Professor Humperdink III

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To the dining room

George sits down at the piano, flips open a music book and says that, as we are in America, he will play an American song. Looking forward to a typically American, happy, up-beat, song, we are disappointed when George plays a sad, slow, dirge, getting slower and sadder until he grinds to a halt, weeping. I point out that, although it is very sad, the instructions on the music very clearly state that he should keep moving, at least until he reaches the end. But George is inconsolable and we drag him from the piano and give him a bottle of Vintage Lagavulin, to cheer him up.

Fatty, looking at Albert collapsing into a pool of whisky, giggling and muttering, says that he doesn't understand German, and he asks me to translate for him. I tell Fatty that Albert is not speaking in German, he is speaking in Humpermat, the international language of mathematics, created by great grand aunt Euphemia Humperdink and Rabbie Burns during a heavy Saturday night session in the Cheeky Monkey. As musical notes are given solfège syllables, such as 'doh-re-mi', and can be spoken in Solresol, so mathematical operators have designated phonemes which can be spoken in Humpermat; pi (π), for instance, is 'pi', and the word for infinity (∞) is 'oo ', and so forth. So, when Albert says “tuppi divtri putmin tupfloo plusix putput”, obviously, he means '(π/∆)-(∞+6))'. Fatty says that it doesn't make any sense. I tell Fatty that he should not tell anyone that Albert doesn't make any sense because Albert is meant to be a genius, and nobody will buy his theories if it gets out that, actually, he is as dim as a squashed firefly. Juan says that Albert is not speaking in any language, he is just making the appreciative noises everybody makes after a bottle of Vintage Glendronach Special Reserve. Although I object, pointing out that we have stayed far too long and we don't have time to eat as we are hamrelishly behind schedule, Fatty insists that what Albert needs, and what we all need, is a good meal, and he leads the way to the dining room.

In the dining room, Fatty explains that, as the Aberfeldy salmon that we ordered is still on its way, the chef improvised a special dish by by baking the fish that lives, or used to live, in the club's garden pond. Fatty explains that it's a famous Japanese fish so, although for taste, texture, and all-round fishy quality, it can never match a Scottish fish, it will serve as a filler before the main dish arrives. I tell Fatty that this is a very good idea but, when he shows me a picture of the fish in question, I point out that it is the ancient, revered, carp that belongs, or used to belong, to the Japanese Emperor. Fatty shrugs and says that it isn't his problem. George, looking at the picture, says that he is sure he has seen it before, somewhere, but it was in colour. I explain that this is the original picture, but black and white pictures don't sell as well as coloured pictures so that old scoundrel, Fred Litchfield, made copies of the original picture, coloured them in, and sold them as coloured prints to decorate dimwitted aristocrat's palaces

Fatty tells us that the chef de cuisine, Monsieur François Crétin, once read an article in a magazine that said that when certain rug-makers made rugs, they made one deliberate mistake. The page was torn at that point and François never found out why the rug-makers deliberately included an error, nonetheless, he was was impressed and, since then, all his meals, which, otherwise, would be perfect, include one deliberate mistake, so, Fatty warns us, if we notice anything amiss with the meal, it would be impolite to mention it. Rory, who has a sensitive stomach, asks Fatty what kind of mistake we should expect. Fatty says that it impossible to say because François likes to be spontaneously creative in his choice of mistake, however, as an example, instead of serving tomatoes and eggs to the Chief Rabbi and his wife, François mistakenly served pelican pie with deep-fried wart-hog warts.

Hearing this, Rory says that he is feeling unwell and has to be sick. Albert says that Rory is the sickest person he has ever met. I remind Albert that Rory is perfectly healthy, but he just spent a long time with his head stuck in a piano and, after Juan's rendition of a particularly loud, chaotic, Rachmaninov piece, Rory was reeling and we had to give him a bottle of Vintage Duff's Defiance Single Grain Founder's Reserve, to steady his nerves, and, sometimes, there are side-effects.

We watch Rory stumble around the room, looking for somewhere to be sick. I tell him to use the cellaret under the sideboard, but he trips over one of the carved oak legs of the sideboard, and bangs his head on the other leg. Because the legs are carved in the shape of birds, Rory, throwing up into the cellaret, moans that he is being attacked by giant eagles. I assure Rory that he is not being attacked, the birds are support-eagles and they aren't dangerous, unless you fall over them. George says that there's no such thing as support-eagles. I tell George that they are called support-eagles because they are eagles and they support something, and, I point out, his latest painting is of a grey wagtail, and a grey wagtail is only called a grey wagtail because it's grey and wags its tail. Juan says that a dog could be grey, and wag it's tail, but 'Grey Wagtail' would be a stupid name for a dog. I tell Juan not to be stupid, we are not talking about dogs, we are talking about grey wagtails and the best name for a grey wagtail is grey wagtail and, instead of making stupid comments, he would be better employed choosing something to drink with the carp. Agency club dining rooms are always well stocked and it only takes Juan a moment to find a magnum of 1899, Chateau Pape Clément, 1899, for George, and cases of Vintage Glenlossie, Bowmore, Glentauchers, and Glendronach Private Reserve, for us.

Juan might be an idiot, but, even I have to admit, this is a wonderful choice and, to celebrate, we raise our glasses, salute all great fish, drink to the health of George's wagging grey tail, and, shouting and yelling with excitement, we inflate our bagpipes and, playing 'Willie Waggletail', 'Willie was a Wanton Wag', 'Willie wi' his Wig a-jee', and 'Will ye go to the Indies' at full volume, we stamp around in wild befuddlement, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary

Baked Carp


1 carp, 3 tablespoonfuls of salad-oil, or clarified butter, 1 tablespoonful of Worcester sauce, 1 tablespoonful of lemon-juice, 1 tablespoonful of finely-chopped parsley, 1 dessertspoonful of finely-chopped onion, salt, cayenne. For the sauce: ¾ of a pint of milk, 1 ½ ozs. of flour 1 ½ ozs. of butter, 2 tablespoonfuls of coarsely-chopped gherkins, salt and pepper.

Wash, scale, and clean the fish, and pace t in an earthenware baking dish. Mix together the salad-oil, Worcester sauce, lemon-juice, parsley, onion, season well with salt and cayenne, pour this mixture over the fish, and let it remain n it for at least 2 hours, basting at frequent intervals. Cover with a greased paper; bake gently for about 1 hour, and baste well. When it is nearly done, melt the butter in a stewpan, stir in the flour, add the milk, bring to the boil, and simmer for 5 or 6 minutes. Place the fish on a hot dish, strain the gravy into in the tin into the sauce, add the gherkins, season to taste, and pour over the fish.

Time, to bake, 1 hour. Sufficient for 4 or 5 persons. Seasonable from November to March.

Recipe by Isabella Beeton, 1861


Cultured entertainment

We are glipishly behind schedule and I insist that we leave immediately, but Fatty, patting his rumbling belly, tells us that dinner is due to be served and he can't leave until he eats something, or he won't have the energy to carry on. Juan says that we can't leave until we stock up on supplies, and he starts smashing more furniture, looking for concealed bottles of vintage Scotch. George says that we can't go until he puts the finishing touches to his latest paintings. Albert says we can't go because Rory has got his head stuck in the piano.

I tell Albert that Rory is not stuck in the piano, he just finished a bottle of Vintage Glengarioch Special Reserve, which is normally used only as a powerful emollient so, naturally, Rory is being sick into the piano. Albert says that Rory is being sick into the piano but he is also stuck in the piano because Juan closed the lid on Rory's head. After watching Rory struggling for some time, Albert says that he doesn't understand why we are laughing, there's nothing entertaining about seeing a man with his head stuck in a piano. I remind Albert that he is German and doesn't understand culture or entertainment.

After we release him, Rory complains that it's not fair, he keeps hurting himself on furniture he couldn't even afford. I tell him that, if that is the case, he should not buy it, it would just be inconvenient, but, I remind Rory, he can buy furniture on his expense account. Rory says that to buy luxurious, expensive, furniture and then charge it to his expense account would be wrong. This is a puzzling attitude, so I tell him that, if he is worried, a pianoforte is, strictly speaking, a musical instrument, so he doesn't have to call it furniture. Rory says that that would not be honest. I remind Rory that his wife is a woman and, therefore, it is perfectly honest to refer to her as a wife, or as a woman, in the same way, a piano can be a beautiful instrument or just a piece of furniture, noisy furniture.

