Thursday, 19 January 2017

Pippin Fort!

Between the frontiers of Imperial Fenwick and the capital of Pogelswood stands Pippin Fort, the chief walled stronghold of Emperor George's dimunitive state. In the official histories of the Empire, the fort is said to be named after King Pippin, the great Frankish king of old, warrior bastion of Christendom and father of Charlemagne. Local stories argue that the fort actually was named after Herr Pippin, an unpleasant local farmer. The fortress apparently was founded after his wife, Clothilde, tiring of Pippin's drinking and womanising, and his belief that the word 'scone' should be pronounced as 'skon,' locked him out of his house and told him that he was never ever setting foot back in it again. Clothilde was a determined and inventive woman, and handier than most at taking routine household items and turning them into durable defensive earthworks.

Pippin fort: excellent modern fortfications, but the
 local schools are nothing to write home about.
Whilst most wives would perhaps have confined themselves to changing the locks, Clothilde went that bit further and constructed a moat, drawbridge and a remarkably complete set of curtain walls, all in a matching colour that she termed 'hint of wicker.' If some thought that the later addition of corner bastions, murder holes and an inner redoubt was overdoing things, those that knew Herr Pippin pointed out that he was a very tedious man and had very bad breath.

Since those times, the fortress has grown in size and importance. Now, it is not just a fortification, but also an administrative centre. In particular, the fort contains the buildings of Fenwick's Ministry for Fruit, Vegetables and Public Morals. As both of the regular readers of this modest publication are no doubt aware, the inhabitants of Fenwick have a tedious and exhausting sensitivity to double entendre. Whilst in most other countries of Europe the functions of government revolve around such routine imperatives as defence, justice, and the exploitation of the poor, in Fenwick it would be accurate to say that most of the organs of government are dedicated to eliminating the ordinary folk of Fenwick's contact with words of a double meaning. It would be accurate to say this, but impossible in Fenwick actually to say it because 'organ' would certainly be one of those words that no self-respecting Fenwickian could encounter without 'Fnarring' themselves into a sweaty stupor. Historical experience has demonstrated that many of the worst offenders in relation to double entendre are words associated with lewdly shaped fruit and vegetables. This is something of a problem for a mainly agricultural economy heavily reliant on the production of melons. The Ministry of Fruit, Vegetable, and Public Morals has thus grown into perhaps the most important institution in Fenwick's governmental structures. It concerns itself principally with censoring printed publications and removing words likely to cause a breach of the peace.  For this reason such words as XXXX, XXX,  or XXXXX cannot be read in the Empire. Fenwickian law also reflects this proscription. Whilst those laws relating to commerce have already been commented upon in previous editions of this journal, there are many other activities that the Fenwickian love of double entendre makes impossible. In Fenwick, for example, one could never rub a XXXX in public; or XXXX one's XXXXXXX in a tavern or other public place. On the other hand, it is allowable to XXXX a XXX, but strictly only in the privacy of one's own home.

Pippin Fort also contains a large barracks complex. Given Fenwick's tedious sensitivity to double entendre, it is just about possible to use the word 'drill' in front of Fenwickian soldiers, but ordering them to 'take hold of your weapon', 'grasp your barrel firmly' or 'give it a good poke with your ramrod' will likely achieve nothing but creating a heap of hooting soldiers who might take days to recover from their paroxysm of fnarring. Fenwick's drill instructors have been forced to adopt a more visual approach to their programmes. Instead of shouting orders they must instead show the troops what they should be doing. Imperial drill is thus punctuated with cries of 'Do this!', 'Now, do that!' and 'Hold that position, and move your upper body to here!' It was one Corporal Ernst Zumber who thought of adding in some musical accompaniement to these exertions, and now the Zumber Routine is widely used by those noble ladies of Mittelheim who seek to improve their cardio-vascular health and hone their ability to shift promptly from march column into line formation. Whatever the problems in instructing the troops, it cannot be denied that the outcome has been splendid. The Fenwickian infantry have a fearsome reputation on the battlefield and are known widely as the 'Spartans of Mittelheim'

'It just came off in my hand.'
Whilst Fenwick's splendid victory over the forces of Nabstria at the recent battle of Leipflute has seen off any immediate test of Pippin Fort's defences, Captain-Governor Schroedinger-Skatt has ordered that the walls be strengthened and the fortress put into the best possible condition to resist an enemy attack. For this reason he has employed at the fort another mercenary engineer of Scottish-French extraction: Major Gordon Sanitaire. Sanitaire's key problem is a fairly obvious one. (Above) Called officially 'The Great Emperor's Bastion' and locally 'The Great Knackered Bastion', one of the key elements of the fort is in a considerable state of disrepair. As we consider the bastion in more detail, dear reader, it is possible to espy now the figure of a workman upon the bastion. A second figure, which must be Major Sanitaire himself, is approaching, clutching a great quantity of maps, diagrams, and scrolls.

'Morning, sir,' says the workman, 'and who might I have the honour of addressing, your worshipfulness?'
'Holding a tool, sir? Not in Fenwick.'
'Well, my lad, I am Major Gordon Sanitaire.'
'I am Franz, sir,' says the workman. 'If you don't mind me saying so sir; I don't think that you're from around here.'
'Nay laddie, 'replies the major, 'I travelled with my companion engineer all the way from England, via Scotland, although my grandfather was French.'
'From England, sir? That's a long journey. I hope, sir, that it was not too trying?'
Sanitaire grimaces. 'Aye, my fine fellow: it was fair awful - we were attacked in Paris by a gang of mime artists and had unspeakable things inflicted on us. But enough of this idle chatter. Yev had a wee look at the damage here - what's yer thoughts on how much it'll cost to fix?'
Franz sucks his teeth. 'Well sir, to tell the truth - that's a big old hole. And I'm quite busy.'
Sanitaire narrows his eyes: 'How much?'
Franz sucks his teeth even harder. He then purses his lips and blows out his cheeks. 'Well, sir, you see it would be straightforward; but you can see here in the masonry the tell-tale signs of woodworm.'
'Wood worm?' replies the major 'In masonry? What kind of wood worm lives in masonry?'
'The sort, sir, that are double hard bastards. I might need some armour sir; and a few of me larger lads to help.'
'Well, how much laddie?'
'Twenty thousand shillings, sir.'
'How much? I cannae pay twenty thousand shillings!'
'Okay, sir. Forty shillings and a pork pie.'
'Alright, forget the pork pie.'
Sanitaire looks unhappy. 'Are ye really the only man available?'
Franz chuckles. 'You'll find precious few of us that are licensed to work with implements.'
'Yes, sir. You can't go around Fenwick just using words like 'tool' willy-nilly. You can't even use words like 'willy-nilly' willy-nilly. They strung one of me mates up just last week for asking to buy a couple of ... of farming implements.'
'Rakes?' guesses the major.
'No, sir, for the earth; you know,' Franz mimes.
'Oh ...,' says Sanitaire, 'hoes.'
'So I have a licence for moderate insinuation: nothing too strong, though.' says Franz.
'Oh yes, sir. I can work with tools. And courgettes. And I can XXX a XXXX, as long as I does it very quietly.'
'Well, my fine fellow. I have fifty shiny shillings here if ye can fix this bastion in two days. I have a strange feeling laddie that we might be needing it ...'

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Crossings of the Strudel!

Shocked by the ease with which the Nabstrian army had penetrated Imperial Fenwick's northern frontier (and also by the salaciously indiscriminate use of the word 'penetrate'), Emperor George orders his borders to be strengthened. To the north, the Duchy of Bahnsee-Kassel is now occupied by Nabstria. This frontier is covered by the citadel of Pippin Fort.To the north east only the river Strudel provides a barrier against further incursions by the forces of the Spasmodic Sanction. Keen to prevent another invasion, the Emperor appoints Colonel Victor von Shroedinger-Skatt as Captain-Governor of Pippin Fort and its locale with responsibility for staving off any more attacks. Assessing the situation, the captain concludes that a new set of static defences are required to cover likely enemy invasion routes. Each of the three possible crossing points into Fenwick across the River Strudel (two fords and a bridge) must be covered by artillery forts. Schroedinger employs the services of the Scottish-French engineer, Major Dougal Entendre. Under Major Entendre, earth forts take shape at each of these key points. The bastions are each named after one of Schroedinger-Skatts' mistresses, and are called respectively: Gertrude, Gertrude, and Gertrude (the captain isn't very successful with women).

'Goodness - look what I've sneezed into my kerchief.'
(Left) Major Entendre has been visiting the sites of the new fortifications. Though his creations are intended only to be earthworks, still he thinks that they can be made strong enough to resist a significant enemy attack. Especially since, on the evidence of the battle at Wimintzhauer, Nabstrian attacks seem in the assault to have all the vigour of a slightly annoyed newt with a lettuce and very low self-esteem. Pondering his designs, Entendre's concentration is broken by the arrival of Captain-Governor Schroedinger-Skatt.
'Dammit, Herr Scot,' says the captain, scowling, 'These works need to be completed by nightfall!'
Entendre protests, 'The wheelbarrows cannae take it, captain!'
'What?' says Schroedinger, mystified by the major's accent, 'Speak in German!'
'Der wheelbarrows cannae take it, captain!' ennunciates Entendre.
'That is not my concern' says the Captain-Governor. 'You have made little or no progress since last I rode here!'
'But,' says Entendre mystified, 'Yon laddies just telt me that the first bastion is complete!' With a hasty salute he rushes up the hill to where construction is under way ....

'What', says Entendre to the assembled workmen, 'is this?'
'It's a bastion, sir,' says one of them cheerily, 'and done to your exact specifications.'
'Men, we need to talk about that concept that some call "scale"'
(Right) The engineer stares at the works. 'This is it. This is what you laddies call a bastion. What, do ye hope to trip the enemy? I'm just asking because, yer know, I thought that bastions existed to provide comprehensive protection to defending infantry and artillery. What is this wall designed to protect? Do ye know something that I don't? Does our army have very delicate ankles? Or is this just here as a parking rack for the cannons?'
One of men waves a scrap of paper. 'But sir - we have followed your instructions to the letter!'
Entendre nods slowly. 'So, to be clear then, my fine loon: yer saying that this is a twenty foot high wall with six foot stakes on the outside?'
'Twenty foot?' says one of the workmen, looking first a little confused, and then evincing the gradual increase in worry that might come from putting one's hand in one's britches in search of a kerchief and pulling out instead something black, iron and round, with the words 'bomb - on no account take out of pocket' etched on the side.
'Oh aye,' says the engineer. 'I'm just asking because, unless we've all grown substantially taller in the last few hours I can't help noticing that I can see considerably more of the world through the wall of this twenty foot high bastion that I had originally anticipated.'
'Twenty foot?' says a workman.
Entendre nods 'Ye keep saying that, and yet, surprisingly, the bastion doesn't get any higher. Ye see here on the plan? That little stroke there denotes a foot?'
'Well,' say the workmen to one another, 'there's a thing. Well, well, well, well, well. Well.'

'So,' says Entendre slowly to the workmen, reading the blank looks on their faces 'ye dinna actually know the difference between feet and inches.'
The nearest fellow shrugs, shamefacedly. 'I tried to tell you sir, but you ordered me not to.'
'What?' says Entendre, confused.
'Well. I came over and asked what the symbol meant and you told me "Don't tell me that you don't know what that means?", so ... I didn't.'
The major holds his head in his hands. 'Feet are much bigger, ye bonehead, something yill soon begin to appreciate when I shove my foot a good number of inches up yer fundament!'
The major sits on the grass and groans. 'This is just marvellous. Bloody marvellous. When yon Nabstrians arrive the only hope we'll have is that they think that this fort is just very, very far away.'
The workmen nod. 'Weeeeeeeell, well, well. A foot. So, not really an inch then?'
The major shakes his head 'No, not rilly. It's supposed to be twenty feet high. It's about two feet.'
'But it's well made, sir. Twenty feet, sir, or two feet - what's the difference?'
Entendre snorts 'I think you'll discover some of the subtle differences, laddie, when I take a twenty foot pole and shove it right up your ...
'Well now, sir,' interjects one of the men quickly, 'couldn't we just give the illusion of much larger defences? I could rustle up a few of the local children to garrison it.' He looks at the defences. 'Small ones. Or dwarves.'
The others nod vigorously, 'Oooh yes, dwarves. Really short ones to make the bastion look even bigger.'
Entendre sighs. 'Rilly. Short. Dwarves.'
'Yes sir.'
'That's all yev got,' says the Scot.
The men nod, 'They could, you know, hunch a bit.'
'Aye,' says Entendre with false enthusiasm, 'and while we're at it, why don't I order a good number of them to be garrisoned up yer ar..'

'Major?' enquires Schroedinger, riding up. The Captain-Governor stares at the bastion as the men salute. 'Major, there's still something not quite right about this bastion.' He notices now that Entendre is sitting disconsolately on the grass. 'Herr Scot - are you altogether alright?'
Entendre stands. 'Captain, I am a graduate with honours of the great French engineering school, the L'Ecole Royale du Genie de Mezieres. I have years of experience. And yet, thanks to these pancake heads, here I stand with a bastion that couldn't look less like a bastion if we tied balloons to it and hung up a sign saying "This is not a bastion." And in order to remedy the situation I must rely on the efforts of a workforce whose keen suggestion for an innovative fix is Rilly. Short. Dwarves.'
'It might succeed in lulling the enemy into a false sense of security,' says one of the men. 'You know - lure them up the hill.'
Entendre nods. 'Lure them up. Well, yes, if any of their army are small children on ponies then I'm sure that the lure of the Vauban showjumping course that yev all created for them might be indescribably tempting. Why don't we just go the whole hog and add a cake stall? There's a reason why Vauban didnae build walls two feet high and that's because in the great game of war, walls two feet high are about as much use in a fight as a... a... garrison of rilly short dwarves.'

Schroedinger cuts short the Scot's lamentations. 'What else will you need to complete this bastion by this evening?'
Entendre sighs. 'Och well, sir. More men and tools. And ..., ' he says eyeing the assembled workmen pointedly, 'some lard, a lantern, and the wriggliest dwarf that can be found.'
'A dwarf?' asks the captain. 'Does he need a beard?'
'No, no,' says Entendre, staring at the workmen. 'It's rilly not essential.'
The workmen begin to look uncomfortable. 'Men,' says the captain, 'you look unsettled.'
The men look at Entendre. One pipes up 'Because most of what this man says seems to involve things being put up our ar ..'
'You must finish here before night,' interjects the captain. He wheels his horse. 'I ride now to inspect the walls of Fort Pippin!'