Sausage Surprise

You’d be surprised how many people around the world appreciate sausages.

A world sausage expert quoted this morning on Farming Today on Radio Four.

Standard Irish Poem No.1

I can see my father now
With his spade
Digging up potatoes
In a field
As rain pours down
Then trudging back
His boots in the muck
To the filthy cottage
Where my mother clutches her rosary beads
And prays to the Blessed Virgin
For more rain
And more potatoes
To feed the visiting priest

Schneebaumhooft

For some considerable time I have been keeping track of Schneebaumhooft. There is a map of the world on the wall of my study, into which I have stuck many many pins. They are colour-coded – pinky-red for possible sightings, reddy-red for probable sightings, and blood-red for definite and incontrovertible sightings. In certain lights, particularly towards evening, the reds look identical, and this gives me a certain comfort.

Each of the blood-red definite sightings of Schneebaumhooft is accompanied by a photograph, usually a snapshot taken hastily with a concealed camera. These are pinned up on the wall next to the map of the world, with a post-it note attached to the edge of each photograph giving details of date and location and, where known, the name of the agent who took the snap. Many of my agents are unwilling to divulge their identities. I used to make use of a system of aliases based on an alphabetical list of seaside entertainers of the interwar years, but I became too interested in the entertainers, and spent far too much of my time tracking down old end-of-the-pier variety theatre ephemera instead of tracking down what I was charged with tracking down, which was Schneebaumhooft.

As far as I have been able to gather, Schneebaumhooft was never employed in any kind of capacity as an entertainer. It is laughable to think of him on stilts, for example, or having a custard pie splurged into his face by an accomplice. And yet that is how he appears to me in my dreams. Sometimes he is singing a humorous song, or doing some business with a couple of napkins and a budgerigar while an audience of working-class day-trippers from grim industrial hellholes roar with laughter or gasp in wonderment before breaking into applause, clapping punctuated with whoops and cheers. When I wake from these dreams I go into my study and gaze at the wall, and I am reminded that there has not been a single sighting of Schneebaumhooft anywhere near the seaside.

For some considerable time I have been wondering why Schneebaumhooft is so terrified of the sea. The sea is never still. It is vast and it is merciless. Perhaps that is why.

1848

Zamoyski is adept at painterly scene-setting. One vivid paragraph shows the Paris revolution of 1848, which sent King Louis Philippe scurrying into exile and ignited populist insurrections across Europe, as caused by a clumsy bandsman with a big drum. After a day of innocuous, anti-climactic Paris demonstrations, a company of soldiers stationed on a boulevard corner tried to retreat from a rowdy but hardly murderous crowd into the courtyard of the ministry of foreign affairs. They were blocked because the musician carrying the drum got jammed in the porte-cochère of the ministry. As a result some soldiers had to turn and face the crowd, grew rattled, and fired shots that left over 30 dead. The mangled corpses were piled onto a wagon, which was trundled through the streets of Paris by rabble-rousers crying for revenge. It was the drummer, rather than the previous uprisings in Palermo and Naples, and the granting of constitutions in Sicily, Sardinia and Tuscany, that triggered the continent-wide uprisings of 1848.

Rupert Davenport-Hines reviewing Phantom Terror: The Threat of Revolution and the Repression of Liberty, 1789 – 1848 by Adam Zamoyski in The Spectator.

Carruthers To The Rescue!

After my debaucheries in the fleshpots of the east, I sought further debaucheries in the fleshpots of the west. I was sated for a time but then I grew restless, and discovered fresh debaucheries in the fleshpots of the south. Some time later I went north, but in the north I found no fleshpots, just ice and snow and bitter gales and storms so cold my eyelids were frozen shut and I could not see. I stumbled about, blind upon an ice floe, and heard the ominous grunting of bears. The wind was howling, and my brain was howling, but I made no sound, for my frozen lips were blue, and fused together.

This was not the death I had foreseen. I had imagined myself a dissolute voluptuary, sprawled on a divan, my belly full of wine, keeling over suddenly and unknowingly. The only sign of my passing would be when the resident band brought some hot carnal jazz number to an end and began to play a funereal dirge. Instead I was alone and cold in a blizzard of whiteness, about to be mauled and eaten by bears I could not even see.

Then oh joy! I heard the clatter of a helicopter above, and soon enough I was hauled aboard to safety. When my eyelids thawed enough to open, I saw that my saviour was Carruthers. Carruthers, my old mucker from long ago, before my debaucheries in the fleshpots of the east and west and south. Carruthers to whom I had confessed, back then, that the pounding of those infernal drums was driving me mad. Carruthers who comforted me when I went to pieces in the tropics. Now here he was again, at the controls of the helicopter.

“You came much too far north,” he said, briefly removing the pipe clamped between his manly jaws, “You must have overshot the fleshpots on your journey. There are indeed northern fleshpots. I shall take you straight to them so you can continue with your debaucheries.”

“No!”, I cried, as soon as my lips had thawed sufficiently to allow me to open my mouth, “I have learned a valuable moral lesson in the inhospitable bleakness of the ice-girt north. From this day on I shall shun debaucheries of all kinds, and devote my life to proper manly pursuits. Just keep me away from those drums and their infernal pounding.”

Carruthers nodded. And with that, he changed course, and took me to some corner of the earth with overcast skies and light breezes, mild and with occasional drizzle, temperate, temperate, and free of all temptations.

Mobile Gull Appreciation Unit Field Guide Pamphlet

Many thanks to long-time Hooting Yard devotee Jonathan Coleclough, from whom I received in the post today this splendid pamphlet. Mr Coleclough suspects it was published in 2008, though whether or not it is out of print is not clear.

gulls

The End Of The Dictionary

“The dictionary ends sooner than the soul.” – Frederic Myers, letter to Arthur Sidgwick, 14 July 1867.

When we reach the end of the dictionary, there are no more words. We have exhausted them. We are left, then, with three choices.

We may lapse into silence. This is a strategy much favoured by anchorites and hermits and some saints and saintly persons. I have, myself, been described as a Diogenesian recluse, and not without good reason.

We may resort to barbaric grunting. This seems to be a popular choice among many of the shuffling scowling denizens of my bailiwick. Whenever I go sashaying forth – for even a recluse must sashay forth from time to time – I hear more grunts than words. But where once I thumbed my nose in patrician contempt at those grunters, now I understand that they have been reduced to their barbarism because they have used up all the words in the dictionary, from A to Z. They reached the end.

We may invent new words. We may coin new sounds. Glogscheen, snup, parapapahooft, swarfoogie. Some might say we are thus babbling nonsense. Others would counter that our nonce-words are divinely inspired, that we are “speaking in tongues”. Once towards the end of the last century, I sat in a hall in a meeting of the religiously devout, several of whose members loomed over me and so spoke in tongues, to cure me of my woes. Those woes are past, and I may doubt that incoherent babbling was the cause of their passing, but can I ever be sure?

There is a fourth choice. When we reach the end of the dictionary, we turn back to the beginning, where each and every word awaits us anew.

Lost In Translation

Sometimes I find myself fretting about things which common sense tells me are absolutely not worth fretting about. Yet still I fret. Think of it as idiotic fretting.

The latest matter to consume my stupid attention is as follows. I was struck, when watching Danish television dramas such as Borgen and The Killing, by the immense politeness of the Danes. In both shows, the characters are forever saying “Takk” (“Thank you”), certainly more so than the average Brit or American would do. I am not familiar with real life in Denmark, but I assume that the writers of these series are making every effort to reproduce the actual speech of contemporary Danes.

In Game Of Thrones, by contrast, we are told by Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) that “there is no word for ‘thank you’ in Dothraki”. Given that the Dothraki are a savage and barbaric race whose idea of a square meal is to consume a whole horse-heart, raw, the absence of an expression of gratitude is not surprising.

But what is bothering me is this : when Danish dramas are shown on Dothraki television, how in heaven’s name will the subtitle-writers cope with all those “Takk”s?

It is, to be sure, a proper quandary, if an idiotic one.

thenourishedcaveman The Khaleesi eating a raw horse-heart for breakfast

Dripping Trellis

Last night I dreamed I went to Dripping Trellis again. Dripping Trellis, where fresh raindrops dripped from the trellises in its many gardens. Dripping Trellis, where we woke each dawn to the clink of the milkman’s bottles, and his morning song, that odd, strangulated keening, the words never quite decipherable. Dripping Trellis, through which in the afternoons the mobile library would putter, before parking by a dripping trellis, and we would return our books, overdue, overdue, and damp from lying unread on lawns in summer rainfall. It was the bucolic hamlet of my infancy, where I lived until the age of six. It is a deluded memory. There is not a grain of truth in it.

In my dream I was skipping and gambolling across a lawn, a huge lawn, in a garden rife with peewits and starlings and lupins and hollyhocks and Vietcong. The milkman was there, with much milk, but the milk was pink and gold, like the sky at sunset. He was singing, and the mobile librarian was accompanying him on sackbut. There may have been elves. I pranced towards a grot and peered within, and saw lanterns, and caged birds, and my papa. Then tish tosh tish tosh Blunkett of Jago’s Peak. Raindrops dripped off the thousands of trellises in Dripping Trellis. A man with a klaxon made an announcement about a wolf, and waved a flag, and I knew, though I did not see, that the flag had been darned by a convict in a distant pompous land. I had toast and marmalade. There was a Nissen hut, and on its roof perched an owl, and the owl hooted, and I awoke.

Outside, the rain was pouring down, and a bitter wind was howling across the desolate expanse of cement and concrete and tar where I was born, where I have always lived, where there is not a single trellis from which the raindrops may drip.

Myers & Butler

To a man of [Frederic] Myers’ eager temperament restrained indifference was not possible; his pent-up enthusiasm was sooner or later sure to find some line of discharge. And it so happened that a ready line of discharge was at that point presented to him by the crusading Christianity of Mrs. Josephine Butler, the still young and beautiful wife of George Butler, Vice-Principal of Cheltenham College, and later Principal of Liverpool College. Mrs. Butler later, of course, became famous for her work among prostitutes and her campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts. At this time however she was chiefly engaged in what might be described as the spiritual seduction of promising young men. Her religion was emotional rather than dogmatic, and her methods of conversion were simple. Having aroused her quarry by her exciting concern for his welfare, she would flatter him with an earnest account of her own inner trials and victories – an account delivered perhaps at twilight while she lay with her slim form stretched out upon a sofa – and at last capture him by a well-staged dénouement. She might, for instance, call him into her room to find her kneeling in pale beauty before her mirror, devoutly praying for his salvation. Only men with the coolest heads could resist such an appeal; and Myers was not one of them. During the next few years he met or visited Mrs. Butler repeatedly, and his way of life changed so much that his friends hardly knew him. One of them, Richard Jebb, noted in his Journal for 26 February 1866: “Myers devotes himself to self-discipline. He never goes anywhere. He gets up at 6.30 and goes to bed at 10.00. His days are spent in reading Ecce Homo and in thinking.”

Alan Gauld, The Founders of Psychical Research (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968)

Birdseed Folderol

Several years after Sirinuntananon & Bewg published Dobson’s birdseed folderol, a second edition was issued by Ladybird Books.

birdseedbook

Sirinuntananon & Bewg

The vast majority of Dobson’s pamphlets were self-published, printed on a Gestetner machine in the garden shed by Marigold Chew, the bindings stitched by hand. On one occasion, however, the pamphleteer felt impelled to seek commercial publication.

“I feel impelled,” he announced to Marigold Chew over a breakfast of kippered sprats and marzipan brulé one desolate winter’s morning, “To seek commercial publication for one of my pamphlets.”

Marigold Chew raised an eyebrow.

“I shall be most distraught, or is the word distrait?,” she replied, “To leave the Gestetner idle while you go swanning off to large important buildings. But I nevertheless think it a good idea, albeit foolish, and I wish you well.”

Twenty minutes later Dobson went crashing out of the door into the winter horrors, vowing not to return until he had persuaded a publishing concern based in a large important building to issue one of his pamphlets in an edition of millions.

His first port of call was Semi-Collapsed House, a large important and semi-collapsed edifice on Slobber Lane, just along from the railway sidings and the hamster pound. Its lower floors housed the offices of Sirinuntananon & Bewg, an ancient and distinguished publishing company. Best not to dwell on the doings on the building’s upper floors, which had been rented out, for many years, to Babinsky, the lumbering walrus-moustached serial killer.

Icicles dangling from the brim of his Homburg, Dobson crashed into the reception area. It was deserted, save for a stray cobweb and a scurrying beetle. Dobson stamped on the beetle, and the thud of his Cambodian Actuary’s boot upon the linoleum (and the beetle) brought a hobbledehoy skittering into the room from a dark interior somewhere-or-other. The hobbledehoy tugged his forelock, which was greasy, greasy and vile, greasy and vile and repellent.

“How may I be of assistance, good sir?” he whimpered.

“I am Dobson!”, shouted Dobson, as if that were all the world need know.

