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Opera Can Be Such a Drag

dac gdf js sdw

In this game, the first episode written was also the last -- in terms of chronological order. The other players, from the second to play onwards, were trying to reach this point. The person to finish the game was thus the one who wrote an episode describing events just before the given last move.

[dac] He really hated land, he decided, Especially when it was this close and pointing the wrong way. Being on shore was often an unusual experience for him, but if he'd known this time that 25 days later he'd be climbing up a sheer rock face with water pouring down his back dressed in a crinoline ball gown he'd have stayed on board and talked to Killick. As it was he'd be lucky to get back before the ship sailed. "Just my luck to get there too late, and be standing on a headland waving like buggery whilst the barky pulls out" he thought to himself. "Probably missed a fight or two into the bargain I'll wager".

With a final heave he pulled himself over the top, stood up and brushed down his skirts. Then, turning his back on the Reichenbach Falls, Bonden set off for the coast.

— The End —

[sdw] Stephen emerged on the quarterdeck, blinking in the strong morning light. The sun was stirring up a small breeze, and the Surprises on the foremast made a fine sight as they loosed the foretopsail, the pure blue sky and the white canvas punctuated by the brilliant greens and yellows and pinks of the starboard topmen. His own, snuff-coloured wool was shabby in comparison; especially in comparison with Jack's deep blue silk, shot through with subtle highlights of purple.

"Good morning, now, Jack," he said, "and can you tell me how it is that

[gdf] "...there is still no sign of the breakfast that you promised me, and not a pot of piping hot coffee anywhere to be seen?"

"Good Morning Stephen!" replied Jack cheerfully, "Alas, we have a slabsided, grasscombing Dutch herring bus caught in our chains, and almost run aboard us something cruel. We're fending her off now."

"I had thought, by your strange costume, that we were about to be inspected by the massed ranks of the Admiralty board!" said Stephen incredulously as he looked around him, the grinning faces of the crew gazed back at him. Were they making game of him? Or had an outbreak of some hideous disease warped their minds. The grotesque apparition that was Preserved Killick in drag and wearing a green bonnet, approached him...

"Or perhaps the Navy is celebrating some peculiar Saturnalian rite unknown to landsmen?" suggested an awestruck Stephen as helpfully as he could, "An April Fool...St Critchley's Day..."

"Which here's yorn petticoat Doctor!" interrupted a gleeful Killick, "And where's he gone and left his wig an' gaters? Lord love us, he ain't even shaved an' rouged up! Surely Sir, you wouldn't want to bring shame on the barky?"

[js] "And you wants to change out of that 'orrible old woollen suit into these!" continued Killick, as a desperately tired-looking sail-maker's mate approached with a printed cotton dress and a fine muslin pelisse. As Stephen looked on, appalled, Killick said: "Never you fret, Doctor. If you stands at the back and opens and closes your mouth at the right time, none of them idle lubbers judging will notice you ain't singing."

After a pause in which he reflected on Awkward Davis' powerful bass, audible for some days now — even through large balls of wax pressed firmly into the ear, and pillows piled over the head — and on the sight of Nathaniel Martin directing the hands in a strange chorus every night, Stephen asked:

"The All-Mediterranean Fleet Operatic Competition, is it now?"

"Of course! Why else would we be in Genoa? And we couldn't do Bluebeard and his Wives(*) without which we had costumes, could we?" asked Killick, who had a pretty dear notion of what was due to the ship in anything her crew chose to undertake.

"At least Davis was born to play his part; the title role," thought Stephen, as he watched Bonden in full costume leaving on the herring bus to supervise the arrangement of the set ashore.

Later, cries echoed round the Surprise: "Where is the last Mrs Bluebeard? Where is our heroine? Where is Bonden?"

Ashore, the crew of HMS Insufferable, already in their togas for Agrippina, sat drinking in "Il Uombatto Ubriaco". "Here's to songbirds!" said one. "Silent, far-away songbirds!" added another. "And to wiping the Surprises' eyes!"

A few miles away now, a cheese merchant sat staring glumly at his horses' tails, his waggon heading north towards the Alps. Business had been very bad in Italy; he was glad to be going home. He would have been amazed to learn that beneath a pile of unsold Emmenthal, lay a deeply unconscious British sailor, dressed in a beautiful pink ball gown... amazed.

[dac] Bonden however was not initially amazed, due to his being in a deep sleep (where he and Killiick were at a courts martial being sentenced to toasting cheese around the fleet). But he was somewhat surprised when many hours later he was awoken by the sound of the merchant singing what seemed (according to his fragmented french) to be a dirty song about the adventures of a cuckoo clock. Looking around he found himself under several large cheeses with a large lump on his head and the message that the doctor had trusted him to go ashore with missing!

His surprise was however nothing to that of the merchant's who was halted mid way through the verse about the chocolate fondue (and by co incidence mid way through a large bottle of schnapps) by the view of a sailor dressed in a ball gown emerging from a pile of cheese.

Recovering from the shock of a British sailor acting out verse 12 - far too early, he reacted in the only way possible when confronted by a cheese smelling Diva. Thus in fairly short order Bonden found himself in possession of a cart full of over ripe cheese and a half bottle of schnapps blearily watching a figure vanish into the distance.

Meanwhile on the Surprise, Stephen was in his cabin frantically encrypting another note. He was not in the best of sorts having realised by now (Bonden having been gone 3 days) that the message he had sent ashore inviting the Port Admiral to the festivities had been intercepted, with the probable result that the French now knew that Jack had laid on an opera by a minor composer, one scorned by the Naval Operatic Society Francais (who's Tosca was a wonder to behold). There was not a moment to loose, honour had to be restored. Stephen had however a handel on the problem and Dido and Anaeas it was to be - Jack was all for setting sail for Carthage immediately. He had already sent Ringle ahead with instructions for the crew to find a really high cliff, an order that Pullings (who was to play Dido) viewed with a certain amount of trepidation.

[sdw] "Nah then, cully," roared Bonden, the heavy door exploding inward to reveal the meagre, wasted form of the professor within, hunched over his standing desk. The professor was already, if not perpetually, deeply annoyed, and here was yet another layer to his annoyance. He had been working for months and months on this, the final summing up, the abstract, the executive summary, the argument that represented the zenith of his years and years, nay decades, of reading and scholarship -- the paper that would wipe their eye, stop their gob, clap a stopper over all: his epistle to the University Governors, exposing the blindingly obvious fact that he, Herr Doktor Professor Bramvel-Vesley, clearly deserved the exclusive use of a scribe for his own vitally important work, not just one morning a semester, as was the current arrangement, but also on an afternoon of alternate semesters, including leap years.

"Just you explain this forring writing to me and we'll cry quits" blustered the seaman, pushing the Doctor's note, much crumpled and curd-stained, under the scholar's good eye.

Aside from the writing of self-serving memoranda, a university career had conferred a second skill upon B-V: that of seeing students, book-sellers and other assorted time-wasters out the door with a minimum of bother.

"How very interesting!" he cried. "Come, come, over to the light where we can see it better. This window in the corridor is so much better ... ah yes, yes, yes, yes," turning the note perpendicularly at each repetition, "I understand now. What you must do, my friend, is visit the Reichenbach Falls, very close by: so wet; so cool; so shady; there you will find what interests you: more, many, many more", here he flung himself back into his cell, clapped the door to, slid the bolt, and pulled the bell for the porter, and shouted through the keyhole at the furious Bonden: "cryptogams."

[gdf] "Sod this for a game of soldiers!" thought a furious Bonden, "An' what the 'ell did the grumpy old git mean by cryptogams?" It was all Greek to him. Realising that the conversation was at an end, Bonden turned and marched back towards his cheese cart with all the dignity that an English sailor in a dress could muster. Time to find these bleedin' falls of Richard's bath or whatever they were known as locally.

By the time that his porter called, Herr Doktor Professor Blofeld Von Bramvel-Vesley had recovered his natural demented temperament by means of examining the new re-modelled American Trephine expressly sent by Doctor Butcher late of the Norfolk. The Doktor sat there happily musing upon the difficulties of applying this device to the University's Chancellor Von Zimmermann...the cerebral lobes would need a particular tricky modification... The sight of the elegantly dressed porter in front of his desk recalled the Doktor to reality. The well built porter took off his steel rimmed Bowler hat and bowed deeply, then stood to military attention, which was not surprising because before the operation POW Lt.Col James 'Slowjob' Skinner had been in the Royal Marines.

"Ah! Slowjob. Zer ist werk to do! Zer ist an effeminate longhaired English sailor who wears women's clothes. Dispose of him, he vood not benefit from zee operation!! Follow zee awful smell of zatt 'orrible cheese in zee corridor!" commanded the Doktor. The inscrutable Slowjob acknowledged his master with a bow and then lurched off like a bloodhound in chase of Bonden.

It was twilight when Bonden drove through the town gates, heading out into the mountainous countryside, and oblivious to the fact that a zombie like figure was padding along in relentless pursuit.

[js] Back at the University, the Herr Doktor Professor reflected that while Slowjob was willing to finish off the British sailor out of mere ill-will and brutish stupidity, his reasons were far more splendid. He marvelled complacently at the luck which had put an agent of Maturin's into his hands -- he had recognised the writing on the note immediately. What a stroke it would be stop the discreditable transvestite from ever delivering another message! How it would discomfort the British! ...But gloating was a gross folly; dwelling on his success an act of criminal hubris. By way of conciliating fate, Von Bramvel-Vesley merely recommended that the authors of the paper he was reviewing for Die Mitteleuropäisch Knochenschneidergazet be thrown in a dungeon and fed a diet of sauerkraut and water until they saw the error of their ways.

It was over three weeks later that Bonden finally reached the Falls. His journey had been interrupted by a spell in a Swiss prison for Unlicensed Cheesemongering. He had eventually been released, though there was some suspicion of his having eaten the evidence. As he stood gazing at the prodigious column of water, wishing something cruel that he had asked that Professor exactly what a cryptogam was, a bowler-hatted figure stepped out from behind a rock and

[dac] in a voice that portrayed little of his previous rank in the Marines, (the commission papers for which had never been particularly convincing), but illustrating admirably his time spent in His Majesty's Prison Dorking, Skinner exclaimed "Blimey Bonden 'e didn' say it wus you. Why's yer in a frock, yer steamin' git?"

Bonden, who in his youth had also spent a certain amount of time sampling residences at His Majesty's pleasure, looked round in surprise and saw his old cell mate Skinner standing by a large rock, wearing a smart pinstripe suit and cast iron bowler hat. The effect was somewhat spoilt by his knuckles that were somewhat closer to the ground than with most people, but dressed as he was Bonden did not feel qualified to pass judgement.

The ensuing conversation was enlightening, to both parties. Bonden learned that the Surprise had performed a magnificent Dido and Aeneas, Pullings diving from the cliff in a most elegant dying swan pose, and that Doctor Maturin was confident that his intellectuals would recover shortly. (The penguin that had broken his fall however had sadly not been so lucky, at least according to the report Blofeld had seen from French Operatic Intelligence).

However far more importantly for the current situation, Bonden learned that the Herr Doktor had not been particularly forthcoming with Slowjob Skinner's wages.

Skinner for his part learned to his delight that the Surprise was in urgent and dire need of a bass baritone with excellent gunnery skills and boarding experience, a position he was amply qualified for.

Three rounds of cheese sandwiches later an arrangement had been reached and the pair of them had come up with a plan. Bonden would make his way back the port using Slowjob's getaway coach which would be waiting outside a local hostelry.

Slowjob meanwhile would return to the castle to extract his pay from Herr Dockor, collect his teddy bear Mr Sykes, and join the Surprise with Bonden when she docked.

The only problem that they could see was how to get Bonden to the coach. The Docktor's henchmen blocked the pass and none were likely to be bribed by a chorus place in Aida, the vast majority being either tone deaf or country and western enthusiasts, indeed both, in several cases.

So it was that Bonden beskirted and grumbling started his ascent of the waterfall bearing important news of a bass baritone and climbing, climbing, climbing.

(*)This, obviously, isn't Bartok's opera, Bluebeard's Castle. It is an earlier, little-known piece, by R.S.V.P. Bach; "The Bridlington Bach".

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