Secret Water

It’s funny how life imitates art.

The scene in my latest post where my mysterious double Alfredo, in a guise as an Italian which may or may not be natural to him, capers bandy-legged around the lady from the trattoria while uttering the sort of cries that an Italian impersonated by, say, Benny Hill might use, came as I thought entirely from my head. In the post I speculated indelicately about the reason for the bandy-leggedness.

Later the same evening that I made the post I accompanied the better half to the front door of our block of flats for her post-prandial cigarette. Our new neighbour came up to us. He has taken quite a shine to her and when he sees her goes immediately into stage-Italian mode. No finger stays unkissed. He ignores me completely – looks straight through.

On this occasion however there was a significant modulation. For the first time he went bandy-legged. He had capered before but straight-legged, as an Englishman might, if of course the English were given to capering. I was marvelling at the bandy-leggedness, the way the sharp little Italian shoes came up, first one and then the other, each at right angles to the temporarily stationary leg, when he went one further than even Alfredo, as imagined by me, had. Ensuring that he had the better half’s attention he gesticulated at his crotch.

Two big melons! he said.

I felt obscurely vindicated. The better half says that she did not hear the remark, which is a credit to her wholesome cast of mind. Nonetheless, he certainly made it.

Anyway, from the ludicrous to the sublime.

On the morning of my eighth birthday I was called into my parents’ bedroom. Traditionally in our household a gift would be vouchsafed on these occasions, together with a hearty handshake. Afterwards I would go as usual to fetch in the coal. That was my duty. Then half an hour for my Ancient Greek studies, and the family would finally gather for porridge, and then school. Nothing more would be said about birthdays.

Anyway on this occasion we were still at the present and congratulations stage. My mother handed me a book. I could see that it was unwrapped and slightly grubby but it was complete, with a dust wrapper in near-fine condition.

Lovely, I said, a second-hand book.

It’s not second hand, she said. Your father’s reading it.

Give it back, he said. You can have it again when I’ve finished it.

It’s awfully good, he said by way of explanation.

That was my first (and his first) Swallows & Amazon book, by Arthur Ransome. After that they came frequently, with or without a birthday as a pretext, until I’d read them all. And I’ve read and reread them since. I loved the camping and the sailing without for a minute wanting to try either activity voluntarily myself. What I really loved and tried to replicate was the map-making.

In each of the books the children find themselves in a real landscape and they rename all its features to conform to their own fantasies, whether of being pirates or explorers. Sometimes the real landscape (as in the books set on the Norfolk Broads) corresponds more or less exactly to objective reality, but the lake in the early books is a conflation of two different lakes in the Lake District.

My favourite of the books was always Secret Water, partly because map-making is what holds the book together – there’s little plot and nothing much happens. The children spend a couple of weeks in a tidal area, flooded by the sea at high tide and mud flats at low tide. Birds feature, and eels. There is a map in the inside front cover and the islands and inlets on it are named by the children.

I was determined to find out if it was a real place. I knew that it was said to be on the east coast of England so I borrowed the AA road map from the family car and systematically cross-checked. I found it. With the exception of one non-existent creek it matched exactly an archipelago in Essex.

Fifty years of school, university and work then intervened. They invented the internet.

I bet it’s gone, I thought. It can’t have survived anthropogenic climate change. It’ll be under the rising sea. It would only take a few centimetres there to make a big difference. I summoned Google Maps in some trepidation. There is was, just as it always had been.

Well I expect it’s an Arthur Ransome theme park, I thought.

Now that we’ve got a Mini, I said to the better half, we’d better go and find out.

Like many women, the better half is good at multi-tasking.

Good idea, she said. We’ll take the kayak that I’ve borrowed from Thumper and we can paddle round it. I tried to explain that what I wanted was to be alone with my melancholy thoughts, but the kayak was in the back of the car last Sunday when we set out. Fortunately we were meeting our friends the Fosters there and she is too pregnant to be able to bear the excitement even of watching us attempting to boat. So the kayak was quietly forgotten, and by mid-afternoon we were walking down a deserted track (there is no Arthur Ransome theme park) towards the causeway where the children were caught by the tide and nearly drowned, and there it was snaking away to the island where the farmhouse (the ‘Native Kraal’) was just visible in the afternoon sunlight and we could not follow it or we too would have been caught by the tide. I was profoundly moved. We turned, like Moses at Mount Pisgah, and went back to the car.

