Caption Competition



Here is an (anonymous) review on Amazon of Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives:

This is a near-perfect example of a gift book that keeps on giving. Small and appealing, with a well-organised, encyclopaedia-style layout and charming portrait illustrations. The text is a delight – easy to dip in and out of, and full of facts that are perplexing, bizarre, amusing and sometimes poignant. What really sets it apart, however, is Frank Key’s unerring eye for the deliciously obscure and his unique sense of humour, which runs like a seam of precious metal through the book. An unexpected treasure.

I need hardly remind you lot that you are under instructions to buy copies of the book for everybody you know. While you’re about it, you should add your ha’ppenyworth to the online reviews at Amazon. You know it makes sense.

Narcoleptic Presbyterians

Tomorrow sees, at long last, the publication of my important reference book Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives. Within its pages you will learn, among much else, that Eric Clapton is an anagram of Narcoleptic, that Britney Spears is an anagram of Presbyterians, and that, during a foopball match in which the Brazilian Ronaldo faced an opposing defender named Rolando, a commentator asked “how long is it since Ronaldo was marked by an anagram of himself?”. There is much more in the book other than anagrams, so go and queue up at your nearest bookshop for opening time tomorrow morning …


Since returning from my jaunt to Belgium I am afraid I have been somewhat indisposed. I shall spare you the details. Suffice to say that my brainpans remain in full (if uninspired) working order. Fine fettle? I would need to consult a qualified fettlist to be sure on that score.

But things are gradually getting back to normal. There was a new piece in The Dabbler on Friday, and after the Resonance summer break Hooting Yard On The Air is back on the air. Last week’s show is available here, and I ought to remind you that each show now appears on Mixcloud almost as soon as it has been broadcast.

Added to which, my book Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives is – at long last – published the day after tomorrow. Of which more later.

In theory I will be back here tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Toppled Infant

Meanwhile, thanks to Poppy Nisbet for drawing to my attention this snap encountered somewhere on Het Internet. She asks : “ Isn’t this someone from your landscape?”


A Gent In Ghent

I am off to Belgium for a bit. Upon my return, I will strive – well, if not every sinew, then at least some of the more sinewy ones, to revive Hooting Yard so that it is once again a busy and bustling thoroughfare o’ prose.


I have decided to devote my life to birdsong. No, not that kind of birdsong, all those trills and squawks and cooing noises that birds make. I mean songs about birds. I have not quite worked everything out in my head, but the general idea is to take familiar songs, not originally about birds, and to amend the lyrics to make them more bird-focussed. I feel this would provide an invaluable musical service for both humans and birds. As an example, here is the first fruit of my project, a rewrite of David Bowie’s 1979 hit Boys Keep Swinging. I hope you will agree that this revised version is superior in every way, particularly from an ornithological point of view.

Heaven loves ya
The clouds part for ya
Nothing stands in your way
When you’re a grebe

Plumage regales ya
Life is a pop of the cherry
When you’re a grebe

When you’re a grebe
You can soar through the air
When you’re a grebe
Other grebes check you out
You get a fish
These are your favourite things
When you’re a grebe

Grebes keep swinging
Grebes always work it out

Uncage the colours
Unfurl the flag
Luck just kissed you hello
When you’re a grebe

They’ll never clone ya
You’re always first on the line
When you’re a grebe

When you’re a grebe
You can dabble about on a pond
When you’re a grebe
Learn to dive and everything
You’ll get your share
When you’re a grebe

Grebes keep swinging
Grebes always work it out

Classical Grunting

As Hooting Yard is the home of The Grunty Man, I thought I should draw to your attention the latest “Ancient and Modern” column by Peter Jones in The Spectator:

What a pleasure it was to watch the men’s final at Wimbledon contested with a minimum of grunting, exclaiming and gesticulation. Romans would have approved.

It was well known that athletes and those taking exercise had a tendency to grunt. Seneca the Younger (c. 4 bc–ad 65), multi-millionaire Stoic philosopher and adviser to Nero, described his unfortunate lodgings over the baths, which made him abhor his ears: quite apart from people hawking their wares, depilators making their victims shriek, bathers singing out loud and splashing about, ‘those working out with weights — whether actually working out or just faking it — grunt away; when they let out their breath, they emit shrill wheezes’. The satirist Juvenal mocks the way female gladiators, taught by their trainers to prepare for the real thing, ‘grunt while they practise thrusts at a tree-stump (and then reach for the potty)’.The assumption is that the grunting associated with exercise was largely a matter of showing-off: it sent out the message ‘look what a heroic effort we are putting into all this’. In a philosophical dialogue, Cicero shines a different light on the matter. Discussing mastery of pain, he sees an analogy between bracing the soul in order to keep a stiff upper lip and bracing the body to sustain a supreme physical effort. In both cases, a groan or grunt may help. He cites athletes in training, especially ‘boxers who, unleashing a blow on their opponent, emit a grunt… in order to tense up the body and so increase the force of the hit’. To that extent, Cicero goes on, a man in pain may release a groan — but nothing feeble or piteous — if by bringing a degree of relief it will strengthen his will for the battle against it.

The two Wimbledon finalists provided an admirable example of skill, determination, self-control and minimal, functional grunting. Perhaps the professional grunters and ranters might mend their ways if crowds grunted and ranted back at them in mocking unison.

I feel inspired by this to write a fat and comprehensive World History Of Grunts And Grunting. Watch this space.


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Dear Mr Key, Are you still alive?

Dear Mr Key, Has your pea-sized yet pulsating brain finally given up the ghost?

Ahoy there Key!, Is there a terrible vacancy between your ears we devoted readers ought to know about?

These are just some of the letters I have received in response to the eerie silence which has fallen over Hooting Yard like a leaden pall. The awful truth is revealed in today’s Dabbler, and it is all about bees!

Pointy Pod

A particularly thrilling new podcast from ResonanceFM.

On Pointy Town

podcast pic

Stunned Duchamp

I am much looking forward to the Joseph Cornell exhibition which opened at the Royal Academy at the weekend. Meanwhile, reviewing the show in The Spectator, Martin Gayford tells us:

Cornell … was one of the few ever to ruffle [Marcel] Duchamp’s philosophical cool. At their first meeting, or so the story goes, they discussed the topography of central Paris in enormous detail, building by building – and in French – Cornell mentioning casually only afterwards that he had never visited the city. Duchamp was lost for words.

Cornell spent his entire life on Utopia Parkway in New York, and never travelled further than Maine.

From The 20th Century

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In my cupboard in yesterday’s Dabbler I resurrected some prose from the last century. The twelve potted biographies you will find there served originally as the texts accompanying illustrations for the 1993 Hooting Yard Calendar, entitled The Golden Age Of Bodger’s Spinney Variety Theatre. (One of the illustrations is reproduced for The Dabbler.)

I revisited some even earlier prose in a dream last night. When I was about fifteen years old I wrote a dreadful surrealist(ish) play-of-sorts called The Shepherd Of Amsterdam. The text no longer survives, long ago consumed by fire or eaten by worms. Last night it returned to haunt me in my sleep. I was in charge of putting on a stage production of the work, due to begin in fifteen minutes in spite of the fact that no rehearsals had taken place and the actors were wholly unfamiliar with the play. Indeed, there was only the single copy of the text in my possession, which I belatedly thought to photocopy. I was heading to the library for that purpose when I was told that the soundtrack CD of the play – produced by a walrus-moustachioed impresario who, I was assured, was “a big fan of Hooting Yard” – featuring music by Verdi and Monteverdi, was ready, awaiting only the addition of the actors performing the words.

Then I woke up.

Wives Of Horse-Riding Barbarian Maniacs Bent On Global Domination, No. 1

In the first of our series devoted to the wives of horse-riding barbarian maniacs bent on global domination, we celebrate the intriguingly-named Borte, dearly beloved of Genghis Khan.


Wooden People

People carved out of wood by the actor Jim Broadbent, in the Royal Festival Hall, snapped by Pansy Cradledew on this day in June MMXV.



Overcast, With Drizzle

It was a gorgeous day of overcast skies and drizzle and a keen wind, and I set out early, in stout boots, with a pippy bag over my shoulder, whistling a tune remembered from childhood, such as it was, learned, I think, from the orphanage’s brutish overseer, who liked to sing the song as he made us dip into puddles and fossick for squelchy writhing horrors, vile water-worms and other beings which we collected in our pails for him, and the orphan with the highest tally was rewarded with an extra helping of gruel. Oh happy days! We never found out what the brute did with all those aquatic creepy-crawlies, but, at night, as we tossed and turned in our iron cots in the attic, we whispered stories to each other, making up tales about the brute and his pails full of the worms we caught for him. It was only later, when I was grown and had long left the orphanage, that I learned he sold them to a scientist at the sinister secret laboratory along the lane on the other side of the viaduct, as he sold an orphan or two from time to time, when funds were low or he lost his temper.

It was on that gorgeous day that I retraced my steps, past the shuttered and abandoned orphanage and along the lane and through the wicket gate we had been forbidden to cross in the old days, and I carried on under the viaduct and past the shuttered and abandoned laboratory, past the ice cream kiosk and the duckpond, on past the gasworks and the aerodrome and the cement statue of Condoleezza Rice With A Thousand Nightingales, until at last, the sky more overcast, the drizzle heavier, the wind keener, I came to the big stone gates of the Mercy Home.

I rang the bell, it clanked, and a nun came to let me in. Her wimple was filthy. I stated my business, and she led me across the gravel and around the main building and past the vegetable patches and the gazebo to a hut almost hidden in vegetation and awe. I tipped the nun a coin from my pocket and she gambolled away, singing, I noted, the very same song I had been whistling all the long day.

I stood outside the hut and eased my pippy bag from my shoulder, then took from it a sealed jar. Inside the jar, squirming in a quantity of puddlewater, were dozens of squelchy writhing horrors, vile water-worms and other beings which I had collected for the retired brute. I ceased to whistle, and pushed open the door of the hut. I had come to make my weekly offering.