Tuesday, 31 August 2010


H M S Pinafore (1878) patriotic 'For He Is An Englishman' has always puzzled me:
Boatswain. He is an
For he himself has said it,
And it's greatly to his credit,
That he is an Englishman!

That he is an Englishman!

For he might have been a Roosian,
A French, or Turk, or Proosian,
Or perhaps Itali-an!

Or perhaps Itali-an!

But in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman!
He remains an Englishman!

For in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman!
He remains an Englishman!
How does one 'choose' to be English? In what sense am I (say) provided with the temptation to belong to another nations? That's, surely, not how it works. The notion that there is 'great credit' in saying that one is English makes it sound as if the admission is in some sense 'brave', a confession made in the teeth of general shame and derision; and the fluidity of national identity implied by the lyrics creates a discursive world in which 'patriotism' is the least appropriate response. In fact, although it sounds like a patriotic song, in fact this text is something the reverse of patriotic.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Deciduous grass

We have deciduous and evergreen trees, but only evergreen grass. Why? I like the War-o-Worldsy vibe of deciduous grass: lawns green in the summer, red in the autumn.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

A god of light

Faith in a thinking God of Light entails a belief in the divinity of illumination: that the shining of the sun is a kind of thought, that (to quote the poet)
Is a kind of sense:
for thought is bright.
Unless it isn't commutable. Or unless (perhaps more reasonably) thinking is no more part of God's nature than 'fingers' or 'envy' are.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Funky Gibbon

Chapter 34 of the Decline and Fall:
Καὶ μεγέθεσιν ἐλεϕάντων, οἷς ίσον ἔργον διὰ σταχύων ἐλθεɩ̂ν, καὶ ϕάλαγγος [Ἐπιτάϕ. c. 125]. Rien n’est beau que le vrai; a maxim which should be inscribed on the desk of every rhetorician.
Very cool, and useful diagnostically: by this maxim, a beautiful lie (fiction, say) must embody a greater truth than the sum of its mendacity.

The next stage is to determine that John Keats read Gibbon, and that he derived his inspiration for the equivalence that concludes his most famous Ode from this nifty little proverb.

Friday, 27 August 2010


Take the phrase (the cliche, I suppose we could say) 'the dictates of ones conscience': as in George Washington's celebrated 'every man ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.' This identification of 'conscience' with a dictator is a curious thing, isn't it? What might a democratically elected conscience look like? One predicated on many inputs, on compromise and negotiation? Wouldn't it look exactly like our consciences actually are?

Thursday, 26 August 2010

What's so amazing about really deep thoughts?

I like the 'deep thought' metaphor. I like the implication that when you get really deep the sheer pressure of Thought starts to crush you, such that you need special equipment merely to survive 'down' there.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


Clearly I need to get my inner McCartney into an appropriate balance with my inner Lennon. I've already balanced my inner Harrison-Starr minor axis.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Religion as a unity

Interesting post over at AUFS on 'taqiyya':
Islamophobes believe Muslims to hold to a doctrine called taqiyya, which allows them to lie to unbelievers with a clear conscience. I find this concept interesting on a lot of levels. First, it reminds me of what I once called the “atheist two-step”:

[1] Someone points out that the particular religious belief disproven by the doctrinaire atheist is not really held by anyone as stated.
[2] The doctrinaire atheist then says that religion is so obviously stupid and pernicious that one can’t be held accountable for detailed knowledge of it.

The Little Professor then replied that this is a long-standing technique of denouncing religious enemies, having a long history in anti-Catholic polemic, for example:

[1] Someone points out that the particular Roman Catholic belief disproven by the doctrinaire evangelical Protestant is not really held by any Catholic as stated.
[2] The doctrinaire evangelical Protestant then says that Catholicism is not just obviously stupid and pernicious, but also deceitful at base–so it’s not even possible to have detailed knowledge of the religion. (Ergo, don’t bother.)

