Lesser-known Elements of the Periodic Table

Flemicium (Fc)
The elusive structure of this radioactive element was first discovered by August Kekulé in 1887, shortly after he awoke from a dream in which he saw two snakes eating an antelope wearing a hat the size of Mount Rushmore. After making a trip to the kitchen to dispose of the rind of over-ripe goat’s cheese he’d gorged himself on the night before, Kekulé slipped on a set of chemical models and got up to find flemicium’s electronic configuration digging a hole in his lower back.


Thrilled by this serendipitous discovery, Kekulé proposed naming the element after the Hanover dairy that had contributed to his breakthrough moment. Controversy emerged when the manufacturers of his chemical models claimed equal responsibility, and reached a fever pitch when makers of defective linoleum also tried to stake a claim. The whole nasty episode resulted in a heated argument at Darmstadt University which saw the President of the Royal Society knocked unconscious by a life-sized reconstruction of potassium cyanoacrylate.


Identified as a potentially fissile material during the early stages of the Manhattan Project, interest in flemicium waned once the team assigned to work on the chemical abruptly disintegrated during a visit by President Roosevelt and their remains began eating through the secret service. It’s been speculated that in weaponised form flemicium could have ended the war in a single day, but Eisenhower was at a wedding in Hyannisport and so was sadly unable to make it.


Serenium (Su)
The first chemical element to be artificially produced on a Tuesday, the discovery of serenium represented a turning point in the ability of scientists to do anything productive in the early half of the week. Best known amongst non-specialists for its much-publicised aphrodisiac properties, three Italian universities have gone bankrupt while maintaining a security perimeter around their existing samples.


Thanks to its high tensile strength and extremely low density, serenium briefly became the element of choice for the manufacture of lightweight tennis rackets on the professional circuit. Its popularity decreased in 2004 after the Spanish Davis Cup team found themselves pinned to the ceiling of the O2 arena and were only rescued when tournament officials equipped with a trampoline persuaded them to let go of their kitbags.


Synnabar (Sy)
Known variously to mediaeval alchemists as Bibla, Desiderium and Witches’ Bedspread, synnabar has long fascinated scholars for its ability to whistle in B minor when exposed to direct sunlight. Although ingesting synnabar is not fatal, the effect has been compared to eating seven Creme Eggs in one sitting and is therefore frowned upon in polite society.


Its high electrical conductivity brought it to the attention of a young Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was quick to realise its potential potential. After unwittingly triggering the California synnabar rush of the 1860s, which represented the single greatest mass movement of people on the continent since the discovery of affordable housing in Brooklyn, he persuaded Mendeleyev to artificially inflate its atomic number so as not to look foolish in front of Carnegie.


Scientists at Cambridge University are cautiously optimistic that the unique properties of synnabar may help them develop a form of energy storage which will further lower battery life to under ten minutes, a project which has already secured $60 million of seed funding from executives at Apple.


Tullemy (Ty)
A bright yellow solid with the tendency to form perfect crystals in the shape of Pope John Paul II, tullemy is a powerful antidepressant that gives all foods the flavour of asparagus. Once found in abundance in the Nile delta, it was ingested in large quantities by the ancient Egyptians who believed it would reveal to them the secret of designing buildings with curved edges. Senmut the Elder, the favoured architect of King Amenhotep II, once blew a quarter pound of the stuff up his nose and built fourteen royal memorials in the shape of jellyfish before being apprehended by the palace guard and ritually disemboweled with a shish kebab skewer outside what is now the Aswan Starbucks.


With global reservoirs thought to be nearing depletion, in 1984 the planet’s remaining supplies of tullemy were shipped to a bulletproof bunker in the Ozarks manned by contractually maudlin veterans of the French Foreign Legion. One kilogram has since been released annually for the purposes of medical research, most of which has gone into the development of pet food that can make your dog glow in the dark and regurgitate its own liver on command.


Zargon (Zg)
Zargon is the element with the highest boiling point in the periodic table, having been known to survive rush hour journeys on the Central Line unscathed. Highly unreactive and exceedingly rare, it is predominantly used as a scalpel reinforcement in surgical procedures and as a topping for luxury Italian ice cream.


At the end of Werner Herzog’s conceptual masterpiece Grausamkeit mit Erdbeere, released in English as Strawberry Malfunction, the hero is driven mad by his obsession with zargon and winds up opening a bed and breakfast for itinerant management consultants who leave anonymous TripAdvisor reviews complaining about the WiFi.


The existence of zargon is thought to be a valuable gauge for a planet’s ability to sustain a free market economy, owing to its tendency to emit a noxious green gas if anyone tries to privatise the railways. Often confused with copper owing to its similar reddish colouring, the two can easily be distinguished by wearing white after labour day and seeing which is the first to comment.

Marvell Comics

Dear Diederik,

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,

Andrew Marvell

Dear Andrew,

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.

I remain,

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.

Yours excitedly,

Andrew Marvell

Andy baby,

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.

I remain,


Dear Diedi,

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.

Dear Andrew,

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.

I remain,

Diederik Casper Comijks

Dear Diederik,

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,

Andrew Marvell

The Last Rhinoceros

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.

How Holmes and Watson came together

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.”

3 - sign of four

The Sign of the Four

17. It really feels like Dr Watson should seek medical assistance at this point.

6 - Boscombe Valley mystery

 The Boscombe Valley Mystery

16. Satisfaction, pride, confusion – is there no emotion Dr Watson will not grace with a hearty ejaculation?

10 - copper breeches

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

15. In which the sight of two men in the doorway causes Holmes to ejaculate with impatience.

12 - Empty House

The Adventure of the Empty House

 14. This is a neat trick if you can do it.

13 - Charles Augustus Milverton

The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

13. A decent-sized ejaculation here from Dr Watson as Holmes advocates putting on overcoats and galoshes.

14 - Golden Pince-nez

The Adventure of the Golden Pince-nez

12. More impatient ejaculating from our deerstalkered hero.

15 - Golden Pince-nez

The Adventure of the Golden Pince-nez

11. Watson’s hair trigger is rapidly proving embarrassing.

 17 - Valley of Fear

The Valley of Fear

10. Oh yeah, it was that second reading that really did it.

5 - redheaded league

 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.

8 - blue carbuncle

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.

16 - Abbey grange

The Adventure of the Abbey Grange

6. In which Dr Watson ejaculates upon learning of an unknown man in the rear.

11 - Resident patient

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.”

19 - Blanched Soldier

The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier

4. For a medical man, Watson appears to have a surprisingly confused grasp of male anatomy.

4 - sign of four

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?

7 - man with the twisted lip

The Man with the Twisted Lip

2. Where we find out how Holmes reacts to having huge men in his aperture.

9 - speckled band

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.

18 - Devil's Foot

The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot

And if that isn’t good, clean, wholesome fun then I don’t know what is.

Alas, poor Yorick. I interviewed him, Horatio.

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.

Continue reading “Alas, poor Yorick. I interviewed him, Horatio.”


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.

Continue reading “Tintinabullation”

I have somehow become Death, destroyer of words

As the documentary evidence makes quite clear, Herb Omelette was the first man to split the infinitive. He did it in 1897, two years before his closest rival Yevgeny Potemkin, a professional cigarette filter from Kiev. Potemkin claimed that what mattered wasn’t who split it first but who split it furthest, and vowed to become the first man to split the infinitive across the Atlantic. This dream was sadly dashed in 1920 when he tripped over a dangling participle and fractured his syntax in three places. After months of drug-induced hallucinations where he spelled colour with a z and mistook a pathetic fallacy for a bowl of cottage cheese, he fell into a comma from which he never recovered.
Deprived of his greatest adversary Herb Omelette vowed never to split an infinitive again, retiring from public life to a cottage in the Swiss Alps. There he composed brilliant, innovative monographs on the use of apostrophes in shop signs and alternative meanings of the word literal before being shot dead by pedants at the age of 62.

Continue reading “I have somehow become Death, destroyer of words”

A La Recherche des Dents Perdues

The following appears to be an extract from a recent interview with Berengaria Hodgkiss, the noted socialite, golf enthusiast and hubcap collector who was mysteriously granted entrée to Hitler’s private circle in the 1930s and 40s. Although the full text of the interview has yet to be found, the below offers a tantalising glimpse into this fraught and tragic period, which for reasons of their own the British prefer to call a full stop.

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?

Those of us who knew him were all so emotionally linked in those tumultous days that we would laugh whenever he laughed, and when he cried we all cried. It was amazing how contagious crying was back then – like siphylis or wearing sensible shoes. All it took was the merest touch of a belt buckle or an outstretched fist to get the tears streaming. This would have been long after the publication of Freud’s “On the Interpretation of Dreams”, of course, which when slammed across the face in a hardback copy also proved particularly effective.

Continue reading “A La Recherche des Dents Perdues”