Gigantic Bolivian Architectural Diagrams – III

The third and final part of an old, old story.

III. October 1928

We docked at 0800 hours. Bingle, Carg, Linnet, Frack and Pinmouth were detailed to search the northern half of the island, while Bewg, Shimm, Jabber, Thurp and myself took the south. I left Wicket and Birdhole aboard the ship, with strict instructions. I cannot remember what the instructions were, but they were strict, make no mistake about that.

The five of us who comprised the southern party set out. It rapidly became apparent that the boulders and rocks on the island were giving off violent magnetic discharges. The tension was oppressive. We saw what looked like ball lightning far in the distance. I instructed Bewg to make sketches in his little pad, but he complained that his pencil was blunt. Between us we could not muster a pencil sharpener. I was loth to have Bewg return to the ship alone to fetch the required implement, so I instructed Jabber to accompany him. I pressed on with Shimm and Thurp, the latter carefully scraping rock and mud samples into our canister. The path ahead was burned and scorched – by what agency was not clear to us.

At 0950 hours Birdhole joined our party. She brought with her the ship’s pencil sharpener. Apparently Bewg had suffered an attack of the seeds, and was having a lie down in his cabin. I made a mental note to tick him off later. I remember that clearly, because at the very moment I thought it a mighty crevasse opened in the ground directly in front of us. Thurp was swallowed up, as the earth cracked apart. The rest of us staggered backwards. I am glad that I had the presence of mind to tell Birdhole to execute a quick sketch in Bewg’s pad. She complained that she had not yet had a chance to sharpen the pencil, but I cut her short with a screech of blood-curdling ferocity. One is taught to do that sort of thing at officer school.

Shimm put down her accordion and made an impromptu bridge across the crevasse using all our footwear tied together. We clambered across, and pressed on, although not before Birdhole had insisted upon holding a commemorative service for the sadly departed Thurp. Why I allowed it I do not know. I can be a sentimental old buzzard. While Birdhole was ululating, we were joined by the northern party, who had completed their investigations. Other than some extremely fascinating magnetic readings, ornithological discoveries, amateur geological observations, a net full of moths and a worm count, they had nothing to report. I commanded Frack or Pinmouth – I never could tell them apart – to return to the ship, but I cannot remember why. Whichever one it was sent Jabber back to us. I had suspected her of idling around like Bewg, but she made haste to tell me that she had cast a Mackenzie Beam from the ship. I patted her on the head, not without some misgivings, as I do not think she had ever washed her hair. At last Birdhole stopped howling, and we pressed on. We passed an enormous heap of skeletons – bat and human, according to Bingle’s eagle-eyed diagnosis – and various other manifestations of what Lamouche calls la flaque de la mort. I have Jabber to thank for that quotation. Birdhole wanted to delay further to give the two human skeletons a decent Christian burial, but I cuffed her on the temples and snarled at her.

The ground over which we passed became rough and spiky, and we had to tread carefully in our socks. We would retrieve our tough adventurer’s boots on our return trip, when we would be able to dismantle Shimm’s bridge. Frack or Pinmouth handed around some custard-balls for sustenance. Then, as we hacked our way through some overhanging foliage, we suddenly came face to face with the building. It was smaller than we expected, like a scale model of a typical nineteenth century Bolivian civic hall, and it had all the hallmarks of having been constructed out of bat droppings. I removed my hat in awe. The others did likewise, except for Shimm, who was not wearing a hat, Linnet, whose hat had snagged on the branch of a dunstable tree a few hundred yards back, and Birdhole, whose hat had been glued to her head for the duration of the expedition for some obscure religious purpose. I had interrogated her on this point back at Tantarabim, and will publish the documents separately.

