Category: prose

Table talk

Twemlow leaned back in his chair, and said ‘Yes, gentlemen, the key to human happiness is to be content with very little. Make the most of the little you may have, and thank the good Lord for his infinite bounty.

As long as I have a bottle of champagne and a few sirloin steaks, the lack of Dijon mustard doesn’t bother me in the least. Even if the champagne is only a ’63, I’ll bridle, naturally, but I won’t let it detract from my happiness.

Of course, I could berate my sommelier and tweak his nose, but what’s the point? Likewise, my moutardier might usefully feel the weight of my boot on the seat of his pants — but no! Live and let live, I say.

Pass the garnish boat.



Today, I’ll be spearheading change on a number of fronts:

In the field of socks, I’ll be foregrounding green at the expense of blue,
and in the nutrition stakes, I’ll be campaigning for burritos as a breakfast staple.

From 3pm onwards, I’ll be waving aloft the brightly-coloured flags of hope, rationality, and civility.

So look forward to a busy day ahead, and check on Twitter for regular updates.

For H.

Would it kill you to be kind?
Would you drop dead if you helped someone?
Would death ensue inexorably if you gave some cash to the needy?
Would you contract a terminal illness if you did something for someone for nothing?
Would time and space collapse if your tongue could fashion one kind word for a fellow traveller?

I could go on, but life is short.


Territorial twitchings

A fully-grown caddow can easily overcome and kill a chough or a magpie, but such contests are extremely rare in nature. Laplace cites only one instance (near Bruges, in 1911), and even then, experts doubt that it was really a caddow, but more likely a jackdaw, or perhaps even a burl-chough.

Of course, Laplace was known to be ‘a bit of a drinker’, and he had a whiskey nose that glowed at night, sending flocks of birds to panicked flight. He wouldn’t know a caddow from a burl-chough if they presented their business cards at the door. But I digress.

The jackdaw (Jackus dawus) is very territorial, and will defend its genetic investment to the death. In contrast, the burl-chough (Chuffus burlus) is not so tough and won’t engage in physical stough, though it has been known to mock the caddow’s tail in a good-humoured way. According to Pilbeam’s Birds of the Copse & Glade, the element “burl” in the name derives from the adjective “burly”, but this is juvenile and ridiculous.

You see, like Laplace, Pilbeam struggled for years with alcohol and drug abuse, and was often heard imitating the call of the woodspurl in the undergrowth at Balmoral. Allegations of pederasty against him were unproven at the time of his death (though there’s no smoke without fire). But I digress.

Bird fanciers are a race apart, united by a inexhaustible passion for ruffling feathers.


In company

I was polishing my veneer of respectability when the phone rang:

— Hey, are you free tonight?

— Why?

— There’s a party at Twemlow’s, 8 till late. Come and join us.

— Who else is going?

— The Chief of Police, two High Court judges, a slew of MPs, maybe some future bishops. Oh, and that guy who does children’s television.

So I figured, ‘I’m almost out of polish anyway, so….’

Travel talk

While travelling among the Mahoutis of Nyasaland, I picked up a rich vocabulary of terms relating to goats’ milk.

Their ‘eerggect’ is similar to the Eritrean ‘aergget’, though the second vowel is unstressed. Macauley has ‘earget’, but this is spurious. Among the Popadoms of the southern region, the term is applied to the inner skein that remains in the lacteal gourd after primary lactation in the beazer (or bezoar) goat.

Be sure to tune in next week when I’ll be discussing the vocabulary of masturbation among the early Phumblings of Phoenicia.


The poet in port

On my visa application it says ‘Occupation: Poet’, so the Immigration Officer said:

— Oh yeah? Wot you wrote then?

Well, ‘The Ballad of Elmer Twilb’ is one…

— Seriously? You wrote ‘The Ballad of Elmer Twilb’? Oh my God, I love that poem!’

Then he turned to a colleague at the next counter and shouted: ‘Oi, Ralf, this is the guy that wrote ‘The Ballad of Elmer Twilb’! No kidding!

His colleague hurried over, saying, ‘The Ballad of Elmer Twilb’! Oh my God! You wrote that?

Very soon a small but noisy crowd had gathered around me: handshakes, smiles, selfies.

Then the first Officer said: ‘I don’t mind telling you this: I cried…. like a baby!’

The second Officer began reciting from memory: “The burnished urn that holds the hallowed clay” —‘ God, I love that — ‘burnished urn’ — marvellous!’

1st Officer: So, where do you get your ideas from?

Self: Well, it’s very hard to say, they just… I can’t really say.

1st Officer: You must know where they come from. Can you be more specific?

Self: Not really, no. They just sort of, you know…

1st Officer: Evasive, Ralf?’

2nd Officer: Failure to disclose.

Long story short,
I got myself deported.
Leaving on the next plane,
‘Application unsupported’.