by Frank Key


The first pond is called POSTAGE STAMP POND not, as one might think, due to its tininess - for it is indeed a tiny pond! - but because it was the scene of the 1898 Postage Stamp Riots. You will recall from your schoolbooks that the introduction of a new machine at the sorting office led to unrest.

The second pond is named MEE JAWR POND which is thought to be a corruption of the name Midge Ure. Mr Ure was a balladeer & minstrel of the last century, now largely forgotten, although there exists a dwindling band of devotees who gather together underneath railway bridges and viaducts to sing extempore versions of his profound meditation upon vapidity, Vienna - it means nothing to me. Appropriately enough, this pond is unfathomably deep.

The third pond, everybody's favourite, is called POND O' CAKES. It was in this pond, on a teeming day in April in the year of the Munich Air Disaster, that a canister of protoplasmic goo from another dimension was found in the fishing-net of a little tike named Chevenix Perkins. Young Perkins was the only-begotten son of the disgraced insecticide merchant Slawkenbergius Perkins, late, not of this parish, but of another parish entirely, where eldritch groans and wailings would often be heard emerging from dilapidated barnyards and abandoned bomb shelters, the like of which - the groans and wailings, that is - no human ear ought ever be suffered to hear in this brief mortal existence. (That sentence is a translation from the original Hungarian.) Little Chevenix gave his find to the Museum At-or-Near-the-Gruesome-Copse at Ack, from where it has since disappeared.

Pond number four was for a long time nameless, but has recently been dubbed BIRDS' POND because of the masonry pillar just to the north, on which is inscribed this sentence from John Burroughs' Birds And Poets (1877) : "The defiant scream of the hawk circling aloft, the wild whinny of the loon, the whooping of the crane, the booming of the bittern, the vulpine bark of the eagle, the loud trumpeting of the migratory geese sounding down out of the midnight sky; or by the seashore, the coast of New Jersey or Long Island, the wild crooning of the flocks of gulls, repeated, continued by the hour, swirling sharp and shrill, rising and falling like the wind in a storm, as they circle above the beach or dip to the dash of the waves, - are much more welcome in certain moods than any and all mere bird-melodies, in keeping as they are with the shaggy and untamed features of ocean and woods, and suggesting something like the Richard Wagner music in the ornithological orchestra."

The fifth pond, WORSE-THINGS-HAPPEN-AT-SEA POND is barely what you would call a pond at all. It has been called a puddle. Some have dubbed it a mere. One authority on landlocked pools of water has called it a tarn, albeit inaccurately, as it is at (or at least near) sea level. It would appear that the appellation "authority" is thus equally inaccurate, although few have questioned it, as the pond-boffin concerned is none other than Cloris Preen, niece of the notorious Lothar, and ex-wife of the beetle-browed turps magnate Hengist Shad. Cloris Preen's Universal Gazetteer of Ponds, Meres & Similar Bodies of Water Across The Globe, Indexed By Depth, Hue & Mean Temperature, With Thousands of Diagrams & Lots & Lots of Exciting Maps is reputedly the longest single-volume book ever published, although most scholars hold it in contempt. Worse-Things-Happen-At-Sea Pond is notable for the weird iridescent glow it emits on certain saints' feast days, usually those of St Bartholomew (24th August), often invoked against nervous diseases and twitching, St Ambrose (7th December), patron saint of beekeepers and wax refiners, and St Rita of Cascia (22nd May) patron saint of desperate cases. Should Cloris Preen be classed as a desperate case?

We come now to FIENDISH POND, home to a bewildering array of aquatic life forms which I am afraid I have not had time to catalogue. Some of them look like monsters from H P Lovecraft - and those are the less frightening ones! Terrorised infants can often be seen running away screaming from this pond, only to become entangled in a nearby thicket of nettles and bindweed, the poor mites.

Shuddering, let us attempt to push the tentacled and sucker-festooned denizens of Fiendish Pond to the backs of our minds and consider instead MARY MOONMAN POND, named after one of the key witnesses to the assassination of John F Kennedy on 22nd November 1963. Her name is (was?) in fact Mary Moorman, but the blond, swashbuckling ne'er-do-well who painted the signboard affixed to a wooden post stuck in the mud to the southwest of the pond was hard of hearing, and his error has never been corrected. In any case, Mary Moorman, or Moonman, ought better be known as Marymoon Man, thus more appropriately named alongside her fellow witnesses Badge Man, Umbrella Man, Black Dog Man, and far too many more Men than we have space for here. This seems as good a time as any to throw in the little-known fact that alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was interred under the name William Bobo.

From Mary Moonman Pond, strike east, tread carefully around the Place of Strewn Grotesque Pebbles, and you will find yourself within spitting distance of PARACELSUS POND named, of course, for the 16th century alchemist Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, the man whom all abecedarians hold in high honour, as among his coinages were both alcohol and zinc. Of more concern to us here is the way in which faint yet compelling links and patterns can be traced across the centuries. Mention has already been made of the turps tycoon Hengist Shad, whose fortune was based on the oleoresins exuded from coniferous trees consisting of more or less viscid solutions of resin in a volatile oil, and lo! we find that the very same turpentine was an essential constituent of Paracelsus' celebrated weapon-salve, the recipe for which was as follows: Take of moss growing on the head of a thief who has been hanged and left in the air; of real mummy; of human blood, still warm - of each, one ounce; of human suet, two ounces; of linseed oil, turpentine, and Armenian bole -of each, two drachms. Mix all well in a mortar, and keep the salve in an oblong, narrow urn. [My emphasis.] The supposed linkage may seem tenuous, if it were not for the fact that the very next pond we stumble upon is called…..

HUMAN SUET POND. Reads like an anagram, doesn't it? And indeed it is, for this is an artificial pond - obvious from its perfectly ellipsoid shape - which was dug in 1962 by one Thomas Pundune (anag.) to mark the publication of Richard Milhous Nixon's book Six Crises. Careful study of the pond reveals half a dozen partly submerged plastic baubles, each of which is designed to represent one of the then future president's half-dozen formative events, the most exciting of which - I refer to both bauble and crisis - is the "goodwill" tour of South America in 1958, when Nixon and his wife, the saintly Pat, were attacked and nearly killed by pro-Communist mobs in Venezuela. Pundune was a great admirer of the only Quaker ever to order the bombing of Cambodia, although he underwent his own "crisis" in 1971 - the details are blurry, but it had something to do with a yeast infection - disavowed Nixon, pond and baubles, and retired to a Bewilderment Home on a bleak hillside. He may still be there, haunted, ancient and drooling, for all I know. But his pond remains a very lovely thing, and has always been popular with the picnicking element.

Next on our fascinating tour is Pangfabuloquislinguette Pond, known colloquially as MUCH-DRAGGED POND as it has the distinction of being the most frequently dragged pond in the land. The police forces of this bailiwick - and there are at least seven different so-called Law Platoons who claim it as their own - all have a perplexing mania for sending frogmen equipped with forensically-approved nets into the pond at the least opportunity. Sometimes they do not even wait for a crime to be committed. Scarcely a week goes by without a nylon fence being erected around this splendid pond, a team of yellow-jacketed walkie-talkie-wielding myrmidons materialising out of the blue, and then a series of faint splashes as the dashing frogmen set about their task. Their trawls have even been productive, on occasion. The grim - or perhaps grimy - poisoner Gervase Tanquod was convicted on the basis of a phial of smee riddled with his fingerprints which he had tossed into the pond while pursued by bloodhounds. It proved to be the only evidence against him, yet it was - as the trial judge put it - "the hinge on which the case swings". (This judge, incidentally, was fond of ironmongery metaphors in his summings-up, and regularly invoked hinges, lever handles, snap hooks, latches, sealing lugs, padlocks, mobile aeration screens, safety chains, chink devices, transom window gears, espagnolette bolts, bevels, sash pulleys, pressed brackets and even fire tongs to illuminate his never less than draconian judgements.) Tanquod he sent to the jug for forty years, which amounted to a death sentence, as the fiend was already in his eighties when he was at last apprehended. Much-Dragged Pond has also been noteworthy as a popular location for film-makers, no doubt because as morning mists hang over its still surface (on those rare days it is not being dragged) it has a magical atmosphere, like one imagines Avalon, say, or Narnia, or the Blister Lane Bypass. Note too the solitary heron standing vigil at the edge of the pond.

