Professor Humperdink III

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Games in the Selborne Arms

A. Double leg hold. B. Chancery back heel. C. Side chancery. D. Cross buttock and waist hold. E. Near leg hold and arm lock. F. Waist lock secured from rear and breaking hold. G. Ready to secure fall with waist hold secured from front. H. Fall imminent from waist lock. J. Leg hold and inside back-heel. K. Half Nelson and further leg hold. L. Referee’s hold. M. Full Nelson. N. Three-quarter Nelson. O. Quarter Nelson. P. Half Nelson.

Relaxing in the Selborne Arms, Juan suggests we play some traditional pub games, such as having a taich tulzie. George asks what this is and I tell him it’s an indoor scuffle, normally using dirks or ballock daggers for weapons. George looks horrified and says that he definitely doesn’t want to have anything to do with such a thing. Juan can’t understand what the problem is, but the landlord tells us that the traditional English pub fight doesn’t require knives or daggers, in fact, he adds, it doesn’t involve fighting at all. What happens, he explains, is that one man chooses another man at random and says, “‘Ere, wot you looking at?” This signals the start of the match. The other man then says something to the effect that he’s looking at an idiot, or, alternatively, says something terrible about the person’s mother or wife. Then the first man says “Step outside, I’m going to rip your head off.” Both men then make their way to the door but, before they can get outside, they are held back by their friends who say, “Leave him alone, he’s not worth it!” Both protagonists are then escorted back to the bar where they are made to shake hands and share a drink, then they share another drink, and they keep on drinking until, hopelessly inebriated, they fall into each other’s arms, crying, and swearing eternal friendship. This doesn’t sound very interesting so I suggest a bout of wrestling, or a boxing match.

Romain says that boxing is barbaric and dangerous. I tell him that he shouldn’t worry because modern boxers just dance around, tapping each other with soft, sponge-like, gloves which stops anyone getting hurt, and wrestling is simply a matter of performing a series of predetermined moves, very much like classical ballet, but noisier, less skilful and not as painful. Juan says we should have an arm-wrestling match, where the worst thing that can happen is a broken arm, which shouldn’t bother anyone, but George says that, as an artist, he needs his arms, Roly agrees, but, waving George’s painting of a pied wagtail, he says that, considering that George imbued the bird with as much movement and life as a lump of lead, George may as well paint with his knees, George, in reply, shoves Roly’s picture of a sun-bittern in front of us, shouting that Roly isn’t in a position to criticise art, as he couldn’t even be bothered to colour the bird, and drawing a colourless sun-bittern is like painting a rainbow without colours, it’s just lazy and stupid. Roly yells that a sun-bittern isn’t lazy or stupid, it’s an active, intelligent, bird, and he picks up a tube of blue paint and squirts it into George’s face, George grabs a bottle of stout and pours it over Roly, Roly kicks George in the stomach, George charges at Roly and, shouting and biting and rolling around, the two great artists do their best to beat each other into pulp. Juan and I cheer them on, but Albert says we should play something cerebral, Juan doesn’t know what he means; Albert says he means something involving the head rather than the arms, so Juan headbutts Albert in the face, knocking him across the room where, crashing against a table, he collapses in a heap.

When Albert regains consciousness, and, after we’ve cleaned the blood off his face, Albert complains that his nose is broken and claims that, if Juan had struck him any harder, he could have pushed his nose-bone up into his brain and killed him. I tell Albert that headbutting is traditional Highland pub game, and remind him that humans don’t have nose-bones, so he couldn’t possibly have come to any harm. Albert starts to argue that, of course we have nose bones, then, realising that he’s wrong, he lapses into a sulky silence. To cheer Albert up, the landlord brings out a chessboard and Albert challenges Juan to a match. Albert is internationally recognised as a genius and Juan is generally considered to be a complete idiot, so, as far as George, Roly and Romain are concerned, the outcome of the game isn’t in doubt, and they start betting that Albert will beat Juan easily. I put my money on Juan. Looking at Juan, staggering around the Selborne Arms, bouncing off the walls, slopping beer in all directions and singing a wild Highland battle song, George says I must be mad to think the can beat Albert at chess, a game of pure logic and intelligence, which Juan conspicuously lacks, and they raise the stakes. I am reluctant to take their money, but find it hard to turn down their challenge, so, rather than betting for money, I ask that, if Juan wins, they pay me with a painting. George says that he’ll give me a painting of a great crested grebe; I say that that’s great but Roly says that it’s not a fair offer, as George’s paintings are worthless rubbish. And the two artists start fighting again.

