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1.2.10

Dotterel




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Struggling over wild, hostile, moors and meeting wild, hostile, people, who direct us into stinking, dangerous, marshes, we realise that we must be in Cornwall.

Most people, when they realise that they are in Cornwall, are inconsolable, but, for us, it is ideal. We need stones, Cornwall has wonderful quarries and mines, and Cornish women, Juan reminds me, are the most beautiful women in the world. To celebrate, we raise our flasks of Benrinnes, Laphroaig, Strathisla and Ardbeg Private Reserve and offer toast after toast to the savage people of this bleak, inhospitable, land. I tell Juan that we don't have any time to waste as we are expected in India, we have to find a quarry and a train station, we are deeply befuddled, and objurgatingly behind schedule. Juan shouts that words with Latin roots are outlawed in Cornwall, In Cornwall, he says, people who don't speak Cornish are the enemy.

I tell Juan that my Cornish is rusty and, in England, I prefer to speak English. Juan yells that we aren't in England, we are in Cornwall. Juan's thinks that he can speak Cornish fluently, but all he does is speak Gaelic with a thick West Country accent. Nobody understands him, but he puts this down to the fact that, because they let the language become virtually extinct, Cornish people can't remember their own language but, embarrassed by their apathetic illiteracy and pig-idle ignorance, when talking in front of foreigners, they just make up words, or simply grunt, and everybody pretends to understand each other.

We return to tell Archie the good news and, from a distance, we can see that he is standing on one foot, holding one arm up in the air. As we approach, puzzled, he puts his leg down, lifts up his other leg, and extends his other arm above his head. When he extends both arms and hops around in a circle, flapping and chirping, I tell Juan that Archie must have spotted a plover, and, when we get close, we see that Archie has been painting a dotterel. We watch as the bird lifts up a wing and waits until Archie lifts up an arm, then the bird nods its head, raises a foot, and turns around, and Archie imitates the bird's movements exactly. Juan asks Archie what he is doing. Archie replies that he is getting in touch with the spirit of the bird. Juan says the best way to do this is to steep it in Vintage Tomintoul Special Reserve.

I tell Juan that, as a snake will hypnotise a mouse, the dotterel has a mesmeric power that makes a dull, weak-minded person copy its actions. As I explain this, the dotterel turns around faster and faster until Archie, chirruping and flapping, whirls off into the distance. I remind Juan not to look at the bird, but I'm too late, he is staring at the bird, standing on one leg, with his arm raised. Stupidly, I inadvertently follow Juan's gaze and, looking directly at the bird, I am overcome by an irresistible urge to raise one arm in the air and stand on one foot. Then, when the bird lowers one wing and raises the other one, and changes legs, and hops from side to side. I feel that it is the most natural thing in the world to mirror its movements.

Juan eventually overcomes the dotterel's spell by closing his eyes, bellowing the Black Watch war cry, diving forward, grabbing the surprised dotterel, then, dangling the enraged bird by the tail feathers, holds it out for my inspection. I immediately stand on my head. I yell at Juan to stop fooling about and, after a brawl about the best way to poach a plover, during which the dotterel escaped, we blow up our bagpipes and, playing 'A Dotterel is a Dainty Dish', 'The Dotterel Jig', and 'A Scottish Plover', we hop after Archie, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary