Friday, March 31, 2006

Truth in the wine

One of the drawbacks of living in a trailer is the lack of a suitable window from which to empty a bucket of water on anyone who bangs on your door late at night. I was often disturbed in this way during my circus career, and on one memorable occasion it was the ringmaster’s moustachioed face that greeted me when I opened the door.

“Can I commin, GB?” he said, slurring his words.

I smelt alcohol on his breath and regarded him with distaste. He was always like this when his wife was away visiting relatives in France. Adulterous skirt-chaser though he was, the ringmaster felt Cécile’s absence keenly when they were apart.

“Have you been drinking?” I asked.

“Course I bin fuckin’ drinking!” he replied. “Why elz would I be here?”

“Well, what do you want?” I inquired testily.

“I wanna talk, you big-airy fool.”

I didn’t like the sound of this, and would have shut the door on him if I hadn’t suspected he might urinate on my doormat. I decided to let him enter in the hope that he would leave peacefully after I had let him have his say.

“We’ll talk for five minutes and then you’re off to bed, OK?” I said firmly. “Your own bed,” I added carefully.

He came in and sprawled over my couch, while I watched him impassively from a nearby chair.

“GB, I bin suj-an-utter-bastard,” he moaned, rubbing his face with his hands.

I agreed with him entirely, of course, but tactfully withheld my true opinion.

“You must be very tired,” I said. “A good night’s rest and everything will look different in the morning.”

“I’ll be dead in the fuckin’ morning!” he spat out bitterly.

“No you won’t,” I said like a schoolteacher correcting a simple error. “You’ll just be hung-over. I’ll ask Chef to prepare one of his concoctions.”

“My wife, I want my wife!” he bleated tearfully. “She’zo lov’ly. She’zo kind. I don’ deserve her.”

There was much in what he said, but once again I chose my words carefully.

“There, there, she’ll soon be back.” I said with as much sympathy as I could muster.

“Suppose she finds som’un else,” he sobbed. “If she did I’d shoot’im and then kill myself!”

“You devotion does you credit, but I’m sure that Cécile intends to honour her marital vows in full.”

“How d’you know?” he asked sharply. “Hav-ou bin talkin’ to’er behind my back?”

“No, no,” I said reassuringly. “She tells everyone who will listen what a happy marriage she has.”

This was the first outright lie I spoke and it had a powerful effect on the ringmaster.

“Really?” he whimpered, with a wistful smile emerging from beneath the tears. “You’re a real friend, GB. Give me a hug, you big-airy guy.”

Everyone has his limit and mine had been breached. Embracing that slobbering oaf was out of the question.

“I will do no such thing!” I announced adamantly. “The liquor has made you foolish, ringmaster! Remain seated, man! Stay where you are, I say!”

But it was too late! The ringmaster was on his feet and stumbling towards me with his arms outstretched. I deftly avoided him as he approached and tripped him up as he staggered past me. His belly landed on the floor with a thump and only his bloated body prevented his head from getting a bash. He didn’t try to get up and appeared quite contented in his new position. He even seemed to be singing a little song into the carpet. There was only one thing for it. Taking a firm hold of both the ringmaster’s ankles, I hoisted him upside-down so that his head was a few inches off the ground and facing away from me.

“Are you crazy!” gasped the ringmaster. “This izzunt a hug! I’m gonna throw up.”

“Not in my trailer, you’re not!” I retorted.

I proceeded quickly to the door and carried him outside like a fisherman holding a gigantic tuna by its tail. The ringmaster had stopped protesting and was now giggling like an imbecile. The silhouette of his trailer was visible in the moonlight, and when we arrived there I let him down gently. I then removed the keys from his pocket and opened the door.

“Go inside!” I ordered.

The ringmaster grunted, vomited and groaned. He then began a laborious crawl towards the door of his trailer, like a wounded crab looking for a rock to hide under. When at last he was inside, I threw in the keys after him and shut the door firmly. Five minutes later I was back in bed, muttering to myself about the additional duties expected of circus performers these days.

The ringmaster came to see me next day wearing dark glasses.

“About last night, GB,” he said hoarsely. “Best we keep it to ourselves, eh?”

“My sentiments exactly,” I replied curtly.

“That business of carrying me upside down……..”

“It was just the quickest way of getting you back to your trailer,” I interjected. “You were in no condition to walk there on your own.”

“Yes, but GB……..”

“No, I couldn’t have carried you over my shoulder. You might have got sick and the coat I wear isn’t machine-washable.”

“Stop interrupting!” exclaimed the ringmaster. “What I’m trying to say is I found it rather stimulating. If we drove off somewhere quiet, could you do it to me again?”

My initial shock at this request gave way to a cynical realisation as I recalled the ringmaster’s infantile giggling after I had hoisted him. His fetish was similar to that of the judge who dons nappies and asks to be burped by a big-bosomed matron. Fortunately, my knowledge of movie dialogue gave me an apt reply.

“Ringmaster,” I said, meeting his eyes with a steady gaze. “One is cool, but twice is queer.”

The ringmaster lowered his eyes and nodded: “Right, GB. Right you are.”

He wandered off and never brought up the subject again.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A squirrel's tale

The circus I belonged to employed a number of single young women, some as performers and others for work required behind the scenes. Most of these women had active sex lives and our travels gave them a wide experience of what the human male has to offer. In the case of a certain make-up artist named Sandra, he provided both a son and a bacterial infection of the vagina, which was a lot to get from one night of casual sex with a stranger.

The circus allowed Sandra to bring her boy with her when we were touring. His name was Darrell and he must have been around seven years old when I first got to know him well. He had the curiosity of a real little ape, forever climbing into trailers through half-opened windows or squeezing into various nooks and crannies. In honour of these activities he acquired the nickname ‘Darrell the Squirrel’, which didn’t upset him in the least.

Now I don’t want to speak ill of Sandra, a single mother with the stressful job of attending to her career and raising a child in a highly unsettled environment. But it must be said that she didn’t bear the burden of motherhood lightly and sometimes expressed her frustration in a manner that Darrell, young as he was, could understand. This was a pity, for he was a delightful little lad who brightened the life of all who knew him. So it warms my heart to recall an incident in which Darrell the Squirrel proved his worth to his mother and all right-thinking humans.

At one of our venues in England, the ringmaster was given custody of a bungalow at the edge our allotted area for use as an office. He moved some documents into this building and would go there alone, every morning, to attend to various administrative tasks. One day he arranged to meet an accountant there, supposedly to review a pension plan for the circus employees. Soon afterwards we noticed that this accountant, a woman called Miss Wilcock, was turning up for regular meetings, always scheduled when Cécile, the ringmaster’s wife, was out on some errand. It wasn’t difficult to guess what was going on, and one of the girls confirmed the obvious by sneaking over to the bungalow during one of these trysts and listening to the ringmaster grunting like an overheated warthog.

Sandra was a good friend of the ringmaster’s wife and wanted to tell her everything. Aware of the distress that this would cause Cécile, I advised her to adopt a more subtle strategy.

“What do you have in mind?” asked Sandra.

I started by broaching a delicate subject: “I don’t mean to pry, Sandra, but have you or any of your friends recently received an unwelcome letter from a clinic specialising in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.”

“You nosey ape! What do you want to know that for?”

“I have no interest in the identity of the sufferer,” I assured her. “I propose that with the aid of a Xerox machine and typewriter we use that letter to create a similar one addressed to Miss Wilcock.”

A faint smile crossed Sandra’s face, but then she shook her head: “I couldn’t do that to another woman. Besides, she’d know it was a hoax if she hadn’t been to the clinic.”

“We wouldn’t send it to the accountant,” I said. “We’d leave it in the bungalow for the ringmaster to find so he’d think she had mislaid it during one of her visits.”

Sandra grinned appreciatively, but still wasn’t sure: “A woman wouldn’t leave a letter like that lying around. And what if he asks her about it?”

“My judgement is that he won’t,” I replied. “He’ll have other things on his mind. We’ll put the letter in an envelope marked ‘PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL’ so he’ll be sure to read it. You are familiar with the character of the man.”

Sandra laughed and said: “All right, GB, let’s give it a go. You are one devious gorilla!”

“Thank you Sandra,” I said. “I do my best to be of service.”

Funnily enough, Sandra didn’t need to ask her friends about their visits to the STD clinic. For she had kept the letter that she herself had received after conceiving young Darrell, possibly in the hope that it would remind her to behave with due care and attention in any subsequent liaisons with the coarser sex. The forged letter was quickly manufactured. The only remaining problem was how to get it into the bungalow, given that the ringmaster retained the only set of keys. I decided it would have to be a break-in, so I cased the joint after the ringmaster had locked up at mid-day. There was no easy way in – the only point of weakness was a small ventilating window that had been left open. Too small for anyone but a midget or a monkey – or Darrell the Squirrel!

I told Sandra about our dilemma when she was giving Darrell his lunch, and the little rapscallion was positively thrilled by my suggestion that we could put his talent to good use. His mother was less certain.

“I don’t like getting him involved in all this, GB,” she said. “Suppose he gets stuck or something?”

“Oh please, Mum, let me do it!” piped the intrepid youngster. “I NEVER get stuck in windows!”

If only to keep the boy quiet Sandra acquiesced, and we resolved that if it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly. So after he had finished eating, the three of us went to the bungalow, where I showed Master Darrell the open ventilator.

“That’s easy, I’ve done harder ones than that!” chirped the little one confidently.

Inspired by his bravado, we stuffed the envelope into his shirt and told him to leave it lying on the carpet. I hoisted him up to the window to set him on his way and he clambered into the bungalow with extraordinary agility. Like an experienced cat burglar, Darrell the Squirrel was in and out of there in a few minutes – with mission very much accomplished. I helped him out of the ventilator and into the arms of his anxious mother.

“Good boy!” she said, kissing him on both cheeks. “Now remember! You’re not to tell anyone about what you’ve just done!”

I got up early next morning to watch the ringmaster’s movements. He left his trailer for the bungalow at the usual time. I didn’t bother to follow him, reckoning that he would soon be back. So I sat down, reading a newspaper, in front of the entrance to his trailer. A little while later I saw him trotting towards me, probably as fast as a man of his constitution could manage without endangering his health.

“Get out of my way GB, I need to get my car keys,” he panted.

“Good Morning, ringmaster!” I exclaimed. “Tell me, will Miss Wilcock be visiting today?”

His face reddened: “Miss Wilcock,” he mumbled. “What do you want with her?”

“I was hoping she could give me some investment advice,” I replied. “I’ve got some spare cash I want to invest in the stock market.”

“Well that’s too bad because she’s finished her work and won’t be returning,” countered the ringmaster.

“What a pity!” I said, resting my chin on my fist. “Perhaps you could give me her card so I could ask her back for another visit.”

“No, no, that’s out of the question!” said the ringmaster getting flustered. “To be perfectly frank I’m not happy with the quality of her work. In fact she’s been damned unprofessional. I wouldn’t think of anyone here having further dealings with her. I absolutely forbid it! Now get out of my way!”

“She’s been unprofessional!” I said in exaggerated horror. “Well that’s just terrible. Someone really ought to report her. You seem in a hurry, ringmaster. Are you going anywhere in particular?”

“If it’s any of your business, GB, I’ve got an appointment with my doctor,” replied the ringmaster getting irritated. “I think I may have picked up a chest infection.”

“A most vexatious affliction,” I murmured sympathetically, keeping my eyes firmly fixed on his groin. “You’d better get it treated before it spreads to other parts of your body.”

He gave me an unpleasant look as I got out of his way, and I watched him hurry in and out of the trailer and off to his car. After he had driven away, I went over to see Sandra, who had been watching the exchange from the window of her own trailer. I found her laughing hysterically and pumping her fist like a celebrating sportsman.

“That’ll teach the fat bastard!” she said uncharitably. “Great work GB!”

Just then Darrell emerged from his bed, rubbing his eyes, and was immediately hoisted aloft by his exultant mother, who smothered his head in tender kisses. Human infants are sometimes embarrassed to be caressed in this way by their parents, but Darrell showed nothing but pleasure as he wrapped his arms around his mother. It was a sweet start to the day.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Saving Richard Dawkins

My favourite spot for a walk is alongside a steep ravine above the Congo River, whose frothy rapids writhe and hiss hundreds of feet below. As I strolled beside this stunning prospect, one bright and blue-skied morning, I heard a pitiful human voice crying for help:

“Help me! O God in heaven help me please!”

Peering over the precipice, I saw a man hanging from a sagging branch about two feet below the edge. Clasping my hands on some sturdy roots, I allowed my feet to drop down beside him and take a firm grip of his safari jacket. Whimpering with fear, he plucked up the courage to let go of the branch and take hold of my ankles. With a robust heave, I pulled up my knees and hauled him to safety.

For a while he did nothing but lie on the ground sobbing with head in hands. Presently he uncovered his face, and I instantly recognised him as no less a man than Professor Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary theorist. He must have wandered from his guide during a safari trek and stumbled over the edge of the gorge. The bewildering beauty of the African wilderness has been known to lure prominent humans into ill-advised adventures. After he had settled down a little, I tried to reassure him:

“There’s a good fellow, we’ll soon have you back at the base camp.”

He looked at me with the face of an awestruck child beholding a storybook hero.

“Were you sent by God?” he said, his voice faltering with emotion.

This question, which must rank as the most unexpected utterance ever to have come from the lips of Professor Dawkins, left me momentarily dumbfounded. I glanced up above my forehead to see whether a halo was visible, but saw only air. After gaping like a crocodile waiting for a snack, I eventually found my voice:

“Good heavens, no! Whatever gave you that idea? God and I haven’t been on speaking terms since the remake of Planet of the Apes. I wanted Him to strike the director with lightning, but He stubbornly refused to answer my prayers. My name is Gorilla Bananas. It’s a great pleasure to meet you, Professor Dawkins – how do you do?”

I extended my hand, which the eminent ethologist accepted rather gingerly. “You know who I am?” he asked in apparent incredulity.

“Of course I do,” I replied stoutly. “We may be hundreds of miles from what you call ‘civilisation’, but there’s a satellite dish at the safari encampment. And don’t forget the BBC World Service, which I’ve tuned to on many occasions to hear you speak. There can’t be many discerning individuals on the face of the Earth who have not heard of Richard Dawkins: biologist, rationalist, humanist……….and atheist.”

This last allusion of mine caused him to blush and bite his lip. He then began to address me, slowly and uncomfortably:

“Mr Bananas. I will forever be in you debt for the service you have done me today…”

“That’s quite all right, old boy…..” I muttered, holding up my hand.

“No, let me finish please,” continued Dawkins. “I don’t want to impose on your goodwill, but I have a further favour to ask of you. In my heightened emotional state, you may have noticed me refer to a certain supernatural entity.”

“To God, you mean?” I interjected.

“Yes,” said Dawkins, unwilling to speak the word. “In times of abnormal stress, we humans often say and do things that are quite irrational; things which do not reflect our deepest convictions. As one who is familiar with my career, you must know that I frequently engage in debates in which I argue from a rationalist perspective. If what I have said in your presence were to become public knowledge – sentiments which in no way mirror my considered judgements – my credibility would be forever destroyed as a commentator on matters of genuine social importance. Do you follow what I am saying, Mr Bananas?”

I scratched my head. “It rather sounds as if you want me to keep my mouth shut to avoid causing you embarrassment,” I replied.

“Well, I wouldn’t quite put it like that…” stammered Dawkins reddening.

“Of course, I have no desire to see you embarrassed,” I interrupted hastily. “Much of the work you have done makes you a natural ally of the hairy apes. Let me think about your request, Dawkins. We’ll meet at the safari camp before you leave and I’ll tell you what I’ve decided.”

So Dawkins and I met up a few days later, he with his suitcases packed, I with my fur neatly groomed. After finding a quiet place to discuss the ramifications of our recent tryst, I spoke first:

“Dawkins,” I declared. “I am ready to do as you ask, on one condition.”

“And what might that be?” he inquired.

“Let me start by saying that I esteem you greatly as a biologist,” I said. “In this field, your voice carries weight and you are rightly listened to with respect. But you have also acquired a peculiar habit of getting into arguments about religion. Such debates belong to the discipline of social anthropology, a calling outside your area of expertise. What do you hope to achieve by perpetually nagging away on this topic?”

“I want people to give up their superstitions and see the world as a scientist does,” answered Dawkins emphatically. “I want them to abandon religion and look for truth in reason and empirical investigation.”

“In short, you want them to be like you,” I concluded. “The problem, Dawkins, is that most humans aren’t like that. Do you really suppose that people will turn to science just because they stop worshipping God? It’s far more likely that they’ll start worshipping an even bigger arse. Look what happened in Russia: the state practically declared war on God and what good did it do them? Everyone started venerating a lot of vicious buggers with beards and moustaches and the entire nation went to the dogs. Frankly, Dawkins, your reasoning on this matter is unsound.”

The eminent professor clenched his teeth and looked me in the eye: “So what is your condition for holding your peace about the details of our encounter then?”

“I should have thought it’s clear enough. You must stop all this fruitless chatter about God and religion. Stick to biology and evolution, which are your strong suits. And lay off the Catholics as well. They’ve got enough to worry about with all the frock-wearing and pederasty in the priesthood.”

The distinguished man of science took a deep sigh and allowed himself a thin smile. “Since you have the power to discredit me entirely, I have no choice other than to accept your condition. Good Day, Mr Bananas, and thank you once again for saving my life.”

So Professor Richard Dawkins returned to Oxford, and for a while he kept to the bargain we had struck. In the immediate aftermath of his brush with doom, he avoided religious controversies and maintained an informal truce with God. But I regret that he has recently returned to his old tricks in a
documentary screened on British TV. Perhaps he thinks I am no longer keeping tabs on his activities. In the circumstances, he has left me no alternative but to publish a full account of what transpired on that fateful afternoon above the ever-flowing waters of the Congo.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Feminism and the female gorilla

What’s it like being an alpha male with a harem? I won’t deny its good points, but don’t suppose that female gorillas behave like Japanese geisha girls, tip-toeing around the place to satisfy your every whim. These feisty apettes expect the dominant male to earn his position by patrolling the estate and servicing them promptly when they’re in season. What’s more, they outnumber the big guy by a considerable margin and know how to use it to their advantage.

Every so often, the females of a gorilla harem will decide that their hairy sultan has been getting a bit too uppity and needs to be put in his place. Completely without warning, they will jump on him from all sides and use him as a cushion. The male is not harmed as long as he doesn’t resist and accepts his fate passively – otherwise he is liable to get bitten in his tender parts. The females will then eat nuts and gossip until they get bored, at which point the alpha is released and allowed to stretch his sore limbs. It’s a sobering experience for the male, but after it’s over the females are noticeably more relaxed and good humoured. Spending some quality time sitting on Mr Big is a splendid catharsis for them.

Now it’s obvious even to a gorilla that human females have similar feelings towards the male of the species. They want him to be a strong leader, but they also have a powerful desire to knock the stuffing out of him if he gets too arrogant or selfish. Unlike their hairy sisters, however, women have developed an entire science to explain and fulfil this natural urge. They call it “feminism”. The purpose of this discipline is to provide women with an inexhaustible supply of reproaches and taunts that can be used against men in a relentless barrage of invective. The point of interest to a gorilla is whether all this whining actually works. Does it make the woman feel more at ease with herself? Does it bring her satisfaction?

If the feminist cure were indeed effective, one would expect its leading practitioners to be profoundly happy women. Let us take Miss Germaine Greer, author of The Female Eunuch and other feminist tomes, as our case study. Does she strike you as a contented woman? When I put this question to my mentor, Dr Whipsnade, he said not. Indeed, he ventured the opinion that Miss Greer was a less satisfied woman than the nuns of the Holy Order of the Perpetual Chastity Belt. Female gorillas, as I mentioned, are extremely congenial apes once they’ve taken out their frustrations on the alpha male. But feminists? Where is the blissful release of tension from all this incessant nagging? Where is the rapture, I ask?

The mistake that the feminists make is a common human one: the use of language to solve a problem for which it was not designed. What they really want is solid revenge, not windy verbal triumphs. The only purposeful action that feminists ever took was burning their bras – a comically ineffective tactic given that most men are also preoccupied with denuding the female bosom.

I once saw footage of a conference at which Miss Greer was instructing an audience of her irritable sisters. Among the women was a sole male witness called Dave, who listened patiently to the feminist indoctrination until it was time for questions. He then courageously put up his hand and said:

“But I still don’t see what you want!”

The audience booed and barracked Dave as Lady Germaine got to her feet to respond.

“You needn’t worry, Dave,” she declared, “because it sure as hell isn’t you!”

Her brilliant put-down prompted cheers and laughter from her sisters, but had she really answered the question? And did it produce any lasting relief for the assembled sour-faced harpies? Apparently not, for they soon returned to their ill-natured carping. Now if they’d just sat on Dave for half-an-hour, they would have saved themselves and their unlucky spouses many years of mental torment.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Taking a Leakey

One of the hazards of living in Africa is having an anthropologist dig up your back garden. I once saw Richard Leakey pottering about with a trowel, collecting bone fragments and gassing away to his minions as if he knew what he was talking about. When he saw me, he made his salaams and invited me into his tent to discuss his latest theory on “the ascent of man”.

I listened patiently to the eminent earth-digger expound his thesis with much arm-waving, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down like a cork in water. The gist of his argument was that walking upright gave early humans the confidence and poise to carry weapons and scavenge for meat. He imagined that a group of these proto-humans would sneak up on some lions at a kill, make a lot of noise and spear the pride male up the arse. The lions would then scatter in panic, leaving the carcass for the hominids to chop into pieces and carry home to the cooking pot. When he had finished talking, I scratched my neck and gave the following response:

“Leakey,” I declared, “your theory is weak. No weapons fashioned before the Age of Iron would have been effective against the lion, and a pride would not meekly surrender its supper to a gang of upright apes making rude noises. I would also remind you that most lion kills are made at night. Do you really imagine that your ancestors, with their poor night vision, would have dared confront such fearsome predators in the dark? Had they done so, they would have merely added their own flesh to the lions’ feast.”

Leakey ground his teeth and asked me, sardonically, why I thought that humans had evolved their preference for walking on two feet.

“Good question, Leakey!” I replied. “Being upright allowed early humans to peer over the long savannah grass and spot danger from a distance. The erect stance enables a prey animal to carry out evasive manoeuvres in good time to hide from its predators. Your ancestor was not ‘man the hunter’ but ‘man the hunted’. In fact, these hominids were so adept at concealment that many of their hairy cousins doubted whether they actually existed. They were not dissimilar to the mythical fairies and elves in your story books.”

Leakey was not pleased with my explanation and stuck doggedly to his wrong-headed views. Our meeting occurred many years ago, but since then an exhaustive examination of ancient bones and teeth has provided
further evidence on these matters. The conclusion is that early man ate very little meat himself, but quite often ended up as the main course for various carnivores that knew how to winkle him out of his hiding places. I see no reason to rub it in by sending Leakey a gloating e-mail.

I still get visits from anthropologists now and again, eager to exchange ideas and test out their theories on me. One of them found a fibrous substance in an excavation site and speculated that it was some sort of herbal remedy used by early humans. He gave me a sample to examine. I sniffed a bit of the stuff and said: “It’s dried elephant dung, my good fellow. I shouldn’t put it in your tea if I were you.” He shrugged his shoulders and returned earnestly to his work.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The quality of mercy

Towards the end of my circus career I had grown into a big and powerful ape. My human friends came to me with their problems and disputes as if I were a cross between Don Corleone and King Kong. One such incident occurred when we were performing in Essex. It was the summer, and the circus had hired a pair of school leavers on some kind of government training programme. These two lads, called Callum and Travis, were not the best bred examples of English youth, and had a habit of leering at the female acrobats. One of these young women complained to me about them:

“They told me they liked my pink underwear!” she huffed.

“A bit cheeky perhaps,” I replied. “But we can’t punish them for admiring your lingerie.”

“But how do they know I wear pink knickers?” she protested. “They’ve either been rummaging through my locker or spying at me when I’m changing.”

This was a serious allegation. The peeping tom has no place in the modern circus and must be exposed and shamed without mercy.

“I will investigate,” I said gravely.

Our venue was a playing field next to a sports complex in which the circus performers limbered up. I inspected the changing room used by the female acrobats and looked for a hidden vantage point that could be used by a voyeur. I had no success until I noticed a wooden trapdoor on the ceiling. I went to the room above – a large storage facility – and saw that a crack along the edge of the trapdoor had been enlarged with a screwdriver. I put my eye next to the opening and obtained a good view of the changing room below.

After our next show had ended, I observed the entrance of the sports complex and saw the acrobats enter in their performing gear. Callum and Travis followed them a couple of minutes later. When I got to the store room, I saw the two rogues lying next to each other on the floor, peering through the crack in the trapdoor. Their trousers were pulled down to their ankles, and they were panting with hands busy in self-gratification. I could have easily jumped across and collared them, but I decided to give them the chance to surrender by announcing myself:


They dropped their cocks alright, but did not reach for their socks. Instead, they scampered to the fire exit at the end of the room, holding up their trousers by hand, and clambered on to the outdoor staircase. Unfortunately for them, they were immediately noticed by some people below, and soon the eyes of hundreds of departing patrons were turned towards them. In their desperation to escape attention, they climbed up the stairs rather than down them and ended up on the flat roof of the building.

To say that I was in hot pursuit would be a gross exaggeration. A couple of scrawny human adolescents would not escape from a gorilla if he were sleep-walking. I pulled myself up the fire stairs, to much applause below, and saw the two scoundrels hobbling away on the roof, still holding up their trousers by hand. I bounded up to them and tripped them up like a cheetah bringing down a pair of gazelle fawns. Their trousers fell down as they dropped to the ground, revealing some unpleasantly white skin. I glowered at them sternly from above. It was Travis who spoke first:

“Downt queer us up, Gorilla!” he pleaded. “Bummin’ gives ya AIDS.”

“E’s right, Gorilla!” agreed Callum earnestly.

“Don’t be absurd!” I snorted. “Queer you up indeed! I’ve a good mind to throw you off the roof and say it was an accident. How would you like that?”

“You can’t kill us, Gorilla!” begged Callum. “We ain't never ‘ad a woman. Honest! That’s why we wuz lookin’ at dem gals.”

As I had no intention of killing them, I decided to use this revelation as grounds for mercy. “Pull up your trousers,” I said grimly. “I have decided to spare you – not because I attach any value to your worthless lives, but to avoid the bad luck that would befall the circus from killing two virgins. Climb down the stairs and make your way to your supervisor’s trailer – and don’t forget that I’ll be right behind the pair of you.”

Their supervisor was a burly foreman called Eric. On hearing my report, he told the boys they were dismissed and asked them for their cash. They emptied their wallets and he counted it up.

“Should be enough,” said Eric.

He then ordered them into his van and drove away with them – to where I knew not. It seemed a bit odd, but who was I to interfere in the machinery of human justice? Like Captain Picard, I obeyed the prime directive not to interfere in the cultural practices of other life forms unless absolutely necessary, which it wasn’t in this case.

