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.
There was an Italian explorer in an
area where, he was warned, the cannibals liked to eat Italians. Not relishing
the prospect of a hot bath with relish, he took a beret with him, and wore it,
passing himself off as Antoine, the French chef.
He told them the beret was what
Frenchmen wore, so they would be protected from all afflictions.
The cannibals made him welcome, but
one night, they produced a mummy in a toga, and when they unwrapped it, he saw
that it was wearing a laurel wreath.
"Antoine", they said,
"this is a very old Italian called Julius Caesar, and we were wondering if
you could help us cook him.
Antoine (or Antonio, as he
really was) found himself in a quandary. How could he cook a fellow-Italian?
Then he saw a way out. He took
off his headgear and swapped it with Caesar's wreath.
The cannibals were curious.
"What does this mean?" they asked.
"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 low hovel he
was cooped up in, but he was even angrier about the low price they put on him.
He swore he would come back and hang them all, which he did, all except for a
few of them who had fled to Egypt, then across to the Arabian Gulf, where they
stole a boat and sailed for the Pacific.
When Caesar found out that there
were survivors, he set off in pursuit. Thanks to a navigation error and bad
winds, he was once again captured by pirates near what is now Vanuatu.
They took him to a small atoll where
they had settled, but they remembered the earlier encounter and its upshot.
They told him he would have pleasant
accommodation and they would set the ransom high enough to meet his approval.
"You'd better," he
snarled. "And I want one of those little houses over the water, not this
nasty little hut on the land."
They explained that there were
no burés free, but asked him to wait in the hut, while they worked out the
ransom and saw what they could do about his sleeping arrangements.
When a man came in, looking like
an accountant, Julius said "Well? What ransom have you set for me?"
The man shook his head. "I
come to buré 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 can't," the Druid
answered. "It's against the Geneva Convention."
"Something that hasn't happened
yet," the Druid replied. "We do time travel, you know, but that could
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 it
about at the moment. Has anybody punched you lately?
"Yes, Asterix got me with
an upper cut."
"Yes, he does that. In that
case, I think we might be able to help there, at a price. You'll have to leave
"Handy to have the excuse
to stay away from him. Please do it."
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, and the Druid wasted no time on ceremony.
"Well, Caesar, there are
two solutions we can try. We can fit you with eye-glasses that bend the light
like a prism and line your eyes up, or there were some quick dances that they
will do in the Auvergne in the Auvergne in about 1700 years, and the jumping
around could realign your eyes."
"I need a quick fix for
"Right, we'll do the two
treatments in parallel. I'll send some chaps to see you."
An hour later, six serious Gauls
arrived with black bags that looked more or less medical..
"Are you here to do the
They opened their bags and took
out musical instruments, and the one that looked like Andre Rieu said:
"We come to bourrée,
Caesar, not to prism."
Apparently, when Julius Caesar was in Britain, he tried a
Druidical remedy for baldness. The druids were as surprised as he was delighted
when their secret mixture (worm ash, ground millipedes, dog droppings, boar's
urine and scorpion oil in honey, drunk, followed by decorating the pate with a
fried egg with onions) actually worked.
"We should have left out the boar's urine," said
the Chief Druid. "It's a nice tipple, and that was a good year."
"Naah," said his scribe, "he doesn't like
anybody else taking the piss."
"Right then," said the Chief Druid, who was all
for a quiet life, but just then, Caesar arrived unannounced at the temple. For
a moment, it looked as though the quiet life was over, but the Roman was quite
"With all this hair, now I need some tonsorial
"Shears, clippers, scissors, razor, comb—something to
cut my hair."
The Chief Druid saw a chance to win favour. "I have
something rather interesting, if Caesar would care to step into what we call
our sanctum sanctorum..."
"We use the same term."
"Fascinating! Right, well we may have just the
thing--come on through." With that, the Chief Druid led him through the curtains and showed him a
large meteorite with a pair of shears embedded in them. "This could be a
very good day for you, Caesar. These shears are called Excalibur, and we
believe that whoever can withdraw them from the rock will be the rightful ruler
"Naah." Julius answered. "I come to borrow
scissors, not to prise them."
Later on, Julius Caesar waged all-out cultural war on the
Britons, with the aim of turning them all into Romans.
He called a meeting of his planning council to see what
their progress was.
Music had been 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 workable instruments
to almost zero. His new music had done the rest.
"Good," said Caesar. "What about
A Scottish auxiliary called McGonagall raised his hand.
"They were bringing in Irish mercenaries across in coracles to write nasty
limericks. We sold them a load of used Delphic oracles and soaked up all of
their boat-buying budget, then the oracles killed a lot of them because the
oracles didn't like being put in the water. Just in time, too, given the themes
they were exploring in the limericks, but poetry's under control."
Three other councillors broke in to talk about the themes in
essays, pamphlets and plays, but Caesar waved them aside. "We'll deal with
the prose stuff later. What about their cemeteries? We 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?"
"No, they call their burial mounds barrows."
"Right, we'll get to that in a minute, but think while
we're talking about taking them over as sites for theme parks and public
conveniences. Have we turned all the Druids' groves into temples?"
Crisis Graylingus (Chris Grayling to his friends, if ha had any), a sleek and nasty book burner, could
stand it no more. "We need to talk about the prose and a couple of
dangerous themes running through all the bodies or work, Caesar!"
"Later, Graylingus, later—I'll manage the agenda. Now,
are the groves all converted?"
Graylingus subsided as an anonymous man at the end of the
table replied. "All the groves have been opened up, burned, and covered with
"Good. That leaves just two items on the agenda."
He gave Crisis Graylingus a stern look. "Now I come to barrow seizures, not
two prose themes."
After he killed Julius Caesar, Brutus was beside himself
"How could I have done it?" he said the centurion
who took him in. "I must have lost my wits completely."
"It'll be all right," the centurion said.
"We'll put you in a witless protection program, and send you forward in
time, so you can forget."
The centurion consulted his notes. "There's just one slot
available, and that's as a music arranger for a chap called André Rieu. It's a
severe drop in status, but you should have thought of that before you went stabbing
Brutus accepted the move, but it wasn't a complete success, as he explained to his case
officer at his one-year review.
"It's not easy, this arranging gig" he said.
"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 Verdi, and it's all about
stabbing, and it showed in my music. Then they gave me Wagner, and there was
that sword Gram, then there was a sword called Nothung and Wotan's spear—it was
"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', about a grenade-throwing pope…"
"Never heard of it…"
"That's a relief, but enough
people did. Anyhow I moved on to Strauss, 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', right?"
"Yeah, Viennese Blood. It was like they knew about me,
"Look," said the case officer, "you need a
break. We'll send you to America and you can work on Sousa marches in Illinois.
Just choose the titles carefully."
So Brutus went to Champaign, Illinois, to the Sousa Archives
and Center for American Music, where he asked for full access to their
"We usually just provide a couple of scores at a
time," the librarian told him. "Can you work with that?"
"Not really," he said. "You see, I have delved
into Verdi, I have excavated Wagner, I have sifted through Sullivan and I have mined
the works of Strauss. Now I come to burrow Sousa, not to peruse him."