Uninformed consent

31 January, in the year of our Lord 2022 (part the Second)

(Warning: herein is contayned informacion of a lurid and unsavoury, but ultimately strangely compelling, medical Nature.)

…And so by 1 a-clock I find my way to a dank part of St. Judes Hospitalle where I hear the echo of constant dripping and water rushing behind the walls, for the hospitalle sits by the great pumping wheel of the City. I am met by a nurse with the overall shape and cheek colour of a shiny red apple straight from the tree. She beams up at me and in no time I am left to put on my dressing gown and splosh my way through a door marked This Way to the Scoap. The room is again dimly lit, but I am aware of the rosy-cheaked nurse, a businesslike nun in a fine wimple and a young man in operating theatre greens and mask. There are puddles everywhere and I notice the little nurse to be wearing galoshers and the young man bright yellow wellington boots; the nun I cannot ascertayne for her habit is voluminose, though she hath a wide gait and her knees rise high when she walks.
  ‘Good afternoon, Mr. Pepys,’ says he. ‘This is Sister Polyuria and I am the Registrar.’ (How marvellous! think I, relaxing a little. I am not in the hands of a mere consultant.) ‘We are the team who today will be inserting this enormose hosepipe up your tiny orifice into your innards, tipping in gallons of water from that huge cask on the stand there, taking a look around by means of this Heath-Robynson arrangement here, and secretly hoping to find some awesome bit of Pathology so I can practise emergencie pelvic surgery and tick another box in my Portfolio. Sister will position you on the table, and our novice, Glomerula, will be there for reassurance.’ He flashes a quick smile. ‘Ours, not yours.’
  This is all happening a little more speedily than I imagined. I cast around to see what I must do next.
  ‘Mr. Pepys, you appear to be wearing your dressing gown over your ordinary winter clothes,’ says Sister, crossly.
  ‘I have taken off my coat,’ protest I, but she will not be swayed and clearly more layers must be removed.
  ‘You will need to take off your linen socks… (which I do)
      ‘…and your woollen stockings… (which I do)
            ‘…and your velvet breeches…’
  ‘Surely that is all?’ protest I.
  ‘Not quite,’ says she, sternly. ‘And now the cotton pantaloons.’ But then, before I can comply, ‘Mr. Pepys, what is that sticking out?’
  I look down in alarm to my crotch.
  ‘That is my cataplasm,’ say I with relief, as I fish it out awkwardly from beneath the remaining layers, ‘applied four weeks ago on the instruction of my own doctor.’
  ‘You are supposed to change it daily,’ says she, taking it with disgust between finger and thumb.
  ‘Change it?’
  ‘And now the silken drawers.’
  ‘But they are all I have left on!’ cry I, reddening in my state of flummoxy. I look in vain at the others to see if I have misunderstood, but I have not.
  ‘The Snugjunk, Mr. Pepys. We do not have all day.’
  And so I remove the garment that last hides my modestie, but, in the struggle and discomfiture of so doing before so many, to my great alarm something firm and spherical falls from between my thighs.
  ‘A-a-agh!’ squawk I, aghast, as I follow its trajecktory to the floor. My hands fly to my mouth in abject terror. ‘It has come to this! I am emasculated!’
  ‘Nonsense, Mr. Pepys. Everything appears present and correckt,’ says Sister, eyeing my Parts with disdain.
  ‘Then what is that?’ cry I in horror as she stoops to retrieve with distaste what has fell at my feet.
  ‘No doubt the lesion reported by Brother Renald, and the source of your day’s discomfort. It appears to be an old pomander. Now, lie upon the couch.’
  And so, un-clothed and exposed from my waist down, I lie with my head upon a pillow and gaze at the ceiling while the Registrar sets about his work.
  ‘This will feel a little cold, and may sting — ’ (both of which are true) ‘ — and I will just need to take him…and hold him here — ’
  At which point springs into my mind an improper image of la femme MacSporran, along with great alarm at its potential for embarrassment. But the little red-cheeked novice seems to read my mind, for she grasps my hand to reassure me.
  ‘Try to take your mind off matters by thinking of something relaxing, Mr. Pepys,’ burbles she. ‘Something you are looking forward to.’
  ‘Well, I am buying for myselfe a new coach,’ say I, thinking it relaxing enough.
  ‘Marvellous!’ cries she. ‘I can just see you with a great thrusting red Ferrari!’
  ‘That is not what I had in mind!’
  ‘Then imagine you are on holiday! In Paris beneath the Eiffel Tower! Or admiring the Washington Monument!’
  ‘I should prefer to imagine myself upon some sun-drenched beach with waves lapping the nearby shore.’
  ‘Ah, yes!’ cries she. ‘With high pressure pumping the mercury to the very top of the barometer!’
  ‘You are a novice, aren’t you?’ say I, drily, and then ‘Oh!
  ‘We’re in!’ comes a cry from between my legs. ‘Sister, man the bucket!’ At which the nun climbs upon a stool and by means of a pulley hoists a great bucket up to the leaky barrel above her. Water sloshes everywhere as a clanking mechanism tips it so that the bucket’s contents top up the cask. As her skirts ride up I see she is wearing a pair of black flippers.
  ‘Now then, Mr. Pepys, if you wish to watch proceedings, all is revealed on the magick screen here.’ The Registrar indicates what seems to be a great convex mirror up and to my left, only what is visible upon it is no form of reflexion but what appears to be the distorted interior of a great wet pink balloon. He feels obliged to provide a guided tour.
  ‘These are the openings of the ureters — ’ (and I admit a resemblance to Dr. Scarborough’s dissection) ‘ — like the eyes of a snake.’
  ‘Sometimes,’ whispers the little novice confidentially, ‘we see them wink.’
  ‘Now I will turn the ’scope upon itself to examine the Neck of the bladder…and then, as I withdraw, we will see the orifice of the duct responsible for — ’
  ‘Yes, thank you very much. The narration more than suffices,’ say I.
  ‘But, wait, what have we here?’ He pauses and the image congeals. What we have here appears to me to be not only malevolent but huge, for it fills the entirety of the magick screen. I ask guardedly as to its nature.
  ‘It is a Lesion,’ says the Registrar knowledgeabubblie. ‘If you would be kind enough to keep very still, I shall make a sketch of it. I shall need to discuss it with the boss.’ (There is a Senior Registrar! think I with some comfort. The person who knows the most of all! And I am greateful once more to be in such hands.)
  ‘There,’ says he again at length. ‘Out!’ And the screen goes dark. ‘Now then, I am going to ask you to lie on your left-hand side. We need to examine the prostatae. You need not be alarmed. It is a digital examination.’
  ‘I know,’ say I, airily, for since the test drive of my new coach I am fully conversant with the subject and assume the Technologie, with its magick screen and little pictures, and its box with tiny lights, to be tucked out of sight. ‘How marvellously state-of-the-art!’
  ‘Not quite.’
  ‘What??? — Oh!!!’ and I take a sharp in-breath.
 ‘Uh-huh…’ murmurs he, squinting at the ceiling as he executes the job at hand, ‘…just round here…’
  ‘…and a bit up here…’
  ‘…and around there…’
  ‘…and there we are, done!’
  ‘Sister, the sluice!’
There is the slapping of deliberate but ungainly splashy footsteps as she disappears from view, and then, with a great clanking of chains and an immense gurgle from a nearby drain, we are finished.
  After a short while I am dressed again to meet the cold, and while Sister is busy with mop and bucket the Registrar summarises my Management Plan, which is to be as follows: viz. — that the amount of tumour poison in my blood is of a normal degree, so naught is necessary there; no stone is present, but he will discuss with colleagues the charcoal sketch he hath made, and that I am to expect a further appoyntment to have the depicted Lesion removed; that the nature of Brother Renald’s other findings be confirmed by magick ray etchings; and now if I have no questions that will be all for today.
  ‘Do you not wish to see my consent form?’ ask I as I button my coat.
  ‘Oh, God, they’re not using them now, are they?’ says he, and declines it. ‘But if you want to write to say you had a great time, I can put that in my Apraisall.’
  After supper, to bed, though disturbed all night by nightmares of fighting my way out of a pink balloon before I drown.


