Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of North Korea, has not been seen in public since 3 September, when he attended a concert given by the Moranbong Band, an all-girl group whose members he personally selected. It seems that all is not normal in the world of the fun-loving Stalinist dictator, and a number of explanations, most emanating from South Korea, have been advanced.
It is always possible, given the drastic nature of North Korean politics, that Kim has been quietly (as it were) machine gunned to death in some dynastic coup. More likely, he is injured or ill. According to one theory, he has been poleaxed by his addiction to Emmental cheese; another that he has grown so fat that the weight has caused his ankles to break. I don't buy that. If fat people's ankles tended to break, we would know about it in Britain – we have an obesity crisis, after all. It could be that it was not his ankles that broke, but the soles of the platform shoes he wears to look taller (which then resulted in the breaking of his ankles).
More plausible – if also extremely bizarre – is the notion that he is suffering from gout. It always seems amiss that anyone who is not a pot-bellied, port-swilling, 18th-century English squire should suffer from gout. The condition, a form of arthritis caused by a build-up of uric acid in the body, is associated with weight gain and the consumption of rich foods (goose and partridge are often mentioned, along with sardines, anchovies and salmon). Excessive alcohol intake is also blamed; and, according to "diplomatic sources" (who don't sound very diplomatic), Kim "likes to drink and party all night, like his father" … who also had gout.
Kim Jong-un's hair - a gallery
Kim Jong-un's hair - a gallery
1/9 Kim Jong-un's hair
Kim Jong-un's new look in February featured a bouffant hairstyle and over-plucked eyebrows
2/9 Kim Jong-un's hair
The style got steadily less floppy over winter 2014-15
Kim Jong-un waves after watching a military parade in honour of the 100th birthday of the late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
Kim Jong-un gives an address during the eighth conference of the ideological officials of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang.
Kim Jong-un greets pilots
Kim Jong-un visits the Kim Il Sung University of Politics to take part in the election of a deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly.
Kim Jong-un waves to supporters.
Kim Jong-un reacts to participants of the 8th conference of the ideological officials of the Workers Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang.
Kim Jong-un visits the November 2 Factory at an unknown place in North Korea.
Henry VIII was a sufferer, which is why gout was called the "patrician disease". A contemporary sufferer, the novelist Geoff Nicholson, expressed the hope in a New York Times article that someone "irredeemably hip" would come down with gout, to turn around the image of the condition.
It's rotten luck for the gout-is-no-laughing-matter campaigners that Kim should have turned gouty rather than, say, Russell Brand. Even though Kim is North Korean, you can actually picture him wearing a skewed periwig in a Pall Mall club with a chicken leg in one hand, a glass of port in the other and a foot propped on a cushion, in order to ease the pain in his big toe (on which gout tends to concentrate).
But those of us who are laughing should remember that gout puts its victims in a foul temper. Even Dr Johnson lost his charm and wit when afflicted, snappishly responding to enquiries after his health with: "I am as I was." Now it could be that Kim Jong-un doesn't have much charm and wit to begin with. He does have a nuclear arsenal, however. "Get well soon, Mr Kim!" I say.
Andrew Martin's latest book is 'Belles & Whistles: Five Journeys Through Time on Britain's Trains'Reuse content