Obviously this notion of “taqiyya” is closer to the anti-Catholic position, since it claims that Catholics are actively hiding their true beliefs. One can see a similar pattern in anti-Semitism — Jews who appear to be harmless and friendly just reinforce the deceptive abilities of Jews.
My sticking point in this argument is at the beginning:
Someone points out that the particular religious belief disproven by the doctrinaire atheist is not really held by anyone as stated.
It seems to me unlikely, given the prodigious variety of human belief, that any given religious view, even one intended to caricature and defame 'religion' is 'not held by anyone.' It seems to me more likely that it will be held by some people. It may be a small number of people, but some people is not no people. That produces a problem. Because the implicitly reasonable religious 'somebody' in the 'someone points out' above then has to discount those 'some people' from the argument: perhaps by saying 'well perhaps some stupid people believe that, but "proper" religious people don't', which rather concedes the atheist's point (then it just becomes a question of determining the proportions of "proper" and "crazy" religious people). More to the point, the exclusion must presumably be proposed on the implicit basis of a unified quantity called 'true religion' from which the people who hold the contentious view in question are considered dissenters. I'd be surprised to find the bloggers at AUFS proposing anything so essentialist as (for instance) 'True Islam'.

To give a non-taqiyya example. A dedicated atheist might say 'American Christians believe the Earth was made in 7-days and Darwin was sent by the devil'. The point of making such a claim might be to suggest that Christians believe stupid things, or a little less offensively that believing the impossibilia of the catechism renders the mind more liable to believe stupid things. A Christian might tell me: 'I'm a Christian and I don't believe anything so foolish.' But that response wouldn't send me to the 'so obviously stupid and pernicious that one can’t be held accountable for detailed knowledge of it' rhetorical move. On the contrary, it would surely send me in the opposite direction, to the demographics of religious belief. Lots of American Christian's do believe that; many millions, certainly. What proportion of the sample would have to believe the stupid thing in question for the reasonable religious 'somebody' to concede that his/her 'not really part of the religion' doesn't apply?

Monday, 23 August 2010


Were none of Odysseus's sailors gay, and immune to the blandishments of female heterosexual allure? That doesn't seem very likely.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Blue sky

Blue sky. That improbable blue, like the shade of liquid in a pharmacist's yard-tall phial, set in the front window. Cobalt and azure blended in a fluid medium.

Infinite blue. Orphan blue. The saddest of all blues.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Moral hazard

A: 'Jim crashed his car last night. He's dead!' [or if you prefer: 'he'll spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair!']

B: The way he drives, I'm not surprised!

In this situation (everybody, including B, knows very well that Jim is a reckless driver, a danger to himself and others) doesn't, or didn't, B have a duty to try and get Jim to drive less recklessly? To point out the risks of his behaviour to him?

Of course, B didn't; any more than you or I do, when it comes to our friends. Perhaps we say 'it's their business, not mine', but I wonder how that isn't an abdication of responsibility. In fact, when quizzed, B says: 'I didn't because I knew it would be no good. He would have ignored anything I said.' The problem with this is that this describes a situation in which B would lose nothing by making his case; and since he would lose nothing, he has no grounds for shirking his duty.

You challenge B. You say: 'I tell you what I think your reason was. You didn't want to be the sort of person who goes up to a man in a wheelchair and says, I told you so!'

More to the point, nobody wants to be the sort of person who derives personal satisfaction from telling a wheelchairbound man 'I told you so!' But it's worth pondering why? What is so deplorable about this? Before the accident you look like a busybody, and after the accident you look like a gloater. But why? Is it (in the latter case) because it's too late? A reasonable objection to this is: but I told him before it was too late, hence the "I told you so"!' It does not seem to me out of the question that a more general climate of 'I told you so!' would apply pressure upon (other) people's pre-accident behaviour?

Friday, 20 August 2010


Cicada. That shifting c: hiss-c, click-c.

The dizzy sound of cicadas.
The tinitus of cicadas.
Their squeaky chug, their Tithonean bleat.

