Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Avast, and so forth!

     It is fair to say that life has not gone quite as planned for Sir Hubert Lyme-Pickle, naval architect for Prince Rupprecht. It had all started out so well. Sir Hubert had the traditional background of an eighteenth century British aristocrat of modest means: boarding school at three; Oxford University at five; a commission as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy at six; captain of his own vessel at eight. In all this, he had had to endure no more than the usual quotient of rum, sodomy, and the lash, even if, as a teetotaller, the balance was weighted rather more heavily towards the latter two than might have been comfortable. Still, having moved on to a knighthood, and a lucrative administrative position at one of His Majesty's shipyards, Sir Hubert's sails seemed set fair, and his future mapped out: a fortune from public service; marriage; syphilis; a Baronetcy. Sadly, things then came to an untidy end, thanks to the activities of a certain Count Nikolai Orlov, a Russian diplomat and spy. Having discovered that Lyme-Pickle was appropriating official funds, squirreling them away under his mattress at home, the Count determined to use this knowledge to blackmail Sir Hubert into serving the nefarious interests of the Russian Empire. Breaking into Lyme-Pickle's bedroom one evening, the Russian then waited for Sir Hubert to return before confronting him with the indisputable evidence of his crimes. The pitiful claims by Sir Hubert that the money had merely been been 'resting in his account' were thus trumped by the sight, ironically, of a Count resting in his money. After that, Sir Hubert's life slipped slowly into a vortex of unpleasantness: blackmail; spying for the Russians; discovery; torture; escape; a short stint in musical theatre; more torture; adventures in mime; penury; high blood pressure; and escape by sea to Mittelheim. More torture, though this time accidental, as he was mistaken for an Italian; and finally, recruitment to the boatyards of Bestwestung, where Sir Hubert was made Chief Naval Architect of the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel on the solid basis that he could swim. A bit. With none of his expansive aspirations achieved, except the syphilis, Lyme-Pickle's only consolation was that his life could not possibly, ever, get any worse. Now, ashen faced, Sir Hubert Lyme-Pickle stands on the docks of the squalid town of Bestwestung and contemplates, between the fingers of the hands that he has clapped in front of his eyes, the scene in front of him as the nautical fruits of his efforts stands ready for launching.

The assembled dignitaries include Prince Rupprecht and his wife, Princess Caroline. Upon the rickety main slipway of the docks lies the object upon which Sir Hubert has been slaving night and day to build: the looming hulk of a twenty gun vessel of war. Behold, the new Bachscuttel navy! The ship has been christened the Princess Caroline, because the vessel and Rupprecht's wife have suspiciously similar displacements. Lyme-Pickle is glad to see the thing launched at last. The building process has been a difficult one, thanks in part to Prince Rupprecht's constant attempts to interfere in the design of the vessel. Fancying himself as a nautical fellow on the basis that he likes port, the Prince's lack of any real knowledge of ships was evident from his initial plans for the vessel, which replaced the gun deck with a duel-use sauna and pig-pen. Later plans to make it a sixty oar galley came to grief when it became clear that a misunderstanding regarding the difference between the words 'oar' and'whore' had produced a design that sucked in quite special ways. Luckily, nothing came of Rupprecht's later design to burden the ship with a gigantic wind-powered clock; it turned out that this was just a wind-up. To cap it all, Lyme-Pickle has been plagued by what has amounted, fundamentally, to severe harassment, the source being the Royal advisor and pig fancier, Baron Albrecht Steinhagen. Still committed to the notion that pigs can perform all of the key roles of maritime power, and at less cost than an actual ship, the baron has continued to conduct a range of experiments on his favourite farmyard fixation. The latest provided a particular distraction for Lyme-Pickle: involving pigs, hoses, and pressured air, the last delicate processes of finishing the ship were interrupted constantly by periodic high pitched squeals, maniacal laughing, and bacon-scented explosions.

But Lyme-Pickle has managed, in the end, to complete the vessel, and now it stands ready on the slipway. Wanting to give the launch of this Mittelheim leviathan the proper pomp and ceremony, Prince Rupprecht has pulled out all the stops. Sadly, Johan Sebastian Bach refused his invitation, claiming that he would 'rather eat his own earwax' than enter Mittelheim. Instead, the entertainment has been provided by one of the masters of Gelderland culture: Herr Dieter Spucks and his Jumping Ducks. A lavish spread has been laid out next to the ship: a cornucopiea of gateaux's, pastries, and open fruit flans, provided by Prince Rupprecht's new chef - a wandering Italian, dressed in the faded uniform of a general officer. Upon the deck of the ship stands proudly the newly appointed Grand Admiral, Karl von Doenutz. Now, Rupprecht gives the signal - it is time! With a final sad quack from the light entertainment, there is a dramatic drum roll from the Guard Grenadiers, and the Princess Caroline is launched towards the sea! But, as the Caroline shoots down the slipway, the hawsers snap and the ship slides sideways: as terrified spectators hurl themselves out the way, the ship really hits the flan as it ploughs through Rupprecht's gargantuan buffet. Still, by some miracle, the ship reaches the water and, with a gurgling lurch and a thundering splash, it settles upon the sea.

And so, a new chapter opens in the Wars of the Gelderland Succession. From the rickety boatyards of the port of Bestwestung lurches the first dedicated warship ever to be launched by Saukopf-Bachscuttel: indeed by any Mittelheim state. The Palatinate now possesses the best navy in Mittelheim, although this is not unlike describing someone as the tallest dwarf. As the vessel floats in the water, the assembled dignitaries give a ragged cheer. This is the largest thing to float from Mittelheim's shores since Landgrave Choldwig last had his commode emptied.

The assembled crowd waits expectantly for the first potent demonstration of Bachscuttel's new capabilities. But it is evident that it may yet be some time before Prince Rupprecht can make use of the strategic leverage afforded by maritime power. Whilst the Palatinate may have a ship, it has not yet put into place many of those things that are usually regarded as necessary for the effective functioning of a navy: navigational training, for example; sea trials; or a crew. In consequence, the Admiral stands alone upon his ship, with only the vaguest idea of why, if the ship isn't swimming, it doesn't sink. As the wind picks up, and the sea strength builds, the ship begins to commence an alarming wallowing and swaying not seen since the court was last commanded to watch Princess Caroline working it on her trampoline. On deck, Admiral Doenutz does his best to get his new charge underway. But his loud commands of 'Giddiup', 'Mush', and 'Engage' bring no discernible change to the movement of the ship. And so, as the currents seize the ship, the Princess Caroline commences a random sea-borne perambulation across the coastline. Once into the deeper waters of the Baltic, she begins a yawing and heaving worse even than that occasioned by Prince Rupprecht's first sight of a painting of his intended wife. As the ship floats gently out of sight of the shore, the Prince gently wipes the remains of an apple strudel from his face and turns to Baron Steinhagen - it's time for plan B: 'Baron' he commands, 'inflate the pigs!' 


  1. It is quite clear that the naval arms race in Gelderland is hotting up. The Burggrave is most dismayed at this intelligence. How will Nabstria respond?

    1. A situation made even more complex by reports of sightings in the Baltic of ships of the sartorially fearsome Burberry pirates! Who will save the coastlines of Mittelheim?

    2. Angels and Ministers of Grace defend us! Not the Burberry Pirates! Their checked flag strikes fear into all who sight it! This is a matter of grave concern for all of Mittelheim...