From the fourth book (work in progress) in the Mining of Lif series.
At a young age, Probly Bettys made a promise: If he had to go through life with such an odd name he would definitely make a name for himself.
He would have made the promise to his parents, if he’d known who they were.
Probly was an orphan, left on a church doorstep in a wicker basket with his name, “The Nipper is Probly Bettys” written on a scrap of card pinned to his nappy.
The church, The Economical Order of Little Fishes, was one of many offshoots that sprung up after the collapse of the Church of the One God.
At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking the Economical Church of Little Fishes looked very much like a fish n’ chip shop, and in truth it did sell fish and chips. Also the occasional meat n’tater pie and bang-up mushy peas
(The shop sold a lot of pies, actually. Occasionally they contained meat).
But there were clues as to the true nature of the ‘shop.’
Such as, the wooden benches set out in rows facing the deep-fat fryer.
These had been liberated from a much larger church a few blocks down the street.
Then there were the religious pamphlets, cleverly disguised as menus, and said to contain secret spiritual messages.
And of course the dead give away…
‘The Church Coughers. Or, ha ha, the Methylated Spiritualists, as I sometimes like to think of them. My boy, never forget they are part of our salvation,’ explained Reverend (self-ordained) Dribbly Tailgater.
‘I thought we were supposed to be their salvation, Reverend?’ young Probly asked the first night he had been on kitchen duty.
‘Of course, of course. That’s what I meant,’ Reverend Tailgater replied, colouring slightly.
Probly looked out the shop’s back door into the alley at the line of elderly, expectorating derelicts queuing for ‘slurps’: a “highly nutritious bowl of soup and bread”.
A prerequisite of receiving their only meal of the day was that each derelict had to hand in a minimum of one empty bottle, for which they received a penny per bottle. Ostensibly this was to help the “poor unfortunates” rid themselves of the scourge of drink.
It wasn’t difficult to see the flaw in this argument.
Probly’s first duty of every morning was to take the empty bottles to the small factory two doors away. Here, the glass bottles were pulverized and then by some magical process made into new bottles.
Probly did not understand the process but he knew it was called recycling. He guessed it had something to do with the forty or so child-peddled static-bicycles that turned the large belts which powered the jackhammers.
The money that The Economical Order of Little Fishes received helped, amongst other things towards the purchase of Reverend Tailgater’s holy water. Something he called “The finest single-malt ever distilled. Ah!”
Many years later, the fish and chip business began to flounder. Mainly because of a complete lack of flounder. A freak tsunami destroyed Judysear’s entire fishing fleet, leaving the industry high and dry.
The Economical Order of Little Fishes switched to eggs. This made the country’s foremost egg farmer, Frau Gottlaid, very happy. And rich. But it devastated Reverend Tailgater, who although extremely depressed, put himself on a course of self-preservation. Beginning with pickling several of his internal organs with ample quantities of his holy water.
For Probly Bettys, this was the last straw. Un oeuf was un oeuf.
He decided to become a missionary and spread the word of the ECOF to those less fortunate souls who had not discovered the Good News about fish, the humble chip, mushy peas and other spiritual matters.
The Royal Society of Veteran *Plorers, or RSVP, was, that very evening, giving a lecture: “Freeca: The final frontier. Guest speaker, Arvid Deadrock.”
Probly held the invitation pamphlet (which stated that booking confirmation was not essential) with a feeling verging on rapture.
Freeca, he thought, a beatific smile on his lips. Land of mystery, intrigue, fabulous riches, (“Diamonds? Ha! Got ‘em lyin’ all over the ground. And gold! Even the bleedin’ Hippos ‘ave gold fillings, let me tell you.”) Strange animals and exotic birdlife.
And also, the Tsetse fly, innumerable other poisonous insects, several highly venomous snakes, treacherous jungles and one or two of aforementioned strange animals that would think nothing of taking a pseudo-religious half-wit like Probly Bettys as an hors d’oeuvre.
However, as much as these thoughts banged on the mental door of common sense, the happy, evangelistic travel-brochure of the mind would not allow admittance.
Probly attended the lecture and missed almost all of it. Oh, he was there. Front row, in fact. However, as his mind was still in ‘travel-brochure’ mode it automatically ‘switched off’ whenever phrases such as, “Bloody savage little bastards”, and “Quite lethal in actual fact, old chap. Bit ‘im right in the meat n’ two veg. No sir, he died. Couldn’t find a single blighter who’d volunteer to suck out the poison. Dashed shame, what?”
And because much of the lecture was regaled with such tales, Probly walked out of the auditorium feeling somewhat bemused. Though not disillusioned ….
There was a cheese and wine party in the foyer.
Probly spied Arvid Deadrock amid a small gathering of adoring, chaste young women from the Church of The Ironclad Knickerbocker: Glory-be!
Or the K.G.B. as they were affectionately known among religious circles.
Deadrock had the cunning, calculating look of a Big Cat. A Big Cat whom, if he played his cards right was soon going to get his hands on the kitty. Or at least, a kitty.
‘Excuse me, Mister Deadrock. Might I have a word, please?’
Probly’s interruption may have earned him the ‘Glacial Look Of The Year Award’ from Deadrock, but it also inadvertently saved a lisping young woman from complaining the following morning that she was “Thaw”.
Probly was well-known for his attempts as proselytising, and the women, who also knew a thing or two about Reverend Tailgater, excused themselves politely and drifted away.
A short while later, in the cigar lounge of Deadrock’s gentleman’s club, Probly sat comfortably ensconced within the folds of a worn leather chair pleading his case for a place amongst the plorer’s next expedition to the Dark Continent.
‘So, young feller m’lad. Interested in the Back Passage are yer?’ Deadrock asked, in reference to the name given to the route to Freeca.
He held Probly with the same riveting stare that had caused the occasional simian to drop, mesmerised from a baobob tree.
‘Er … I am looking for a position as a missionary, actually, sir,’ Probly ventured.
‘Ah! Missionary position. Good man!’
Then he frowned, bringing his eyebrows together to form one thick band. It gave the appearance of a hairy caterpillar clinging to his forehead.
‘No place in the ranks for a giggle-oh, what?’
‘What?’ Probly said, completely thrown by Deadrock’s remark.
‘No wimmin, y’see. Can’t have memsahibs clutterin’ up the place, stringin’ pieces of … of, er … string, about the place.’
‘String?’ Probly echoed.
‘Right. String. Twine or whatever it is they use to hang their … their … smalls.’
‘Small what, sir?’
Probly noticed a fine sheen of sweat form on the man’s face. His somewhat scruffy handlebar-moustache began to twitch.
Deadrock pulled the meerschaum out of his mouth. He’d been biting it so hard he almost removed his dentures at the same time.
‘Lishen, yungsh fellah,’ Deadrock protested, while pushing his false teeth back into place, ‘Enough of this malarkey, d’yer hear? Y’want the job or what?’
‘Well, yes, sir. I do.’
‘Good. In that case, we’ll be leaving on the mornin’ tide, day after tomorrow. And don’t be late. We won’t wait for tardy risers. Understand? No time for slackers. Got it?’
‘Yes, sir. Got it. Thank you, sir.’
Deadrock relaxed. Then, after a few thoughtful sucks on his pipe, he leant forward, adopting a conspiratorial tone.
‘So, tell me young fellah m’lad. What’s it like?
‘Bein’ a giggle-oh, what?’
‘Er … funny?’
*Plorer. And adventurer who came back as opposed to an ex-plorer who didn’t