Add to Google


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