Professor Humperdink III
We look at some more old aircraft but decide that, on balance, taking the new airship will be a better way to travel than risking our necks in these ridiculous contraptions. Juan wants to look at some more aircraft but I remind him that we are litherishly behind schedule so we go back to tell Sancho that we will be taking the airship.
Back at aunt's residence, Juan heads for the kitchen to throw some food together before our flight. In the dining room, Roly tells me that Sancho returned, said that he had to change, and hasn't been seen since, then, after Roly introduces me to a gentleman called Hajj, a new guest, he takes me aside and tells me that he is convinced that he has met Hajj before, but he can't remember where, or when, and, he adds, he has had the same feeling with all of the guests he has met, and he wonders if spending too much time with Juan is beginning to twist his mind.
I reassure Roly, telling him that most people who spend more than five minutes with Juan become mentally unhinged, however, I inform Roly that, in fact, he has met Hajj before, but before I can tell him where and when, Juan enters the room complaining that he couldn't find the ingredients for des oreilles de chat rôti, or compote de queue des souris dans les vomissures de la vache, so we will have to make do with tortue claire, terrine de poisson, roti de veau et legumes du jardin, Pont-l'Évêque, fruit, coffee, Vintage Auchroisk, Balmenach, and Glenlivet Private Reserve.
Roly, saying that George 'Beardy' Saintsbury always says that veal without Madeira is like a crocodile with no teeth, it might look impressive but it lacks bite, opens a bottle of Blandy's 1792; I add that Beardy also said that Madeira without Claret is like a boxer with no arms, amusing, but can't knock you out, and I open bottle of 1811 Bisquit Dubouche, Hajj says that he doesn't drink alcohol, but he reminds us that Beardy claims that Claret without Tokaji is like a snake without a tongue, it might be smooth, but it has no taste, and he opens a bottle of 1811 Tokay Essence. We salute Juan's cooking and aunt Humperdink's wine cellar, then, drooling and slobbering like starved pigs, we tear into meal and shove the food down our throats as fast as we possibly can.
Professor Humperdink's Diary
Staggering back to aunt Humperdink's residence, we call in to one of her aircraft construction sheds to see if we can find a suitable craft for Sancho. We find one of aunt's engineering teams working on a new airship that, they tell us, will be ready in a few days; Juan is very excited at this, as he believes that he is a wonderful airship pilot. The truth is that everyone knows that a root vegetable can fly an airship better than Juan, and the engineers are not happy that he wants to take their new airship to
Europe; they recommend we take an old flying boat instead. Juan looks at it doubtfully and says that it doesn't look as if it can fly; I explain that it was never meant to fly, it's a boat. However, there are taps at the bottom of each of the pipes that lead down from the four copper balls, each of which is filled with Vintage Glenlossie, Balvenie, Tullibardine, and Mortlach Private Reserve, respectively, so it's easy to access the malt, this guarantees that, although the ship doesn't travel through the air, after a short while, you definitely feel as if you are flying.
Juan says that this is perfect and the craft must have been created by a Highlander, but when I tell him that it was designed by Francesco de Lana, an Italian, he says that, although the Italians design wonderful shirts and very nice handbags, he doesn't think they're very good at designing anything else. I remind him that the Italians designed the Coliseum and the world beating design on the Sistine Chapel's ceiling was painted by Michelangelo, an Italian artist. Juan retorts that the Coliseum doesn't fly, and aeronautical engineering requires more than the ability to sling paint at a ceiling.
The engineers point out that, if we don't want to take the flying boat, there are plenty of other aircraft to choose from. We are sodgeringly behind schedule and we will be travelling a long way, so choosing the correct aircraft is a difficult decision; to help us decide, Juan opens a barrel of his Special Reserve, which we share with aunt's engineers and, after offering toast after toast to the wonders of human flight, and singing 'Why Hangs that Cloud' and 'The Highland Balloo', we stumble around in ramfoozled circles, as fast as we possibly can.
Professor Humperdink's Diary
Hearty draughts of vintage single malt give Sancho the confidence to try to ride a horse, but as soon as it starts running, Sancho falls off, so, needing advice, we visit our old friend Agnes, who is an expert in such matters. We find her with Jumping Jack, her little dog, and Havoc, a war donkey that Agnes is nursing back to health after he lost his front legs whilst on a mission with the Munatafiq donkey division (Secret Intelligence unit no. 9). We tell Agnes that Sancho is nervous about riding horses as they travel too quickly, and we ask her if she can lend Havoc to Sancho, but Agnes tells us that, although Havoc is getting better every day, he still has to be supported by a stick, and he isn't stable enough to carry a rider.
We ask Agnes if she knows of a donkey or a horse that would be suitable for Sancho, and she takes us to see her sister, Margery, who has a mare called Festa who doesn't like running. This sounds perfect, but, when we meet Margery, she explains that, although Festa does not like running, she doesn't like walking either, in fact, as Margery demonstrates, Festa doesn't even like standing up, so, while there is an advantage in that, when riding Festa, there isn't a great distance to fall, there is the disadvantage that, as Festa will only shuffle along on her bottom, even short journeys can take a long time.
Sancho says he's fed up with the whole business and goes back to the house. I point out that we have to find some transport for Sancho quickly, as we are worryingly behind schedule; Agnes suggests that Sancho travel by car but Juan says that, if a horse is too fast for Sancho, he would be terrified by at the speed of a car. Margery suggests that he travel by balloon, as balloons are slow. This is a wonderful idea and, to celebrate, Juan breaks open the Vintage Glen Moray, Bladnoch, Oban, and Auchentoshan Private Reserve and we offer toast after toast to Margery and Agnes, and their wonderful animals, then, linking arms and singing 'The Braes of Mar' and 'A Steed, A Steed', we stumble around in circles, as fast as we possibly can.
Professor Humperdink's Diary
Aunt Humperdink always keeps a few old aeroplanes available for guests to use; we can't work out which is the front end of Langley's "Aerodrome", and Thomas Moy's "Aerial" Steamer and Stringfellow's aeroplane are too small to carry us all, so Juan and I decide to take Hensen's "Aerial" steam carriage. However, Sancho isn’t enthusiastic and says that he doesn't want to fly anywhere, especially in something that looks like a broken crate. Juan tells Sancho that, because these sort of aeroplanes are very light, they crash lightly, so they’re safe. Sancho doesn’t look convinced and says he would rather travel by donkey because donkeys never crash.
We take Sancho to aunt Humperdink’s stables to select a donkey, but we discover that there aren’t any donkeys in the stables, so we choose a horse instead. Seeing the horse, and learning its name, Dare Devil, Sancho looks very alarmed and tells us that he has only ever ridden a donkey and the horse is too big, and it might go too quickly for comfort. I tell him that there’s nothing to worry about because Dare Devil has been trained as a trotter, so, normally, he doesn’t go very fast. Juan agrees, but he points out that Dare Devil sometimes gets bored with trotting, and then he likes to run, and when he runs, he runs like a berserk rocket. I add that Dare Devil also likes to jump, buck, spin, and roll, but, if Sancho hangs on tightly enough, he should be perfectly safe. Hearing this, Sancho says that, whatever we say, he’s not going to go near the animal.
Juan suggests that, if Sancho were more relaxed, he wouldn’t be so worried, so, to relax him, we break out the Vintage Aultmore, Tullibardine, Bowmore, and Glendronach Special Reserve, and offer toast after toast to the magnificence of horses, then, linking arms and singing ‘The Deil Cam’ Fiddlin’’, ‘Jumping John’ and ‘I Had a Horse’ at the top of our voices, we gallop around in circles, as fast as we possibly can.