Several hours later, having managed to persuade the hobbledehoy to allow him beyond the reception area, the pamphleteer was ushered into the office of Mr Sirinuntananon, or possibly Mr Bewg.

“I understand,” said the publisher, “That you have been impelled to seek commercial publication for one of your pamphlets.”

“To whom am I shouting?” shouted Dobson.

The hobbledehoy loomed behind him and spoke barely audible words into his ear.

“That is Mr Bewg, sir. He is boisterous and brilliant and barbaric. You can tell them apart, when they both occupy the same space, because Mr Sirinuntananon is saturnine and scruffy and savage.”

No sooner had he stopped speaking than a saturnine and scruffy and savage fellow slid into view from behind an arras.

“See?” said the hobbledehoy.

We might usefully pause here to consider a potted history of Sirinuntananon & Bewg. It is a history not only potted but illustrious, redolent with terrific books and equally terrific authors, with terrific mezzotints tinted especially for the covers of those terrific books, and with terrific hairstyles sported by those terrific authors. Unfortunately, from somewhere upstairs there comes the ungodly din of Babinsky, wreaking his usual blood-splattered chaos. It is a din which deafens as it distracts, so we shall have to postpone the potted history for a more opportune time. I have pencilled in next Tuesday lunchtime, incorrigible optimist that I am.

Instead, let us watch as winter sunlight glitters on the semi-collapsed roof of Semi-Collapsed House. Let us ponder its broken chimney-pots in which adventurous birds have built their nests in which tatterdemalion fledglings screech, their beaks opened wide awaiting mama or papa to come swooping in from foraging to drop juicy wounded worms into their gullets. Let us watch as clouds scud across the winter sun and the first flurries of snow begin to fall. And now, below, we see the pamphleteer, ejected into the street. Dobson has left the building.

“Hello Dobson,” said Marigold Chew, later, as her snow-covered inamorato came crashing through the door, “How did you get on?”

“It was like this, Marigold my poppet,” said Dobson, “I visited the offices of Sirinuntananon & Bewg the ancient and distinguished publishers where I met saturnine and scruffy and savage Nuttawood Sirinuntananon and boisterous and brilliant and barbaric B. Bewg also their hobbledehoy who acts as a kind of factotum and after some shilly-shallying into the details of which I shall not go now or evermore for it pained me exceedingly and I do not wish to relive it the hobbledehoy made a pot of tea for three and we sat in armchairs the publishers and me and Bewg began to speak but I could not hear a word he said for from above on the upper floors of the building came such a din as can only have been the sound of a psychopathic serial killer committing an enormity perhaps with an axe and when eventually it subsided after a final blood-curdling scream I asked Bewg to repeat himself but instead his colleague spoke and there was savagery in his voice as he explained that the previously independent publishing firm founded by Sirinuntananon’s grandfather and Bewg’s grandmother so long ago had now through what he called market forces whatever they might be been sold to a new owner of untold wealth and influence and this fellow generously allowed Sirinuntananon and Bewg to cling on to their positions in the offices in Semi-Collapsed House but that all decisions about what was published or not published were his the new owner’s and his alone and if I told them something about my proposed pamphlet then they would ferry he used the word ferry that to the owner and he would consider my proposal there and then for he liked to make snap decisions so I said that I had an idea for a pamphlet about a revolutionary new type of birdseed or millet but if that was not deemed commercial enough I also had up my sleeve an exciting science fiction yarn entitled Attack Of The Jellyfish Monsters From Planet Googie Withers and would they run both of those past the new owner and Bewg and Sirinuntananon looked at one another and gulped down their cups of tea in somewhat barbaric and savage fashion as if they had never drunk out of dainty china cups before and then they told me to wait and they both left the room and I sat and peered out of the window and saw that snow was falling and I fell into a daze and dreamed of dust and I woke when the door opened and it was neither Sirinuntananon nor Bewg but the hobbledehoy and he gave me a wolfish grin and took my empty teacup and smashed it against the wall like Dusty Springfield liked to do with crockery and then there was a puff of smoke and the hobbledehoy vanished in a cloud of fuming vapour as black as the blackest thing in the universe and beyond and a minute or so later he stepped out of it towards me only it was no longer him the hobbledehoy but a transfigured version with horns and a forked tail and eyes that burned and it was Beelzebub himself I swear it as sure as eggs is eggs and he roared at me that he had given due consideration to my suggestions and made a snap decision that the world was absolutely ready for a million-selling pamphlet about a revolutionary new type of birdseed or millet and he had already had his minions Sirinuntananon and Bewg draw up a contract and he brandished it at me a single sheet of paper on which the words seemed to have been scratched in gore by a wild beast and he continued to roar saying I must understand that by signing the contract in return for commercial publication of my pamphlet I would be selling him my immortal soul and did I understand him quite plainly my soul would be his for eternity and did I realise that eternity never came to an end and if I wanted to comprehend the unimaginable duration of eternity I ought to read the sermon by the priest in A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man by James Joyce and I said I had already read it and I understood and he said here is your chance to back out you can leave Semi-Collapsed House and forget everything that has happened here and continue with your puny and curdled life churning out unread and out of print pamphlets until you drop dead but if you sign the contract I will publish your birdseed folderol and I will have your soul and I said alright alright you don’t need to repeat yourself I get the idea and he shoved the contract into my hands and gave me a biro and said so will you sign Dobson will you sign and my heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Talking Twaddle