Of CLYTEMNESTRA! POND we need say nothing.

VON PIGFLASK POND is named for Horst Helmut Von Pigflask, the noted percussionist, who created his own sonic universe using just a couple of biscuit tins, a thermos flask half-full of milk, and a few odds and ends scavenged from a rusting ship. "The milk," he famously declared, "must be sour, at least four days sour, or it has no ton, no timbre." At one time an habitué of the same Marseilles dockyard drinking dens as that scallywag Lothar Preen, Von Pigflask had a huge falling-out with his mentor on 12th October 1959. Despite both protagonists keeping voluminous - if not to say obsessive - diaries, neither of them has a word to say about this incident. Preen's journal entry for the day is the usual vain, self-serving hyperbole, while Von Pigflask writes a long list of farm implements annotated with pencil-drawn symbols in some indecipherable private code. What can it all mean? The sad thing is that no one, then or now, ever really cared. On the following day, Von Pigflask hired a dinghy from one of his disreputable acquaintances, put out to sea, and vanished. Perhaps because his police files had been mislaid, his absence went unremarked; certainly there is no trace of him whatsoever until at some point in the late 1960s when reports began to circulate that he was a founder member of the blues-rock pioneers Blodwyn Pig. To this day the other original members, Mick Abrahams, Jack Lancaster, Andy Pyle and Ron Berg deny ever having heard of the great percussionist, let alone giving him free rein with his tins, flask and rusty flotsam on their debut album Ahead Rings Out. There is no doubt, however, that it was Von Pigflask himself who appeared unannounced on stage at the 1974 Jazz Festival in Ülm, where he performed a 16-second untitled improvisation before scuttling away into the tenebrous German twilight. Two more years passed before his triumphant return to the world stage, the patching up of differences with Preen, and the ear-splitting genius of his late work. In 1996, by now aged and suffering increasingly from the bindings, he retired and settled in Winnipeg. His final years were spent on the upper floors of a gleaming skyscraper, where he took great pleasure in his pet tortoise and worked for hours every day on a seemingly endless list of anagrams of Pol Pot, Ayn Rand, U Thant and Yoko Ono.

STAGNANT INKY-BLACK FATHOMLESS SPOOKY POND is the thirteenth and final pond in this survey. How ill-named it is! Tiny ones may well flee screaming from Fiendish Pond, as we have seen, but not from here. On the contrary; it is not uncommon for beadles and matrons from the Parish Home for Poor Wretched Mud-Splattered Orphans to bring their charges here for an afternoon of gambol and frolic. O how the air rings with the joyous cries of the tots as they play pin-the-paper-to-the-cardboard, sitting at the edge of the pond with their grubby little feet splashing in the water! How they gobble down their small tin bowls of custard and watercress with toothsome relish! If you, as an adult, dear reader, need to have your heart's cockles warmed, why not join one of the regular charabanc excursions which leave from Haemoglobin Towers at noon every Thursday, and witness this scene for yourself? The cost is reasonable - not "criminally expensive" as one curmudgeon wrote in a letter to the Hooting Yard Bee - and if you bring your own packed lunch you can even join in the antics! Pray heaven that you do not give credence to that other Bee correspondent who wrote a farrago of nonsense about getting bats entangled in his hair! Nor ought you listen to malicious gossip about the pond being riddled with vivid blue poisonous toads. A brisk walk around the pond will soon diffuse the diesel fumes from the charabanc, and you will no longer have a headache.