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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