How To Act Like A Sensible Person

Over in the right-hand column, below the pictures of the Hooting Yard book covers, there languishes a little orange button inscribed with the words “Make a donation”. Below this is another little chunk of text inviting you to subscribe, which basically means you automatically make a donation every month. Over the years, both the button and the text have tempted the occasional reader, and I am very grateful for their support. (They know who they are.)

Today I was reading David Thompson’s excellent blog and I felt impelled, after a smidgeon of judicious editing, to copy and paste a passage from a recent postage:

Patrons are reminded that this rickety barge is kept afloat, just about, by the kindness of strangers. If you’ve been remotely entertained over the years and would like to help this dubious endeavour remain buoyant a while longer, there’s an orange button below with which to monetise any love. Debit and credit cards are of course accepted. Think of it as a magazine subscription.

This is a very sensible piece of prose, and I urge you to act on it. Make a one-off donation by clicking the button below, or a regular monthly donation by heading over to that paragraph on the right.


NOTA BENE : For the avoidance of any doubt, following the guidance above will of course result in donations to Hooting Yard. If, in addition, or instead, you wish to donate to David Thompson, go here.

Bird King

A letter plops onto the mat from a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous. “I work for an important national institution,” he writes, “and if the powers that be ever discover I am a fanatically devoted Hooting Yard reader, my career will go up in smoke.” I would have thought it would guarantee instant promotion to the very top of the tree, plus gongs and baubles, but I may have an imperfect grasp of these matters. Anyway, the letter from this shadowy figure is headed – rather worryingly – “Plagiarism”. Here is what he has to say:

Mr Key! I thought I should bring this rather important matter to your attention. Your secret is out.

While away on an extended family holiday recently. I read the 1986 novel It by Stephen King. I like to submerge myself in fantasy/horror guff while I am disconnected from my mainstream way of life. Anyway, I read a 1100 page Stephen King novel – why am I defending myself? That is not why I am here.

If I may interject for a moment, I too am puzzled why my correspondent feels the need to defend himself. I have read a few Stephen King books over the years. He is a superb storyteller, and I have nought but admiration for his industry and craft.

So, during the book, a young boy, who is keen on birdwatching, is affoisted (I think I may have made that word up) by the evil clown/spirit thing in a water tower. In order to defend himself, he must really ‘believe in himself’ or some such of the like that allows the story to move on in a semi-logical way.

“How does he do this?” you ask. I shall tell you:

1. He holds up his birdwatching book ‘like a shield’ (does not specify whether book is opened or closed)

2. He chants – and this is the point, Mr Key, so pay attention – “Robins! Gray egrets! Loons! Scarlet tanagers! Grackles! Hammerhead woodpeckers! Redheaded woodpeckers! Chickadees! Wrens!”

There! Did you see that? In the middle of a book which has sold millions! A list of birds! “Robins! Gray egrets! Loons! Scarlet tanagers! Grackles! Hammerhead woodpeckers! Redheaded woodpeckers! Chickadees! Wrens!”

So: tell me the truth. Is it plagiarism, or are you and Stephen King in actuality the same person? Or; hah!, no doubt you have some other high and mighty explanation!?

I note that the book my correspondent quotes from was published in 1986, the same year as the inaugural Malice Aforethought Press pamphlet which unleashed Mr Key’s prose into a panting and expectant world. Clearly, then, Mr King was employing some kind of eldritch mind transference powers to “tap into” the Key cranium, rifling through it not only for its present contents but for material it would contain in the future. So let us say, rather, some kind of eldritch time-travel mind transference powers – precisely the kind of gubbins we find in Mr King’s books. I rest my case, though I would add that I have a distinct memory of taking a snooze in the year 1986 during which I had that uncanny feeling one sometimes gets that my brain was being rummaged through, past, present, and future, by a freakishly tall recovering alcoholic American bestselling writer.

Wasps And Squirrels

Hooting Yard’s anagrammatist-in-residence, R., has alerted me to a non-anagrammatical matter of some importance. Winchester woman finds 3ft wasp nest on bed, says a report on the BBC news page. As R. remarks, it is “disappointing that it’s the extent of the nest, rather than the magnitude of a particular wasp, to which this headline refers”. I have read and reread the story, in the faint hope that R. misunderstood it and that there really is – or was – a 3ft wasp at large in Hampshire. It would make a terrific short story, wouldn’t it? As Mrs Gubbins awoke one morning from uneasy dreams she found herself transformed in her bed into a gigantic wasp. Or has somebody already written something similar?

Elsewhere at the BBC, I heard – in the woozy world between sleep and wakefulness – something about squirrels with leprosy. This was a report on Farming Today on Radio 4, a show I have come to think of as Girly Farming Club. The BBC seems forever to be wringing its hands at the under-representation of women, but Farming Today is produced and presented by an exclusively female team. Regrettably, however, not one of them sounds remotely like a proper peasant.

