Professor Humperdink III

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Gordon lands as gracefully as a bird, I crash into a tree. Albert lands relatively safely, Fatty bounces, Juan lands in the river, then, threshing around, snarling, swearing and fighting with the flapping, wet, parachute, he flounders around like a jellyfish on stilts until he is carried away by the current. This is satisfying. However, I cannot fold my parachute up either and fall from the tree into a thorn bush. George says that I would benefit from giving more attention to Fatty’s serviette folding lessons. I remind him that a parachute is not a serviette, any moth-witted, turnip-brained, idiot can fold a serviette, but folding a parachute is nearly impossible. George calmly folds his parachute up and says that, perhaps, I just need more practise. I tell him to mind his own business

I sulk and pick thorns out of my flesh while we wait for Juan to return. Annoyingly, Fatty shows me a diagram of a pyramid shaped serviette and hands me a serviette to fold. Although I might not perfectly fold a parachute every time, I am confident that I can quickly fold something as trivially simple as a serviette. Fifteen hours later, I declare that folding a serviette into a pyramid is impossible and following a diagram that is wrong makes it even more impossible. Fatty says the diagram isn’t wrong and Albert tells me that you can’t have something that is more impossible than something else that is impossible. I tell him that all his theories are more impossible to prove than proving a tiger can fit in a tuba, so he should shut up. Fatty tells us to stop arguing, picks up a serviette, quickly folds it into a neat pyramid shape and says that it is time we found food because a serviette, however beautifully folded, requires a diner to give it its true meaning. For someone who is not a diner, unfolding a beautifully folded serviette could bring about a sense of regret at the loss of the shape. However, at a dinner table, careless destruction of a finely wrought serviette is the order of the day. When the baby has been sick on the Duchess, nobody cares that the serviette used to clean the venerable lady looks like a poodle. People, shouts Fatty, getting excited, don’t hesitate to crumple designs that took years to perfect and wipe the slobber from granny when her teeth fall out and she drools into the archbishop’s lemon meringue. We don’t know what Fatty is talking about, or why, so we nod and make sympathetic noises until, thankfully, Juan appears, pulling barrels of Vintage whisky that he rescued from the crashed aircraft.

Fatty tries to tell Juan that I couldn’t fold the serviette but I interrupt by reminding everyone, loudly, that we are slooshtingly behind schedule and have to leave immediately. Juan points out that we have to fortify ourselves for Hogmanay. Breaking out the Vintage Aberfeldy, Deanston, The Macallan, and Glen Eden Private Reserve, we offer toast after toast to safe landings, with or without a parachute, and salute the passing of a tremendous year. Juan inflates his bagpipes, plays ‘‘Here’s to thy Health’, ‘Why do ye Tarry’, and ‘The Rantin’ Highlandman’, at full volume and we fling each other around in circles until we notice we are being watched by a giant robot and dive for cover, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary

Down to the pub

Upside down, out of control, spinning, about to crash. I remind everybody that we are slouterishly behind schedule, and cannot waste time by destroying aircraft and waiting to be rescued. Albert says that he has to get back to his laboratory in order to test a theory, he tries to tell us what the theory is, but we don’t care, George says that he wants to relax and think about his next painting. Fatty says that he wants to eat. Juan says that he needs a party. I tell Fatty that, if we ditch into the sea, at least there will be plenty of fish. Juan agrees, reminding us of the rule of fish, ‘if it doesn’t eat you, you can eat it’. Albert says that, if we crash on land, we can find a pub and have a fish dinner, George can relax, and Juan can start a party. This is a wonderful idea, but George and Fatty say that they don’t want to ditch or crash. I point out that our choices are limited. Albert says that we should bale out; Juan says that we should bale out and land near a pub. I agree with them both, reminding them of the agency maxim ‘when in doubt, bail out’; nonetheless, we have a stupid fight about the spelling of the word ‘bale’ compared to ‘bail’, and what it means, and which one you should do in an aeroplane full of water.

