Professor Humperdink III
On the washing line.
Spike, on Xylophone
Professor Humperdink's Toy Orchestra
Igor, drummer, playing the teapot.
Professor Humperdink’s International Toy Orchestra
Mageta (working the harmonium bellows).
Browsing through one of the Ernest Bramah’s books; Kai Lung’s Golden Hours. A random sample. ‘His apparel was rich, voluminous, and of colours then unknown within the Empire; his hair long and abundant; his face placid but sincere. He carried no weapons, but wherever he trod there came a yellow flame from below his right foot and a white vapour from beneath his left. His insignia were those of a royal prince, and when he spoke his voice resembled the noise of arrows passing through the upper branches of a prickly forest. His long and pointed nails indicated the high and dignified nature of all his occupations; each nail was protected by a solid sheath, there being amethyst, ruby, topaz, ivory, emerald, white jade, iron, chalcedony, gold and malachite.’
The chapter headings alone are amazing: ‘The incredible obtuseness of those who had opposed the virtuous Kai Lung, or; ‘Of which it written: “In shallow water dragons become the laughing-stock of shrimps.” You can feel the glee that the author had in writing in this style.
Just cranked up the computer, the thing beeps and flashes and buzzes and upgrades and updates and does things about which I have no clue, by the time it’s ready to be used I’ve forgotten why I put it on in the first place. I’m not of the ‘bring back the quill’ brigade but I reckon there must be advantages in using an inky feather over the incredible complexity of computers, feathers don’t crash. Actually they probably do, suddenly disgorging ink over your precious manuscript. (With no automatic save function).
Found a torn and yellowing piece of old newspaper used as a bookmark in the Kai Lung book. I don’t know from which newspaper it came or when it was printed. It’s a poem, a line at the top that says it was written by Avril Huston, aged 13.
When I was small, the Irish summers
Their flanks reared up colossal in my
squint-eyed toddler view,
Friesian White and glossy, hairy
Spotted with currant-like flies,
And, perched on knobbly-kneed legs,
Heaving placidly as their jaws ripped
apart the earth,
Sucking the dewy grass from its
Tagged ears glittered in the sun, and
the thundery day was smooth and
Except for the grass screaming and
the clouds gasping in the sky.
Then evening slowly crept over the
Dragging its dark cloak over the sky,
Bringing the storm.
Lightning crackled brilliantly,
nightmare Christmas tree lights.
Thunder was like the roar on an
Filling my ears with a hissing rush of
Icy, plump drops spattering the grass,
more liberal than the dew.
The cows were in the milking shed,
and I ran in to them -
Watched the silver spiders on their
udders, sucking the live milk
Away – seething while like their
Smelt feed in the bins in the hay-barn,
Comforting warmth of cow near me.
An electric lullaby soothed me,
Drowning out the lightning and
harmonising with the thunder.
A cow near me blinked and waggled
her long eyelashes at me.
I craned to see her ear-tag. She was
Isn’t that wonderful? Of course you will remember being with cows as a child, and horses, sheep, goats and chickens, the country life, which has served us all our lives – I see the city kids, here, who will never have known such a thing, and wonder at how very much they are missing, and do not wonder they are stressed, pressurised and seem displaced from the world itself.
Saturday morning – half dressed – for a wonder the weather is dry, calm and overcast, the tide is coming in so there’s no point in dashing to the coast for a stroll, so Mike’s investigating mobile phones (my birthday’s coming up and I want a pay-as-you-go one) and I’m puttering, ingesting coffee at a great rate and considering such projects as tidying the living room, servicing the sewing machine, doing the ironing, phoning Tom. We compared notes about friends who have had difficult times and seem unable or unwilling to leave them behind, e.g., Natasha, ‘I’m suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because my father was a sadist who used to stub out cigarettes on my arms.’ ‘Well I’m afraid your post-traumatic stress disorder is causing me post-traumatic stress.’
