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Tinkle Tragedy

Humphrey Humpington took off his horn-rimmed glasses, wiped the grease from the bridge of his nose and sighed. He sensed that his dreams were soon to come to fruition. Oh the delight, the exquisite delight of consummation. He took a silk handkerchief from his pocket, lifted it slowly to his button nose and let out a protracted paaarp. Fleshy folds of facial fat rose like puff-pastry until his eyes were no more than raisins, shiny bright raisins. Other readers in the British Library could have been excused for thinking that a trumpet had sounded in restaurant level two. But they were to be disappointed. The craning necks that stole a look past their neighbours shoulders found only a glowing cannonball wrapped in Harris tweed, resting uneasily on dainty patent-leather shoes. What they didnt know was that Humphrey Humpington, esquire, proud owner of Heavebrough Hall, viticulturist and gastronome par excellence, had at last made his name. Humphrey hadnt known it when he sat down to breakfast that morning before a plate of kippers, croutons and balsamic glaze. Nor had Fox Terrier Fomka when he followed his master to the door, yapping for scraps. The British Library security guardswell, they certainly didnt know it when they ordered their corpulent visitor to place his bags on the inspection desk. It was only when a second lemon meringue tarte yielded its crust to Humphreys hippopotamus jaws, that he felt that sour-sweet tang of epiphany! That was it! Feudalism - curlicues of green ink danced across heavy cream paper declined because.. Feeling inspiration escaping him, he took a second bite of heavenly manna and, fortified, continued. As he wrote, he felt the warmth of satisfaction, or was it reflux, tingle in his throat. Despite himself, his mind wandered back to first form at prep school. His history teacher, Dr Devlin, had conceived a visceral dislike for Humphrey from the moment that this doughy little child had first rolled into his classroom. Just when Humphreys upturned moon-face shone with assurance that Devlins barrage was over, he would spring the trebuchet and leave our hero face down in the Flanders mud. But now that Humphrey had a theory, a genealogy, could even disprove Marx, his name was assuredyes, surely his name was assured. H. Humpington embossed in gold letters on a thick leather tome, sitting snugly alongside Reynolds, Engelstein, Schama. Imagine it! He drew his hand over the acid-free paper and his heart leapt at the gothic typescript, the angular brackets. What joy! Treating himself to the last of the meringue, Humphrey drew his plan to a close. It was schematic, of course, oversimplified in the extreme here he sought for his

bowtie in anguish but a start nonetheless. Yes, a start. With a beam at his neighbour, a beggarly man hoarding his espresso, Humphrey resolved to do more work today. No need to rush. He would let his ideas gestate, take the tube to Regents Park and feed the ducks, suck on an ice-cream and stare at the maples before waddling home to Heavebrough. It was all there in his marble-backed notebook. He winched himself up and, bags in hand, aimed for the toilets. Navigating through the archipelago of tables, his trailing stern caught a womans shoulder. Her icy stare would normally have impressed itself deeply on Humphreys soft exterior, but today he was invincible. He felt like a ball rolling down a grassy slope in full view of the world, gathering momentum, until it pitched into the air and hung, motionless, reflecting the suns light. He was in the toilets. The bright blue tiles distorted his image until he was an indistinct mass, the texture of gooseliver pate. He left his bags on a slatted wooden bench and shuffled towards the urinal. He positioned it by touch because his view was obscured by the curvature of his belly, like a tower swallowed by the curvature of the earth. In the ringing tinkle of urine on porcelain he heard his own fulfilment. Turning round, he stood aghast. His bags had gone. Where was it, where? One minute a brown leather briefcase had sat content in its plenitude, its shiny brass clasp winking in the phosphorescent glow; the next, poof, it was gone. Humphrey sucked in air in painful gulps, fumbled with his dark brown trouser buttons and took the time to remove a white handkerchief from his right trouser pocket. A disaster had befallen him the like of which Napoleon had not known at Trafalgar! Then, the French had suffered, now humanity would suffer. But more than that, Humphrey, Humphrey would suffer. No bright shining lights and glittering acclaim for Humphrey. No, he would have to shuffle down to breakfast like a pig in a blanket and scour over reports of scientific breakthroughs and feats of endurance, his magnifying glass hovering over words like breathtaking, astounding, revolutionary. No-one would know what pyrotechnics had once burned in that starch-white head, crawling with liver spots. Heaveborough Hall and raisin-studded puddings would recall their lost wanderer and restore him to his rightful place beside Fomka, a glass of claret in hand, looking out over the fields, sure in the knowledge that whatever went on out there, be it floods or fire or death on the A42, he would be fine. Yes, he would be fine. But he didnt want to be fine. He wanted to live, to love here he shuffled out to the hall to defend his outrageously one-sided theory at colloquiums, where bass-toned professors would politely accuse him of poor scholarly practise, nay, of witchcraft, before stopping for tea and a bourbon biscuit. Struggle was what mattered, never letting the carrot soup and dash of cream lull you into a post-prandial stupor and goggle-eyed imbecility. Struggle was what mattered and struggle he would.

He drew himself up to his full height of five foot eight and a half and cast an imperious gaze over the second-floor vestibule. Someone had clearly caught a glimpse of his theory and followed him into the toilet with the express intent of stealing and publishing it. But the studious tapping of keyboards and the coming-andgoing, the drinking at water fountains and atmospheric hubbub, all of it was maddeningly, infuriatingly normalno beetle-browed beatnik skulked in the shadows, waiting to brandish the briefcase in Humphreys face before making a run for it. He inquired at the inquiries desk and solicited help at the help desk. He even cracked a smile at baggage reclaim. Nothing. Readers are informed that last orders for books must be placed in the next fifteen minutes. It was hopeless. The perpetrator could be anywhere by now, spreading greasy fingers over the creamy softness of his creation. He left, walked past Newton deep in thought and turned down Euston Road for home.