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20.1.10

Bittern




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Stumbling along the coast, Juan and Archie constantly bickering and stopping every few minutes to brawl about nothing at all. I remind them that we are meant to be bird-spotters, so we should be quiet, and calm them down with flasks of Vintage Bowmore, Linkwood, Glen Scotia, and Aberfeldy Private Reserve. Archie declares that he is feeling inspired and he has to paint. Juan says that he is feeling nauseous and has to vomit, I tell them both to stop spinning and behave like professionals, but they yell that they are standing still, it's me that's spinning; this is exasperating and I remind them that we urgently need to find a train station, and Juan shouts at Archie that if he's going to waste everybody's time, he better paint something proper. I tell Juan that, in English, you can't tell someone to do something proper, it doesn't make sense, you have to tell them to do something properly. Juan says that painting another stupid bird is a proper waste of time, so who cares if he says it properly or not? I remind Juan him that some people do care, but Juan and Archie yell that those people are idiots and Archie defiantly sets his easel up, looks around and loudly proclaims that he can't see anything worth painting.

I suggest that he paints the bittern that is standing in front of him, but Archie reminds us that he lost his glasses, probably during a punch-up in the Cheeky Monkey, in Aberfeldy, and he can't see the bittern. But that doesn't matter, he snorts, even if he could see it, a bittern isn't worth painting. I say that this seems unfair on the bittern. The bittern, Archie sneers, is not a wild bird; it is a bred species, only raised in captivity. Like ruffs, hoopoes, and kingfishers, he shouts, and spits on his canvas, bitterns are completely artificial, bred for decorative purposes only. Bittern farms breed the birds, and sell them to taxidermists. The taxidermists stuff the birds, place them in glass cases and sell them as ornaments. It might be vulgar, cruel and ignorant, but bitterns in glass cases are as common as muck, Archie bawls, throwing paint at his canvas, which is why the bird is called the Common Bittern, but, he barks, waving his brushes around, wild bitterns are extinct.

I tell Archie that the bittern standing in front of him is not in a glass case, and it's definitely not extinct. Archie refuses to argue the point and tries to paint a goldfinch instead, but he can't see a goldfinch and, because he has been talking about bitterns, all he can think about is bitterns, so, grumbling and mumbling, he reluctantly stabs at his canvas until he has painted something that looks like a bittern, but, when Juan looks at the painting, he says that it doesn't look anything like a bittern, Archie demands to know when Juan suddenly became a bittern expert, but Juan says he has seen a bittern in a glass case, and it looked more like a bittern than Archie's painting of a bittern. Archie bellows that nobody could be expected to paint a bittern under these conditions, even if they could see a bittern. I want to point out that I can see a bittern, but I can feel my mind slipping and, instead, I tell Juan and Archie that, if I hear the word 'bittern' one more time, I will run amok. They both have the grace to shut up, although they both mumble 'bittern' under their breaths a few times; I take the opportunity to remind them that time is not on our side, we don't know where we are, we have to catch a train, but we can't find a train station, and we have to address the problem as we are lost, fuzzled, and pogwallopingly behind schedule.

Archie suggests that we walk inland and find a town; Juan says that we should borrow a boat and sail around the coast. I think that we should build an aeroplane. These ideas give us a lot to consider and, to help us consider them, we open our flasks of Vintage Duff's Defiance and, after offering toast after toast to common birds, we blow up our bagpipes and, playing 'The Banshees of Boltachan' and 'The Screaming Crones of Crieff', we stamp around in hysterical, wailing, confusion, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary