Looking at George, calmly working on a painting, I decide to interfere, and tell him that he should learn to write, then he could write about birds as well as paint them, and I offer to teach him to write. He replies, somewhat snappishly, that he can write perfectly well, and he doesn’t need my help. I think I can prove him wrong and, passing him a serviette, tell him to write a sentence on it. He writes ‘There are fluffy clouds floating in the sky today.’ I tell him the sentence is rubbish, and to write it again, but better. He scribbles ‘Fluffy clouds, floating in the sky.’ I tell him that it’s only better because it’s shorter, but it’s still too long, most of it is obvious or redundant, and it’s boring. Also, I inform him, if he uses the word ‘floating’, most people will think of something that floats on water, in fact, I tell him, clouds don’t float on water, they are water, so they must be floating in the sky, there’s nowhere else they can go. Then, taking into account that balloons aren’t fluffy, and the only things that float in the sky are clouds and balloons, they must be clouds, so, I suggest, George should just write, ‘No balloons’, and leave it at that. George says that that’s stupid, you can’t, he says, write about something that isn’t there, especially when you want to describe something that is there. I tell him that sort of thing doesn’t matter in literature, also ‘No balloons’ is short, so it’s easy to read, it’s nonsensical, so it’s poetic, and it poses the question as to why there are no balloons. It might be a solemn occasion, I conjecture, in which case, the absence of balloons would be entirely appropriate, as, I recall, Juan and Mahalath once discovered, people selling balloons are not necessarily welcome at a state funeral.
At the time, it was essential that they remain deep under cover and, under no circumstances, attract attention to themselves, however to celebrate a successful mission, they spent all their funds on a party. Then, remembering that they needed to leave the country, quickly, they tried to raise money by selling balloons on the street. Seeing a depressed looking mob, they followed them, waving their balloons and sing jolly songs to cheer the people up, so they would get in the mood to buy balloons. This tactic didn’t work, as the crowds of people attending the king’s funeral were genuinely sad. They were mourning, I remember, for a good reason; although the young king’s health was known to be delicate, everyone thought he would live for years. All he had to do to stay well, they said, was to avoid exertion, which is easy for a king. However, a visiting dignitary introduced the frail young king to a beautiful, mysterious, princess, from the East. The king did not survive the affair, after two days and three nights, he gave up the ghost through exhaustion. The dignitary couldn’t be found, the princess had, evidently, fled; gems, pearls and cash had gone missing, and the king was dead on the bed. It was tragic.
Luckily, Mahalath and Juan had become somewhat ragged after the money ran out and they moved the party on to the streets. The result was that, seeing the two stinking, decrepit, tramps, singing, and waving balloons at a king’s funeral, nobody associated them with the important dignitary and the beautiful princess who had caused all this trouble in the first place. But they still got arrested, so that didn’t work. George, looking glazed, says that kites float as well, to demonstrate, he shows me a picture of a milvus ictinus, I observe that the bird isn’t floating; it’s standing, which, I think, exactly proves my point. George says he doesn’t care, and paints a falcon instead.
Albert shows me a picture of an albatross, saying that an albatross floats, I yell that it doesn’t float, it hovers, Juan blows cigar smoke into the air and flicks ash across the cabin, saying that ash and smoke floats as well, in case I’d forgotten. As I shout back that they’re both splitting hairs just to be a nuisance and, anyway, obviously, I haven’t forgotten, I realise that I have forgotten and can’t remember what I am talking about; to cover the fact, I take a sudden interest in somebody else’s problem and ask Fatty if he has made a decision about the serviettes.
Fatty says that he is struggling to decide whether the serviettes should be folded as a boar’s head, or as a rose and star. I don’t need to be asked to give my opinion and, looking at Fatty’s diagrams, I tell him that, at least, they both look easy to fold, but the boar’s head looks particularly easy, and quick. To demonstrate, I follow the diagram exactly, carefully checking every fold against the very simple instructions, and, in less than an hour, I reduce a clean, nicely ironed serviette into a dirty, crumpled rag. I tell everyone, loudly, that the instructions must be wrong. Juan has a go, folds his serviette into something unearthly and agrees that the instructions are rubbish, Fatty, however, neatly folds a serviette into a perfect boar’s head, follows this up with a swiftly made and accurately folded rose and star and says that I’m right, they are easy to fold. This is irritating.
It is also irritating that, despite being camshachlelingly behind schedule, all we can do is relax and wait to be rescued. I remind myself that it has often happened that agents request the Agent Rescue Service, but, when the rescuers arrive, they find that the agents have already worked their way out of their difficulties and made their way to a pub. So, to save precious resources, the service first checks all the bars in the area. This, particularly when the emergency is in the middle of the Pacific, requires that dedicated agents visit hundreds of beautiful islands and, to do a thorough job, spend a great deal of time in exotic locations, investigating bars, checking drinking-clubs and hanging around cocktail lounges. This can delay a rescue attempt.
In the meantime, to cheer ourselves up, Juan breaks open barrels of Vintage Benrinnes, Balvenie, Teaninich, and Tamnavulin Private Reserve, and, trying to ignore the terrible sounds of the submarine plunging around and smashing into things, yelling over the screeching engines, which, judging by the fact that we are vibrating like weasels on a gong, are about to disintegrate, in vibrating, squawking, voices, we offer toast after toast to the stars and the roses, salute all clouds and fervently drink to the hope of seeing them again. I inflate my bagpipes and play ‘The Rose of Allandale’,‘ ‘One Star of the Morning’, ‘Why Hangs that Cloud’, and ‘Such a Parcel of Rogues’, then, singing, cheering and stamping out wild Highland flings, we stomp around the submarine in ebullient confusion, as fast as we possibly can.
Professor Humperdink’s Diary