Thimbled fingers scrape up and down the cheese grater.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Animal typology

Troping Christ as a lamb, a tiger or a lion is fair enough. But until I see a theologian genuinely, with neither negativity nor sarcasm, exploring the trope of (let's say) Christ the hyena, Christ the tapeworm, Christ the spider -- I'll know that there is as yet no new natural theology, and the slogan 'everything is holy' has not properly been inhabited by human thought.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Operation Zipper

This would make an interesting set-up for an alternate-historical novel. One day, perhaps, I'll write it.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

A question about a notional sequel

Would a sequel to The Waste Land be called The Waste Land II, or The Fertile Ground?

Monday, 16 August 2010

Il faut cultiver notre jardin

To realise something about Voltaire’s famous cure for misery: ‘we must work in our gardens.’ Some might think the point of this is the garden; and some the simple fact of work, but I begin to suspect the real brilliance of this is the: must.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The English Writer Poem

The English writing man who fussed
Too much in searching le mot juste
Should learn from that old master, Proust,
And shovel rather les mots justes.

Saturday, 14 August 2010


The moon was visible with preternatural clarity. It looked imprinted upon the blue, like a seal of official authentication for the sky.

Friday, 13 August 2010


Moments when it is threatened by loss make you realise: the scale and capacity of human love, though (very obviously) a joyous thing, is a massive risk. The risk of course is that such an intensity of connection, if severed (by death) will completely disable the individual. Presumably, in evolutionary terms, the joy outweighs the risk, or we would not have evolved this capacity for such deep love. And, naturally, it is easy enough to think of ways in which that joy is useful in terms of propagating the genes—making us more protective and nurturing of our children. But to stand on the brink of losing a child brings this realisation home: the potential negative is so huge, the joy must be greater.

Thursday, 12 August 2010


A life spent in pursuit of depth becomes onerous. There comes a time when the welcoming billowing-silk embrace of superficiality becomes irresistible.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Pirate Breakfast poem

My sweet, my bonny, my clear-eyed ones:
Silver is still wearing his long johns
Here’s the jam eater with red in his beard
Here’s where the privateer muffin was speared
Sat at the breakfast bar, crippled and old
Silver's still searching for his Kerry Gold.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


Chesterton has a neat rhetorical trick for turning respect for democracy into old-Tory traditionalism, and it goes like this: you cannot be a democrat if you despise the will of the majority, howsoever reactionary it might seem to you. Only consider: put into the balance the opinion of all the people alive and all who have ever lived, and you'll find that democracy is in favour of Tradition, God and so on.

But this doesn't go far enough. Let's assume that we're not at the end of something, but rather at the beginning of something. Why disregard all the people who will ever live? They have more say, surely, than the dead; because the dead no longer exist, where the unborn will exist. And they outnumber the living and the dead. Naturally, they're democratic opinions will be more Progressive.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Now

I've just seen David Hockney on TV saying: 'the Now is eternal.'

But I disagree. It seems to me, not only is the Now not eternal, it's not even really now.'

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A New Midas 6


Leo munched the Monopoly banknote. 'Hmm,' he said, scrunching up his face.

'Are you pulling that face because it tastes so bad? Is that it?' asked Mr McAuslan.

'I'm making thsi face,' said Leo, 'because I'm eating paper.' He spat out a half-chewed soppy wad. 'Yuk!'

'It didn't turn rock-hard in your mouth, though,' Pete pointed out, as if this were a good thing. 'You were able to chew it.'

'I was able to chew it because it's not food!' said Leo. 'It's paper.'

'Paper has no nutritional value,' confirmed Mr McAuslan. 'So the limits of the ... if you'll pardon the word, but I can't think of a better one right now ... the limits of the spell you're under seem to be: chew what you like, but if you try and chew food, it will become hard as metal in your mouth. And the only thing that you will be able to eat is money -- real money, not toy money.'

'Bang goes the chance of the most delicious thing in the world,' said Leo, glumy: 'the million pound note from the Game of Life.'

'Spell?' said Pete. 'Like in a fairy tale?'

Mr McAuslan scrumpled up his beard with my hand, as if thinking really hard. 'I've an idea,' he said, suddenly. 'You can't eat Monopoly money because it's a plaything, it's not real money. Seems obvious in retrospect. But real money is acutally a kind of I.O.U. To be precise, it's the Bank of England's fancy-pantsy I.O.U. Look at any note and you'll see...' He pulled another banknote from his wallet: 'see here, I Promise To Pay The Bearer On Demand, The Sum of Five Pounds.'

'That's right,' said Pete. 'I've noticed that before. Though I've never really understood exactly what it means. The bearer is ... what, the person who has the five pound note?'

'Exactly,' said Mr McAuslan. 'And it gives me an idea.' He tore a piece of paper from a notebook on his desk, and wrote on it: I.O.U. £100, P. MCAUSLAN. Then he wrote the day's date underneath and signed it. 'There you go, Dragoman. See if you can eat this.' He handed it to Leo. 'If I'm right,' he added, 'then it should be twice as delicious, and nutritious, than a fifty pound note!'

Leo took the I.O.U, folded it, and put it in his mouth. For several long second he chewed, his jaw going round and round like a cow.

'The verdict?'

'The verdict,' Leo said, 'is yuch.' He went to the bin and spat the pieces of soggy paper out.

'Well, well,' said McAuslan, turning his forefinger in at his beard. 'Interesting, interesting. I wonder why the bank's I.O.U. works, but my I.O.U. doesn't?'

'I never thought of banknotes as I.O.U.s before,' said Pete.

'So,' Leo said, coming back over, 'if I took this to the bank and told them to make good on their promise, they'd have to pay me five pounds.'

'Indeed they would,' said the chemistry teacher. 'It's a legally binding contract!'

'So I go to the Bank of England in London, hand over this five pound note, and in return they give me ... another five pound note?' said Leo. 'What would be the point in that?'

'Maybe if I had a crumpled, frayed old fiver, and they gave me a brand new one,' said Pete.

'Not that,' said Mr McAuslan. 'They would have to give you five pounds worth of gold.'

The boys looked at one another. 'No kidding?'

'Five pounds of gold, though,' said Leo, 'would be, like -- a speck of gold.'

'Nevertheless,' said Mr McAuslan. 'That speck is what makes this banknote different to the Monopoly money. After all, otherwise they're both pieces of paper with numbers written on them, aren't they. The difference is that the banknote is backed by gold. But the real question is ... how does that explain what's going on?'

The afternoon bell rang: they would have to go back to classes. The boys stood up. 'Mr McAuslan, sir,' said Leo, a little tentatively. 'I guess we were hoping that you might have some sort of explanation for what has happened to me ...'

'...Something based, maybe, on your knowledge of chemistry.' Added Pete.

McAuslan turned his one good eye from Pete to Leo and back. 'Lads,' he said, in a deep bass thrum. 'I do not believe chemical science has the answer to this one. But I do believe we are getting closer. Science formulates hypotheses, and then tests those hypothesese by experiment. If the hypothesis is bad, science discards it. If it is good, then we move on. Now I have a hypothesis about what's occurred to you, Leo Dragoman. I can't say I understand this hypothesis. But I do intend to test it.'

Leo and Pete looked at one another.

'I believe that whatever ... strange thing has happened to you, Leo, has to do with gold. I believe you can eat money because money still has about it, even in our post-gold-standard age, the magical aura of gold. But if this is true, then you should be able to eat something even if it is not money ... provided it is gold.' He held up his left hand, and slipped off his wedding ring. 'Leo: please see if you can eat this.'

Leo was amazed. 'Your wedding ring, sir?'

Mr McAuslan blinked; or rather (since he had only one eye) he winked. But although it looked like winking, he was blinking. 'It's the only gold I have about me,' he explained.

'But,' said Pete. 'Your wedding ring? But won't your wife be awfully ... annoyed?'

'My wife,' said McAuslan, with a sigh. 'I'm afraid she ran off with my tax accountant. I only wear the ring for reasons of sentiment. Go on, hurry: you have to be back in class, and so do I. Try eating it.'

'You're sure?'

'I'm surer than sure.'

Leo looked at Pete, and Pete shrugged. 'Alright, sir. I'll do it to satisfy your scientific curiosity.' He popped the gold 'O' in his mouth.

He ground his teeth against it. It wasn't metal; it was like half-melted chocolate. And it tasted ... divine. It was the most exquisite taste he had ever known. I don't believe I can explain to you how extraordinarily tasty it was. Think of the most delicious thing you have ever eaten: the smoothest, creamiest, sweetest chocolate; the most savoury flavoursome meat; the perfect chip. Then multiply its deliciousness by about ten thousand times; and you would have some sense of how delicious this small, gold ring was to Leo.

'Well?' said Mr McAuslan. 'Can you eat it?'

Leo's mind was so overwhelmed with the deliciousness in his mouth that he could not form words; he could only nod.

'And ... does it taste good?'

Leo nodded again. Then, he swallowed, and the flavour drained away, leaving only the aftertaste and the memory -- as all the most delicious flavours do. He gasped. 'It tastes better than good,' he said, in a breathy voice. 'It tastes better than anything else I've ever eaten.'

The chemistry teacher pulled himself up to his full height. 'Boys,' he announced. 'We have not solved the mystery, here today; but we have taken a step closer to its solution. You can eat money, Leo; but it is only a second hand pleasure for you. The real food your altered body craves is ... gold!'

Saturday, 7 August 2010


Breath stains the glass.
The world outside is motionless.

Come back from the window: the light
Is no passage, but a block.

Friday, 6 August 2010

You are a traveller, come back in time

You read a historical novel, and marvel at the vividness of its account of Tudor London, or Napoleonic Paris. 'What would it be like to be there, at that time? How marvellous it would be to travel back in time!' The glamour of the past. Strip out one thing only (and you can do this, if you are honest with yourself): the appeal of the past as a thing finished and complete, in which the brute ontological anxiety 'but what will happen tomorrow?' is not there. Because, to travel back in time and actually live in Tudor England or Napoleonic Paris would be to live with precisely that anxiety -- that this core human anxiety determined existence in the past, as it does in the present. And when you understand that, you can sit on a bench in any square in any town today and feel yourself to be a time traveller from a far future to sample the exotic glamour of the past. 'Well well,' you can tell yourself. 'This must have been exactly what it was like, in the early years of the twenty-first century ...'

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Of the Canniballes

Montaigne's 'Of the Canniballes':
For, subtile people may indeed marke more curiously, and observe things more exactly, but they amplifie and glose them: and the better to persuade, and make their interpretations of more validitie they cannot chuse but somewhat alter the story. They never represent things truly, but fashion and maske them according to the visage they saw them in.
True, this; although Montaigne needs to add a rider: that we are all subtile people, in this sense.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Hope, the thing with feathers

According to Charles Péguy: 'La foi que j'aime le mieux, dit Dieu, c'est l'espérance.' [Le Porche du mystère de la deuxième vertu] It's a beautiful idea, although it's hard to shake the sense that all this really says is that hope is the faith that is loved best by Charles Péguy. We might, conceivably, rewrite it to purge this sentiment of its humanocentric sentimentalism: 'foi que j'aime le mieux, dit Dieu, c'est le transmission de l'information génétique.' Feathers have proved a very well fitted hereditary trait for some animals, after all.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Death by Water Poem

The diver's aqualung,
cracked on the coral rock,
breaks like an egg;

and all his air escapes
in a flock of up-flying bubbles
like birds leaving a poplar.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Siderius Nuncius

Why does Galileo's Siderius Nuncius so exaggerate the size of the crater Eratosthenes?

He's struck by it, obviously; but he places it more centrally and records it as being much larger than it actually is. It's as if he's looking for an aesthetic harmony, or balance, in what he sees. Or more fancifully: it's because he wants to give the moon a mouth. ('Ooo!' says the moon.) This is because Galileo, and his magic optic tube, and his book, is, in a manner of speaking, giving the moon a mouth ... giving it voice, that is.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

A New Midas 5

: 5 :

All morning, Leo’s dilemma distracted him from his classes; and distracted Peter too. At break, Pete came over with a suggestion: ‘I’ve been thinking about it, OK? It must be chemistry.’

‘What do you mean, chemistry?’

‘I mean—it can’t be magic, can it?’

Leo didn’t answer. The truth was, he didn’t know. As far as he was concerned, it was as likely to be magic as anything else. Of course, if somebody asked him ‘do you believe in magic?’ he would probably say no. He no longer believed in the tooth fairy either, and didn’t want his friends thinking he was a baby. But the thing that had happened to him was so weird, he did wonder if magic could be the only explanation.

Pete was more hard-headed. ‘There must be a scientific explanation. The question is: which science? Not geography or economics, obviously. Not physics, either. We’re talking either biology or chemistry.’


‘So I reckon chemistry.’

‘Why do you reckon chemistry?’ Leo asked. ‘Why not biology? Biology is all about living systems, isn’t it? What’s happened to me has happened to my living system, hasn’t it?’

‘True,’ said Pete. ‘But Biology is Mrs Armitage. And Chemistry is Mr McAuslan.’

Leo saw what he meant at once. Only a fool would approach Mrs Armitage with a story like theirs and expect to receive anything except sarcastic dismissal. But Mr McAuslan was a different proposition. He wasn’t like the other teachers, in fact; a loner who spent his lunchtimes in his classroom reading science fiction novels rather than hanging out in the staff common room. Rumour said that he wasn’t liked by the other teachers. Rumour also said he drank.

Leo didn’t know about that; but he knew that he liked Mr McAuslan, despite the fact that he only had one eye. He wore a pair of regular spectacles, with the left lens blacked out, to hide it; but when you got close to him, especially at the side, it was easy enough to see the socket itself—all puckered skin, like an Egyptian mummy’s shut-eye incongruously placed in the face of an otherwise ordinary man in his forties. But somehow the eye didn’t matter; because Mr McAuslan was friendly, and approachable. If you asked him questions about chemistry he got genuinely involved and tried to answer them for you, even if they had nothing to do with the curriculum—‘why is the sky blue?’, for instance; 0r ‘why doesn’t the polar ice cap and the Antarctic ice-cap suck all the heat out of the rest of the world?’; or ‘why don’t they build cars that move around the way snakes move around?’’ and ‘if some drugs are illegal and bad for you and some drugs are good and help you get better from being sick, why don’t people just mix in some of the second type into the first type to stop them being bad for people?’ and ‘who would win in a fight between the city of New York and the city of Tokyo, if the cities grew legs and lifted themselves off the earth?’ and ‘is it possible to freeze things so quickly that they don’t even get cold?’

Any other teacher would get angry if their students tried to derail classes like this; but Mr McAuslan took every question seriously, no matter how stupid it sounded at first, and tried to answer it in a way that brought real science into the matter.

‘We could ask Mr McAuslan what he reckons,’ said Leo, excitedly.

‘He might be able to help. Maybe it’s happened before, and he knows how to cure it!’

‘If it’s happened before,’ said Leo, ‘then wouldn’t we have heard about it?’

Pete shrugged. ‘Maybe the government covered it up? They do that all the time.’

‘If it happened before but the government covered it up,’ Leo replied, reasonably enough, ‘then how could Mr McAuslan know about it?’

‘Look,’ said Pete. ‘Do you want to ask him about it, or not?’

‘Sure,’ said Leo.

They found him in his classroom at lunchtime, eating salad out of a plastic bowl with a plastic spoon, and reading a fat book called The Chronicles of Count Brass. ‘Hello boys,’ he said, sitting up straight in his chair.

