Written by Erskin Quint
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Monday, 5 April 2010

image for Interview with the Colonel. No. 32 in an Endless Series

Good morning, Colonel Linctus. Graham Chandler. I'm from the Argus & Bugle.

Do you now. Well, you needn't think you can start that here.

Pardon?

Bugling. I had enough of that in the Army. I retired to Weymouth for the peace and quiet you know. Don't want me eardrums burst by some idiot blowing his bugle at me, eh?

The Bugle is the name of a newspaper, Colonel. Aren't you expecting me?

Aren't I what? Expecting?

Yes, expecting.

I should hope not, you idiot! What would I do with a sprog at my time of life!

Ah. No. I meant, we had an appointment for this morning.

No, I don't think so. There's only some duffer from the paper coming to talk about the war. Nothing about bugles.

Yes, I'm Graham Chandler, from the paper.

Oh for God's sake man, why didn't you say? Get on with it then!

Sorry?

I haven't got all day you know.

Oh right. Well, where shall we start?

We could talk about when I was arrested during the war.

You were once arrested?

Ah yes. But only once. They only had to do it once, you see. Once I was arrested there was no point in them arresting me again, was there? I mean, if they'd arrested me a second time they'd have had to let me go. You can't be arrested once you've been arrested. It's what they call a double indemnity or something. My solicitor told me. At least I think he did. It's hard to be sure. Well, he was supposed to be my solicitor, and I was paying him well enough, the slippery swine.

I don't follow you.

Very wise. I wouldn't follow me if I were you. In fact, I wouldn't follow me if I were me. Not that I'd be able to if that were the case, which it very probably is, now I come to think of it, but that only proves my point. Now, where were we?

You were telling me that you were once arrested.

Of course! Why ever didn't you say so? It was in Burma. I was arrested in old Rangoon. It was during the war you know.

But surely you aren't old enough to have fought in the 2nd World War?

Ah. Clever laddie. Tis true. I am far too young to have been active in that particular conflict. No, lad, I am talking about the Crimean War. I was in Burma in the Crimean War. And for a good while afterwards. I had to wait until it all died down, you know. Ah! Old Rangoon! They say all those Colonial buildings are decaying these days, and are in a woeful condition. In my day they were all new, you know. It was the Colonial officials who were decaying and in a woeful condition. It was hell you know.

Ah, I think I understand.

Do you, by Gad? Do you really? Oh dear oh dear.

Oh dear?

I do wish you wouldn't call me that. At least not until you've bought me a drink.

Er. So you were in Burma.

What? Never! It's all lies, you know, I never met the woman, or her mother!

In the Crimean War. Rangoon. You said...

Oh of course. Old Rangoon. Yes, I was there at that time. But there's no need to go raking up all that other business, making life difficult for an old soldier who was only trying to keep body and soul together while stationed in a foreign land. Nobody respects poor old Tommy once the bullets have stopped flying. It's always the same. They're happy enough to let you do all the fighting for them while they skulk at home living off the fat of the old homeland, but when at last you get the chance to sail back to dear old Blighty, they give you the cold shoulder. The swine! The opium was planted on me, you know.

Opium?

No thanks, I've given it up. But you go ahead, if you must. Only let me open this window first. And I'll put on me smoking jacket. I always wear me old smoking jacket in the presence of an opium addict.

Look. I think we've lost the thread. You were telling me about being arrested in Rangoon.

Was I? Who told you about that? Give me his name! I bet it was Trumper Harris, the blaggard. What did he look like? Was he an elongated Welshman with long thumbs in spats with a sideways gait selling second-hand Gideon Bibles from the back of a disused Land Rover? Damn Harris! Damn him to Hades and back! Cicely was wasted on that blackguard. I'll bet my regimental braces to your set of ormolu eggcups that little 'Whimbrel' Nutkins is still scuttling about after the bounder as well. Used to be my batman you know.

Who did? The Welsh man?

What? No, no. 'Whimbrel' Nutkins. That filthy swine Harris stole him from me the same dreadful night he took Cicely from my arms forever.

Why was he called 'Whimbrel' Nutkins?

Who? Trumper Harris?

No. What's-his-name.

What's whose name?

Nutkins. 'Whimbrel' Nutkins.

