, Dipsy, Poubelle and Captain Trubshaw – then sat in armchairs around the fireplace in the first-floor sitting-room, though Captain Trubshaw kept excusing himself to go skulking down to the wine cellar.

The night passed without apparent incident. After breakfast of kippers and kedgeree, Algernon Spooky, accompanied by Poubelle, toured the house to examine the toffees. He discovered that every single one of them showed signs of having been sucked, and in some cases chewed, except for one. This toffee, placed anent the skirting board in the disused billiards room, was pristine, both unsucked and unchewed.

“Tell me your thoughts and I shall write them down,” said Poubelle to her Papa, her propelling pencil poised over her notepad as they stood puzzling over the unsucked toffee.

But before the psychic investigator could utter a word, there came from far below the blood-curdling sound of squawking. Was this one of the albino ghost’s chickens? Spooky and his amanuensis sprinted downstairs to the boot-room, where they found the Dowager Duchess slumped on the floor, surrounded by feathers and with blood dripping from her mouth. Beside her, on the floor, was the corpse of a chicken from which the head had been bitten clean off. In the opposite corner of the room, Captain Trubshaw was slathering his less than impressive bouffant with hair oil and poring over a pocketful of dog-eared betting slips.

“It was a scene I hoped never to see,” said Algernon Spooky, speaking in the past tense for the benefit of Poubelle, who was taking down his words with her propelling pencil in her notepad preparatory to the compilation of his memoirs, “And quite frankly it only deepened the mystery. Had Dipsy swallowed the entire head of the chicken? Who – or what – had lured her to the boot-room? Was the monstrous invisible spider lurking within, unseen? Why precisely was Captain Trubshaw on half-pay? Was I speaking slowly enough for my illegitimate daughter and amanuensis Poubelle to take all this down, accurately and free of the slapdash errors that crept into the work of my previous amanuensis who I had to push off a cliff in the Alps? Was this one of the albino ghost’s chickens or was it another chicken entirely? And most pertinently of all, why was just one of the several toffees I scattered at significant places throughout the house unsucked? And who – or what – had sucked the other toffees? If there are answers to any of these questions, they lie perhaps in realms beyond our puny human senses. That, my friends, is the ineffable mystery of the times in which we live – eldritch and spooky times I strive to record, that posterity may gape in wonderment. Or wonder, wonder would be better than wonderment, don’t you think, Poubelle? … Poubelle? … Poubelle?!​

But Poubelle had vanished, inexplicably, in a puff of vapour, leaving only the scent of calla lilies hanging in the boot-room air.

Talc Éclat

Éclat is one of those French words for which there is no precise equivalent in English. We take it to mean great brilliance in performance or achievement. Verve and dash come close but do not quite express éclat, hence we use éclat itself for that which is, we might say, essentially éclatty.

Talc éclat is brilliance of performance or achievement when one is liberally sprinkled with talc. But woe betide he who aims for talc éclat when the liberal sprinkling of talc is too liberal! In her Casebooks, the pioneer of palindromic presentation Dot Tod tells the sorry tale of a certain Arturo H., who was intent on cutting a dash in a display of talc éclat:

It was a Thursday afternoon, and Arturo H., a citizen of the Swiss canton of Aargau, was preparing himself for a performance of talc éclat. He had recently witnessed a breathtaking display by an itinerant talc éclattist, and believed he could do better, and dazzle the people of Aargau as they had never been dazzled before.

And so, standing in his boudoir, Arturo H. sprinkled himself liberally with talc. But oh!, the liberality of his sprinkling was excessively liberal. He only ceased sprinkling when his talc container was empty, and even then he went fossicking in his many, many cupboards for more talc. He found a small residue of talc in a majolica bowl, and sprinkled that on himself too.

Eventually satisfied, Arturo H. preened before his mirror and then made his way downstairs, opened his front door, and stepped into the boulevard. It was an important boulevard thronged with citizens of Aargau walking hither and thither. At sight of the excessively talc-sprinkled Arturo H,. however, people came to a standstill. They thought they saw a ghost, and not just any ghost but an albino ghost – the terrible albino ghost of ancient Aargau legend, of whom stories were told to frighten children throughout the canton. Some people on the boulevard swooned away in fright. A few, emboldened by fear, attacked the “ghost”, bashing Arturo H. relentlessly with their Alpenstocks. He crumpled on the paving slabs in a dry white puddle of talcum powder, in which soon was mingled the red of his precious life-blood, forming a pinkish pool of unutterable Aargau horror.

Dot Tod adds a note to this cautionary tale, advisng would-be practitioners of talc éclat that “a light dusting of talc is surely sufficient”. Wise words, from one who knows – for what Dot Tod does not say is that Arturo H. was her much-loved Papa, who had dandled her on his knee when she was but a tot, and told her frightful tales of the albino ghost of ancient Aargau.

