Naming The Fruits

When the panel met for the final time, to sign off on their deliberations of the previous six sessions, it was brought to their attention that they had completely forgotten to name one of the fruits.

I have here a punnet of this fruit,” said the second secretary, “It has somehow escaped the panel’s attention heretofore.”

There was a hubbub of consternation, which is a very different thing to other hubbubs, such as the hubbub of outrage or the hubbub of rapidly-donned camouflage jackets. Hubbubs of all kidneys, however, diminish eventually, and when this one did, one among the panel who happened to be wearing an unnecessary camouflage jacket, said:

Let us take a close look at that punnet.”

Would it not be better to look closely at the unnamed fruit contained in the punnet, rather than at the punnet itself?”

These words were spoken by a panel member who had been conspicuously silent ever since the first session, when he had pulled out of the bag, metaphorically, the word “clementine”, to denote the clementine, one of which he then pulled out of a paper bag, literally.

Sage heads nodding in agreement, the panel members gave their undivided attention to the items of fruit in the punnet. After some while, one asked his fellows:

Have we already made use of the word ‘grape’?”

We have. But you are clearly thinking this fruit requires a one-syllable name.”

Indeed.”

On what grounds?”

Oh, just look at it! Look at them! In their punnet! I am sorry to sound so exasperated, but only a dolt or a halfwit would dub that fruit with a multisyllabic name. It cries out for something simple, and short, and blunt.”

The passion of this outburst convinced the other panel members of its general truth. Passion need not always denote truth, of course. More often it can lead to all sorts of human error, particularly when it crosses the line into hysteria. Consider the example of massed Corbynistas with their placrads.

It is a shame,” said Arpad, the senior member of the panel, “That we have already registered ‘passion fruit’ as a fruit name.”

On that point,” said his immediate table-neighbour, “Can anybody explain why, in some cases, we have used the word ‘fruit’ as part of the fruit name? I am thinking of the passion fruit and the kiwi fruit, which you will recall we named at Thursday’s session. Why are we labouring the word ‘fruit’ when it is blindingly obvious that the thing denoted is a fruit?”

Before anybody could answer this reasonable query, there was an interruption from the radio transmitter. The lovely strains of Xavier Cugat And His Orchestra gave way to a gravely-voiced newsflash. There had been a bittern storm over Ulm. Cugat resumed.

How about ulm?” piped up Binns, “A punnet of ulms?”

It is tempting,” said Arpad, “But I have two objections. First, the fruit may thereby become too closely associated with the city in Baden-Württemberg where this bittern storm has just occurred. Second, I think we are all agreed that most fruit-names benefit from beginning with consonants. Not all, but most.”

The panel then worked through the alphabet, appending consonants to “ulm”. After a vote, they agreed unanimously on “pulm”. When the second secretary came to write the new fruit-name in the register, he was momentarily distracted by the cry of a bittern, booming from the marshes anent the manse, and he accidentally transposed the middle letters of the word.

And hence the plum.

Lupe Node

Lupe Node, the carrier, O is he dead then? My fruit-bowl all emptied. He carried my fruit, Lupe Node, in his manly muscular hands, plums in punnets and hawberries in hopkins. The sun battered him, as he sashayed from orchard to pier, to my kiosk, this man o’ fruit, Jesuitical in his furrow-browed beanstalk bitterness. A man of few words, and those the names of fruits, names he made up, embroidered, spat out like plum-stones, chewed like nettles, O Lupe Node, forsaken by a God whose mercurial recklessness – those divine spasms! – came twitching in rags and schmutter. Pips haunted him, Lupe Node, lodged in his pocket-crannies, scattered in his locks, curly black and slathered in lac. Do not taunt him now, in his grave, on his uppers, worm-lunch, bird-roost. They named a pond for him. No fish thrive inwith it. And yet in memory of Lupe Node I take my paper bag of baggings there each March morning sodden by rain and stamped by yearning. Crumbs fall. Necks sag. Galoshes splosh.

Ornithology

Ornithology, when pursued recklessly, breaks bones. This aperçu first appeared in Dobson’s pamphlet Oh! One Merry March Morning I Climbed A Tree The Better To Investigate, At Close Quarters, The Nest Of A Wren And, Losing My Footing, I Plunged To Earth, Landing Awkwardly And In So Doing Broke My Collarbone, Subsequently, In Making My Report To The Triage Nurse, I Blamed The Wren, I Blamed The Wren! (out of print).