What in Heaven's Name do you mean "what's 'Whimbrel' Nutkins' name". Why it's 'Whimbrel' Nutkins you idiot.

I see that. But why was he called that?

Come again? He was named after his parents of course, you fool.

I don't understand. Are you saying that his parents were called 'Whimbrel'?

Are you mad? Of course his parents weren't called 'Whimbrel'! They were called Mr and Mrs Nutkins, from Eastbourne.

Yes, yes, that's obvious. What I mean is, why was 'Whimbrel Nutkins' called 'Whimbrel'?

What else would 'Whimbrel Nutkins' be called, then, eh? He could hardly be called 'Yellowhammer Stapleton', could he now? Good grief! Where do they get them from? What is the world coming to?

Look, all I want to know is why the name 'Whimbrel'?

Well, why didn't you say so, laddie? Why did you make me go through all that, as Throttle, Lady Bulkhead's head gardener said, after she thought she'd dropped her wedding ring in the horse manure, only to discover that it was in her pocket all the time. Why, he was called 'Whimbrel' to distinguish him from the other one.

The other one?

Yes. 'Wheatear' Nutkins.

Are you telling me that there were 2 of these Nutkins'?

No. Not at all. There was one 'Whimbrel' Nutkins and there was one 'Wheatear' Nutkins.

Yes, but they were both called Nutkins.

Which is why they had to be given different nicknames. Up to that time they'd both had the same name.

Oh? What were their full names up to that time then?

Philip Nutkins and Christopher Nutkins.

Those names aren't the same though, are they?

Look, what exactly are you driving at? Are you some kind of private investigator? Because if you are, then I must warn you that I am not the man you think I am. And as for that dreadful business about the photographs of the chambermaid, nothing was ever proved, you know, they never found any negatives on me. It's Trumper Harris you should be speaking to. He was last heard of operating in the Llyn Peninsula you know, and they say he still has no licence.

OK. I'm sorry. We seem to have wandered off the point again. Would you mind awfully getting back to Burma. To Rangoon? During the, er, Crimean War.

Well, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather not get back to Burma, old fruit. Though it's not so much Burma itself. Festering hell-hole it may be, but there are compensations, a man can get by, if you understand me, and if you don't, that's all the better for me. No, it's the getting there. The boats, you know. Rat-infested wooden hulks. And what's more, they're full of sailors as well as the rats. They crawl over you when you're lying in your hammock, they steal your food, they're there staring at you with their beads of eyes when you're answering a call of nature. Rotten vermin!

What, the rats are as bad as all that?

No man! Not the rats. I can come to terms with a rat. After all, they're only trying to do their job. It's the sailors that I'm talking about. You wouldn't get me back on board one of those ships for all the black tea in Pontypool.

I only meant get back to the subject, not actually go back to Burma. I...

You should make yourself clearer, my lad. An old soldier's mind is simply seething with old things. He needs a clear direction, you know.

Yes, well, I am sorry. But could we speak about Rangoon?

Well, if it's Rangoon you're interested in, I suppose I could tell you about the time I was arrested there. It was during the war, you know.

Yes, I know that. You already told me. The Crimean War you said.

Did I?

You did. But tell me one thing.

Only one?

At first, yes. Tell me. You say that you were in Rangoon in the Crimean War.

Yes, that's right.

But surely the Crimean War took place in the Crimea.

Of course. Hence its name...

The Crimea. In Russia. Not Burma.

But of course. That's why I went to Burma. I'm not a complete fool, you know.

Ah, I see. So why were you arrested then?

I was arrested one Thursday evening during the monsoons.

What for?

Well, they have to arrest you, otherwise they'd never get you into the police station. You're hardly likely to wander in by accident, are you?

No. I mean, what had you done, to make them arrest you?

Well, it's difficult to say precisely. It might have been that I was in possession of a soiled pith helmet, though I don't think it was that. Nor do I fancy that it was the hornpipe.

Hornpipe?

Yes, I danced the hornpipe at a wedding.

A wedding?

Yes, a wedding. Are you deaf?

Whose wedding?

I don't know whose wedding. They were Burmese. They all look the same. It was a funny kind of ceremony. The bride was on fire you know.

What? On fire?

