The Times — Tuesday December 12
A short while ago, a socialite and personality of almost mythic repute, Humpty Dumpty, died suddenly in a tragic accident.
Many remember him fondly, but none can recall when they first met him. No one knew his origin or his age. He was a conundrum wrapped in a thin shell.
Dumpty had us ask profound questions about what it means to be human, to be a man. It was rumoured, most erroneously, that he was not multicellular, he was not diploid, he lacked a Y chromosome. But his smile could warm the hearts of a thousand children, disturb a thousand more, and everyone called him Sir.
When asked about his “body plan” by developmental biologists, palaeontologists and eggsobiologists, he smiled enigmatically and said that he could not comment, but might be leaving it to science.
Dr. DeSelby, the eminent physician, once examined the great man with Magnetic Resonance Imaging. This learned and sophisticated medic, however, broke down and reported that he could only remember seeing what he thought were the ears of his childhood pet rabbit before terminating the session. A well-known anatomist in attendance was overheard analogising, insensitively, it must be said, that one cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.
Dumpty was voluble, good-humoured and generous, but fragile. A distinguished neighbour commented that “Humpty was always surrounded by dozens of admirers, though he never seemed fully at ease.”
Although much loved by the masses, he did have to endure some cruel innuendo from an insensitive minority. His background was brought into question–monotremes, birds, and, most inappropriately, reptiles were mentioned, principally by molecular biologists. In addition, insulting speculation was occasionally posited on how he might grace various gastronomic scenarios, with celebrity chefs among the worst offenders. Dumpty, to his credit, shrugged off these affronts with bravery and wit.
Without a trace of morbid intent or disrespect it was nevertheless felt appropriate to here include the details of Dumpty’s death, which were at least as unique a part of his legacy as were his living moments. In the end it is the simplest of mishaps that caused his demise: while seated on a wall, he had a devastating fall. Why he fell, no-one is sure. Newton’s theories explain his precipitous decline from the unfortunate elevation, but the impetus for his initial unbalancing is unclear. He may have been startled by the screams of a young girl, Ms. Muffet, who is reported to have been disturbed by an importunate arachnid in the vicinity at that time. Or, indeed, he might himself have been a direct victim of a sidling spider. Police are also following up reports of three visually challenged mice in the neighbourhood.
The first wave of paramedics arrived from King’s College Hospital. They came on horseback, the better to cut through rush-hour traffic. However the entropy of the circumstances that confronted them was insurmountable. The essence of the ill-fated gentleman lay scrambled on the ground, slipping through the cracks, and the valiant posse could not reassemble him in situ.
His remnants were rushed to the infirmary, but the most advanced microsurgical techniques failed to come to grips with the fluidity of the situation, and Dumpty was confirmed dead after many hours of frantic activity. An autopsy determined that his injuries were indeed consistent with wall-fall induced trauma, and concluded that their extent suggested he suffered from excessive porosity of the shell. This examination, however, left us no wiser as to his internal morphology in life: that, indeed, could not be observed without being altered; there would be no omelette.
Dumpty’s fate contrasts strikingly with that of Jack, the famous aquarian and brother of Jill, who recently recovered well from a severe hill tumble that shattered his skull. Jack’s healing was accomplished by the self-administration of mere vinegar and brown paper, eschewing the many aids of modern medicine. Some have already begun to speculate that this ancient remedy could have been effective in a preliminary re-constitution of Dumpty’s exterior, as dissolution and re-deposition of calcium by small volumes of the acid could have lightly fused pieces of re-apposed shell. However, others counter that in the light of the new stringent rules on off-label usage, such action would undoubtedly have opened a Pandora’s can of annelids upon which the legal profession would have feasted for years.
To minimise the risk of further occurrences of such heartbreaking episodes, emergency health and safety legislation is being drafted to lower or remove walls. In addition, there are proposals for population-wide screening for ovoid morphology and occult shell, with prophylactic boiling strongly advised for those receiving a positive result. If these measures save a single life, Dumpty’s sadly premature passing will nevertheless have enriched our world, as a yolk does our custards.
Whatever the details of his demise, children everywhere can be assured that the doctors do not think he suffered – he simply ceased to be, once his oblate form disintegrated on the ground like a wave on the shore.
Dumpty, who was a life-long bachelor, is survived by all of us who counted him among our earliest companions, and among the vivid characters of our childhood dreams, and nightmares. Although he had expressed a desire for an open carton when he jovially discussed the inevitable event of a funeral, a closed casket was chosen in the circumstances.
Finally, DeSelby offers a sliver of illumination to penetrate the fog of our tears and confusion, with this account of a conversation he overheard between two fellow-mourners at the funeral:
“What happened?” Mother Goose enquired
In answer, Mother Nature’s voice seemed tired
“’Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’
Once conjectured my human progeny
Embryonic Humpty went too far
Primordial nostalgia most bizarre
Through collective unconscious of amniotes
Got lost coming back, up by crocs, gulls, not goats
His yolk sac did swell
He imagined a shell
Thought hardened to a reality
Whence he could not hatch fully free
Became, though a babe he would dwarf,
Surely, the ultimate paedomorph.”
E. M. Byrne writes in County Dublin, Ireland.