Search Results for 'vagrant'

On Headbag

Facecloth, which some people continue to insist on calling Facebook in spite of my cajoling, grows ever more ubiquitous. At times it really does seem to have taken over the world. Efforts by others to supplant it – Google+ for example – have only limited success, and I think this may be because the alternatives so far are too similar to Facecloth. There is also the fact that Zuckerberg and his minions adapt their monolith to ape the best features of their competitors. What this suggests to me is that if there is to be a social networking site that can consign Facecloth to the dustbin of history, it will have to be so far in advance of the original that little Mark will take one look at it, burst into tears, dismantle his entire operation, and retire from the fray. I think I have now come up with the goods, daddy-o.

My insight was granted by going back to basics, and considering the original name, Facecloth. Sorry, Facebook. As far as I am aware, this refers to the practice of American higher education colleges of issuing yearbooks containing snapshots and potted biographies of their students. Little Mark took that very simple format as the building block for world domination. But therein – I realised – lie the seeds of his destruction. Break the word in two. Face. Book. It is all so damned two-dimensional. Photographs of faces, gathered in a book of flat pages with printed words. It is just not good enough, even when modified and complicated and transformed into a global phenomenon on Het Internet. It seems clear to me that the whole thing needs to be shifted up into three dimensions. And that is the beauty of Headbag!

Just think. Why be satisfied with the face when you could have the whole head? And what kind of nincompoop would be happy with a book of flat paper pages when they could have a bag packed with solid objects? It is so blindingly obvious I am surprised nobody has thought of it before.

But perhaps they have, and have raised objections. After all, if you are going to stuff a bag full of heads, where are you going to get the heads from? We do not want to encourage those Islamist nutcases whose greatest joy in life, when not persecuting women, is to chop off the heads of infidels. But, using the kind of lateral thinking espoused by geniuses like Edward “Six Hats” De Bono, we need not cram our bag with human heads. Instead, we can use cabbages as a substitute. Carefully picked, cabbage heads are about the weight, size, and shape of human heads, and if you are pernickety you can always draw facial features on the cabbage with a magic marker, and apply a variety of superb and exciting hairstyles with cotton wool and glue. It is then a simple case of shoving, say, half a dozen or even a baker’s dozen of cabbages into a burlap sack of the appropriate size, and voila!, you have signed up to Headbag. You will receive a confirmatory metal tapping machine message, to which you should respond using a special code to demonstrate that you are a real person, toting a real bag, filled with real cabbages. Once that is received and processed and filed away in a filing cabinet drawer at Headbag HQ, you are off and away!

What we found, in our preliminary research, was that the best way to network with other Headbag users was to find a suitable three-dimensional real-world location and to gather there, each of you with your burlap sack of cabbages. Caves, particularly caves by the seaside, proved to be the best spots of all. A particular advantage is that they tend not to be haunted by anybody else. Vagrants, drunks, and riff-raff are all more likely to be found slumped in municipal parks and on the outskirts of leisure and retail facilities, whereas the caves we reconnoitred were empty. Occasionally there might be a small creeping creature of dubious provenance scuttling about, but they can always be stamped on or, if of a somewhat larger bulk, sprayed with a canister of some death-delivering chemical compound. When the cave is properly vacant, it makes for a splendid meeting-place for Headbag users. You might want to take along a torch or a Tilly lamp, and a packed lunch.

There are all sorts of rewarding ways that a group of persons each with a bag full of cabbages can interact. You probably don’t need me to tell you what they are. In fact, doing so would fatally undermine the sheer beauty of the Headbag experience, which is posited on giving users full control. There is none of that sneaky shenanigans going on in the background that you get with Facecloth. None of your details will be passed to sinister multinational corporations. You will not find a data trail linking you to unseemly or criminal activities. No, with Headbag, you can be sure your privacy is safe. You sit in a cave, by the sea, with other users, clutching your sack of cabbages, and do whatever you want to do, without Headbag HQ interfering in any way. All we ask is that you be very careful to scarper before the tide comes in, flooding the cave, as tides tend to do.

One question that often crops up at our marketing seminars is how we will make sufficient money from Headbag to reduce little Mark Zuckerberg to comparative penury and have him come grovelling to our door with a begging bowl. In the interests of robust transparency, I should point out that your burlap sack will carry advertising, stencilled on using luminous ink or paint which will be visible in the dank darkness of your cave. That is our only concession to the commercial realm. Please do not believe any stories you read in the press that we have plans to force users to rent their cabbages from us. You are free to buy them from your local greengrocer’s or hypermarket, or even to grow them yourself on your allotment, out beyond the viaduct by the railway tracks. That is the Headbag way, like it or lump it.

Onward to world domination!

Prints

Proof at last that Hooting Yard’s eco-credentials are second to none! It is two and a half years since we raised the important issue of carbon hoofprints, with reference, I recall, to a vagrant goat god. Well, we were scorned and ridiculed, but now, eventually, as I suspected would happen, the world has caught up with our visionary eco-consciousness.

Mr Eugenides provides the valuable service of directing our attention to a recent study:

The eco-pawprint of a pet dog is twice that of a 4.6-litre Land Cruiser driven 10,000 kilometres a year, researchers have found.

(Incidentally, I think it was our Antipodean correspondent Glyn Webster who created a superb compendium of wisdom by tapping “researchers have found” into Google. Perhaps he can post it in the Comments.)

Of course, our tireless endeavours to be the most eco-superduper website in the universe continue apace. Even as I write, earnest beardy besandalled Cassandras are hard at work in the Hooting Yard Eco-Pod tallying up stats on the carbon talonprints of a crow, the flipperprints of sea lions, and – thrillingly – the eco-suckerprints of various squelchy aquatic life-forms.

Watch this space.

Unconscious Squirrel!

Readers will recall Unconscious Squirrel!, the unsuccessful cartoon strip about an unconscious squirrel created, and then abandoned, by Lamont Pinochet. One hesitates to say that the character is much-lamented, as nobody took much notice of the strip when it appeared, and Pinochet himself found it tiresome, so much so that he used to fall asleep while drawing it.

Now, in a bold move, the unconscious squirrel has been revived in a new potboiler by Pebblehead. The Nuts Of Narcolepsy is set in a woodland idyll, where an unsuspecting squirrel eats some poisoned or contaminated nuts which cause it to swoon into unconsciousness. As ever, the bestselling paperbackist handles his material in a bravura manner, investing his simple tale with stylistic flourishes and cracking dialogue, displaying an enviable command of the exclamation mark. Early reviews have been positive, with Lex Pilg in the Daily Hubbub Monitor praising it as “a real page-turner of the sort we expect from Pebblehead, with thrills and spills aplenty”, while the angling magazine Minnows In Nets noted with approval its lack of clunk.

Curiously, The Nuts Of Narcolepsy is dedicated to the memory of Eric Fogg (1903-1939), the English composer who fell, or possibly threw himself, under a tube train at Waterloo station on the eve of his second marriage. An open verdict was recorded. There is no evidence that Fogg had a thing about squirrels, and Pebblehead has never expressed any previous interest in him, nor about English music in general. The paperbackist is known to be an enthusiast for noisy aggressive Germans. We shall have to await the deliberations of those dedicated folk who compile the annual Register Of Dedicatees Of Potboilers for enlightenment.

Interviewed on the porch steps of a particularly sordid bordello, Pebblehead dropped hints that we will be seeing more of the unconscious squirrel.

“I find,” he said, “There comes a point when my characters take on a life of their own. It is almost as if I am a reporter, or a biographer, rather than a novelist. You will recall Digby Smew, the fascist podcaster who first appeared in my book The Assassination Of Stephen Fry. Sometimes I fancy he is sitting at breakfast with me, slurping porridge with disgusting table manners. I can’t even remember writing the other forty potboilers of which he is the protagonist. The words come unsummoned. I have an inkling that something similar will happen with the unconscious squirrel. Now that the basic lineaments of his character have been established – that he is a squirrel, that he is unconscious – already he seems freed from the confines of my own pulsating writerly cranium. I swear to God he took on corporeal form this morning. I was eating my breakfast, and across the table there was Digby Smew, and he was staring at something, something behind me, and I turned to look and got a fugitive glimpse of a narcoleptic squirrel snuggled against the wainscot, shimmering in a hallucinogenic haze for a moment before the vision dissolved. But I know he will be back, and I have already felt impelled to dash off twenty thousand words of a second Unconscious Squirrel! potboiler. I don’t want to give too much away, but in this one he plays a leading role in the Hindenburg Disaster.”