Yes, she was lying on a kind of raised platform, and they set fire to her. Rum coves, these Burmese. Cruel devils, you know, with their inscrutable, clay-hued faces.

It must have been a funeral.

A funeral, you say?

Yes, that's what they do at their funerals.

Ah. No wonder they didn't like the hornpipe. But, as I say, I don't think that was what got me arrested. You see that was a year before they arrested me. And I doubt very much that they'd take a year to nab a chap for dancing the hornpipe at a wedding that turned out to be a funeral.

So what do you think it was that got you arrested? Can you possibly tell me?

Well, it might have been something to do with the Wednesday evening. With what I did then.

You said it was a Thursday.

So it was.

So why did you say it was a Wednesday just before?

Because Wednesday is just before Thursday! Are you a complete idiot?

Look, never mind that. So what exactly did you do?

Ah, well. They said that I had morris danced backwards down Montgomery Road while singing the Gettysburg address in an Inuit dialect wearing only an embroidered Flemish snood.

Good grief! I suppose it was your, er, attire that offended them?

Hardly. The snood - particularly from the Low Countries - was quite a la mode in those days...

Not to say "de rigeur"...

Of course not. That's why I didn't say it.

Yes. Of course. Er, so it wasn't the snood, or your lack of, well, of any other clothing.

Oh no. It was definitely the mongoose.

The mongoose?

The stuffed miniature mongoose I was carrying in my left hand. They venerate the mongoose in these places, you know. Venerate the mongoose, and burn their women. That's the kind of Johnny I was up against. And to be brandishing a stuffed mongoose, and a miniature to boot...Well, they must have taken that as an insult. 'Tupper' Spatchcock told me that he wouldn't have gone for the mongoose option. According to 'Tupper' - and he would know, being an old Etonian and former Head of Fish Bottling at Harrods...

What, Harrods of Knightsbridge?

No you fool! Harrods of Littlehampton. They don't bottle fish at Harrods of Knightsbridge. Don't even sell bottled fish there, any more, not after the bottled pike episode.

What bottled pike episode?

Bottled pike? How dare you! Leave me out of this! How should I know anything about bottled pike? It was 'Tupper' Spatchcock who was in the fish bottling line I tell you. Do keep up, old chap. No, it must have been the stuffed mongoose, I could see it in their yellow eyes and sinister impassive faces, and the way they stood around and shuffled and muttered to each other.

The Burmese?

No, no, no. Good heavens man! The staff at the British Embassy. That's where I got the mongoose from.

I can't follow you at all.

Good. I don't want to be followed. As for the mongoose, 'Wheelbase' Nibber brought it with him to an Embassy party one sultry evening. It went down like a lead balloon, I can tell you. It made the ladies nervous, and the men tried to tell him to leave it in the cloakroom, but he wouldn't have any of it. Old Nibber (his other nickname was 'Nibs', you might be surprised to know) proceeded to get blind drunk on gin, insult Colonel Trotbasket's wife, ask the Bishop if he could borrow his cassock and hat for a fancy dress ball, and, well, the upshot was, he forgot about the mongoose after he fell into the blancmange and was sent home in a rickshaw (I'll never forget the sight of his legs hanging over the side as the rickshaw moved off into the steaming bruise-coloured Burmese night). I took the mongoose home with me, and that Thursday I found the perfect opportunity to make full use of it.

What happened to the mongoose?

What do you mean 'what happened to the mongoose'?

Well, what happened, after you were arrested. I mean, have you still got it?

Of course not.

Did they confiscate it?

Who?

The police.

What? Speak up, man!

The police!

Good God, where! Quick man, go and stall them. Keep them talking at the front door while I hide these Scandinavian art prints and make myself scarce. The authorities in this country are draconian swine.

No. Not the British police.

Thank God for that. What are you talking about then?

The Burmese police.

What! Don't say they've tracked me down after all this time. The inscrutable heathen fiends! There's nothing for it. I'll have to disguise myself as the housekeeper. You'd better go outside and keep them talking while I change.

But...

Don't start blubbering, laddie. It'll all work out in the end. Many's the time I've dressed as a housekeeper. Just you go out and try to keep them talking.

What?

Get out!

Are you serious?

Get out or I'll have you shot! The Burmese will be here any minute. I can't face them dressed like this. Go on, get out now!

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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