Heyoka’s Workbench


Detail from an old photo: Etonians crossing a street and looking all in one direction.

(Die folgende kleine Geschichte gibt es für meine deutschsprachigen Leser auch auf Deutsch: »Pebbledon«, PDF, 70 kB.)

Paul Pebbledon is an aesthete. Few things can cause him a more profound satisfaction than the view of well-balanced proportions or the sound of serene harmonies, and few can throw him into a blacker grief than the lack thereof.

His sense for aesthetics, though, is not of the type that strives for the sensual and draws on lavishness and opulence. Nor does it have the stain of the vanity and ostentation that is so common among gourmets and connoisseurs who carry the refinement of their tastes before them like a monstrance sparkling in the sun not in God’s praise but in their own.

No, Paul Pebbledon, on the very contrary, is defined by his modesty. His quest for beauty is not subordinated to any worldly motive, like ascending the academical ranks or making an impression on the fairer sex, but is driven by an inborn longing for order and quietude. The plainest piece of furniture, a humble chapel, a hearty meal, a simple song can satisfy his judgement just like the most celebrated products of human art – or even more so.

A case in point is his name. Even his closest friends would be taken aback should they happen to see him put under a letter the name Paul Horatio Pebbledon. For Paul Pebbledon never mentions his middle name to anyone and has banished it even from his own mind. If you compare a person’s name to a building – such is Paul Pebbledon’s reasoning – then his own name is rather a farmhouse than an urban villa or a castle or a cathedral. A snug little lodge whose unpretentious elegance would exactly meet his taste, were it not for that formidable middle name: the Horatio between the Paul and the Pebbledon is just like a set of Roman pilasters thrown against the plain brick front facade by the architect in a vain attempt to make more of it, but only turning the house into a sad, ludicrous caricature. And while Paul Pebbledon certainly appreciates a good laugh, he knows the difference between cracking a joke and being one.

One morning, Paul Pebbledon woke up to a sound that he’d heard many times before but that seemed to really arrive in his mind only now, thus rousing his inner apparatus to gauge the pleasingness of things.

How often do we not experience the same phenomenon in life? A person we’ve interacted with ever so often, a building we’ve entered countless times, a sign we’ve had before our eyes every day – we saw them and at the same time we did not. Asked for a description of the person, the building, the sign we’d be at a loss to recall even the most general impression, let alone any details.

The sound that made Paul Pebbledon start that morning was the monotonous beeping of a lorry that had just delivered fresh supplies of beer to the pub below and was now backing up. Beep, beep, beep, beep.

Paul Pebbledon sat straight up. »Dreary!« was his first thought. What a dreary noise! What a desolate, dull, melancholy and at the same time utterly unnerving sound! How could anyone possibly have had the callousness to release this sound on the public?

Once he’d become aware of this nuisance Paul Pebbledon inevitably encountered it all day and in all corners of the town. It was everywhere and he wondered how on earth he’d managed not to notice it before.

Quickly, the slight nuisance grew into constant vexation and claimed an ever greater share of Paul Pebbledon’s attention and thought. Until finally he decided that he must act. Not only for his own convenience but for the common good.

So he sat down and began to compose a new tune for lorries, trucks, fork lifters, and any vehicle that must announce when it drives backwards. He is a fairly decent musician (like he is a solid dabbler in all the fine arts) and thus, after only three weeks, he came up with five short melodies.

And as – owing to his agreeable nature – he is blessed with a large number of friends and acquaintances of all trades and stations, the question of how to disseminate his idea was not an obstacle worth mentioning. Among his contacts, there was one Mr S… who was quite a character, widely known for his flamboyance and the countless anecdotes he could tell from his adventures in the farthest corners of the globe. After having been a boxing promoter, a barkeeper, an investment banker, and a private detective among other things he’d finally settled as the owner of a haulage company. This Mr S… still bore within him his old love of adventure and of everything novel. He had the spirit and he had the trucks, he was Paul Pebbledon’s man. Not even a month elapsed before the first vehicles fanned out from the depots of Mr S… that had been modfied by the mechanics so as to play one of Paul Pebbledon’s compositions instead of beeping when they were backing up.

Soon the lorries of Mr S… were the talk of the town. Other hauling companies signalled their intention to join, nay, even the big carmakers took notice of Paul Pebbledon’s innovation – and a local radio station started to use one of his little tunes as a jingle for their retro show »Them Olden Days«.

It was all a huge success! – Until it wasn’t.

It turned out that Paul Pebbledon’s tunes were too good. Those to whom their sound was meant to signal potential danger stood glued to the spot and instead of making way for the lorry or the fork lifter that was heading (or rather backing) for them they grinned blissfully or whistled along with the melody. Disaster was only averted by the intervention of quick-witted passers-by. But the lorry drivers, too, became more and more distracted. Enthralled by Paul Pebbledon’s tunes, they forgot that they were going backwards and why and where. And as compensation claims began to arrive for damaged walls, ruined front gardens, and wrecked cars, Mr S… deemed his thirst for adventure and novelty quenched, called his mechanics and let his lorries beep again.

It goes without saying that all this was deeply embarrassing for Paul Pebbledon and he heaved a big sigh of relief at being assured that nobody had been hurt (apart from a poor old dog who got run over by a van but who, at least, was presumably happy in its last seconds thanks to a certain soothing melody).

Paul Pebbledon decided that it’s not good style to interfere with things that work well enough for most people. And as for his own well-being, he found an excellent brand of earplugs.