Thank you again for your hospitality during my stay in Amsterdam; it almost makes me feel sorry to be back in London. I’m sad to say that the tulip bulbs you were kind enough to give me did not make it through customs, as I was suspected of using them to smuggle in anti-government propaganda. Let me tell you in confidence that the list of grievances I am currently nursing against them could not be concealed in anything so discreet as a tulip bulb, and would in fact have difficulty being compacted into a pumpkin.
That being said, our new leader Oliver Cromwell does appear to have had one or two bright ideas. I am particularly excited by his proposal to abolish Christmas, which will save me a fortune in presents and mince pies, and his plan to shut down the theatres, which should at last make it possible to hail a carriage in Drury Lane after ten thirty. It was also gratifying to see his invitation to the Jews to cease their wanderings and return from exile, although between you and me what with the Puritans in power exile seems like more fun.
Following our conversations I’ve also developed a renewed passion for my poetry. I had a burst of inspiration on the boat and composed fifteen stanzas on the virtues of oral hygiene and the role of frangipane in tooth decay. A passing seagull sadly ripped the notepaper from my hands, which as criticism goes is not the worst I’ve had to put up with.
I grow ever more convinced that the project that will make my name is just around the corner, if only I could work out what that expression means.
Yours in friendship,
For God’s sake stop beating yourself up. You’re young, you’re good-looking, and to my mind you’re the greatest English poet since Shakespeare. I know that compliment will mean more once the man’s been dead for more than forty years, but I do urge you to take it in the spirit with which it was meant.
As for new projects, what about the idea we discussed on your last night with us in Holland: six ordinary men and women blessed with extraordinary powers who unite in support of the Roundheads against the King? I know the concept of avengers assembling in this manner was old-fashioned back when the Greeks turned their hand to it, but I still think there’s value in a modern retelling.
I’ve enclosed another handful of tulips for you to enjoy, which I hope will get past the peculiar official customs of your equally peculiar customs officials.
Diederik Casper Comijks
My dear Diedi,
What a genius you are! Did I say genius? Forgive me old friend, I have perpetrated a gross slander against your intelligence and to my mind you would be well-advised to sue. If there is a term that can pay tribute to your mental acuity it certainly doesn’t exist in English. There might be one in Dutch but I wouldn’t have the throat musculature to do it justice.
How could I have forgotten our idea for an epic poem concerning a band of heroes – a league of individuals single-mindedly devoted to the cause of justice. It’s brilliant. I can hardly wait to get started. I have already been in touch with Frans Hals to see if he would be willing to do the illustrations (now that Van Dyck is dead I can think of nobody better suited to the task) and will enclose a draft as soon as I can scrabble one together.
This is the biggest thing to happen to me since Milton lost his eyesight.
Permit me to return the compliment! What a work of genius this is. Do I use the word genius? I stint. I calumniate. I damn with faint praise. My words are not up to the task of paying you homage, I who would be honoured to serve out my days as blotting paper to your preëminent quill.
You say you worry that your Coy Mistress character is two-dimensional and underdeveloped. I’d like some of whatever New World tuber you’ve been smoking! I’ve cast an eye over the latest illustrations and let me tell you she’s about as two-dimensional as the Swiss Alps. If they grew women like that here in the Netherlands, maybe we wouldn’t have such a reputation for being flat.
Can I also say how much I LOVE the character of the Lord Protector? Making him an exile from a distant land with eyes that can see into the souls of men is both flattering to Cromwell while staying on the right side of abject servility. Besides, you’ve imbued him with superhuman strength and given him the ability to jump tall cottages in a single bound – I don’t see how he could possibly object! I’m not convinced that the suit of armour with a giant letter C on the front is the most appropriate costume, though – how about throwing in a cape and a pair of bright red tights? I’ve also had one or two thoughts about the codpiece which I’ve scribbled down in the illustration overleaf.
