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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