Juan stops the fight by reminding us that, if we fall into the sea, we will need empty barrels to float on, so we quickly finish our barrels of Vintage Glenmorangie, Glen Scotia, Aultmore, and Tullibardine Special Reserve, which Juan keeps for such occasions. We offer toast after toast to the person who invented the parachute, then, yelling “Geronimo” we leap into the air. Now, shouting with excitement and hysterical with fear, we swing down to the pub, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary


Changing aeroplanes

George stayed with us while he completed a painting of a robin, a Christmas present for aunt Humperdink. None of us can think of what a robin has to do with Christmas, but I tell him it is a very nice robin, and a difficult bird to paint, especially while being thrown around the sky in an aeroplane with collapsible wings.

The next time Fatty misses the airship, I point out that we are flying backwards, Fatty tells me that there’s nothing he can do about it, and he continues to demonstrate this with hundreds of failed attempts to land on the airship, all the time complaining that he doesn’t want to fly the aeroplane and, because it is Christmas, he would rather be eating. George agrees, and adds that Christmas day should be for quiet contemplation. I tell Fatty to aim at the airship, and put the brakes on before we hit it. Fatty says the aeroplane doesn’t have brakes, Albert says that he has a theory, we tell him to shut up and, breaking open Vintage Miltonduff, Glenfarclas, Longmorn and Edradour Private Reserve, we salute the solemnity of the day until we are too dizzy to think.

When we spin past the airship for the umpteenth time, I remind Juan that we are plowsterishly behind schedule, and can’t afford to waste any more time being bounced around the sky by a pilot who can’t fly, in an aeroplane with variably sized wings. George tells Fatty that trying to land on a moving object while celebrating the birth of Christ is not respectful. Fatty agrees, kicks the joystick forward, yells “Merry Christmas” throws himself back in his seat; bites open a bottle of stout and demands rum, meat, and cake.

Juan and I fight like stupid children over who should fly the aeroplane until George knocks us both out with a wrench, takes over the controls, lands perfectly, and neatly folds the wings. We are all very impressed, but George says that he knows about birds and birds are like aeroplanes, a bird is not designed to stay up in the air all of the time, it can’t fold its wings for too long when it’s flying, so it’s natural for birds to land and fold their wings, and not the other way around. None of us know what George is talking about so we ignore him and borrow the first two aeroplanes that we find that have wings that do not fold.

Unfortunately, Fatty’s weight is so great that, after taking off, his aeroplane took a long time to gain height and he flies through a tree and knocks a wheel off. Fatty can’t land an aeroplane that has wheels, with a wheel missing he would be even worse, I pick the wheel up, and, with Albert flying, and Juan unconscious because I had to cosh him to stop him from taking the controls, we take off and, when we catch up with Fatty, I tie the wheel to a piece of rope and swing it over to George who is clinging on to the wing. For some reason, George won’t stand up and grab the wheel and, judging by the way we are falling out of the sky; Juan has regained consciousness and has taken over the aeroplane. I give up and return to the cockpit where, to help us collect our wits, we break open barrels of vintage Highland single malt then, clapping and cheering, we offer toast after toast to quiet contemplation and the true meaning of Christmas, which requires wild celebration; now, alternately shrieking with excitement and howling with fear, we sing carols at the top of voice and wheel madly through the sky, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary


Leaving the club

We are nightmarishly behind schedule so, stopping only long enough to finish off the Bladnoch, Lochside, Glenrothes and Royal Lochnagar Family Reserve, we argue about the best way to get back to aunt Humperdink’s airport. Although the argument is academic, as we are too befuddled to find our way to the front door, much less navigate across town, the argument escalates into a full-scale brawl and the manager has to calm us down with a water cannon.