George tells us that, as he hasn't seen any American birds yet, he has painted a spotted fly-catcher instead. I tell him it's very nice fly-catcher, and, with a diet restricted to spotted flies, I am surprised that it isn't extinct. Albert remarks that, here in America, George could sell his paintings easily. George says that, in Britain, only upper class people buy his paintings but, in America, where everybody is equal, there aren't any upper classes, so nobody would buy them. Juan says that nobody would buy them because they're rubbish. If George stopped painting one pointless bird after another and painted women instead, he could sell millions of paintings, because it doesn't matter what class you are in, or what country you are in, pictures of birds are boring and stupid and nobody wants one, but, in in every class, in every country, people buy pictures of women, and, as George can throw out pictures of birds like a high-speed mechanical bird-painting machine, he may as well paint women instead, if he does that, Juan guarantees, George's paintings will sell in their millions.

George says that painting can take a long time, so, whatever the subject, to paint millions of paintings would be impossible. I remind Juan and Albert that George is not a business man, he is an artist. He is not interested in money or fame; as long as he can pursue his art, George is content to remain an utterly uncelebrated nonentity and spend the rest of his life in desperate, squalid, poverty. George says that this is not entirely true, but I'm not interested in his opinion so I shove Rory head into the piano again, slam the lid down and bash out Beethoven's piano concerto no.1 as loudly as possible while yelling at Rory that he should privileged as, because of his deafness, Beethoven played like this all the time, and not many people get to hear a great piano concerto as it was meant to heard, from inside the piano. This gives Rory a unique opportunity and, furthermore, proves that, despite what Albert says, seeing somebody with their head stuck in a piano can be very entertaining.

Juan smashes his way into an armoire and discovers bottles of Vintage Miltonduff, Tamnavulin, Scapa, and Glenburgie Private Reserve. This is cause for celebration and, raising our glasses, we offer toast after toast to loud music and birds, then, singing 'The Pride of the Glen', 'The Wee Wifukie', and 'The Weel-tochere'd Lass', we link arms and crash around in exultant confusion, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary


A quick recreational

Between periods of weeping, Rory rambles on about his fatally damaged reputation and the end of his career. I say that, what Rory needs, is a good woman. Juan cheers, says that that is the only sensible thing I have ever said, and orders Vintage Balvenie, Lagavulin, Longmorn, and Royal Lochnagar Family Reserve, to celebrate. A short while later, watching Rory fight a bookcase, Albert says that Rory is behaving strangely, Juan says that Rory's behaviour is perfectly normal after a bottle of Royal Lochnagar. Rory, clinging to the bookcase for support, nursing a bent, bleeding, nose and wiping red ooze from his beard, slithers down onto the floor, whining that, wherever he goes, there is furniture in his way.

I remind Rory that there is a perfectly good fireplace in the room, so he could burn the bookcase. Rory looks horrified and says that, even if it was in his way, it is a fine piece of furniture and should not be burned. I tell him he should burn the books first; without books, a bookcase isn't a bookcase, it's just a case, and a case isn't furniture, so he can burn it, if it makes him happier. Rory says that it wouldn’t make him happier because he doesn't believe in burning books. I respect Rory's beliefs, but, I assure him, books do burn. Rory says that he knows books will burn, he doesn't believe that they should be burnt. I tell Rory that, when books are on fire, they do become burnt, badly burnt, so his belief is, at best, optimistic.

Fatty says that it's good to be optimistic, it gives you hope. For example, he says, patting his growling stomach, he is hopeful that the salmon that we ordered will arrive soon, and, he tells us, it is that optimistic attitude that is keeping him calm, otherwise, if he lost hope, he would be in the kitchen, screaming, raging, and throwing boiling water in people's faces, to make them hurry up.

Talking of hurrying up, I remind everybody of the cataclysmic consequences of further delay and, considering the fact that we are dulbertishly behind schedule, I tell everyone that we have to leave the recreation room immediately. Juan agrees, I think, saying that there is no point in staying because, whatever you call it, and whatever furniture you put in it, a room is not recreational without women. Notwithstanding this, George persuades us that, out of respect for the recreational theme of the room, we should play one quick tune before we go. I tell George that we should save time by playing after we've gone, but Juan starts playing the piano, so I inflate my bagpipes, Rory bangs his head on the bookcase, and we belt out a loud, lively, rendition of 'Mòrag á Dùnbheagain'.

