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by jamesbharris

‘When Daddy Punched the Bear’

I remember the day like it were yesterday; myself, my sister, and my brother Engelbert or as we knew him, Angelic Bert. There we sat on the picnic cloth in the grounds of our stately home, which Daddy had recently purchased on eBay. The only sounds were Englbert peeling a pork pie – it was a weird habit of his, to denude and then suck apart the residual pork filling – and my sister quietly turning the pages of her book. Mummy and Daddy, still deeply in love in this, their eighth year of marriage, looked at each other adoringly above the eggs and the coffee.

Suddenly, the bear emerged from the woods, roaring and growling and being generally bear-like. For some reason its neck had been bound with a red handkerchief, almost cowboyesque in its tying, and perhaps that had contributed to its aggrieved air. The bear was going fucking nuts, and quite soon it was right next to our family, stomping and rasping and coming perilously close to knocking over a pot of gherkins.

As you can imagine, we children reacted with terror, leaping into each other’s arms in a small cluster of fear and, in Bert’s case, masticated pork. We shot troubled, frightened eyes to Mummybuns and Daddykins, imploring them to rescue us from the savage beast which had now intruded upon our lunch.

But we had reckoned without Daddy. There he rose, drawing himself up to his full height of five-foot ten, courageous and comfortable-looking in chinos and an M&S checked shirt, to punch that bear right in its fucking face. ‘Take that, you cunt!’ he yelled. It was the first time I had heard the word.

Stunned, the bear bellowed and cantered back to the woods, its head and back bending as it leapt into the thicket. Gradually the weeping and sobbing faded and we children made our way apart from each other once again. Mummy moved to Daddy with a devotion bordering on erotic mania, and Daddy spoke. ‘Now,’ he said, regaining his composure and the mustard knife, ‘We are all going to enjoy our picnic.’

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‘I Am a Flemish Nationalist’

I am a Flemish nationalist. I believe in the independence of Flanders, the need of the Flems to liberate themselves from the Wallonian yoke, and the supremacy of Flemish business and cultural practice. If the world were more like Flanders, it would be a measurably better place – but as it is, the part of the world which is most Flanderian, Flanders, should be allowed to exult in its own sheer Flemishness, and so doing prove a beacon amongst the nations.

The walls of my house are coloured gold and black, and decorated with hand-carved lions. I begin each morning with a chorus of De Vlaamse Leeuw, our national hymn, before a breakfast heap of the finest Ghent chocolates. I read exclusively Flemish nationalist authors of the early 20th century, and my daily diet consists entirely of pure beer and fries, although I am careful to consume only potatoes sourced from Flemish soil, though I do like French mustard. Over my buttocks spreads a tattoo of Eddie Merckx, five times Tour de France winner, and on my wall a framed photograph of myself with Jan Jambon, the Belgian Interior Minister. His name in English is Jan Ham – but such trivialities do not amuse me.

My children, Jan and Agnes, have also been reared as strident Flemish nationalists. It was on only his fifth birthday that Jan brought an entire room of assembled relatives to tears with his recital of the 19th-century nationalist poet K. L. Ledeganck’s ‘Zegepraal van’s Lands onafhankelijkheid’ (‘Our country’s triumphant independence’), all 150 lines learnt by heart. How we wept! Then my beloved Agnes sang us a medley of dEUS songs, accompanying herself on the electric viola; really, how could we fail to cry further? Sadly I was forced to leave my wife as, during the recent World Cup, she began supporting the country of Belgium, a nation I do not recognize. I had no choice but to remove both her and a six-metre Belgian flag from my apartment, and I have no idea as to her current whereabouts.

I must mention, of course, I have never lived in, been to or even intend to visit Flanders. In fact I live quite happily in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My neighbours by now know to leave me well alone, and I am able to stay fully in touch with Flemish culture via a variety of online streaming services. Not that, of course, I pay for them: I may be a diehard Flemish nationalist, but I’m not a fool.

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There was a problem with a word

The phone rang.

‘Major?’

‘Yes?’

‘Can you hear me? It’s Collins sir, Sergeant Collins.’

‘Oh right. How can I help sergeant?’

‘Well sir, we have a bit of a problem.’

‘Of course; as your commanding officer, I’m always here to listen. Even at this ungodly hour.’

‘I must say sir that’s very reassuring. It’s about a word sir.’

‘Yes?’

‘A word sir. It appears to have stopped working.’

‘What does that mean sergeant?’

‘Well – there’s no easy way to explain it. I mean, that’s the problem. Sir, you know the liquid you drink.’

‘What?’

‘The liquid that you drink to survive.’

‘Water?’

‘Yes, that’s exactly it Major, exactly that. Well – it’s the word sir. It’s stopped working. I mean, the concept is still understood. But when you just say the word sir, it doesn’t mean anything to the men anymore. The – uh – signifier has become detached from the signified.’

‘Speak English, Collins!’

‘I’m trying to sir but the men no longer seem to understand it. At least that one word. And a few others too, actually. Like – lace curtains. That’s not so important down here, not an item coming up so much in conversation, just like Twister, marsupial and pail, which are also all not working. But it’s really the word water which is causing all the problems.’

‘Well – alright… What on earth do you expect me to do about it?’

‘I don’t know sir. I thought you might have some advice.’

‘Advice. You want advice. Have you tried, ah, pointing at things?’

‘That’s what we’re doing sir. But that’s not always practical. You can’t do that in the middle of an engagement with the enemy sir, you might get your bloody arm off!’

‘Then what about using a verb? To drink or even as a noun phrase, can I have a drink?’

‘Sure sir but a drink could be anything. I mean, you could ask for a drink and be given a coffee, when actually what you wanted is – you know. That clear, essential liquid.’

‘I see. I can well imagine how this is something of a problem.’ There was a long pause. ‘How about – well, how about a new word?’

‘New word sir?’

‘Yes, yes, a new word. It’d have to be one which no-one has used before. Like – let’s see – snupup.’

‘Snupap sir?’

‘I said snupup sergeant. Snup-up.’

‘And what does that mean?’

‘It means – well, it means that vital clear liquid all drink to survive. And which our bodies are composed of up to about 60%.’

‘Right. Snapup.’

‘Yes, snapup, snupup, whatever.’

‘Right you are sir. I’ll take that back to the men and we’ll give it a go. Snupap! Thank you so much sir. I knew you’d help.’

‘It’s late, sergeant. Is there anything else?’

‘Yes sir – there is one more thing.’

‘Yes?’

‘We appear to be running out of snupup.’

 

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