Cambridge Underground 1992 pp 31-33

If You Think This Is Bad, You Should See My Cooking

Julian Todd

Nuts the walnut bat could have chosen a better place to hang. He could have hung off a TV aerial, a satellite dish or a clothes line, but instead he made his roost in a cave at the weekend when Beastman was down trying out his new bang licence. The result of which Nuts was badly splattered with Mendip mud. He fluttered out of the cave in a state of shock and hit the walls twice. Nuts was absolutely desperate for some sleep. He was always being woken by cavers. He blamed the government for that, and the poor quality of the beer, the fact that it didn't have enough walnuts in it. Due to the howling gale outside in the open he chose an even worse roosting spot: a strut underneath Beastman's trailer chassis. For the next six hours Nuts had nightmares of sleeping next to a wobbly sanding disc rotating at 60mph. Fortunately bat's claws are like molegrips so he survived.

Now Beastman was in the front seat with his clothes covered in concrete; he happened to have exploded someone's earlier-in-the-day attempt at strengthening the boulder choke. He mistook the cement for grey mud. He also thought not to bother to change after the trip because that would mean changing out of warm mucky clothes into cold, wet, clammy clothes which were his uncaving gear. Slowly the concrete set.

Beastman hit the motorway with everything he had. He left the windscreen in Swindon, the steering wheel on the M25 (now he used a pair of pliers) and the brake pedal had come off leaving behind a metal spike which hurt his foot lots.

At the very last bend, frozen in his clothes, Beastman rolled his truck. It split like a suitcase run over by a train. Nuts' grip on the strut broke loose and he went flying through the sky and crashed in through the top window of Spalding Four. Jackdaw was eating his breakfast of soggy shreddies with milk. The computer terminal he was working at fizzled and flashed. Jackdaw fished Nuts out of the bowl. Nuts was extremely soggy and ripped. Jackdaw peered out the window at the mess in the front garden. "Same as it always is," he said to himself. "Except there's a truck buried in the side of our Cray X-MP. Shucks."

"How are you, little one," Jackdaw crooned. The bat eeeked. Its wings were gashed with glass. "I'll bet I could sew those holes up with a piece of black rubber." The bat's eyes turned red.

Beastman, wearing a shower of cement crumbs, got out of the wreckage and crawled in through the front entrance. He scraped against the ceiling because of the nine foot high layer of junk on what might have been the floor if you didn't class the floor as simply another sandwich of junk. He squeezed into the staircase rift, bypassed the spare bedding plane room and entered the chamber where Jackdaw and Nuts were amiably groaning about the state of the sunlight and discussing metaphysical concepts such as the colour of the carpet. Nuts reckoned it was merely a geological concept. He hadn't been around long enough. His wings had been glued together with neoprene and not sewn. "Have you heard the latest news," Jackdaw asked, "about the Software and Hardware Hygiene Act? The government has passed it!"

"What!" shouted Beastman. "The law which they claim will eradicate computer viruses? Damn it!"

"What are we going to do? We are finished. Out of a job. We'll be put in jail."

"That Hygiene Act is the work of incompetent loonies," Beastman ranted. "I know of some software companies who insist that the programmers in the back room wear a suit and a tie to get near to a keyboard. Don't they know that it's a sick mind which breeds viruses. It has nothing to do with whether you have a bath twice a day and keep your armpits clean. In fact, our operating systems are so..."

"...our operating systems were so..." Jackdaw corrected, thinking of the pool of supercomputer cooling fluid drying in the sunlight.

"They were so anachronistic that no virus or fileworm could survive on it for more than an hour. It's as unlikely as us getting food poisoning. I'm going to... Who's that?" The doorbell rang.

"I'm not sure," said Jackdaw. "But I have a pretty good idea."

"In that case, you answer it."

When he had crawled over and unlatched the door he saw, standing there, looking all very pretty, the Avon Lady.

"Ah-ha!"

"Who is she?"

"She's this crazy woman from the social department. I told her to come back when you were around.."

"Thanks a lot," Beastman whispered.

"Hey, man, I couldn't handle this on my own."

"Hello," she said. "You are the owner of this house, I presume." She took from her basket a large bottle of vile blue liquid. "Have you ever tried this SHAMWEB brand of soap? It's a highly concentrated, very effective cleaner. You will find it far superior to any other brand you are using."

"What other brand?"

"I used some soap two years ago," said Jackdaw, "on the cat. She had got covered in engine oil and wanted to lick it off, so I had to wash her quickly. The only way to do that was shove her in the toilet bowl, sit on the lid, pour soap in the tank and flush it ten times. She left behind an eight foot long claw mark on the ceiling. Never saw her again."

"No," the Avon Lady said. "This soap is to be used on you and the habitat around you. I know you are computer programmers. You will require this to keep clean."

"What do you know about the cleansing properties of liquid freon, Jack?"

Jackdaw tried another tactic. "I'm really quite hungry. Would you like to come in and join us for dinner?"

"That requires us to go in the kitchen," said Beastman. "Have you done much caving?"

"I've done enough," the Avon Lady said.

"You don't mind getting a bit mucky?" asked Jackdaw.

"It's okay, I can wash it off."

They paused in the under-the-staircase chamber. "To proceed further," Beastman said, "I am changing into a wetsuit on account of the Ducks duck."

The Ducks duck has a three inch air gap and was formed in the summer when Jackdaw had completely run out of food and decided to eat meat on the cheap. He had gone down to the river with a wire loop on the end of a stick and simply fished for ducks. He lifted over three hundred out of the water and shoved them in the back seat of the car. He ate ducks for ten months and tried selling the remains to Vesta. They refused because it didn't smell distinctive enough with that special aroma of Vestaness. The oily stewed gristly bits formed a pool in the doorway of the kitchen. There was no room to bail it.

"I'm a bit suspicious of this lady," Beastman said to Jackdaw as they watched her clambering through without complaint. "She seems quite hard. Perhaps we will have to listen to her."

Jackdaw plopped three carbide rocks into the stewpot and lit the fumes. "Should be warm in ten minutes," he said.

The Avon Lady checked out the kitchen like someone looking for trouble. There was the tea kettle with a two foot stal poking out of it. Computer equipment lying everywhere. The rubbish bin was hard to tell apart from the sink. And, as a result of one of Jackdaw's organisational brainwaves, the cupboards were entirely full of dirty crockery neatly stacked up as if it was clean. He reckoned it was only a tiny change from the standard arrangement: instead of taking plate out of cupboard, using it, washing it, putting it back in cupboard, you changed the order of the "using it" and "washing it" bits.

"Hmmm, I think I can do something about the state of this place," the Avon Lady said.

"Uh oh," thought Beastman.

"But before I start, I'd like to have a look at your bathroom," she said.

"Um, we can't let you do that," Beastman said.

"Why not?"

"It's not a fit sight for your eyes. Besides I feel like having a crap right now."

"No, I do!" Jackdaw shouted. He beat him to it.

"I guess that leaves just you and me," the Avon Lady said to a now horrified Beastman. "And this big bottle of SHAMWEB."

Still panting heavily, Jackdaw stripped off his solder stained clothes, walked into the bathroom, locked the door and sat down.

He gave out a great heaving sigh. The room was amazingly spic and span. It was clean and tidy beyond belief, except for the fresh trail of footprints across the carpet which he would scrupulously clear up when he had finished. There is nothing more comforting than a good crap, he thought to himself. Most of his and Beastman's library was on bookshelves within easy reach. He could and often did sit there the whole day.

On impulse he pulled out volume Aardvark-to-Sump of the encyclopaedia and cross-referenced SHAMWEB with Avon Lady.

It said: "If you have left that Lady and her Universal shampoo with a very dirty man on their own, you are a fool. You must now consult the book: 1001 Things to do with 999 Objects of Junk."

He got Nuts to fetch his copy from the other chamber.

It was terrible what had happened. The house had been cleaned. Most of the bottle of SHAMWEB was left. Enough to polish 44 miles of cave passages till they gleamed. Beastman had reverted from a cave digger into a cave cleaner. He was already planning a trip to Yorkshire to put the sparkle back into Gingling and the jangle back into Jingling. But there was something else even more wrong.

"Object W," it said in the pages of 1001 Things, "is potentially the most dangerous thing to have around the house. It sticks to your best friend even worse than a fluffy cat with fish-hooks hidden in its fur. It welds itself to his mouth so that he can no longer speak to you. We have identified the following use for it..."

Jackdaw mended his oversuit. He had to rub the suit against the Avon Lady when he had the chance - and the patching material against Beastman. The holes were mended perfectly. Of course it meant that he could not go caving with Beastman any more because his oversuit would start sticking to Beastman's hand and face.

But that didn't matter because with the cooperation of Nuts, a keg of walnut beer and a hefty amount of legally hygienic software, Jackdaw ended the days of cave exploration as we know it. He trained Nuts to fly to any part of the world, fly down the holes in the surface and flutter up and down all the passages and echo-locate the shape of everything. A cave the size of Kaninchenhöhle could be done in a day. Every issue of Caves & Caving would contain up to 50 pages of Jackdaw's surveys. Of course the names became a bit monotonous and were usually permutations of Bat Passage, Bat Pitch, Bat Corner, Bat Stream, Bat Rift, Bat Chamber, Bat Chasm, Bat Inlet, Bat Overhang, Bat Rock, Bat Boulder, Walnut Choke, Bat Fridge, Bat Cupboard and Bat Home.


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