“IT WAS A DARK AND WINDY DAY TOWARDS THE END OF MARCH, in the year of our Lord, eighteen, ninety-two,” said Colonel Nesbit Bing Baddeley Snelgrove Bagfart, revealingly.
He leaned forward in the heavily padded, creaky-leather luxury of his Victorian Half-Nelson – eyes atwinkle between puckered lids.
A bloated pink hand, the crepe skin toad-like with liver spots, clasped his enormous knobbly briar, from which blue smoke curled obtrusively.
The firelight danced merrily behind him in the capacious Tudor inglenook. The room reminded me of colourful illustrations I’d seen in my childhood.
“Is that when you were born?” I asked politely, facing the Colonel from my equally comfortable position on the other leather Half-Nelson.
“What? Good, Lord – no!” he exploded. “That’s merely a quote from a Sherlock Holmes tale. No! I was born on a bright and sunny morning in May,” he concluded, eyeing me peculiarly.
“Of which year,” I asked – to which I received a glassy stare.
“Why – in eighteen, ninety-two, of course – y’ daft ninny!”
“Oh, I see!” I eyed the Colonel wonderingly – but found his expression unreadable. “Well,” I replied. “That would make you –“ I paused, to calculate the time elapsed between eighteen, ninety-two and nineteen, sixty-nine.
“Er – Now, let me see.” I looked down at my fingertips as though tempted to count upon them, yet managing to refrain from the impulse beneath the Colonel’s intense monocled stare.
“That would make you seventy-seven years old, now,” I said with apparent ease and in hardly more than a few seconds.
“A septuagenarian,” he declared. “And not long t’ go afore I’m an octogenarian – if this creaky old frame o’ mine’ll pull me through,” he added, puffing on his mammoth briar and lifting a handcut glass of claret coloured liquid towards mop-like moustaches yellowed with decades of pipe-smoking.
“Oh, I’m sure it will – and then you’ll get to be an octo – huh – er – ”
“Octo – genarian,” the Colonel barked.
“Yes,” I replied. “Of course, that’s right. You seem in pretty good nick to me for your – perhaps you’ll even go on to be a nono – uh – nona -“
I noticed his sudden suspicious glance.
“Er – nonagenarian,” I continued attempting a reassuring smile. But beneath his comical glare, the smile turned into a broad grin and threatened to become a peal of snorting laughter, if I hadn’t clamped a hand over my mouth at the right moment.
“Or even a centurion,” I added, now unable to help myself.
“Centurion?” The Colonel fumed, his jowly features almost purpling.
“Egad!” He took another large sip of his potent concoction.
“What on Earth has happened t’ the education system these days? Perish’ t’ buggery, I shouldn’t wonder. A centurion was a captain in the’ Roman army. I’d have to ‘ave been born a coupla thousand years earlier for that post, laddie – not t’ mention a gross lowering of rank! No – You mean centenarian, y’ daft bugger!”
“But of course,” I replied. “I’m only Joe King.” I grinned again, because I was! Joe King – that is! “About this proposition of yours,” I said, changing the subject. But my words were unheard and his face had turned quite blank, his eyes for the moment, staring glassily into bygone days.
“Hmmph,” he said absently – and that was all for a while.
It was at times like this in the Colonel’s company that I began to wonder what the hell we were doing, sitting together engaging in small talk and badinage, and generally clowning around sending ourselves and each other up like a pair of long established eccentric cronies; when we had in fact, only recently met and were actually worlds apart from each other.
The generation gap, they call it. But it was more. It was a huge cultural gap between two different eras of time that just happened to be juxtaposed chronologically.
I mean, I was twenty-seven, slim, casually dressed in the typical weekend dropout fashion of the sixties, with blue denim jacket and jeans, orange button-down granddaddy vest and zip-sided brown leather boots.
I’d been born into the working-classes and brought up in a suburban semi-detached – near a railway-cutting with a factory across the street – a fish ‘n’ chip shop down the road apiece – a corner-shop on one corner – a pub on the other – and educated in what they used to call, a Secondary Modern school.
I was a dreamer, head in the clouds, trying to get lucky – just another longhaired escapist of the sixties – one more drifter – searching for some rainbow’s end – waiting round the bend – and all that junk
And there I was, smoking, drinking and socializing with this upper middle-class, no-nonsense, down-to-earth, ex-military man in his ancestral country home.
Massively built he was, rather like a great beer barrel – not surprising, all the booze he put away.
This was, as I’ve already revealed, in contrast to my rather slight figure – though we were both about the same height, around five-feet eight, or maybe seven.
Except that he certainly weighed a hell of a ton more than me.
Fifty years my senior, too – well, he was old enough to be my grandfather, though we were not even remotely related, as far as I could tell – unless you go back enough hundreds of years to the point where everyone in the country is either an ancestor of all those alive today or was childless.
Despite all this, we didn’t get along too badly together.
How had this all come about?
I had seen an advertisement in the Melody Maker:
Retired Colonel offers services of his up-to-date recording studio – which as it turned out, happened to be at a sleepy old place called Chopping Buggersfield in-the-vale, on the borders of Somerfolk, Dahrset, and Baggeyshire. The name of the studio was Bagfart Studios, at an address given as Bagfart Manor – Bagfart Lane, Bagfart Farm Estate.
I was a singer-songwriter in a rock band and showed the advert to the other musicians in the band.
We all laughed at first, thinking it an enormous joke.
After we had checked it all out and had an introductory letter and informational brochure with colour photographs sent to us, showing that the studio was indeed, bona fide and fully up-to-date, with all the most modern recording technology and facilities – we decided to go for it.
We all needed a holiday. I wanted a break away from city life – and we were looking for somewhere to record an album of our latest songs.
So, I had driven my band, the Psycho De Licks, down in our old clapped-out Bedford Transit to Bagfart Manor for a period of three weeks.
“I think this old Colonel must be barmy. Who’d wanna live out in the middle of nowhere?” said Mick Plumwhistle, the drummer.
Belching loudly, he lifted a denim-clad cheek from the filthy old rolled-up blanket that served as a long-suffering seat cushion at the rear of the van.
“Speak for your self,” said Julian Turgzid, bassist and keyboard-player, glancing over his shoulder at the drummer in apprehension.
“And sure enough, you did – and in your own, inimitable manner. Personally, though – I think this Colonel’s got the right idea. Now if you want to get away -”
Mick interrupted with another combustive noise.
“What – living out in the wilds, miles from the nearest town?” he said.
“Well, if you’ve got everything you need – and a reliable motor. It’s a lot healthier, living right out of town.“ Julian wrinkled his nose.
“And it’d be a darn sight healthier for us all, cooped up together in this van, if you changed your diet or something.”
“I just knew I shouldn’t ‘ave ‘ad that curry and those cans a special brew to wash it down! It’s a wicked combination!”
“Then why did you? Phew! Let’s have some fresh air in here, before we all pass out!” Raising a hand from the steering, Julian slid open a window.
“Ah, that’s better.”
Farmyard air blew in – the smell of cows, horses, pigs, silage, compost, manure and other strong, abrasive chemicals followed it closely.
“Phew! What a honk – dunno, though – I guess it’s – much better – actually!”
Straightening up in his seat, Julian stroked the bald patch on his flattened crown, lank dark hair dangling down over each shoulder, like long floppy spaniel’s ears.
“Anyway,” he said, “posh or not, it’s gonna cost us a-bloody-nuff to hire this Colonel geezer’s studio –
“Yes and probably much needed towards the upkeep of his private and most likely, crumbling estate, I shouldn’t wonder,” rumbled a deep and very cultured voice from the smoke-filled darkness beyond Mick Plumwhistle.
That was Clarence Ooba Doon Bdingli, our Ghanaian saxophonist.
He could also double on flute, treble on marimbas, quadruple on bongos and perform competently on many other items of string and percussion. Aside from all this he had several university degrees in the sciences, too – quite a disgustingly talented bastard really.
And there he was in a brightly coloured kaftan, sitting cross-legged around a huge, many-chambered gourd. Occasional bubbling sounds arose each time he put his lips to the mouthpiece of some tube.
“Yeah,” said Julian. “I shouldn’t wonder, either, Oobi – it’s not worth it.”
He started bobbing up and down in his seat like a kangaroo with St. Vitus’s dance. “Ooh, I’m gonna hafta make a stop soon. Any more a them cans a Pils left?”
“You must be jesting, Julian – Michael finished the last pack.”
The Bedford had slowed and turned into the stonewalled entrance to an ancient dilapidated farmyard, where it ground to a creaking halt. The driver’s door slid open with a rusted grating sound and fresh country air with the tang of fermenting farm chemicals blew in.
“It’s another fifty odd miles to the Colonel’s gaff, now,” said Julian getting up from the driving seat.
“While you’re out there watering that farmer’s wall with corrosive acid, I’ll wake Joe and tell ‘im it’s his turn to drive.”
“No, don’t do that – let ‘im sleep on till we get there. We wannim fresh – he’s the poor bugger that’s gotta do all the negotiations with this Colonel geezer when we get there.”
As it happened, the negotiations were not to be with the Colonel, but with his middle-aged nephew, Nigel Nesbit Plunkett Ponsonby-Smythe, a giant of a man, whose grey-streaked dark hair reached almost to the faded denim stretched across his rocky buttocks.
He sported a Frank Zappa type beard and a make-love-not-war t-shirt and spoke, not with a countrified drawl, but with an ex-graduate’s posh university accent.
He welcomed us to the studio, of which he was chief of everything – with a crew of four assistants. He showed us all around – and then showed us our accommodation.
After this, he took us back to the studio’s control room and played mine-genial-host with a jeroboam of California golden, an ounce of black Lebanese and some spicy sweet cookies.
Then he regaled us with a set of wild, hair-curling stories from his university days.
He related his stories energetically, dramatically, with much black-tufted eyebrow waggling and many macabre and gleaming white-fanged grins, accompanied further at crucial moments with expansive and comically vociferous gesturing, and at others, with some unlikely, athletic, but positively humorous, obscene postures.
He soon became known by the band as, Plunk – the hunk – the funky old drunk. We loved silly little slogans and inane ditties. We loved anything deviant, silly, farcical, satirical – or indeed, different – so long as it was entertaining and not too unpleasant or uncomfortable. Above all, we just hated boredom. By Cyril Lord or by any other old boring git!
We were there for three weeks and each Friday night, after recording, Plunk would drive us all down to Buggerham by-the Wimble.
Some eight miles further afield, it was the nearest town within ten miles of Bagfart Manor. The old stone bridge in its main street crosses the course of the Wimble, one of the longest rivers in the country.
Flowing south through four-and-a-half counties from Darkestchester, for almost a hundred-and-fifty-miles before it cuts through Buggerham Vale, the Wimble meanders on for at least another hundred-and-fifty-miles, where it finally pours out into Foulmouth Bay, over two-and-a-half counties to the west of Chopping-Buggersfield.
Once there, at Buggerham, Plunk would usher us all in to some wild, way-out private party at Buggerham Hall, which belonged to one of his ex-university colleagues. We’d set up our equipment and entertain for about an hour in the early hours of Friday night and again On Saturday.
The party itself, was a sort of marathon event, lasting fitfully till we took our leave at Sunday lunchtime – and probably beyond, for all we knew – with the house living on quite successfully till we reappeared on the Friday night of the next weekend – to what looked like the very same party still in progress and probably was.
Buggerham Hall must have been very sturdily built, but then it was a very old place and very solid looking: built probably, when they were built to last, and maintained properly and at reasonable intervals by generations of the family, I should imagine.
I had absolutely no doubts as to the zany wildness and abandon that could erupt in spontaneous bursts from Plunk, after the first party:
Dancing on tabletops while lustily singing the bawdiest limericks you could imagine.
Reaching out and swinging gibbon-like but many times as large from the projecting framework of arched entablatures between adjoining rooms – hoisting himself up, jack-knifed knee to chest, feet hooking between rail and ledge till he was hanging upside down, arms stretched almost to the floor and gibbering like a baboon.
Palm first, he would then descend to the floor on crooked forearms till he reached a table where he would spring upright and proceed to consume large quantities of liquor. God, didn’t he ever suffer for his antics? But no!
After all this, he would then socialize quite gregariously and finish by retiring upstairs with some scantily-clad, heavily mascaraed buxom wench sporting oodles of dark-rooted, peroxide-bleached hair and yards of daringly bulbous white thigh above glossy dark stocking-tops.
Yes, he truly deserved the title given to him by the Psycho De Licks – and a married man with teenaged children to boot.
Well, that was our three weekends taken care of.