I don’t think that we are done with Secret Water, and the kayak may well yet come into its own, maybe rechristened and bearing at its prow a small Jolly Roger.

Wikipedia reveals incidentally that the correct and splendid name for the inlet that the children call ‘The North West Passage’ is ‘Cunnyfur Ooze’. That would probably appeal to the smutty mind of our Italian neighbour. On second thoughts, he’d probably be more at home with ‘Enormous Cock Mountain.’


“Anal warts!” she shouted.

The better half has the ability to concentrate with an unusual intensity. Sometimes she will be thinking, or dabbing at her iPhone, so hard that she barely registers what is being said to her.

The dog and I used to have a game. We would range ourselves as if by accident into a line, with the dog at one end, the better half in the middle and me at the other. The line was not entirely straight as it was necessary for the dog and me to maintain eye contact. The better half would be facing me rather than the dog, for reasons that will soon be apparent.

At a prearranged signal I would ask her a question.

The dog would predict the answer, by means of an agreed code.

One paw meant complete silence.

Two paws indicated a grunt.

Three: “No, Al!”

Four: violence.

Five (four paws plus raised tail; a not untricky manoeuvre): a complete considered sentence. One of the rules was that a main verb was to be taken as conclusive proof of a ‘five’ response.

The dog would necessarily be lying on his side, or he would have fallen over. Even so he had a natural preference for predictions ‘one’ and ‘two’.

We would agree the number of questions, and if the dog was right more than half the time he could expect to receive something special in his bowl later in the day.

We also tried it the other way round, with the dog asking the questions and me making the predictions, but it was not nearly as satisfactory, as the nature of the questions that the dog could put to the better half was necessarily limited. To be frank, responses ‘one’ and ‘two’ would in most cases be inevitable.

The dog always called it ‘the cricket game’, because it reminded him of the juxtaposition of bowler and wicket-keeper with the hapless batsman in between. Last year the dog joined ‘my Hornby and my Barlow long ago’, so the game can never again be played, but it still amuses me when I hear Michael Vaughan on the television talking about some England bowler ‘asking searching questions’ of some batsman. In my mind’s eye I see the great Matt Prior, tucked behind the batsman, not in the habitual crouch but on his side covertly displaying a coded combination of wicket-keeper’s pads and gloves. What he does for ‘five’, the cricketing equivalent of a full sentence (a reverse sweep perhaps) is something that I am content to leave to the more technical sections of Wisden.

I say that the game can never be played again. Certainly it can’t be played in its pure form as the dog is no longer with us, but I still play it in my head, and I am not entirely sure that it would not make for good, and cheap, television. I have put a proposal to the film company for which I work, part time, and I am awaiting their response. It would give the better half and me great pleasure to see a brief credit for the dog at the end of the closing titles. That would of course involve my telling her about the game, which I have never so far had occasion to do.

As I write this, another thought occurs to me. I take a small piece of paper and a pencil and write: ‘The Cricket Video Game’. I sign it, date it and put it somewhere safe. As I have recorded before, I am creative first and last.

The difficulty of successfully getting the better half’s attention means that many of her friends telephone her. If she has the iPhone at her ear she cannot be dabbing at it and the immediacy of a telephone conversation means that, unless the friend in question is very dull indeed, it will take precedence over even her most urgent musings.

So it was the other morning with Thumper.

Thumper had not been calling for some weeks. I was worried that with his Petomanic tour de force, I Will Always Love You with sax solo, he had torn something. You may remember that his name had later materialised on a small piece of paper, accompanying a stylised representation of a rabbit, at Great Secret Miss. Amy had fancifully suggested that he was imprisoned in it. She has an imagination that is sometimes regrettably coarse and she had had some fun picturing its being applied by accident to her nether parts and lost in the primitive plumbing that lies just behind and below her establishment like the dead people, who, if the tapers are anything to go by, lie immediately below the plumbing.

I think that Amy was winding me up. Anyway she was wrong, for here he was, on the phone to the better half, who was on the other side of the matrimonial bed drinking a delicious cup of tea that I had just made for her.

What! said the better half.

You’ve been under the doctor, she said.

Anal warts! she shouted.

In poor fiction and particularly in inadequately scripted television plays characters frequently say things in the course of a conversation that are intended not to communicate with the other person conversing but with the audience. Sometimes one character will tell another things that the other already knows (“I am your father!”) and sometimes on the telephone one player will repeat what the other says because the audience can hear only one end of the conversation.

That was not the case here. The better half was not repeating what Thumper had said for my benefit, let alone yours. She was doing what my friend John, who is a psychotherapist, calls ‘taking ownership’. Thumper’s anal warts become real to her when she names them, as it were, in her telephone conversation. She was ‘taking ownership’ of them.

Indeed shortly afterwards I heard her say, ‘Leave them alone, Thumper. You’ll only make them worse’.

When she ended the conversation I put the Spectator to one side.

Thumper has anal warts?

It was I Will Always Love You that did it, she said, brushing aside a tear. With sax solo. It was too much. I blame myself. He may never fart again.

Four main verbs! In my mind’s eye I saw my dear dog, at the edge of her pillow, on his back with all four paws and his tail erect.

It never hurt Rod Stewart, I said. He had nodes, didn’t he? That of course was his vocal chords and not his bottom, which may make a difference.

That got a ‘two’.

She jumped out of bed.

I’d better go and sort it all out, she said.

You’re too caring, I said, and returned to Rod Liddle.

Settling for Silver

The house phone rang.

La Rochefoucauld, said a voice, which rose during the last syllable to a little whinny.

What? I said. Is that you, Thumper? I can’t understand a word you say. Besides, she’s out.

La Rochefoucauld, he said, testily this time, for it was indeed Thumper. I know she is. The second most quoted. His Maxims.

Good try, I said, but no.

Whitney Houston then?

Only one attempt allowed at a time, I said.


I was touched that he was trying to help, but it really isn’t a guessing game. The answer is available to anyone who can remember and type the word ‘Google’.

Mr Putin, I reflected a minute later, undoubtedly knows about Google but probably can’t use it, having banned it.

Because the house phone rang again.

Putin here, said the voice. (This was in Russian.) Listen.

No, you listen!

I started (or as we sometimes say ‘embarked on’) an account of the man’s many failings.

I noticed, mid-tirade, that Mr Putin was giggling. This was uncharacteristic. The man has never before given any sign that he might have the least sense of humour – particularly as regards his many failings.

It was not Mr Putin at all, of course, it was the dawn chorus of the unattached having a laugh.

Fooled again!

I flushed red all over.

What a trite, self-satisfied little man La Rochefoucauld was, I thought minutes later – by what process of association I can only imagine. I was recovering my equanimity. I can’t believe that Thumper rates him. Probably he was just showing off.

And then, quicker than a finger up a choirboy’s cassock, here was Popes Я Us.

How on earth did you get this telephone number?

Popes Я Us cackled unpleasantly. It was clear that their dander was up.

Don’t trifle with Our Mother the Church, little man, they said.

They read me what sounded like a prepared statement. They allowed (or as we sometimes say ‘brooked’) no interruption. It was dreary stuff. In what they obviously thought was their killer point they drew my attention to the fact that BORGIA was a trade mark registered throughout the European Union in the name of none other than Popes Я Us.

Cut to the crucifixion, I said.

But that was it; they’d shot their bolt.

I had nothing to say, so silence ensued.

After a moment, they said:

Have you nothing to say?

I reconsidered.

Yes, actually, I said. Who do you think is the second most quoted person in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations?

Holy Mary Mother of God! ejaculated my interlocutor.


I hung up.