Months later I discovered that Eric had taken them to the house of a middle-aged woman known as Fat Suzie, who had the dubious distinction of being the cheapest whore in Chelmsford – or rather the cheapest ex-whore in Chelmsford, as she had not entertained a client for two years when Callum and Travis were delivered into her clutches. It seems they weren’t too keen to party with her at first, but Eric insisted that they got their money’s worth while he waited outside, and that’s exactly what Fat Suzie gave them. I don’t know if any good became of those two young layabouts, but at least they could no longer use their virginity as an excuse for being peeping toms.

* This line was originally used in a movie, but the actors were not actually holding their cocks at the time.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Harry Houdini: great human

What’s the difference between a showman and a show-off? Anyone who’s worked in a circus can instinctively tell them apart. The showman is motivated by a desire to entertain and enlighten his audience. He will often put their pleasure before his own comfort and safety. “The show must go on” is his motto. The show-off, on the other hand, wants to be worshipped by his fans – he is a man of fragile ego who needs the adulation of the crowd for his own self-esteem.

Some people regard Harry Houdini as a show-off who needlessly exposed himself to danger in order to court celebrity. They are wrong. Although Houdini performed feats that appeared to be magical, he never claimed to have supernatural powers. Before he died, he published a book explaining how he carried out most of his stunts. To his last breath he remained a man of science, committed to a rational investigation of life’s mysteries – which is why one of his favourite hobbies was debunking the claims of spiritualists.

I admit having a personal axe to grind here. When I was in the circus, one of the clowns claimed to be a spirit medium and held a few séances for certain members of staff. I asked the fellow, as a joke, whether he could get in touch with a deceased uncle of mine – a gorilla thought to have perished in the Congo during the gala banquet of a crocodile convention. He invited me into his trailer, sat down with his eyes shut and began to hyperventilate like a pregnant camel.

“Oh yes, GB!” he sighed. “I can feel your uncle’s presence.”

“How is he?” I asked in wide-eyed anticipation.

“He’s very happy and eating plenty of fruit,” spake the clown, nodding wistfully.

“Could you ask him whether he was killed by crocodiles in the Congo?”

The clown moaned and grimaced like a constipated goat. “He did get eaten, GB, but he’s put that incident behind him. One of the crocodiles has since joined him in the spirit world and apologized for devouring him.”

My reaction to this piece of intelligence could be described as the gorilla equivalent of raising one’s eyebrows. I’m all for forgiveness and reconciliation, but a repentant crocodile is a behavioural anomaly that amounts to a contradiction in terms. Curious about what the blighter would say next, I made one final inquiry:

“How does my uncle spend his spare time in the spirit world?”

The clown stretched out his arms and huffed a little more. “He says he climbs up trees and swings from the branches.”

“Well send him my love and tell him I’m glad that he’s conquered his fear of heights,” I remarked dryly as I walked out of the trailer.

The clown’s knowledge of wild gorillas clearly owed more to Hanna Barbera than Dian Fossey, and the man’s performance destroyed whatever faith I had in characters who claim to communicate with the dead. I pity the humans who have fallen for such tosh.

Returning to the subject of Houdini, it is evident that the spiritualists of his day were a lot smarter than that goofy clown. Many of them could make various spine-tingling things happen during their séances and quite a few prominent humans, such as Arthur Conan-Doyle, believed them to be authentic. But Houdini knew better. He showed that most of these “supernatural” occurrences could be reproduced with the aid of a ball of string, some dry ice and a well-trained cat. A lot of people, including Conan-Doyle, fell out with him as a result, but Houdini felt duty bound to expose these shallow tricksters.

The one black mark against Houdini concerns the manner of his premature death. It seems that he had a policy of allowing a fan to punch him in the midriff before his act. Demonstrating your bodily resilience is all very well, but an alpha male should not make a habit of allowing some young scallywag to sock him in the gut. It sends out the wrong kind of message and risks upsetting the social order. Even we male gorillas, who have very hard torsos from all the chest-thumping we do, would never dream of allowing anyone to take such a liberty. No man or beast has ever punched my belly and lived to tell the tale.

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