The audience at the exclusive Threadbare Street Bogus Officers Club were petrified with awe after Victor Nicholas had supplied them with the initial part of the strange story of the expedition to the Ufganufgwa Interior in search of the source of the Great Green Bumbogoola River of Eastern Nbomoland.
Replete with fine food, and even finer wines, the various dubious characters gathered in the fetid darkness sat immobile and entranced, as Nicholas' fellow adventurer and thespoof.com man of letters Erskin Quint laid his ochre meerschaum upon the heavy table, drank deeply from his freshly-charged glass of Wellington's Reserve Boal 1958, shot a withering glance at the elephantine figure of Colonel Horseblanket slumped and softly snoring in the richly-upholstered lap of Euphemia Hellebore, The Horsehair Wig Heiress, and began to relate his part of the extraordinary tale.
"Loth though I was to leave behind the wonders of Bimbo Bombo, with its intoxicating blend of ethereal beauty and the rawest of raw sensuality, I knew that it was time to leave one blood-red dawn, when I went in to wake Victor, and discovered that his mosquito net was full of bangled Wobbli Wobbli leaping nubiles. I could see that they had spiked his sarsaparilla with the fiendish ghuah huah beer, made from fermented noddi noddi fronds, in a transparent attempt to force him into a marriage which, exciting though it must have proved to be for my dear friend, must surely have consequences most inefficacious, as far as our expedition went (which would be no farther than Bimbo Bombo, if the nubiles had their wicked way).
"I can still hear their screeching, and the metallic music of their rattling bangles, as I drove them out of the tent, but it had to be done. I sobered Victor quite quickly, by reading him some of the stories of Spectrum, that master of the bizarre juxtaposition and the startlingly-inserted comma, and, after a breakfast of dried niddu leaves, we struck camp, and headed into the Ufganufgwa Interior, the words of the Corsican explorer Tesco Van Morrison coursing through our brains:
"Our plan was clarity itself. We aimed to traverse the Gobbo Gobbo Mudlands and penetrate the Blue Crystal Mountains of Btompo-HaHa. There, we would pick up the infant tributaries that would lead us unerringly to the Great Green Bumbogoola River."
Quint was statuesque. He breathed slowly, imperceptibly. In his eyes was the faraway look of the seasoned adventurer who bears the scars and the spoils of his exploits deep within his soul. He recharged his glass of Wellington's Reserve Boal 1958, drank deep once more of the amber-hued tincture, and resumed, as Colonel Horseblanket stirred in the lap of Euphemia Hellebore, The Horsehair Wig Heiress, and began to mutter softly, in his sleep, about Trevor, the Regimental Goat, and the moustache of his old Nanny.
"We were to follow the Great Green River down through the Marmalade Jungles of Kunti-Nunti, across the Coastal Plains of Zozo-Wuri, and reach the sea at the fabled "Unpronounceable Port" of Ssessi-Ssissesso Wa Wa.
"We are here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that we did indeed attain these objectives. The full account of our adventures will soon appear in 5 Morocco-bound volumes, available from our publishers Spindle, Lamplighter & Underbelly of Truro.
"For now, there is only time to furnish you with what I might term some highlights of this singular journey.
"Having traversed the Gobbo Gobbo Mudlands without incident (their inhabitants, the bald Potti-Potti tribe, who cover themselves with pink clay and dance backwards towards the moon, being glimpsed only at a safe distance), we were surprised to enter a series of narrow defiles, carved from the indigo rock by ancient floods.
"Here we encountered the Firihiri Moth People, spoken of by Pontoon, the "Flemish Livingstone". They were silent and lived in caves hollowed from the very living indigo rock, where they slept during the ferocious heat of the day in cocoon-like bishi-wishi fibre hammocks. They were hospitable enough, but Victor's delicate constitution could not handle their broths, made from the boiled stomachs of their dogs and asses.
"In the foothills of the Btompo-HaHa mountains, glad of the cooler airs, we camped for 3 days. There we encountered a party of Danish Medical volunteers. They were heading for the settlements of the Wanki Wanki people, deep within the Vulva Bushlands. The Wanki Wanki suffer from terrible visual impairment and cramp, and there would be much work for the volunteers.
"I was much taken with Helga, a willowy blonde nurse with a fascinating navel ring, and I must admit that the only way that Victor could get me away from her in the end was by threatening to read from the Ibsen Joke Book at the camp fire.
"We moved on, as we always did. It was not all plain sailing. In the Kwexi-Loppapa Highlands, we were ambushed by a marauding gang of Gwoola-Gwoola Warriors. We could see that they meant business and, mindful of their cannibal reputation, I first stunned them by singing Kenneth McKellar hits, after which Victor reduced them to a stupor by reading from Lynton's discourses upon the translation of the poetry of de Maupassant.
"'I always knew that would come in handy!', he smiled, as we made our escape.
"We found the source of the Bumbogoola on an evening when the hot rains fell in torrents and the giant Lappiti trees echoed with the cries of the Naka Naka.
"And it was in the Marmalade Jungles of Kunti-Nunti that we came across the Sunken Village of the Titti Folk, whose boyish women were something of a disappointment, despite their agile grace.
"However, this was a minor irritation, for it was in the fierce steamy heat of that luminous green world that we were shown the place where Livingstone made toast and played the bagpipes, before being asked to leave.
"Further on, by the steaming banks of the Bumbogoola, we encountered the Jabbering Raft People, who were filled with joy when we gave them new signed photographs of Fergus McCarthy, to replace the torn and creased daguerreotypes originally given them by Henry Morton Stanley. They showed us the place where Big White Carstairs had sacrificed his pith helmet to save a native bearer from a crocodile.
"And so it was that we at last came to the 'unpronounceable port' of Ssessi-Ssissesso Wa Wa, after a fascinating encounter with the Yodelling Goatherds of the Zozo-Wuri Plains, who worship Reg Varney and cover the goatskin-lined interiors of their tents with pictures of London buses.
"At Ssessi-Ssissesso Wa Wa, we rested, gazing across the shining ocean, our blood full of dzakk, the local narcotic, our minds full of the memories of our adventure and the thoughts of expeditions to come."
Erskin Quint sat down, as tumultuous applause filled the tobacco-choked dining-room. He exchanged knowing looks and wry smiles with his colleague Victor Nicholas, as they were soon beleagured by requests to join their future adventures.
The two friends knew that none of these bogus and dubious characters were made of the right stuff. None would last long on such expeditions as they envisaged.
No. Nicholas and Quint were already thinking about the formation of the Adventurers Club, and of the kind of characters that they would allow to join them in their future endeavours. Characters who would never be seen in such a decadent place as the Bogus Officers Club.