I had forgotten to say, God bless.

I don’t know what the great mystery is. The answer did surprise me, but there it is in black and white.

It is not Winston Churchill, Keats ‘n Shelley, Bob Dylan or even any of the personages in or behind the Bible.

The runner-up’s medal goes to Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

How times change! If you had asked me before I would have said that Tennyson, although a top man in his day, elevated to the peerage for his poetical activities and a personal favourite of Queen Victoria, managed only three quotable things.

One, of course, is:

Ti tum ti tum ti tum ti tum
The curse is come upon me said
The Lady of Shallot

(I quote from memory.)


Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.

And that is memorable not because it is a good line but because his lordship had been too vain to wear his specs when he visited his local railway station and thought that trains (a recent invention) ran not on rails but in grooves.

Two quotes, two cheap laughs.

(In the interests of fairness and balance I should acknowledge Doug Cocks – Australian, ecologist and thinker – who regarded it as such a good line that he took it for the title of his book The Ringing Grooves of Change: Mid-future possibilities for the global system.

Doug Cocks and mid-future possibilities for the global system!

Making three cheap laughs.)

The third quotable thing of Tennyson’s is the whole of The Revenge: a Ballad of the Fleet. This reduces me to tears every time I hear or read it, partly because when I was a child my dear father used to sing The Revenge in Charles Stanford’s musical setting. The work is stuffed with good strong lines, but not A List quotes, I wouldn’t have thought; not the stuff to beat Alexander Pope into Bronze with.

This is my view. Who cares what anyone said a hundred and fifty years ago? We live in what Popes Я Us like to call the Twenty-First Century. And I’d be inclined to attribute Tennyson’s Silver to the melancholy, long, withdrawing roar of the Victorian age rather than any intrinsic superiority in the quotability space to, say, John Lennon. But since we have – since we have been blessed with – Oxford (that sweet city with her dreaming spires), the Oxford University Press and the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, it ill becomes us to consider that we might know better than they do.

Or what’s a heaven for?


Amy has been reading a novel – in English. She came to me slightly truculently as I sat on a divan at Great Secret Miss, her finger marking a page. I could see that she meant business, so I forestalled her.

I wiped my chin ostentatiously with a paper napkin. It had been provided by the management for that purpose and incongruously enough it bore on it an illustration of a cute Chinese rabbit.

Goodness, I said, this porridge is good. Just the thing now it’s turning cold at last. I do hope that The Porridge Man is not dead but sleeping, but, either way, what a bowl-full!

Amy ignored this, and indicated a page in her novel.

““Good God,” he sighed”, she said. What means ““Good God,” he sighed”? How?

I smiled sweetly.

How what?

How sigh and say ‘Good God’ at one time?

She attempted this feat. She got the sigh perfectly, but, as she suggested, the semantic element was compromised.

It doesn’t mean that. It means, “”Good God,” he said and he sighed” or ““Good God,” he said in a sighing voice.” But I agree. I try never to do it myself. For one thing it breaks number three of Elmore Leonard’s essential ten rules for writing:

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

Mind you, ““Good God,” he said in a sighing voice” almost breaks rule four:

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely

… “in a sighing voice” being an adverbial phrase.

There are worse examples. I particularly hate ““Good God,” he chuckled”. I’ll be the judge of whether there’s anything funny going on. ““Good God,” he gibbered” or ““Good God?” he asked” ought to be all right, but I wouldn’t use them. As I say, I always try to follow Elmore Leonard’s rules. Most of them.

What you mean, you follow Elmore Leonard’s rules?

Don’t you read my blog, Amy?

She looked embarrassed. She had forgotten.

I catch up every week, every two week. Busy with proper novel.

That hurt – twice. Amy, blackest and biggest in the tag cloud, could not be bothered to read what is in many ways her own blog. And then she compares it unfavourably with what was probably a badly-written self-satisfied great lump of fiction, no doubt with a beginning, a middle, a heart-warming end and the flashbacks that seem to be compulsory these days.

I muttered in Mandarin that I was singing to a cow. Because I was irritated I got the tones wrong and had to repeat it. When she finally understood she said:


‘Hah’ is a good English word, but Amy brought to it a Chinese sensibility. As a result it bore no relation at all to the apparently equivalent ‘ah’. In Mandarin there are four tones in which vowels may be expressed, those that I had just muddled in my reference to singing to a cow. ‘Ah’ is delivered, even when one is speaking English, in the level ‘tone one’, but ‘hah’ in the more declamatory falling ‘tone four’.

In Pinyin, the tones would be written āh and hàh respectively.

Having delivered her “Hah!” she flounced off.

No doubt Amy’s so-called novel includes at least once the phrase: Never a dull moment!. I would never write that, because I also try to follow George Orwell’s rules for writing, number one of which is:

Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

But Never a dull moment! is what I thought as a stunningly gorgeous transsexual entered Great Secret Miss and walked up to me and in a dark brown voice she said…

…but before she could, I interrupted her:


P2 looked slightly crestfallen. I hastened to reassure her.

What a triumph, P2! And what a departure! So much more convincing than the lady in the Ridley Road market.

P2 fingered her crotch, with an air of purpose, but also I thought with an air of slight surprise.

There is not a moment to lose, she said.

It was the cellar room, familiar from so many trips before. The figure had his back to me.

Uncle E, I said.

He turned. It was not my great-uncle Edgerton. It was his brother Winthrop – and he looked grim.

They’ve got him, he said, and you must rescue him. There’s not a moment to lose.

The spine-chilling instructions that Uncle Winthrop then gave me I shall reveal at the appropriate time. Before I knew where I was I was back at Amy’s, on the divan, slightly winded.

I should like to be able to say that I sat there considering the enormity of my task with resolute determination. But you know how at moments of potential greatness irrelevant thoughts buzz round your mind like pernicious flies. So it was with me then. This is what I thought:

First, do I trust Uncle Winthrop? I knew that he lost his wits, but I didn’t know when. Had he lost them already by late 1934?

Secondly, I looked again at the paper napkin. I had used it to wipe The Porridge Man’s porridge from my chin but I had retained it in my hand. It had been to 1934 and back. Something had been nagging at my mind. It was the cute rabbit. The Japanese have cute rabbits but for the Chinese a rabbit is generally something for the hot pot. I looked more closely. Beneath the rabbit in cursive script it read ‘Thumper’. Was the poor lad trying to tell us something?

And lastly I thought, I wish that I understood, like P2, the mechanics of time travel as I try to understand the mechanics of writing.

I could have been a contender.

(Orwell Rule 1).

Apotheosis Now

I am still rather vague, I said to Amy, about the second half of the Great Secret Miss Slumber Party.

Like all good parties. If you remember it, you not there.

Yes, they said that about the Sixties, but look at all the volumes of reminiscences hitting the bookshops in time for Christmas. And most good parties provide incidents to remember, if not a narrative. I don’t remember much at all. There was the better half leaving with the Dawn Chorus of the Unattached. She told me that they had already drunk the kefir and that they soon peeled off, most of them, some of them taking refuge in late-night bars and others finding benches to sleep on. I remember Parrot’s awful snores: not much more. Did you stay awake?

Oh yes. For a time.

So what else happened?

Tell me first about Thumper.

Ah, Thumper…

We had had a few days of Mariah Carey cover versions: different songs but you know how with Mariah Carey they all sound the same. They were always phoned through early in the morning. The better half was usually still dozing. Never a word introduced them; and no word afterwards: only the snap of Lycra replaced and the quiet breaking of the connection. Then there were a couple of days when there was no call, as if something major was in the offing. I guessed as much, and I told the better half to be prepared to record the next communication when it came.

It was just as well. He performed I Will Always Love You as recorded by Whitney Houston, but with a reckless coloratura that even she would have envied. It must have torn him apart: his anal sphincter if not his whole sensitive being.

I Will Always Love You that song with Harrison Ford as robot? said Amy.