Professor Humperdink’s Diary
After knocking back the champagne and finishing the cheese, Juan informs us that the main course will be delayed as aunt's kitchen is immaculately clean and he can't find the ingredients for sauce cafards. I say that, in any case, we should wait for aunt Humperdink to return as she always enjoys Juan's cooking. Juan says that we could go and meet up with aunt and come back with her. I say that I have some reservations about visiting the front line as I am sure to be asked to give a moral boosting speech to the troops, but I don't have anything prepared and, frankly, their moral is so low the only thing that could cheer them up is to tell them that they can stop fighting and go home. Roly suggests that I just tell them a few jokes; I think for a moment and then say, "My dog has no nose.” Denis stops me and says that I'll have to find another joke as the 'my dog has no nose' joke is the oldest joke there is, everybody knows it, it's stupid and it's not funny. I explain that I wasn't telling a joke, my dog really doesn't have a nose, she got it caught in a mangle and Juan had to amputate it. Roly asks me, if she doesn't have a nose, how does she smell? I tell him that she smells terrible.
Roly says that he will stay here and get on with some painting, undisturbed by idiots. Denis says that he'll get changed, as he's heard that trench warfare is mucky and he doesn't want to get his clothes dirty. While Denis changes. I head back to the library with Roly and Juan, for a farewell drink. Stepping over the smouldering remains of books, I explain that I've been improving the library by burning unnecessary volumes, and start throwing more books on the fire.
Seeing that Roly looks alarmed, I put his mind at ease by telling him that even supposedly 'factual' books are mostly just made up, and everybody knows there are far too many books in the world, and most authors agree. Juan says that authors agree because, with fewer books, there would be less competition for their own books. I say that that's not fair, most authors know that their own books are tripe, that’s why they are so pleased and surprised when someone agrees to publish them, and I remind them that Martin Luther said; "I could wish all my books were buried nine ells deep in the ground by reason of the ill example they will give.”
Roly says that I took the quote out of context and Juan says that nine ells isn't very deep so Luther wasn't being serious. I tell him that Luther was always serious. Roly says that it's complicated by the fact that ells are of differing lengths, in Poland, an ell is shorter than in
, and a Flemish ell is longer than a Danish ell. I say that Luther was probably talking about the German ell, which is half the size of an English ell. Juan says, in that case, in Scotland Germany, the books would be twice as easy to dig up than in . I can't see the point of this observation, but I tell Juan that most of Luther's books were burnt anyway, and I am sure he would have been delighted. Roly says that, in all likelihood, Luther never said anything about burying his books, the quote was taken from Antony Lauterbach and John Aurifaber's recollections of Luther's table talk, and they were probably so drunk they couldn't remember anything Luther said, so they just made it up. I say that that proves my point and, finding a first edition of Colloquia Mensalia, I hurl it into the fire. England
While Juan selects bottles from the whisky cabinet, the door opens; another guest arrives and introduces himself as Sancho. Roly says that he's sure they've met before, but can't remember where, I start to tell Roly where they last met when Juan interrupts me by passing around bottles of Vintage Glen Scotia, Linkwood, Miltonduff, and Bladnoch Founders Reserve, and we concentrate on offering toast after toast to the continued health of all front line troops and the glory of aunt Humperdink, then, inflating our bagpipes and playing 'To Arms, my lads', 'Daft Days', and 'The Rantin' Highlandman', we charge around the burning books, as fast as we possibly can.
Professor Humperdink's Diary
After the vol-au-vent and the
Madeira, Charles hauls himself to his feet, mumbles something about needing to change, and staggers for the door. A short time later, another guest enters the dining room, introduces himself as Denis, sits down, and asks what the next course is. Roly murmurs that he's sure that he's met Denis before, but he can't remember when. I lean over to tell Roly when it was that he last met Denis, but I lean too far and fall off my chair, I grab the tablecloth for support but only succeed in pulling everything off the table.
