Saturday, 3 November 2012

Fictional Entry

In 1971 Helvetius Kronk moved to Oxford to complete his studies of the flute music of Esrum-Hellerup. In his moving memoir, 'Leaves in a Darkened Room,' he described his two years there as the happiest in his life. He had found lodging at number 23 Fictional Entry, a small street that once formed the entry to Peake College from the High Street. 'The architectural exuberance of the street, so vividly portrayed in Gospodin's paintings, nourished my soul and delighted my senses. The daily task of finding my front door among the shifting geometries and impossible perspectives seldom tried my patience, so beautiful was the puzzle set before me by those ancient hands.'

Fictional Entry was built in the Middle Ages by a team of craftsmen selected from across the known world and briefed with the task of building a street of such complexity that it would be impossible to replicate. With the increase of tourism and the lack of reliable maps and signs, unscrupulous operators had succeeded in diverting visitors to Oxford into convincing life-size models of the city built on the approach roads from every direction. The impossibility of recreating Fictional Entry allowed pilgrims and visitors to verify their arrival in the true Oxford and ensured that the important income from tourism would not be diverted into the hands of charlatans.

Fictional Entry at Night, G. Stotinki
It is hard to imagine the widespread horror that accompanied the destruction of Fictional Entry in 1973 when a young American student called Lilian Mountweazel caused a vast explosion in the neighbouring room to Kronk. He managed to avoid the explosion only through the wilful avoidance of his official responsibility as Captain of the Apopudobalia Team- had he not feigned illness and hidden in a public house several miles away from his lodgings, his return from the playing fields might have brought him home seconds before the blast.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Silver Lining

The rain fell month after month and the water rose on every side leaving only the island of Hexagonia above the heaving waves. The Ark took shelter at Hexagon Wharf, its cargo dozing fitfully under the ceaseless, sardonic applause of the rain. And then, when it seemed that even the six-sided peak of Mt. Wheatstone would slide beneath the swell...
The sky became a tunnel of colour. The toad was sent out to discover whether the Stotinki archives had been damaged by flood. He was gone a long time. But one morning a thud was heard on the deck. The toad had returned with a curious story to relate. On discovering that the entrance to the mine shaft wherein the Stotinki archives are kept was once again above sea level, the toad had contrived to open the heavy door. Once inside he was met with an extraordinary scene. An emaciated man lay stretched upon the ground, blinking with confusion into the bright daylight. This man was the famous musicologist Helvetius Kronk. He had visited the archive just as the deluge began and had become trapped inside by the rising floodwaters. With only stale Eccles cakes to sustain him over the months of his incarceration, he had become weak and slightly deranged. However his enforced stay in the archive had led him into virtually unknown areas. One day he had discovered the original score to the legendary 'Apocryphal Insect Music'. This lost collaboration between Stotinki and several species of leaf-eating beetle requires the construction of a 'phyllophone' to be played. Leaves are presented to the musicians, who gnaw a pattern of holes through the surface.
 These are then fed into the phyllophone in which a sensitive apparatus interprets the pattern of holes into an audible output. Kronk describes this music as "by far the most sublime and ethereal of all sounds." Kronk's discovery sustained him throughout his long ordeal. His only regret was that his hunger and delirious state led him to devour a thick bundle of Stotinki's detailed plans for the construction of the phyllophone.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Endless Forms Most Beautiful

"It is a huge privilege to live on Earth and to share it with so many goodly and fantastical creatures-albeit a privilege of which we are grotesquely careless. In truth, if we did not need to exploit other species we might simply and unimprovably spend our lives in admiration of them; they are so extraordinary."
                                               Colin Tudge, The Variety of Life


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

If I Remember Right

"When crocodiles lie thus with open jaws, small shore birds, especially waders of the sandpiper kind, which are always running about on the banks in search of food, enter the huge reptiles' mouths to capture any such small fry as may have sought refuge among the teeth or in the folds of the mucous membrane of the mouth or pharynx. Indeed, if I remember right, I have witnessed the thing myself; but now as I write I cannot feel quite sure that it was not one of many stories told me by my men."
                                    Odoardo Beccari, Wanderings in the Great Forests of Borneo

In the summer of 1982 Gospodin Stotinki was a regular visitor to the Bournemouth home of American diarist Anna Kronis. During long dinners with the Mississippi socialite and her adoring circle, he had noticed her tendency to back up her reminiscences with reference to her diaries. An avid diarist himself, Stotinki decided to replace her entire diary for the year 1971 with a plausibly modified version of his own. Perfecting her handwriting style, he recopied his own experiences into a blank volume and, after leaving the book in a cage of crickets to give it a suitably aged appearance, he returned it to her shelves. Guided to that year by after-dinner conversation, she began to describe the events therein with such vivid clarity that Stotinki soon came to doubt whether it had been he or she who had actually spent that year travelling the Breton peninsula in search of forgotten ancient monuments. One evening she produced a photograph clearly showing Stotinki and his mysterious associate Heron beneath the 'Champignon' of Huelgoat forest. Feeling certain that he had not referred to this incident in the diary, he attempted to remember who had taken the photograph. It was her.

