Professor Humperdink III

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23.2.11

We find Sergeant Khan











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Bahaa very kindly tears himself away from a party and directs us to the Wadi Nafron, where we find Bahaa’s brother, Sergeant Matak Khan, with our camels, Ipy and Kauket. Fatty says that Sergeant Khan has a very boring job, but George says that he probably spends most of his time tracking smugglers across the desert, which must be quite interesting. I tell George and Fatty that the sergeant doesn’t track smugglers, he stays with the camels, and the camels don’t go anywhere.

The Directorate, I explain, consists of four hundred and three men, twenty-five horses, fifty trotting camels, two sitting camels and a blotched cat. The Kainakam, the Lieutenant-Colonel in command, our old friend, Graeme McFinnigan, looks after Paddywhack, the cat, and Sergeant Khan cares for Ipy and Kauket, the sitting camels. Fatty says that it must get lonely; George suggests that, perhaps, people come and visit the sergeant. I tell him that, of Sergeant Khan and his colleagues, Lieutenant Herringham said, “With such men the difficulty is not to get them to fight, but to restrain their natural ardour and lust for blood.” So nobody wants to bother the Sergeant Khan, because he is dangerous.

I don’t want to bother the sergeant either, so I ask Bahaa to thank him for looking after the camels for us, and explain that, as he knows, because they are sitting camels, trained to maintain a low profile on clandestine missions, Ipy and Kauket will only shuffle along on their stomachs, and, as we are scoukishly behind schedule, shuffling across the Gerûd will take too long, also, we have an airship, and don’t need the beasts. Fatty asks what the Gerûd is; Juan says that it’s an inhospitable hell-hole of a desert; nothing for miles except mountainous sand dunes; stinking hot during the day, freezing at night, with no food, nothing to drink and no women. Thanking Bahaa for all his help, and wishing the best for his cause and his country, we take off, madly waving goodbye to the sergeant and our camels, and promising to come back soon.

Fatty hands out serviette folding diagrams, saying how nice it is that things are back to normal and he can concentrate on important things, such as deciding whether flower or vase shaped serviettes would be suitable for a meal of pig’s ears with Tartare sauce. Juan and I look at the diagrams, Juan folds a serviette, but, I tell him, he took too long to fold it, and it looks too ethereal for something as solid as pig’s ears, then I demonstrate how to quickly fold a better, more substantial, serviette, but, while I fight with the stupid thing, eventually creating something that doesn’t look like anything, Fatty swiftly folds a selection of serviettes and places them neatly on the table for our consideration. This is irritating, but I admit that such an interesting variety of serviettes would, at least, distract the diners from the fact that they are eating pig’s ears.

George asks what happens if there are five diners, as pig’s ears come in pairs. Juan says it would be best to prepare three pairs of ears for five guests, that way everybody gets one ear and the spare ear won't be wasted, because a crispy pig’s ear can be used as a weapon. I tell Juan that it wouldn’t be effective, because the Tartare sauce makes it go soft, and, in battle, a soft pig’s ear is not helpful. Fatty says that he read somewhere that a sow’s ear can be made into a purse. George says that he thinks that a fried pig’s ear purse would be horrible, but, as an artist, he knows that the bristles on the ears make fine hog’s hair brushes, in fact, he adds, he must collect some bristles for a new brush for his next painting. Fatty says the bristles would not make a good brush because, when the ears are cooked, the heat makes the bristles too brittle, and they have to be moistened with spittle.

I have never heard such a stupid conversation and I tell everyone to shut up and remind everybody that, while we drift in security and comfort, we should think about the people below, who are going through extraordinary upheavals and facing terrible dangers. Juan says that this is true and, to celebrate being in a safe, luxurious, airship, he breaks out the Vintage Glenordie, Pulteney, Auchentoshan, and Bladnoch Private Reserve, then, saluting freedom, drinking to peace, bellowing encouraging battle cries, singing revolution songs, fighting, yelling with excitement, and falling around in befuddled confusion, we fly with the uprising wind, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary
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Pig’s Ears with Tartare Sauce

Ingredients: Pig’s ears pickled, frying-batter, Tartare sauce, butter or frying fat, salad-oil, finely-chopped shallot and parsley, salt and pepper.

Method: Boil the ears until tender, let them cool, then sprinkle them lightly with shallot and parsley, and liberally with pepper. Pour over them 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of salad-oil, let them remain for 1 hour, turning 2 or 3 times, and basting frequently. Drain well, dip them into the butter, and fry in hot butter or fat until crisp and brown. Serve the sauce separately.

Time; to fry, 4 or 5 minutes. Average Cost: uncertain, the ears being seldom sold separately.

Recipe by Isabella Beeton, 1861
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Revolution Song

11.2.11

Waiting for Bahaa





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We spend a long time searching the desert for Sergeant Khan and our camels, until I remind everyone that we are begowkingly behind schedule and suggest that we drop off to ask the Sergeant’s brother, Bahaa, if he can help. When we find Bahaa, he tells us that he will take us to see his brother but, now, he has to guard The Citadel, as there is a certain amount of civil unrest in the city. I ask Bahaa what the problem is, Bahaa says that there are two groups, one group wants one thing and the other group wants something different, so they all went on to the streets and hurled rocks at each other. Fatty asks Bahaa if he joined in, Bahaa says that he did join in, but he had a problem deciding which group he agreed with, so he joined one group for a while, then he changed sides, but he realised that he was hurting people that he partially agreed with, so, for the sake of fairness, he stood between the warring factions and threw stones at himself.

George says that, as Egypt is such an ancient civilisation, they have had plenty of time to work on diplomacy, so he is surprised that, rather than negotiating, they are fighting on the streets like children. I explain that, for most people, arguments have many angles but, although Egypt is very old, paintings indicate that, until comparatively recently, all Egyptians were flat, so they could only walk sideways and can only see two sides of a problem.

While we wait for Bahaa, we take off and float over the pyramids. George, looking down, wonders if there’s any point to such mighty constructions. I tell him that the point is at the top and that they were originally built as tourist attractions, Juan adds that, to encourage far-away people to come to Egypt to enjoy the fabulous cuisine, shafts were built into the pyramids from which, propelled by fire and steam, kebabs could be fired into distant lands. Fatty, inspired by talk of food, says, as we have plenty of sheep, he will prepare his favourite Egyptian meal, Khoresht-e Loobia. This is a wonderful idea and, to celebrate, Juan breaks out Vintage Glendronach, Ardmore, Springbank, and Macduff Private Reserve, we offer toast after toast to non-pointless buildings and the third dimension and stumble in circles, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary

2.2.11

Missing Cairo





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Nowhere near Cairo, grugousingly behind schedule, stuck in a cold, muddy, field, huddled up to a fire. We hear the noise of an aircraft and Beryl, from the Agency Postal Service, flies over, flips upside down, drops a note and vanishes into the distance, waving goodbye. Juan grabs the note, says that it’s from aunt Humperdink, and reads, ‘Dear Andrzej and Juan, sorry that were delayed, we missed you in India, and you missed all the fun.’

Juan stops reading and shouts that aunt is quite right, we should be clean and warm and visiting beautiful Indian places and meeting clean, warm, beautiful Indian women, and Indian women, Juan reminds me, are the cleanest, warmest and most beautiful women in the world; instead of doing that, he bawls, wiping his face with a sheep’s ear, he is dirty, cold, sitting in a miserable field, talking to an idiot and surrounded by decapitated sheep, so, he yells, he is definitely missing all the fun. I tell him to stop complaining and point out that it was his fault because he rolled his aeroplane into a vertical circle, followed by a half roll and an inverted stick-back tail slide. Juan says that he was testing the aircraft, and he succeeded in proving that it could not withstand the stress of such a manoeuvre. I tell him that the aircraft held together perfectly well when it was moving forward, the right way up, and in the air, and it only crumpled and burst into flames when he flew it upside down, backwards, into the ground, which, I remind him, it is not designed to do. Juan says that it should be redesigned, and he proved it. I tell him that he did not prove it because he missed out the last part of the sequence, which is to resume normal flight.

Juan says that, considering that my landing reduced my giro-copter to a mangled heap, I am not in a position to criticise. I tell him that my sight was obscured by the smoke of his burning aircraft, and I had to land quickly in order to save the malt he was carrying. Juan admits that this was a priority, but adds that, knowing the giro-copter has long, sharp, whirling, blades, landing in the middle of a flock of sheep was stupid. This is irritating and I don’t want to discuss the matter. So we sit, muttering under our breaths, roasting mutton on the burning wreckage.

Juan complains that we don’t have any thyme, I tell Juan to stop moaning, and think about the visitors to Dudingston who, often, have to do without any bouquet-garni at all. Juan shouts that anyone who visits Dudingston deserves what they get as everyone knows the Dudingstonians are completely mad. I can’t refute this easily so I ignore him, snatch aunt’s message out of Juan’s hand and read:

‘I have sent The Lion to pick you up,
See you soon,
Lots of love, Aunt H. xx’

As I read this, we see the great airship above us and watch as our old friend Captain 'Fatty' Farquhar Cardno, guides The Lion into a disastrous landing. We are not surprised. Farquhar is a master chef, a baker without equal, a gifted biscuit designer, and a renowned serviette folder, but he doesn’t know anything about airships. Fortunately, The Lion is a sturdy craft and, apart from some squashed livestock, no harm is done.

To celebrate, Juan breaks out the Vintage Talisker, Glenburgie, Jura, and Dalmore Special Reserve, we offer toast after toast to Fatty and his valiant crew, inflate our bagpipes, then, playing ‘Up in the Air’ ‘Mary Shearer’ and ‘My Sheep I Neglected’ at full volume, we stumble around in confused circles, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary

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Sheep’s Head, to dress (Tête de Mouton)

Ingredients: A sheep’s head, 2 tablespoonfuls of pearl barley or rice, 2 onions, 2 small carrots, 1 small turnip, a bouquet-garni (parsley, thyme, bay-leaf), 10 peppercorns, salt and pepper. For the sauce, ¾ pint of liquor the head was cooked in, 1 ½ ozs. of butter, 1 ½ ozs. of flour.

Method: Cut the head in half, remove the brains, wash them and put them into cold water, with a little salt. Wash the head in several waters, carefully remove any splintered bones, and let it soak in salt and water for 1 hour. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, pour away the water, replace with fresh cold water, add the bouquet-garni, peppercorns and salt, boil up, and skim well. The head must be cooked slowly for about 3 hours; 1½ hours before serving add the vegetables sliced, with the rice or barley, and when the latter is used it must be previously blanched. Remove the skin and fibres from the brains, tie them in muslin, boil them for 10 or 15 minutes in the liquor, and chop them coarsely. Heat the butter in a stew pan, add the flour, stir over the fire for 2 or three minutes, the add ¾ of a pint of liquor from the pot, simmer for 10 minutes, add the brains, season to taste, and keep hot until required. When ready, bone the head, put the meat in the centre of a hot dish, pour the sauce over, and garnish with slices of tongue and the vegetables.

Time, to cook, about 3 hours, sufficient for 2 or 3 persons.

(Singed Sheep’s Head - The village of Dudingston, now a suburb of Edinburgh, was formerly celebrated for this ancient and homely Scottish dish. It was the custom during the summer months for the well-to-do citizens to resort to this place and regale themselves with sheep’s heads, boiled or baked. The sheep pastured on the neighbouring hills were slaughtered at the village, the carcasses were sent to town, but the heads were reserved for consumption by the visitors to Dudingston).

Recipe by Isabella Beeton, 1861