Not Harrison Ford, not robot. He bodyguard, he Kevin Costner. Different film altogether. Harrison Ford robot in Blade Runner. No singing I Will Always Love You in Blade Runner.

In moments of stress I tended to take on her vocal mannerisms.


She reflected.

With sax solo?

The lot.

He brave man. He arse bleeding tatters.

And since then nothing, I said. It must have been the climax. But what a song to end on. Eat your heart out Mariah Carey!

Why Mariah Carey eat own heart?

Not really. It’s just a saying.

Not really…

Like ‘Dui niu tan qin’.

Dui niu tan qin’ in Mandarin?



But maybe it is not the end. Kurd Maverick was round the following evening and I played the better half’s recording to him. He said that he was gob-smacked. Actually, since he has lived in Germany for so long, his adjective was not ‘gob-smacked’ but something teutonically anal: not to be reproduced here but probably appropriate in the circumstances. Anyway, he made his own copy and said that he intended to sample it.

It’s astonishing, he said. That’ll be that. He won’t top it. You’ll hear no more from him.

Chance would be a fine thing, I said.

Of course, said Kurd Maverick, he may have pre-recorded it, stitched it together. But even so. That aching dying fall at the end! How does he do it! What genius! What muscle control!

He ask Dolly Parton permission? said Amy, sticking to the point and now prepared to acknowledge that she was familiar with the song. She write I Will Always Love You, not Whitney Houston.

He’s in touch with Universal Music, the publishers. They will administer the rights.

I wasn’t prepared to put up with Amy’s showing off.


(‘Dui niu tan qin’, by the way, literally means ‘to play music to a cow’, which is an expression that Chinese people sometimes use as we might say ‘to cast pearls before swine’. It was probably not an apt comparison but my command of colloquial Mandarin is sketchy at best.)

Anyway, enough of Thumper and his farts; tell me about the second half of the Great Secret Miss Slumber Party.

You seen The Porridge Man since then?

I hadn’t.

I think he gone for good too.

That’s sad. I like The Porridge Man.

Sad and not sad. I like The Porridge Man too. I tell you what happen.

Everyone took the kefir, but The Porridge Man didn’t. He held back. Amy too held back for half an hour, and then took hers. Everyone else dropped off to sleep, and soon to dream.

You dream! You legs twitch like you bloody sick dog on Dornoch bloody Firth!

Dreamily, when everyone else had gone to sleep and Amy was succumbing fast, he helped himself from the bowl. He helped himself liberally. The kefir ran down his ample chin. Contented gurgles came from within him. His face, formerly bland and wheaty, became softer. His voice became creamier. His limbs became indistinct.

I said, You imagined it. You were half asleep and half dreaming.

Possibly I imagine. But when I wake up – and I wake up first – he absolutely gone. Instead, two things. One, many bowls warm creamy porridge, but not sickly rich creamy porridge but sweet and sour creamy porridge, made with kefir. Delicious. Two, address of supply and pro forma order form.

He gave his life…

Maybe, maybe not. The Porridge Man never quite like us.

It’s a great idea: start the day the way you mean to end it.

Pft, said Amy. Anyway, Great Secret Miss now sell The Porridge Man kefir porridge.

And those were the two apotheoses.

Affection, Logic, Grammar and Music

He farts! said Amy.

It’s the only conclusion I can come to.

Into the telephone!

Her voice fell in disbelief. English people’s voices tend to rise in disbelief but Amy’s falls.

Ah, she said.

She said ‘Ah’ with that particular intonation that can mean either ‘I know more about this than you can even guess’ or ‘I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about’. It is rarely possible to tell which.

We were discussing Thumper, the better half’s telephonic admirer. The other morning I slept late. It had been a punishing night with the dog. Interventions had been necessary at 1am, 3am and again at 6.30, two of them involving the garden hose and one taking place in a brisk squall of rain. Then at 7am he woke me again, and when I had irritably put on my dressing gown, sou’ wester and slippers and was encouraging him into the long journey downstairs he looked pityingly at me and returned to his bed. Furious and for the first time in the night I fell into a deep sleep, from which I was woken an hour or so later by the familiar sound of the better half on the telephone. It was her regular morning call.

Thumper, I can’t understand a word you’re saying.

This was as expected. It was always thus. But then she added:

All I can hear is your wind.

At least that is what I think that I heard. But I was half asleep, as I have explained.

She ended the call.


Of course.

He farts?

It irritates the better half when I interrogate her on that subject.

Tea, she said.

The tea comes from TFC, the Turkish food shop in Dalston. It is excellent black tea (they do a very good green type too) it is extremely good value and it is guaranteed to start anyone’s day in a cheerful frame of mind.

I returned with a steaming mug and to the subject.

(That last sentence, by the way, is an example of the figure of speech known as syllepsis, which in turn is a sub-category of zeugma. I can still vividly remember the day I first learnt about zeugma. Our teacher decided against troubling our young minds with the sub-categories, which I now know also include prozeugma, hypozeugma, diazeugma and hypozeuxis, and treated the entire category of zeugma as essentially one and the same; we were after all only ten years old. It was a golden summer afternoon at the very end of the 1950s. The sun streamed through the not entirely clean windows; modern window-cleaning fluids had still to be invented. From outside came the sounds of cricket. Some of my fellows longed to be out there too, but not me; I loved grammar lessons more.

And no, since we are discussing grammar, it should not correctly be ‘I’ rather than ‘me’ in the last sentence. ‘me’ is disjunctive not accusative, like ‘moi‘ in French.

The example offered by the teacher was:

He came by ship and by chance.

It has, you will agree, a classical feel to it.)

He farts into the telephone? I said to the better half.

What do you mean, he farts?

You said all you could hear was his wind.

Don’t be silly, she said.

I think he’s very shy, she added.

This didn’t get me much further.

Amy said: Was Thumper at the Great Secret Miss Slumber Party?

I don’t think so. I don’t think that he and the better half have ever met. And at the party she was with the Dawn Chorus of the Unattached, talking Russian, which I don’t imagine he does. He may have slipped in, of course, unobserved.

If you don’t know, it doesn’t help. If you know people and see them with kefir, you know them better.

That’s why the Dawn Chorus of the Unattached disappeared before the kefir took hold. They didn’t want to be known better.


(See above.)

But that is another story.

She tried a different tack.

What do you think Thumper farts? If he farts.

You mean like God Save the Queen?

I was being facetious – as I thought.

Better half she say he is shy. Maybe he muscle control better than he control words. Maybe he make lovely music. With telephone, unpleasant odour-free. Too shy to express feelings in words. But with farting all possible.

Not God Save the Queen then.

Maybe All the Things You Are. With drum solo.

We shall never know.

Tsk, said Amy, who is never defeatist.

Express feelings more wholesome way, she said. Than thumping.


At end of thumping, she continued, there is snap of Lycra replaced. So you say.

Yes. I heard that.

And at end this time?

I replayed the tape in my mind.

I do believe there was.

So! Thumper must be farting songs. People can’t fart All the Things You Are, with drum solo, through Lycra. Lycra distort lengths of sound waves. Physics. Also through Lycra not loud enough for better half to hear. If you hear snap of Lycra replaced, must be farting songs. Logic.

I was not fully convinced, but I reminded myself that the Chinese invented logic millennia before we did in the West, at a time when we were still going on about our feelings, for Heaven’s sake. I imagined Thumper peeling whatever Lycra garment it was down over his buttocks, dialing the number and then applying the phone to his bottom, so as to perform a popular song expressive of his desires. I imagined the solitary rehearsal required, not to mention the beans consumed a given time before (that in itself involving getting up at an unheard-of hour of the morning) so as to prime himself to deliver the goods when the time came. It might or might not be wholesome: it was certainly thorough.

Later I cunningly caught the better half off guard.

All the Things You Are, is it? With a drum solo?



As so often the better half forgot that she had been mysterious earlier.

More Mariah Carey, she said.

I regard that as conclusive.


I have had a couple of expressions of concern over the latest post.

