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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