Three saints and a brother

31 January, in the year of our Lord 2022 (part the First)

Up betimes, having all night a very poor sleep for some anxietie playing upon my mind, which was not for the Procedures themselfs, which I was to undergo today in the Hospitalle, but for what might be uncovered by them. It being a cold, dark winters morning, and no fresh candles to hand, fumbled with inadequate light in a drawer for clean undergarments, all tidied away amongst an assortment of old sachets, draw-string bags of herbs and pott pourees placed there by my late wife to freshen the linen, and these I put on, wishing to be well-dressed at all layers, though strangely now aware of a new discomfort in the nethers when I thought all settled with my antebiotick. Wriggled to try to better it but did not succeed and found it worse when I sat, so at breakfast stood to eat a little porrage and drink a little tea to swallow my Physick. After, read again the sheaf of informacion sent to me, to ascertain I had missed naught, which comprised The Nature of Cistoscopie and What To Expect (or Otherwise) from an Exceptionally Sound Examinacion, a booklet entitled St. Judes Hospitalle ~ Percepts & Precautions for the Covey Plague – in which is describ’d for the Benefitts of Patients and Sundry visiters the Preventitive Measures Taken and Safe Guards hereby put in Place for the Contaynment of the Spread of sub-Type B.1.1.529, a.k.a. the Ommercron Varyant, and a consent form which simply said ‘Sign Here ☞ ’.
  Thus, garbed against the winters cold and with my dressing gown in my little bag, at 11 a-clock found I myselfe within the precincts of the ancient Hospitalle, on a cold stone corridor lit by a few guttering candles that afforded no heat, where sat awhile beneath a cold stone arch upon a cold stone bench, whose hard surface increased the new pain in the region of my perinium, and caused me to fret anew that I was cursed once more by the stone. By and by came from the shadows a stooped and hooded figure, garbed all in black, face invisible between black cowl and black mask, who seemed to find his way by feeling the pillars of the arches beside him, and stood before me.
  ‘Who is there?’ asks he.
  ‘My name is Pepys,’ say I. ‘I have an appointment at eleven for an Exceptionally Sound Examinacion.’
  ‘My name is Brother Renald. I am one of the kidney monks and I will be performing your examinacion today. Come.’
  And so he led me further along the corridor, to a heavy wooden door on great iron hinges, where he seemed to feel with his finger tips for the latch. The room was larger than I expected, but with little more within than a pair of paynted statues, a chair, a bench, some candles and a curious instrument in the form of a slim black cone, set upon the floor. Each corner of the room vanished into shadows, as did the apex of its vault, where I sensed the presence of small bodies, hanging. The monk pushed back his hood, and now I saw that in his eyes was the whiteness of milk where should be the black depths of the pupil.
  ‘The candles are for your benefitte, Mr. Pepys,’ says he. ‘Now, perhaps you would be good enough to remove your tunic and waistcoat, loosen your belt, lift up your shirt and lie upon the bench on your left side.’
  I having done as entreated, he took up his slender black cone and proceded to place the larger cyrcumference of this device upon my flank, whereupon I perceived that its slim flare narrowed to a delicate mechanism at the smaller end, and that this provided a close fit to the external Oriffice of his left ear. Thus positioned, he extracted from within his capaciose robe a tiny tuning fork, which he struck upon the bench and placed vibrating upon my hip bone, though I could hear no noyse from it. Thus alternately striking and placing he listened, moving his strange trumpet with methodickle intent across my flank whilst seeming to map in his mind what he heard. The same procedure now with the other side, until all seemed to satisfy him and I was bid dress.
  ‘I believe there to be a slight anomallie,’ says he, straightening to sum up, ‘posterior to the lower pole of the right kidney, perhaps arising from the corticle Structures of the kidney itself or possibly lying within the perinephric fat, more likely cystique than solid.’
  ‘I see,’ say I, deflated to take on board this unexpected finding.
  ‘There is something else,’ continues he. ‘It is beyond the confynes of my examination and I may be picking up some bat squeeks, but I sense a curiose space-occupying Lesion in the vicinitie of the perinæum. Does it pain you there?’
  ‘Since this very morning when I dressed,’ say I, further deflated and anxiose, ‘I have had a pain at the very site where Mr. Hollier the chyrurgeon cut me, if that is the position you mean.’
  ‘I will report my findings. You have another appointment later today, I believe?’
  ‘I do, at 1 a-clock. Thank you for your time,’ say I and then, while I tie my cravatt, I attempt to disguise my disquiet and venture, ‘May I ask who are these here?’
  ‘Ah,’ says he, seeming to follow my eyes, ‘they are fine statues, are they not? This is St. Vitalis of Assisi, the patron of our little order. The other is St. Henry the Exuberant,’ and here he permits himself a wry smile, ‘who is said to have suffered a chronic urinery infection from which he sadly died. Allow me to show you out.’ …


Toggle off

24 January, in the year of our Lord 2022

Waked and up, and, it being a bright sunshine, purposed afresh to draw plans for a new coach, and so set out by my coach to the coachmakers, where I did take mine for a repair two weeks ago, waiting upon their investigacion of a noyse from beneath its body, which I did hear especially on rough streets, but after some hours unable to find the source of it, though they heard it as plain as day, they reassured me it was of no consequence, but only some little annoyance, and the coach safe to be driven, though I think now it is even worse and more expense will come with it, if I keep it.
  There took for a ride a new coach that they had, and rode a mighty fine ride in it, only that in the years since my last coach, all is changed inside, with so many little things that emprove it, such as glass in the windows. But to drive it — Lord! how everything is controll’d with little devices, the like of which I never saw, and so I must ask in a witless sort of way the manner of their working.
  ‘Everything hath changed since last you bought a coach,’ says the coachmaker, as we sit together on the raised seats at the front. ‘All is now digital.’
  ‘Digital?’ say I.
  ‘Digital means anything done by a magick screen with little pictures, or in a box with tiny lights,’ says he.
  ‘Ah, yes,’ say I, wishing to demonstrate evidence of catching on. ‘I have seen those tiny lights on my new musical box. The sound does not work unless they are twinkling.’
  ‘Those are Ellie Dees. Now, this device here — ’ (he demonstrates a little magick window by where lie the reins, fixed at knee height by a sturdy metal rod) ‘ — is the centre of Reason for the whole affair.’
  I look where he points and see on the screen a collection of arcane symbols in many colours.
  ‘Are they Masonic?’ ask I in awe.
  ‘They are Ikons, there to provide warnings of sundry natures. I shall take you through them one by one. This — ‘ (he points at a little yellow one) ‘ — will inform you how far you may travel before refilling the horses nosebags. And with this — ’ (he prods a little orange one) ‘ — you may set the trot speed: six miles an hour, say, or seven if you dare.’
  ‘And this little brown one?’
  ‘Emissions, so you may stop and your servant get out with a shovel.’
  We move on.
  ‘This selection here is where we control the sound system.’
  ‘I see! How marvellous! This orange one here?’
  ‘That warns that you are about to hear Any Answers, which might otherwise ruin a Sunday afternoon in the park.’
  ‘And this red one?’
  ‘That is the Dissembling icon. You can toggle it to Johnson On — ’ (which he does, so we hear, ‘Mr. Speaker, I can once again reassure the House that no Lockdown Rules were broken at any point during — ’) ‘ — or Johnson Off.’ (‘Sailing By’ plays.) ‘Off is the default and we have never seen it changed.’
  ‘And can I play my own music?’
  ‘There is room at the back for a small lutenist.’
  So, swept along by enthusiasm I say I will buy one, its livery to be Attol blue, varnished metallick, with a black velvet enterior, so leave a depositt, 30l 3s.
  And so home in boyant spirits, though they did not last, for after a late dinner came correspondence, informing me I must attend the Hospitalle, in one weeks time, and, after supper, read in the gazette that our spies in Mosco fear that the Emperor of Russia thinks to envade the Cossack lands, which I think should freeze all the hearts of Evrope if it come to pass.


I feel it in my water

4 January, in the year of our Lord 2022

Up betimes, ill-slept after my being so restless yesterday, which was cold and a holyday. After breakfast made my Call to Dr. Burnett, but found him away, so must discribe my symptomes to Dr. K. Roberts (which is a woman, though well-bred) and tell how I filled am I with a great foreboding lest they mark the return of my stone, which I was cut for these many years, or worse. The settlement thus: viz., that I may take a second antebiotick, but matters must first be subject to an examination for Culture and Sensitivitie (at which I feel slighted for she must know me to own these attributes, so I retort that my median score for Wordle is 4 goes, and that I am frequently brought to tears when a shabby heirloom is declared priceless on the Anticks Road Show); second, I must apply a cataplasm to my cods to draw out any bad humour; third, that in fourteen days I must provide a blood sample, which is to be tested for tumor poison; and, last, that an appoyntment is to be made for me to attend old St. Judes Hospitalle, where a Specialist of her acquaintence hath invented a contryvance of great optickle complexitie that enables him to peer within the very vesica urinaria itself. I think that this must be like the magick rays that produce a picture of my fathers chest, so say merrily, ‘Anything non-invasive is fine by me.’ I suspect a snort of suppressed laughter, but moving quickly on she tells me of a consideracion which I vouchsafe had crossed my own mind (for I once went to a fine lecture by Dr. Tearne at Chyrurgeon’s Hall on the kidneys, ureters, &c., and afterwards Dr. Scarborough did shew very clearly the manner of the disease of the stone), which was that at my age there must be a concern as to the state of the glandulous body that sits beneath the Sphincter of the bladder, namely whether it be tumorose or no, and that the prostatae must be examined — though for a reason I did not understand I suspected a second snigger on opining that I thought she had put her finger on it. All day very cold, with a little snow at Mr. Jones house.  


January blues

2 January, in the year of our Lord 2022

Lords Day. Lay long abed, all the while with a little discomfort that reminded me of some trouble I had this six or seven weeks (though I did not devulge it to this Journall, for propriety sake, should any read of it while I am still live, though do so now, confident in the privacy of my record), when for many days with a pain upon passing my water, which did build to such climactic proporcions that I did not rest the entyre night on 23rd Nov. for the need to visit my garderobe each hour, there passing a very little water but so strong it did burn like an acid as I passed it, and it of a distinckt pink tinge. And with it come a great pain upon the contraction of the Bladder sufficient to bend me double, and of such severitie that I did almost call a hackney to send myself to Out of Hours, though crawl’d back to bed where I was warm, and in the morning assay’d my water with some magick sticks bought on the Line. There finding evidence of many Nytrites, along with plentyfull Corpuscles, both red and white, sought the opynion of young Dr. Burnett, who did weigh all evidence and pronounce that I was to take an Antebiotick twice daily for one week. And so today afeared of a recurrence or recrudiscence of the same, but Dr. Burnetts closed till Tuesday, and even then their wish is not to see a person in person, for fear of the latest iteracion of the Covey plague, but instead to consult by Calling, patient to doctor across the æther.
  Hunted in the chockerlate drawer to cheer myselfe with a simple reward but it bare, I having finished my Varietie Bag of Mini Chockerlate Bars, which was my present for Christmas from Mr. M. Jones and contayned therein Mars, Milky Way, malt Teasers, Twicks and sundry others. After supper went my mind to the opposite extreme and I begin to think to buy myself a new coach, the old being now fully thirteen years and travelled forty thousand leagues, more than any coach I ever had; and I fancy that its colour might match my new coat of fashion, which is a fine Mycrolight Alpyne Down Coat, very warm, by Mr. Rab of Sheffield, so it must be not only bright blue but perhaps even metallick, which all will envy. And so a little cheered, to bed. 


And so I face the final curtain

31 December, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and set about the finishing of entrys in my Journalle for this second of the new plague years, having been neglecktful of it; but in a humour less malancholy than a year since, for the new Varyant is not yet the catastrophe feared, restrictions middling, vaxines pursued. But the contrary is not confirmed, that the plague is done and our daily lifes repaired: for still remain the disquiets of a constraint here or a threatened tightness there, that we might dare to breathe mask-free, meet others without unease, or go abroad with no restraint; though I reflect that a fine holyday was had in autumn, when we were able, and the theatres are opened and holding their breaths. And all that I know are well, blessed be God: my father come through his great indisposition, though my mother a little more frayle, and I am thankful for all that I have in the world. In the tally of my year’s value I find I am backwards in my accounts but my purse, I think, worth a satisfacktory sum, and I enter into the new year with no expenses un-payed.
  Of publick matters, thus. All have weather’d two storms in recent weeks, and the First Lord of the Treasurey a pair of his own making, his standing thereby notably diminished: first, by accusations of corruption on his own side in Gouvernement, which he doth not meet with frankness, and second by his dissembling efforts to divert [us] from partys held in White hall, which hath come to light, that when all the people were confyned by his Covey rules in what they must do, his minyons hugged and laughed and eat and drunk merrily, clapping themselfs upon their backs with the hand that did not hold champayne, celibrating that they evade their own Rules with impunity, and his lackeys joked upon it. And now the gazette tells of a certain Positioning by the Secretarie for Foreyne Parts, that she preens herself should the Call come, when all esteem for the First Lord is gone, though few in the land have the faintest idea of her. And at the back of all still skulks our Separation from the Continente, which divorce is two years, and none hath seen any good come from it, not fishermen nor wagon men, nor any man of Science nor any that do trade there; nor will they, I think, in my lifetime.
  To merrier matters. After supper, which was at Mr. Jones house, stayed up late, and at a half-past eleven a-clock seated ourselfs with great anticipacion before the magick screen to watch upon it the new play that they made, to star both his garderobe and my indispensible Narracion. And Lord! how marvellous to see the proscenium set before us as if we there in person, the velvet curtayns closed and the candles all alight, and to hear with such clearity the hubbub of the audience, unseen in pit and gallery. And then along comes a man all peri-wigged, and stamps a great staff upon the stage to silence the house, and declaims that we shall see…
  ‘…Episode the Sixth and Last of Our Drama! Performed with Realism Unrivaled, by Players Unparalleled, using Effeckts Unequaled!’
  … and so retires.
  And so settle we watch open-mouthed, for as the curtaynes part we see no longer the trappings of the theatre, not its slanted stage nor the illusions of its machinery, but rather it is as if we are all concentred upon the very scene itself, where at one moment we see it as from afar, and at another from an intimacy so close as to see the very fleas within the players wigs. There are many scenes, only I find it difficult to follow, for I know naught of the back story.
  ‘Can we not fast forwerd it?’ whisper I, after a little while.
  ‘No, we cannot,’ hisses Mr. Jones. ‘You must admire the artistry of the unparalleled players and the arc of the narrative. Look! This is the bit with the explosion!’
  We sit upright and watch the great blast occur, which takes place behind the neighbores house — and Lord! there come a tremendous Boom!, a great flame, much smoke, pandemonium, and shrapnel ejected high into the sky! And the unseen audience gasps as we do at the very similitude of it, and all clap and roar approval.
  ‘What is that?’ say I, pointing with an onion ring at an odd-shaped object pursuing a parabolick trajectory through the air.
  Mr. Jones frowns at the screen. ‘Looks like a pig,’ says he, and the audience in the theatre must think so too, for there are loud guffaws as it lands, picks itself up and charges after some Player who has his crooked arm supported by the triangle of a great bandage.
  But then shifts the scene to a dark interior: a door, shadows at play upon it. I grasp the forearm of Mr. Jones for it is a door we recognise — indeed, it is just beyond where we sit — and we tense to see what drama hath been made of it.
  But then we sit up uncertain, our expecktacions confounded, for we see not the door opened and the tableau revealed, but the stealing in from stage left of a stout figure, of a build unmistakeable to us though now it be topped by a tall periwig all powdered, possessed of a black beauty spot upon one rouged cheek, reddened of lip and all a-pout, with breeches displaying such a fine thigh that it secures whistles from those who watch, and muscular stockinged calves that ankle to crimson velvet shoes; but above all, between neck and waist, is a cleavage of prodigious pink breasts so enormouse and unbalancing as to almost burst the seams of shirt, waistcoat and tunic. This character stations himself beside the ornamental bracket on which flickers a lighted candle. He waits for the house to quiet itself, then beckons the audience hither and, making sure the coast is clear, addresses them from behind the back of a hand.

  ‘Psst! Here am I in breeches role
  (‘Yay!’ choruses the audience, for this is always a favourite moment. There are some whoops.)
   A-crouch beside this girandole.
  My nerves have come under control

  With double-dose Propranolole.

  ‘So by this key hole here I lurk,
  Engaged in some detective-work,

  To spy within what kind of jerk
  Therein would hide his dirty work.

He bends flamboyantly at the waist to apply his eyeball to the Apperture, and gasps before turning scandalised to the audience.

  ‘Oh! could you see what I can see,
  You’d faint from the enormity!
  A man-sized Tool in hand has he,
  That with a sure dexterity
  Could be contrived to guarantee
  A Climax extra-ordin’ry!
  But Restoration comedy,
  For all its great vulgarity,
  Prohibits outright crudity:
  The hinted-at obscenity
  Must henceforth and forever be

  Obscured, for sensitivity.

He whips across the portière and admonishes the audience. 

  ‘This door stays shut for mystery
  And principles of decency.
  Eschewing impropriety,
  Our scene is cloaked in secrecy.

  (Stamping of feet and ‘Open the door!’)

  ‘For here we leave the tale untold,
  The metal molten in the mould.
  If you’re to see the plot unfold

  Tune in to the next Episode!
  (‘Boo! Yay! Show us yer Ding-Dong, Mary Lee!’)

  ‘My garderobe,’ cries Mr. Jones, ‘that I have allowed them use! They have disclosed it not at all!’
  ‘And what of my role?’ cry I, jumping to my feet. ‘My perfeckt rendition of crucial narration! The blackguards have cut it!’
  While we speechless at our omission, on-screen the theatre reasserts itself before our eyes: the velvet curtayns are back and close upon the stage, and it sounds as if the doors are opened on to the streets for we hear the rumble of people leaving, the snapping of distant fire crackers and the midnight chimes of the clocks of the City. Then roll the credits, where all the Players named, and their roles, ending thus: 

Irate man with arm in sling, pursued by sow: Mr. M. Jones
Simpleton peering through window: Mr. S. Pips

…and Introducing, as Woman in Breeches Role…

*** MR. G. SMALL !!! ***

Season the Second will ayre next year

Copyright MDCLXXI

So ends the old year.


Take as many as you like

21 December, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and after breakfast by coach to Mr. Jones house for my staring role in the final scene of the play that is being acted there. I have lost a week’s sleep for the practice of learning my lines, which are:
  ‘Begad! The beggar hath a plot to hide
The evil stash he hath inside
  The house. But no one in there as yet knows
  The secret place that he hath chose!’
  There being none to greet me upon my arrival, I stationed my coach in a vacant place by the Port-a-lieu. Seeing a bright light on downstairs, and hearing there a speech in progress, I shielded my eyes with a hand, pressed my nose to the window and peered within. From nowhere, however, I felt my shoulders grabbed of a sudden, as some ruffian stage hand manhandled me away with a hissed, ‘They are playing a crucial scene!’ And then says he, ‘Come, our sound reckordist and camerraman here shall document your performance in the woodshed. Five minutes and you may go.’
  ‘The woodshed?’ say I. ‘I would have thought lines of such importance to require nothing less than the main stage.’
  ‘Mr. Jones is charging enough for the woodshed,’ says one of the two young men with the strange equipment, so thither we proceed. On route I spy a familiar stout figure in petticoat and gown, coming all a-rush in the opposite direcktion. In the capaciose bag that he carries are a fresh costume and two enormous pink balloons, and upon one cheek there is what appears to be a large smudge.
  ‘You?’ say I.
  ‘Oh, Mr. Popes,’ says he, all out of breath. ‘They have given me a role! I must not be late to say my lines! I am so very nervous, I am all a-shake!’
  ‘Your lines?’
  ‘My lines from outside the garderobe!’
  ‘The garderobe?’
  ‘I must dash!’
  ‘Why is he outside the garderobe whilst I am in — ?’ But by now we are actually in Mr. Jones’ woodshed.
  ‘Take One!’ says one of the pair who have escorted me thither, and snaps together his clapper in business-like fashion.
  ‘“Begad! The bugger hath a stash to hide — ”
  ‘Cut! Try again, Mr. Pepys.’
  ‘Oh, I am so very sorry,’ say I. ‘I shall endeavore to get it right but I must connect with the role.’ For I have been inhabiting this character for several days, allowing him to consume my very existence. Of what consists his private life? Of what his secret life? Whence come the thoughts that stoke his deepest fears? I shut my eyes and pause to take control, breathe deeply and start again.
  ‘“Butter the plot! The beggar hath to hide —
  ‘Cut! It’s, “Begad! The beggar hath a plot to hide…” Let’s go again. Take Three.’
  ‘“Begad! The beggar hath a bigger plot — ”
  ‘One more time, Mr. Pepys. Take Four.’
  ‘You may take as many as you wish,’ say I, benevolently, as I feel the full force of my Method Acting research kick in. ‘“Buggered, the evil potter hides the beggar’s stash — ”
  Two hours later the young men regard me wearily, appearing exhausted.
  ‘I think we shall call it a day there, Mr. Pepys,’ says the young man with the apparatus of Lenses, removing it from his shoulder and rubbing his tired eyes.
  ‘I can splice it together syllable by syllable,’ says the young man with the Angora tube on a stick. ‘We thank you for your time.’
  ‘The pleasure hath been all mine,’ say I, pleasantly, for I have been contented as much by this day as by any day in all my life. ‘If you would like an autograph, I would be more than happy — ’
  ‘Thank you, Mr. Pepys.’
  ‘Oh, right! Where shall I sign?’
  ‘No. Thank you, Mr. Pepys.’ And he holds ajar the woodshed door.


The quest for a Bousterjab

17 December, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and to my office, where a great pile of letters, and among them three from the Board of Health: the first enquiring of me if I still have an interest in becoming a vaxernator, for my name remayns upon their roll; the second from the same source, correcting a sentence contayned within the first, which should be replaced by another; the third from the same source yet again, indicating that the Board of Health should now like to withdraw completely the previose two letters. I wondered why this papertrail of ineptitude (since only last week did I tell them by the Messenger that they could call upon me), but on reading once more the first and second found each to contayne as an Appendix every private address of those to whom they had been sent — the irony being that to become a Board of Health’s vaxernator requires of applicants a certifycate for completion of their module on Data Protecktion. Fourthly, an appoyntment for a Boustertjab — but not for nearly a month! I wondered how they still allow Mrs. Cadwallader to preside over such incompitence — a toothless crone, as I imagine her, from the Crymea, living out her senescence on a pedestal of achievements long lapsed. Amongst the rest, a letter to raise my spirits from my father, may God preserve him, indicating the results of his being again fed through the Contryvance that sees inside his chest, for which we went together by coach these ten days, and that he is very much contented, for all matters of any import are un-changed.
  All work done by five a-clock, it dark very early as night pinches the days towards the shortest, passed by the premices of the Physician, whence through the windows spilled a narrow shaft of light, the brightness of a great many candles from deep within, gold against the silver of the rising moon; this together with the muffled sound of much laughter, and the hubbub of merry conversation. With the impulsive thought to advantage myself of the lack of the customery file of people in the street, I in, the jangle of the bell announcing my presence. There found the anteroom empty and the counter unstaffed, but the air warm and heavy with the scent of nutmeg, clove and roasted apple, and the fan of bright light coming from the doorway behind the counter that opens on the backroom; and visible there, and moreso audible, an assemblage of happy souls, a dozen or more a-gather round some planks upon a trestle, thereby forming a make shift table upon which were set many mis-matched glasses, with mulled wine at various levels of drinking, and plates of all sizes and dishes with all manner of confecktion — tartlets of beef in verjuice, the eggs of plovers dipped in salt and lovage, a great Parmisan and marrow bone dip, jumballs in the shape of reindeer, pottage jelly, Twiglets; and all so engrossed in their raucous jokes and rowdy persiflage that it was several minutes before my presence at the counter was noticed.
  ‘Hallo, Mr. Peepshow!’ cometh a shout, its origin the pipsqueek and cocksure Erchin, who raises a glass and toasts, ‘Merry Christmas! What can we do for you?’
  ‘Well, I can see you are all very busy,’ say I, crossly, ‘but I was hoping there might be a chance to have my Bousterjab against the new varyant of the Covey plague, since I saw none waiting in the lane for it.’
  ‘It pains me to say we are finished for the day,’ says Mr. Erchin, affecting a pain I feel contrived.
  ‘Well, I feel you provide a cheapjack service in such trying times,’ say I. ‘For I find my existing appoyntment to be not until the eleventh day of January, while the Varyant plague threatens to march across the land!’
  ‘You have come at an inconvenient time, Pepys! Return tomorrow!’ retorts a mouth clearly half-full, but the voice I recognise to be that of the Physician and I catch sight of him there, hot and flushed as if himself mulled, halfway through a piece of peacock pie, which he waves dismissively. But what, by surprise, takes my eye more is the slender and elegant lady in red seated at his side, certainly not specially distanced, sipping a little sherry sack from a cut glass schooner, her head topped by an offset beret, her hair falling in an impeccable cascade over her smart bodice, her legs demurely crossed and her shoes flawlessly polished; and I feel with a certain pride that I might have taken her eye in the same fashion, for she scrutinises me with an air of amused curiosity, so that my collar feels tight in the cosy warmth and I must loosen it with a finger ere I speak again. I drag my gaze back to the Physician.
  ‘To compound my dissatisfacktion,’ say I, crossly, ‘I find my efforts to advance myself as a vaxernator spurned not once but twice by the Board of Health, and you to be having a Christmas party!’
  Whereupon the lady decorously uncrosses her slim silk-stockinged legs, brushes off some tiny invisible crumbs, climbs gracefully to her feet and, glass in hand, makes her way with studied casualness toward me. Once opposite me she spreads her arms, places her palms upon the counter and leans teasingly across it till she is close enough for me to inhale the warmth of her breath.
  ‘Oh, Mr. Pepys,’ says she, huskily, ‘I think we would rather call it a work meeting — ’ … at which she reaches forward with a perfect slender forefinger, and with a perfect fingernail slowly traces a perfect line up my imperfect face, from my Adams apple across my chin, from my chin across my lips, and from my upper lip along the ridge of my nose, till it comes to rest perfectly on the spot between my eyebrows, like a benediction, so that I squint and see paired images of her faintly amused smile… ‘ — wouldn’t you?’
  ‘If you say — ,’ babble I, finding my heart a-race and my mouth dry. ‘I mean — .’
  ‘But what a sad tale of thwarted promise you do tell,’ continues the soft and breathy voice, as if in all the Universe it is meant for me, and me alone. ‘It upsets me that a man of such manifest…talents should find his aspirations crushed so. I wonder what I might do to…accommodate you?’
  ‘Accommodate me?’ croak I, immobile in the fixity of her gaze. ‘Who are you to accommodate me?’
  ‘I?’ At which she leans back, and with a languid and proprietorial motion of her arm indicates the assembly behind her, and laughs like a peal of Christmas bells. ‘I am their overseer, Mr. Pepys, their authority…their mistress. I am Mrs. Cadwallader.’
  Whereupon she raises one eyebrow, coyly lifts the hinged counter, turns to rejoin the fray, and with a cockettish backward glance suggestively implies I accompany her.
  Now happen two events in rapid succession. The first is that as I follow this bewitching figure in red, I am so mesmerised that I fail to see a stray candle lying upon the floor. I tread on it, which causes my left foot to roll away while my right remains in mid-air. My arms flail around my body, I fail to equilibrate, and I crash face-down in the shadows behind the counter, where the floor is littered with the overspill of Christmas cracker trinkets, stray peanuts and used latterale Flough Tests. A moment later the door bell is again all a-jangle. I feel the in-rush of cold street air and hear the rapidity of footsteps upon the floorboards. Two pairs of legs from the thighs downwards are briefly visible to me from my low vantage point, one that of a man rushing ahead into the backroom and the other of a woman striding purposefully behind. The woman is the first to speak and I know I have heared that slightly lisping voice before.
  ‘Well, this looks like a nice little — gathering, does it not?’ says she coolly. ‘Would you call it a Gathering, Constable Arnott, or would you not say it looked suspiciosely like a Christmas party?’
  I climb silently to my feet unseen, dust myself down and position myself behind the door jamb to spy as the scene unfolds.
  ‘Party, if you ask me, ma’am,’ confirms her weskitted loyal underling, minesweeping for drinks. ‘This glass contaynes wine of the mulled variety, this a sherry sack, and this cheap cock-ale of the nastiest kind.’ By the time he has swallowed the evidence, all glasses are empty. ‘If you ask me ma’am, there has been a flagrant infringement of Covey rules. We have no option but to make arrests.’
  ‘This is an outrage!’ cries the Physician. ‘We are performing a public service to the loftiest of ideals for you and your kin!’
  ‘Well, the tidings I bring are less than good,’ says Mrs. Coachmichael icily, ‘for what we have witnessed here, I am sorry to say, is a congregacion of persons nothing short of illegality. The law requires we intervene.’
  At which point I can remain silent no longer from my vantage point by the doorway.
  ‘And yet — ,’ say I.
  Which surprise remark causes Mrs. Coachmichael to wheel round and her toadie to freeze mid-bite. Ruffled, she does her best to collect herself. ‘Mr. Pepys! How unexpected. I did not anticipate renewing our acquaintance in such circumstances.’
  ‘Nor I yours,’ say I, nodding affabubbly to her subordinate. ‘But since we are discussing matters of law and legality, is that alkerhol I can smell on your breath, Constable Arnott? For I believe drinking on duty to transgress Constabulary Regulations, a matter of sufficient seriousness that it might be reported to your superiors.’ At which I fix Mrs. Coachmichael with a steely stare. ‘For we all have superiors, do we not? Even a senior…Accessory?’
  The room is silent as they exchange glances.
  ‘Well, on this occasion it is conceivable that we might — ’ says she.
  ‘ — might somehow be unable to pursue retrospective charges?’ say I. ‘My lips will be sealed — ’
  ‘Very well.’ And so, pursed-lipped and scowling over a mission foiled, they sullenly begin their reluctant retreat to the door.
  ‘ — for a small price.’
  They turn sharply to confront me from the threshold, glaring danger from two pairs of furious eyes. ‘And what price would that be, Mr. Pepys?’ asks she, very precisely.
  ‘There is the small matter of pigs at large in the environs of the house belonging to Mr. M. Jones,’ say I, returning Arnott’s menacing stare. ‘I should take my wellington boots, if I were you…Constable.’
  ‘Watch your step, Pepys,’ snarls he to me, but to intimidate all. ‘I know a Nibble when I see one. And those Twiglets are bitter and burned,’ he adds, as a reason to spit their remains on the floor.
  ‘They have never been the same since Peek Freans bequeathed them to Jacobs,’ say I, blithely. To which he hath no reply.
  The door slams shut behind them, though I suspeckt not to have heard the last from them. The gathering relaxes again, fresh wine is poured, the hubbub resumes, vigour is renewed and from somewhere comes the loud squawk of a party horn.
  ‘Well, Mr. Pepys,’ says Mrs. Cadwallader, placing her scarlet self so seductively close that she can make herself heard with barely a murmur, ‘it seems we are indebted to you for your timely intervention. I feel bound to offer you some kind of…reward.’ I can practically hear her lick her shiny red lips as she caresses my lapel. ‘Take off your jacket — ’
  My mouth dries again and anything that comes out of my voice box is high-pitched.
  ‘ — and roll up your sleeve.’


