Professor Humperdink III

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The White Hart

We decide to go to a bar to wait for the Agent Rescue Service to arrive. Archie leads us to an inn, telling us that he recently painted the inn's sign. Juan, looking at the sign, says that the white hart seems to be deformed. But Archie says that that is nothing to with him, he painted the hart on planks of wood, but when they were fitted into the sign, the carpenter, Mad Hamish MacDuff, put some of the planks the wrong way round. Juan asks Archie if, considering all the effort he must have put in to painting the hart, he would like the planks turned the correct way round, but Archie says that he couldn't care less, the inn wasn't called the White Hart, so it didn't matter anyway. I ask Archie what the inn is called and he tells us that it's called The White Ptarmigan. Juan asks him why, in that case, he didn't paint a white ptarmigan, Archie explains that ptarmigans are only white in the winter, so it wouldn't be accurate, whereas a white hart is white all the time. Juan says the changing plumage of the ptarmigan could be represented by drawing two birds one with winter plumage and another with autumn plumage, but Archie says that it's impossible to find two birds with the two different plumages at the same time. Juan suggests that, as it's winter, we catch a white ptarmigan then, when Archie has finished painting it, we dye its feathers so it looks as if it has autumn plumage, then Archie can paint it again. I think this is a wonderful idea, but Archie points out that, as it's Christmas day, ptarmigans are protected and we aren't allowed to hunt them. Juan says that this is a ridiculous rule, but I remind him that it is no more daft that the spelling of the birds name, which used to be 'tàrmachan' until the English decided to change it. Archie agrees, saying that words beginning with 'pt' are just stupid because the 'p' is silent, so what's the point of it? I tell him that words starting with 'pt' might be ludicrous but they are, nonetheless, perfectly valid and that the bird should not be discriminated against just because of the spelling of its name. Juan tells me that if you can't write it in Gaelic then it's not worth bothering about and painting the pteryla of a ptarmigan is a waste of time, Archie agrees, saying that the pterylosis of a ptarmigan is particularly difficult to paint and, anyway, he has better things to do on a Christmas day. I can't disagree with this, however, when Juan goes to the bar to order some drinks, Archie quickly sketches a couple of ptarmigans on a beer mat. When Juan returns, bearing bottles of Vintage Tomatin, Lochside, Springbank, and Glenordie Private Reserve, and a glass of ptisan for Archie, we celebrate Christmas, and Archie's artistry, by drinking toast after toast to white harts, Christmases and ptarmigans, then, blowing up our bagpipes and, playing 'Coise Céin' and 'A Wee Drap o' Whisky', we stumble backwards and forwards and from one side of the bar to the other, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary


Meeting Archibald


Laying in the gutter, looking up at the picture on the sign of the inn from which we have just been ejected, Juan comments that, like an artist, he, also, is often misunderstood. I know that when a Highlander attacks a group of strangers, he is, often, just trying to be friendly; when Juan knocks people over, he is simply trying to get acquainted; I try to explain that this behaviour might be acceptable in the Cheeky Monkey, in Aberfeldy, but elsewhere, it can be misunderstood, and people get upset. Juan mumbles something about effeminate Lowlanders, rolls over, and goes to sleep. He wakes up a few moments later complaining that hasn't got a pillow; after his jibe at Lowlanders, this is pathetic and I remind him that we are in a gutter, but Juan says that that is no excuse for not having a soft, warm pillow. This is true; fortunately, a large German shepherd that had been rummaging through some nearby dustbins, came over to sniff us, we both grab at it, but Juan catches it before I do, knocks it out and, using the unconscious animal as a pillow, goes to sleep. Irritated that he got the dog first, and, now, wanting a pillow myself, I wait until Juan starts snoring, then, slowly pulling the animal's tail, I gently try and drag the dog from under Juan's head. However, it wakes up and tries to run away, but its collar has become entangled with Juan's beard. The resulting confusion, although amusing, attracts the attention of several police officers. Because we are barkingly behind schedule, being arrested would be seriously inconveniencing and, I gather, the police just want their dog back. I tell the police that their dog is completely safe, as Juan will only kill an animal if he means to eat it, and he doesn't like dog. However, even though the police can see that Juan is only using his dirk to hack off his beard, and not harming their dog, other than punching it repeatedly on the nose to stop it biting, they refuse to go away. The British police aren't armed so they aren't dangerous, so I ignore them, but I shout to Juan that he should stop fooling around and calm down. Juan, hacking at his beard and punching the snarling, snapping, police dog, bellows that he is perfectly calm and that everyone should mind their own business. This is always good advice so, opening flasks of Vintage Brackla, Aultmore, Balvenie and Glenturret Private Reserve, which I share with the police, along with a gold ingot or two, as I know the British police are very poorly paid and are always happy to accept a little financial help, we settle back to watch Juan and the dog. It is written, in the great Chinese work, the I Ching, that a beard is not an independent thing, nonetheless, Juan's beard harbours so many life-forms that it is a virtually autonomous entity and, even though Juan succeeds in sawing it off his chin, feeling itself under threat, it wraps itself around the dog's neck and attempts to strangle poor creature. The police look completely astonished, I put this down to the stunning effects of fine vintage single-malt, seeing their enthusiasm, I offer them more flasks of Vintage Interleven, Lochnagar, Caol lla, and Bunnahabhainn Founders Reserve, then, remembering that, because policemen's wives and girlfriends have to make a lot of sacrifices to their husband's job, they deserve extra treats, I give the policemen a handful of diamonds each, tell them to go home and have fun, and watch as they stagger away, hopelessly befuddled, but cheering and yelling with excitement.

After releasing the dog, and drowning the feral beard in a nearby pond, we decide to leave town before we attract any more unwanted attention. We don't know where we are and, looking around for someone who can give us directions, we see a dishevelled man stumbling up the road towards us, bouncing off the walls and singing 'Scotland the Brave', very loudly, and we recognise our old friend Archie Thorburn, one of our top agents. Archie, crawling the last few yards and collapsing at our feet, says that, as he was in the area, he has been looking for us as he has a message from aunt Humperdink. Juan asks Archibald what he was doing here in the first place and Archie tells us that he is meant to be painting eagles but, because they won't stand still, painting real eagles is very difficult, so he's been painting pub signs instead. Juan says that he always thought the Spread Eagle was more interesting than the Golden Eagle, Archie drinks to this and tells us that, because it's so difficult, he has given up trying to paint golden eagles in the wild, so he buys stuffed ones, sets them up on a table in a bar, and paints them at his leisure. I tell Archie that we need to leave quickly, but he says that the Agent Rescue Service is on the way so there's nothing to worry about. This is wonderful news, to celebrate, Juan passes around his flask of Duff's Defiance Private Reserve, which he keeps for such occasions and linking arms and, singing 'Rìgh a bh' air Albbainn' at the top of our voices, we fall backwards into the pond and flounder around in astonished, frenzied circles, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary