This post will make no sense unless you have first read Chaos Theory. For those of you who have already done this, you need to know that edited out of the earlier instalment was the information that there are three types of gelgin. Now read on...
So much for theory. Now meet Shunshelstinx and his two friends, who between them are three of the inkiest gelgins in the entire history of these troublesome creatures. Inky, that is, as in incomparably incompetent, or incalculably incapable. As understatements go, saying that they aren’t very good at anything is akin to describing the detonation of a thermonuclear device as ‘rather a loud bang’.
Shunshelstinx is a very officious sattvas with a prodigious memory for trivial facts and other generally useless information. For example, he can tell you what he was doing three years, nine months and twenty-seven days ago—and what he ate for lunch the day before that too, given half a chance—but in other matters he is so forgetful that he sometimes has to be reminded that his name is, well, Shunshelstinx. When he decides to lecture his friends on something or other—in other words, frequently—he invariably thinks that it will be necessary to provide some background information for his listeners so that they will not be confused when they hear what he really wants to say. However, by the time he has finished this preamble, he has forgotten the rest, so his friends are already confused. “Just what was he talking about?” they think. And they never do find out.
Sneedl’bodja is a rajas who can never resist the temptation to open a closed door, or someone’s refrigerator when they are not paying attention. Even for one of his race he is remarkably short-tempered, but when he does lose his temper, the result is a comic opera, a high-tempo, half-demented frenzy like a short-circuit in a fireworks factory, which neither of his friends finds possible to take seriously; in other words, he barks loudly and often but does not bite. Well, not much. And he is widely acknowledged to be a grandmaster of harangue, ridicule, invective and finely barbed one-line insults—and so he should be, because he’s had plenty of practice over years too many to count, especially with regard to the shortcomings, real and imaginary, but mostly real, and most of the time, of the third member of the trio.
This is Qumfl’quelunx, who from his elaborate but inelegant shoes to the tip of the feather in his ludicrously silly hat is a typical tamas, with all the showy vulgarity of a peacock—and the equivalent brain power, not all of which will be in use at any given time. Or, as Sneedl’bodja might say, not much of which will be in use. He is at his most cerebral when setting his friends little ‘poseurs’, as he calls them, unaware of the true meaning of this word. However, there is a difficulty. His friends are at least as likely as he to know the answer. And he probably doesn’t know the answer. He rarely does. But he does like to feel important, part of the team, and it is sometimes useful to know the question, bearing in mind that someone else may know only the answer. Or so he tells himself.
Shunshelstinx is the team’s ‘director’, as he styles himself. Self-appointed? Naturally. There to keep the team on the ‘straight and narrow’—the ‘direct’ approach, as the name implies. In other words, he’s in charge. At least he’s in charge—provided that he remembers that he’s in charge—during their escapades. It’s just that neither of the other two takes any notice of him unless they happen to agree with his ‘instructions’ in the first place. Much to his obvious annoyance. They should show more respect for such a ‘charismatic leader’. His description? Naturally.
However, Sneedl’bodja, who is by his own reckoning the most handsome of the trio and not at all vain, has never felt it necessary to accept any kind of advice from anyone, only pickled onions. And Qumfl’quelunx is much too stupid to recognize sensible advice, even when it grips his shoulder with bony fingers, slaps him briskly on the head with a wet fish, prods his podgy stomach with a pointed stick, kicks him sharply on the shins with hand-made concrete clogs and says ‘hello!’ in twenty-seven languages, only one of which is English. However, he is also lazy, and he does find it hard to decide for himself what he should do next. There are so many options—sleep, eat, snooze, eat, doze, eat—the permutations are endless, and it is so difficult to choose. In the end, or so his scheming mind concludes, it takes less effort to accept the decision of Shunshelstinx as to what he should do and then give no further thought to the matter.
At this point, you may be beginning to wonder just what talents Qumfl’quelunx does possess that can possibly be of any value to the team. After all, there’s no premium on the value of stupidity, as Sneedl’bodja is certain to mention if he hasn’t already. Actually, he’s the team’s sound effects expert, able to reproduce many sounds, from the squeal of the tyres of a speeding motor car as its driver suddenly realizes that he should have started to brake fifty metres earlier if he was going to have a realistic chance of safely negotiating the bend that he has just entered at much too high a speed, to the high-pitched drone of a death’s head squadron of homicidal mosquitoes flying in tight formation for a precision biting raid on succulent earlobes, to the high-pitched screams of a legless frog being tortured to death by the neighbour’s cat, with uncanny accuracy. There is a slight problem though: he has an annoying habit of using a completely inappropriate sound effect when called upon, the only effect of which is to confuse everyone involved.
All three live, with about a hundred other gelgins, in a network of ancient tunnels under a wood in one of the larger valleys of the English Lake District. However, no further clues to the precise whereabouts of this wood will be provided. And all place names have been changed for added confusion. After all, if gelgins were to disappear as a result of mindless persecution by ignorant humans, who else could we possibly blame when events failed to proceed according to some carefully prearranged plan? The local council?
It may be worth pointing out here that the changing of place names is not part of a deliberate policy of secrecy but in fact follows the standard naming system used by sheep for places in the Lake District. Most people will be aware that sheep cannot read, which makes human signposts quite useless as aids to navigation if you happen to be of a sheepish disposition. While this may seem like a statement of the painfully obvious, it has been made to pre-empt speculation about the possible reasons why sheep might know, or even want to know, where they are on the high fells. But know they do, although the reason for this may not be readily apparent.
It so happens that, many years ago, the gelgins learned that Lakeland sheep have quite a taste for dolly mixtures. Their owners never guessed this and therefore never fed them the desired sweetmeats. But the gelgins did know, and they did provide the dolly mixtures—at a price. The price was that in exchange for a supply of its favourite candies, a sheep was required to give the gelgin offering the sweeties a ride to a destination of the gelgin’s choice. It may have been a slow way to travel, but it is how gelgins have been able to move from one valley to the next without getting totally lost. All this takes place very discreetly, and the farmers who actually own the sheep are unaware of what is happening, because the only evidence of this odd practice is the occasional discarded liquorice allsort. You may believe that you know the difference between dolly mixtures and liquorice allsorts, and sheep certainly do, but some gelgins are sufficiently stupid not to be aware of this distinction, and they don’t realize that sheep detest liquorice allsorts as much as they enjoy dolly mixtures, which explains why they may try to feed liquorice allsorts to a sheep if dolly mixtures are not available. Naturally, the sheep spits them out.
In the recent past, there was a considerable network covering most of the Lake District, with strategically located waystations where the long-distance traveller could change sheep, and with carefully hidden caches of dolly mixtures to keep the sheep happy. But this network was expensive to operate—a journey by only a single gelgin from west to east across the entire district required hundreds of dolly mixtures and the services of as many as twenty-seven sheep. It should be the calculation of a moment to determine that such a communications structure would be unsustainable over time, and so it has proved. It is still possible for a gelgin with a large bag of dolly mixtures to go far, or even to go west, but the organized system of earlier times no longer exists.
Which is where the story begins, more or less. More waffle and less sticking to the point, that is. Ask Shunshelstinx. On second thoughts, don’t.