When he was able to get a word in edgeways, Pebblehead’s interviewer taxed him with the point that he had not in fact created the unconscious squirrel, but taken him, in all his particulars, from an almost forgotten cartoon strip by the creator of Magnet Boy! The Boy Magnet.

“That is indeed true,” said the paperbackist, having now unfurled his umbrella against an unprecedented downpour, “And I have never tried to conceal the fact. If you knew anything about my work, you would know I have revived and reinvented existing fictional characters before, many a time. I have written, at the last count, twenty-six short stories about Doctor Slop, from The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne, and a trilogy of sci-fi adventures featuring Brave Driver Josef Bong from The Good Soldier Å vejk by Jaroslav HaÅ¡ek. They too, have become very real to me, though for some reason neither of them ever comes to breakfast. Doctor Slop is usually hovering on the landing, and Josef Bong sits in the potting shed on my allotment, whistling.”

The revelation that Pebblehead maintains an allotment will come as a shock to his readers. How in the name of all that is holy, one wonders, does so indefatigable a paperbackist find time to grow radishes and kohlrabi and tomatoes and potatoes and bugloss and beetroot and hollyhocks, not only to grow them but to keep them free of hideous diseases and the predations of tiny parasitic creeping things? Annoyingly, the interviewer did not pursue this fascinating line of inquiry. Dismayed by rainfall, he left Pebblehead standing alone on the steps of the bordello, tucked his notepad into an inner pocket, gave his pencil to a vagrant, and ducked into the shelter of a railway station, descending the escalator to catch a train back to his office. All the more perplexing when one considers that he was working for a magazine entitled Potboilers And Allotments And The Social Glue That Binds Them.

In an echo of the past, the railway station into which the rainsoaked reporter hurried was Waterloo, and he fell, or possibly threw himself, under a train from the very same platform from which Eric Fogg fell, or threw himself, seventy years ago to the day.

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Buttonmaker’s Doldrums

Hepcat buttonmakers Gravelrenche are, I am sorry to say, in the doldrums. For decades, as fashions came and went, Gravelrenche buttons remained impossibly with-it and groovy, favoured by everyone from beatniks to dowager duchesses. Wander as one might from establishment drawing rooms to counterculture flophouses, the sharp-eyed buttonist would spot a Gravelrenche everywhere, on cardigans and greatcoats and weskits and spats. For this reason alone, banks and hedge funds and venture capitalists were willing to advance untold sums of cash to the company, without asking any questions or, indeed, specifying a date upon which they wanted their money back.

Well, the crunch de la credit has put paid to that jolly state of affairs, and over the past six months Gravelrenche has been unable to secure any funding at all, just at the point where button sales have dried up. In the last quarter, the company sold just three buttons, to a demented oligarch, and there is not a single order on the books. Grim-looking envoys from the banks have been seen loitering in the vicinity of the Gravelrenche buttonarium, armed no doubt with terrifying legal papers. The buttonmaking executives, however, are nowhere to be found. But those seeking them are asking the wrong question. Instead of wondering “Where on earth are they?”, they should be asking “Who the hell are they anyway?”

Because the company purports to have been founded by brothers Pierre and Claude Gravelrenche, and operates in the sickly world of fashion, there is an assumption that, when located, its managers will be found to be stylish Eurosophisticates, the Jose Mourinhos of the world o’ buttons. Well, “boff!”, as the French say. The presiding genius of Gravelrenche is in fact a toothless, evil-smelling lumberbones who lurks in a battered seaside boardinghouse and keeps all that cash he has eked over the years under his mattress. It is an enormous mattress. His name is neither Pierre nor Claude, nor even Gravelrenche, but something unpronounceable, the sort of chewy polysyllabic name that demands guttural improbabilities and an excess of phlegm if one wishes to speak it aloud properly. In the unlikely event that this man ever found himself in the boardroom of a bank, he would be turfed out on his grubby ear, mistaken for a vagrant.

What path did so unprepossessing a figure take to become the world’s fabbest buttonmaker? Before answering that question, I want to digress for a moment to take a look at that word “unprepossessing”. What’s that all about? “Possessing” means having, or owning. “Prepossessing” would mean already having or owning, being in possession before the fact. The “un-“ prefix suggests that, far from already owning or having, one has not nor owns not. It is all a bit of a muddle as far as I am concerned, but that does not stop me from deploying the word as and when I want to, without a care in the world. If I wish to be verbose, then verbose I shall be, and a pox upon your strictures!

As for the path of the buttonmaker, that is a fairly straightforward matter. In spite of the unprepossessing figure he presented, and his unpronounceable name, and the stainage upon his clothing, and the vermin creeping in his bouffant, and his curd-like pallor, and his toothlessness, and his frayed elbow patches, and his stink, and his lasciviousness, and his grubby ears, and his filthy neck, and his gullet like a pelican’s, and his squalid patrimony, and his lack of scruples, and his horrible head, and his one eye bigger than the other, and his unfamiliarity with soap, he had an almost eldritch talent for button design. He learned as much early, when he bumped into King Zog I, Skanderbeg III of the Albanians in the street, and the monarch was so smitten with the homemade buttons on the buttonmaker’s homemade cardigan that he emptied his pockets of Albanian and other currencies’ banknotes and coins, pressed them into the buttonmaker’s mucky paws, and begged to be given the buttons in exchange. That very same evening, the King sported the buttons upon his fantastic kingly garb at a palace reception for wealthy Eurogits, and the buttonmaker’s future was assured. Over the ensuing decades, clients such as Ringo Starr and Pat Nixon and Christopher Plummer and Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Monica Vitti and the brothers Miliband and Kathy Kirby bought hundreds and thousands of Gravelrenche buttons, even millions in the case of Mick Jagger, all of them under the impression that they were dealing with swish, effortlessly stylish Pierre and Claude.

Now we know those two dashing Gallic fashion titans never actually existed, and it seems the banks and hedge funds and venture capitalists may have caught on too, for ever since the crunch came, very little cash has been shoved under that enormous mattress in that fetid boardinghouse room on that windswept seafront where the buttonmaker lurks, chewing fish-heads and still, still, making his magnificent groovy buttons.

Up In The Mountains

Dobson and Marigold Chew were up in the mountains. Dobson was wearing an ill-advised cravat, while Marigold Chew sported a leopardskin pillbox hat. They were in pursuit of a murderer, reported to have taken refuge in the mountains. Their purpose was to persuade the murderer to repent his killing spree. They had no interest in bundling him back down from the mountains to face earthly justice. They simply wanted him to repent.

The murderer was Babinsky. Heavy of moustache and lumbering of gait, he had prowled the streets of Pointy Town in darkness before a botched slaying panicked him and he took to the mountains. The mountains were teeming with bears. Many, many, many of the bears were afflicted with lupus, a particular form of ursine lupus common in that mountainous region. You might think that lupine animals like wolves would be more prone to lupus than ursine animals like bears, but as I just pointed out, this was a strain of ursine lupus, not lupine lupus. There were few wolves in the mountains, but they were for the most part tremendously hale and healthy wolves.

Lupus, neither ursine nor lupine but human, is an unaccountably popular disease in the television medical drama House M.D. Intriguingly, Dobson and Marigold Chew had arranged their trip to the mountains by buying tickets from a travel agency named Foreman, Cameron & Chase. These are the names of Dr House’s young assistants. In a further twist so improbable that it could almost be fictional, the conductor on the train that brought them to the station at the mountain foothills was a man called Cuddy Wilson. Cuddy and Wilson are, as it happens, the other two main characters in House M.D. Not only that, but with his huge lugubrious moustache and lumbering gait, the train conductor’s resemblance to the killer Babinsky was startling. There had been an unfortunate incident on the train, in the dining car, when a gung ho Dobson had removed his ill-advised cravat and tried to shove it into the conductor’s mouth to incapacitate him and place him under arrest, thinking he was Babinsky. This was despite the warning words of Marigold Chew, alert to one or two subtle features of Cuddy Wilson’s physiognomy which differed from that of the fugitive maniac. Dobson was lucky not to be thrown off the train, for it so happened that the conductor was an adept of Goon Fang, and he had no trouble at all disarming Dobson of the ill-advised cravat and crumpling him into the helpless posture known as Pong Gak Hoon, in which he spent the remainder of the journey. Thus, upon arrival at the mountain foothills, the pamphleteer was unable to think straight because he had missed his breakfast, and valuable hours were lost as he insisted on stopping at a snackbar where he stuffed himself with bloaters and Special K and sausages.

Let us treat ourselves to a bird’s eye view of the terrific mountains. If we imagine we are hovering directly above them, hundreds of feet in the air, at cloud level perhaps, we can draw a triangle between three points. Call them A, B and C. At A, we have the snackbar in the foothills, wherein we find Dobson and Marigold Chew. At B, we have an encampment of mountain bears, many stricken with ursine lupus. And at C, the killer Babinsky, taking shelter in a declivity that might be a crevasse, high in the mountains, examining the contents of his knapsack, packed in a panic as he made his getaway from Pointy Town. Had Babinsky read Dobson’s uncharacteristically useful pamphlet Never Pack A Knapsack In A Panic (out of print), he would not have been in the pickle in which he now found himself. Dobson did not write the pamphlet specifically to advise homicidal fugitives from earthly justice who had fled into the mountains, and the majority of tips in its twenty pages have a more general application. Indeed, one of the few positive reviews the pamphleteer ever received in his lifetime came from a notice in Big Sturdy Boots, the journal of the Bodger’s Spinney Hiking Club, whose anonymous critic praised the pamphlet for its “judicious good sense and greaseproof paper wrapping”. The writer’s only caveat was Dobson’s exclusive use of the word knapsack, which it was felt could cause offence to those who preferred the terms haversack and rucksack. Younger readers should note that in those days the barbaric backpack had not yet sullied the language.

So there at point C, the disconsolate Babinsky rummaged among the items he had packed panic-stricken into his knapsack. Instead of useful things like a compass and pemmican and string, he found that he had a paperback Gazetteer Of Basoonclotshire, a tattered pincushion innocent of pins from which half the stuffing had fallen out, a photograph of a pig, two corks, an unpaid gas bill, a badge from Richard Milhous Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign when he ran against Hubert Humphrey, several small and purposeless cloth pods, a rusty whisk, a paper bag full of bent or otherwise damaged fountain pen nibs, the packaging from a black pudding he had eaten just before he killed the toothless vagrant of Pointy Town, hair dye, a plasticine starling, much dust, a cardboard tag or tab or label on which some unknown functionary had scribbled the word pointless, a beaker caked with mould, another beaker with a gash in its base, a sleeveless and warped 12” picture disc of Vienna, It Means Nothing To Me by Ultravox, whittled twigs, scrunched-up dishcloths, the gnawed bones of a weasel, or possibly a squirrel, feathers, a pictorial guide to cephalopods, someone else’s illegible address book, an empty carton of No Egg, more dust, more feathers, more bones, and a syringe containing a goodly amount of ursine lupus antidote. Having neatly laid out all this rubbish on a ledge in the declivity or crevasse where he squatted, Babinsky stuffed it all back into his knapsack, made the knapsack a pillow, lay splayed out on his back, and fell asleep.

Meanwhile, over at point B on our triangle, the many, many, many bears, both those with ursine lupus and those without, were also fast asleep, and had been for some hours. It was as if they had been engulfed by some sort of narcoleptic gas, but those with knowledge of the mountains, and of the mountain bears, would tell you that there was nothing to worry about. It was simply a case of an encampment of sleeping bears, high in the mountains, who would eventually wake up. Down in the foothills, village folk might tell stories about the mysterious experiments going on in the Pneumatic Institution for Inhalation Gas Therapy, but they knew not whereof they spoke, for they were peasants rather than scientists, and thus their expertise was in such matters as slurry and pigswill and barnyard maintenance rather than in exciting gas activity. In any case, by skipping along to point A, one would find Dobson and Marigold Chew in the snackbar, wide awake and intently planning their next steps in tracking down the killer Babinsky and making him repent.

Ever resourceful, Marigold Chew had brought her Ogsby Steering Panel to facilitate the search. Neither she nor Dobson could be said to be natural mountaineers, both of them more at home on flat surfaces such as ice rinks and tidal plains. Yet they had a sense of overwhelming duty to make the killer repent, preferably on his knees, or sprawled on the ground in a posture of abject grovelling, not unlike Pong Gak Hoon, from which Dobson was only just recovering with the help of the tremendous snackbar breakfast menu. So enthusiastically was he stuffing his gob that Marigold Chew began to wonder if her paramour would be too bloated to clamber in sprightly fashion up into the mountains before nightfall. She was well aware, even if Dobson was not, that at night-time these mountains were both eerie and perilous, for all those years ago she had paid attention in the prefabricated schoolroom when Miss Hudibras taught the important Key Stage 4 Sprightly Clambering In Mountains At Night learning module.

And it will be night, star-splattered and moonstruck, before the three corners of our triangle are each set in motion, and begin, ever so slowly but implacably, to converge upon each other, the triangle twisting, warping like Babinsky’s Ultravox record, shrinking. Dobson and Marigold Chew, the killer Babinsky, and many, many, many bears, including those stricken with ursine lupus, will meet, in the most desolate hour of the night, up in the mountains, at a spot we can call point D. And here at point D, as if awaiting them, bashed firmly into the hard compacted snow, stands an upright cylinder of reinforced plexiglass, sealed with a rubber cork. It is one of a number of cylinders placed here and there in the mountains by boffins from the Pneumatic Institution for Inhalation Gas Therapy. And as the peasants down in the foothills could tell you, as they pause in their doings with slurry and pigswill and barnyard maintenance, only the devil knows what some of those boffins are up to. And as I can tell you, even though I am no devil, there were rogue elements among the boffins, bad boffins, and one such boffin had, just yesterday, filled the cylinder at point D with a new and terrible and loathsome gas which, when uncorked, would fell all living things within a twenty yard radius, crumple them as if they had been placed in the Pong Gak Hoon posture beloved of Goon Fang adepts like the Babinsky-double train conductor, and their brains would be modified in gruesome and unseemly ways. And then, as the gas dispersed into the clear mountain air, as dawn broke, each of them would awaken, Dobson and Marigold Chew, the killer Babinsky, and many, many, many bears, including those stricken with ursine lupus, and to each of them the world would seem raw, different, alive with new tangs and hues and vapours, and the three points of the triangle would slowly move apart, relentlessly, forever, as if they had never, ever converged.

Vagrant Goat God

I have been asked to write some further words about the golden key to the secret fortress of the mysterious Adepts of the hidden tower of the invisible goat deity. This key is referred to in Emboldened, In Gumboots, where it is suggested that obtaining it, and bringing it back to HQ, was the object of the no longer weedy volunteer brevet cadet’s dangerous mission.

Rather than babbling on about the key, however, I think readers would be better served if I said something about the invisible goat deity itself. This goat god was not only invisible, but more significantly it was vagrant, in the sense that it was forever wandering around, hither and thither, without any apparent purpose. It was for this reason that the Adepts had constructed a tower in which to pen it. They let it out to go a-wandering on special ceremonial days, and were able – as Adepts – to track its aimless scurrying because the deity left a unique carbon footprint wherever it went. Perhaps ‘carbon hoofprint’ is the apposite phrase. The mark of a true Adept was an acutely honed skill at offsetting the goat god’s carbon hoofprint. So few people had even the glimmer of an idea what ‘offsetting the carbon hoofprint’ actually meant that there was only ever a handful of Adepts. Easily recognisable in their huge blue conical hats, waving their wands, and weighed down by necklaces of bones and teeth and jewels and stones and dough, the Adepts spent most of their time in their secret fortress, writing lengthy and learned texts about the deity.

Careful never to reveal how they offset the goat god’s carbon hoofprint, they had two objectives. As their god was invisible and vagrant, they felt it necessary to compile a thorough account of its character, personality, likes and dislikes, temper, cogitations, diet, sensibility, and speech-patterns, or rather grunt-patterns. Their second aim was to convince the ignorant peasants who lived in the bailiwick of the fortress and the tower that the invisible goat was their Creator, and had ultimate power over their miserable lives.

Pebblehead’s bestselling paperback Goat! is a fictionalised account of the exciting day when the goat outwitted the Adepts and locked them in the tower, then scampered off to the secret fortress and, in the company of a number of other goats, both visible and invisible, munched its way through their collected writings, leaving nothing but a clotted, chewed-up mass of spittle-soaked scrap paper. No one knows what became of the goat after that, for it resumed its vagrant ways, invisible. So ended its goatgodly Dominion, which had lasted for just six weeks, in the year of straw, long ago, but not so long ago as all that.