George says that he will stay, as he wants to paint tits. Juan cheers, and says that it’s about time George painted something interesting. I tell Juan that nobody wants to hear his childish remarks, he knows full well that George is talking about birds of the paridæ family. But George hands me a sketch of Mahalath and Juan shouts that that’s what he’s talking about. Fatty says that he wants to come to India, because Indian food is fantastic, but he doesn’t like flying. I remind him that he is the captain of an airship and Juan says that people who have a fear of flying are stupid. I protest, saying that fear of flight is very intelligent, for something that cannot fly. Birds aren’t scared of flying because birds can fly; they’re light, and they have wings, but Fatty is heavy, and wingless. Crashing, on the other hand, can be dangerous. Pilots are rarely trained to crash, so they’re no good at it, and passengers rarely demand a pilot with multiple-crash experience. Juan shouts that he has crashed more times than he has taken off, so, if he is the pilot, we will definitely have a safe flight. I remind everyone, loudly, that I have caused more mid-air collisions than any other pilot alive, I’ve crashed aircraft into mountains, dived into high seas, spun into mountains and, once, ditched in a garden pond. Juan says I didn’t ditch, I pushed the aeroplane into the pool so I had an excuse to stay. I remind him that it is very important to stay with the aircraft, so you can be found. Juan shouts that I wasn’t lost and nobody was looking for me, I was in the pond in the garden of a woman’s naturist camp in Gwent. I say that the important thing is that Fatty is associating flying with crashing, which is intelligent, as you can’t crash if you don’t fly, so it doesn’t matter. Everyone looks confused, and somewhat glazed, but they do agree that it doesn’t matter.

This is irritating as, although I don’t know what I was talking about, I am sure it did matter, and I accuse everybody of not listening. When they say they were listening, I challenge Albert to repeat what I said, to prove it. Then I have to challenge him again, in English, as, as Juan points out, I have been speaking in Gaelic. My English is too slurred for Albert to understand, so I switch to German but, for some reason, I forget how to speak German and all I can do is order ten beers and say that I’m sorry for being sick in a taxi.

The manager, seeing our problem, tells us that he has an aeroplane that we can use. George is staying, so he doesn’t care. Albert has a theory, but it’s not helpful, Juan and I tell him to shut up and grab at the manager’s offer, both of us demanding to be the pilot. The manager says that, before we fly, we should know that the aeroplane has collapsible wings. Fatty looks alarmed and says that wings are not meant to collapse. The manager shows us a diagram and explains that this aeroplane’s wings fold up so it will fit into the the local agency airships. Fatty says that they might fold before we land, the manager tells us us that the wings are well made and, even if they folded, we’d probably flutter so there’s nothing, he assures us, to worry about, and he pours out a round of beer. We all drink to timely folding, stagger to the back of the club where the aeroplane is parked, borrow a car and pull the aeroplane until the car runs out of petrol, then we drag the aeroplane by hand. We pull it for miles until an onlooker suggests that, to make the aircraft fly, we should unfold the wings. This is irritating, but, bickering about who forgot to unfold the wings, we unfold them, and, with Fatty at the controls, because he won’t let anybody else be the pilot, he manages to fling the aeroplane into the air.

To be fair, Fatty never claimed that he could fly an aeroplane, and he is very bad it, and, to make matters worse, because of Fatty’s weight, we can only fly upside down. However, Fatty does hang on to the joy-stick hard enough to keep us in the air and, although we loop-the-loop several times while Juan tries to take over the aeroplane, and Fatty knocks him out, and we go into a tail-spin when I grab the of the joy-stick and then kick pedals in a petulant sulk because Fatty won’t let me fly, we search the sky for a safe place to land. Now, yelling with excitement, shrieking with fear, and fervently hoping we land before we fold, we hurtle madly around the sky, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary


A quick pint

We have a riotous time in town. In appreciation of the exuberant revelry being demonstrated on the streets, Juan suggests that we contribute to the party spirit by distributing hundreds of barrels of Vintage Balvenie, Tullibardine, Mortlach, and Glen Moray Special Reserve. This certainly does the trick. However, while charging up a street, shouting slogans, Fatty shouts says that he doesn’t know what we are rioting about. I tell him that I don‘t know either but it is probably something to do with money, sometimes people want more money, and that can become a problem. Fatty yells that he doesn’t want more money, although, he adds, he could do with some trifle, he just wants to do some shopping. I tell Fatty that, in the middle of a riot, it can be difficult to stop rioting, Fatty yells that doesn’t want to riot any more, even if everybody else is rioting, and he picks up two policemen and bangs them together, shouting that nobody can make him riot. I tell Fatty we’ll find him some trifle, and remind him that he is stamping on a student from Cambridge and an old woman who, judging by her groans, is simply a tourist from Bognor.