After sweeping the debris into a corner and re-laying the table, Juan answers Denis, telling him that he searched the pond and collected a dozen frogs, Denis asks Juan if he has cooked frog’s legs, but Juan says he would not cook frog's legs by themselves, no more than he would cook frogs without legs, it's barbaric, he says. A lizard, he points out, can grow its tail back, if it gets pulled off, but a frog can't grow its legs back, and a frog without legs can't swim, all it can do is bob up and down, which would be miserable for the frog; one should either cook the whole frog, he says, or no frog at all, but, in any event, frogs should not be cooked. With this, Juan places a large, covered, bowl on the table, which Roly and Denis eye warily. Roly tells Juan that, while we all love his cooking, he hopes we are not going to be served cold, dead, raw, frogs. Juan looks pained and says that he would never hurt a frog, except in self defence, but a frog race, he says, always livens up a meal, and he lifts the cover of the bowl and twelve frogs leap out.
We have a lot of fun racing the frogs around the table while Juan serves fromages à pâte molle à croûte lavée. I recommend that we wash it down with Vintage Lochside, Glenrothes, Dalmore, Inchgower, and Lagavulin Private Reserve but Roly reminds us that old Beardy Saintsbury always says that cheese without champagne is like froth without bubbles, basically a form of scum, and he pops the cork of a magnum of 1850 Grand Champagne Delamain. We lift our glasses, drink to the health of our froggy friends and salute all cheesemakers, then, snorting and grunting with appreciation, we dive into the food and cram it into our mouths, as fast as we possibly can.
Professor Humperdink's Diary
After finishing the consommé and emptying the Verdelho, Charles lurches to his feet and, swaying slightly, excuses himself, saying that he needs to change for the second course. A few moments later another guest arrives, and introduces himself to Roly as Phillippe. Roly murmurs to me that there's something about Phillippe that reminds him of someone he's met, but he can't think who it is. I whisper back that Phillippe might seem like a disreputable vagrant, but the honour of the family depends upon him; I am about to tell Roly who it is that Phillippe reminds him of when Juan brings in the second course.
He tells us that, although he searched the cellars and checked the drains, disappointingly, he couldn't find any rats so, rather than being able to serve rat puff, we will have to put up with vol-au-vent à la financière. Seeing that Phillippe and Roly do not appear to be too disappointed, he tells them that his rat puff is a wonderful dish, the cooking of which requires a great deal of expertise, whereas any fool with a spoon can slop out vol-au-vent. I suggest we serve it with Vintage Tobermory, Dailluaine, Linkwood, and Glenkinchie Special Reserve but I'm overruled by Roly who reminds us that Beardy Saintsbury says that a meal without Madeira is like an ornithopter with only one wing, it flaps, but it doesn't get you high, and he opens four bottles of 1850 Terrantez "Gaselee" Madeira. We raise our glasses and offer toast after toast to delicious French wine, mouth-watering French cuisine and luscious French women, then, slavering like starving dogs, we tear into the vol-au-vent as fast as we possibly can.
Professor Humperdink's Diary
I catch up with Juan and Roly in the dining room where we are joined by another guest who introduces himself as Charles. Juan, presenting the first course, tells us that he couldn't cook the meal that he had planned as, although he searched amongst the rafters in the attic, he couldn't find any bats, so, rather than having soupe de chauve-souris as a starter, we will have to settle for consommé jardinière. Roly and Charles look relieved but Juan tells them that they're missing a treat as he spent years perfecting his bat soup, but that any idiot can sling a common or garden consommé together.
Juan wants to serve Vintage Glenfiddich, Lochnagar, Cragganmore and Auchentoshan Private Reserve, but Roly reminds us that his friend, George 'Beardy' Saintsbury, says that consommé without
Madeira is like a marriage without a bride, completely pointless and no fun at all. Juan says that if a saint says it, it must be true; I tell him that Beardy isn't a saint, he's a professor, but he does have a saint-like knowledge of wines. Charles says that saints shouldn't have a deep knowledge of wine, but I point out that there are piles of saints who are patron saints of wine so they must have been wine experts. Roly leans over and whispers to me that there's something distinctly odd, yet oddly familiar about Charles, before I can explain, Juan opens a bottle of 1779 Verdelho "Gasalee" Madeira and we raise our glasses, drink to each other's health then, drooling and slobbering with excitement, we launch into the meal, as fast as we possibly can.
