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He had known many previous incarnations. And then some.
He had walked the Earth as Nostradamus, Uther Pendragon, Count Cagliostro and Rodrigo Borgia. Although probably not in that order.
He spoke seventeen languages, played darts with the Dalai Lama and shared his sleeping bag with Rasputin, Albert Einstein, Lawrence of Arabia and George Formby.
He was worshipped as a god by an East Acton cargo cult and once scaled Everest in a smoking jacket and plus-fours to win a bet with Oscar Wilde.
He travelled to Venus in the company of George Adamsky, reinvented the ocarina and was burned in effigy by the Chiswick Townswomen's Guild.
He was an expert swordsman, a gourmet chef, a world traveller, poet, painter, stigmatist, guru to gurus and hater of Bud Abbott.
He could open a tin of sardines with his teeth, strike a Swan Vestas on his chin, rope steers, drive a steam locomotive and hum all the works of Gilbert and Sullivan without becoming confused or breaking down into tears.
He won a first at Oxford, squandered three fortunes, made love to a thousand women, imbibed strange drugs, sold his soul for Rock'n'Roll, almost pipped Einstein for the Nobel Prize, was barred from every Chinese noodle parlour in West London.
His name was Hugo Artenis Solon Saturnicus Reginald Arthur Rune. Magus to the Hermetic Order of the Golden sprout, 12th Dan Master of Dimac, poet, adventurer, swordsman and concert pianist; big game hunter, Best Dressed Man of 1933; mountaineer, lone yachtsman, Shakespearian actor and topless go-go dancer; Hugo Rune's hobbies include passive smoking, communicating with the dead and lying about his achievements.
He penned more than eight million words. His autobiography, The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, chronicles the life of an individual who shunned the everyday, scorned the laws of ordinary man, laughed in the face of convention, reinvented the ocarina and hated Bud Abbott.
He was a character in an age of characters. An exaggerated shadow cast in the fashionable places of his day. The confidante of kings and criminals, popes and prize- fighters, lighthouse keepers and lingerie salesmen, boffins and bikers.
Strangely enough, hardly anyone knows who he is today.
His greatest work, The Book Of Ultimate Truths, has long ago vanished from the bookshelves. The British Library denies all knowledge of it. Smith's can't get it in and a recent privately printed edition turned out to be an elaborate hoax, perpetrated by a certain Sir John Rimmer, a bogus biographer of Rune, now living as a tax exile in California.
The Book Of Ultimate Truths was Rune's magnum opus. An encyclopaedia of his accumulated wisdom. Within it, the master explains, in terms understandable to the layman, exactly what life is really all about.
Why there are always two small screws left over when you reassemble that broken toaster. Where all the yellow handled screwdrivers go to. Why supermarket trolleys congregate beneath canal bridges. How the thermos flask knows what to keep hot and what to keep cold. Why the aspirin is only guessing. Where all the road cones come from and where they go afterwards and why it's always right where you're driving. The myth of &dry& cleaning. Dog-turd geomancy. How Arran sweaters grow while you sleep. Why it is impossible to be first in a Post Office queue and much, much more.
Throughout his colourful life the Forces of Darkness sought constantly to prevent Rune from revealing his Ultimate Truths. Satanic agencies plagued him in many human forms. Cuckolded husbands, the original inventor of the ocarina, The Chiswick townswomen's Guild and The Bud Abbott Appreciation Society, to mention but a few.
Added to these were landlords and lodging-house keepers, the proprietors of West London Chinese noodle parlours, milkmen, tailors, shoemakers, manufacturers of magical accoutrements, travel agents and vintners. All labouring under what Rune refers to as &the curious misconception that a master should pay his bills as do humble folk&.
But, although under constant threat of assassination or litigation, Hugo Rune was never afraid to speak out, name names and point the finger of accusations. His modest aim was to increase mankind's knowledge and single-handedly bring about World Peace.