Next to step forward was the bluff old roustabout introduced earlier as Neil Cooper of The Herald.
"What ho, old trouser!" he boomed, sloshing beer froth from his tankard in his enthusiasm. "Cooper's the moniker. Tip us your daddle old bean and let's have no hubble de shuff about it, what. Some catarumpus this what, what? Come on, man, don't stand agog like a tantony pig - we're only critics, what, what."
With that, he playfully slugged me in the guts. Well readers, I understood not one jot of the man's introduction so I merely smiled and nodded.
"Never took to mindless flummery myself," he said, "Always prefered topping cullies and coves. All a jape of course, no real malice in it, what. Something of an unlicked cub in my nonage: a scapegrace of some renown. Wouldn't know it if you set your day lights on me today, with my malmsey nose and physog full of grog blossoms, what? Ho ho ho, you addlepated dandy prat!"
Laughing uproariously, he again issued me a hearty blow in the stomach, at which I buckled.
"Picked up many an enemy in my time - from jarkmen to doxies, from drummerers to kinching morts - there's no species of man or baggage that I haven't offended, usually while in my altitudes. Like David's sow, what! Presently, I have over 50 people trying to expend me. 14 people over 50 to be precise, making 64 people out to get me in total. I am a turk though - I have earned it all. My criticism is so ferocious that I bring out the dudgeon in all folks. In truth, this is my goal in being a critic - no truck with artistry or rot like that, what! I collect enemies. I challenge myself to find a pigeon's weakness and exploit it for all it's worth - I pick and prod in my reviews and criticism until I get the reaction I crave, and the game is afoot! Jolly good fun, old arse-candle! I recommend it!"
Here he clouted me amiably about the ear and guffawed.
"But I'll let you in on a secret, you lovable pole. I always keep my trusty old blunderbuss on hand, in case the blighters get too close to succeeding in their aim to off me. Had to blast me more than a couple of disgruntled playwrights in my time, what! Say, you're not one of the slanty-eyed buggers are you? Out to get me, eh? You're for it, you bounder! "
He produced an English flintlock blunderbuss from some recess in his cassock-like attire and waved it in my direction, roaring with glee. Thom Dibdin quickly leapt forward and subdued him with fruity skittles from his wristwatch.
Seemingly placated by Dibdin's sweets, Neil Cooper of The Herald was led to a quiet corner where he sat down and initiated a conversation with a potted plant. Dibdin gave me a wink and shook his head as if to convey the message, "Bless him, the silly old fool".
Shaken, I watched as Joyce McMillan silently slid off her stool and approached me.