Professor Humperdink III

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A recreational room

We fall through the sandalwood door to into a room that, George says, seems to be for recreational purposes. I remind George that we don't have time for recreation, any further delay would be catastrophic, we have already spent too long in the club, and we are gunkishly behind schedule. However, noticing a harpsichord, I volunteer to give a recital. Juan shouts that a recital isn't recreational, it's horrible. Everyone, he says, knows that the only good note in a recital is the last note. Until the last note, everyone just sits, bored out of their wits, trying to look interested, desperate to escape, dehydrated. When it is over everyone claps, from relief, and runs to the bar.

Rory explains that traditional music only has a limited amount of notes, so during a long recital, the same notes get played again and again, which is inevitably tedious, but I tell Juan that, just because he is an uncultured swine, it doesn't mean that everybody loathes cultural events and traditional social activities. Rory points to the wall-painting and says that it depicts important traditional activities, such as baptism, eating and drinking, teaching, harvesting, and pulling people's towels off.

George says that, in such a room, we should all be inspired to be creative, and, as an example, he shows his new painting. Because nobody knows what it is, he tells us it is a nightjar. I tell George that it is a very nice nightjar. Juan says that it's just another bird. Rory says that it's not even a real bird, there's no such thing, he claims, as a nightjar. George, he says, has got the word 'nightjar' confused with 'nightcap', which is the jar of whisky you have at night. But, George can't paint anything except birds, so he drew a bird instead of a jar, which is preposterous. George says that he's not confused, the nightjar is also called the day-owl, so the nightjar has nothing to do with jars or night, except that it makes a jarring sound and it's nocturnal. I remind George that it is also called a 'wheel-bird' because of the whirring noise it makes when it gets caught in the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Fatty adds that it is also known as a 'churn-owl', because it tastes so disgusting it makes your stomach churn.

George defends himself by saying that the nightjar is not preposterous, some people, he informs us, call nightjars 'night-hawks' and hawks aren't preposterous, in fact, they're very noble and courageous. I point out that the nightjar is also known as the goat-sucker, because it sucks goats' milk, which, because this is unusual behavior for a bird, makes the nightjar preposterous, noble, brave and weird. Rory says that George's bird is definitely an in invention because the goat-sucker is a mythological bird. To maintain artistic integrity, declares Rory, George should paint a real bird, like a swan. George says that there is no point in painting a swan, everybody knows what a swan looks like, and everybody knows that swans are of the order anseriformes, in the family anatidae, so a painting of a swan would not even be educational, whereas nobody knows what a nightjar looks like and the nightjar family is caprimulgidæ which, like the swift or a the woodpecker, doesn't have a proper taxonomic order.

It is a fact that that famous old bird fancying sot, Arthur Thomson, said that the order in which the nightjar is classified doesn't have an English name, so it's called by it's scientific name, picarlæ, which, he claims, is impossible to define, but, I tell George, Arthur spent a great deal of his time face down in a puddle of whisky, so he couldn't define anything. However, in this instance, woodpeckers are notoriously difficult to define, because they move their heads up and down so quickly they are hard to see properly, although, in some languages, the woodpecker is called the 'bird with the blurred head' and, if you see a bird pecking at wood like an out-of-control steam-hammer, then it probably is a wood pecker; equally, a swift is hard to define because it flies so swiftly you can't see it for long enough to define it, and nightjars are impossible to define because they are mythological. However, if something is impossible to define, it isn't very scientific, so, for the sake of science, I volunteer to define the order 'picarlæ', as 'the order that contains the nightjar family', and, furthermore, I will give it an English name; 'Bert'. 

George says that 'Bert' is a silly name and, anyway, he tells me, I can't just make up a name for entire order of birds, I tell him Bert is a very good name and, if George can make up a nightjar, I can make up the nightjars' taxonomic order, besides, all I have to do to make it official, is to write 'Bert' in italics. Feeling I have satisfactorily answered a profound ornithological question, I order Vintage Mortlach, Inchgower, Blair Athol, and Glen Elgin Special Reserve, to celebrate.

George tells me that the room does not have a bar. Juan, in a panic, shouts that, if a room doesn't have a bar then it's not recreational, I point to a pedestal cabinet in the corner. Juan always assumes that every cabinet is a potential drinks cabinet; and we have fun watching him fail to open the cabinet and shouting that it doesn't have any doors, and kicking and clawing at the cabinet. When he starts to bite it, I remind him that the cabinet was made by André-Charles Boulle. Juan yells that he doesn't care who made it, the cabinet won't open, so whoever made it was an idiot. I remind Juan that it was never meant to open, André specialised in fake cabinets.

