Category: prose

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’.

Early signs

At the tender age of seven, Twemlow tortured the family cat for hours before hanging it from a tree in the garden. He told his mother that he was testing the ‘Nine Lives Theory’.

Here already we see the chilling combination that was to mark Twemlow’s adult years: unspeakable cruelty allied with a cold, analytical mind. It was that combination — thankfully, rare — that drove him to a career as a chemistry teacher.


A note to the D.

The Rivers Nursery introduced the peregrin peach in 1903, and I haven’t heard a single complaint about it from that day to this. Everyone loves the peregrin peach, and the Rivers Nursery is held in high esteem around the world.

In contrast, the nuclear bomb was introduced in 1945, and I’ve heard nothing but complaints about it from Day One.

The solution is simple: turn over all weapons production to the Rivers Nursery. They’re beautiful people, believe me.


Technique poètique

People are fascinated by the process of poetic composition, and often ask me about my technique. It’s really not as complicated as people imagine, and I’m happy to share it here:

1. Select any book and open it at page 25.

2, Now select the word that is five lines down and two words across on that page, and make a note of it.

3. Open a different book at page 33 and select the word that is eight lines down and four words across. Again, make a note of it.

4. Continue in this way, using increments of 8, 3, 2 (for humour), 11, 3, 5 (for satire), and 14, 0, 1 (for inspirational).

5. When you reach the end of a line in any book, make a new line in your poem, and continue to calculate as before.

6. For the total number of words required, subtract the total number of pages in the first book from the corresponding number in the second book. The square of the result is the total number of words needed for your poem.

NOTE: You must begin at page 25 for every new poem, regardless of genre. There are no exceptions to this rule, unless you are unable to appreciate the difference between poetry and posturing.