Of course, we could not stand around like a bunch of clots all day. I jammed my hat back on my head and commanded my team to get to work. I was heartened to see that they set to it with such gusto. Within minutes, the instruments had been unpacked, the music stands set up, sheet music distributed, and everyone was at their post ready to tune up. The band was as follows: Bingle on bugle, Carg on bassoon, Shimm on accordion, Jabber on sackbut, Linnet on harmonium, Frack or Pinmouth on castanets, and Birdhole on handbells. I myself conducted and played the cornet. We ran through a few bars of Bring Me Your Winding-Sheet, Oh Mother Of Mine before settling down to the concert proper. Macaws shrieked but we drowned them out. We played my arrangements of Die sieben letzten Worte des Erlösers am Kreuze (Haydn), Sonatine Bureaucratique (Satie) and The Anti-Abolitionist Riots (Ives). For an encore, we performed a rousing version of The Consumptive’s Vest (Jabber, arr. Birdhole). Then we packed up. I ordered Birdhole to make some detailed sketches of the building in Bewg’s little pad, and we also took measurements and poked about the place a bit. But night would soon be falling, and there was no let up in the magnetic activity of this accursed island. The sooner we returned to the ship the better. The journey back passed without incident. We collected our boots after re-crossing Shimm’s bridge over the chasm. Thurp’s body had fallen so far it was not visible. We did not tarry. Wicket and Pinmouth or Frack were on duty on the bridge. They had received warnings of volcanic activity over the radio. Before we set sail, I went into Bewg’s cabin and told him I would brook no further nonsense from him. I presented him with a rag and told him to go and polish everything on the ship. Back on deck, I found Linnet mucking about with the Mackenzie Beam. I let it pass; I was a tired woman. We weighed anchor, and headed home at last. Only later did I discover I had left my cornet on the island. I cannot bear to go back there to retrieve it.

Gigantic Bolivian Architectural Diagrams – II

Continuing an ancient yarn from the last century. Part One is here.

II. January 1911

I had been marooned on the island for just two days when I discovered the gigantic Bolivian architectural diagrams. They were spattered with blood, rolled up and jammed into a rotting wooden casket. I carried them back to my hut to examine them. There were about a dozen large sheets, rather frayed around the edges but perfectly legible. The top left corner of each sheet had been stamped with an official device of the Bolivian administration, showing an escutcheon, a ziggurat, the helmet of a conquistador, the hand of God and abbreviations in neat italic lettering. The signature of what I supposed to be a petty official had been scratched across each of the stamps in mauve ink. I could not understand why they were in such good condition. I tacked them up on the walls of my hut, where they rapidly grew so familiar that I no longer noticed them. I am no architect, and I had more urgent matters to attend to.

I have never forgiven myself for my stupidity. I had been warned not to row my skiff into uncharted waters near the Antarctic Circle. Oh, but did I listen as Captain Peabody harangued me? “You d—-’d fool!” he shouted, his frosty whiskers twitching in the cold morning light. I turned for one last look at the ship as I guided my skiff into oblivion. I have not seen a human face since that day. Within minutes I was overwhelmed by chilling, poisonous mists. The hideous stench of crocuses made me sick to my stomach. I let fall the oars. The tholes, tampered with by my enemies, Glubb and Mufton, fell to pieces, and the oars floated away, out of reach. I drifted for hours. My anorak, with its hood of reindeer hide, froze solid, encasing me so that I was unable to move an inch. An auk, or some such feathery ingrate, shat on me repeatedly, hovering above my head like a malign shade. I could not move to shoo it away. Eventually – mercifully – I passed out.

When I came to I was surrounded by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. One of them, with icicles forming on the brim of his hat, was solicitously offering me a tin mug of brandy. I took a grateful swig, then noticed that his colleagues did not seem so friendly. They were glaring at me menacingly. One brandished a rather archaic halberd in the air and shouted horrifying words. All of a sudden I became aware that I was aboard a huge, shiny boat, its sails billowing, its decks scrubbed clean. I turned to look again at the Mountie with the tin mug. For the first time I took in his features. It was Mufton! My deadly enemy….

There were other hallucinations, other dreams. I shall not repeat them here. Hours, days, perhaps weeks after I had set out in my skiff, I came at last to dry land again when I woke to find myself sprawled on the beach of this island. Was it yet another phantasm? There were a number of ways to find out. I tried three of them. First, I beat my head upon some boulders. This caused what seemed like real pain. Then I shovelled handfuls of coarse sand into my mouth and attempted to swallow. This caused me to retch uncontrollably for some minutes. Almost satisfied, I conducted a third test. Taking from the breast pocket of my anorak a small phial, I poured a minuscule quantity of a decoction of sandalwood, cresol, gutta percha and pitch into the palm of my hand, held it aloft in the salty air, and mumbled incantations and gibberish. Sparks crackled in my hair, shot up into the sky, and brought tiny jewels of hail pinging down around me. Within seconds they evaporated, and were gone. But now I knew for certain that I was wide awake, no longer prey to visions and vapours. Being a resourceful sort, I managed to provide myself with adequate food, drink, warmth and shelter within a few hours. I began to search my temporary home, and found the gigantic Bolivian architectural diagrams. That was over a month ago. I found the remains of my skiff, crushed and broken, swept up on some rocks on the northern coast, which seems to be the wildest. I have been working hard at my almanack, and at keeping my beacons lit.

Last night, as I hurled dried and matted vegetation upon my northern beacon, I was attacked by a swarm of bats. They swooped at me one after another, squealing horribly, pecking at my flesh. I fought them off with a burning stick, but I was shaken. I ran back to my hut, and blocked up the doorway and some of the holes in the walls with mulberry paste. Tonight the bats are back, chewing their way frenziedly through the walls. I have on my rickety home-made desk a small bag of sulphur bombs with which I hope to fight them off. But timing will be crucial. I do not intend to perish.

Gigantic Bolivian Architectural Diagrams – I

I am minded to post an old, old story from the last century. Gigantic Bolivian Architectural Diagrams is divided into three parts. The first part follows. Parts two and three will appear over the coming weekend.

I. September 1894

I had been marooned on the island for eleven weeks when I discovered the gigantic Bolivian architectural diagrams, rolled into a metal canister and wedged in a narrow crevice between two rocks. Taking a swig from my bag of turtle’s blood, I squatted on the ground and removed the diagrams from the canister. There were about a dozen large sheets, rather frayed around the edges but perfectly legible. The top left corner of each sheet had been stamped with an official device of the Bolivian administration, showing an escutcheon, a ziggurat, the helmet of a conquistador, the hand of God, and abbreviations in neat italic lettering. The signature of what I supposed to be a petty official had been scratched across each of the stamps in mauve ink.

Munching a whelk, I turned my attentions to the diagrams themselves. They were fearfully complicated. I am no architect, and at first all I could make out were miriad lines meeting at angles and criss-crossing each other seemingly at random. Most of the diagrams had been subjected to revision, and there was much evidence of erasure, overprinting and churlish emendation. My studies were interrupted by a sudden and ferocious thunderstorm. Shoving the diagrams hastily back into the canister, unfortunately tearing one of them, I hobbled back to my shelter, where my viper was busy biting the head off an unidentified rodent. Tossing my crutches into the corner, I lay back on my pallet and spent a profitable hour mucking about with bits of wire and driftwood to make a trap for bats.

The life of a maroon, on an island such as this, is not unpleasing. Food is plentiful and easily gathered, or slaughtered. The vegetation is lush and the animals are slow-witted and trusting. On my very first day I was able to bash out the brains of a badger which trundled innocently towards me as I sat on the beach idling with my club. Quite what a badger was doing on the island is beyond me. I have not come across any others. But I am ever vigilant. I will not risk boring you by listing the stupendous array of equipment I managed to salvage from the wreck of the HMS Tot of Magnesium. Suffice to say the club was not my only weapon; nor am I at a loss for a change of trousers.

I have told you that I am not an architect. The truth is, I cannot remember what I am, what trade or business I followed on dry land. Perhaps I was a jolly jack tar; but I think it unlikely. I like to think that I was aboard the Tot of Magnesium as a supernumerary passenger, a merchant of sorts, my cabin crammed with samples of tea, or silk, or mustard. In the final desperate moments, as the ship pitched and rolled and smashed against gleaming rocks, I received a blow to the head which has impaired my memory. It was not the only injury I received. My right leg is only just recovering. I was thankful that among the first items from the ship washed up on the beach was a wooden box of sinapisms from the surgeon’s casket. In the first days of my marooning, the lifeless bodies of my shipmates were washed up on shore, white, puffed, gruesome. I ticked off the dead in an impromptu ledger, which I have since mislaid. The bodies did not lie there long. Enormous birds swooped out of the sky, hooked the dead in their vicious beaks, and bore them off. Their nests are not on this island; I have searched every inch of it. The gigantic Bolivian architectural diagrams came to light on one of my earliest searches. For the first few weeks I was so sure of being rescued by a passing smack or schooner that I could barely bring myself to move. I sprawled on the beach, knocking out the brains of a variety of curious animals, applying sinapisms to my wounds and gashes, and covering myself with an old bit of sailcloth at night, or during rainfall. At last a ship hove into view. I hopped about like a mad thing, shouting and raving in Latin, following the advice of my Jesuit mentors. Eventually I realised that the craft I was hailing was none other than what was left of the Tot of Magnesium, seen from an advantageous angle. If, dear reader, you were expert in tides and currents, in the pleasingly complex science of the movement of seas, I would ask you how it was that this broken wreck of a ship sailed about for nine or ten weeks without sinking, only to return to the spot where razor-sharp rocks hidden beneath the waves had pierced its fabric and brought about its doom. But I suspect you are not.

It was at this stage that I conquered my indolence and set to work. In forty-eight hours, I salvaged everything I could carry from the ship, constructed a raft, knocked up a shelter from planks and sail-cloth, knocked up another shelter when the first one collapsed on top of me, this time shoring up the sides with some sort of metal, killed eight turtles, made a store for buckets, dug some holes, lost my death-ledger, ate a pickled wren I found in the surgeon’s casket, and hardly paused for sleep. The next day I began my search of the island. I found a mulberry bush and some gemstones. On the second day I found bauxite deposits, a waterfall, big grains of sand and what looked like the bones of a horse. On the third day I found the gigantic Bolivian architectural diagrams. On the fourth day I found a crushed encampment of beetles, and a cave full of the most loathsome bats I had ever seen. So it went on, day after day. In two weeks I had covered the island. All the while I had been making careful notes, and now I rested and spent my days drawing an exquisitely detailed map. I tacked this up above my pallet. As night fell, and my blubber candles spluttered, I lay back and considered my island home. With nary a smack or schooner in sight, I could remain marooned for years on end. My shelter may not last, buffeted as it was by howling winds and freezing rain. I decided that the best place for me to live would be the cave. I declared war on the bats.

The Big Fairy

As a child, I was warned never to sprinkle too many hundreds-and-thousands upon a fairy cake. Doing so, I was told, risked suffocating the fairies who, invisibly, skated upon the icing atop the cake. For this reason, my infant nightmares were filled with desperate gasping fairies gagging on tiny slivers of coloured sugar before collapsing in the stillness of death. It seemed obvious to me that the Big Fairy would seek to avenge this slaughter of the innocents.

Because I was forever helping out in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches to the fairy cakes baked by my Ma, I was thus in constant fear of the Big Fairy. My terror was increased by my presumption that, like its young, the Big Fairy was invisible. How was I to know if it was lurking by the larder door, armed with a fairy axe, about to strike?

Ma could not stop making fairy cakes. She had a sort of mania. It was encouraged by my Pa, who had an insatiable appetite, ravenously gobbling down the fairy cakes straight from the baking tray, often before they had cooled. As his teeth rotted and he grew ever fatter, I could not help thinking about all those dead fairies he was ingesting. He was a walking fairy graveyard.

This thought at least helped me to deal with the threat of the Big Fairy. I assumed it would stay close to Pa, mourning its progeny, perhaps too emotionally distressed to summon the strength to wield its fairy axe. I might remain safe from the Big Fairy if I kept well away from Pa. This was easier said than done, as we lived, during my early childhood, in a cramped hovel.

Then, one day, in a shaft of unaccountably bright sunlight gleaming through the one hovel window, I caught a glimpse of the Big Fairy. It was much bigger, and more goaty, than I had suspected, and it was looming over Pa, a look of ravaged grief on its goaty countenance. There was no sign of the fairy axe. Passing clouds obliterated the sunbeam, and the Big Fairy was once again invisible. But from that day, I felt pity for it, not fear.

Ma continued to bake fairy cakes, and Pa continued to scoff them, until the inevitable happened. Pa succumbed to a surfeit. It was a dismal Thursday when, by now toothless and impossibly fat, he keeled over and lay prostrate on the kitchen floor. I knelt down next to him and took his hand. He opened his mouth, trying to utter his last words. But no sound came. Instead, fluttering out of his mouth and crowding the air, poured a throng of ghost fairies, visible at last. My heart sang.

Then Ma went to work with a fly-swatter.

The Smothered Chicken Of Greaselbow

The legend of the smothered chicken of Greaselbow has been told and retold for over a thousand years. The core details seldom vary. In the rustic backwater of Greaselbow, a child, usually but not always an orphan, is settling in to its cot one wild and windy night when it senses an unusual lump under its pillow. Lifting the pillow, the child finds a chicken, often but not always a Vanburgh chicken, which has expired due to smothering. The child picks up the chicken by one of its feet, and chucks it out of the bedroom window. The instant it is let go, the chicken springs to life, utters a shrill squawk, and hurtles heavenward. When the child returns to bed, it finds the pillow vanished, replaced by a large egg. The child climbs into the egg – somehow – and the shell then closes around it.

Interpretations of the legend by folklorists have tended to concentrate on the egg and the child, but of more interest is the smothered chicken. That is particularly the case if one has a penchant for poultry. And which of us does not? Well, you might counter, there are plenty of people who don’t give a fig about poultry. Even keen egg-eaters, who rarely let a breakfast go by without scoffing an egg or two, might be utterly uninterested in the provenance of their eggs, id est poultry of one kind or another.

This is a lamentable state of affairs, and is the reason I carry a pillow with me whenever I am in the vicinity of someone eating eggs.

Oi!”, I shout, “Where did those eggs come from?”

Unless I receive a full and frank reply, acknowledging the eggs’ origins, I bundle the egg-eater to the ground and smother them with the pillow. Oh Lord, save us and protect us, for we know not what we do.

That was a Thought For The Day by the Reverend Joost Van Dongelbraacke, vicar prebendary of St Bibblybibdib’s.

Pirouette And Volte Face

One foul sunlit morning in the late 1950s, Dobson sat at the breakfast table gazing into space, like a man whose head was entirely vacant.

Whatever is the matter, Dobson?” asked the out of print pamphleteer’s inamorata, Marigold Chew, between mouthfuls of boiled cornflake ‘n’ duck’s liver mush, “You are gazing into space like a man whose head is entirely vacant.”

On the contrary, my darling dearest pippety-poppet,” said Dobson, “My head is a teeming maelstrom of almost inhumanly complicated thought process doo-dah.”

Oh? And of what are you thinking?” asked Marigold Chew.

Well, my little pumpkinetto, as you know I have recently been reading – or rather rereading – or rather rerereading – the Memoirs of the plucky club-footed fascist tot Tiny Enid, and I have been struck by the passage in which she recounts how she taught herself to execute, simultaneously, a pirouette and a volte face.”

The pirouette must have proved tricky with that club foot of hers,” said Marigold Chew.

