Professor Humperdink III

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Because of his success in painting a flying owl, Roly decides that, now, he wants to paint a kingfisher in flight, but I tell him that we are ghaistishly behind schedule and can't waste time waiting for a kingfisher to turn up, and even if it does, all he is likely to see is a multi-coloured blur as if flies past and, if he wants to paint a multi-coloured blur, he doesn't need to actually see a kingfisher, he can just throw paint at a canvas and smear it around with a stick. Juan says that it would be simpler for Roly to paint a king and a fishing scene, that would be easy and, that way, he could represent a kingfisher without going to the trouble of drawing the bird itself. I say that that's a good idea, and slap together a painting of George and another one of a fish, to demonstrate, but Roly says that that's just daft; a painting of a kingfisher has to be a painting of a kingfisher, not two paintings of entirely different subjects. Juan says that a king isn't a subject, I agree, and say that the ridiculous George is less of a subject and more of an object, an object of derision. Juan says that painting birds, stupid looking kings, or fish, instead of painting women, is like drinking wine instead of drinking whisky, it's a second-rate, low-grade, pastime. Roly protests at this, saying that there's nothing second rate about wine and a decent claret is a wonderful thing. I tell Roly that there's no such thing as a decent claret, some clarets, I allow, are better than others but, compared to single malt, they all taste like cat's urine.

Roly says that I'm an idiot, everybody knows that a '55 Claret, for example, is a delight, I tell him the '55 was ruined by oidium and tastes like rancid pus, and Juan adds that the '56 was even worse and tastes like the liquid secreted from a dead dog's eye, I add that the '57 tastes like something that oozed from a putrescent rat's bladder. Roly says that, in general, the fifties didn't produce the best vintages on record, I say that this is an outrageous exaggeration, when it came to claret, the entire decade produced nothing but filth, but Roly says that '58 was a Comet Year which produced an excellent Margaux and the '58 Bordeaux was the sweetest, gentlest, and most perfect of wines imaginable, I disagree, saying that against even a fifth-rate Lowland whisky, the '58 Bordeaux tastes like the exudations of a decaying warthog. To show Roly what a proper drink tastes like, Juan breaks out the Vintage Glenmorangie, Ardmore, Oban and Balblair Private Reserve and, while Roly throws together a picture of a kingfisher, we offer toast after toast to the glory of single-malt then, blowing up our bagpipes and playing 'Nansie's to the Greenwood Gane', 'Bab at the Bowster' and 'Ballinamona Ora', we tumble around in circles, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary



Roly says that he wants to paint an owl in flight but it's difficult because, when it's flying, it's moving, and it's difficult to paint something that's moving. I tell him that we don't have the time because we are direfully behind schedule, Juan suggests he should catch an owl, or buy a stuffed owl, spread its wings out, and hang it from a wire, then, when he paints it, it will look as if it's flying. Roly says that this would be cheating, and bad for the owl, he adds that another reason it's hard to paint an owl is that they tend to come out at night, when they're hard to see. I quickly sketch an owl at night, to show Roly that it's easy, but Juan says it doesn't look like a proper owl, I tell him it's a little-eared owl, Roly says there's no such thing as a little eared owl, I say there is, and I have the sketch to prove it. Roly says I just made it up, so I show him an engraving of a fern-owl and point out that the artist drew the fern-owl at night, and while it was flying. Juan looks at the engraving and says that it doesn't look anything like a fern-owl, and it can't be flying because doesn't even have its wings open. Roly says that another name for the fern-owl is the day-owl, so it was probably drawn in daylight. I remind him that it's also called a short-eared owl but I can't see any ears and I quickly paint a long eared-owl, to show him what a proper owl should look like, but Roly says it's a terrible long-eared owl, it looks more like a great-horned owl, Juan says that Roly has gone mad, owls don't have horns, I tell him that great-horned owls would not be called great-horned owls unless they had great horns, but Juan says the horns are really ears so they should be called great-eared owls, I show Juan a picture of an eagle-owl and tell him that eagle-owls have great ears, but they're called eagle-owls, not great-eared owls, Juan says that that doesn't prove a thing, I say it does, Juan asks what it proves, I say it proves he doesn't know anything about owls, Juan shouts that he's an expert on owls, and that he is famous for his owl stew, I remind him that his owl stew is invariably full of feathers because he's too lazy to de-feather the bird, Juan yells that stewed feathers are fantastically tasty and I'm a culinary Philistine, I reply with a headbutt, Juan answers with a right-hook, I retort with a left-jab to the stomach, Juan comes back with a left uppercut that renders me unconscious. When I wake up, Roly has finished his painting. I tell him that it looks like a brown owl but he says he just made it up, it's not a real owl, it's a spurious owl, an artistic creation, a cross between a russet owl and an auburn owl, Juan says it looks more like a hybrid owl, a mixture of a tan owl and a cinnamon owl. Roly is about to reply but I scream that I am sick of talking about owls and, to take everybody's minds off the stupid birds, I break open barrels of Vintage Inchgower, Jura, Lagavulin, and Tormore Private Reserve and, after offering toast after toast to an owl-free day, we all link arms and stagger around in circles, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary


Approaching Selborne

Dawdlingly behind schedule, a few miles from Selborne, we bump into our old friend, Roland Green, one of our top agents. Like Archibald Thorburn, Roly enjoys painting birds but nobody wants his paintings, so he specialises in inn signs. Roly tells us that he's just finished a sign for the Swan With Two Necks but Juan, looking at the sign, and comparing it with an engraving of a Bewick's swan, tells Roly that the bird is completely wrong, it shouldn't have two necks. Roly says that the inn is called 'The Swan with Two Necks' so, obviously, he drew a swan with two necks, but Juan says that the inn should be called 'The Swan with Two Nicks'. Roly says that that doesn't make sense. Juan explains that swans are marked with nicks on their bills, to show who owns them; swans with one nick, for example, are owned by the Dyers Guild and swans with two nicks are owned by the Vintners Guild. Once a year the guilds go on swan upping expeditions and mark the swans, then, later, the vintners sneak out again, catch the dyer's swans and put another mark on their beaks, then claim them for their own.

Roly says that he doesn't care, his swan has two necks and that's that. I tell Roly that, as a creative artist, he has every right to draw a multi-necked swan, even if it is freakish, historically inaccurate and badly drawn, this doesn't seem to please Roly, so Juan, to cheer him up, breaks open barrels of Vintage Cardhu, Auchentoshan, Cragganmore, and Tullibardine Private Reserve and after drinking toast after toast to all swan uppers, we blow up our bagpipes and, regaling Roly with 'Yonder Pomp of Costly Fashion' and ''Twas Na Her Bonie Blue E'e', we stumble on to Selborne, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary