Professor Humperdink III

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To Washington

Fatty says that he was thinking about putting fish on the menu, because everybody likes fish. I tell Fatty that, because of their beliefs, some people do not eat fish. Fatty says, in that case, their beliefs are wrong, so they must be stupid. Albert says a lot of people believe things that are wrong, but that doesn’t mean that they are stupid, just misguided and ignorant. Rory says that his business depends on people believing things that are real, when, in fact, they are just made up. Rory explains that, with his career in tatters, ostracised, and isolated from the scientific community, he earns his living by producing photographs of cryptoids, and selling them to the popular press. Cryptoids, Rory explains, are non-existent creatures, and he passes us a photograph, as evidence.

Looking at the picture, I tell Rory that someone has cut out a picture of a cheetah and stuck it on a picture of a desert. Rory explains that it’s meant to be a picture of a desert cheetah, he took a photograph of the desert, he says, then he cut out a picture of a cheetah from a book about cheetahs, then he stuck the cheetah on the picture of the desert. Juan interrupts to ask Rory if dodos slowly became cryptoids, or did they become cryptoidic on the day they were declared extinct. Rory says that doesn’t know, but, in the instance of dodos, it doesn’t matter. A photograph of a cryptoid dodo would not interest the masses, a dodo isn’t monstrous, successful cryptoids, he tells us, must be frightening, or horrible, like a lake monster.

I tell Rory I know what he means, and show him a photograph of uncle Herbert catching an eel. Fatty says the eel would make very long eel pie, or a high one, but Rory is not impressed and says that it is just a picture of a big eel, but eels are not particularly mysterious or peculiar. I tell him that he is right, the eel is perfectly normal, the lake is stuffed with the creatures, it’s uncle Herbert who is peculiar, but, I add, there’s nothing mysterious about the desert cheetah either, the desert is leaping with cheetahs, they’re pests, it’s just that naturalists can’t be bothered to chase cheetahs around the desert, it’s too hot, the cheetahs are too fast and people are more interested in tigers.

Juan says that his grandfather bred peculiar chickens, Gallus Džugi, swimming chickens, who swam across the Someşul Mic River to escape vampires, unfortunately, vampires can swim better than chickens, and the Gallus Džugi breed is extinct. I remind Juan that his grandfather also bred the Džugi Gallus, a chicken that could only run backwards, so it bumped into things and was easy to catch, and a ‘double’ chicken, the Gallus Gallus Džugi; he claimed it saved space in the chicken shed, it was nearly twice the size of a normal chicken, but only needed one place to sit.

Rory says that we are missing the point; chickens are not cryptoids, they aren’t rare, strange, or dangerous. I tell Rory that desert cheetahs are as common as muck, they aren’t horrible, they aren’t mysterious and, unless you are being chased by one, they are not frightening, but, instead of bothering to photograph a real desert cheetah, Rory produced a fake photograph of a desert cheetah, and claimed it’s a cryptoid, behaviour that, frankly, is verging on the insane. Rory says that the Royal Society said the same thing, but the gutter press paid a lot of money for the picture, so the Royal Society can shove it.

I point out that, behind the fake cheetah, there is a giant desert serpent. Rory says that there is no such thing as a giant desert serpent. I hand him the photograph, but Rory ignores it and says that it must be a fake; the giant desert serpent doesn’t exist, he says, so, obviously, the photographer must be a lying, cheating, greedy, sneaky, scheming, low-down, fraudster. I think this is a little harsh and I remind him that he took the photograph himself and, when he stuck a cut-out picture of a cheetah on it, he probably got carried away and stuck a giant serpent on it as well, for good measure. Rory denies all knowledge of the thing and, when George points directly at it, Rory says that it is just a bush.

Looking at the picture, I can see that Rory is quite right; the monster serpent is no more than a blurred bush, and anyone who says that it is a desert serpent must be a complete idiot. Irritatingly, George says that any fool can see it is a real serpent, and Fatty agrees. As much as I hate to admit it, George and Fatty are not complete idiots, so I examine the picture again, this time I can see the monster clearly, and I declare that there is no doubt at all that Rory has inadvertently captured a genuine picture of the legendary desert serpent.

Albert accuses me of just believing the last thing I heard and not thinking anything through, which means, he says, that my opinion is worthless. I am sure that he is right, but, in my defence, I point out that George and Fatty don’t know anything about cryptoids, deserts, cheetahs, bushes or serpents either, so they are just bleating out unformed, uninformed, theories, and their uneducated opinions only serve to distort the evidence, twist the facts and obscure the truth. However, while George and Fatty might not know anything about the subject, I, on the other hand, have fallen into a lot of bushes, so that does give me the right to offer an authoritative opinion on bushes, bushes that look like cryptoids, cryptoids that look like cheetahs, cheetahs that look like serpents and other unrelated subjects about which I know nothing.

