Returning to the loft to squint up the chimney at the old penguin nest, irritatingly just beyond my reach, my eye alighted upon the bag full of lost Victorian novels that I had bought from the antique dealer in town. Riffling through, I came upon these slightly exciting few pages which, according to the frontispiece attached with a ribbon, seem to be the last chapter of:
The Man in the Iron Underpants
A tale of confinement, deceitful identity, miraculous simulacrum and the besnatched bestowment of a birth right.
The eyes of the minister constantly volleyed between the two faces. Which was which? Who was the rightful Prince Pomeroy of Woomera and which his identical twin cousin, Matthew Sock?
Behind him the cook turned her rotund frame betwixt the perplexing twosome. Next to her the boot boy, mouth agape and dribbling slightly, swivelling like a lawn sprinkler, completed the astounded trio. He was the first to break the silence, ‘I never seen nuffink like it!’ he opined, ‘Like two peas in a pod!’
‘It’s amazing,’ announced the cook, ‘when you fink that one of them has been locked up in the dark since birf for twenty-six years, whilst the ovver has been abroad, free as a bird for forty-eight years and yet they are like two dumplins in me soup, so they are.’
‘It is,’ agreed the minister, ‘utterly astounding. Perhaps we can differentiate them by their preferences.’ He turned to the tall bald man on the right in the purple silk tights, slashed puffed red velvet shorts and golden cape. ‘Tell me sire, ‘ he ventured, ‘knowing, as I do, your dietary requirements, would you eat a chocolate biscuit?’
The ensemble waited with baited breath.
Eventually the right hand man spoke, ‘Too right, Cobber, I wouldn’t feed it to the Kookaburra, that’s for sure!’
‘I see,’ the minister turned to the short man standing to the right of the man on the right. ‘And what,’ he enquired, ‘would you do with a chocolate biscuit?’
The man stroked his long ginger beard thoughtfully. Finally brushing some ginger hairs from his Black Watch tartan jodhpurs he announced, ‘If oi faand one, oi would ’ave it in a flash, ’oo wouldn’t, Guv?’
‘Amazing!’ cried the cook, ‘they would each eat a chocolate biscuit! How unusual!’
The minister tried another tack. ‘One of you, ‘he asserted, ‘will have the birthmark of the rightful heir; it is a mole in the shape of a crown on the left breast. I require you to bare your chest, at once.’
The tall, bald man tossed back his golden cape. Unbuttoning his purple velvet shirt he revealed his chest.
‘That’s no ’elp,’ said the boot boy, regarding the tattoo of three crowns, a bunch of keys, a dolphin jumping through a hoop, a skull and crossbones and six hounds chasing a fox downwards emblazoned on the chest of the tall man. ‘I bet,’ said the boot boy, ‘I know where the foxes ’ole is tattooed!’
‘Aha!’ exclaimed the minister. studiously ignoring the boot boy. Pointing at the four foot ten fellow he declaimed: ‘If your chest is bare, it’s him!’
The midget undid his tartan waistcoat and spotted shirt. Lifting his vest and moving his beard aside, he revealed a freshly inked panorama of tiny crowned mermaids in a synchronised swimming display, watched by a rock full of very small coroneted octopi.
‘Unbelievable!’ cried the cook, ‘Where else in the land could you find a man with tattoos on his chest?’
The minister sighed, ‘What an impasse! One is patently a potential prince, the other a pretentious imposter. But which is which?’
Suddenly the doors flew open to admit the Dowager Queen Auntie, walking backwards dragging a horseshoe magnet, half the size of herself, on a tea trolley bristling with breastplates.
‘Enough!’ she cried, ‘if anyone can tell my sister’s son from his cousin, I can! After all I bore one of them,’ she asserted scanning the faces before her with perplexity. ‘Is it you?’ she interrogated, seizing the nearest figure.
‘No Maaaam, not me, I’m the cook.’
‘Oh, sorry’ she relinquished her grasp to grab again, ‘you?’
‘Gerroff,’ said the boot boy, pointing, ‘it is them what must be chose between.’
‘Oh gosh yes. You! You with the long grey hair, bushy ginger beard and black silk pom poms on your hiking boots, do noses run in your family?’
‘In the cold, daalin’ dun’t they all?’
‘What of your family? You, bald fellow with the didgeridoo? Do ears twitch in your family?’
‘Fair dinkum, Sheila!’
The first minister shook his head. ‘Impossible, your Auntieship, they simply cannot be told apart!’
‘Right!’ she cried, swinging the tea trolley round in a circle, picking up a light clanging of monocles, teaspoons and the coffee pot, ‘I have had enough of the uncertainty! The throne of Woomera must be secured once and for all. I will know which one is the Man in the Iron Underpants!’ So saying she grasped the handles of the trolley afresh, gathered speed and ran at
Sadly the rest of this baffling tale is missing, though happily a local handyman did manage eventually to retrieve the penguin nest from the chimney. So the fire has stopped smoking and there have been no more surprise egg bombs setting the hearth rug alight. All things considered, a beneficial result.
Yesterday is resting until it turns into history. Yesterday is the tomorrow you were worried about last week. Yesterday and yesterday and yesterday rolls back this petty pace until the first syllable of before there were tape recorders. Yesterday I was taller than I will be tomorrow though not as shrivelled as I will be next week. Say Yes to yesterday, Ow to tomorrow and Od to today.*
*But only if you want to.