Professor Humperdink III

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27.10.07

To Ceylon


Chatting with Margaret




My plane







Soggy violin


Friends
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Over coffee, I chat with a very nice woman, sitting on my right. She introduced herself as Margaret Mead. I am amazed and delighted at finding myself beside such a renowned academic. Having read all of Margaret’s work and, knowing we share many interests, I immediately tell her about an interesting technique, used by the men of the Turkana tribe, nomads who live on the western edge of Lake Rudolf, on the borders of Kenya and Uganda. When one of the men in the carriage muttered that he didn’t know anyone who could do such a thing, I explained that Canadian men are, famously, insufficiently endowed, making it a physiological impossibility. This seemed to make them cross. I went on to tell them that, when the Turkana man completes this curious practise, he imitates a cockerel, to show that he has finished. I illustrate this with a Turkana “cockle-doodle-doo” cry. Margaret, interested, but faintly alarmed, explained that she was not Margaret Mead, the famous cultural anthropologist, but Margaret Mead, a hairdresser from Toronto. The conversation somewhat faltered after that and I was happy to leave the train and, picking up a log from the river, head east in my little plane.
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Owing to severe headwinds, ditching into the Atlantic, crashing in Greece and getting lost in the Himalayas, my flight to Ceylon is slower than I would wish; I pass some time by hewing a violin out of the log. The wood, unfortunately, is too water-logged, and the instrument will not hold its shape. This is irritating. To cheer myself up, between typhoons, I sketch of some of the friends I hope to see, if I survive this flight.
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Professor Humperdink’s Diary

26.10.07

To Kettle Valley


Juan, disguised as Chief Wet Crow



Juan, giving thanks




Totem poles




Washing line pole



Algonquin and her daughter Awetia




Watching Voinovich land



Lacrosse




Ski-jumping



Canadian ramps




Tobogganing




Me, on ice-yacht, Juan, on motorcycle



Dividing between Alberta and British Columbia




Aunt Humperdink's private train



Juan's steamer, heading for Ceylon




Waiting for the Kettle Valley Train
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While Juan disguises himself as the Stony Tribe Chief, Wet Crow, and gives thanks for the quality of Canadian whisky, I carve some totem poles and, most usefully of all, a washing line pole, for Algonquin and her daughter Awetia, of the Saahsáísso'kitaki. Algonquin, recently returned from her time with the overseas intelligence division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, tells me that Voinovich, who had been a promising young first minister, with a beautiful young wife, until I took his job, and Juan took his wife, has sworn revenge. Algonquin informs us that, when we were in Belgium, Voinovich pirated Juan's ship ‘Louise’ and, with his crew of cut-throats, is due to land within a few hours.
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We hide in the forest and watch him arrive. Juan is irritated with this turn of events, and wants his ship back. Unfortunately, our mission is too important for us to be delayed so, to cheer ourselves up, we stop just long enough for a relaxing game of lacrosse, and some ski- jumping. After the games, realising that this delay puts everything in jeopardy, we put on our snow-shoes and rush on as fast as we possibly can. Whilst ski -jumping, I noticed that Canadians make very strong and useful ramps. This observation helps us overcome obstacles, which might otherwise slow us down. We toboggan part of the way but find that we make better speed using an ice-yacht and a motorcycle. Despite our best efforts, we arrive at the Great Divide impossibly behind schedule. Our only hope is for me to carry on, on Aunt Humperdink’s private train, and for Juan to catch his steamer directly to Ceylon. Changing trains at Kettle Valley, I am reminded that, although Canada has a world-class railway, they have yet to build any functioning railway stations. I wait on Kettle Railway Bridge, enjoying the wonderful view and clear, cool air, wondering if the train will stop. Tomorrow, Ceylon.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary

24.10.07

New Brunswick


Pushing logs



Fiacre, Arnaude, Axelle and Clovis





Baryton



Slow boat



Collecting our logs



Inspector Borge's train




Autolyre
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Inspired by Brighton Rock candy, we quickly brand ‘Professor Humperdink III’ through the middle of our logs, and push them into the river. As we are passing over his land, we stop to see our friend Fiacre and his sisters, Arnaude and Axelle. Fiacre is one of Canada’s most promising hat designers and, through his contract with Aunt Humperdink, his recent ‘Bouchon plat’ hat range is selling very well in the north of England. His undoubted talent has made his family fabulously wealthy; to celebrate his spectacular success, we drink huge amounts of fresh, wholesome Canadian whisky. Fiacre offers to lend us Clovis and the cart, we thank him but we feel that, desperate reach Burma, we have no time to spare and that it will be quicker for us to travel by dingy.
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Boating down Christmas Mountain is, as it turns out, irritatingly slow. I pick up a log from the river. Having lost my good knife in a poker game in Hants County, I use the edge of the spear on Juan’s harpoon to whittle the log into a rough baryton. Playing several pieces by Fernando Carulli, I find the result quite depressing. The insipid, flat and lifeless music, however, I put down to that witless fool of a composer. After putting strings on the baryton, I play a song from back home and find that, despite it being formed from sodden lumber, it is quite a lively sounding instrument. We descend through the rapids of Neppisiguit River singing wild Czigany songs and dancing wild Czigany dances.
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After an altogether too slow a journey, we collect our logs from the depot in New Brunswick and immediately load them aboard Inspector Borges’ train, “Puffy”. Puffy doesn’t have an engine but Juan has been complaining that, on account of not having met any willing women recently, he has not being getting enough exercise and, to work off excess energy, and a terrible hang-over, he is happy to pull Puffy by hand. Despite being frighteningly behind schedule, I take advantage of having an hour to two to spare, and test out one of the logs by whittling an autolyre.
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Tomorrow, the Rocky Mountains.
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Professor Humperdink’s Diary

22.10.07

To New Brunswick


Sovetskaya Mountain





Vilhjalmur, Silatuyok, Arnaaluk and Tanaraq





Me and Juan, trapping



Juan, unable to lift harpoon



My first Stradivarius




My second Stradivarius




Donny and Juan
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We catch up with Vilhjalmur on Wrangel Island, singing on an icy outcrop on Sovetskaya Mountain. Vilhjalmur is normally too sozzled to remember his name but he tells us that, owing to a large amount of fatalities, he has given up drinking and leading arctic expeditions and plans to spend more time with his family, Arnaaluk, Tanaraq and his daughter Silatuyok. We are happy for him and, knowing he has the deaths of many fine explorers on his conscience, we hope that, henceforward, he has an easy, peaceful life on his lovely island. We finish our toddy by drinking to Vilhjalmur’s future success, do a little trapping, then we head south as fast as we can. On the way back we see a whale but we are both too inebriated to lift the harpoon. The whale swims away.
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Urgently needed in Burma, we don't have a second to spare, but my second Stradivarius has gone the way of the first, smashed in a bar brawl in Nova Scotia. This means that I urgently need to build myself a new instrument. Accordingly, I quickly sketch some ideas, cut down some good trees, load the logs on a cart and, pulled by Donny, a very strong horse, we head for New Brunswick as fast as we possibly can.
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Professor Humperdink’s Diary: The Professor’ Selection

20.10.07

Herschell Island


Tapping for maple sap



Adding sap to toddy


Sergeant Gedereau Vandalle R.C.M.P.



Aunt Humperdink's Herschell Island store


Amaguq, with his sons and his dog team


Heading north
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Arriving in Herschell Island, we immediately collect sap from maple trees, and mix it with toddy. The result is a sweet, sticky liquor, with a dangerously high alcoholic content. We deliver the fresh maple toddy to aunt Humperdink’s store. Our colleague from the Legion arrives, Sergeant Gedereau Vandalle, on loan to the Gendarmerie Royal du Canada. He tells us that he has had a long and difficult journey, as his horse is insane and will only walk on its hind legs. Gedereau knows that we are desperately behind schedule, nontheless, he deputizes us as Special Constables and asks us to use our tracking skills to find his incompetent explorer friend Vilhjalmur Stefanson, who is, as usual, lost in the Northlands whilst leading yet another disastrous arctic expedition. Without wasting a moment, we drink ourselves senseless on maple toddy, borrow a dog team from our old friend, Amaguq, and head north as fast as we possibly can.
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Professor Humperdink’s Diary