 Surely they would not meet until five years later. 

Friday, 10 February 2012

As it might be made

It is surprising that the National Archive of Anachronisms contains only a handful of references to Sir Charles Wheatstone. The discovery of an early telegraph device during the 1969 moon landing is already well-documented (see 'A Welsh Dresser with a Difference' by U. Persson). However, a more recently deposited fragment casts new light on Wheatstone's process of invention.

The item in question is an incomplete piece of correspondence of uncertain date and authorship. It appears to describe a visit by a friend to Wheatstone's workshop in the late 1820s.

'I passed by Conduit St. and decided to call on Charles only to find the house in a state of unimaginable chaos. Charles appeared dazed and was found sitting at the dining table upon which the remnants of an uneaten breakfast had been pushed all to one side. On the tablecloth before him, all manner of peculiar hieroglyphic designs had been drawn using Mrs. Howell's homemade chutney. Recurrent among these designs was a regular six-sided figure. Charles hardly acknowledged my presence but stared fixedly at the images on the table, murmuring to himself. Perplexed, I attempted to find out the matter from Mrs. Howell herself. She proceeded to tell me the most extraordinary story: very early that morning Charles had received a visit from a "foreign gentleman", dressed in curious garments and carrying a small, square case. He had joined Charles for breakfast and had left abruptly without taking his hat. Young Nellie, the maid, had given chase and, unable to match his furious pace, had followed him for half a mile at which point he turned into an alley. Arriving at the turning, the maid claims to have seen this curious character crawl into a "great pile of animal furs, all crumpled up". Beside herself with terror she had watched as this "'orrible, shaggy thing" had begun to expand into the shape of a globe. As it began to float into the air she had fallen into a swoon and was revived and brought back to Conduit St. by a police officer.'

It is pointless to speculate on the conversation that took place between Wheatstone and the "foreign gentleman" that morning. What is certain is that the descriptions of the "Hot Hair Balloon of Shoreditch", reported in 1863, closely resemble the account given by Wheatstone's maid. The Shoreditch "balloon" is reported to have abducted a certain John Leighton as he left a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries one November evening. He was found twenty minutes later asleep on the pavement in Hammersmith. He refused to speak about his experience. Soon afterwards he published this vision of the metropolis.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

In a Lantern

The church on Lundy island contains a ring of ten bells cast in 1897. Each bears an inscription, the first two being dedications In Memoriam.

The third bell bears the words: Horam precandi iam adventisse moneo - I warn that the hour has now come for prayers.

The fourth bell has no inscription and may have been damaged and replaced. The original is believed to have borne the inscription: Nos omnes cantamus laudes Dei - We all sing the praises of God.

On the fifth: Ut fieremus HGH Vicarius Curavit - HGH, the Vicar, had us brought into being.

On the sixth: Carolus Carr Societas no fudit AD 1897 - Charles Carr and Co. made us in AD 1897.

On the seventh: Confuse agitate pericla declarums - When rung confusedly we announce dangers.

On the eighth: Retro pulsate ignes indicamus - When rung backwards we signify fires.

On the ninth: Recte sonates gaudia pronunciamus - When sounding the right way we proclaim joys.

On the tenth, the tenor: Animis cedentibus dico valet - I say farewell to the departing souls.

Accompanying the audible pitch of each bell, these hidden incantations reverberate out across the island. The bells are sure of their purpose and the intention that their makers imbued within them at the mysterious moment of their casting.

Maybe such thoughts occurred to Gospodin Stotinki on his journey to that island. All that we know from his patched reminiscences is that he accompanied a curious group of troubadours to the tower of an old lighthouse, now abandoned.

As they climbed into the tower, the atlantic winds bore down on the window panes of the lantern room, the lighthouse howled and hummed. Where the lantern had once been, a massive metal platform provided standing room for his mysterious companions. They produced musical instruments, they clambered, dangled, declaimed to the winds.

And, as the light began to fade and the wind rose and tested the tower, one of their number told him this:

" There are places on this earth where our actions and intentions are amplified in the same way that the light in this tower was once concentrated and projected outward by mirrors. That light had a benign purpose-to warn and protect sailors and travellers. Even though the light is no longer here, that intention remains, as lasting as an inscription on metal or stone. Now, we are drawn here to play our music and speak our thoughts. To proclaim our friendship. To befriend the wind. If there is light in that, who can say? Maybe that light can still be seen."