André, I remind Juan, was good at carving but he was a terrible at woodwork; making anything complex was beyond him, so his cabinets don't contain anything complicated, such as doors, shelves or drawers, they are just boxes, for decorative purposes only. As they were hollow, they lacked the weight of a real cabinet, so he always gave his cabinets extra weight with diamonds, gold, cases of vintage malt and other things that he picked up around the stately homes and palaces he furnished. He left the cabinets for years, eventually, under the pretext that they needed repair or maintenance, he took them back to his workshop and cut them open, to retrieve the loot.

Helping Juan knock the cabinet over and, jumping up and down on it, I tell him that the malt will be safe because, although André's cabinet is useless as a cabinet, it is very expensive and belongs to a queen, so nobody in their right minds would think of harming it. We both jump together, the cabinet smashes apart under our feet and, yelling and cheering, we retrieve handfuls of gold rings, bracelets, necklaces, brooches, and bottles of Vintage Balblair, Glenfiddich, Auchroisk, and Tullibardine Founder's Reserve. Juan opens the bottles, then, singing, cheering, offering toast after toast to culture, tradition, and well stocked drinks cabinets, bouncing off cabinets, crushing lutes, head butting wall-paintings, and crashing into harpsichords, we stamp around in traditional high-spirited confusion, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary


The fragrant portal

After dragging Rory from underneath the bookcase and reviving him with a bottle of Vintage Caperdonich Private Reserve, he totters backwards and forwards until he crashes into a door and collapses, moaning. Albert tells Juan to stop laughing, I assures Rory that everybody walks into doors, it's perfectly natural. The next time he wants to go through a door, I advise, he should note where the hinges are, this often offers a clue which side of the door will swing open. However, in this particular instance, I inform him, the door has false hinges, so he should take that into account. Rory, wounded and turning green, shouts that he doesn't care, he is going to be sick, and, so saying, he sprays vomit in all directions. Albert, again, tells Juan to stop laughing, Rory, he declares, is obviously in distress.

Although I may be slurring and, in spite of the fact I don't know what I am talking about, I feel that Rory would benefit from a lecture, so I tell him that he should not worry about having walked into the door, or being sick, it's perfectly natural, the door it is made from sandalwood so, normally, it would smell of sandalwood, but the smell has been heavily disguised so it is not recognisable as a sandalwood door, this is because the King of Padmanabhapuram wants his door back, so Fred Litchfield disguised it by soaking it in rats' urine for twenty years. But, irritatingly, I cannot say 'Padmanabhapuram'. After many attempts, Juan hits me over the head with a bottle of Tennessee whiskey, to shut me up.

George says that, even though the door doesn't have the beautiful aroma of sandalwood and, although it stinks of urine and vomit, it is covered with recognisable carvings, so the king would notice it immediately. There is an obvious answer to this but I can't quite think what it is, so, rather than addressing the issue, I punch Juan in the kidneys. He might have been right to shut me up, but being right is not an excuse for violence.

After Juan throws me against George's easel and, as I shove Juan's head through George's canvas, George yells that he is trying to paint and he wants us all to go away. I remind everyone that we are on a desperately urgent mission of vital importance, we are jabbishly behind schedule and we don't have time to be creative. George says that he needs to concentrate on painting tits. When I object again, Juan shouts at me to shut my stupid mouth, all George ever does is churn out pictures of birds, which are about as interesting as a train-time table, and as useless, if George wants to paint tits, Juan yells, nobody should stop him, then he smashes me in the face with a bottle of Southern Comfort, to shut me up, and orders Vintage Tobermory, Balblair, Glendullan, and Cragganmore Special Reserve, to celebrate.

Raising our glasses and saluting George's creative spirit, we offer toast after toast to the king of Padmanabhapuram, fail to say 'Padmanabhapuram', argue violently, then, spluttering, holding our noses, gagging and retching, slithering on vomit, we kick Rory out of the way and stagger towards the stinking door, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary


The useful bookcase

Albert is famous physicist, George is an important artist, Fatty is a renowned chef, my own achievements have not gone unremarked, and, all over the world, women lie in wait for Juan. Rory, however, is just an academic, so, although we understand his constant, desperate, efforts to impress us, listening to him is similar to being on a long, dull, journey, to somewhere you don't want to go to, with someone you dislike, but, once Rory starts, it is hard to stop him and his ennui-stunned audience are helplessly transported to a sad, bleak, place.

Stumbling into the large wooden bookcase, I remark that it is a stupid place to put a bookcase. George says that Mathias Leistler made it from carved lime tree, with panels of satinwood. Rory says that the bookcase looks impressive, but I tell him that it's a useless waste of tree, as the books that it contains are mostly academic papers, which are wholly unimpressive, in a better world, I add, they would never be published in the first place. This sets Rory off and he drones on and on about how nobody would publish his papers, so he turned to writing murder mysteries and thrillers, which, unfortunately, sold lamentably few copies. I remind Rory that, in his murder mysteries, because of his nervousness, he avoided including anything alarming, like a murder, in fact, nobody gets murdered, or even slightly hurt; added to that, although he is an academic, Rory is essentially moral, honest, and straightforward, so he is unable to contrive a deceitful or mysterious plot, thus, all his characters are transparently shallow, blandly law-abiding, and sickeningly good-natured.