Of late, there has been something of a kerfuffle in Dobsonist circles occasioned by the publication of a new monograph on the pamphlet. Upstart young Scandinavian critic Knud Pantryboy argues, in his essay, that there is not a jot of truth in the pamphleteer’s hysterical prose. Controversially, he suggests that Dobson was making a stab at writing a piece of fiction.

Dobson never climbed a tree in his life, writes the hot-headed Dane, and he would certainly have been unable to distinguish the nest of a wren from that of any other of the approximately ten thousand, four hundred and four types of birds, many of them extinct, which grace, or have graced, the blue skies of the ever-rotating globe we call the Earth.

Pantryboy also makes the point that no evidence exists to suggest Dobson’s collarbone was ever broken. He dismisses as “obviously fraudulent” the pencil sketches, purportedly based on X-rays, which appeared in the compendium Pencil Sketches Based On X-Rays Of The Bones Of Several Twentieth-Century Writers compiled by the quack medical illustrator Tosh Quackpencil. The half-dozen sketches of Dobson’s collarbone each show signs of traumatic shattering, but Pantryboy argues, persuasively, that the pictures were executed during a thunderstorm.

Why, though, would Dobson have risked his reputation by inventing this tale? While admitting that he does not know the answer to this question, Knud Pantryboy suggests that the narrative is a veiled reference to a singular episode in the pamphleteer’s childhood.

The “tree” is a picnic blanket. The “wren’s nest” is a sausage-on-a-stick. The “plunge to earth” is a fit of hiccups. The “collarbone” is another sausage on another stick. The “triage nurse” is International Woman of Mystery Primrose Dent. I rest my case.

It is undoubtedly true that La Dent used to appear, uninvited, at innumerable picnic spots throughout what Lumsden called “that brittle, squalid decade”. True, too, that it was both brittle and squalid. And equally true that Lumsden himself had his posthumous bones sketched, from X-rays, by Tosh Quackpencil. Nor should we ever forget that wrens, when gathered in huge numbers, can be extremely dangerous. Ornithology, when pursued recklessly, does indeed break bones.

Bolshevik Tomato Paste Scoop

I opened my briefcase and took from it my Bolshevik Tomato Paste Scoop. I was so pleased with it. I had snapped it up on eBay, where it was going for a song. The song I opted for was “Essay On Pigs” (1968) by Hans Werner Henze. Strictly speaking, this is actually five separate songs, but I got away with it. The Bolshevik Tomato Paste Scoop arrived in the post four days later. I will be sure to take it with me, in my briefcase, on my forthcoming trip, by hot air balloon, to the Lost City of Karencarpenter, far far away, beyond the mountains of madness, where night-penguins fringe a yawning abyss.

Disparate Horseflies

Ever since it ended, after eight seasons, in 2012, fans of the television comedy-drama Desperate Housewives have been hoping for a sequel. Now it appears their prayers have been answered. Next month sees the launch of a brand new television comedy-drama called Disparate Horseflies.

Set on a horse named Wisteria, the show features the amusing and sometimes not so amusing antics of a group of horseflies who live, parasitically, upon its shanks, withers, fetlocks, and other parts of a horse which I am sure you can list for yourselves. As the title implies, the flies are a varied bunch, apart from their all being flies of the horsefly family (Tabanus sulcifrons).

The cast comprises several actual horseflies, specially trained to act by tiptop thespian fly-trainer Cedric Flytrain. For the setting of Wisteria, an elegant if tubercular horse named Keith, resident at a stables in Vileshire, was employed.

Preview tapes have not been made available, but word has it that the first episode includes close-up scenes of grotesque horsefly behaviour which some viewers, and horses, may find absolutely sickening.

Hackery Update

I am advised by our technical boffin that the maleficent imps wreaking havoc on this blog’s innards have now been removed, and all should be well. What that means is that I must stir my brain-broth and get cracking with further majestic paragraphs of sweeping prose to keep you lot on an even mental keel. And by the sinews of St Spivack, I shall!

Meanwhile, should any of you spot any continuing problems with untoward online shenanigans here, please let me know in the comments.