Albert puts the chess board on the table, sets up the pieces, and asks Juan if he wants to play white or black, Juan staggers over to the table, says “white”, casually flicks a white pawn forward two spaces, then goes to the bar, to order more drinks and something to eat. Albert pushes a black pawn forward, I call Juan to the table, he returns, carrying a pint of ale in one hand and a plate of Scottish smoked salmon in the other, he barely glances at the board, but bends over and flicks another white pawn with his elbow, spilling ale all over the board as he does so, then he sits down on the floor and tucks into the salmon. Albert moves one of his knights. Juan, sitting on the floor, can’t see the board and says that he’s eating and can’t be bothered to stand up to make his move, and asks Albert to make a move for him. Albert says this is against the rules; Juan has to move the pieces himself. Juan, disgruntled, flicks a piece of salmon toward the table where it strikes a white pawn and moves it one square forward.

Everyone is amazed at Juan’s throw, but I know that Juan is a fantastic shot, so I’m not surprised. Albert, disconcerted, moves another piece, Juan, barely looking up, throws another piece of salmon, moving another pawn. The game continues like this, with Juan moving his pieces by slinging bits of salmon at the board, reluctantly getting up to move a knight now and then, and to get another glass of ale. After ten moves, Juan gets to his feet, lurches to the table, glances at the board, carelessly pushes a bishop a few spaces and declares, “Mate in thirteen.” Albert, irritated, says that Juan can’t possibly know that’s he’s going to win thirteen moves in advance, but the next time Juan moves a piece he says “Mate in eleven.” Albert says it’s impossible to know who is going to win, eleven moves before the end of the game, there are too many variations to take into account, however, when Juan moves again he declares, “Mate in nine” with such authority that Albert looks worried and spends hours looking at the board; by the time he makes his next move Juan has downed eight or nine more pints of ale, and can barely stand. He stumbles towards the board, knocks his queen sideways a couple of spaces, and slumps to the floor, mumbling, “Mate in seven.”

By this time, I’m bored witless with the stupid game and, because the Selborne Arms doesn’t have a licence to sell spirits, I volunteer to go to collect some Vintage Aultmore, Tullibardine, Glen Scotia, and Blair Athol Founder’s Reserve from aunt Humperdink’s cellars. Stepping outside the pub, I notice a group of people and an airship. This is a wonderful sight as, although we are faizingly behind schedule, now I can tell Juan, Romain, George, Albert and Roly that, finally, we can be on our way and, yelling with excitement, I rush back into the Selborne Arms, as fast as I possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary


Returning to the Selborne Arms

While we wait for Alberto to bring a balloon we refresh ourselves with Vintage Linkwood, Bowmore, Glendronach, and Glen Elgin Private Reserve and, when we spot Alberto‘s balloon, we are all very refreshed and extremely excited, but, when he comes closer, we realise that the balloon is very small airship and we will have to stand underneath it, rather than travelling in it. Juan says that this shouldn’t be a problem, and the view will be spectacular, but Roly says that he has no intention of standing under a small airship all the way to India and, noticing that Alberto’s craft is marked number nine, he asks what happened to the previous eight balloons; when Alberto tells us that the other balloons crashed but, he assures us, this one seems to be holding up very well, Roly isn’t convinced and refuses to travel on the thing. Aberto volunteers to get another, bigger, craft. I ask him to be quick, reminding him that we are erghishly behind schedule. Alberto says that it will take him a few days to get another airship, Juan says that the best thing we can do, while waiting for Albert, is to go to the pub, this is entirely sensible and we all race back to the Selborne Arms, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary


Leaving the Selborne Arms, once more

Reluctantly, and with great difficulty, we tear ourselves away from the Selborne Arms and, after collecting barrels of Vintage Miltonduff, Bladnoch, Lochside, and Glenrothes Special Reserve, for the journey, we head for aunt Humperdink’s aero club, to meet Romain’s friend, Alberto, who, Romain tells us, always has a few spare balloons. However, when we meet up with Alberto, he informs us that he does have a lot of balloons, but he tells us that the only ones he has available at the moment are ladies’ balloons, and they are just about to be used in the ladies’ balloon race. Juan asks Alberto if we can borrow the ladies as well as the balloons. Roly says that when we are flying over enemy territory, men in women’s balloons might seem suspicious and attract unwanted attention. Romain suggests that we disguise ourselves as women and, rummaging through his sketches, he produces some dress designs, which he says would be suitable for us. I’m not keen on the idea as, if we were to crash behind enemy lines, and had to run and hide, wearing a tube dress would be a hindrance. Juan thinks it’s a bad idea as well, saying that if he wanted to dress up as a woman he’d become a priest. Alberto says that, if we wait a short while, he will get a suitable balloon. I ask him to hurry up because we are schamlichishly behind schedule; Alberto goes to get a balloon, Juan breaks open the whisky, to help pass the time, and, after offering toast after toast to all lady balloonists, we inflate our bagpipes, and playing ‘In airy dreams’, Up in the Morning Early’, and ‘Up wi’ the Widow’, we stagger around in circles, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary


Preparing to leave the Selborne Arms

It is very easy to enter the Selborne Arms, however, the welcoming atmosphere, together with the tremendous hospitality of the landlord, delicious food, excellent ale, convivial company, comfort, warmth and general cosiness, make it an extraordinarily difficult place to leave. So we stay for a week.

We have a wonderful time, Juan, Romain and the landlord get involved in a complicated experiment, which involves mixing various types of ale together, and testing the results, this keeps them amused for days. Albert tells me about some of his theories, but he loses interest when he mentions Heisenberg's uncertainty principal and Schrodinger’s cat and I tell him about Humperdink’s certainty principal, the knowledge of which is more useful than being uncertain, and Humperdink’s tiger, which is the same as Schrodinger’s cat, but bigger. George paints another picture and Roly says it’s rubbish because the birds he has painted aren’t flying. George points out that they are nidicolous nestlings and too young to fly and, strictly speaking, it’s only one bird, the three stages of blackbird. Roly says that that’s just an excuse and scribbles a sketch of some blackgame in flight, to show that birds in fight are more interesting than birds on the ground. Juan, looking at the pictures, says the blackbird isn’t black, so it’s wrong, and the blackgame look like grouses. George says that female blackbirds aren’t black and Roly says that blackgame are grouse, and, he adds, you can’t say ‘grouses’ because they are like sheep; you can’t say ‘two sheeps’, and the collective noun for grouse is ‘pack’.

Juan says that a grouse is nothing like a sheep, but I tell him that a group of sheep is called a flock of sheep, which is the same as a flock of birds, so they are like grouse, because grouses are birds. Roly says that it doesn’t matter, you still can’t say ‘grouses’, it’s ungrammatical. George says that blackbirds and grouse are completely different birds, but I remind him that they are both game birds. Juan says he knows some game birds, but I tell him that the term ‘game bird’ does not refer to his startlingly over-enthusiastic female friends but, rather, refers to birds such as grouse and blackbirds, which are hung upside down and allowed to go rotten before they are cooked. Romain says that that’s disgusting; I tell him that English food is famous for being disgusting, and so are some of Juan’s friends. George and Roly shout at us to shut up because we don’t know what we are talking about. Changing the subject, Juan says that, although the ale is exceptionally hearty, we need more whisky, and, as the Selborne Arms doesn’t have a licence to sell spirits, he volunteers to go back to aunt Humperdink’s residence to collect some Vintage Dalmore, Inchgower, Lagavulin, and Glenkinchie Special Reserve. This is a wonderful idea, but I remind him that we are ricklingly behind schedule and we should collect a balloon from Romain’s friend, Alberto, who, Romain tells us, always has a few spare balloons. Accordingly, we order another few rounds, to fortify and prepare us for the journey then, after offering toast after toast to birds of all hue, we inflate out bagpipes, play ‘Black-haired Laddie’, ‘Black-e’ed Lassie’ and ‘Blackford Hill’ at full volume, and stagger around the bar, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary


Missing the airshiip

The landlord tells us that the airship has been delayed because the banks are on holiday and, in England, everybody celebrates the absence of bankers by taking time off and enjoying themselves. Hearing this, Juan sends barrels of Vintage Dailluaine, Linkwood, Tobermory, and Glentauchers Special Reserve to the airfield, so the engineers can properly celebrate. They celebrate so enthusiastically that they become too befuddled to function and, forgetting to untie the airship from its mooring post, they spin round in the wind for days on end, and become unwell. To swiften their recovery, Juan sends more barrels of malt, for medicinal purposes, thus causing further delay. This is worrying because we are wreglingly behind schedule and we should look for an alternative means of transport, however, after a few more rounds, I stop worrying and doze off into a contented slumber.

Irritatingly, Roly wakes me up and tells me that he is concerned for his safety, and he wants the airship to be fitted with a means of escape. I try to reassure him by telling him that, statistically, it is safer to travel by airship than it is to travel by donkey. Roly shouts that statistics are for suckers. Juan says that, if donkeys don’t crash, we should take Roly’s donkey on the airship. Roly shouts that he doesn’t have a donkey and donkeys have nothing to do with it; I promise him that we’ll provide escape aircraft, one for Roly and one for his donkey. George wakes up and draws some chicks, he tells us that Roly can’t criticise them because they’re not flying, they’re not flying, he explains, rather unnecessarily, because they’re too little. Roly says that George is cheating, it takes talent to paint a bird in flight, he says, but any runt-brained lummox can slop out nidicugous nestlings. George says that, if Roly knew anything at all about birds, he would know they’re not nidicugous, they’re nidifugous, Roly shouts that he doesn’t care what they are, they’re rubbish. I tell Roly that he’s being ridiculous, they’re very nice chicks, Roly says that if he sees any more of George’s stupid birds, he is going to be sick. I tell him not to be sick, because it will stain the carpet. The landlord says that it doesn’t matter; artists should be allowed to express themselves. Romain says that a tastefully stained carpet is a thing of beauty. I point out that gastric acid will burn a hole in the carpet. Albert says that an alkaline spray will neutralise the acidity and tealeaves will suck up the bile. Juan shouts that hearing people talk about cleaning carpets is making him ill. I inform everyone that this is because Juan never cleans anything. Juan objects, saying that he recently cleaned Alexandra, with a foam and alcohol rub. I tell him that diving into her bath, waving a soapy sponge and a bottle of whisky, doesn’t amount to a conscientious cleaning. Albert says that it all comes down to the ions. Nobody knows what ions are, and we don’t care, but he gives us an incoherent lecture on the nature of ions and their effects on carpets, too many of which, he says, can distort the weave and ripple the base. Juan says that he normally smoothes a rippling base with his hand, as he demonstrated to Alexandra. The tedium of listening to this nonsense is rendering me comatose, taking the only sensible option; I open my flask of Juan’s Special Reserve, drink to the success of carpet cleaners, and descend into a witless stupor.

Some time later, Juan kicks me awake and shouts that the airship has arrived, and we all pile outside to see it. Unfortunately, because it has aircraft attached to it, it can’t land, for risk of destroying the aeroplanes, and if the aeroplanes come off, the airship will be too light to get near the ground, so we watch as it floats, majestically, over our heads and vanishes into the distance. After a long silence, Roly says, “Well, that was useless.” This isn’t helpful, but Romain suggests that we visit his friend, Alberto Santos-Dumont, who, he says, always has some spare airships. I tell Romain to arrange it and Juan says that, rather than standing in a cold, barren, field, waiting for something to happen, we should wait for something to happen in a warm, friendly, pub, this is a wonderful idea, and we all tumble back into the Selborne Arms, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary