A new Stoat story

FOREWORD by Professor Murray Sinclair

..The thrill I, along with the rest of the literary world, felt upon hearing of the discovery of a hitherto lost early work by the great writer (and my great friend) Hamilton Stoat, was surpassed only by my pride in learning that his executors had appointed me to annotate and edit it.
..There can be no doubt that the story is authentic. Every line of it is stamped with the genius and humanity of its creator. It is the next best thing to having the living Stoat still with us - better, in many ways, as it is less likely to throw up on my furniture or attempt to finger my daughter's schoolfriends.
..This is not the place to write of the Stoat I knew or the enchanting decade he spent as my house-guest. His unfailing modesty and self-effacement, the way he would disguise himself when visitors came round so that they would not quake with awe at the sight of him, his doubts as to whether his work would outlive him by more than a few billion years - all of this I have described in my memoir of those years, A Genius In My Drinks Cabinet.
..It may be worth reiterating, however, that the key to his character lies in an appreciation of his consciousness of death. From his earliest years he was troubled by the belief that he would die young and by the time I met him in his late seventies this had become an obsession. All his other dysfunctions sprang from this - the drinking, the bedwetting, the unfortunate incident with the au pair girl and the superglue. Mercifully, death when it came for him, one fell October morning in 2063, came swiftly and stealthily, in the form of a runaway traction engine which ran over him while he stood in the street meditating on a Wonderbra billboard. I am still inspired by the characteristic nobility and stoicism of his final words: "No, no, not me, take someone else, Murray, Murray, give me your organs."
..Stoat's awareness of death, and his unquenchable belief in the triumph of the human spirit over it, are germane to an understanding of the recovered story. Several of my colleagues have been tempted to dismiss the piece as juvenilia, but this will not do. The story is a simple one: a young man is confronted with violent death, finds love, comes to question the nature of reality. The manner of the telling is also deceptively simple, but overall the story has the hallucinatory quality found in some of his best work, and several of the themes which recur throughout his ouevre are present. At the very least the work provides an insight into the early development of a genius in ovo.
..But judge for yourselves. Here is the story, a last sweet sip of nectar from the cask of his [Gaynor, for Christ's sake hit Roget and find another word for genius], a tale of love and death and madness and all the things between. It is beautiful, and it is terrible. Prepare to weep.



........by Hamilton Stoat age 6 ½ ¹

..One day ² we were all playing in the school yard. Miss Chadwick rang the bell for the end of break.
.."Oh no," I said to Bob Foster, "I wish we didn't have Maths now. Maths is chronic." 3
.."Aaaaaaaargh!" said Bob. "No! No!"
.."It's not THAT bad!!!" I said.
.."No! Look! A d-d-d-d-DINOSAUR!!!!!"
.."Yikes!" 4
..There was a dinosaur coming up the road! It was a big dinosaur. It was a very big dinosaur. In fact, it was ginormous. 5
.."It's a Tyrannosaurus Rex!" I said. "The most dangerous dinosaur of them all. It's name means 'King Of The Dinosaurs' and it can run at 60 m.p.h.!" 6
..There were two more dinosaurs behind it, a triceratops and a diplodocus, they were coming right into the playground! Miss Chadwick screamed and ran off. 7 All the girls were screaming too and so was Jeremy Finch 8, in fact he was crying a bit. I couldn't really blame him, I wanted to cry myself! 9 Even the rough children off the council estate were scared. We all started to run but we couldn't run faster than the Tyrannosaurus! It picked up Kirk Bulstrode and pulled his head off 10 and chewed him up into a thousand scrapulent11 pieces. I wanted to save him but I couldn't, I felt bad about that afterwards. 12 Then it stood on two other people and squashed them beneath its huge scaly [word indecipherable]13 legs. The screams of the dying rang out plangently, a last protest against an indifferent universe, a prayer to a deaf God. 14
..Then I saw that the Triceratops was charging straight at Alice. I had to do something to save her. Very quickly I picked up the girls' skipping rope, tied one end to the railings and then ran across the yard and tied the other end to the tree. The clumsy, lumbering triceratops ran into the rope and went crashing to the ground right in front of Alice! I grabbed Alice and pulled her away. 15
.."Thanks," said Alice. "Will you be my boyfriend?"
.."O.K.," I said, "but I think we should still play with other people." 16
..Me and Alice and Bob crouched down behind the wall and hoped the dinosaurs didn't see us. Now the tyrannosaurus was eating Mrs. Jones the dinner lady 17 and the diplodocus was crashing into the school destroying it totally.
.."Someone will have to run and get the army," I said.
.."Bags not me!" said Bob.
.."O.K. I'll go, look after Alice." I started to run down the street towards the phone box, suddenly a huge shadow fell over me. I looked up to see a pterodactyl flying over me! It swooped down screaming and grabbed me in its claws. As I struggled and yelled we flew up higher, higher, higher into the clouds...
..Then it let go of me. I was falling, falling,

..And then I woke up and it was all a dream.18



1. 'Hamilton Stoat age 6 ½.' In fact it is more likely that Stoat was closer to 6 ¾ when he wrote this story. He was notorious for shaving his age to make himself appear to be more of a prodigy than he was. Although he was 32 when he won the Booker Prize for The Man Who Patronized Goatherds, he claimed to be 12 and went round the Guild Hall challenging other eminent literati to play him at conkers.
..The story is written on foolscap with a 2B pencil and tests confirm that it dates from 1976. It is probably the first piece Stoat wrote with the aid of his lucky pencil troll, a smiling apple-man with leaves on its head which may have reminded him of his father, who often wore leaves. This troll or gonk was to become an important totem to Stoat. When in his mid-thirties he temporarily misplaced it he suffered writer's block and fell into a depression for which he eventually had to be treated with electro-shocks. It is thought the gonk may have been deliberately hidden by his first wife Theta, who was jealous of it and believed Stoat loved it more than her, which Kapler in his biography concludes was fundamentally true and completely understandable due to Theta's habit of standing around with her mouth open folding down the top of her left ear.

2. 'One day.' Always a literary innovator, Stoat dispenses with the conventional 'Once upon a time' opening which his contemporaries still clung to. 'Pygmies,' he commented in his diary. 'How I pity them.'

3. 'Maths is chronic.' Note that Stoat's ear for the vernacular is already well developed. Throughout his life Stoat retained a fondness for the slang of his youth and often larded his talk with words like 'spacko' and 'menk', even managing to work them into his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, as well as into his searing polemic against the Major government, A Confederacy of Joeys.

4. 'Yikes!' A colloquial expression indicating fear or dismay.

5. 'ginormous' While the prose style of much of the piece is reminiscent of Hemingway ('It was a big dinosaur. It was a very big dinosaur,' etc.) here in the combining of the words 'gigantic' and 'enormous' we can see that Stoat is already coming under the influence of Joyce.

6. 'It's a Tyrannosaurus Rex...it can run at 60 m.p.h.' The narrator's calm retailing of information in the face of catastrophe prefigures the scene in All The Queen's Whores, Stoat's reworking of the spy thriller, in which the detached anti-hero Bramley is about to be murdered: 'The gun pointing at him was a Bausch and Lomb .32, he noted dispassionately, standard issue to the Canadian Secret Service and the weapon of choice among Ugandan meerkat traffickers. It had a double-hammer action and an eight-bullet magazine. Fired at this distance it would leave an exit wound approximately four inches in diameter...The man holding the weapon, judging by the shape of his skull, was an ethnic Latvian with a hint of Wolverhampton in his ancestry. He wore his hair en brosse. His eyes were a brilliant ultramarine; contacts, perhaps, as there were pince-nez scars on the bridge of his nose...His suit was Armani, or a good Iranian copy. His tie was an elasticated one from Mothercare. Something about the man intrigued him. "Where did you buy your shoes?" he asked.'

7. 'Miss Chadwick screamed and ran off.' Stoat's teacher, the first person to recognize his embryonic genius, although at first she just thought there was something the matter with him. At the time he wrote this story he may have been turning against his early mentor. At any rate, she never forgave him for his portrayal of her here. To the end of her life she maintained she would never have panicked in the face of a dinosaur invasion. "I would have rung the alarm bell and then fetched a stick or something to fend them off with," she said on her deathbed.

8. 'Jeremy Finch.' A fop and aesthete of Stoat's circle, notorious for his affectation of carrying a teddy bear everywhere until the age of five. At first suspicious of him, Stoat later came to respect his strength of character. 'How I admire that man Finch,' he wrote in his journal. 'His smiling unruffled refusal to play skilly-all-out shames the rest of our giddy generation. Bob tells me he has the lurgee, however.'

9. 'I wanted to cry myself.' Several of Stoat's main characters have trouble expressing their emotions, e.g. Richard Berg in The Panoptic Gooseberry-Powered Enema Machine, who has to douse his scrotum with aftershave to bring tears to his eyes when he learns his wife has eaten their children.

10. 'It picked up Kirk Bulstrode and pulled his head off.'There may be an element of wish fulfillment in this. Bulstrode was the school bully and had recently put snot on Stoat's pencil-case. He may be the model for Maurice in Slobber, Grandma, Slobber, the maniac who inflates geese with a bicycle-pump.

11. 'Scrapulent.' Another made-up word. Again, one thinks of Joyce. On the other hand, Stoat may have picked it up from his father, a whimsical man who was forever making up words of his own, a trait which eventually led to him losing his job as a compiler of crossword puzzles.

12. 'I wanted to save him but I couldn't, I felt bad about that afterwards.' Although we cannot be sure whether Stoat had read Camus by this point, this passage is intriguingly reminiscent of The Fall, in which Jean-Baptiste Clamence is wracked with guilt after failing to save someone drowning in the Seine. Certainly the book came to obsess Stoat in later life, and he contemplated writing a sequel in which Clamence becomes a lifeguard and is redeemed, which he envisaged as either a rock opera or a script for Baywatch. He also started work on a musical based on the life of Camus. The following fragment survives:

..Camus (sings):

Life is absurd
Like a wingless bird
I'm an Etranger
Like the Lone Ranger

13. (word indecipherable) The missing word, hidden under a piece of congealed chewing-gum I have been unable to pick off, begins with a 'g' and may be 'green' or 'gnarled'. Personally, I favour 'glabrous', a word which recurs frequently in Stoat's ouevre, e.g. the haunting description of Hilda Pettigrew in How Green Were My Buboes, with her 'glabrous oatmeal-coloured thighs'.

14. 'The screams of the dying rang out plangently...a prayer to a deaf God.' This may have been added at a later date. At any rate, it is written in biro. The original text, still faintly legible beneath, reads, '"Aaaaargh!" "Aieeee!"'

15. 'I grabbed Alice and pulled her away.' 'Alice' is Alice Fernackapan, Stoat's first love. She was won over by his immortalizing her in this story and his bravery in saving her from a Triceratops. Upon reading it she agreed to become his girlfriend and thereafter referred to him as 'my protector', although she had cause to revise this opinion two days later when he hid behind her when they were menaced by a duck.
..Alice-figures and references to Alice crop up continually in Stoat's novels. The regret-haunted middle-aged narrator of Good Christ, Is That The Time? pines for his childhood sweetheart with her perpetually grazed knees, lamenting, 'The hell with these sophisticated modern women with their Cosmopolitan guides to keeping a man happy. Not one of them would let you pick gravel out of their kneecaps.' Alice is the name of the woman with obstetric difficulties in The L-Shaped Womb. And Stoat utilized several of Alice's traits for perhaps his most well-rounded female character, the crusading lawyer Elizabeth Fury, notably her habit of keeping her toffees down her knickers.
..In reality Triceratopses were not ferocious at all, but rather placid herbivores. In view of the fact that Stoat was acknowledged by his contemporaries to be a leading authority on dinosaurs, owning a completed sticker album and a set of Top Trump cards, I believe this apparent mistake must have been deliberate. Unexpected danger from seemingly harmless creatures is a recurring theme in Stoat's work. There is the berserk panda in the posthumously published early thriller Paws of Doom, while in Dark Toolshed it is Wogan's hamster which sets in motion the chain of events which ultimately leads to his whole family being exiled to Swindon.

16. 'I think we should still play with other people.' Note the protagonist's fear of commitment. Cf. Stan in Stoat's 1998 novel Why Do Birds Always Leave The Toilet Seat Down?, who dumps his Cambridge-educated supermodel girlfriend because she doesn't like Jackie Chan films.

17. 'the tyrannosaurus was eating Mrs. Jones the dinner lady.' A nice conceit here: the 'dinner lady' becomes a dinosaur's dinner! Well, it broke me up.

18. 'And then I woke up and it was all a dream.' This marks the beginning of Stoat's obsession with hallucination and modes of reality. Compare with his experimental SF novel Grook, in which the entire 840-page saga turns out to have been the daydream of a man sitting in a chiropodist's waiting room, who is himself the hallucination of a badger undergoing liposuction.


(Spring 2000)