How the Formidables got their name--and how it was buried with them

There once was a poor little shepherd boy, who, in addition to having no money and scarcely any clothes, had no family either. Because of this, he was known simply by his Christian name, which was Pierre, and because he was deaf and dumb, people called him Pierre the Simple to distinguish him from all the other Pierres in the village. His only companion was a sheepdog, who, however, had a most remarkable gift: he could speak. Pierre, naturally, had no way of knowing this, and since the dog spoke only to him, no one else in the village knew either.


One day Charlemagne visited the village and Pierre and his dog went to pay their respects in the great tent that had been set up for this purpose. The emperor received them very kindly, and asked Pierre whether he would like anything. Pierre just stood there with his mouth open, so the dog answered for him.


“I’d like a bone,” he replied.


The emperor was astonished. “Mon dieu! A talking dog! C’est formidable!”


“Not at all, sire,” replied the sagacious dog. “It’s more common than you might think. Especially among sheepdogs.”


Now when word of this interview reached the village no one seriously believed the part about the talking dog. “Say something!” they said to the dog, and though he was sorely tempted to speak he couldn’t because he was too busy chewing the nice juicy bone the emperor had given him. But the name stuck, and so from that day on, Pierre was known as Pierre Formidable, so that while he still had no family, he now at least had a last name, which he passed onto his sons, and they to theirs, one century after another.


But dynasties, like stories, must come to an end, and so it was with the Formidables. The last man to bear that redoubtable name was a certain Jacques Formidable, who lived and died in the time of Louis XIV. Why he should have left no heirs is a secret he took with him to the grave, but it was not for lack of trying, for his wife (her name was Marie) was very beautiful and he was madly in love with her. In fact, at every chance he would rush home just so that he could jump into bed with her. This uxoriousness was a source of endless amusement to his neighbors. He would be running past them, and each and every time they would cry out, “Off to see your mistress, eh, Jacques?” And each time he would foolishly take the bait and reply (rather primly) that he was a married man and that there was only one woman he had ever loved—and would ever love—and that was his wife. To which they invariably replied, laughing themselves silly, “Your wife? Mais, c’est formidable!"


This childish joke, repeated several times a day, produced a curious effect on poor Jacques: though he never waivered in his love for Marie he came to loathe a name that seemed to produce nothing but endless punning at his expense. And so when he felt the chill hand of death upon him he called his beloved Marie to his bedside and said: “My name has been a curse to me. Let it be buried with me.” And with that he breathed his last.


Marie was torn. Good wife that she was, she dearly wanted to honor her husband's dying wish, and yet Jacques had been such an exemplary husband that it seemed a crime to consign his memory to oblivion. “Leave it to me,” said the stonecutter, who produced the following epitaph for Jacques’s tombstone: “Here lies a man who was faithful to his wife.”


In some ways, Jacques got his wish, for today nobody remembers the Formidables. But his grave has become something of a destination in that part of France, for there has never yet been a visitor who has seen it without exclaiming, “Mais, c’est formidable!”


We shall all be naked on judgment day

The last sermon of the Reverend Chauncy Pibs, d. 1745


Someone among us has been stealing meat pies, the same someone who has lately gained a prodigious amount of weight. You know who you are, you fat slut! Yes, you! The one with the greasy lips and squinty little piggy eyes! You may think it is a small matter, stealing meat pies, but that just shows how little you understand sin. For though it always starts small, it is never content to remain so, as you will now hear.


In the village where I grew up, there was a poor little orphan boy named Peter. He was apprenticed to a swineherd and though he had not a farthing to his name, though he owned neither shoes nor a hat, he at least had a roof over his head, and if he had to share his room with his master’s pigs, they at least kept him warm at night.


Then one day a rich gentleman stopped in our village. He was wearing a marvellous hat, and little Peter, who made himself useful by holding the gentleman’s horse, was as transfixed by the sight of this hat as the papists are by the sight of a statue or an icon or whatever it is that they worship. Oh, fatal infatuation! “If only I, too, had a nice hat, I could make something of myself!” said little Peter to himself, for in truth, he rather chafed at the idea of becoming a swineherd when he grew up. “But how can I when I have not so much as a farthing to my name?” He thought some more on the subject (thoughts did not come as quickly to him as they do to most people) and then he had an especially wicked thought: he would sell one of his master’s pigs and buy a hat with the proceeds “No one will miss just one pig,” he reasoned. The wicked thought was followed by the wicked deed, and now Peter had his hat and the master had one less pig. But it is in the nature of sin for the small to beget the large, and now that Peter had a magnificent hat he yearned to have a proper suit of clothes to go with it. And looking down at his bare feet, he thought: “If only I also had a pair of shoes and buckles and stockings to go with them!” By the time he had added up all the other things he needed to go with his new hat he reckoned that he would need at least a hundred pigs to pay for them, and so one night, while his trusting master slept, he drove all his pigs down to Smithfield and sold them to the very first butcher he met.


Two years have now passed. Peter has fallen in with bad company, with whores and gamblers and thieves: in this way does the sinner squander the wages of sin on still more sin! Many are the bitter tears of repentance he now weeps, many the times he wishes for nothing more than to return to his village and tend to his master’s pigs! But alas, it is too late, and Peter sinks ever deeper into sin. Next he steals a horse, sells it to buy a gun, and then uses the gun to get the horse back. “Can it be that I have become a highwayman?” he asks himself, and seeing that he already has the tools of the trade, namely a gun, a horse, and a rakish hat, he makes straight for Hounslow Heath, where, brandishing his pistol, he stops the very next coach to come along. The passengers, trembling all over, give him their money and valuables. But then his horse goes lame just as he is about to make his escape, his gun fails to discharge, and the passengers he has just robbed fall upon him and drag him before the nearest justice of the peace.


Now behold Peter, a scant three weeks later! It is his turn to tremble as he stands before a jury in the Old Bailey. The passengers are all there; each swears he is the man who tried to rob them; and as if their evidence isn’t enough, that hat, that damnable hat, is carrying on its own sinister congress with the jury, practically begging them to convict its owner. There can be no question of mercy: Peter is sentenced to be hanged by the neck until he is dead. The dreadful day of reckoning comes all too soon, and the only thing standing between poor Peter and the noose is the hat that started all his troubles. The hangman removes it so that he can slip the noose around his neck, but instead of placing it back on Peter’s head he places it on his own, and that is the last thing Peter sees as he is turned off: a hangman wearing his hat.


When he wakes up it is Judgment Day. There he is, stark naked, and standing next to him is the hangman, who is also stark naked except for Peter’s hat, which he is still wearing. In fact, everyone is naked, and he can’t help noticing the women who are waiting their turn to be judged. Sluts! Big be-bosomed sluts! Sluts with pudenda! Sluts who wiggle their—(It was here that Mr Pibs’s body and soul took their leave of each other, the first falling directly into the pew below, the second ascending to its Maker.)



The story of the man from Dorking

The town of Dorking has produced many eccentrics, but none, not even the man who married his horse, can compare to Mr D. and his thermometer. For seventeen years, from 1721 to 1738, this Mr D. did nothing but record the temperature, every two hours, never missing so much as a day. At the end of the seventeen years he sent his records to the Royal Society, with the request that they be published “in the interest of advancing science.” When they were returned without comment, he became disillusioned with the weather, and set out in search of other temperatures he might measure.


His first venture, at Bath, went badly. There he dipped his thermometers into the waters, staring fixedly at it all the while and ignoring the shrieks of the lady bathers, who were in a partial state of undress. He tried to reason with them, explaining that what he did he did for science, and not even stopping to look at all the bosoms bobbing along the surface of the water, he continued with his measurements. He was asked to leave the town, and threatened with a whipping should he ever return. 


He next got it into his head that he would measure the temperature at Mount Vesuvius. His friends pleaded with him not to go. “Isn’t it enough to know that it’s very hot there?” they asked. “Yes,” he replied, “but do you know how hot?” And so against their wishes he set out for Naples. There he hired a team of donkeys to take him all the way to the top of Mount Vesuvius. But halfway up he was attacked by brigands, who robbed him of all his clothes. But he still had his donkeys and his beloved thermometer, and undaunted, he trudged on, naked as the day he was born. He could just see the rim when he was next attacked by gypsies (who are very numerous in that part of the world). They rode off with his donkeys, leaving him with only his thermometer. Still he trudged on, and reaching the very top he made a complete circuit of the rim, stopping every six paces to take the temperature. The heat was unspeakable and to his surprise he found that he did not miss his clothes. In fact, he entirely forgot about them and it was in a state of complete undress that he began his descent down the mountain.



As luck would have it, the first building he saw was a convent. He entered and the nuns started shrieking. Soon, however, they began to perceive the advantages of having a naked man among them, and it was some time before they at last agreed to furnish him with clothes. Being nuns, however, the only clothes they possessed were nun’s habits, and it was in this dress or none at all that he would have to continue his journey.


 Mr D., being a good Protestant, was torn. “Which is the bigger sin,” he asked himself, “to dress up as a nun or to wear no clothes at all?” And in truth, both seemed equally wicked. But the longer he pondered this question, the more the nuns pestered him, until he was almost too tired to move. At last he made up his mind: he would leave dressed up as a nun, if only to get some peace. 


It was in this guise that he boarded the next ship bound for England. But even then his troubles were not over. The sailors, being good Protestants and men besides, took their turns raping him, and when they discovered that he was one of them, an Englishman and a good Protestant, they gave him a sound beating for having deceived them. More dead than alive, in rags and missing an eye and most of his teeth, he arrived back in England, where he was chased and set upon wherever he went. But still he trudged on, at last arriving, in a state miserable beyond description, back in Dorking. And from that day on, he never troubled himself again about the temperature, simply accepting, as other people do, that it is either hot or cold or somewhere in-between.


There was a man from Guyana


There was a man from Guyana

Whose bestie was a hyena.

Her name was Betsy,

This beastie cum bestie,

And his was Koko Cabana.