Fatty responds by throwing a policeman through a baker’s shop window, then, after grabbing éclairs, assorted pastries, trifles and everything else he can lay his hands on, Fatty throws his weight against the against the raging throng, and, stuffing a savarin trifle into his mouth and balancing a Charlotte russe on his belly, he forges a path through the crowd, kicking random strangers, elbowing people out of the way, shouting that he’s not rioting, he’s protesting against the riot. Escaping the crowds, we head back to the airport, and, as it’s on the way, we drop into the Agency club for a quick pint.

We find George, Albert and Juan in the lounge bar. George is painting a picture of a heron. I tell George that his heron looks very nice, but it’s a bit static. George tells me that it’s deliberately static because herons spend most of their time standing still. I remind him that great grand aunt Euphemia Humperdink taught herons to dance, but, I remember, she found that taking a troupe of dancing herons to Japan was a mistake. In the pools in the gardens that surrounded the palace, the emperor kept a large stock of rare carp. When Ophelia was introduced to the emperor he gave her a gift of a pearl necklace, in return, she presented him with the troupe of herons. To demonstrate their talents she had them dance around a pool while she played the Highland flings on her fife and banged out the rhythm by slapping her thighs with a haggis. The emperor was astonished, even more so when the herons lost interest in dancing, flung themselves into the pool and stuffed themselves stupid on the emperor's valuable fish. George ignores me, so I order a round of beer and turn my attention to George who is explaining one of his theories.

Twelve hours, and many rounds, later, Albert is still burbling on about his theory, nobody cares, but, too befuddled to speak, we can’t tell him to shut up, and he just goes on and on as we slowly blank out. Eventually, Albert winds up with a flourish, throws up on Jenkins, the club cat, looks at us as if we are meant to say something intelligent, and falls off his chair. I pat Albert on the head and tell him that it’s very nice theory. Juan orders another round and asks me if I know what Albert is talking about, I tell Juan that I think Albert is trying to tell us that nothing goes faster than light, but I can’t imagine why that matters to anyone. Juan says it doesn’t matter to anyone and it’s stupid. Albert, crawling back on to his chair, says it does matter and it’s not stupid, Juan says it doesn’t matter because it’s stupid and it’s stupid because it’s wrong. Albert looks cross, picks up a glass and waves it around in excitement, splashing ale in all directions, and challenges Juan to come up with a better theory.

Juan can’t think of a theory of anything, he says theories are rubbish, either something works or it don’t. I tell Juan that his English is terrible and remind him that you can’t say ‘something works or it don’t’, it’s not correct, but I’m on uncertain ground and, when Juan shouts that even though it’s wrong, it’s true, so it is correct, I duck out of the conversation and order more beer.

Fatty asks me what Juan is shouting about. I explain that Juan can’t think of anything that goes faster than light, which means that Albert is right about something, although I can’t remember what. Juan knocks back a pint and yells that he can think of thousands of things that travel faster than light, he was just choosing one. Albert spits, sneers, and starts telling me that Juan is very like an ape when Juan interrupts him by kicking him in the knee and asking what happened at the beginning of the universe. This sets Albert off again, we ignore him, order another round and argue about cars, tell lies about women and sympathise with news about a friend of ours, the Reverend Tam MacTavish, a vicar who, before every Christening, always took his pet piranhas out of the font, until, one day, he was sick, another vicar performed the service at short notice and, obviously, he didn’t check the font for piranhas. The Christening didn’t go well, Tam, we hear, has been defrocked, and is trying to join another, more forgiving, church. At this point, we hear Albert saying something about a Big Bang at the beginning of time, when there was nothing. Juan says that if the Big Bang started from nothing it started small, so it was a little bang, and if there was no air, sound waves couldn’t travel anywhere, and, anyway, there was nobody to hear it, it didn’t bang; so, because it was small and quiet, calling it the Big Bang is stupid, besides, there’s the light to consider. However, he loses the thread of his argument and calls for more beer. Albert, contemplating Juan’s idiocy, shakes his head in despair, flicking drops of vomit from the ends of his moustache.

After the beers arrive, Albert continues, relentlessly, to explain why nothing can travel faster than light. I don’t understand why anybody would want to think about this stuff, and, wondering at the strange fact that Albert is considered to be a genius when, actually, he’s as mad as a basket of skinks, I quietly doze off, contentedly gazing at the sign on the wall, a copy of which graces every one of aunt Humperdink’s properties, and which, somehow, puts everything in perspective.

