As I enter the bar, I see Albert move a black pawn, and Juan, swaying backwards and forwards in front of the chessboard, saying that Albert may as well resign, as he can’t possibly win. With this, he lurches forward, moves his knight, and falls backwards, burbling “Mate in five.” Albert looks cross and confused. I interrupt the game, telling everyone that the airship is outside and we have to go. Albert says he has to finish the game first. I tell him that he can’t win because Juan was playing white and, in chess, white moves first, which means that Juan has a tremendous advantage, as he is always one move ahead. This is a secret that all professional chess players know, however, I explain, if it became generally known that white always wins, the entire chess industry would collapse, and so, to keep the secret, players playing white often deliberately lose. Albert, saying that he has never heard such nonsense, moves his king. Juan struggles to his feet and, barely glancing at the board, says “mate in three,” flicks a pawn forward with his elbow, spins around, trips over his own feet, and stumbles across the bar, bumping into tables and knocking chairs in all directions.
I am surprised at how unsteady Juan is, but then I remember that the Selborne Arms doesn’t have a licence to sell spirits, and drinking huge quantities of ale, without balancing it with an equivalent amount of whisky, can have a deleterious effect on one’s balance. At this point, Albert, who has been studying the chessboard with great concentration, realises that, whatever he does, Juan can checkmate him and, snarling, he knocks his king over, and demands another game. I remind Albert that we are sprauchlishly behind schedule and we don’t have time for another game.
Because Juan won, George and Roly lost their bet, George offers me a painting of a great crested grebe, but I tell him that I would feel guilty if I took his painting because Juan couldn’t lose, so the bet wasn’t really fair. Roly says I may as well take George’s painting as it’s rubbish and nobody else would want it. I tell Roly that I think the painting is great, but Roly says that the great crested grebe is a stupid looking bird to start with, and the way George has painted it makes it look even worse. George responds to this by picking up the painting and smashing Roly over the head with it. Roly picks up a paintbrush and pokes George on the nose, daubing it a bright orange. George grabs Roly by the neck and they both roll around the pub, biting and gouging each other like rabid ferrets. After calming them both down, by knocking George out, with a bottle of stout, and throwing Roly out of the window, I apologise to the landlord for their behaviour. When he pours another round and says that, between artists, occasional bouts of professional rivalry should be overlooked in favour of considering the beauty their art brings to the world, I am reminded that the landlord’s gracious attitude is one of the reasons the Selborne Arms is considered to be one of the best pubs in the world, and why it is so difficult to leave.
The door opens and Roly staggers in, shouting that the airship has left without us, but, he says, he wouldn’t travel on the thing anyway, as it didn’t look safe. This is irritating and I tell him he is being ridiculous, airships are very safe, as long as they don’t crash or explode, and they hardly ever explode, unless they’ve crashed, and they rarely crash, unless they’ve exploded, so there’s nothing to worry about.
Roly says that things that don’t have wings can’t fly, and things that can fly do have wings, so if you want to fly, it’s useful to have wings. George, waking up, says that some birds can’t fly, like penguins, and penguins have wings. Moreover, he adds, ostriches can’t fly either, and an ostrich has big wings. Roly says an ostrich has big wings because it’s a big bird. Trying to be helpful, I point out that the kiwi and the cassowary are big birds as well, and they hardly have any wings. Roly says that he doesn’t care, but, whatever we say, he’s will only leave the ground on something that has proper, functioning, wings, and feathers, he adds, just to be on the safe side. Bored mindless, but wanting to contribute to the conversation, I whip out my dirk, carve a dodo into the table and remind everyone that dodos couldn’t fly either, but everyone ignores me. George starts to tell Roly something else about wings and birds, but I’m sick of listening to this incredibly stupid conversation and, before he can finish his sentence, I lunge at George and Roly and bang their heads together, until they fall down, and stop talking.
The landlord pours another round, and says that, if it is of any use, he always keeps a big bird ready to go at a moments notice. Juan cheers and says that that’s always a very good idea. The landlord tells us to follow him, and leads the way out of the back door. I kick Roly and George awake, and pull Romain from underneath the table and slap him into consciousness, while Juan grabs Albert and shoves him toward the door where, stupidly, we all try and get through it at the same time; swearing and shoving each other, we eventually manage to squeeze through the door and follow the landlord into the field adjoining the Selborne Arms, where, saying, “I hope this is useful,” he presents us with barrels of Vintage Bladnoch, Oban, Auchentoshan, Glenmorangie Special Reserve, and a big bird.
Impressed, and very grateful, we offer toast after toast to the landlord, big birds, and the wonder of flight, then, whooping and cheering, and flapping our arms with excitement, we stumble around in circles, as fast as we possibly can.
Professor Humperdink’s Diary