The writing diary of a well-mellowed science writer who cares about the public understanding of science and knows the ropes. This blog bounces between my curiosity, the daily realities of professional writing, the joy of pursuing nature, and my recycling of ideas that won't be in some book or other as far as I can see, but still needed sharing. I welcome comments and suggestions! Spam will be blocked and reported. For my books, see http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/writing/index.htm
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Monday, 1 September 2014
A very cross Caesarean section
This is a set of fables which I originally planned to go in Sheep May Safely Craze, one of the three books I am working on right now, but they are a bit too serious for that. The other two books are fairly serious, but that cannot be said of the work being developed under Project Mad Sheep.
An explorer named Antonio visited an area where the cannibals
liked to eat Italian, or to be precise, they liked eating Italians. Not
relishing the prospect of a very hot bath with chopped-up vegetables, he took a
beret with him, and wore it all the time, so he could pass himself off as Antoine,
the French chef, rather than reveal the land of his birth.
He told the cannibals the beret was a magical item that
Frenchmen wore, so they would be protected from all misfortunes. Alive or dead,
the wearer was protected by this item of headgear.
The cannibals made him welcome, but one night, they showed
him a mummy in a toga, and when they unwrapped it, he noticed it was wearing a
“Antoine,” they said, “this is a very old Italian called
Julius Caesar, and we were wondering if you could help us cook him. We know the
Gauls, your ancestors, hated him…”
Antoine found himself in a quandary. How could he refuse to
cook a fellow-Italian without blowing his cover?
Then he saw a way out. He took off his headgear and swapped
it and Caesar’s wreath.
The cannibals were curious. “What does this mean?” they
“I come to beret Caesar, not to braise him.”
In his early days, Julius Caesar was captured by pirates who
held him to ransom. He was offended by the miserable hovel he was cooped up in,
but he was even angrier about the tiny sum they named as his ransom. He swore
he would come back and hang them all, which he did, all except for a few of them
who fled to Egypt, before riding donkeys across to the Arabian Gulf, where they
stole a boat and sailed for the Pacific Ocean.
When Caesar found out he had missed some of them, he set off
in pursuit. Thanks to a navigational error and bad winds, he was once again
captured, but by different pirates, near what is now Fiji.
They took him to a small atoll where they had settled, but
these pirates had read in the Freebooters’ Gazette of the earlier
encounter and its outcome. They told him he would have pleasant accommodation
and promised they would set the ransom high enough to meet his approval.
“You’d better,” he snarled. “And I want one of those nice
little boo-ray houses over the water, not this nasty little hut on the land.”
They explained that there were no bures free, but asked him
to wait in the hut, while they worked out the ransom and looked into the matter
of his accommodation.
When a small man who looked like an accountant came in,
Julius said “Well? What ransom have you set for me?”
The man shook his head. “I will take you to your hut. I come
to bure Caesar, not to price him.”
More news on Julius Caesar: he had a
lot of eye trouble in Gaul, and called in a Druid to ask if they were using
magic against him.
“We’d never do that,” the Druid answered. “It’d be against
the Geneva Convention.”
“Something which hasn’t happened yet,” the Druid replied. “We
do time travel, you know, but the fact that we can move in time may be handy.
Now what’s the problem with your eyes?”
“Double vision. One eye has an image higher than the other.”
“Ah, there’s a lot of that about at the moment. Has anybody
punched you lately?
“Well, Asterix got me with an upper cut, just last week.”
The druid pondered this. “Yes, he does tend to do that, I’m
afraid. In that case, I think we might be able to help there — at a price.
You’ll have to leave Asterix alone…”
“I’ll welcome any excuse to stay away from him. Please go on.”
The Druid explained that he would need to do some time
travelling first, but he was back the next day, and Caesar had him ushered
straight in. Sensing that Caesar was keen for an answer, the Druid wasted no
time on ceremony.
“Well, Caesar, there are two remedies we can try. We can fit
you with wedgy eye-glasses that bend the light like a prism and line your eyes
up, or there are some quick dances that they’ll be doing in the Auvergne in
about 1700 years from now.”
“I understand why the glasses could work, but how will the
“Well, the theory is that the jumping around could realign
“Well, I need a quick fix for this.”
“Right, in that case, let’s try the two treatments in
parallel. I’ll send some chaps to see you.”
An hour later, six serious Gauls arrived with black bags that
Caesar thought looked more or less medical.
“Are you here to do the eye-glasses?” he asked.
They opened their bags and took out musical instruments. Then
the one that looked like André Rieu said:
“We come to bourrée, Caesar, not to prism.”
Apparently, when Julius Caesar was in Britain, he tried a
Druidical remedy for baldness. It was a drink, taken at dawn, made from worm
ash, ground spiders, dog droppings, boiled onions, boar’s urine, and mashed
caterpillars in honey. After each dose, he had to decorate his head with a
fried egg which had to stay in place until dusk.
The druids were just as
surprised as Caesar was delighted when their secret mixture actually worked.
“We should have left out the boar’s urine,” said the Chief
Druid. “It’s always a nice tipple, and that was a good year.”
“Naah,” replied his assistant, “Caesar doesn’t like anybody
else taking the piss.”
“Right you are,” the Chief Druid agreed. He was all for a
quiet life, but just then, Caesar arrived unannounced at their temple in south
Londinium. For a moment, it looked as though the quiet life was over, but the
Roman was quite affable.
“With all this hair, now I need some tonsorial gear,” he told
the Chief Druid.
“Shears, clippers, scissors, razor — something to cut my
The Chief Druid saw a chance to win favour. “Oh, right! I’ve
something rather interesting to show, if Caesar would care to step into what we
call our sanctum sanctorum…”
“We use the same term.”
“What a coincidence! Right, well we may have just the thing
for you in here.”
The Chief Druid led him through the curtains and showed him a
large meteorite with a pair of shears embedded in it. “This could be a very
good day for you, Caesar. These shears are called Excalibur, and we believe
that whoever can wrench them from the rock will be the rightful ruler of
“Naah,” said Julius. “I come to borrow scissors, not to prise
Later on, Julius Caesar waged all-out cultural war on the
Britons, with the aim of turning them all into imitation Romans.
He called a meeting of his planning council to see what
progress they were making.
Music had been left in the hands of a German auxiliary called
Stockhausen, who explained that by introducing the Britons to the idea of using
their lyres for percussion, he had reduced their number of playable instruments
almost to zero.
“Good,” said Caesar. “What about their poetry?”
A Scottish auxiliary called McGonagall raised his hand. “They
were bringing Irish mercenaries across in coracles to write nasty limericks
about you Romans. We played them some really loud music, then softly sold them
what we described correctly as a load of used Delphic oracles…”
“Which they misheard as Delphic coracles?”
McGonagall grinned. “Indeed they inexplicably did, can’t
think why. Anyhow, that scam soaked up all of their boat-buying budget, then
the oracles killed a lot of the Irish bards because the oracles didn’t like
being put in the water. That was just in time, too, given the themes the Irish
were exploring in the limericks, but the poetry’s under control, now.”
Two other councillors broke in to talk about the subversive themes
in British essays and plays, but Caesar waved them aside. “All in good time.
It’s the verse that concerns me most. Don’t worry, we’ll come back to the prose
later. Now: what about their cemeteries? We badly need to take control of
A Greek auxiliary named Charon chirped up. “They don’t have
cemeteries, Caesar, just barrows.”
“What, you mean they wheel their dead around until they rot
“No, ‘barrow’ is what they call a burial mound.”
“Right, we’ll get to that in a minute, but while we’re
talking, please think about taking the mounds over as sites for theme parks and
public conveniences. Now, have we turned all the Druids’ groves into Roman
Crisis Graylingus, a sleek and nasty book burner, could stand
it no more. “We really need to discuss the prose works and a couple of
dangerous themes running through all the plays and essays, Caesar! We have to
stop these criminals reading…”
“Later, Graylingus, later — I’ll manage the agenda, if
you don’t mind. Now, are the groves all converted?”
Graylingus subsided, just as an anonymous man at the end of
the table opened a scroll and replied. “All the groves have been opened up, the
trees have been burned, and the sites are now covered with our temples,
“Good. That leaves just two items on the agenda.” He gave
Crisis Graylingus a stern look. “Next I come to barrow seizures, not to prose
After he killed Julius Caesar, Brutus was beside himself with
“How could I have done such a thing?” he whined to the
centurion who took him in. “I must have lost my wits completely.”
“It’ll be all right,” the centurion told him. “We’ll put you
in a witless protection program, and send you forward in time, so you can
forget the whole thing.”
The centurion consulted his scrolls, his tablets, the innards
of a passing seagull that had flown too close, and examined the notches on the
hilt of his gladius.
“At the moment, there’s just one slot available,
and that’s as a music arranger for a chap called André Rieu. It’s a big drop in
status, but you should have thought of that before you went around stabbing
Brutus decided to give it a whirl, but it wasn’t a complete
success, as he explained to his case officer at his six-month review.
“It’s not easy, this arranging gig” he grizzled. “I thought
they were onto me when they called my work Brutal Music. I mean, what’s a guy
to do? They asked me to do a Verdi suite, and his operas are all about
stabbing, and it showed in the music. Then they gave me the job of boiling
Wagner’s Ring down to a ring-tone, but there was that sword Gram, plus
another sword called Nothung and Wotan’s spear — it was hell, I tell you.”
“You should have tried something lighter.”
“I did. I worked up some of Sullivan’s music, but they used
it for a ballet called ‘Pineapple Paul’, which was all about a
“Never heard of it…”
“That’s a relief, but enough people did. Anyhow I moved on to
the waltzing Strausses, which ought to have been safe, but the first piece they
asked me to work on was…”
“I think I can see what’s coming. ‘Wiener Blut’,
“Yeah, Viennese Blood. It was like they knew, see?”
“Yes,” said the case officer, leafing through his notes, “you
need a break. We’ll send you to America and you can work on a suite of marches
by John Philip Sousa — they’re very popular over there, and there’s no mention
of violence in his list of works — or at least none that I can recall. Anyhow,
just choose the titles carefully, and you’ll be OK.”
So Brutus went to Champaign, Illinois, where he went to visit
the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music. At the desk, he asked for
full access to their holdings.
“We usually provide just a couple of scores at a time,” the
librarian told him. “Can you work with that restriction?”
“Not really,” he said. “You see, I’ve delved into Verdi, I’ve
excavated Wagner, I’ve sifted through Sullivan and I’ve mined the works of
Strauss. Now I come to burrow Sousa, not to peruse him.”
That's all, folks — for now. The book was completed in July 2017, and it is now being walked around the publishers.