Where Are The Snows Of Yesteryear?

Until yesterday, the snows of yesteryear were being kept in bins in a remote and refrigerated storage facility. Due to a security alert, however, the bins were moved during the night. A fleet of trucks ferried the snow, in the bins, to a secret location. The trucks were refrigerated as, too, we must assume, is the secret location. Because it is secret, I cannot tell you where it is. I don’t even know myself. But what this means is that we cannot answer the question, where are the snows of yesteryear?

Obviously we can answer that they are in a secret, refrigerated, location, but that is hardly satisfactory. The more persistent reporters from the winter weather phenomena press are unlikely to return to their igloo offices only to face the wrath of their white-bearded, icicle-strewn editors. No, they will think up ever more cunning ways to phrase their questions, hoping to trip up the snow authorities.

The snows of yesteryear, where are they?, they might ask, or Yesteryear, the snows of, whatever happened to them? Sooner or later a dimwit on the panel will blurt out the precise coordinates of the secret location, and frenzy will ensue.

Snow frenzy is akin to snow fury, and we are reminded of the bestselling paperback Like A Woman Scorn’d by Ella Snowfury. It was in fact by Pebblehead, writing under a pseudonym. There is a rogue edition purporting to be by Ella Thnowfury, copies of which have fetched sums as high as 15 New Pence on eBay.

Où sont les neiges d’antan?

Where are the snows of yesteryear?
They have been shovelled into a refrigerated container and ferried to a remote storage facility, also refrigerated, where they are kept in specially-designed “snow bins”.

How can I gain access to the storage facility?
With difficulty. As stated, it is remote.

Assuming for the moment that I have at my disposal a tremendous form of transport that could zoom me to the remotest parts of the earth in a matter of minutes, in which direction should I point it before depressing the big knob with “Go!” etched upon it?
You do not actually have such a form of transport, do you?

Well, no, but let’s just say that I did.
Your direction of travel would depend upon where you are starting from.

I am in Pointy Town.
There is plenty of snow in Pointy Town. Each winter it settles on the pointiest bits of town and remains there, cold and white and frozen, until the chirruping of little birdies in the springtime. Why in heaven’s name would you need access to the snow bins in the remote storage facility?


If whim is not a good enough reason, then let us say I have been appointed by the burghers of Pointy Town to compare our own snow with the snows of yesteryear, and to make my report accordingly.
These burghers, are they in their right minds?

That is a moot point. I know one of them suffered a bash on the bonce with a snow-shovel last winter and has not been quite the same since. He jabbers and drools and drools and jabbers, turn and turn about.
And was it this particular burgher who commissioned you to examine the snows of yesteryear?

Yes, it was.
Did you not stop to consider that any comparison you made between the snow currently enveloping Pointy Town and the snows of yesteryear would be futile?

They josh that my middle name is Futility.
So you are the go-to guy for fool’s errands?

I live in a Paradise of Fools.
I thought you said you lived in Pointy Town? Are you trying to pull the wool over my eye?

Do you mean eyes?
No, eye. I am Cyclopean.

A Cyclopean janitor of snow bins?

Ah, I read about you in The Cyclopean Janitor of Snow Bins, a bestselling blockbuster paperback by Pebblehead!
In which, I have to say, I was wholly misrepresented, so much so that I have taken legal action with a view to having the entire run of several million copies pulped.

If you succeed, what will you do with all that pulp?
I will shovel it into an unrefrigerated container and ferry it to a remote storage facility, also unrefrigerated, and keep it in specially-designed “pulp bins”.

Would that be the same remote storage facility where you keep the snows of yesteryear?
No, the one is refrigerated and the other not.

So you would need to be in two places at once to perform your janitorial duties?
No, I would employ a Cyclopean pulp bin janitor.

If I pluck out one of mine eyes, could I have the job?
There is a waiting list of applicants.

How could I shove myself to the front of that list?
With sharp elbows.

Consider them sharpened!
Welcome aboard.

Thoughts On A Characteristically English August Bank Holiday

The rain it raineth in my brain
And outside too, upon the mud
I wonder will it ever drain
Or drown all life in a great flood
My sons are Japheth, Ham, and Shem
They’ve not one brolly between them
Before nightfall, when it grows dark
We had better board my ark
And take the animals two by two
We’ll have ourselves a floating zoo
Oh look! There is an aerostat
Hovering o’er Mount Ararat
Time’s out of joint, I got befuddled
I’m not Noah, I’m Key, empuddled
The rain it raineth in my brain
The rain it raineth, come rain or rain

Which Out Of Print Dobson Pamphlet Are You?