All our little old lay friends are away visiting other continents at present and we miss them – no Tania to drink up all our coffee, no Sarah to be infinitely but wittily gloomy (“Why bother? We’ll all be dead soon”).
Went out to lunch with our less favourite old lady, Roz, to a new pub in St Lawrence – reasonable food in huge portions. Before the end of the meal, Roz had finessed me into taking her to a concert next week, the trade-off being that she’ll buy me a ticket. She likes company and her idea of a good time is a whole day spent with others (which makes me tired) and she never, ever, cuts short an occasion, volunteers to go home or bring the event to a close, so a cup of tea taken with her can quickly (well, slowly) turn into an afternoon or evening spent, and she is more than wiling to extend the session indefinitely. If I didn’t ignore broad hints, I’d be lunching with her every Sunday and attending concerts regularly against my will. The concert really is a dolly mixture of performance, Air on a G string and such and although my knowledge of classical music is scant and incomplete, my taste does tend to the austere, or at least not to pieces I’ve heard a thousand times before (played better). Those occasions are like three glasses of sweet sherry and a macaroon – fine only if you like that sort of thing.
Strange conversation this morning, with Olive, she is in the middle of a criminology and sociology degree and said she studied several modules on why people commit crime but only one concerning why people don’t. I mentioned this in passing to Jenny, who said, “But whatever you say there’s only right and wrong, and most people know the difference between right and wrong.” Fortunately she said this on her way down the street so didn’t see my jaw drop. Maybe in Podunk, California, Jenny. Where does that come from? Analysed, it means, “What I believe and am used to is Right, everything else is Wrong’. (And I’m gonna keep it that way, at all costs). What sort of world is that? I suppose everyone has their own rights and wrongs, but my own are substantially less concrete. More corners rubbed away by circumstances. I don’t like to associate with people who cheat, murder, rape, bear false witness, covet their neighbour’s ass etcetera but put to it, how would I even know? Princess Diana, icon of the nation, was a serial adulteress – no-one is bothered by that sad fact – it is universally regarded that she had her reasons.
Found a very old video of ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’ watched a few minutes of it in appalled amusement and appalled disgust as untalented people stumble about without benefit of their personal support systems, make up, depilatories. The boxer Nigel Benn is the first to crack, bored, brain damaged and religion-struck (probably the sanest of them all). Uri Geller takes first prize for weirdness. If you chopped him in slices laterally there would be ‘I’m a thoroughly evil confidence trickster’ written spirally in each slice.
Do you know that Virginia Bottomley anagrammatises into ‘I’m an evil Tory bigot’? One of Ian Hislop’s, pretty good.
You sound bored, Prof, needing more company and stimulation. I know you like the place in the Antarctic but one’s own rathole is best. I get fed up with other people’s kitchens in particular –I think that is because you hit the kitchen before you’re awake, when you are functioning on an unconscious level and a toaster with too strong a spring or that browns the toast a shade too dark or light is an apocalyptic disaster. Springing around a foreign scullery with a frying pan that sticks and a blunt knife and no proper chopping board, only a grand marble slab suitable only for taking off whatever edge your knife may retain. Or knives so sharp they leap out and bite; confusing choice of seventeen boards; graduated copper bottomed saucepan set running from little ones no larger than a coffee cup to stockpots too big for half a buffalo, marinaded in aurochs’ dripping (with honey).
I saw a wonderful sight this morning – I drove up a little back lane, over an undulating road where the grassy banks threatened to meet in the middle, when over the hill towards me came a serious young man on a bicycle leading thirty or forty fox hounds trotting in formation with another business like cyclist with a small cat o’ nine tails bringing up- the tail and a solid County Press van creeping behind so the hounds couldn’t back-track. They all thanked me solemnly for pulling aside and went on their way with waving tails, silent on a sunny morning. You know the self-absorbed look that a dog has on the street when it’s trotting home, purposeful and free of doubt? The pack was imbued with it, and so were the men.
Letters from Janet
Janet's letters are also available as a book.