Off With Her Head!…

P1100041‘More roasted songbirds,’ an Elizabethan dignitary might once have bellowed. Mauve of cheek, with honey-glazed venison protruding from his pendulous jowls, he cuts quite the powerful figurehead. But this is only the hem of the garment, so to speak.

Eels seethed in wine are brought to the table by a curtsying maid, her skin the colour of bleached parchment. As she clasps her hands unctuously, his embittered mind is dreaming of overpowering this frail creature, swooping like a Valkyrie to defile her sanctuary.

And if she opposes the union? Simple. Off with her head! You see, beneath all this glittering authority lies a craven, insecure ballbag worthy only of despisement and scorn.

No More Mr Nice Guy

 

And what of the incorrigibly gossipy scullery maid? An intractable, quarrelsome woman that once had the temerity to voice an opinion on the running of the household hierachy. Tut tut. Yes, an iron mouthpiece for her, permanently mutilating the tongue with sharp spikes and blades. Obviously befilth her in her own excrement, too. P1100026

Gruesome? You betcha. And do you know why this chain of events evolved? All because the royal, gout-ridden oaf had a tiny penis. My words, admittedly, not those of the San Marino Torture Museum, and not necessarily an argument you’ll find confirmed on Wikipedia – nor that his Eminence had the brain the size of a squirrel’s – but the reasoning is sound.

San Marino Cliffs

 

Anyway, then she’s branded “Slattern” across her forehead, given a good wheeling and chucked off Mount Titano – there are some perfect spots between the first and third towers – and all before the next flagon of mead. Ooh, but hang on, why selfishly hurl this maid into the abyss when the new trainee needs a few practise swings with the headsman’s sword.

‘A young aspirant’, reads the Museum blurb on beheading, ‘whom we must certainly forgive occasional errors of inexperience, is wont to slice off a few shoulders. But sooner or later he will earn his keep on the third try, and in good time on the first.’

Hmm, less mead at lunch, more heads first go, would be my advice here. Of course, one hopes that young aspirants are breathalysed before clocking on nowadays. Health and Safety, and all that.

Beheading Facts

P1100044

Now, here’s something you probably didn’t know. A freshly severed head is, apparently, fully aware of its fate as it rolls along the ground. Granted, perception is extinguished in a matter of seconds, and it must be an appalling sensation, but I’d definitely favour a neat guillotine execution over a wally from the Job Centre hacking thrice to find the right spot.

Well, having uplifted your mood, I’ll sign off. We’ll talk about flowers or something next week..

 

One Up The Bum – Considerable Harm Done..

P1100043I’ve been thinking about punishment this week. No, not devising a ladder rack large enough to dislocate Namibians; more like dwelling on that San Marino Torture Museum. It was a grizzly experience, and I’m chagrined by the depths of human cruelty.

Don’t get me wrong. Leaning marginally to the right, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over a vile murdering rapist – as opposed to the caring, magnanimous kind – going to the scaffold. Persona non grata; saves taxpayers’ money. But what I don’t understand is why a crowd would turn out, barbarously relishing the spectacle? And to take matters to the next logical step, why would anybody waste valuable energy thinking up ways to make death more painful?

Romanian Evil

 

Vlad the Impaler was your man,’ said my friend Simon, artfully dissecting an orange at my door this morning. ‘He was kidnapped by the Turks and taught as a child how to use a donkey to push a stick up one’s arse. Needs practising, that sort of thing. Nothing worse than a poor impaler.’

He scoffed another segment, discarded the peel beneath my trailer whilst murmuring something about it being biodegradable, and continued. ‘Course the other favourite is covering a fellow’s feet in goose fat and setting fire to him. Can’t be very pleasant, can it? Right, on that note, I’m going for a dump. Have a good day.’P1100057

Charming. Don’t mind Simon – he’s still a bit tetchy after England’s whitewash defeat in the Six Nations rugby thingy on Saturday. All gobbledygook to me, of course; I follow the croquet.

Medieval Torture Chamber

 

Anyway, back to the Torture Museum. Now what’s with these mendicant friars inserting red-hot pokers up the botty? It’s inhuman and there’s no need for it. Bottom line – ahem – so what if a “heretic” hadn’t converted to the “true faith”? A) it’s nonsense and B) did that really make him a follower of Satan? You can’t force people, by pulling out their fingernails, to believe something; gentle cajoling over a cuppa, surely, is far more efficacious.

Try offering your adversary a hot drink. Sure, throw in a muffin if you’re flush, and see whether the results are more forthcoming than the stint on a rectal pear proved to be. In a nutshell, let’s stop torture; instead, how about we spread a little love and forgiveness around the world. Having said that, of course, it’s always a good laugh to stick a colleague’s head down the loo and steal his dinner money. Middle ground, folks – it’s all about compromise..P1100037

San Marino’s Spanish Ticklers..

P1100028

San Marino – a tax haven. Some come here to shop duty-free, others to coo at this charming medieval jewel rising atop Mount Titano. The state is the oldest republic in the world.

Well, you can Google its history, dimensions and relative recent UNESCO status in 2008. But let me tell you that this city-state is stocked to the gunwales with knocked off Chanel No.5, swords the length of trombone slides, and not a smattering of guns and knives.

Faced with this shopfront array of weaponry, rather than linger too long over views of the snow-mantled Tuscan-Emilian Apennines – and the Adriatic Coast to the east – I felt myself subliminally lured to the Torture Museum. Goodness, what a disquieting collection of wickedness.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

 

The clue is in the title, I suppose. I mean, I wasn’t expecting polka dots, gaily painted cells and Bob Marley, but before you’ve even got through the door, there are iron instruments to make your hair stand on end. Man’s inhumanity really is staggering.

P1100048Enter and it only gets worse. On display are knee-splitters, thumb screws, the “heretic’s fork”, the breast ripper, the “Spanish tickler” and the rectal pear, to name but a few. Mind you, the last three sound like items Pervy Ray might warm up with on one of his Monday afternoon gangbangs.

I saw him last week, by the way. Yes, Norfolk’s very own Scarlet Pimpernel, as I like to think of him, popped down to see us in Milan, to collect one of the smaller dinosaurs for some TV promos back in the UK. And he lost no time in getting pervy, explaining his less than polished attire in the next paragraph.

Water Sports

 

‘I suppose you’ve never heard of the London Pissing Club?’ he asked, seated and barely seconds into his starter. ‘Pissing Sue was great – she used to lie on the pavement and do a whale impression. Almost six feet in the air, she could do. Floor used to get soaked. Trick was to wear old clothes, you see.’ Ah, the penny drops – I knew there’d be a reason why he looks like a homeless fisherman.

P1100030Pervy Ray broke a hunk of bread and spooned in some soup before continuing, po-faced as usual, bemoaning the advent of the internet. ‘Course it’s all changed nowadays,’ he rued. ‘Even dogging’s not what it was.’…

A Swiss Party (Part Two)…

P1090913A week-long binge in England would have consequences. Fried to the tonsils, youths would without doubt overdo things; policemen would be biffed left, right and centre; ASBOs would be liberally dished out like toilet paper. Biffing policemen, I might add, should be done sparingly, if at all – viz. in emergencies, such as interfering with drinking.

In law-abiding Switzerland, however, amidst a non-stop, 160-hour party, I couldn’t see a single policeman. What do you mean, probably too pissed? Well, there might have been one, but he could have been an accountant in fancy dress – you can’t tell during Fasnacht. And even if he were an actual copper, he certainly wouldn’t have been the sort of chap to come over all heavy-handed with a truncheon, bend at the knees and say ‘Evening, All.’

Noise Pollution

 

P1090930Now, you remember the racket being made by trombone players in Part One? Well, the noise pollution was now ramping up nicely, threatening an avalanche. As Winnie-the-Pooh, Wonder Woman, four Muppets and a pirate filed into the bar, a Gugga band stepped off a bus.

Twelve trombonists, twelve trumpeters, a couple of hefty guys with sousaphones, and a handful of percussionists began assembling their instruments. Jeepers, what a wall of sound – and all at one dynamic: an edgy fortissimo, in a tone worthy of trombonist Gary Valente. Ein, zwei, drei, and “BLF”, as we used to say at The Royal College of Music. (That’s “Blow Like Fuck” to those unfamiliar with the intricacies of brass technique at prestigious musical academies.)

Indoors, outdoors, it doesn’t matter. Fifteen minutes of undiluted razzing the bollocks out of the brass, and then the Gugga players hop back on the bus for more of the same in another village. As Swiss Jules said in Part One, you either love or hate it.

Fancy Dress

 

Swiss Jules, incidentally, always an arbiter of style, was getting rather carried away by now. Apple schnapps foisted upon him, he was at this point underneath a girl dressed as a Moroccan henna woman, having a poppy drawn on his neck in what looked worryingly like permanent marker.

P1090933‘Barn, look at that guy,’ he said, pointing over my shoulder as the last smudges merged with his ear. ‘That’s a bit politically incorrect.’ I turned to see a shortish fellow in cut-off sleeves, with child-sized hands stuck directly onto each shoulder.

‘Great costume. Can you open my beer for me?’ called Jules, failing to realise until far too late that here was a genuine thalidomide victim, the only other person in the whole town that hadn’t actually come in fancy dress.

Digging Yourself A Hole

 

You know when you don’t so much put your foot in it as throw in all thirteen stone? Then you’re left, neck reddening, wishing the ground would envelop you and spirit you away before you can say anything to make matters worse? Well, Julian’s face was a picture. It’s at times like this when I think of our school trombone teacher, Peter Mitchell, who had sized him up even in his teens.

‘Julian,’ he said once in a trombone lesson, ‘You really are a festering wart on the arse of humanity.’..

 

 

 

 

A Swiss Party (Part One)..

P1090893Were you to have a bigoted view of the Swiss, what would you think of?

A timid throat-clearing at the Wednesday matinee? A pusillanimous boffin meticulously recording his watchmaker sales in triplicate? An apple-cheeked teetotaller still harrumphing that the 06.12 train to Lausanne ran four seconds behind schedule in 1993? Well, I’ll give you half a point for any of the above; generally, there is more chance of a daffodil biting you on the bottom than a hair falling out of place down here.

But then there is Fasnacht.

Fasnacht

 

It’s a party to end all parties, and it kicks off on what they call “Dirty Thursday”. For an entire week preceding the start of Lent, both night and day, Switzerland actually goes nuts.  ‘I have been on my legs since yesterday morning…and I am a grandmother,’ admitted one lady, fuelling her revelry with a glass of plum schnapps, hot water, sugar and coffee.

P1090903‘You’re not from round here, are you?’ asked another girl with a zip stuck to her forehead. ‘You haven’t got any make-up on.’ Now, I’m not joking – everybody had applied it. And there’d been no stinting when it came to costumes; for months beforehand, locals in Altdorf had prepared original, vivid outfits that had to be seen to be believed. Before long, however, I barely noticed a Hell’s Angel on one side and a leprechaun on the other.

Trombonology

 

‘It’s a case of joining in or leaving the country for a week,’ explained Swiss Jules, polishing off an Eichhof beer before lunch. ‘You either love it or hate it.’ Well, what’s not to love? For me it was nirvana: I’d never seen so many trombones, for a start. Dozens lay careworn and unlacquered, hanging from coathooks in bars, propped up in umbrella stands and resting insouciantly atop prams. Brilliant!

But doesn’t anybody realise that a trombone slide is a precision tool, I cried, sounding like a Swissman on any of the other 358 days of the year. The slightest dent can hamper slide technique; there is lubrication to consider; the instrument’s weight should be supported; P1090899and… Ah, I see. Yes, the trombones are all knackered, but the fanfare procession is only in the key of B flat; arpeggios can be blasted tunelessly in first position without moving the slide. Clever old Swiss…

Where’s the Road Gone?..

P1090950I say, this weather’s getting a bit serious. A good rule of thumb, I’ve always thought, is if you can’t physically get to  – or indeed see – your vehicle, it might as well stay where it is. Sound sensible? Yes, well let’s hope the beer truck can get through; surely this qualifies, even in snowy Switzerland, as hazardous driving conditions.

Having unloaded my ankylosaurus at Zurich’s Hallenstadion for the Walking With Dinosaurs show – yes, I know, you’d think she’d lumber in of her own accord after so many months – an adventure begins. Swiss Jules, my pal of 25 odd years, invites me to a place called Altdorf. (It’s about an hour south of Zurich, to save you fooling about on Google Earth.)

Pub quiz Bonus Round

 

And what is Altdorf famous for? The clue is an apple. Christ, it’s like pulling teeth with you lot. OK, what if I mentioned a bow and arrow and added that this chap had to shoot an apple from his son’s head to avoid execution? That’s right, the legend of William Tell. The trouble with legends, of course, is that they’re tricky to prove; William may really have been called Dave, for example.P1090881

Sure, he is still the national hero of Switzerland, prominent on the back of the five-franc piece. But that arrow may have been a wet sponge rather than a deadly weapon. And he may simply have been munching a Granny Smith at the time of launching the sponge. We’ll never know. Probably wasn’t even his son, come to think of it. Anyway, after 704 years, you’d think Switzerland might be due a new hero?

Switzerland’s National Hero

 

Enter Swiss Jules, a national treasure, braving the lion’s maw beneath a gibbous moon, parrying and crushing Barbary privateers in his wake. Well, more like making the tea and picking up actors, really, but let’s not split hairs.

P1090939He’s here working on a film called – predictably – National Hero. And there happens to be a day off from shooting and a spare hotel room for me. And a lift in a 4WD. Oh, and the beer truck has made it through, so all is tickety-boo.

But why dally in Altdorf when there is 50cm of fresh snow on the mountain. Ski-ing, I hear you ask? I consider it, of course, but discount it swiftly, weighing how a shattered tibia might affect the drive to Prague later this week. But there are snowshoes for rent from nearby Fluelen and a jolly cable car ride up to Eggbergen.

Snow Walking

 

Ooh, things have come on a bit since Scott of the Antarctic’s day. Here I am expecting a couple of tennis rackets to walk on, yet these modern things with clever buckles appear, scarcely weighing more than a sheet of A4. Remarkable. They’ll soon be able to put man on the moon at this rate.

Oh, and if anybody happens to go up to Eggbergen – it’s also lovely in summer – do pop into Bistro Romy for me. The lady in there gave me meat and potatoes instead of soup and then took a photo for her visitors’ book. I’d love to know whether she captured my best side – I look pretty dishy from the back…P1090936