This potsage [sic] has been removed because:

(a) The Dobson estate slapped me with a cease-and-desist order

(b) There are far too many out of print Dobson pamphlets to choose from

(c) I haven’t got the faintest idea how to replicate the format of those immensely irritating quizzes that have spread across Het Internet like an ague

(d) All of the above

(e) None of the above


The Yazidi, a primarily Kurdish religious minority, have been much in the news recently, threatened with death by the rampaging nutcases of IS, or Isis. You can read about their current travails elsewhere. I want here simply to mention the somehow endearing fact – reported by the BBC’s Paul Wood – that in the Yazidi faith it is forbidden to eat lettuce.

Sick Birds

Keen-eyed reader Poppy Nisbet brought to my attention this Victorian trade card. I would be extremely grateful to anybody who could give me a complete and intellectually rigorous explanation of what in the name of heaven is going on in this picture.



It escaped my attention the other day, but the piece Fatso And Slosher was the three-thousandth potsage [sic] at Hooting Yard. Or rather, it was the three-thousandth potsage in what I still think of as “new format” Hooting Yard, beginning in January 2007 and replacing the old format used from 2003 to 2006. This, then, is potsage 3003.

John Ruskin liked to number the paragraphs in some of his books – notably the mad autobiography Praeterita – and I ache, slightly, that I did not take the decision to number the potsages here way back when. (The same can be said of the Resonance104.4FM radio shows, of which there are now untold oodles.) Of course, I could delve into the innards of the archive and edit each and every potsage to give it its assigned Blötzmann Number, but I do not have the patience to do so, and the benefits would be negligible, other than to satisfy a numerical fancy.

Q – Should numerical fancies be satisfied, all else being equal?

A – There is no definitive answer to this question. On the one hand, Blötzmann applied numbers to absolutely everything, fanatically, even when there was only one of them, like some of the exhibits in Sir Thomas Browne’s Museum Clausum. On the other hand, Dobson never numbered anything, allegedly because he never learned to count. It was said of the out of print pamphleteer that “[he] did not even know how many feet he had, which is why so many spare boots were found in his closet”.

Had I bothered to number the potsages, an exciting activity might have been devised, let us call it Hooting Yard Sortilege. By plucking a tile from a pippy bag containing three thousand tiny bakelite tiles numbered from one to three thousand, the plucker would be led to a specific potsage, contemplation of which would provide guidance to the supplicant. What I would suggest is that those of you who wish their lives to be directed and governed by Hooting Yard – which I imagine is every single one of you – should print a paper copy of the entire archive, carry out snippage with scissors to separate the potsages, and number them accordingly. Then make a pile of them and do the pippy bag / bakelite tile business.

While you lot are doing that, I shall proceed onwards towards the four-thousandth potsage, with the wind at my heels, and a look of beatific stupidity on my face.

Wooden Cats


One of the few photographs ever taken of the Blister Lane Bypass. From The GEC Research Laboratories 1919-1984 by Sir Robert Clayton and Joan Algar (Peter Peregrinus, 1989). Many thanks to Linda Clare for bringing it to my attention.

Picnic Praxis

Oi!, writes Tim Thurn again, this time without even the small courtesy of addressing me by name, Not only do you neglect to issue warnings about bat-gods, but now you are making wild and unhinged assumptions about your readers, or at least about me. The other day you had the gall to “reassure” me regarding the bat-god Slosher by pointing out that he is only ever seen in the vicinity of marshes, “where he – [i.e., me] – is unlikely to practise his picnicking”. And what do you know of my picnicking proclivities, eh?

As it happens I often go a-picnicking at a particularly dreadful and eerie marsh, out beyond the Blister Lane Bypass and the Grimpen Mire mosh pit. Incidentally, if you ever feel compelled to disport and cavort with spastic exuberance, in mud, I wholeheartedly recommend this mosh pit. I am told by the OED that spastic may cause offence, but that is not my intention. I am using the word merely to indicate the kind of uncoordinated flailing about with which persons commonly comport themselves in mosh pits – at least, the persons and mosh pits of my acquaintance, of which there are oodles.

Just because I mentioned my picnic praxis of hoisting a placard and sounding a picnic-klaxon upon entering a field upon a picnic bent, that is not to say that a field is my exclusive choice of picnic spot. Far from it. There is an old “pop” number called something like Wherever I Lay My Hat, That’s My Home. Some years ago I wrote a frankly autobiographical version, retitled Wherever I Lay My Picnic Blanket, That’s My Picnic Spot. Over several verses I described some memorable past picnics in a variety of settings, including a field, the aforementioned dreadful and eerie marsh, a buttercup-splattered meadow, bosky hillsides, mountaintops, shores of lake and sea, haunts of coot and hern, multi-storey carparks, aerodrome hangars, the Blister Lane Bypass, the mosh pit at Grimpen Mire, Loopy Copse, the occasional pier and jetty, a bus shelter in Plovdiv, and the inside of my own head. That last one was a dream-picnic, ruined by a swarm of hornets.

I was so pleased with my song that I cobbled together a band to perform it and booked time in a recording studio. Interestingly, this was the first time my glockenspielist, Midge Ure, had ever set foot in a studio. At least I think he said his name was Midge Ure, though I may have misheard him. We pressed several hundred copies of the “waxing”, in coloured vinyl, and I still have most of them in a cardboard box under a spare picnic blanket in a cupboard.

Please let me know if you would like me to write a series of lengthy guest postages for you. I could cover all aspects of the infinitely intriguing world o’ picnics, in exhaustive detail. And I can promise you now there would be no mention of Slosher! (fingers crossed).

Yours picnicly, Tim Thurn

Fatso And Slosher

Hail to thee, O mighty Mr Key!, writes Tim Thurn, sarcastically, before lapsing into his usual embittered petulance, I’ve got a bone to pick with you. It is a good few years now since you revealed, without warning, the existence of the hideous bat-god Fatso, a god so hideous and batty and fat that I suffered from awful nightmares for weeks, nay, months. Eventually, with the help of several psychiatrists and a larder’s-worth of bottles of Dr Baxter’s Brain-Calming Syrup, I managed to get a grip on my life. Nowadays my sleep is relatively untroubled, except for those nights when I wake with a start and seem to see the hideous bat-god Fatso looming malevolently at the foot of my bed.

Imagine my horror, then, to read your postage the other day entitled The Smashed God and to learn that there is another bat-god, called Slosher. I don’t know what the opposite of blessing my little cotton socks is – I leave that for your readers to ponder – but that is what you have done, Mr Key. Maddeningly, you provided no description of the bat-god Slosher, save for telling us that he is a bat-god and his name is Slosher. In the absence of any other detail, my mind has been running riot, picturing a god even more hideous, more batty, and fatter than Fatso. Now they visit me nightly, Fatso and Slosher, or their ghostly apparitions, one on either side of the bed. I swear I can hear them squeaking. I have emptied the chemist’s shop of bottles of Dr Baxter’s Brain-Calming Syrup, and glugged the lot, but my brain is by no means calm.

What rankles is that you make passing mention of Slosher, in among all sorts of other, non-terrifying, gods, for all the world as if you were innocently listing the contents of your picnic hamper. I presume you have a picnic hamper. If not, I have a couple of spares, for I am – or was – a very keen picnickist. In a fit of wild generosity, I would almost be prepared to send you one of my extra hampers, empty of course, in spite of the chaos you have wrought in my brain. That is the kind of decent picnickist I am. Unlike you, I issue warnings. When I plan to enter a field to lay out my picnic blanket, I first alert any cows, sheep, grasshoppers, etcetera of my intentions by hoisting a placard and sounding a picnic-klaxon. That is what you ought to do, or the prose equivalent thereof, when you are about to tell us about yet another hideous bat-god, be it Fatso or Slosher or, Christ have mercy upon us, any others you have up your sleeve that you have not yet divulged to your fanatically devoted readers who treat every syllable scribbled by your pen as holy writ.

There. I have said my piece for the time being. Now I am going to go and stand, windswept, embittered, and petulant, upon a suspension bridge, gazing into the distance, into a sky I hope will be innocent of bats and bat-gods.

Yours ever, Tim Thurn

I would like to reassure Tim that the bat-god Slosher is only ever to be spotted in the vicinity of the drearier and more squelchy marshes, places where he is unlikely to practise his picnicking.

File Under D For De Quincey

Hats off to Greg Ross at the ever-intriguing Futility Closet for these selected entries from the index to the Collected Writings of Thomas De Quincey:

Aldermen not necessarily gluttons
Anecdotes, on eating peas with a knife
Bed, early retirement to, of the Ancients
Christenings, Royal, often hurried
Coffee, atrocious in England
Cookery, English, the rudest of barbarous devices
Devonshire men good-looking
Fleas in Greece
Greece, Ancient, its people a nation of swindlers
Horses, weeping
Johnson, Dr, at dinner, an indecent spectacle
Leibnitz, died partly from the fear of not being murdered
Lisbon earthquake and its effect on the religion of Germany
Muffins, eating, a cause of suicide
Music, English obtuseness to good
Pig-grunting, mimicry of
Rhinoceros, first sale of a
Servants, England the paradise of household
Solon, what did he do for Homer?
Spitting, art of
Talk, too much in the world
Toothache, that terrific curse
Waterton’s adventure with a crocodile
Women, can die grandly

NOTA BENE : You can read what De Quincey had to say about that muffins / suicide hoo-ha here.

Burn The Pig!


From The Expositor, or Many Mysteries Unravelled – including that of the Learned Pig (1805), available online at The Public Domain Review. My thanks to Richard Carter.