It’s Christmas. So I decided to take a little time off and write something completely different. I mean Completely Different. I don’t know what strange part of my head it came from, but It looks like I need a rest!
‘Did I ever tell you the story of my eccentric great uncle Cosmo and his hiccups?’ said our hero as he took his accustomed place against the bar of The Jilted Widow.
The other regulars shook their heads.
‘Great uncle Cosmo.’ continued our hero, after taking a sip of Boggles’ Old Wonky. ‘My mother’s middle uncle. Nice chap, but totally off his head. He once ate nothing but Brussels Sprouts for a month in the belief that it would enable him to speak French. Of course it had no effect, except that great aunt Philomena thought it prudent to keep him away from naked flames for a week or two.
‘Anyway, one day, he suffered a prolonged and vicious attack of the hiccups. I mean, violent. Awful, just awful. Every time he hiccuped his hat jumped off his head and his teeth wobbled. It was so loud that it frightened the cats. Worst of all it made him spill his tea down the front of his waistcoat. This got him into trouble with great aunt Philomena, who had what you might call a very protective attitude towards his wardrobe after she found seven of his best bow-ties pinned in his lepidoptera collection under the label Species unknown. Dead when discovered.
‘The hiccups lasted for hour after hour, and after he’d lost two hats and ruined five waistcoats great aunt Philomena decided that enough was enough. She consulted her copy of ‘Doctor Vortigern’s Home Medical Dictionary and List of Embarrassing But Highly Amusing Ailments’ and discovered that in order to cure hiccups you needed either 1) a good shock or 2) to hold your breath for one minute.
‘Well, old Cosmo was nothing if not courageous, so he decided to go for the shock treatment.
‘From the attic he procured a large antique bulb horn—you know, one of those things old cars used to have, like a trumpet with a big rubber bulb on the end?
‘His plan was to sneak up on himself and give himself a good old hearty honk up the rear end. It was a wheeze that used to work a treat when he was young, when many an elderly person found their perambulations amusingly enlivened and their equilibrium hilariously reorganised by an unexpected parp round the nether regions.
‘Sadly, it didn’t work this time. The problem was that no matter how stealthily he approached himself he always heard himself coming, thereby rendering himself effectively shock-proof from that direction.’
At this point our hero drained his pint, and looked expectantly at the group of listeners who had gathered around him. Don’t-mind-if-I-do-John was the first to offer him another drink. He was always the first, hence his nickname.
‘Don’t mind if I do John. Same again please.’ said our hero.
‘But back to Uncle Cosmo’. He took another refreshing glug ‘ Having failed to give himself a shock, his next remedy was to hold his breath for 30 seconds.
‘This proved to be a lot harder than expected.
‘You see, no matter how vigorously he breathed into his hand, and no matter how firmly he tightened his grip, the breath just seemed to trickle out between his fingers. He tried it with his left hand, then his right hand, then with both hands together. He even tried breathing out really quickly and catching his breath in his cupped hands like a slip fielder catching a cricket ball.
‘But it was no good.
‘No matter what he did he just couldn’t hold on to his breath at all, let alone hold it in his hand for thirty seconds. It just evaporated.
‘He was devastated. Neither of the remedies worked and his hiccups had now become so bad that he’d begun flatulating in unison with the spasms. Although this produced a harmonically diverting and original sound it was totally beyond the pale as far as Philomena was concerned, and she was giving him the look.
‘He knew that look. The last time he was on the other end of that look she had instructed his manservant Spratt to substitute his evening brandy for a cup of beef extract.
‘It was awful. He didn’t quite know what beef extract was, but he imagined it involved placing a healthy ruminant under some sort of gigantic hood-like extraction contrivance, which then, after much sucking and gurgling, produced a cup of disgusting brown liquid at one end and discharged the previously healthy cow, confused, emaciated and knock-kneed with weakness out of the other. It was cruelty to animals, that’s what it was. Besides, the stuff tasted like cow breath and made him dream of giant buttercups.
‘He couldn’t face it again.
‘He wouldn’t face it again.
‘He’d come to the end of his tether.
‘And, he decided, he would end it all.
‘Now, great uncle Cosmo was what you might call flamboyant. He had a flair for the unconventional and spectacular, which was of course helped by the fact that he was just one headstand away from being invited into the Napoleon farm.
‘So, when he decided to depart this vale of tears (and beef extract) it would be in a way that no one had ever attempted before.
‘He decided to jump off. . .the planet!
‘It was brilliant! Unique! Theatrical! And it wouldn’t make a mess of the furniture and carpets. It was perfect.
‘Accordingly, he made his way to the Town Square and proceeded to jump.
‘And jump. And jump again. And again. And again, and again and again. . .
‘But it was no good.
‘However high he jumped he just came down again.
‘After ten minutes of robust rebounding, all he had to show for his pains was, well, pains. All over, from his twisted ankle to his bobbling eyes, not forgetting his bursting chest.
‘He had failed again. All was lost.
‘He sank to the floor in misery, and contemplated his future.
‘Beef extract. The look. Hiccups. For the rest of his life. . .
‘Hold on! Hiccups? What hiccups?
‘That’s when he realised.
‘The hiccups were gone!’
There was a momentary silence in the bar of The Jilted Widow as the goodly throng that had by now assembled round our hero absorbed the full meaning of those momentous last words, and then broke into spontaneous, hearty applause.
‘Oh Bravo!’ cried some. ‘An absolute tour de force.’
‘Nice one’ cried others, who had only gone to secondary school.
‘Zwat zee sayininin? (burp) Pardnon.’ said Old George Jones, who had been in the pub since opening time.
‘But what’s the point of the story?’ asked a stranger impatiently when the general tumult had settled down. He had only popped in to ask for directions and had left his engine running.
‘I know.’ piped up Combine, eagerly. ‘It’s that in order to hold your breath properly you need leather gloves for the grip.’
‘Yes. That’s reasonable Combine, bless your heart’ answered our hero, ‘and the same thought probably occurred to great uncle Cosmo. But I think there are other lessons to learn.’
‘Which are?’ asked Combine.
‘Well, maybe that we shouldn’t be afraid to attempt the impossible, because we might just achieve the improbable. And that problems will very often solve themselves in unexpected ways.
‘And talking of problems, my glass has mysteriously gone empty. I don’t mind if I do. . . anyone?’