Never corner a sow

10 December, in the year of our Lord 2021

These last days very stormy. Up, but all morning thinking of some new business, that hath been upon my mind for a little time. For last week met with friends not seen these two years, which I worked with, and walked awhile together along the coast, purposing three or four hours of it, all merry and picnicks in our knapsacks, expecting to sit for dinner late, upon some rocks amongst some ruins. Only at a quarter to eleven a’clock, which I think it was, we stopped at a pantry for what I thought was merely coffee, but all the people in our party ordering minced pies, and some Eckles cakes, and some even two sandwichs of bacon, which I could not believe for we had only been going twenty minutes. But there offered itself up a chance to sit in discourse with Dr. J. Edwards, a great friend, he mightily extolling of the studies he took after his payed work finished, which were in Musique, and I have began to form in my mind a notion to do the same, and today write a letter to a fine Musicien of my aquaintence to inquire if he might concur with me in the thought of doing it.
  After supper, the Messenger from Mr. M. Jones, mightily troubled that he hath been the casualty of an unpleasant altercacion — viz.: that returning home after walking with his Poudle he found the great sow now in his garden, up above him on a bank beside his kitchen wall, but his effort to shoe it away proved unwise, for it found itself with no escape route other than to knock him off his feet and trample him to freedom. Bruised and sore of shoulder, he hath remonstrated with the owner, saying to him that he presumes his Insurance will protect him should serious injury arise, at which went the owner very quiet, for it was clear that the man is a fool no more capable of organising provision of this kind than of confyning his pigs to a field.
  And so to bed.



Of pigs and passes

14 November, in the year of our Lord 2021

Yesterday a deliverie boy did bring my Covey Pass, which I did find contained within the hunter case of a pocketwatch, with a hinged cover, all in gold, and a gold chain come with it to fasten to a button on my waistcoat; all very fine. But the Pass itself a ridiculous thing such as I never saw before, for though it be ennammelled in a delicate fashion, it lacks all colour and appears as little more than an excited chequerboard, all tiny tiles of black and white, though a fine cloisonné edge to finish the border. Yet I did need it, for today up and by coach with Mr. Jones to dinner at The London Carriageworks, and then a-cross the road purposing to hear a Selection of Fine Musique performed by a band, most distinguished; but before in must show our Covey passes, which we did, the steward saying (so that all could hear) that he not seen one like mine before, which did make me very contented for buying such a handsome piece; and indeed on our comparing them, myself and Mr. Jones, I did think my arrangement of black and white squares to present a fashion more aesthetick and pleasing than his, and commented as we did find our seats that I was much joyed that with them we may do as we please for as long as the Plague troubles the land. He was to reply, I think, when up struck all the musiciens on the stage, many violons and all manner of shawms and sackbutts, and kettle drums, and all made a very great noise playing together. And the best of them was two men from Venerzeuala, which were friends, I think, of the man they put in charge of all the Musique we did hear, who come hither, one playing loudly upon a square lute, strumming fit to break its guts, such as I never heard in my entire life, while the other set before himself no fewer than three Trompettes, which he played, one after the other, and all thought he played the most remarkable they ever heard, especially a woman in the band who only had a Violla. In the second part was played a work called a Concerto for All the Instruments of the Orchestra, Wrote to Display the Singularity of Every One and the Prowess of Every Player, in Five Mouvements, by a Hungerian called Mr. Bantock, only I did not enjoy it as much, for in the Interval Mr. Jones explayned that I must buy a new Covey pass in less than 30 days.


24 November, in the year of our Lord 2021

Today comes news to dampen the spirits of all, that there is a new varyant of the Covey plague, which they find in Affricka, which might pass, from person to person, with a greater ease, and so evade our vaxines. Also that a great storm is to break out, with wind and rain, hayle and snow, which makes me fear for the roof of the house, and in perticular a little finiall, which is on my sunroom and moves in the merest breeze.
  After supper, Mr. Jones complayned about the matter of pigs, which is now daily, which hath made him mighty angry, for not only hath there again been there the great sow, but also along come her piglets, which are now grown up, having broken out, and all have been a-snout and rooting in the soil outside his house, so all the grass about his house, which is little for it grows not well where he lives, is now a great swamp of mire and muck, and in the houses all around is a very great degree of discontent that the pigs are free to roam, with all saying that if the man who owns them cannot control them they will have recourse to the Constabulary. But Mr Jones hath made a complaynte to the Company of Players that with all their coming and going his track is close unfit for passing, so the Principal of the actors Troupe hath agreed that in addicion to ground rent for the Port-a-Lieu, and above the payment by the hour for the use of his garderobe, they shall pay for a ton of Aggregate against all the mud, and today a man come to fill in the pot Holes with it.