Works in the Herald 1933

Those thoughtful people, to whom the matter is of interest, will remember that, on a recent day, I submitted to my friend, Percy Podgrass, the well-known scientific dilettante, a rather baffling racing problem upon which I had stumbled almost by accident. Since its publication, I learn, the matter has aroused intense interest amongst those more highly-cultured members of the sporting fraternity to whom abstract questions are far more exciting than any sordid consideration of concrete gain acquired by wagering on sporting events.

The number of such people may not be large, but their enthusiasm is flattering.

My problem, it will be remembered, is, or rather was, this: "Why is it that a large proportion of chronic racecourse gamblers, of a certain type, have abnormally fat necks while the residue of their number have napes abnormally thin?"

Percy has now been concentrating on the problem for some forty-eight hours -- allowing time off for sleep, meals, snacks, spots, golf, bridge, face-massage and so forth. Today, he came to me with shining eyes and what I believe to be, not only a feasible, but a highly ingenious and probable solution.

Its announcement will, I make bold to say, create a world-wide sensation among biologists, zoologists, psychologists and other apologists for the existence of humanity wherever it is discussed.

And this is what my pal Percy propounds:

Certain animals (he explains), inured by their environment or habitat (nice word) to alternating periods of plenty and poverty, have been, after aeons of patient evolution, equipped by wise Nature with a remarkable gift. This is the ability to store, in convenient portions of their bodies, during periods of plenty, a certain fatty substance of high nutritive value. Upon this substance they are later able to draw when a sudden scarcity of their natural sustenance forces them, as it were, to go on the dole.

It is Percy's considered opinion that the chronic gamblers in question have now definitely joined the ranks of these mammals, so highly favored by Nature. The fat-naped ones (he declares) are those at present at or near a peak of prosperity. Those with dwindling necks are enduring the temporary privations of a "tough spin" or a "rotten trot" because of a too sanguine predilection for "hairy goats".

Further (as Percy points out), by staggering or alternating these periods, all-wise Nature saves these too acquisitive punters from themselves. For, if they had their own passionate desire; and the heyday of prosperity were unwisely prolonged, their necks would explode.

The solution (Percy tells me) came to him in his bath, almost miraculously. Using the loofah briskly, he was humming the words of an old gambler's song, when a certain couplet struck him like a blow. All lovers of literature will remember the significant lines:- "One day you're a great big winner;
Next day you ain't got no dinner."

And there, as Percy says, he had it in a knutshell, Q.E.D., or is it ipsy dixit?

But I was still not wholly convinced.

Always meticulously careful to submit scientific theories to the most rigid tests, and to clear up every lurking doubt, I cited a case.

Many years ago, I told him, I myself had a rather inexplicable racing win, involving quite a large sum, yet my neck remained thin - or, as vulgar friends have it, scraggy.

Percy said the thing bore its own solution on the face of it. The fatty substance had been secreted, he maintained, not perhaps, in the neck, but a little higher up; and it has never since been dissipated.

Podgrass is a man I usually admire greatly; but there are moments when I suspect Percy of persiflage.

Herald, 28 October 1933, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002