Apart from that, though, each summer evening after recording, if we weren’t too knackered, there was literally bugger-all on offer to occupy us.
So, when Plunk locked up the studio, swept his hair back from his forehead and tied it up neatly in a pony-tail at the back and drove home in his family saloon, respectably attired in a conventional two-piece dowdy lounge-suit to the wife and family – we were left alone at the Manor.
And the Manor was slap-bang in the middle of nowhere as far as city nightlife was concerned. We were young, still in our mid-to-late twenties – And as I said before, we hated boredom.
There was one other small village in the locality, Little Buggering on-the Duck-pond. It was three-and-a-half miles to the west of Bagfart Manor and consisted of a tightly knit community of Mummery-Quackers.
Except for the meeting-hall, where regular nightly religious services were conducted, everything there was shut-up at six p.m. sharp, and visitors were made about as welcome as a sweaty leather jockstrap with in-growing spikes at a nudist colony for the excessively delicate of skin and sensitive of genitals.
“Don’t think there’s much chance of a gig there,” said Mick Plumwhistle, after an early evening visit to the place.
“Not unless we tog ourselves out in long black robes and hoods, with our hands tucked outa sight in flared sleeves like them fellers,” said Julian.
“Did ya see the way they looked at us?”
“You would think that they had never seen a black man before.”
“Don’t be daft, Ooby – course they ’aven’t. The people in this place ‘ave kept themselves locked away from everything going on in the world around them for centuries – they still live in the middle ages. The only black men they’ve ever seen before are probably those little golliwog stickers you used to get on the blackberry jam jars when we were kids.”
“Well, that is their misfortune, Michael,” said Clarence, gloomily. “One cannot help but feel a twinge of pity for such insular parochials.
So, for each of the three weeks that we stayed at Chopping Buggersfield in-the Vale, we spent five boring evenings at Bagfart Manor.
While the rest of the band handled the situation in their own way – perhaps getting stoned out of their heads till they crashed out in senseless oblivion in their suite in the east-wing – I’d walk through the grounds and the surrounding countryside – and every night, upon returning, would see the Colonel’s lights glowing from his ancient quarters in the west-wing.
On the second such night, the Colonel leaned out of his upstairs window and called out gruffly for me to come up and join him in a glass of something or other.
“Bloody country’s gone t’ th’ dogs,” he cried out hoarsely, when I entered his colourful ‘old world’ room after trudging up two flights of broad wooden staircase.
He waved me to the padded luxury of a high-backed armchair, the identical twin of the one he was seated in, pouring out a tumblerful of dark red liquid from a magnum sized decanter. Reflected firelight danced brightly across its diamond-studded pattern as he lifted the decanter, turning the liquid inside an angry scarlet.
“Don’tcha think so?” he added, pushing the tumbler towards me across the polished top of a natty little table that stood pertly defiant between the two enormous armchairs – the Half-Nelsons.
“Oh, well, I s’pose not,” he concluded, shaking his head, his eyes suddenly deep and mournful.
“No! I agree,” I said, feeling a twinge of pity at his doleful expression. “It has!”
“Has what? What has?”
“Gone to the dogs! The country!”
“Why? What makes y’ come t’ that conclusion?”
“Well – I – thought – “ I shook my head – beginning to feel confused – spread my hands in mystification.
“No good sayin’ somethin’ just for th’ sake of sayin’ it, y’ daft bugger!”
I was about to make further comment, when the Colonel beat me to the draw.
“You’re one o’ them young fellers in that newfangled musical outfit m’ nephew’s recording, aren’t you?”
I nodded. “I’m Joe King, founder member of the Psycho De Licks.”
“Joe King?” The Colonel cocked a bushy white brow and fixed a beady monocle on me while the other eye – seemingly free and chameleon-like – followed the progress in hand, as he lit his pipe with the discoloured petrol-rich flare of a huge, silver, museum-piece lighter.
“Psycho what?” he roared, so suddenly it made me jump in my seat. Clouds of pungent blue and grey smoke swirled around the Colonel, almost rendering him invisible as I looked across at him.
“Er – D – De Licks,” I stuttered, intimidated and a little taken aback at the Colonel’s unpredictable behaviour. “It’s – er – a corruption of the word, psychedelic.”
“Really! And what sort of animal is that?” he said, gradually reappearing as the smokescreen cleared. “I’ve never seen one – particularly in any English dictionary and I’ve swallowed more ‘n Shakespeare.”
“That’s funny,“ I continued, hastily regaining my composure. “I would never have guessed that Shakespeare was a moron. I was always under the impression that he was rather clever. Famous for writing lots of plays and poems – if he really did write them all himself. I would quite believe that you’d swallowed him, though – looking at you!”
“Pon my word – you’re quite a witty young bugger, aren’t you?”
“Well, if you really want to know what psychedelic means,” I replied. “I’ll tell you. It’s a state of relaxation and pleasure, with heightened perception and increased mental powers. It’s believed that certain drugs can induce the state.
The expression also refers to dazzling visual or sound effects like those supposed to be produced by psychedelic drugs. It’s a new word – a very recent addition to the English language, which is – by the way – continually evolving.“
“My goodness me! What utter poppycock!”
Colonel Bagfart took his pipe out of his mouth and stared as if aghast at what I’d just said.
“A whole cultural and philosophical issue – all built up around an entertainment band’s name. A pretentious, half-arsed new-fangled word at that.” His eyes opened wide, the monocled one twice the size of the other.
“We’ll all need cultural re-education next – just to understand what’s being announced at the start of each performance in your band’s repertoire. That’s the secret of today’s new fads and fashions – call ‘em a culture and wrap ‘em up in the pseudo-intellectual mystique of – bullshit baffles brains!”
“Oh! Bollocks,” I replied calmly, to which the Colonel gleefully chuckled.
It seemed obvious to me that the Colonel was sending me up – and doing his damndest to wind me up while he was about it, too. The indignant riposte I’d launched at the Colonel when he took the piss out the band’s name had ended up making me feel nothing more than a pretentious nerdy jerk. He certainly knew how to bait someone and then make them look stupid.
But I felt I was getting wise to him. He was a deceptively wily old bugger, who maybe got his kicks exercising his own brand of humour on the unwary. He was probably bored out of his skull, stuck in his old family mansion in the depths of the countryside. I could almost empathize.
“What is this?” I asked, completely changing the subject – after a strong tasting mouthful of his red liquor had hit my throat with burning strength and then started setting my innards on fire.
The Colonel winked and chuckled with more sudden glee, then tapped one side of his bulbous nose secretively.
“Special concoction of me own,” he declared in a rich, drink-sodden baritone. Eyeing my shoulder-length hair and my clothing with some suspicion, he leaned forward in his huge chair and pitching his voice low, said:
“Tell me, young fellah – are you a ladies man?”
“Eh?” I frowned at his remark.
“Are ye one of us – or one o’ them?” An accusing scowl clouded his face.
Before I had chance to answer he cut in again.
“Good, Lord – do I have t’ spell it out, lad? Are you a Nancy-boy?”
My eyes widened. “What the fffah!” I spluttered.
“Tsk – tsk! Such language,” the Colonel replied without any change of expression, save a slight uplifting at the corners of his mouth. “Well – I was – just wondering – y’ know! Such long hair you young folk have nowadays – strange clothes – can’t really tell the boys from the girls.”
“You’re not disappointed are you – that I’m not a Nancy-boy,” I said with sardonic mockery. “You’re not one of these macho-fronted old military closet-homosexuals, looking for a catamite are you? Coz if you are, you’ve just rung the wrong number.”
“Good lord, no!” the Colonel barked indignantly. “The very idea! Y’ daft bugger!”
He seemed somewhat relieved to find out that I wasn’t a Nancy-boy and wolfed down the remainder of his drink in one swift gulp, hastily refilling his tumbler and mine at the same time.
“Well I’m glad that’s settled,” he said, “and that we’re both in the company of red-blooded men’s – er – women’s men. Hmm.”
Relaxing luxuriously, he sat right back in his gargantuan Half-Nelson armchair, enormous belly foremost, waistcoat half-unbuttoned across it, moustache hovering like a monstrous butterfly over the rim of his tumbler. Only the jutting lower lip showed beneath the umbrella-spread of that huge moustache – and one side of that was flattened beneath the great curling black stem of his knobbly-bowled pipe.
He was beginning to look quite relaxed and cheerful and had started humming in a peculiarly lilting baritone, whilst tapping out a syncopated tattoo on his tumbler.
“You must tell me what this stuff is,” I insisted, holding up my tumbler, which was yet more than half full, its fire still strong on my tongue and in my stomach.
“Must I,” he murmured, halting his musical interlude abruptly, his face suddenly mournful again.
“What – you want a chemical analysis or something? It’s damn good stuff – that’s what it is – best I’ve ever tasted. Goes back a helluva long way, too!”
His eyes clouded with distance, as if his mind had suddenly plunged deep into that past. For a few moments, only the faint crackling of the fire in the inglenook and the dull ticking of a longcase clock in the shadows of a corner could be heard – for the Colonel was wrapped deep in a silent and glassy-eyed reverie
“It all began in the Crimea,” he mumbled, staring mistily into the depths of his tumbler.
“Gracious, that’s where I met her, wasn’t it?” His eyes were suddenly alight and shining. “My word, she was a – one! ” He took a large gulp from his tumbler and harrumphed fruitily, a strange smile creasing his jowls momentarily
“Yes, and him, of course; the very man responsible f’ th’ most magical concoction this side of eternity. Then I had t’ take m’ leave, wouldn’t y’ know – just when I was starting to enjoy m’ self.
“Damned interfering wallahs in the foreign office. Ruddy well posted out further east, with a specially selected handful o’ chaps from me own regiment. Hmm.”
“We were sent to Afghanistan first. God! Those mountains! So damn windy! Then it turned out t’ be a false alarm! We had t’ turn back into Persia. Then th’ silly buggers changed their minds again an’ we had t’ turn around once more an’ head back t’wards Afghanistan and on into Pakistan. Humph! Bunch o’ half-arsed foreign office cretins! Daft as brushes! Don’t know their damned arses from their elbows! Oh – and that reminds me –“
I lit a cigarette and listened as the Colonel rambled his way from Kabul to Peshawar via the Khyber Pass and then on – through Rawalpindi to Lahore, Amritsar, and Delhi. Colourful snatches of scenery and events along the way were introduced as I followed him mentally across the width of India and into eastern Bengal by way of the Ganges.
There was mention of steamy swamps, full of crocodiles and insects, and of huge tusked elephants, and a twelve-foot tiger – and in the next breath, following updated intelligence reports, he was heading on a special quest towards Darjeeling and up through the Borders of Bhutan, to the Himalayas, his destination, the sunken site of an ancient shrine in high Tibet – where the enemy were reported to have set up a secret germ-warfare factory.
“Got an incredible thirst on that partic’lar journey. That’s when I remembered the flask of something extra special in m’ pack. Hah! D’you know, I’d carried it all th’ way from Sebastopol in the Crimea? Good lord, if I’d known what it was like then, I’d ‘ave polished it orf long afore I even got out of the Hindu Kush.”
The Colonel finished his second tumblerful and refilled it, reaching across to refill mine. He frowned to note that I had not yet even finished my first tumblerful, mumbling something about my lagging behind and letting the side down. I gulped the rest down in short order to prove him wrong and wished I hadn’t, as an invisible sledge hammer nearly knocked me sideways.
“That’s where I stumbled upon nine-tenths of the recipe,” Colonel Bagfart continued, seemingly unaware that I was swaying groggily from side to side in my Half-Nelson, thankful for the towering armrests stopping me falling to the floor.
“It was in the Crimea, more than – let me see now – oh, over thirty years back. An Indian chap introduced me to it – name of Puttumbee or Buttumjee or something sim’lar – can never get these damn foreign names straight sometimes y’ know? He’d been working in vineyards and distilleries across Europe, adding ingredients along the way. Dash o’ this – dash o’ that. It started as a sort of doctored claret or burgundy. I’m not sure which, probably both knowing him, and me of course.”
The Colonel shook his head. “Christ! My memory”
It’s the drink I thought dazedly, wondering how in blue blazes he could drink so much and still manage to talk, without slurring even, let alone remember a damn single sodding thing to say.
“More like a Martini vermouth, really,” he continued regardless, “with all its herbal additives and whatnot. No – superior to a vermouth really – or – Anyway, about two parts of it to one part best Napoleon brandy – and a good dash or two of schnapps. And something else, too.”
He paused thoughtfully, looking slightly befuddled. “Now what is it,” he murmured, stroking the rim of his now unlit pipe with sausagey finger and thumb. The drink has got to him, I decided.
Then the Colonel banged a puffy fist on the armrest of his Half-Nelson triumphantly.
“Yes by gad, that’s it! Tequila – or peyote, or mescal. Some travelling Mexican chap I met a little later, calling himself Meester Browne, would y’ believe, suggested it. So I added it! Just a few tots, mind you – f’ good measure. I’ve still got several Nebuchadnezzars of the stuff made up, in the basement cellar downstairs. Anyway, the exact recipe’s all written out and locked up in m’ Nelson bureau, over there.
Colonel Bagfart raised his tumbler. Squinting reverently into its reddened depths.
“Within this scepter’d glass – this magical brew – fit for royal kings. This Otherwordly, yet so Earthly! No, dammit! This concoction so! Oh, dash it all! Where’s that damned ruddy book?”
Sticking his briar between his lips and leaving the tumbler on the little table beside him, the Colonel raised his portly bulk from the leather sanctuary of his huge armchair, and waddled ponderously towards the Carolean mantelpiece that jutted like some great igneous slab above the flame-licked coals of the inglenook.
Muttering through his moustaches, monocle glinting with flickering intensity, he reached towards a fleet of ancient hardbound books, wedged solidly between two massive Indian elephants carved in greenest jade.
“Ah, here it is! M’ parody o’ Shakespeare’s – er – whatchamacallit – in honour o’ th’ virtues of Puttumbee’s.”
Ceremoniously, he removed the dangling briar from his lips, resting it lovingly in an empty brass potpourri on the mantelpiece. Then, walruslike, he rotated towards me, turning the pages of a massive tome with an air of immense purpose.
“This magical brew,” he intoned and proceeded to read on in sonorous baritone, as if he had for long been a thwarted Shakespearian thespian, released after many years of censorial repression.
“Within this sceptre’d glass. This magical brew, fit f’ royal kings. This concoction, otherwordly, yet so earthly and so many other things, provided by nature’s knowing hand, pressed by the minions of Bacchus, for this unhappy breed of empire men, in this festering plundered land. This armament from the soil, and from the firmament, which doctors say is our cursed foe, but which you and I, and others like us know, is always our friend in times of woe, and bugger the liver, which someday, anyhow has got to go. For thus, in this our autumn, with disgust, pissed off, with boredom, we get pissed ourselves so awften. From the courts of Mars, this rich red, bitter sweet. Yea, it is our final, but mercifully sublime retreat.”
The Colonel stood, poised for a moment in silence, while I nodded acknowledgement. I was almost about to clap, even raising my hands tentatively; but the Colonel raised a monocled brow, a scowl of embarrassment puckering his features, and waved me off with a dismissive snort.
“So much f’ that,” he said before I had chance to comment, slamming the pages of the huge book together with a dry crack and a puff of dust that swirled in the air like a swarm of roiling midges.
“Anyway, good or bad, it just about sums up m’ feelings f’ this hagridden country nowadays – and the importance o’ havin’ something as medicinal and therapeutic as Puttumbee’s t’ drown m’ sorrows an’ grievances with.”
He replaced the tome on its shelf, picked up his knobbly pipe and heaved himself back into his massive armchair with a great hissing and squelching of ancient leather.
Lifting his tumbler, he eyed me thoughtfully, one greyish eye huge and glassily magnified, the other, small and piggy looking between its puckered lids.
“Never sampled anything quite like this afore, I’ll bet,” he said, raising his tumbler.
“Absolutely correct,” I concurred. “It takes some getting used to. Ideally, you really need a cast iron gut to handle it well.”
“It’ll put hairs on y’ chest, young fellah!”
“A bloody rug by the time I get through this second glass – and a hangover to last me till Christmas, I shouldn’t be surprised.” I raised my tumbler, regarding the fiery contents warily.
“And I’ve got to be fit enough to go into the recording studio in the morning. Mind you, so have the others – and you should see the state of them. I’m a teetotaller by comparison.”
I looked at my watch.
Ten, fifty-six, and the moon was high in the sky; all gold and misty and peeping gibbously through a black fringe of leaves beyond the diamond-leaded patterning of the Colonel’s windows.
I spent another couple of hours in Colonel Bagfart’s company that evening. Why, I just don’t know. Cajoled by him to be a man and not a spineless whingeing pup, I found myself consuming a few more tumblers of his special Puttumbee and Browne’s secret recipe [brainsmasher, as I’d come to think of it] which he admitted he’d augmented by a slightly increased measure of some of its stronger ingredients.
“Just a dash,” he said, knocking out the contents of his pipe in the inglenook and refilling it. But what’s th’ good of a drink unless it’s a real honest-to-goodness alcoholic drink, “ he added.
Amazingly – though I left the Colonel’s west-wing quarters in a somewhat floating state, I was remarkably unfuddled come morning.
How I managed this, is quite beyond me. It’s not as though I was much of drinker, and certainly not a regular one, such as the Colonel obviously was.
It was to be the first of many evenings that I spent in the Colonel’s company while I was at Bagfart Manor. He was quite a solitary but outgoing individual, obviously glad of company and always keen to socialize.
He’d been married and divorced three times, though was not quite sure how many children he’d fathered, as there’d been many extra-marital dallyings on his military escapades.
Effusive and withdrawn by turns, he was forever pouring out colourful anecdotes based around his experiences in far-off lands, long a go in the days when the British Empire and the Commonwealth were heard of expressions.
At times, he would become quite astoundingly voluble. Alternately, there would be the almost morosely introspective reveries. Sometimes, during these spells, he’d start to nod or shake his head while his eyes grew deep and sad, till I began to wonder if some form of dementia or neurodegenerative condition were setting in.
Then, in the next instant, he’d chortle with some long-buried, esoteric merriment and out would pour yet another of his amazingly colourful stories, his face all a-crinkle, moustaches and eyebrows all a-bushy bristle.
Late on the second evening in his company, I asked the Colonel if he’d ever considered writing his memoirs.
“Hah! Eyes are not so good and m’ hands are a little shaky,” he retorted, holding a full tumbler in an astonishingly steady grip and gracing me with an unwaveringly clear-monocled stare.
“Anyway, most of it’s up here – the lucid bits.” He tapped a grizzled temple.
“And there are a few of those, I can tell y’ – some of ‘em quite hairy, too! Oh, I’ve jotted down bits an’ pieces from time t’ time. Too damned sketchy. I can’t seem to get it to flow right. Never seem t’ find th’ time t’ finish ‘em properly or have th’ patience, either. Lose th’ thread when I start t’ write, though my thoughts flow like crazy and I can talk th’ arse off a donkey about it all. I don’t know.”
The Colonel shook his knobbly baldhead and then glowered at me.
“If you’re so damn bloody interested, why don’t you write ‘em on my behalf?”
“Me? Write your bio – But I -” I wished I hadn’t mentioned the subject.
“Y’ Told me as y’ were a scribbler o’ ditties an’ th’ like. Now here’s y’ chance t’ prove yer mettle on something with a little more substance.” He paused and fondled his double chins.
“I’d pay yer of course, y’ young bounder – if that’s what yer bothered about – if y’ can make a halfway decent job of it, that is.”
He eyed me pensively, lower lip protruding and somehow reminding me of an enormous brooding pike on some riverbed prowl.
“Well –“ I gazed reflectively into the dark red liquid within my tumbler for some time, seeking inspiration, until I realized that the Colonel had just made me a financial offer for services successfully rendered. It would be a chance for me to recoup some of the losses made in expenditure on the recording venture.
Making an album could not only be time-consuming, but also quite costly. Especially if the Psycho De Licks album never found it’s way on the market – a prospect very likely, considering the fact that we were as yet virtually unknown and without agency, or management.
It was a complete gamble on my part, being the singer and writer of all the songs; and aside from the other band members’ accommodation and travel expenses, the hiring of the studio and all its facilities, fell financially on my shoulders.
I lifted my eyes from the tumbler and met the Colonel’s monocled gaze.
“Are you serious?” He nodded his big bald dome.
You can see a full-sized image of the Colonel Bagfart Illustration in the Caricature and Fantasy sections of the Art Pulldown Menu, beneath which is a full account of how, why and when the image was created: In 1979 he was a newly invented Cartoon named Colonel Nesbit Snodgrass but really took off when he was utilized as the central character in an adventure trilogy written in 1989.
Dave Draper, May 2014