People are twitching with boredom, but I am not responsible for their lack of interest, and, choosing a subject that I think might be something to do with whatever it was I was talking about, I bluster on about Juan’s extraordinary singing and dancing troupe, the unbelievable Squeak Sisters; until Fatty picks me up and hurls me against a wall

Some time later, Juan chucks beer into my face, to wake me up, and informs me that Captain Aodhàn Macallister has received instructions to take over as pilot, and fly us to Washington. Aodhàn is an experienced, highly skilled, pilot, and Juan always claims that Washingtonian women are the most beautiful women in the world, so this is wonderful news, and Juan orders cases of Vintage Dalmore, Lagavulin, Tamdhu, and Miltonduff Founder’s Reserve, to celebrate.

Aodhàn looks in to tell us that we are ready to take off, and we raise our glasses to salute the valour and fortitude of the people we are leaving behind, then, drinking to a wonderful future for their country, and, giving thanks that we are leaving the frightening dump, we soar into the desert sky, cheering, singing, clapping and lurching around in excited confusion, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary

Eel Pie

Ingredients: one and a half pounds of eels, half a pint of meat stock, one tablespoonful of mushroom ketchup, one dessertspoonful of lemon-juice, pepper and salt, rough puff paste, or puff.

Method: clean and skin the eels, and cut them into pieces abut two inches long. Put the heads, tails, and fins into a stew-pan with the stock, simmer for half an hour, then strain, and skim well. Place the eels in a pie-dish, with a good seasoning of salt and pepper between the layers. Add the lemon-juice and ketchup to the stock, pour about half of it into the pie-dish, cover with paste, and bake in a fairly-hot oven for one hour. Warm the remainder of the stock, and pour it into the pie through a funnel as soon as it is taken from the oven.

One hour to bake, sufficient for four or five persons. Seasonable all year, but best from June to March

Recipe by Isabella Beeton, 1861


Eating Crow

Fatty’s new bar is very accommodating and it is difficult to leave. Nonetheless, I remind my companions, we have to go as we have a huge, urgent, task to complete, but the longer we stay in the bar, the longer we don’t go anywhere, but we aren’t going anywhere, we are in hostile territory and we are glaschandishly behind schedule. Ordering another six bottles of Vintage Glencadam Private Reserve, Juan says that we should stay a little longer as Fatty’s new bar is very good, it reminds him, he says, of a pub called the Crow and Hoop. On hearing the word ‘crow’, Rory MaCullum twitches. I tell Rory to ignore Juan, while it is true Fatty’s new bar is very good, with a wonderful selection of Fine Vintage Malts, but, I tell Rory, Juan is only mentioning crows to be irritating. Juan, however, won’t shut up, and says that that when he is on watch at sea, he spends many happy hours in the crow’s nest, watching the sea, or sleeping, and dreaming about the Crow and Hoop.

For Juan to deliberately annoy Rory is ignorant and unfair, Rory is a brilliant, dedicated, hard working surgeon, operating in difficult and dangerous circumstances, and he became a doctor of medicine in order to heal people, to save people’s lives. However, rather than acknowledging Rory’s inspiring commitment, Juan, who is brutish, lazy and who only joined the medical profession in order to more closely examine women, childishly insists on bringing up the one subject guaranteed to make Rory nervous and upset. I think about shutting Juan up by hitting him on the head with a crowbar, but decide against it in the interests of common courtesy.

Juan ordinarily behaves like a delinquent, but I expect better of George, so I am shocked when George produces a painting of a carrion crow. However, I have to admit that it is a very fine crow, Juan, boorishly, tells George that if he can’t paint a picture of a woman he is just wasting paint and spoiling a good canvas. I tell Juan that the canvas isn’t spoiled because the paint will make the canvas waterproof, which is a good thing, and, I point out, George did not waste much coloured paint, as the crow is mostly black. Fatty says that the painting inspires him to serve minced crow with stuffed pig’s feet. I remind Fatty that pork is not a favourite food in this area and Albert says that, historically, people do not want to eat crow either. Rory shouts that people talking about crows all the time is sending him crazy.

Albert, ignoring Rory, remarks that, at least, George did paint the crow black, which is the proper colour for a crow. George tells Albert that crows come in different colours and, in fact, some people say that the crow’s feathers contain spots of blue. Fatty says that it looks tasty, which is always a good sign. Rory bangs his fists on the bars and yells that we are talking about eating crows again, I say that, strictly speaking, we could be talking about swallowtails, which are often confused with crows, but Rory yells that it doesn’t matter if they are swallowtails or crows, or blue crows or spotted crows or spotted blue crows, he can’t bear to hear about crows or eating crows, or anything about crows at all. With that, Rory slumps onto the bar and starts weeping.

Fatty asks why the subject of crows upsets Rory so much. I explain that when Rory was an internationally recognised lepidopterist, he was asked to identify a particular species of butterfly. However, as Rory had just returned from a vicious drinking session with Juan and Mahalath, his vision was so badly askew that the butterfly was too blurred to identify, sadly, rather than admit that he was too sozzled to see straight, he guessed, and said that the butterfly was a swallowtail, the Great Blue Mime, Papilio paradoxus, but, tragically, he guessed wrong, actually, the butterfly was the Blue Spotted Crow, the deadly Danaid, Euploea midamus.

Needing a snack, and, seeing that Rory is visibly distressed, I change the subject from eating crows to eating chicken by asking Fatty for half a chicken. Fatty says that half chickens are a rare breed, and he doesn’t have any, he was thinking about baking a lark and wren pie, but he is short of wrens; on the other hand, he says, roast swallowtail sounds nice, but he is not sure what kind of bird a swallowtail is, so he doesn’t know how to cook it, however, he adds, if it would be of any help, he would be happy to serve a cold collation dish, such as larks farcie, instead, especially as pigs are off the menu, and Rory doesn’t like crows. I tell Fatty that that is a good idea, but Rory moans, puts his head in his hands, and rocks backwards and forwards in distress.

Seeing that Rory is so disturbed, George says that he is sure that Rory guessing the species of butterfly might have been a tad unprofessional but, ultimately, it cannot be too serious. I tell George that, unfortunately, it was criminally irresponsible. Juan says that Rory is an idiot, everybody knows that the difference between the Great Blue Mime and the Blue Spotted Crow is that you can spend all day stuffing Blue Mimes into your mouth and the only thing that will happen is your tongue will turn blue and your throat will get a bit tickly, but eating the Blue Crow will probably kill you, because it’s poisonous. And this, I explain, was the problem; a picture of Rory’s misidentified butterfly was published in a survival manual; trusting the guide, a Special Services chef inadvertently cooked up a Euploea midamus stew, an entire company of soldiers became too incapacitated to function, failed to stop a local uprising and a massacre ensued. To make matters worse, when the blame for the slaughter fell on Rory, rather than admit he had made a grievous error, he claimed that the butterfly was a Papilio paradoxus, Euploea midamus hybrid; the entire entomological community turned against Rory and, in entomological magazines, there appeared ludicrous pictures of supposed hybrids with names such as Papilio Leuconoe MaCullum. The shame was too much to bear and Rory, his reputation destroyed and his career in ruins, was forced to abandon his studies, leave Scotland, and hide out in the desert for ten years.

Juan, to take Rory’s mind off his problems with crows, orders Vintage Lochside, Glen Spey, Tamnavulin, and Dailluaine Special Reserve, Fatty knocks up a plate of lark farcie, we offer toast after toast to Rory and wish him better luck in the future, I inflate my bagpipes and play a wild rendition of the air, ‘Chough and Crow’, Juan bellows a bawdy version of James Macdonald’s ‘The Lark and the Wren’, then, singing and cheering and shouting with excitement, we tumble around in befuddled circles, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary

Stuffed Pig’s Feet, (Pieds de Porc, Farcis)

Ingredients – 4 pig’s feet, 1 tablespoonful of four, 1 egg, breadcrumbs.

For the stuffing: 2 tablespoonfuls of cooked and finely-chopped onion. 1 small tablespoonful of breadcrumbs, half a teaspoonful of powdered sage, 1 tablespoonful of oiled butter, half a teaspoonful of made mustard, half a teaspoonful of salt, quarter of a teaspoonful of pepper.

Method, - Put the feet into a stewpan with a teaspoonful of salt, cover with cold water, and boil gently for about 3 hours. When done, split the feet, remove the bones, and press the forcemeat made of the above ingredients into the cavities. Replace the halves together, and press between 2 dishes, with a heavy weight on top, until cold. When read to use, cut the feet into slices about 1 inch in thickness, roll each piece in flour, brush over with egg, coat with breadcrumbs, and fry until nicely browned in hot fat. Or, if preferred, fry them in a little hot butter in a sauté-pan. Garnish with fried parsley before serving.

Time; 5 or 6 hours. Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

Recipe by Isabella Beeton, 1861