Hals is insisting on my using his Laughing Cavalier character. He’s sent across some early sketches which aren’t bad, but I’m struggling to work out what his role could be within the team as a whole. I mean, is his superpower going to be that he laughs a lot? Can you imagine:
Among the stout companions did appear
The figure of the Laughing Cavalier
Who summoned forth an overwhelming draught
To fell his enemies whene’er he laughed,
Dispensing with each miserable cuckold
Who challenged him if he so much as chuckled,
And knocking all opponents to the floor
When he was prompted to a large guffaw.
Do you have any idea what Milton would say to that sort of garbage? He goes and writes a two-volume masterpiece on the Fall of Man and his ultimate redemption, and I babble on about a character who makes people dizzy when he giggles. I’d be a laughing stock (don’t you dare snigger at that).
No, I’m far keener on my new character: The Incredible Ruff. This is a guy with neckwear out to here, a good ten or twelve feet in diameter. He’s got a blade concealed in it somewhere, and it spins round at a cracking pace making him something like a cross between a dandelion and a mace and chain. Hals claims the concept is ridiculous and refuses to draw me a mock-up, which makes me want to laugh so hard it dislocates his jaw. Could you possibly have a word?
Yours in frustration,
PS Many thanks for your thoughts on the Lord Protector character, as well as your detailed annotations regarding the layout, size, shape and protuberance of his codpiece. Given the uncertain political situation I am increasingly worried about making such an obvious homage to Cromwell Senior. Do of course feel free to make use of the character in anything you do yourself – I shan’t object.
I’m sorry to hear you and Frans have been having difficulties. I went to speak to him in person this week, as per your last letter, and I must confess to also finding your behaviour somewhat unreasonable. He showed me some of the ideas that he’s been proposing for inclusion in your epic, and Andy, let me tell you some of them are choice nuggets of inspiration.
Not the man who carries the turquoise beacon, perhaps, there you might have a point, but the raven-haired woman with the lasso and armoured wristguards seems to me like a sure-fire winner. Also, what do you think about the man who dresses up as a bat? I was very struck by the power of the backstory – as you know, orphans are all the rage at the moment and I think you might be wise to slip it into the narrative somewhere if you can find room.
Diederik Casper Comijks
I must say I am disappointed. If you cannot see the difference between my timeless creations and Hals’s demented scrawlings then I suggest we cease our correspondence until such time as you regain your senses.
You must remember that this is a serious artform we’re discussing here, not some sort of childish pap. If I wanted to cater to an eternal audience of teenagers then I might as well have stuck with the sappy love sonnets and saccharine odes to happiness. Can’t you see I am striving towards a higher purpose? A man who dresses as a bat, indeed. The uneducated masses in Holland might see the appeal in such a frivolous creation but let me tell you the English are made of more serious stuff.
I increasingly feel that this project is altogether too advanced for its time and regret ever having confided my plans in such a philistine as yourself. The A. Marvell – D. C. Comijks partnership is regrettably at an end. I wish you, Chiroptera-Man, Turquoise Beacon, Wondrous Lady, and Lord Protector well.
Also, please stop sending me your damned tulip bulbs. They’re absolutely inedible and in powdered form make for terrible tea. You can keep them to yourself, and I hope they make you choke.
I have the pleasure to remain yours cordially,
Sudan had never wanted to be the last male of his species. As children they’d always known one of them might have to shoulder the responsibility – the perils of being a slow-moving animal in a world of armour-piercing bullets – but he’d always assumed the burden would fall to one of the others. Roger, for example, or Reginald. They’d all had such good sensible rhinoceros-sounding names it had seemed like a sure thing. Nobody had even considered the possibility that he might outlive them all. But here he was, trampling all over tradition with his giant two-tonne hooves, flanked by an armed escort day and night as though he were some sort of celebrity.
He remembered when they’d brought him the news. Rodney’s been eaten by a lion, the meerkats had told him. Blood everywhere. Bones carried off by the hyaenas. Nothing left but the horn.
That just leaves you, mate, they’d said. Don’t let it change you. Don’t go thinking you’re a big shot. Big game, pal, that’s what you are and don’t you forget it.
To give them credit, the lions had been very apologetic about the whole thing. ‘Administrative oversight,’ one of them had purred soothingly. ‘We thought he was a water buffalo.’
‘Water buffalo don’t have horns like these!’ he’d shouted.
‘What can I say, zoology really isn’t our thing. We once bit the fender off an armoured jeep after mistaking it for a gazelle. Picking aluminium out of our teeth for months after that, we were. Why can’t everyone just wear a name tag, that’s what I’d like to know, saves a lot of bother. If there’s two things we could use more of on the veldt it’s name tags and gazelles.’
She broke off until another lion prodded her meaningfully. ‘And northern white rhinoceroses’, she added quickly. ‘Goes without saying.’
They’d even sent him a wreath, which he thought was rather a lovely gesture. Just a shame that it was quite clearly made of rhinoceros hide and tied together with the tracking device he’d last seen squeezed tight around Rodney’s ankle. Still, he reminded himself, lions will be lions and all that, and it was awfully sweet of them to go to the trouble.
The tributes hadn’t stopped coming in ever since it happened. The tickbirds had offered him a year’s cleansing service free of charge, and the council of the watering hole had made him an honorary hippopotamus. He understood from the antelopes that the humans had even put his story on BuzzFeed, which didn’t mean much to him but had gotten them all terribly excited. It was all very gratifying, of course, but he couldn’t help feeling just the teensiest bit guilty at receiving all this attention for simply not being dead.
It was funny how other animals only started to take an interest in your species when there was hardly any of it left. What about the others, he wanted to shout, all those thousands who’d copped a round through the forehead and vanished in smoke up credulous homo sapiens nostrils; didn’t they count for anything?
Longevity seemed to him a rather stupid quality to celebrate. He hadn’t even been the most talented rhino of his generation. You should have met Rupert, he wanted to tell them all. Now there was a proper rhinoceros. Bullish. Thick-skinned. Horny. A rhino, he blushed at the memory, who wouldn’t have been scared witless at the thought of restarting a species all on his own. With the whole world watching, Rupert would have impregnated all four of its remaining she-rhinos with as little care as goring a lioness or tossing a wildlife photographer over his shoulder.
As it was, all that pressure was now on him. How on earth was he expected to perform under those conditions? Never more than a step away from four professional soldiers with gleaming assault rifles, he couldn’t even relieve himself anymore without developing stage fright. No wonder pandas never reproduced in captivity. It was a wonder that anybody did! Only humans, he’d noticed, didn’t mind getting down to it when other people were watching. He’d caught a couple of tourists once doing it rhino-style in the long grass. They’d positively seemed to welcome the attention.
The guards weren’t much help. Certain sex, they used to say, shaking their heads admiringly. You don’t know your luck. He could feel their resentful looks piercing through his carapace. They’d probably kill to be in his position. If you thought about it logically, of course, that wasn’t such a bad way of going about it.
How did that song go again? If you were the only girl rhino in the world, and I were the only boy? Rupert had written that. What a talent. We shall never see his like again, he thought to himself. Not now that it’s all down to me.
Homoerotic undertones? Homoerotic undertones?! You must be mad. No, the Sherlock Holmes stories are just the wholesome adventures of two confirmed bachelors who live together and go about the country wantonly ejaculating left, right and centre. What sort of depraved filth-merchant could possibly think otherwise?
Here, courtesy of the HTML canon and a highly-developed propensity for innuendo, is a definitive ranking of Holmes’ and Watson’s many and varied ejaculations.
19. Well, really, Watson, let’s not peak too early.
A Study in Scarlet
18. “Watson, that ejaculation was uncalled for. Now go and sit in the corner until you’ve learned your lesson.”
The Sign of the Four
17. It really feels like Dr Watson should seek medical assistance at this point.
The Boscombe Valley Mystery
16. Satisfaction, pride, confusion – is there no emotion Dr Watson will not grace with a hearty ejaculation?
The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
15. In which the sight of two men in the doorway causes Holmes to ejaculate with impatience.
The Adventure of the Empty House
14. This is a neat trick if you can do it.
The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
13. A decent-sized ejaculation here from Dr Watson as Holmes advocates putting on overcoats and galoshes.
The Adventure of the Golden Pince-nez
12. More impatient ejaculating from our deerstalkered hero.
The Adventure of the Golden Pince-nez
11. Watson’s hair trigger is rapidly proving embarrassing.
The Valley of Fear
10. Oh yeah, it was that second reading that really did it.
The Adventure of the Red-headed League
9. Oh God, tell me more about that blue carbuncle. Like, all about its size and shape and how much it costs. Mmm. And now do it again, but slower.
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
8. In which Watson has a rare old time imagining steady, respectable, middle-aged former sergeants.
A Study in Scarlet
7. A classic here, from SH, after a bracket suddenly engages his attention.
The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
6. In which Dr Watson ejaculates upon learning of an unknown man in the rear.
The Adventure of the Resident Patient
5. “Ah yes, dear old Watson. Capable of the most miraculously expressive ejaculations I believe I have ever seen.”
The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
4. For a medical man, Watson appears to have a surprisingly confused grasp of male anatomy.
The Sign of Four
3. Don’t you hate it when a sudden ejaculation causes you to wake up and your heap of shag is all gone?
The Man with the Twisted Lip
2. Where we find out how Holmes reacts to having huge men in his aperture.
The Adventure of the Speckled Band
1. And finally the one we’ve all been waiting for, from the 1910 short story The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot, in which Sherlock Holmes fires multiple ejaculations out the window before rushing outside and rubbing his face in the lawn below.
The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot
And if that isn’t good, clean, wholesome fun then I don’t know what is.
PROFILE: THE KING’S JESTER
by Helena Handcart
I have arranged with Yorick’s PA to meet him at the Nunnery, a popular vegetarian tapas bar on the outskirts of Copenhagen. The owners market it as the best place in Denmark to see and be seen, owing to their monopoly on candles.
The choice of venue surprises me. As anyone who’s seen his stand-up material will know, the country’s most famous comedian has built up a reputation for gluttony and overindulgence. One comic paroxysm away from rolling in the aisles himself, this is a man who used to end his routines by challenging hecklers to shed the first stone.
He has always been supremely comfortable in his own skin. Skin, he likes to say, which would be loose-fitting on a rhinoceros. It is in part the lightness with which he bears this colossal weight that has earned him such success on the Danish comedy circuit. ‘A fellow of infinite jest’, writes one reviewer, ‘wont to set the table on a roar,’ promises another.
Despite his recent meteoric rise to fame,Yorick still maintains a rigorous gigging schedule which, as he drily puts it, is wearing him to the bone. He has come straight from work, so is simply dressed in a tricorn hat with floppy corners and golden bells hanging from the tips. His shabby diamond-patterned onesie has already started to fade, with tobacco stains clearly visible on the red and black fabric.
He has also naturally brought his famous skull, neatly wrapped inside his famous head.
Welcome to Supercilious Manor, where the jokes are recycled, the accents outlandish and the breakfast impossible to digest.
The result of a stifling afternoon indoors with far too much else to do.
My wife and I have been together for ten years now, which isn’t that impressive when you consider it’s two years less than the Germans stuck with Hitler. Still, that was their third reich and this is only our first marriage, so I’m cautiously optimistic. Today was actually the day of our ten-year anniversary, and as I keep telling her she doesn’t look a day older than she did this morning.
When I woke up she was making me breakfast in bed – eggs, beans, toast, the works.
“Darling, wouldn’t it be easier to make it in the kitchen?” I asked. “I’m not sure how comfortable I feel with you balancing a camp stove on the pillow.”
“Nonsense,” she said, julienning a tomato on our bedside table. “Now sit up, I need you to hold the microwave.”
It’s these small gestures of affection that are most important to us, and we try to schedule three or four a week to remind ourselves that even though we’re older and more responsible we haven’t lost our sense of fun. We’re both very similar people and we really do speak the same language, which is wonderful because otherwise it would be hard to watch the same television programmes without subtitles.
Do I remember Hitler? What a question, of course I remember Hitler. Such lovely blue eyes he had, just rolling around in his desk drawer like gobstoppers. He was the sweetest man and such a good tipper. He once tipped Hermann Goering all the way over with just one push. Terrible shame about his one testicle. It was a very sensitive subject for him back then, and though he didn’t like people pressing him on it, what man does?