Whither And Why, with H.H. and Honk: Lent
From the desk of Gerald Honk, Esq.
Shrove Tuesday is a solemn occasion in the Honk household. It has been so ever since the troubles with cousin Blenkinsop, and consequently, my wife Lillian has (somewhat understandably) forbidden the mere mention of pancakes within our walls. In order to acquire my clandestine annual fill of maple syrup and batter, I must therefore take a short and surreptitious walk to the home of my friend, the affable maestro and gastronomic revolutionary, Sir Hilary Harrison-Nairn.
After being ushered by my friend’s dog Bismarck into the conservatory and onto a freshly-ironed rug stationed upon the classically-styled tiled floor, H.H. emerged with one of his trademark aprons and a slightly blazing flat cap (“not a chef’s hat to be found in any of our fair village’s establishments, for some reason, mi compadre”), balanced atop which were fragments of what may have once been pancakes.
“Getting back into the flipping habit, H.H.?” I asked.
“Fourteen hours and counting, Honkster,” he replied, before handing me a plate. “Now, ten paces, you know the drill.”
I backed away the requisite distance, as did he. “Engarde!” cried my friend, and a dozen pancakes took to the air like migrating geese. I, somewhat of an expert at the task thanks to my many years of Mardi Grases chez Nairn, successfully caught each projectile, returned to the rug and applied my Canadian condiment of choice. H.H. joined me, and as our respective stacks of cakes diminished, talk turned to plans for the following fortysomething days.
“Lent is coming, H.H.,” I began. “Do you plan to adhere to the giving up of any particular particular?”
“As long as you don’t attempt to wean me off sweets again, Honkster” he answered.
“My friend, you appear to have taken to calling me Honkster.”
“Indeed, I rather like it, as a name,” was the response. “I am thinking of naming a cactus after it.”
(It is worth noting that H.H. had taken to nurturing cacti in his greenhouse.)
He continued, “but you digress. I will not discontinue your new moniker, since you seem less than thrilled with it, but I shall have my sweets this year, and let that be an end to it!”
H.H.’s confectionary intake, and his resultant sugar-induced peaks and troughs, was as alarming as ever, but I reluctantly agreed to his demand. After lastyear’s disastrous attempt by Mrs Clutterbutt and I to make my friend go “frozen poultry”, to try the same again would be foolhardy in the extreme. My own pen cannot satisfactorily explain the extent of last year’s debacle, and so I include here extracts from the journal kept by Sir Hilary during his personal forty days in the desert:
From the Lent journal of Sir Hilary Harrison-Nairn of Warkworth
March 9th 2011.
Stirred late in the morning, my eyes greeted by a caustic light coming from twixt
the crack in the curtains, searing through with intent to render the back of my
brain with a charred point of smoking synapse and boiled thought. One was struck
dumb by its suddenness and rude impropriety. I cursed myself for not arranging the
thick, heavy valance properly before retiring to bed, then cursed myself again for
not retiring before the new day was into its fourth hour of existence. This New Day;
I curse today!
One has a pocket calendar mounted in a silver frame on the bedside cabinet.
Today’s date has a vigorous red pen line encircling it. I cursed the calendar and all
of its ilk and made for the breakfast room, where I cursed the healthy Hellenic bio-
wotsit-yoghurt as an insult to humankind and downed a pot of coffee so quickly,
the resultant hiccoughing caused rivers of the stuff to run from my nostrils.
A bad start for any gentleman, but worse still for a Skittles addict who is about to
give up sweets for Lent!
March 12th 2011
To take my mind of this short divorce from confectionary, one tried to occupy
oneself by taking in long and improving reads of books that lighten the spirit.
I know I enjoyed the distraction but can’t for the life of me remember a single
passage. Have made a note to copy out those lines that one feels worthy of recall,
lest this memory lapse continue.
Felt unusually warm and a little clammy so spent the afternoon taking the visiting
Bismarck on a steady stroll along the Coquet to cool down. Walked back sopping
wet, the river and I having liaised momentarily.
March 15th 2011
The furniture specialists collected the remains of the 18th century rocking horse
from the library this morning, an accident having occurred the previous night.
All twenty-three pieces were carefully wrapped in a dark green tarpaulin and
strapped neatly to the inside of their van. I do hope they can rearrange the dear
thing. Mrs Clutterbutt informs me that, in my madness, I claimed “they don’t make
them like this anymore you know!” and proceeded to mount the chap and ride him
down a flight of stairs. The journey was a short one. Luckily, Honk was on hand
to minister me with a large brandy. The good fellow then helped me up to bed and
with his ready wit announced, “you were right about the rocking horse: They don’t
make them like that anymore: they’re sturdier and largely built from plastic!”
I recall fuzzily thinking warmly of old Honk as I dozed off. I discovered today,
however, that my trusted friend had seen to it that every shop owner in the village
be told to refuse me sweet meats of any kind until Easter! Going froid dinde is one
thing but a conspiracy of denial?! Et tu, Brute?
March 25th 2011
Dr. Streetham summoned. Bees do not contain sugar.
March 29th 2011
Spoil sports all! I discovered a cache of unopened Advent Calendars in the
loft above Mrs. Clutterbutt`s overnight room! Most of them had but images of
Seraphim, Joseph and Magi behind the doors but a clutch bore fruit, so to speak,
and contained chocolate! Heaven knows how long they had been up there, the rich
cocoa treats were mainly a crusted white but they were chocolate all the same.
One was just about to gorge upon the haul when an express train in the form of
Constable Jacobs slammed into me from behind.
It turns out that five in the morning is a bad time to discover a gleeful dose of sugar
above a bedroom. Poor old Mrs. Clutterbutt had indeed stayed overnight in her
overnight room, had been woken by my prowlings in the space above and, terrified,
had made the call. The good constable quickly found the ladder giving access to the
roof and summarily ascended. My hunched and cackling frame silhouetted in the
dim lit room would have been clearly that of a ne’er do well to Jacobs, who in all
fairness did his job brilliantly.
Will make a point of notifying the local rugger team of his qualities should they
require another prop forward.
April 12th 2011
I spent another day attempting to use the library as a distraction. Remembered
to write down excerpts of text that were of interest. Was quite satisfied with the
volume of material I generated. Read back the notes an hour ago before getting
into bed. Shocked. Here they are in their entirety:
“Edison: a few paces backwards. Egremont? Discard all notions of covalent
Alarmed, I summoned Mrs Clutterbutt for a restorative. She claims I have not set
foot in the library for days.
Left foot has begun tapping itself at a rate of knots.
April 19th 2011
Some passing Field Mice.
April 26th 2011
Only a few days to go. Honk over a lot this week which has been most helpful; I
have long forgiven him for his tactics in denying me access to sweets and we have
talked at length about this year’s effort. Incredible really what these past 38 days
have shown of my dependence upon such things. Alcohol and coffee too have been
abandoned seeing as they were, if anything, compounding the derailment of my
Honk appears to have suffered too this time around, something I never considered,
caught up as I was in my own terrible process. As well as pancakes, Lillian has
fastidiously kept him from his favourite cheeses throughout these weeks, causing
the man’s taste buds to come to the conclusion that everything else is mere gravel.
Life on the whole, is good. I am glad of my company today and look forwards to the
April 27th 2011
Ill! Wrote a stiff letter to a shower gel company asking them to refrain from
making their product look so dammed yummy!
April 28th 2011
Ill! Dr. Streetham summoned. Far, far, too many Skittles consumed.
Back on the Persian, we had come to the moment of decision. “H.H., old chip,” I entreated, “perhaps you would do us all a favour and renege on that ghastly aftershave you’ve insisted on wearing this past month?”
“Give up my Urld Spice?” my friend replied, a sly edge of pancake falling from his dropped jaw. “But I have been assured, Honkster – beg your pardon, beg your pardon – I have been assured that it is for hommes!”
I sighed. “Remind me again how you came about the bottle?”
My friend rose from the rug and clambered atop a rocking chair for dramatic effect. “I was perambulating on the beach near Alnmouth when this bloke came up to me. He told me I smelled like his dog, and that I should use Urld Spice, because it would make me smell canny lush. You know me, Honk, I’m never one to ignore the pleas of fate, and it so happened that the gentleman had a volume of the stuff on his person! I could not resist, I exchanged a small sum of dosh, and applied the musk immediately. How the public perception of Nairn changed!
Instantaneously I commanded more respect, more reverence, more…”
“Repulsion?” I finished. “H.H., we have all been afraid to tell you, but I am presently too compacted with maple syrup to care – your cologne smells abhorrent. Please, try to endure the following weeks, at the very least, without it. All our lives will be improved as a result.”
“I’m on me dog,” was the rebuttal from my friend. He was not incorrect; Bismarck had joined H.H. on the rocking chair. “Sorry, what were you saying, Honk?”
“You must give up the Urld Spice!”
“If you insist…”
And with that, H.H. produced the offending scent, and emptied its contents onto the patio, where they began to steam.
“And you, chum? What shall you go without this year? I know! The razor! Yes! Just like when you trekked across Asia between semesters. It has been too long since you were that facially hirsute gentleman I met as an undergrad.”
It seemed my friend was conversing with himself; certainly it was not with me. For one thing, I had never been further from home than Belgium. But in the absence of a better idea, I agreed with him, and resolved not to shave until Easter had been and gone.
Clambering up from the rug, I made my goodbyes, and as H.H. hooked up Bismarck to the home-made rickshaw that was to return me home, I contemplated our splendid meal of pancakes, and the strength of will and determination I, my friend, and all others would require to keep our Lenten oaths. By the time we reached my destination, my brain was filled with excitement and sugar for the days ahead. I announced my follicular intentions to Lillian, who, sadly, was not enthused. She eyed me suspiciously, circling the doorway where I stood, all traces of Ash Wednesday anticipation now drained from my body.
“Have you been eating pancakes?”
Shrove Tuesday has been and gone, but Lent is now in full swing. H.H. and Honk both hope you are able to keep to your promises regarding the giving up of whatever you have given up, and urge you never to wear or attempt to procure any quantity of Urld Spice aftershave; even if it is in all the papers.
Bismarck’s Rickshaw Taxi Service is available on request.