Leo pulled a chair up and sat down opposite him. He placed a quarter of a ham sandwich, from Pete’s lunch box, on the desk. Then he placed a fifty-pence piece next to it. ‘Please just watch, Mr McAuslan,’ he said.

He tried to eat the sandwich, biting down repeatedly. Taking it out, and showing the lack of bite marks in the bread, he said: ‘I’m trying to bite it as hard as I can, sir.’

‘I can see that,’ said Mr McAuslan.

Leo put the sandwich back in his mouth, clenched his teeth together and pressed hard together until his face went red. Then he put the unbitten sandwich back on the desk, picked up the coin and bit it straight through.

‘Bravo!’ said Mr McAuslan, smiling broadly. ‘Boys, that’s a brilliantly clever trick! How’s it done?’

‘It’s not a trick,’ said Pete.

‘Really, it’s not,’ said Leo.

They explained the situation, overlapping one another’s explanations. When they had finished Mr McAuslan looked at them with his one eye. Then he asked Leo to repeat what he had done. Then he looked at Leo with his one eye. Then he swivelled his head and looked at Pete. Then he looked at Leo again.

‘For real?’

They both nodded.

‘Good grief,’ he said.

‘We were hoping, sir,’ said Peter, ‘that you might be able to explain it—or if maybe you’d heard if it had happened before in history, or something?’

‘I have never heard anything like it in my life,’ said Mr McAuslan, tugging at his short black beard. ‘And I haven’t the foggiest notion how it is even possible.’

The boys must have looked pretty disappointed, because he immediately tried to rally them. ‘But if it’s a real phenomenon, it must have a real explanation! Science, boys! That will solve it. Let’s do a couple of instant experiments, and discover the limits of the phenomenon. So, Leo: you can’t eat sandwiches, but you can eat coins.’

‘It’s not just sandwiches, sir,’ Leo told him. ‘It’s all the food I used to eat.’

‘But you can eat coins. What about banknotes?’

Leo nodded. ‘They taste lovely, too,’ he added. ‘The higher the denomination of the note, the better it tastes.’

‘Well,’ said Mr McAuslan, scratching his beard. ‘That makes sense, I suppose. Alright: show me.’ He pulled a five-pound-note out of his wallet.

‘Are you sure, sir?’ Leo asked. ‘That’s your money.’

‘Go on—it’s fine.’

So Leo took the fiver; folded it in half and popped it into his mouth. He crunched it like a lettuce leaf—although more delicious and flavourful than any lettuce leaf. Afterwards Mr McAuslan made him open his mouth; but there was no trace of the banknote.’

‘We’re a little worried,’ Pete explained, ‘that if this really is all Leo can eat now, it’s going to get … well ruinously expensive, pretty quickly.’

‘I see what you mean,’ said Mr McAuslan, nodding, and scratching at his beard again. ‘What about monopoly money?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Leo, looking surprised. ‘I haven’t tried it.’

‘They’re banknotes, aren’t they?’ boomed Mr McAuslan. ‘It’s money isn’t it?’

‘Not real money, though,’ said Pete.

‘True. But we don’t know til we try it, do we? And if it’s just as delicious as real money, then that’s one problem solved – because it’s a whole lot cheaper than actual money. I tell you what: there’s a Monopoly set in the games cupboard. I’ll go and get it.’

Leo and Peter waited as he left the classroom. ‘If he’s right,’ said Leo, ‘it’d be great. I could settle down to a diet of monopoly money.’

‘It might be tastier too. The higher denomination notes are better tasting, you said? Well monopoly money goes much higher than regular money,doesn’t it? The highest real banknote is fifty pounds. But you can get a five hundred pound monopoly note! That might be the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted!’

‘Or—the Game of Life,’ said Leo, excited at the prospect. ‘You get, like, million pound banknotes in that game! Imagine that!’

Mr McAuslan was back quickly, carrying the red cardboard Monopoly box under his arm. ‘Here,’ he said, pulling out a £100 note. ‘Try this.’

Leo looked at it, sniffed it, and then put it in his mouth.