Apart from the fact that Rory's murder mysteries are murderously dull, the only mystery is why the books are called a murder mysteries in the first place, and Rory's thrillers were not as thrilling as they might have been. His latest thriller, I suggest, would have been more thrilling if something thrilling occurred, or even something vaguely interesting. However, despite cataclysmic world events occurring all around, Rory fails to mention any of them, and there is also the disconcerting fact that two of his protagonists, Thomas Litchfield and Frederick Litchfield are described as brothers, or unrelated, which results in ridiculous sentences such as: 'Her Serene Highness glanced up at Thomas and Frederick, the hunch-backed, squinting, bow-legged, brothers, or not brothers, and smiled, graciously.' And why Rory chose to depict Thomas and Frederick as looking like gargoyles is beyond comprehension.

Rory says that the mystery in a murder mystery does not necessarily have to be who the murderer is, and, anyway, murder mysteries aren't really mysteries because the detective always unmasks the murderer, and says who it is, which spoils the whole mystery. He adds that, in his research, he found no evidence that Frederick and Thomas weren't both terribly deformed, and he doesn't know if Thomas Litchfield and Frederick Litchfield are brothers or not, so it wouldn't be right to describe them as brothers, when they may not be brothers, equally, it would be incorrect to say that they are not brothers, when they might actually be brothers; it is all to do, says Rory, with integrity, about which, he says pointedly, I know nothing. This might be true but, I point out, Rory's books might have great integrity, but nobody reads them. People who write books that nobody reads must be stupid, declaims Fatty, it's the same, he says, as a chef cooking meals that nobody eats.

After a quick round of Knockando, Speyburn, Brackla, and Glen Keith Private Reserve, to refresh ourselves, I remind everyone that we are lumingly behind schedule and have to head off immediately but, because we are covered in soot, blood and filth, we should find our rooms, wash, and change into clean clothes. Rory says that he doesn't like changing into clean clothes, it makes him nervous. George says that that is a peculiar quirk. Juan mumbles that this is because Rory is a peculiar jerk. Rory explains that, when he gave regular lectures to the Royal Society, he always kept a fresh set of clothes available, so that, when he arrived, he could quickly change, and walk on stage looking fresh and smartly dressed. And that, he says, is why he does not like changing into clean clothes. I am sure that, in Rory's muddled mind, this makes sense, so, to humour him, I tell Rory that any journey can leave you looking crumpled, and I imagine that Rory called into to every public house on the way to the give his lecture, so, when he arrived, he was probably extremely crumpled. In that condition, I assure Rory, changing into fresh clothes is very sensible and something that Juan should do, because he stinks.

Rory tells us that he was a victim of professional rivalry as, at the time, some of his more narrow-minded colleagues were irritated by Rory's claim that Darwin was wrong. Humans, Rory professed, are not related to monkeys and, beyond a few coincidental similarities, the two species are separate, independent, and distinct. Looking at Juan, who is indistinguishable from a gorilla , I observe that Rory's idea was somewhat controversial and, I suggest, stupid. Rory said it was stupid not to lock his locker, as one of Darwin's supporters, or perhaps Darwin himself, put itching powder in Rory's clothes. Rory didn't notice immediately and, when he did notice, he was a few minutes into his lecture; he gamely attempted to continue his lecture as if nothing had happened, however, it wasn't long before he had to be hauled off the stage, tearing his clothes off and scratching himself like a vermin-infested baboon. Darwin's reputation remained unharmed, and, possibly, enhanced, the distinguished guests enjoyed the entertainment but Rory, humiliated, was forced to leave his university post and become a lemming breeder in Norway. Tragically, Rory's lemming farm was near a cliff and, when the lemmings escaped one night, he lost the entire plummet. I tell Rory that the collective noun for lemmings should have warned him against rearing lemmings near a cliff.

Rory starts defending himself with pitiful, whinging, excuses for not being a successful academic, author, or lemming breeder, until Juan decides he has had enough and hurls Rory against the bookcase, breaking the wood, splintering the panels and shattering the glass, which is unfortunate. Rory staggers to his feet and calls Juan a stinking ape, which, I think, rather proves my point, but we don't wildly want to hear any more from Rory for a while. Fortunately, I think of a good use for the bookcase, so Fatty and I tip it over, on to Rory, and, compressed, he stops talking. Juan orders Vintage Lagavulin, Bladnoch, Benrinnes, and Teaninich Private Reserve, to celebrate. We offer toast after toast to the success of all academics, authors, and lemming breeders, then, singing, cheering, shouting and saluting Mathias Leistler and his wonderful bookcase, we careen around in noisy, fuzzled, confusion, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary