The Case of the Gigantic Can’t Be Arsed

March 23, 2010

Do you know what I’m sick of? I’m sick of this goddam essay (essay not included). With each word I add it becomes longer and boringer. And the addition of each subsequent word becomes more laborious. And the whole thing toils along with a stillborn tediousness.

I’m thinking of entirely giving up on the idea of putting words next to each to create a meaning greater than the individual particles. I don’t think it works. Not sure there’s anything in it. Outmoded flummery. Soon we’ll be able to move ideas around with our EYEBALLS and then what sort of idiot will I look?

I’ll tell you what I do like though. I like the little pretend stories put at the beginning of actual stories that you get sometimes. Presumably fun ideas the author had which didn’t quite fadge, or amusing whimsies, help add a bit of solidity to the whole thing. This sort of thing, Sherlock Holmes of course, The Musgrave Ritual –

“There are cases enough here, Watson,” said he, looking at me with mischievous eyes. “I think that if you knew all that I had in this box you would ask me to pull some out instead of putting others in.”

“These are the records of your early work, then?” I asked. “I have often wished that I had notes of those cases.”

“Yes, my boy, these were all done prematurely before my biographer had come to glorify me.” He lifted bundle after bundle in a tender, caressing sort of way. “They are not all successes, Watson,” said he. “But there are some pretty little problems among them. Here’s the record of the Tarleton murders, and the case of Vamberry, the wine merchant, and the adventure of the old Russian woman, and the singular affair of the aluminium crutch, as well as a full account of Ricoletti of the club-foot, and his abominable wife. And here–ah, now, this really is something a little recherch√©.”

I want to know about the singular affair of the aluminium crutch. Not about a treasure map, which 12 generations of Musgraves haven’t been able to work out is a treasure map, despite clearly being a treasure map. Actually, might as well put it here, some of the lines are a bit abstract admittedly, but I’ll give you a clue, there’s one line that is a dead giveaway –

“‘Whose was it?’

“‘His who is gone.’

“‘Who shall have it?’

“‘He who will come.’

“‘Where was the sun?’

“‘Over the oak.’

“‘Where was the shadow?’

“‘Under the elm.’

“How was it stepped?’

“‘North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five, south by two and by two, west by one and by one, and so under.’

“‘What shall we give for it?’

“‘All that is ours.’

“‘Why should we give it?’

“‘For the sake of the trust.’

400 years this imbecile family performed this ritual without ever wondering what it was about.

Ornamental stories. Here’s a good one from The Reigate Puzzle –

It was some time before the health of my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes recovered from the strain caused by his immense exertions in the spring of ’87.¬†The whole question of the Netherland-Sumatra Company and of the colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis are too recent in the minds of the public, and are too intimately concerned with politicians and finance to be fitting subjects for this series of sketches. .. Even his iron constitution, however, had broken down under the strain of an investigation which had extended over two months, during which period he had never worked less than fifteen hours a day, and had more than once, as he assured me, kept to his task for five days at a stretch. Even the triumphant issue of his labors could not save him from reaction after so terrible an exertion, and at a time when Europe was ringing with his name and when his room was literally ankle-deep with congratulatory telegrams I found him a prey to the blackest depression. Even the knowledge that he had succeeded where the police of three countries had failed, and that he had outmanoeuvred at every point the most accomplished swindler in Europe, was insufficient to rouse him from his nervous prostration.

So here’s a boring story about Reigate involving preternaturally stupid criminals and witnesses. That guff about it all being too recent in the mind and too intimately concerned with politicians and finance is massive lies by the way. Read the first story in His Last Bow if you don’t believe me – doesn’t bother him there. Actually don’t. It’s really bad.

Here’s a couple of good ones from the short story Opening the Door by Arthur Machen –

I must allow, however, that during my ten years or so in Fleet Street, I came across some tracks that were not devoid of oddity. There was that business of Campo Tosto, for example. That never got in the papers. .. My news editor was struck by something odd in the brief story that appeared in the morning paper, and sent me down to make inquiries. I left the train at Reigate; and there I found that Mr Campo Tosto had lived at a place called Burnt Green – which is a translation of his name into English – and that he shot at trespassers with a bow and arrows. I was driven to his house, and saw through a glass door some of the property which he had bequeathed to his servant: fifteenth-century triptychs, dim and rich and golden; carved statues of the saints; great spiked altar candlesticks; storied censers in tarnished silver; and much more of old church treasure. The legatee, whose name was Turk, would not let me enter; but, as a treat, he took my newspaper from my pocket and read it upside down with great accuracy and facility.

And then there was the affair of the J.H.V.S. Syndicate, which dealt with a Cabalistic cipher, and the phenomenon, called in the Old Testament, ‘the Glory of the Lord,’ and the discovery of certain objects buried under the site of the Temple at Jerusalem; that story was left half told, and I never heard the ending of it. And I never understood the affair of the hoard of coins that a storm disclosed on the Suffolk coast near Aldeburgh. From the talk of the longshoremen, who were on the look-out amongst the dunes, it appeared that a great wave came in and washed away a slice of the sand cliff just beneath them. They saw glittering objects as the sea washed back, and retrieved what they could. I viewed the treasure – it was a collection of coins; the earliest of the twelfth century, the latest, pennies, three or four of them, of Edward VII, and a bronze medal of Charles Spurgeon. It is very clear, for example, that the hoard was not gathered by a collector of coins; neither the twentieth-century pennies nor the medal of the great Baptist preacher would appeal to a numismatologist.

It’s probably just his ancient little folk again, but still, it might not be. Might be time travel. Might be an early version of Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. That’s the great thing about these little ornamental stories, they provoke the imagination.

Anyway, back to writing. Not going to happen. Never going to tell the strange story of Faber Finds and the Great God Mammon burning Human Flesh in his Court of Gold, the case of the Cowardly Italian and the Medieval Snail Combat, or the Mysterious Flying Cars of de Montherlant, or even The Story of the Rescue of Reality by Tintoretto and Its Eventual Dissipation by Magnasco. How can I? I’ve been writing the same paragraph over and over again for two months.

Just going to go all floppy. Drift for a bit. See what’s on the telly. New Fall album’s out soon.