Sources close to Dame Jenni™ Murray contacted me yesterday evening. It was rather late and they weren’t entirely coherent but I can probably summarise their concerns as follows:

One: The latest post is entitled Thumping Unnecessary, and the entirety of the last paragraph reads:

Dame Jenni™ Murray?

Two: Thumping is used in the blog as a reference to masturbation. See Bunanza!

Three: This is a deliberate and derisive reference to Dame Jenni™ Murray and her recent assertion to John Humphrys:

I’ve never needed to.

Four: Dame Jenni™ Murray has never needed to.

I jotted down sources close as remarking that this was because she gets it regular. Such vulgarity: I must have been mistaken.

Five: A woman’s control over her own body is not negotiable and is a beautiful thing,

Six: We wouldn’t be having this debate if it was a man.

Needless to say, I am distressed. I would not upset Dame Jenni™ Murray for the world. I entirely accept propositions four and five, which seem to be the crux of the matter – but not the others.

Only someone eaten away by paranoia would make the connection between the title and the final paragraph. Much water flows under the bridge in between. I’m not accusing Dame Jenni™ Murray of paranoia – of course not – but the sources close, and I can’t believe that they are authorised by her, certainly are.

It is true that I have given the soubriquet ‘Thumper’ to the better half’s devotee who telephones her in the mornings.

Curiously, what you hear through the phone, at any rate from across the bed, is less thumping than grunts, little whinnies and the snap, finally, of Lycra replaced. One infers the thumping.

Thumping in the context of The Culture, however, has no overtones of self-love. It is a serious part of the technology of creating dairy products and is dealt with in some detail in my post Vladimir Putin and the Intestinal Flora of Sheep. The word thump, like so many, has more than one meaning.

I have to say that I deplore the efforts of some people to see double entendres everywhere and to drag everything down to the level of filth.

Finally, whilst the better half’s admirer is male and would undoubtedly if close-miked (or ‘close-miced’: I must ask Kurd Maverick) make thumping noises, women are different in that regard. I concede freely – if that helps – that if Dame Jenni™ Murray were to masturbate – which of course she doesn’t, as she doesn’t need to – she would not make thumping noises.

I trust that that concludes the matter.

The second bothers me more. It is that the latest post was excessively allusive. The word ‘gratuitous’ features, particularly as regards plays on words in relation to dairy products. Some took particular exception to my ‘dragging in for the sake of a cheap joke’ that fine song by Paul Simon You Can Call Me Al.

I would say two things:

One: My saying ‘You can call me Al’ was a cheap joke. People sometimes shorten ‘Alablague’ and call me ‘Al’ but my friends generally use my Christian name. The Jibjab Women provoked me into it, however, by saying as she did ‘You can call me Jib’, and my glib answer did raise a titter from Amy.

Two: But should I have recorded the incident for you? Here I must come clean.

I suggested in the post that Amy gave me steroids. This was not true. It was the usual herbal rubbish. It was the dentist who gave me steroids. Now, steroids have the effect of making you run and cycle jolly fast, but they also make you a bit perky. This effect is less remarked as it takes a lot to make an athlete exhibit characteristics that a normal person would describe as ‘perky’. Usain Bolt’s mime is quite perky, but that militates against my argument, as Usain Bolt would never take steroids.

Anyway I went home and tried to sleep because of the pain from my tooth, but I couldn’t, because of the steroids. So I wrote the post instead. And if I failed to maintain the standard of cool and factual impartiality to which I aim and which you expect, I am sorry.

I will never again irritate you with steroid-induced maunderings again. That is my pledge.

Kefir of course is different.

Hold on. Here comes another one.

It’s signed ‘Pro Life’. It criticises me for ‘equivalentising’ my ‘decrepit old tooth’ with an ‘Innocent Young Life’ [upper case Pro Life’s]. It goes on to hope that I develop ‘septiseemia’ [It really isn’t difficult to check spelling, even with Microsoft Word] and die in horrible pain.

For heaven’s sake!

If you don’t like it, Pro sodding Life – and who’s life by the way, obviously not mine – sod off and read something else.