It sounds dreadful. I blame Juan because his piano must be out of tune. But he plays 'The Skye Boat Song', and it sounds wonderful, everyone joins in with the chorus and bursts into tears at the end. Juan says that my bagpipes are out of tune, but when I play 'The Day is Ended' and 'The Herding Song', it is so enchanting that everyone starts bleating and falls asleep.

I wake everyone up with a fast, loud, rendition of 'The Pride of Scotland' and declare that my bagpipes are perfectly in tune. Albert reminds us that, because the bagpipes are Scottish, they are tuned to a Scottish scale, but the piano is Viennese, so it is tuned to a Viennese scale; because the scales are harmonically incompatible, when the piano and the bagpipes play together, they sound horrible. I tell Juan to tune the piano to the bagpipes. Juan says he can't, because he doesn't have a piano tuning wrench. George says that Juan should not tune the piano as tuning a piano is very difficult, especially with an old and valuable piano, and we should get a professional piano-tuner to tune it. Juan says that tuning a piano is easy, it is only involves turning little pegs with a special wrench, but he hasn't got that wrench, so he can't tune the piano anyway.

George says that if the piano isn't tuned by a professional, it might be damaged and, if Juan touches it, it will certainly be damaged. Juan bangs the piano with bottle of Tennessee Whiskey, and shouts that he can't tune the piano because he doesn't have the right wrench, and if he did have one, he would not damage the piano, but he doesn't have one, so it doesn't matter. Albert agrees with George. He says that it takes years to learn the skill of piano tuning, only an expert would attempt to tune such a valuable piano, and Juan can't possibly be an expert anything that requires skill. Juan slams a bottle of Southern Comfort on to the piano keys and yells that it doesn't take an expert to tune a piano, it is easy, all blind people tune pianos all the time, so you don't even need to see a piano to tune a piano, he could tune a piano with his eyes closed, but he needs a special tool, a piano-tuning wrench, and he doesn't have one, so he can't tune the piano.

George says that Juan is insulting blind people because he is implying that the things that blind people do are easy. Juan says that he is not insulting blind people, in fact, he can personally vouch for the fact that 'Bendy' Wendy, from Bootle, is as blind as an eyeless eel, and twice as flexible, so she can do things that would be difficult for most people, even if they had perfect sight. I tell Juan that we don't have time to listen to his stupid excuses so he should stop babbling and tune the piano.

Albert tells Juan to stop using a broken bottle to carve his name on the the piano. I tell Albert that Juan is sulking, so we should ignore him. Juan slams the piano lid up and down, shouting that he isn't sulking. I tell Albert that Juan is just throwing a tantrum because he wants attention. Juan, pounding the top of the piano with a bottle of Willett Family Reserve bellows that he is not having a tantrum. George yells at him to stop hitting the piano. I tell Juan that all this recreation is making me thirsty so a quick recreational would be in order and, if he is not going to tune the piano, he should do something useful instead, and find something to drink. In the recreation room of an agency club, this is an easy, mindless, task, perfect for Juan. He tears a panel from the piano, then, blindly swinging it around his head and howling the Black Watch war cry, he charges toward a bookcase. George shouts at Juan, telling him to stop smashing up the furniture.

To the sound of banging and splintering, I tell George not to worry, the piano is a double, reversible, piano, when the top becomes stained or damaged, all you have to do is change one or two panels, to keep the engravings the right way up, then turn the piano upside down. The bookcase, I assure George, is, in fact, a cleverly disguised whisky cabinet. The books are false books, empty wooden boxes, designed to hold rare bottles of vintage single malt. The priceless bottles are entirely safe, I explain, because the boxes are designed to look like poetry books, so nobody ever touches them.

Juan returns, bearing bottles of Vintage Knockando, Dalmore, Teaninich, and Balvenie Private Reserve, we offer toast after toast to international harmony, I play the Aberfeldy Waltz, Juan plays the Viennese Fling, and we reel around in excited, cacophonous, confusion, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary