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29.5.10

Woodcock




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We are skellumishly behind schedule and desperate to get to Selborne, but Roly informs us that, before we go, he wants to paint a woodcock. Juan starts banging his head against a tree in frustration at yet another delay and I shout at Roly that George Rankin painted a very handsome woodcock, so painting another one is virtually plagiarism. Roly yells that George painted a woodcock standing on some leaves, and any maggoty-headed imbecile could do that, whereas, Roly says, he wants to paint a woodcock while it's flying, and carrying a chick, which is something that has never been done before, and requires real skill.

Juan says he's didn’t know that a woodcock could carry its babies, but Roly says "fugiens ab hoste pullos rostro portat.” Juan tells Roly not to swear, but I explain that Roly wasn't swearing, he was quoting Scopoli, who thought that woodcocks carried their babies in their beaks. Juan spits and says that Scopoli was a lying, cheating, toe-rag who, if he didn't know something, just made it up, and he didn't know much, so everything he said was complete rubbish. I agree with Juan and point out that Gilbert White, the great English naturalist, thought exactly the same thing, however, Gilbert's friend, Mr. St. John, did claim that a woodcock can carry her young, but not in her bill, rather, he said, she clasps the little bird firmly between her thighs. Juan says that that sounds like fun, and if a saint said it, it must be true. I explain that Mr. John wasn't a saint; St. John was just his name. Juan says that that's cheating but it gives him a good idea and, from now on, he's going to call himself St. Juan. I tell him he can’t be a saint because saints live saintly lives and Juan's horrible behaviour definitely puts him out of the running. Juan sulks at this news but, to cheer himself up, he breaks open the Vintage Cardhu, Cragganmore, Glenmorangie, and Tamnavulin Special Reserve and, while Roly goes off to paint a woodcock, we offer toast after toast to birds with firm thighs, and jump around in excited circles, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary