Monday 24 Oct 2016

A Petard Among Friends
Sjef Frenken

I was telling Jack about a childhood friend who'd devised and set a complex trap to catch a rabbit, and who'd got his own hand caught in it. I'd had to go fetch the kid's mom to set him free. I concluded my narrative by quoting the fitting adage 'hoist by his own petard'.

Jack asked me "do you know what a petard is?"

I said "I think it is some kind of ancient explosive device. I suppose the name 'petard' is French."

"You're right," said Jack. "It was a small bomb used in Europe a few centuries ago to blow down walls."

I said "that's good to know," thinking I'd put that bit of knowledge with all the other scraps of useless information that clutter my mind.

"Wait," said Jack, "there's more to it. Do you know the word 'pter'?"

I said "I'm afraid I don't. I know what 'rpter' means, though."

"'Rpter' has nothing to do with 'pter'," said Jack."'Pter' means to fart. And no, 'rpter' does not mean to fart again."

I said "I can see someone blowing himself up with his own bomb. But I prefer the image of someone levitating himself by the power of his own fart -- Newton's third law of motion in powerful action!"

"Speaking of farting," said Jack, "there was a Frenchman who was a farting phenomenon. I think he lived around the 1900s. He was known as Monsieur Le Petomane. For years he entertained audiences with his farting. He even appeared in the Moulin Rouge."

I said "He must have done more than fart, to charm the clientele of the Moulin Rouge."

"Oh, he did," said Jack. "He had on formal attire, tails and striped pants, but there was a slit at the back at the appropriate place. He had an amazing control over his bowels and anal sphincter. He could produce sound effects, musical notes and even play an ocarina via a tube inserted you-know-where. Another trick of his was to blow out a candle at several metres distance, by carefully aiming his rear end. And if you think this was a low-class act, let me tell you that European royalty and even Sigmund Freud attended his act."

I said "You're putting me on!"

"Not at all," insisted Jack. "There's more. As testimony to his everlasting fame, his name pops up here and there, although you have to be quick to catch the references."

I said "Like what?"

Jack said "Do you know Mel Brooks' famous farting epic?"

I said "Blazing Saddles?"

"Yes," said Jack. "Well, Brooks himself plays the role of the Governor by name of William Le Petomane. I bet that name slipped by you without your catching on."

I refused to take him up on a bet I had in effect lost years ago.

"Do you ever watch 'Two-and-a-half Men'?" continued Jack.

I said I did.

"Do you remember the episode in which young Jake is forced to attend a ballet school?"

I said I did.

"Did you catch the name of the school on the door?"

I said I didn't.

"It's called 'les petites petomanes,' which is doubly funny because Jake is an habitual farter. So you see, there is a whole undercurrent of farting references in modern entertainment that you didn't know about. But now, thanks to me, you're in the loop."

I said I'd keep my eyes open.

And my nose closed.

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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