Juan throws beer into my face, to wake me up, and asks me to tell him what Albert is saying. As Albert is speaking in German, I tell Juan to stop asking me to translate; Juan speaks in every dialect of German known to man, added to which, he claims that German women are the most beautiful women in the world, and he’s familiar with every nook and cranny of the country. But Juan says that Albert is slurring and he isn’t sure if he said that he fancied the waitress, or if he said that the world of the physical phenomena which was briefly called ‘world’ by Minkowski is naturally four-dimensional in the space-time sense. For it is composed of individual events, each of which is described by four numbers, namely, three space co-ordinates x, y, z, and a time co-ordinate, the time-value t. The ‘world’ is in this sense also a continuum; for to every event there are as many ‘neighbouring’ events, (realized or at least thinkable) as we care to choose.’ I tell Juan that that is probably what Albert meant to say, even if all he actually did was drool and mumble into his beer, but I tell Juan not to ask me what ‘thinkables’ are, because I don’t have a clue.

Juan shouts that he knows what ‘thinkables’ are, they’re an excuse for talking nonsense as everything is thinkable, so you can say anything you want and then claim that it’s true just because you can think it, and anyway, he yells, Albert didn’t answer the question about where the light from what he stupidly calls the Big Bang went to. Albert responds by hurling a glass at Juan, yelling that nobody asked him about light, but any half-wit would know that the light went out into the darkness. Juan orders another round and tells Albert that the light was travelling through darkness because the darkness was already there, it had got there first, so dark, he says, must be quicker than light. If light had travelled faster than darkness, wherever it arrived, it would already be there, so there would be no place to go that wasn’t already lit, which proves it. Albert yells that it proves nothing, dark is a constant, he says, there’s no such thing as the speed of dark. Juan says that the speed of light, according to Albert, is also constant, but, Juan crows, it’s obviously constantly slower than dark, he adds that Albert is too pedantic, and that’s probably because he is German. I point out that gossip is another thing that travels faster than light and tell Juan that, even if he is incomprehensible, Albert is probably right, because everyone says he is a genius. Juan says that Albert can’t even win at chess, so he can’t be a genius.

Fatty agrees and holds up a diagram that shows how to fold a serviette into the shape of a chess piece, a bishop; Fatty says he’ll fold one and give it to Albert, to remind him that he didn’t win one single game of chess against Juan. I say that this is a thoughtful gift, if a little harsh. Fatty says that there has to be truth in art, and a serviette that doesn’t express itself with candour should never have been folded in the first place. A serviette folded without integrity makes a lie of every crease; to unfold such a mischievous serviette will subtly inform the diner of a lack of care, which will lower their opinion of the food. Albert’s theories may be stupid but, at least, they aren’t as mind-numbingly tedious as Fatty’s lectures about serviette folding, however, Fatty, disregarding the fact that, to block him out, we have put our hands over our ears and we’re rocking backwards and forwards, humming and making animal noises, continues to explain that, although a carelessly folded serviette can destroy a banquet, a smart looking serviette that has been folded with care will convey a message of capability and attention to detail which will reflect wonderfully on the diner’s perception of even the most modest meal. And remember, he says, a serviette is often used to conceal something particularly inedible. The experience of removing an unchewable piece of gristle or an unwanted sheep’s eye and secreting it in a serviette is not pleasant but, he says, if the serviette is beautifully folded, it can add quality to an otherwise distasteful act. Of course, Fatty continues, oblivious to our obvious misery, there are famous serviette folders whose serviettes are held in serviette museums and private collections; there are wonderfully talented serviette folding artists creating sublime serviette folding designs, but that, Fatty says, doesn’t mean that the art is for professionals only, any amateur with a serviette and a servant can have their serviettes folded into any shape they want. All they have to do, Fatty declaims, is to tell the servant to fold the serviettes and the servant will do it, so there’s no excuse. Looking at the diagram, I point out that nobody needs a servant to fold the serviette, it’s so simple and quick to fold that anybody can do it for themselves, and I demonstrate. Ten hours later and my serviette doesn’t look anything like a bishop and it’s apparent that the diagram is completely wrong, Fatty swiftly folds a perfect bishop and says that there’s nothing wrong with the diagram, it’s just that I need more practise. This is irritating, so I remind Fatty that there are more important things to consider, not least of which is the fact that we are humdudgeonishly behind schedule and have to leave for India immediately.