In 1871, T. H. Huxley was invited to join a committee for the investigation of Spiritualist phenomena. He declined, writing:

supposing the phenomena to be genuine – they do not interest me. If anybody would endow me with the faculty of listening to the chatter of old women and curates in the nearest cathedral town, I should decline the privilege, having better things to do.

And if the folk in the spiritual world do not talk more wisely and sensibly than their friends report them to do, I put them in the same category.

The only good that I can see in a demonstration of the truth of ‘Spiritualism’ is to furnish an additional argument against suicide. Better live a crossing-sweeper than die and be made to talk twaddle by a ‘medium’ hired at a guinea a séance.

Quoted in The Founders Of Psychical Research by Alan Gauld (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968)

220px-Huxley7T. H. Huxley : Victorian with beard

Schubert : The Stories Behind The Lieder, No. 1

In “Der Liedler” (1815), a minstrel saves a maiden from a werewolf by smashing his harp against him and then hurling him over a cliff.

As noted in The Spectator by Damian Thompson, who adds “Even Schubert couldn’t polish this particular turd. Long, corny, cod-mediaeval ballads never showed him at his best.”

A Note On Nomenclature

I recall reading somewhere or other that, when asked to describe his ideal reader, James Joyce said he envisaged somebody spending the best part of their life devoted to the diligent study of his work, to the exclusion of all other concerns. Without for a moment comparing myself to Joyce, I must admit that his is an attitude of which I wholly approve. After all, why do we write at all, if we do not take our own work with the utmost seriousness, and expect readers – or at least some readers – to do likewise?

Laughable and hopeless it may be, but I like to think that, long after my mortal remains have been devoured by worms, there will be a small body of beetle-browed scholars poring over every word I have ever written, trying to wring from it everything that can be wrung. It is for them, as yet unborn, that I offer this tiny contribution to their important research.

In the mid-1980s I worked as a drudge and minion in a local authority office in London. One day I was given the task, who knows for what purpose?, of sorting through the personnel files of past employees – those who had left, or retired, or died. There were hundreds of these files, beige cardboard folders containing the dim dull records of long-forgotten members of staff. As I worked my way through them, two names grabbed my attention and lodged in my brain, where they have remained ever since.

Shortly afterwards, in the latter half of the decade, I had my epiphany upon reading Dallas Wiebe’s line “When you have nothing to say, you write prose”, and began to write prose. And in writing prose fiction, I learned that one of the things you have to do is to give your characters names. How to choose those names? Over the years, I have used a number of different methods. But back then, I realised I had a couple of excellent names stuck in my head. Yes, they were the identifiable names of real people, but “no resemblance to anyone living or dead blah blah blah” should cover it.

The first ex-employee of the council whose name I appropriated was B. Bewg. He became the “hero” of Mr Bewg’s Reference, a tale the register of which is clearly also indebted to my rummaging through those personnel files.

The other name that sang to me, and still does, was Nuttawood Sirinuntananon. The more diligent scholars will, I hope, work out that that must be a real name – after all, who would, could, make it up? I can’t actually recall, today, where I first deployed Mr. S., but it will have been in one of the early out of print pamphlets. He reappeared very briefly at Hooting Yard in 2004 and, with a different forename, in 2012 – where, I am pleased to note, you will also encounter a certain Krumbein, who was also a council employee, though one I actually met, as he had not yet been consigned to the beige cardboard graveyard.

Gosh, this is the kind of stuff that will have future scholars in ecstasy. I try to be helpful.