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Back to the library

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 Scotland, 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 Germany, the books would be twice as easy to dig up than in England. 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.

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