Juan cheers, reminds everyone that Indian women are the most beautiful women in the world, orders another round and breaks out a barrel of his Special Reserve, to celebrate. We offer toast after toast to Albert’s insane theories, Fatty and his amazing folding skills and George’s wonderful heron then, cheering and clapping and singing wild Highland battle songs, we reel around the lounge as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary


A quick break

Although we are fyachlelingly behind schedule, before continuing on to India, Fatty insists on having the ship refitted with new kitchens, dining rooms and a bakery. This is exasperating, the refit is taking ages and we are going bonkers with boredom. George, to pass the time, paints a red-breasted merganser, I tell George that it’s a very nice merganser, Juan tells George that he should paint something that is actually worth looking at and, if he is going to paint something breasted, he can think of a much better subject than a stupid merganser. Fatty says a mitre is a good subject, and passes me instructions on how to fold a serviette into a mitre. Looking at the instructions, I say that, compared to the art of painting, which can be difficult and take a long time, folding a serviette into a mitre is childishly simple. Six hours later, angry, and having failed to produce anything that looks remotely like a mitre, I have to explain to Fatty that the instructions are wrong, and nobody attempting to follow the diagram will ever make a mitre from a serviette. Juan has a go, creates something horrible, and tells Fatty that there must be something wrong with the serviette; Fatty says that, no doubt, we are both right; however, after quickly folding the serviette into a neat mitre, he suggests that it might be that we simply need more practise.

I tell Fatty that I definitely do not want to practise folding serviettes, I would rather disembowel myself, and, anyway, the serviettes only become unfolded when people use them, so folding them is a waste of time. Fatty says that we fold our clothes up when we’re not using them, and unfold them to put them on, and we don’t have a problem with that, so the same should apply to serviettes. Juan looks surprised and says that he didn’t know that clothes could be folded.

The senseless tedium of this conversation is making me ill, so I remind Juan that we are at an airport, so it will be easy to borrow an aeroplane, and, while Fatty completes the refitting, we may as well take a quick break and head into town. Juan says that this is a wonderful idea and, to celebrate, he breaks open the Vintage Linkwood, Bowmore, Glendronach, and Blair Athol Private Reserve, we drink toast after toast to Fatty and his wonderful art of folding, salute breasts, of all colours, and drink to finding somewhere to land, then, staggering out onto the airport, we borrow the first aeroplane we can break into and head into town, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary


Onward and upward

The spinning, juddering, submarine shakes off the last of the gold and, free of its weight, we shoot to the surface, rise up into the air, do a back-flip, plunge back onto the waves, dive, twist, and leap around the ocean like a dolphin who has eaten too much kangaroo meat. The radio squawks into life and we hear the Agent Rescue Service broadcasting some terrible brass band music, occasionally interrupted with a message saying that the agency is very busy, however, if we would like to wait, an agent will be with us soon. I tell Fatty that we’re going nowhere, fast, we are dumfouttishly behind schedule, the submarine is about to explode, and, as he is the captain, he should do something useful. He tells me that he is doing something; he’s studying a useful diagram. Looking at the diagram, which seems very simple, I tell Fatty that it’s only useful if you want to fold a serviette into the shape of a vase, which is unlikely to be the singularly most useful thing to do in an out-of-control submarine, however, to humour him, I offer to fold a serviette, to show him how it’s done.

Three hours later, my serviette doesn’t look like anything that would grace a table; irritated, I tell Fatty that the diagram is all wrong and that he should forget the serviettes and fix the submarine. He reminds me that he doesn’t know anything about submarines. He was promoted by mistake, he tells us; he was working with his family catering business, ‘Cardno Catering’, one of a chain of family-run, Highland, catering services who serve aboard aunt’s northern airship fleet. One day, Fatty happened to mention to aunt that they were running short of bay salt. He explains that lack of bay salt can be a serious problem. Imagine, he says, a situation in which you need pickled pig’s tongue. I close my eyes for a moment, to try and imagine such a situation, but, muddled by the difference between the tongue of a pickled pig and pickled pigs’ tongue, disconcerted by being flung across the cabin by the violent bucking of the submarine, and distracted by the fact that, heightened by the helium in the air, our cries of alarm make us sound like hamsters being flushed down a toilet, I tell Fatty that I can’t imagine needing pigs’ tongues, pickled or otherwise.

