Note from Mrs Lush: Don’t read this first bit unless you need a quick cure for insomnia. It’ll ruddy-well bore the pants off of you and anyway is most about his lordship instead of Dr Fagus. Skip down to the Biography proper where there’s at least some good snippets and that.
If you do have to read it, well on your own head be it, sit on a hard chair and have black coffee and matchsticks handy and be ready to poke them in your eyes.
But you must know it is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like The Purple-Bellied Parrot which is exciting and funny and sad all at the same time and has got lots of short sentences that you don’t need no dictionary to read it.
Yours, Mrs Lush
PS. I told Dr Fagus not to let him do it but it’s like talking to a knob of clay.
Introduction to Biography By An Acquaintance
The biography of Dr William Fagus commences a number of paragraphs subsequentially. I decided, however, it would advantage the reader to be apprised of the circumstances of our first acquaintance, whereby the reader may derive a portrait of this nebulous character, which, facts, alone, might fail to impart.
I first became acquainted with Dr Fagus following surgery to remove nasal polyps. On the advice of my physician I embarked on a daily regimen of vigorous walking ‘a la belle étoile’ which, provided the weather was not too inclement, frequently led me onto our local cliffs. There, circumventing, of course, the various vertiginous declivities by which many a hapless perambulator has suffered an premature demise, I would happen upon a mysterious gentleman, perched on the edge of one of those dizzying abysses, peering out to sea through a brass telescope in an attitude, I have to say, the like of which would render your narrator bed-ridden with a back spasm for no inconsiderable period of time.
Indeterminate of age, inconspicuous of dress (apart from a rather incongruous plaid aviator hat, which, I assumed, he donned to give himself the aspect of a local ‘character’), the mystery of this apparition was further compounded by his visage. For his physiognomy was obscured by what I first took to be the luxurious pile of his fur-lined hat, but was what I later discovered to be his curious whiskers. Imagine, if you will, not the wire-grizzled jowls of the Klondike gold prospector, but the floor-sweepings of a ladies hair salon. ‘Downy’ is perhaps the most appropriate modifier, and these fronds curl up to the ramparts of his eye sockets, whence they are thwarted by the upthrust of the inner mottes which take the form of carpet bags of the type carried, perhaps, by Passepartout.
Needless to say, I was intrigued by this queer creature. Nevertheless, until I was able to ascertain the exact nature of the plaid hat, my allergy to natural fur (not to mention my vertigo!) forestalled too close an approach. Too adjacent a propinquity to natural fur inevitably brings me out in the type of hives only the copious application of Calamine Lotion might assuage. My worries would prove to be groundless, however, because, as I later discovered, fur derived from a living animal is an anathema to Dr Fagus.
I tarry. To continue my tale: my first encounter with the bewhiskered gentleman could not be described as not unpromising. It is, as I have discovered since taking up my regimen, ‘de rigueur’ when one steps away from the grim mundanities of tarmac and concrete onto the bosky turfy sward, to issue a greeting to all and sundry, even to the type of miscreants to whom in urbanity one would not bestow a second glance. So, one fine afternoon, this I did to the curious character peering through the telescope.
‘Good day!’ I called out merrily, but not a jot of response was forthcoming. The be-hatted fellow did not so much as disengage his eye from the eyepiece. The thick flaps of his hat must be stopping up his ears, I concluded, so I repeated the greeting, on this occasion with greater volume. ‘Good day, Sir!’ The head remained stock still, the lips, I assumed, unparted.
Well, I am not a man habituated to being disregarded by the commonality, and I have to say I found his heedlessness not a little irksome. Nonetheless, I am also a man who believes that people are inherently good until proved ‘au contraire.’ Perhaps he was enraptured by some unfolding episode invisible to my unassisted eye. Perhaps he had been the victim of one of life’s many vicissitudes (with which, I may say, I myself am intimately acquainted), and this reverse had subsumed all other thoughts including a cognisance of the mores of quotidian social intercourse. Perhaps he was hard of hearing.
I, hence, decided to grant him doubt’s benefit and endeavoured once more to communicate, this time assuming a different tack. I had observed that his telescope was directed towards a group of pelagic avians wheeling above the spume. Now, I cannot determine the difference between a hedge sparrow and a dunnock, and I do not consider this epistemological deficiency to have been any impediment to my advancement in life, but perhaps this mysterious gentleman was of the ornithological persuasion.
I cleared my throat loudly and cried gaily, ‘Engaged in a spot of twitching I see, Sir!’
The response was immediate and not little disconcerting. The gentleman jerked back as though jolted by an unseen and sudden electrical discharge. His eye, now extracted from the eyepiece of the telescope, was now fixed firmly to your narrator. He drew himself erect, remained motionless for a moment, then commenced to jerk about in angular fashion as though dancing to the tune of some demonically arhythmic fiddler. Incrementally, he drew closer, and I, concerned, of course, by the proximity of the fur, drew back guardedly. Finally he stilled, took a deep breath, for he was by now panting like the hound of Hades from his exertions, and bellowed, and I remember it plainly to this day, etched as it is on the slate of my mind:
‘That, Sir is twitching. I, Sir, am an ornithologist. If by ‘twitching’ you mean that execrable bird-related practice carried out by nincompoops, pen-pushing phone-poking public-sector pedants, recently potty-trained train spotters, optical bauble-bedecked obsessives and general arseholes, then, Sir, you insult me.’
He began to advance towards me in a menacingly threatening manner. I felt the first stirrings of an asthma attack. Moreover, in times of confrontation, it has always been my misfortune to suffer from nosebleeds, and, exacerbated by my recent corrective surgery, I felt the damns swell and then burst forth and then the sanguinary inundation flood my nostrils.
He stopped, and his eyes, for they were the only portion of his fleshly countenance visible, softened. ‘Here,’ he said, and he shifted aside the flanks of his tweed overcoat, which had the appearance of having being purchased at the recent chapel Rummage Sale, fumbled in the pocket of his shapeless olive trousers, which tapered curiously to his ankles to impart the appearance of his wearing bicycle clips, and handed me a crumpled piece of coarse tissue, of the type, I believe, used to mop up kitchen spillages. The tissue was encrusted with rhinological excretions, so, as I expressed my thanks, I ‘accidentally’ dropped it onto the damp turf, and extracted my own, of the balmed, variety. Nonetheless, this selfless act of solicitude I found not a little moving, and intoned again my gratitude through the clasped, and, now, blood-stained, tissue.
My unforeseen and unfortunate nasal discharge, however, transpired to be a serendipitous ‘ice-breaker,’ and for some moments we engaged in friendly discourse. Then, suddenly noting the hour, I apprehended it was time for afternoon tea, my late appearance for which my mother finds invariably distressing.
Thus we parted amicably, and the very next day I proceeded ‘poste-haste’ to the same spot and found him peering over the very same precipice. I must confess, he seemed surprised to see me, but we exchanged pleasantries nonetheless, and he informed me about the pair of juvenile ‘peregrine falcons’ he was presently observing. He invited me to take a peep through his ‘scope’, but I declined the offer, not only on account of my vertigo but also because of my preternatural susceptibility to the stye. I then invited him to take tea with myself and mother. A pressing engagement stymied his acceptance however, but he nonetheless pledged to entertain us with his presence at a future date.
Since then, my meetings with the gentleman, whose name, I discovered from his cleaning lady, is Dr William Fagus, have been cordial if intermittent in nature. Whereas before, he could always be found perched over the same stygian declivity, now his movements appear circumambulatory, and our good doctor might take a good deal of pre-prandial tracking down. But this, being myself of resolute and tenacious character, I, in the main, succeed in accomplishing, and I generally find him cordial, if a little preoccupied with, and immersed in, his ornithological observations. I am of the opinion that Dr Fagus may also have adopted the unspeakable habit of ‘jogging’, for, whenever I catch sight of him within earshot, he always seems to be running in a direction in no wise amenable to my own. I am no doubt sure that he would be crestfallen to discover that his huffings and puffings render him insensible to my salutatory cries. Still, each to their own I suppose.
And so to: ‘The Biography.’ I proposed to write said essay as I knew Dr Fagus to be busy with his forthcoming novel and, moreover, to be in possession of a somewhat jaundiced view of self-publicity, and I was, concurrently, Time’s plaything following further surgery to remove an ear grommet, which, has left me with no small degree of unsteadiness on my feet. If I may be immodest, as you may undoubtedly have deduced from the foregoing, I am a writer of no little experience and talent, to wit, having had numerous articles published in the parish magazine, and having recently submitted a report on the banjo barrows of the local bronze-age ring-dyke systems to the county Archaeological Journal, reluctantly excluded, I was assured by the editors, purely due to lack of column space in that issue. I am currently working on a monograph of the lesser-known Florentine Renaissance sculptor, Luigi Scemoculloni.
The Biography has been assembled by myself from my admittedly fragmentary conversations with the good doctor, filling in the lacunae with information supplied to me by Dr Fagus's cleaning lady, the redoubtable Mrs Lush. While some of the following may appear far-fetched and outlandish, I can assure you that I can think of no reason why either Dr Fagus or Mrs Lush would furnish me with any untruths of dubious origin.
Biography of Dr William Fagus By An Acquaintance
William Fagus’s (pronounced ‘Fay-gus’) early life is somewhat mysterious. The facts, such as they are, are these: William was born at an early age on the outskirts of a Midlands industrial town to Horace and Ada Fagus (née Lapotaire). Horace was a self-employed bodger who practiced his trade in the local beech woods, but of Ada’s occupation we know rather less. Her marriage certificate gives ‘Biscuit Rubber’, but we cannot be sure if this was a position in the pottery industry, or one in service concerning the preparation of tea-time fancies for the upper crust.
What is certain about Ada is that she held fundamentalist religious beliefs. The diligent researcher may find a note pasted onto the chapel terrier recording that Ada was a Ranter with Muggletonian leanings. It appears that Ada coerced young William to accompany her to Ranting meetings, and while one may imagine the boy enjoying a spot of ranting, one may also imagine the boy dragged along to the chapel door, his toes ploughing furrows in the gravel (assuming there was any). In any event, Ada’s hand may well have been forced, as the boy could not be left at home because Horace was always bodging about in the beech woods. Any allure of ranting must eventually have diminished for William, however. Come chapel time, increasingly he had mysteriously disappeared, and by his early adolescence Ada’s zealotry appears to have driven young William into the bosky realm of the beech woods.
Horace, however, was a hard taskmaster, and he gave William the sole task of pumping the treadle on his pole lathe, day-long labour that was to have severe consequences for young William’s physical development. An early medical record states that the muscles on William’s right leg were grotesquely over-developed while those on the left leg shamefully spindly — particularly the gluteous maximus. The report was the result of a doctor’s visit following the school sports day and William’s poor performance in the 100-yard dash, during which teachers were alarmed to see that the boy could only run around in circles.
With the advent of William’s adolescence, facts become clearer. He left school at the age of 16 armed with O-levels in metalwork and home economics. To this day he can make an acceptable Scotch egg and serve it in a bespoke ashtray. Eschewing bodging, he immediately ran off to Cleethorpes to seek adventure. Soon the willing boy was apprenticed as bosun’s mate to the windjammer SS Colinda. Out at sea, leaks were soon discovered in the ship’s clinkers and, with the present incumbent permanently inebriated, Fagus was promoted to apprentice ship’s carpenter as a stop gap. Fagus spent three decades on the Colinda as it plied the oceans twixt the Indies. He encountered many wonders, but his favourite was to round the Horn while lashed to the poop.
Tragedy was to strike, however, on tamer waters as he was adjusting the turnbuckle on a spanker off Swakopmund. Earlier, he had washed down a mouldy ship’s biscuit with grog and inadvertently swallowed a weevil. Now he suffered a violent allergic reaction. While flailing about, he dropped his Dutchman, tripped over a monkey fist and cracked his head on a trunnion. While he was unconscious, the orlop spanker fell and crushed his leg. Fagus was invalided-out of the merchant navy and, back on terra firma and clueless with IT, soon unemployed.
On pain of forfeiting his £50-per-week job-seeker’s allowance, his teenage dole officer demanded he go to college with other ne’er-do-wells to improve his prospects. There it transpired he possessed undiscovered brains. Fagus went on to university, where he achieved a BA in Modern Languages and Home Economics (2:2). An MA followed (Humanities with Home Economics, pass) and, still unemployed and unable to think of anything useful to do, he studied for a PhD. The resulting thesis, Alternative Usages of the Scotch Egg: Albuminoidal and Fibrous Caulking Methods in Clinker-Built Carvels of the Early Modern Period, was read by two people in Iowa and earned him the moniker ‘Dr Clinker.’ A further period of unemployment inevitably followed his PhD, and Fagus plunged into a crevice of gloom and despair, that is, until his cleaning lady, a certain Mrs Lush (for whose character, I can, sadly, not vouch) persuaded him to write a picturesque novel drawn from episodes in his colourful life.
Dr William Fagus lives alone at an undisclosed location in an upturned smack with a parrot, a tame jackdaw, a telescope and a banjo, where he spends his spare time fettling his collection of hand planes.