In 1817 one of the most famous hoaxes in history was played upon the unsuspecting citizens of Bristol. It commenced when a strange young woman was found wandering aimlessly around Almondsbury in exotic attire muttering bizarre words such as ‘olga moncrasity della’, ‘zechni plog flip plog’ , ‘wolbs eb hencrass’ and ‘I can get Bristol City into the Premier League’.
It was just two years after the Battle of Waterloo so her actions were considered highly suspicious. The strange female was quickly apprehended and escorted to the local gaol and thence onto Bristol Crown Court the next day to try her as a spy….and if she wasn’t terribly good at that to try her at something else instead.
At court the mysterious girl captured the imagination of the public and much debate ensued regarding her provenance. Some thought her to be an escapee from a lunatic asylum, as it was in the days before Bedlam Hospital adopted their ‘Care in the Community’ programme. Others considered her to be the mad King George III on a royal walkabout.
However it was the presiding magistrate Justice Henry Vale whose judgement mattered most. He believed the reason she spoke with an unintelligible tongue was because she was a Geordie who’d got lost after a night on the toon. But a medical examination conducted soon after revealed that she was a virgin, so that knocked his theory on the head.
It was at this juncture, back in Almondsbury, that the female was befriended by a wealthy and influential woman called Ethel Worrier. Through perseverance and kindness she discovered that the mysterious woman was really called Princess Canapoo and was third in line to the throne of a yet undiscovered island called Javanu. Unfortunately, she’d also been 93rd in line to use the portable loo at an outdoor music festival in Cunganoo, the capital of Javanu, and in desperation to relieve herself sought the privacy offered by the nearby forest. It was there that she was abducted by pirates, who then dumped her in Almondsbury. This theory gained a lot of kudos with locals because they also had a lot of problems with fly-tippers.
Once Bristolians became acquainted with these facts they fell over themselves in haste to exhibit hospitality to Princess Canapoo and withdraw their previous suspicions about her. The Bristol City chairman also wanted to withdraw the offer of a four-year contract.
Princess Canapoo enchanted visitors to Ethel Worrier’s home with her strange gymnastics, archery skills and astounding ability to catch birds with her bare hands. The fact they were chickens on the shelves of the local Sainsbury’s was somewhat overlooked. She became a big hit in society with her eccentric behaviour and bizarre language. It wasn’t just Bristolians who were taken in by her antics as many intelligent people were fooled too. The England cricket captain even visited her fashionable Bristol apartment to pump her for information and left relieved to discover that they didn’t play cricket n Javanu, because he didn’t fancy getting panned by them as well.
It transpired that the majority of Javanuvian vocabulary was conveyed by means of sign language. But what words were used verbally were pretty basic as these examples testify:
zigga = ‘dance’
bigga = ‘mountain’
bugga = ‘I have to climb the mountain’
Arsa = ‘the Prince Regent’
kissa = ‘the etiquette to use when greeting someone’
kissa Arsa = ‘the etiquette to employ when greeting the Prince Regent’
The esteemed journalist William Melbourne conducted an in-depth interview with Princess Canapoo for the Bristol Times & Mirror in which he used some of her sign language he’d learnt to assist with his probing. An impressed Princess Canapoo explained that in Javanu if an outsider becomes proficient in their language the citizens exhibit their gratitude by allowing him to have 24/7 access to the Emperor’s harem of 3,000 beautiful women for a period of five years, so joyful are they that someone has taken the trouble to learn their sign language. This revelation did wonders for the sale of The Highway Code.
On one occasion Princess Canapoo was escorted around Bristol by the head of the Planning Department and asked what aspect that she most disliked about Bristol compared to Javanu. Princess Canapoo removed her bow from her back and immediately fired an arrow. Upon retrieving it and finding nothing attached she shook her head dismissively and explained, in the little English she’d learnt, that in Javanu she could fire an arrow 100 yards in any direction on the compass and where it landed food could be found whether it was meat, fish, fruit or vegetables. The head of the Planning Department wasn’t that impressed because he knew it would be like that in Bristol too if Tesco got their bloody way.
Princess Canapoo, during the many months the ruse lasted, was even painted by the renowned society portrait artist Edward Bird. He had famously painted Horatio Nelson before the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. He was glad he elected to depict him before rather than after the battle because he was running low on red paint at the time. Throughout the sitting, Princess Canapoo distracted Bird by making the sounds of the weird instruments played by the indigenous tribes of Javanu and also sang some of their folk songs. Bird used his influence to make it illegal to behave in such a way anywhere near a painting while it was under composition. This led to the 1816 Prevention of Rolf Harris Act, a law that remained on the statute books until the 1950s.
However, the portrait proved Princess Canapoo’s undoing. Her former landlady recognised it when it went on show in the foyer of a bingo hall in Southville. The landlady told the authorities that Princess Canapoo was really called Mary Baker who’d absconded with her bath-towel and owing 6 weeks rent several months earlier. The bath-towel had obviously been adapted to form a turban according to the picture.
Upon being confronted with the truth, Princess Canapoo instantly broke down. This was most unfortunate because she was leading the British Grand Prix at Brooklands at the time with just over a lap to go in her one horsepower buggy. Astonishingly, all those who’d been fooled by her now took pity upon her and maintained a friendly association with her; that is with the exception of the daughter of the Duchess of Chipping Sodbury who was about to sit her GCSE in Javanuvian.