Oh, that was the least of her worries,” said Dobson, “And as I am sure you recall, Tiny Enid was a preternaturally agile tot in spite of her infirmity. No, the difficulty she had to overcome was to succeed in rotating her physical body 360 degrees at the very same time as making a mental rotation of just 180 degrees, for if you think about it for a moment, or, as I have been doing, if you think about it throughout breakfast, the volte face is but half a pirouette. If the volte face continued through 360 degrees, one’s mental position would be identical to what it was at the start, just as, in a pirouette, one returns to one’s original physical position. You see?”

Yes, Dobson, I grasped that much immediately. That is why I have continued tucking into my breakfast while you are prattling. You should eat your mush before it goes cold.”

I am quite partial to cold mush,” said Dobson, “In fact I think I will leave my bowl and tuck into my breakfast after I have paid a visit to Old Ma Brimstone’s Ballet School next to the post office, where I can brush up on my pirouetting skills.”

And without another word, the out of print pamphleteer donned his Uzbekistani Yak Herder’s boots and crashed out of the door into a sudden and unexpected downpour, the bright battering sun having vanished behind thunderous black clouds sweeping across the sky, terrible as an army of Corbynistas marching with placards.

Trudging along the towpath of the filthy canal, Dobson turned his mind to considering a topic upon which he might attempt to perform a volte face while practising pirouettes. He ran through a series of subjects in his head. Aztecs, bleach, corrugated cardboard, dingly dells, eggs, funk music, geese – geese! Geese made him think of swans, and sure enough, just ahead, upon the canal, elegant yet savage, he saw a swan. Dobson had always hated swans. Well, perhaps he could force himself, while spinning round and round at Old Ma Brimstone’s Ballet School next to the post office, to spin his mind round, but only halfway round, through 180 degrees, so that by the time he completed his physical 360 degree pirouette, he would love swans, adore them. It was worth a try. Resolute, he pressed on through the mud.

Several hours later, Dobson crashed through his front door, sopping wet, just as the clouds dispersed and the sun reappeared in the sky, as bright and battering as Felix Randal’s great grey drayhorse’s sandal.

Oh hello Dobson,” said Marigold Chew, “How did you get on?”

Remind me never to go near that Ballet School next to the post office ever again!” cried Dobson, “Even if I have to go to the post office! I do not know what qualifications Old Ma Brimstone possesses, but I very much doubt she ever gained a diploma in the teaching of pirouetting technique. Each time I attempted a pirouette – while thinking about swans – I lost my balance and toppled over, and each time I toppled over I bashed my head on a hard jutting solid something-or-other, beside which Old Ma Brimstone insisted I practise. My bonce has suffered so many thumps that my wits are quite, quite bedizened and I cannot remember what I was doing at that confounded Ballet School in the first place. I am going to go and lie down in a darkened room and wallow in self-pity.”

As Dobson turned away, Marigold Chew reminded him that he had an uneaten bowl of boiled cornflake ‘n’ duck’s liver mush, gone cold.

The out of print pamphleteer spun round, through a full rotation of 360 degrees.

I hate cold mush!” he declaimed.

From whatever perch in an ethereal plane she was looking down upon Dobson, the plucky tot Tiny Enid applauded him.

You see?” she whispered through the aether, “It can be done!”

But Dobson’s brain was shattered, and he remained oblivious. And then he toppled over for the umpteenth time that day.

In The Hamlet Of Glebe

In the hamlet of Glebe there is a blind brute, the village wrestler, a man with the mien of a squirrel, or perhaps of a distressed mole, and they coax him, this brute, with fronds, for he is fond of fronds, they coax him out of his cubby and drive him out of the hamlet and up into the hills, poking at him with their pitchforks and making awful guttural yelps to affright him, and when he is up in the hills, they scamper back, the villagers, and hold a picnic upon the green, munching their sausages and plums and swigging their cans of Squelcho!, singing roundelays and setting fire to ladybirds, they are oh! a vicious lot, each and every one, and the blind village wrestler dares not return until nightfall, from up in the hills, he senses the twinkling stars by sniffing and by running his fat fingers through the air, and when he is sure it is night he comes clumping down from the hills, pausing to slurp water from rills, and he enters the hamlet of Glebe in the darkness and crosses the green, and he stumbles upon the picnic remnants, discarded sausages and plums, the sausages of contaminated meat and the plums half-rotten and sour, and he gobbles them down his squirrely, moley gullet, and then, by touch, he gathers up the crumpled and empty Squelcho! cans and carries them to his cubby and falls into a dreamless snooze, from which he wakes, in the morning, when he hears the clink and clank of the milk cart, and the horrible “halloo!”s of the villagers, and he takes his hammer and beats flat the Squelcho! cans and adds the flattened tin to his store of flattened tin and he knows that soon, oh!, soon, perhaps in three or four picnics’ time, he will have enough tin to fashion for himself a suit of tin armour, fitting him from squirrely head to moley toes, and then he will no longer fear the poking of pitchforks, and he will come clattering out from his cubby and roar and bash and bash and bash and bash until each and every one of the horrible wankers of the hamlet of Glebe is lying sprawled upon the green, groaning for mercy, and it will be a fine day, and he will set them on fire, each and every one, just as they set on fire the ladybirds, at every damnable picnic, and then the blind brute village wrestler will cast off his Squelcho! can tin armour and he will stride up into the hills where, over many moons, he has built a shrine, and he will slump on to his knees before the shrine and pound his fists upon the earth and declaim, in awestruck tones, his eternal devotion to the Ladybird God.

Eye Eye (Again)

Last week I went for my first appointment at the Tuesday Injection Clinic (which I think of as the Tuesday Injection Club). I learned a number of things. One, that I would be attending every fortnight, rather than every month, until at least the end of the year. Two, that the entire procedure passes off efficiently and painlessly.

But the most important lesson I have learned is that I am now armed with a stupendously effective conversational gambit. Let us imagine, just for one wild moment, that one of these days I actually get invited to a swish sophisticated cocktail party where I can lean insouciantly against a mantelpiece. Now picture various other guests approaching me to engage in conversation with what they fondly imagine will be impressive anecdotes.

Let me tell you about the time I met John F Kennedy”, would say my ex-employer Elkan Allan (were he not late and lamented). Or, “One of my blog posts was picked up by the Huffington Post”, would say my sister Rita Byrne Tull. Or it might be someone telling me they had climbed Everest, or swum the Channel, or discovered the Fab Four, or any number of thrilling facts.

And now imagine a moment of silence, while I pause and play that pause for all it’s worth, and I then say, “Well, that’s very interesting”, and then I declare, in resounding tones, “But every two weeks I have needles injected directly into my eyeballs!”

I can assure you that the effect is electrifying. I have already tried it out a few times – though sadly not in the context of a swish sophisticated cocktail party – and I can report that jaws drop, eyes boggle, and questions are fired at me. I, of course, retain an air of insouciant calm.

I tell you what, as medical issues go, this one certainly beats water-on-the-knee or mad cow disease when it comes to mopping the floor with rival anecdotists.

Irresponsible Shepherds

The problem is not the sheep. The problem is irresponsible shepherds.” Thus spake – on the radio this morning – a spokesman for the majestically-named Irresponsible Shepherding Task Force in the Forest of Dean. Apparently, that rustic paradise is riddled with irresponsible shepherds who, among sundry enormities, allow their sheep to bleat in the middle of the night.

Personally, I am not surprised to learn about outbreaks of nocturnal bleating. Sheep are highly neurasthenic creatures who spend their entire lives in a state of fretfulness and nervous tension, and as a result they rarely sleep. This is probably one reason why, as has been observed by several country persons, a sheep’s ambition in life is to die.

The Remainder Of The Horse

Commenting on yesterday’s scene from the life of Pansy Cradledew, R. noted “Let us hope that tomorrow the remainder of the horse will appear, whereupon the enigma will be resolved”. Et voila!


Scenes From The Life Of Pansy Cradledew

Scenes From The Life Of Pansy Cradledew is our popular series in which, Boswell-like, we document exciting scenes from the life of Pansy Cradledew. Today, we turn our attention to Wednesday the third of August 2016.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016 [aetat. 51]. It so happened that on the morning of this day, Ms Cradledew found herself sitting next to the head of a horse enshrouded in cellophane. The horse-head remained in situ for the entire morning, though shortly after the clock struck noon it was removed, and taken away, she knew not where.


Lars Talc, Lars Talc

Lars Talc, Lars Talc, took a snifter, took a snifter, then he revved up his jalopy, his jalopy he revved. With his foot on the pedal he vroomed away, he vroomed away ’til he was out of sight. As soon as he was out of sight, he screeched to a halt and fell out of the jalopy and into a puddle.

That is where they found him, sitting in a puddle, his hat fallen and craneflies hovering around his now bare head. They found him, and they discussed exterminating the craneflies but could not think of a method of doing so without causing collateral harm to Lars Talc. And Lars Talc had to be protected at all costs, for, snifters or no, he was privy to secret details of the dustbin of history.

So they placed a cordon around the puddle, an electrified cordon, using electricity and cables and chickenwire. They stole the chickenwire, provoking the wrath of a nearby poultryman. Now Lars Talc and this particular poultryman had never seen eye to eye. They had Biblical differences, also Talmudic ones. Yet physically, they could not have been more similar. They might have been identical twins.

They were identical twins! They had been separated, Lars Talc and the poultryman, at the age of ten when, orphaned, the one had been sent to a Schloss and the other apprenticed to a big bellicose brutish British butcher famed for his cocktail sausages. There were no sausages at the Schloss. It was a spartan Schloss run on vegan lines by a vegan Schlosser of great untidiness. The boot, now, was on the other foot.

There may be several sentences missing from the foregoing, sentences which might make more sense of it, even if you are paying only haphazard attention, distracted, as you are, by a march past of Corbynistas with placards, spitting and shouting, sockless, dreary, spitting and shouting, marching, marching, past Lars Talc and his craneflies in their cordoned-off puddle, on a Wednesday afternoon at the height of summer, far from the Schloss, and farther still from Lars Talc’s nest, now populated by birds, a nest in a tree in a forest.

When we are done here, we shall drive to the forest in a Japanese car.

“The Max Ernst Of Silly”

I have just discovered this rave review of Hooting Yard by Madeleine Swann – what an excellent surname! – who is a British “bizarro, horror, surreal, and weird fiction writer”. I do not know if she writes about swans, but I hope she does. Anyway, she has nothing but kind words to say about Mr Key and his prose, and she includes some links to stories featured on the Drabblecast. They include Norm Sherman;s matchless reading of “Far, Far Away”, which Ms Swann describes as “[not] so much science fiction as a bowl of madness”. If you have not heard Norm intone the words “magnetic mute blind love monkeys”, then do so right now. You will not regret it. And many thanks to Ms Swann.


Back in 2007, and then again in 2010, I wrote about Kaka. Although I did not mention it specifically, I was at the time under the impression that Kaka was a foopballer. I have now learned that Kaka is, in fact, a bird. This sheds an entirely new light on things, and I fear I must go back to the drawing-board.



Read and digest the piece Collapsed Puffin, below. Then reread it and redigest it. If necessary, rereread it and reredigest it. Now, using a sharpened pencil and a sheet of foolscap paper, write a variation of the piece from the point of view of the companion, Squiffy. You should aim to address the following matters:

1. Why do you think the narrator keeps nagging Squiffy regarding his goggles, ear-corks, nasal icicles, and furry boots?

2. Which of the pair do you think is the pilot of the chopper?

3. Does the collapsed puffin actually exist or is it an hallucination borne of cold, exhaustion, or even piblokto?

4. Do you think the narrator’s love of puffins, guillemots, auks, and bonxies is sincere and unreserved, or is it an affectation?

5. Can you recall any nursery rhymes in which bonxies appear?

When you have finished, turn over the piece of foolscap paper and, on the reverse, write an even more compelling variation from the point of view of the collapsed puffin.