Fear Of Putti


It has become something of a cliché for people to say they are frightened of clowns. Far more terrifying, to my mind, are putti. You know where you are with a clown – in the Big Top, where he galumphs across the sawdust with a bucket and a hooter. But those damnable putti!

Let’s be honest, if you were out and about, sashaying along the street, taking the air, and you saw, swooping through that air and coming to rest, hovering just above your head, a chubby baby with a full head of curly hair, and wings, and possibly armed with a bow and arrow, I think you would shriek in terror and run screaming for the hills. This would be a mistake. The wiser thing to do, in the circumstances, would be to run screaming for shelter, inside an enclosed building, where you could barricade yourself in. Putti can fly, but they cannot fly through brick walls.

If you run for the hills, the putti will follow you, calling out to their putti pals to join them. And that call! These are babies, remember, so their call is a godawful infant squeal, accompanied by gurgling. By the time you get to the hills, bedraggled and panting, there might be dozens or hundreds of putti hovering around you, like drones. If, in your terror, you piddle in your pants, as you are likely to do, the putti will giggle, in that horrible babyish way that is more like hiccups. Do you really want to find yourself alone in the hills beset by a swarm of hiccuping flying babies, some of whom have bows and arrows?

The wards of our lunatic asylums are crammed with poor souls who made the mistake of trying to flee from putti in the open air. The other mistake people sometimes make is to think they can turn the tables on the armed putti by shooting arrows at them so they drop, fatally wounded, from the sky. This doesn’t work. You cannot kill a putto. Unlike Ploppo the Clown, they are immortal.

Thankfully, since Renaissance times, we have seen rather less of the putti than we used to. Scientists are not sure what has caused the drop in numbers. It could be something to do with smog. But they are still out there, cherubic and terrifying and swooping through the air – flying babies! – and you would do well to be on your guard.


I went to the shops and bought a foghorn. I thought it would come in handy if I were to find myself embroiled in the fog of war. I could toot my foghorn, and then … well, to be honest I hadn’t really thought beyond that. But they make foghorns for a purpose, and a benign one, so I felt sure that, in the fog of war, my foghorn would prove invaluable. It might even save my life.

At time of writing, I am, or was, fortunate to live in a peaceable kingdom. King Gobbo is a peaceable man, and though he has been provoked by certain of our neighbours, over matters such as cow pastures and slurry pits and thermonuclear devices, he has thus far managed to maintain the peace, either by capitulating to the aggressor’s demands in a fawning manner, or by laying waste to their territories by deploying his fiercely loyal army of psychotic blood-drenched nutcases. Within our borders – and they are very pretty borders – we remain at peace. That being the case, I have not yet needed to toot my foghorn.

I have not needed to, but I tooted it anyway, to test it out. There was no fog. It was a clear day. You could see forever. I tooted my foghorn. It sounded rather as I imagine a combination of bassoon and piccolo would sound, playing a single protracted note, amplified to deafening volume. The particular make of foghorn I had bought worked by a simple mechanism. You depressed a knob to turn it on, and depressed the knob again to turn it off. Unfortunately I can be a bit of a butterfingers, and when I depressed the knob to turn it on, I somehow managed to jam it, so that when I tried to depress it again to turn it off, my efforts were in vain. As I said, it was bloody loud, and after trying to depress the knob a couple more times, I had to put my hands over my ears.

I stood there, like a fool, at the junction of Ritually Slaughtered Poultry Street and Ringo Starr Boulevard, on a clear day when you could see forever. And of course, if I could see forever, then so could everybody else, or most of them. I wondered if I could pretend that the foghorn was nothing to do with me, that I just happened to be passing by when some unseen miscreant depressed its knob. But I had the receipt from the foghorn shop in my pocket, and it would certainly be found when King Gobbo’s secret police bundled me into a van and took me to one of their damp dank subterranean interrogation chambers.

I looked wildly around to see if there was a municipal waste bin into which I could chuck the receipt. Doing so would involve having to uncover one of my ears for the time it took to remove the receipt from my pocket and discard it in the bin, and I might well be deaf in that ear forever after, but that seemed my best option if I could accomplish it before the arrival of the secret police. But there were no bins to be seen, even though it was a clear day and I could see forever.

Then I remembered King Gobbo’s latest ukase, proclaimed from his balcony just the other day. Bins were banned throughout the land. Bins were only necessary where there was waste, the King declared, and in his kingdom nothing went to waste. We were, he said, a frugal and ingenious people, who would eke everything, everything!, until it was beyond further ekeing, and could be eked no more. Or at least, we had better shape up and become that frugal and ingenious people, or else.

With my hands over my ears, and thinking about that “else”, and the secret police, and the damp dank subterranean interrogation chambers, I decided to make a run for it. I ran and ran, until the din of the foghorn was slighly less deafening, I ran and ran until I reached the border. It was a very pretty border. I handed myself over to the enemy border guards, and begged for mercy. I would think twice before buying another foghorn.