Picture an infinity of mock-pine workstations (formerly known as desks). Picture a human being at each one of those workstations, each divided from their neighbours by a low sweeping partition, impervious to drawing pins and blu-tac but just high enough to leave their heads visible. Picture me, sat somewhere in the unfashionable end of the western spiral of this galactically dull environment1.
Time moves slowly here. Slower than in the real world beyond the grey rollerblinds marking the distant borders of the Workstation Galaxy. This probably has something to do with gravity. Possibly due the enormous bulk of a female manager four rows and several pay scales away from me. Curse her singularity-inducing bosoms.
It is a quarter to five. It has been a quarter to five for several hours now. I have resorted to marking the passage of time, such as it is, by sporadic trips to the most distance multi-function-device (formerly known as a printer), even though I have nothing to multi-functionally, er, deploy. I have also rotated the corrugated card sheath in which my waxed cup of tea nestles, so that the point at which the sheath is joined to itself exactly matches the join of the waxy cup. Such is my existence. It’s not unlike that bloke in Greek mythology who had to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity. Syphilis, I think his name was. I remember him from an episode of Ulysses 31, though I’m not sure if the giant robot ant they had to fight was strictly part of the original legend.
It is in this mood that I write to you. I feel it’s important to get across the setting in which it is being written. Robert Rankin writes longhand in exercise books sat in the pub, Douglas Adams had to be locked into a hotel room to finish So Long And Thanks For All The Fish. I sit at workstation 04-BK13 (there is also a barcode, I shit you not), and struggle with the brain-squashing numbness of office unlife.
Now, I could start banging on about the many and varied irritations that drift over the partitions and buzz about my head. The cumulative nigglances of Whiny Welsh Bloke’s whiny welsh voice; East End Annie’s inability to speak at anything less than a cat-strangling bellow; Starey-Faced Asian Man’s burnished pate teasing me from behind a coquettish veil of thinning black hair. I could bang on about them and others besides, but I won’t. I don’t hate these people, honestly. I’m just stuck with them forever, until 5:30. So I shan’t fulminate any longer. Disappointing to those of you who like to see me fume impotently I know, but I have another matter to bring before you. A mysterious matter of unknown origin…
Regular readers may be aware of my on-off relationship with Radio 4, especially on a Thursday evening. Dubious comedies not fit for a proper TV series, that interminable agricultural drama, poncey arts magazines and so forth. Eagle-eared listeners may also have come across a programme called A History of The World, In 100 Objects. I include the comma in the title deliberately – the voiceover always pauses between World and In, as if to tease you with the possibility of a proper world chronology before snatching it away by reducing the entirety of global history to some bloke’s hundred favourite items from the British Museum. Since the bloke in question is the museum’s curator, a doubtless decent but forgettable chap whose name has already escaped me, the objects are guaranteed to be worthy lumps of archaeological ephemera which would barely warrant the merest flicker of the museum-goer’s eye as they hurried, and rightly so, straight to the room where they have genuine mummified crocodiles (oh yes). But this is the British Museum teamed up with the BBC, and Radio 4 at that, so what we get is a series of fifteen-minute yawnoramas about Cretan ceremonial goblets, Mayan birthing stones and Polynesian arse-flutes.
All very worthy, all very BBC, all desperately dull. But, and we’re finally getting to today’s subject, it did at least inspire me to present an object of my own for your fascination and wonderment…
“A History Of The Pouch (pause) In One Object”
“The object under examination tonight dates from the Pouch’s early period, prior to any known written records. It is a fired clay figurine some six inches in height, crudely fashioned by hand, though there is some evidence of primitive tool use around the base and head.
The figure itself is Sejant Erect in attitude, seated upon a three-legged device not unlike a stool. The head, such as it is, is raised slightly, as if questioning, or perhaps addressing a crowd of supplicants. Its right forelimb bears an item of unknown provenance, possibly representing a lit brand, a ceremonial baton or else a single scoop ice-cream. The limbs themselves are jointless and digitless, mere clubbed stumps such as a child might fashion to imitate elephant legs, or else to get out of having to model fiddly bits like fingers. All four limbs are spread, as if delivering a benediction, or else inviting the observer to stroke its swollen paunch. The trunk of the figure is a solid featureless affair, lacking any obvious sexual characteristics – ruling out any possibility that the object is an effigy to some forgotten fertility spirit. Here as, elsewhere upon the figure, we see the tell-tale marks of the sculptor – a partial fingerprint here, a moistened thumb-smoothing there, the occasional attempt to impart texture and detail using a fingernail.
But it is the head of the figure that is truly the most fascinating part of the object. A vast snouted proboscis juts forth from a misshapen neckless mass, sporting pendulous, almost turgid ears which dangle down to brush the forelimbs. The suggestion of a short mop of hair covers the crown of the head, masking the eyes, if indeed it has eyes…
Is the creature blind? Does it, like Lady Justice, choose not see, oblivious to the invocations of its petitioners? Or is it merely in need of a proper bloody haircut, much in the style of Adam Parkinson out of Butterflies?
So, what does this figure represent? To what purpose was it fashioned from rude clay? Is it a household charm, intended to sit in a niche by the fire pit and bestow good fortune upon some ancient tribal unit? Is it a forgotten god of some animistic belief system, embodying the concepts of blind benevolence, sturdy furniture and massive noses? Perhaps it is some sort of antediluvian gaming piece, a sort of ‘lost chess man’ from an earlier age, now forever separated from his fellows. If it was ever intended to move diagonally on the whites or do a funny sort of L-shaped hop, we shall never know. For now at least, this strange chimera will remain a tantalising chapter in… A History Of The Pouch (pause) In One Object.”
Alternatively, should you have had the pleasure of doing some sort of pottery class at school in the 1980’s and can remember what on Earth it was that Mrs Medd (née Dobie) set us for practical work that week, please do get in touch. I half recall being given a passage to read not unlike an Edward Lear poem, which described a peculiar womblesque beastie, but I’ve hit a dead end packed full of Quangle-Wangles and Scroobious Pips.
I tried a Google image search for ‘womble stool ice-cream’ and got absolutely nowhere. But a word of caution: never Google anything with the word ‘stool’ in it. The results can be unsavoury.