19.10.07

Bombay


Sinjan's snake sanctuary


Me and Juan, performing
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Worked for a short time with our friend, Professor Sinjan Murti, the renowned herpetologist, (on the left of the photograph, with, Sudrha, an Indian cobra), in his snake sanctuary. Snakes used by snake charmers are often maltreated or abandoned by the owners, with funding from central government, Sinjan and his team nurse these snakes back to health. Juan, (on the right of the photograph, with Makeda, a wild Abyssinian finglup), after a life spent in jungles and deserts, looks upon such meals as scorpion and cactus salad, or camel-spider crunch, as being a luxury, thus, feeling peckish one morning, he carelessly breakfasted on Nagendra, Sinjan’s favourite cobra. This is embarrassing and we move on.
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As we had entered Bombay on two charging elephants, the authorities are aware of our presence and, knowing about the pig incident, and the mass drowning and epidemic that Juan caused in Amritzar, they are very anxious to find us. We, equally anxious to avoid capture, keep a low profile, working the streets with our old dancing bear routine. Juan has found, however, that, dancing for six hours a day, under the Indian sun, in a bear costume, is hard to bear. After being held up on these hot, crowded streets, we are dangerously behind schedule and, thankfully, we must leave for Canada immediately.
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Professor Humperdink’s Diary

16.10.07

Amritzar


Mixing toddy and water
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Me, waving
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In Amritzar, the pig is believed to be an unclean animal, for a pig to be close to any temple would be considered a profound desecration. It is for this reason we approached Harmandir Sahib with some trepidation. Recently, Juan's interpreter, translating a large order for Golden Valley, Aunt Humperdink's Amritzar farm, had mistranslated 'valley' into 'temple' and ‘goat’ into 'pig'. When Juan delivered two thousand pigs to the sacred Golden Temple, he did so in all innocence. Nonetheless, to remain anonymous, we work as water sellers. Juan has discovered that adding toddy to the water and heating it up, makes the water more flavoursome, and fetches a higher price. We do a brisk trade in hot toddy. When people complain that it tastes disgusting, we blame the foul, stinking Amritzar river water that we use, but claim that it is, in fact, the holiest river in India. Juan gets overly enthusiastic regarding the sacred waters of the blessed river and, for its healing quality, persuades several people to enter the water; I do my best to dissuade them, as after being in contact with the noxious water, they will become seriously ill. Despite my waving and shouting (centre, left of the photograph), I am ignored. Within a short time, we have the guarantee of a major epidemic on our hands. Knowing that the authorities, already furious over the swine incident, will want to speak to us. I suggest we escape by cow. However, as Juan refuses to travel by livestock, we are forced to requisition two elephants. We have had a wonderful time in Amritzar and we are sorry to leave in such a hurry. Tomorrow, Bombay.

Professor Humperdink's Diary

15.10.07

Leaving Goa


Hot toddy tapper


Juan's industrial toddy blender


Mud-walking


Holy cow


Laundry cow
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Juan has discovered that toddy, the juice tapped from palm trees and fermented, becomes drinkable if mixed with crushed sesame and added to rum. We both try a lot of samples, trying to find the ideal mix.
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We take part in the Goa mud-walking festival. This originally started from the practise of regularly walking through warm ash in order to rid the feet of hookworm and other parasites. Visitors on tour from England and Europe, in the belief that the Indians were torturing themselves for some religious purpose, enjoyed the spectacle. Although the local people went to some lengths to persuade visitors that the ashes were not intended to be hot enough to harm anyone, several tourists tried it out but, having worn shoes and socks all of their lives, they found that walking on the hard ash with unprotected feet was extremely painful. Rather than, as might have been expected, refusing to walk in the ash, tourists started daring each other to walk through hotter and hotter embers until, one year, several westerners received serious burns. At this point, the authorities stepped in, providing several chiropodist clinics for the local people and disallowing the ‘fire walking’ ceremony. Popular demand, however, ensured that the ceremony continues although, with safety in mind, the ashes are soaked with water, to make them muddy, soft and cool.
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Before leaving Goa, I go undercover. With the cast mark of a sacred cow attendant plainly visible on my forehead, and a sacred cow by my side, it is easy to move around unchallenged. Unfortunately, I was spotted by Ivan and his death squad, who have been hunting us since we destabilised Lithuania. Quickly changing into the clothes of a laundryman, I threw a few bags of laundry over the cow, took off its regalia, jumped on its back, and kicked it firmly until it broke into a run. The holy cow, only ever having been treated with reverence and respect, was surprised and distressed; nonetheless, by repeatedly kicking it, I kept it running until we had reached safety. Tomorrow, Amritzar.
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Professor Humperdink’s Diary