Fatty says that I’m lucky, because, as it happens, he doesn’t have any pigs’ tongues, and, even if he did, he adds, without bay salt, pickled pig’s tongue would probably be inedible. You can do without the saltpetre, he continues, remorselessly, or, if needs be, use only a small amount of common salt, likewise with the sugar, but, Fatty reminds us, without at least two ounces of bay salt, pickled pigs’ tongues are vile and the diner has to be distracted from their revolting meal by a nicely folded serviette. As if to prove his point, Fatty picks up a serviette and quickly folds it into a nice vase shape. This is irritating. Fatty then explains that aunt Humperdink, impressed by his attention to detail, asked him to command The Lion, one of aunt’s experimental airships. I ask Fatty what happened to The Lion, before Fatty can reply, the submarine performs a cartwheel and Fatty is hurled across the cabin where he crashes into Albert, being thrown in the opposite direction. This breaks Fatty’s chain of thought and stops the conversation. This is a relief.

Juan is also being thrown around the cabin, gamely hanging on to bottle of Vintage Dailluaine Private Reserve, while gazing, longingly, at a magazine containing pictures of beautiful women, all well endowed, I am sure, with intelligence and wit, but not, perhaps, a sense of decorum. I tell Juan that, if he has nothing better to do, he should fix the submarine. Juan ignores me. George, extracting himself from his easel, in which he has become entangled, proudly exclaims that, despite being in a submarine that’s turning somersaults, he has managed to paint a coot. We all admire the painting. In a bucking submarine, I tell George, very few people could paint such a nice coot, or would want to.

Albert claws his way to the control panel, saying that, with study and experimentation, he might, eventually, be able to gain control of the submarine. I point out that, judging by the way the submarine is behaving, it is about to break into tiny pieces, which means that there might be limited time for research. Juan, in a sudden fit of animation, flings himself over to the control panel, knocks Albert out of the way and starts booting levers, hitting switches with his rolled-up magazine and banging buttons with his bottle, shouting that, when in doubt, put everything to maximum, and see what happens.

The result is astonishing; In nine cases out of ten, Juan’s methods result in catastrophe, however, amazingly, the engines stop roaring, the submarine stops gyrating, we float quietly to the surface, then, when we calmly continue upward, my question about what happened to aunt’s experimental airship, The Lion, is answered. The Lion is a multi-purpose craft, I remember, it can function as an airship, a ship, or a submarine. Fatty had not told us, because he assumed we knew, but we are in The Lion, in submarine mode. The helium that is making us screech like mice in a maelstrom is not accidentally leaking into the air, it has been automatically released, to give us buoyancy, and, presumably under the control of an automatic piloting system, we drift serenely to one of Aunt Humperdink’s Air Ports, where we dock by the India bay.

This is a wonderful turn of events. To celebrate, Juan breaks out the Vintage Dalmore, Inchgower, Lagavulin, and Glenkinchie Special Reserve, we offer toast after toast to the health of submariners, give thanks for our safety, drink to being out of the water, then, cheering and clapping and saluting Fatty, a remarkable captain of an extraordinary vessel, we inflate out bagpipes and blasting out ‘Hurra for the Highlands’, ‘While Some to Distant Regions Sail’ and the ‘Indian Death Song’, we stamp around in frantically excited circles, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary


P.S. Pig’s Tongues (Langues de Porc)

Ingredients: 8 or 9 pigs’ tongues. For the pickle: 4 oz. of common salt, 2 oz. of bay salt, 1 oz. of moist sugar, and half an ounce of saltpetre.

Method: Trim the roots of the tongues, rub them well with salt, and let them lie for 24 hours. Mix the ingredients together, rub the mixture well into the tongues, and repeat this process daily for 9 or 10 days. When ready, the tongues should be well washed.

Recipe by Isabella Beeton, 1861