Professor Humperdink's Diary
As we enter Selborne, Roly says that it's like going back in time, I say that it's like that in the provinces, but at the moment, real time travel is out of the question because Dirk's time machine doesn't work, and, I add, it's not likely to work because all the scientists working with Dirk are fiercely in competition with each other. At the best of times, they refuse to share information; mostly, they spend their time discrediting their colleagues and sabotaging each other's experiments. Arriving at The Wakes, aunt Humperdink’s Selborne residence, we find that we can't open the door. We take turns kicking it until it falls off its hinges. Inside, we find that our old friend Otis, one of our top agents, had been leaning against it, having a rest, he said. After propping him up, Otis tells us that aunt is visiting the troops, and she said that we should make ourselves at home until she returns, or, if we prefer, we can join her on the Western front.
We immediately head for the library, open the whisky cabinet, salute aunt Humperdink, offer toast after toast to absent friends, and drink to the health of Highlanders, islanders, mainlanders, seafarers, canalinians, and lakers. However, Roly says that he doesn't think that there is such a thing as 'lakers'. I say there is, and even if there isn't, I tell him that he shouldn't be so pedantic. Juan says that I'm right about 'lakers', but that there isn't such a word as 'canalinians'. Otis says that canalinians are people who live on canals, but that 'lakers' is definitely not a real word, I say that Otis is wrong, Juan says I am wrong, I tell him that he's switched sides, and Otis is wrong, Juan says he doesn't care, Roly says that we're all wrong, but when we challenge him to tell us why we are wrong, he can't remember what we are taking about. I say this proves it. Roly shouts back that it proves nothing; Juan, finding the conversation tedious, sets off a firework. Roly teeters around the room, crashing into the bookshelves, falling over tables and chairs, mumbling that he needs to find the wine cellar, I tell him that it's easy to find, it's in the cellar, Juan says it's easy to find because it's not lost. Otis says that something doesn't have to be lost before it can be found. I say that it could be lost after it was found, but it can't be found before it's lost. Juan says that if nobody lost it, nobody can find it, Otis shouts that it's the other way around; if it's not lost, it's easy to find. Juan says that it's possible to find that you've lost it. I say that, equally, you could find that you hadn't lost it; but, either way, it's easy to find, it's in the cellar. Roly looks confused so Otis, saying that he has to change for dinner, volunteers to show Roly the way to the cellar, Juan says that he'll to go the kitchen and sling a meal together, and they all stumble off, bouncing off the corridor walls, singing 'The Wanderer's Return' and 'Hame, Hame, Hame' at the top of their voices.
Feeling that I should do something useful, I take it upon myself to improve the library by burning unneeded books. Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason' is the first to go on the fire, then, on the grounds that if you don't want one book by Kant, you certainly won't want two of them, this is quickly followed by his 'Crique of Practical Reason'. Unfortunately, the leather-bound volumes don't burn very well, they only smoulder, giving off a terrible stench. I pour whisky on the fire, to get it going, the books ignite spectacularly, but, unfortunately, they send out burning debris that sets the carpet alight. I beat back the flames with a large copy of 'Utilitarianism', by John Mill, re-build the fire and keep it going for hours by feeding it philosophy. By the time I hear the bell ringing for dinner, I am satisfied that, by ridding the library of philosophers, the library is much improved, then, after finishing off the bottles of Vintage Balvenie, Teaninich, Glentauchers, and Highland Park Private Reserve I put the fire out by smothering it with the curtains then, hungry after my exertions, and looking forward to a good meal, I stagger to the dining room, as fast as I possibly can.
Professor Humperdink's Diary