Folk Song

Old Farmer Frack! Old Farmer Frack!
What are you carrying in your sack?
I’ve half a dozen weasels in my sack,
Three for Jill and three for Jack.
Are you sure they’re weasels and not stoats?
Or even little baby goats?
No, they’re weasels, of that I’m sure
Now get in the barn and lock the door.
And Old Farmer Frack burns the barn to the ground
And swings his sack o’ weasels round and round
Then he climbs up to the top of Polkadot Hill
And gives the sack o’ weasels to Jack and Jill
Oh thank you, thank you, Old Farmer Frack!
We’ve always wanted weasels in a sack!

Lilliputian Rabbits, Etc.

Henry Fuseli ate a diet of raw meat in order to obtain splendid dreams. Lamb spoke of “Lilliputian rabbits” when eating frog fricassee; and his sister Mary, wielding a knife, chased a little girl who was helping her in the kitchen and then stabbed her own mother through the heart; Hazlitt was perceptive about musculature and boxers; Wordsworth used a buttery knife to cut the pages of a first-edition Burke. Coleridge, his head shrouded in a fog, read poetry badly and moaned gloomily. The dreams of Jean Paul, the crow that loved the storm, reverberated across the Lake District… There were others who helped themselves to dreams. Robert Southey experimented with laughing gas. Ann Radcliffe sought out huge quantities of indigestible food to reinforce her terrible night visions. Mrs Leigh Hunt was proud to have produced an apocalyptic dream, which then appeared in a poem by Shelley. Coleridge, distracted by the scratching of his pen over the paper while transcribing his dream, forgot part of it. And Lamb complained about the derelict impoverishment of his dreams.

From Three Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy (2005). The lives of which she writes are of Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and Marcel Schwob.

Shifting Sands

Oh look, shifting sands! If you stand quite still, and shut your eyes, and wait for, say, five minutes before opening them, when you do you will find yourself in an utterly different terrain. When you were not looking, the sands shifted, and now all is strange and bewildering.

On the beach at Shifting, a lovely little seaside town in Hoonshire, it is common to see people standing stock still with their eyes shut. It is common, too, to see looks of disappointment, even devastation, cross their faces, when they open their eyes to find the beach unchanged from how it was five minutes before. This is because the sands at Shifting Sands are not shifting sands. They are what are known as inert sands, roughly speaking. What shifting occurs, occasioned by the wind and the tides, is slow and imperceptible.

What they do have at Shifting Sands are perilous pockets of quicksand. Beware! Best not even to think about those pockets, for if you do, you will sink into the quicksand of your thought, and you won’t have the power anymore.

Straubenzee!

From a reader’s letter in the current issue of Standpoint:

Whenever I am feeling a little low I call to mind a Sunday morning 30-odd years ago waiting in a queue in a shop in Riberac, Dordogne. The gentleman at the head of the queue, wearing shorts and sandals with long white socks, bellowed at the lady behind the counter: “Je suis Sir William van Straubenzee, ou est mon Sunday Telegraph?”

The Higher Mathematics

Dear Mr Key, writes Andy Martin, I recently read (or tried to read) a textbook on recent developments in mathematics. Its pages are littered with sentences and phrases which often sound as if they’ve been swiped from one of the earlier pamphlets by that chap [Norman Davies] who wrote Further Science.

Mr Martin then lists some of the inexplicable, yet curiously compelling, phrases he has digested, all quoted verbatim from the text:

…degeneracy on a manifold…

…lemmas on ordinary differential operators with parameters…

…sharp regularity estimates for the solution of the oblique derivative problem…

…instability modes in Benard systems…

…codimension-two bifurcations…

…the basic boundary value problems for operators with VMO coefficients…

…time dependent and time independent wave packet approaches to reactive scattering…

…laser excited wave packets in semiconductor heterostructures…

…Feshbach resonances and singular Hodge theory…

…elliptic complexes of pseudodifferential operators and to stratified media…

…singular interaction problems with distribution and hyperfunction data…

…polar materials without director symmetry…

…the mechanical fragility of smectic bookshelf structure…

…quantum dot heterostructures…

…eigenoscillations in diffraction theory…

…molecular integral evaluation…

…material tensors of ranks 2 to 7…

…multiconfigurational self-consistent fields and coupled clusters…

…orientational aspects in pair transfer and multichromophoric systems…

…the Stokes parameters in nonlinear media and self action polarisation phenomena…

…canonical quantization and stochastic wave functions…

…quantum states of bosonic systems…

…phase space distribution functions and the density operator…

As a lover of books, adds Mr Martin, I assume you, too, are profoundly concerned about the mechanical fragility of smectic bookshelf structure. Perhaps you’ve already noticed it. I know I have.