Christmas Dinner Revisited

In his comment on Christmas Dinner, Hooting Yard’s in-house anagrammatist R. provided one of his finest letter-jumbles : crams tern in dish. This is, quite clearly, the essential Yuletide recipe for my readers, and I thus present a handy pictorial guide:

Ingredients : tern


Equipment : dish


Method : cram tern in dish. Serve.

Whither Art?

Whither art? It’s a question I often ask myself, usually when tucking into a plate of smokers’ poptarts or other breakfast-based snack food. I like to get art out of the way early on in the day, freeing up my time for higher things. I do not practise art myself, but it is a subject of abiding interest to me. Whither art?, I ask, wondering where it will go.

To answer that question, one must of course be familiar with where art has been. One follows its trajectory, from the earliest cave paintings to the latest talentless derivative didactic Marxist video installation bollocks, and one tries to push the line further along, to see whence it leads. Every morning, at breakfast.

Sometimes, alas, those smokers’ poptarts are just too damned delicious, and the brain that ought to be cogitating upon the future of art is instead benumbed in a lovely haze of gustatory bliss. At such times, all thoughts of art fly away, like unto a flock of starlings, and instead I ponder the sheer genius of modern breakfast snack food manufacturing processes.

But the next morning, after a day devoted to the higher things, things such as prayer and beekeeping and shove ha’penny, I return to that burning question, whither art?, as a dog returns to its vomit, and I wrestle with it, at least until breakfast is digested.

Very occasionally, when for example I have a stomach upset, I do not ask whither art?, but instead declaim, in a booming tone, wither, art! I curse art and I envision a glorious new world where art curdles and shrivels until at last it is gone, all of it, forever. But of course we know full well, all that truly withers is Googie (1917 – 2011).

Christmas Dinner

Brit (of The Dabbler) wrote to ask me if, as one of the world’s leading ornithologists, I would be tucking into a bird-packed Christmas dinner next week. Specifically, he wondered if I might be tempted by Grimod de La Reynière’s 1807 concoction, the rôti sans pareil. This is a bustard stuffed with a turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a pheasant stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a duck stuffed with a guinea fowl stuffed with a teal stuffed with a woodcock stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a plover stuffed with a lapwing stuffed with a quail stuffed with a thrush stuffed with a lark stuffed with an ortolan bunting stuffed with a garden warbler stuffed with an olive. The puckish gastronome did not actually recommend washing this down with a brimming tumbler of fresh warm starling’s blood, but that would be appropriate.

This year, however, in an act of right-on cultural outreach to our non-Christian Middle Eastern chums, I think I will go for whole stuffed camel – the recipe for which you can see here (scroll down to the end if you wish to avoid some blather about Dobson and Marigold Chew and Charles Montagu Doughty).

The Cadet And The Angel

Puny, neurasthenic Cadet Vig was on sentry duty outside Fort Hoity (4 points) when an angel of the Lord appeared unto him (12 points). Cadet Vig trembled in terror (2 points).

The angel of the Lord appeared to be perplexed. It opened its ring-binder, and looked carefully at the weedy cadet, and then at its paperwork, and then at Cadet Vig again, and then back to its paperwork, and its brow furrowed. For the purposes of its earthly visitation, the angel had made use of a hole-punch and inserted all its papers into the ring-binder. Normally, when shimmering in its celestial halls, the angel had each individual sheet affixed to a wall with drawing-pins, the mass of papers spread out for visual oomph, as is the practice with serial killers in television dramas (6 points).

“You are puny, neurasthenic, and outside a fort,” said the angel, “It says here you should be stately, plump, and inside a martello tower.”

Cadet Vig did not know what to say in response, so he merely quaked (2 points).

“Well, never mind.” said the angel, slamming shut the ring-binder, “What fort is this?”

“Fort Hoity,” said Cadet Vig, truthfully.

The angel reopened its ring-binder (1 point), rummaged through the papers, found the entry for Cadet Vig, and said, “According to my records you are meant on this day at this hour to be on sentry duty at Fort Toity” (8 points).

Cadet Vig was on the point of swooning. His legs turned to jelly as he realised that, yet again, he had misread the duty roster. Captain Nitty would be furious (10 points)! The milksop cadet had an awful vision of months stretching ahead doing potato-peeling punishment. How long, he wondered, would it take him to cross the eerie marshes to Fort Toity? Could he get there before Captain Nitty discovered his mistake? He had a sudden bright idea.

“Is it in your power,” he asked the angel of the Lord, “To transport me instantaneously to the sentry post outside Fort Toity, far away across the eerie marshes, so I will not get into one of my pickles with Captain Nitty?”

The angel once again consulted the contents of its ring-binder (6 points).

“Yes,” it said, eventually, “That is well within my power. But I am minded, instead, on this starry starry night, to shower you, Cadet Vig, with teeming thousands, nay millions, of points, more points than any cadet under Captain Nitty’s command has ever been awarded.”

Now Cadet Vig did swoon, He crumpled to the ground, next to the sentry box outside Fort Hoity. As he lay there, robbed of consciousness, innumerable golden shining points rained down upon him. And when he woke, the angel of the Lord had vanished, and stars glittered across the boundless firmament, and here, clanking towards him in full armour, came Captain Nitty, his face purple with rage, his eyes like burning coals (2 points), and Cadet Vig, for the first time in his puny life, was not afraid. He cocked his blunderbuss and took aim at Captain Nitty. He had millions of points!

This story has accumulated a total of 53 points, if I have tallied them correctly.


Lomg-term Hooting Yard aficionados may recall that in the closing years of the last century I produced four or five calendars. Each of these had a specific theme, thus the 1992 Hooting Yard Calendar was entitled Accidental Deaths Of Twelve Cartographers, while its 1993 successor commemorated The Golden Days of the Bodger’s Spinney Variety Theatre. In 1994 I thought to illustrate a fictional work of fiction (Fangs In The Mist – a phrase stolen from J. P. Donleavy) and, in casting about within my bonce for a suitable name for the fictional author, I lit upon Chlorine Winslow. “Chlorine”, it seemed to me, sounded like it might well have been a popular girl’s name in Victorian times, and I recall that I chuckled immoderately to myself having decided upon it.

Now, years later, I discover this:

Mrs [Leonora] Piper had become a medium in 1883. The thing had happened in the usual way – by contagion. She had been suffering from a tumour and had gone to visit a medium who gave medical consultations, but who also specialized in developing latent mediumship in others. At her first sitting Mrs Piper felt very agitated and thought she was going to faint. On the next occasion, the medium put his hands on her forehead. Once more she was on the point of losing consciousness. She saw a flood of light, unrecognisable faces, and a hand which fluttered before her own face. She then passed out. When she came to, although she could remember nothing, she was told that a young Indian girl named.,incredibly, Chlorine, had manifested through her and had given a remarkable proof of survival after death.

From The Spiritualists : The Passion For The Occult In The Nineteenth And Twentieth Centuries by Ruth Brandon (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1983).

184 Today!


On the occasion of her 184th birthday, I am reminded of my long-abandoned project of concocting an entirely new corpus of works by Emily Dickinson, through the simple procedure of jumbling up lines from her poems more or less at random. Perhaps reviving this scheme will keep me occupied during my (imminent) dotage. Here is a sample:

Because I could not stop for Death
Its little Ether Hood
Between my Curtain and the Wall
Had power to mangle me

A Map Of Pointy Town

Over the past few weeks I have been following an intriguing flurry of correspondence in the readers’ letters section of Bestial Grunting magazine. It began back in October – the “yellow month” – with a query from a certain Mr. P. X. Pyx, who wrote “I have been trying to obtain a map of Pointy Town, without success. Can any of your readers point me in the right direction?”

In the next issue there were several replies, but most of them were facetious. They suggested plenty of directions in which Mr. Pyx might point himself, but the respondents were just having a spot of fun. The only sensible letter came from someone who described themselves (in an unpublished addendum) as an Official Pointy Town Tour Guide. It is worth mentioning here that such a position does not exist, as the only known tour guides in Pointy Town are resolutely unofficial, and proud of being so. But let that pass. This (unnamed) correspondent made the not unreasonable point that Mr. Pyx needed to divulge his own location before anybody could hope to have a clue in which direction he should be pointed in order to face either Pointy Town itself or a kiosk where he might make purchase of a map thereof. The editrix of Bestial Grunting awarded this letter five stars, and rightly so.

The following week, a letter appeared undersigned “Mrs. P. X. Pyx, grieving relict of Mr. P. X. Pyx”. Alongside the printed, typeset version of the letter, a photograph of the original was reproduced, showing the smudges occasioned during its composition by Mrs. Pyx’s fallen tears, the better for readers to appreciate her grief. The widow explained that her late husband had dutifully followed the sundry pieces of advice given by the facetious letter-writers in the previous issue, but that in pointing himself in dozens of different directions at great speed, he had become dizzy in the head, and toppled over, and fallen into a pit of vipers he happened to be standing next to at the time. Mrs. Pyx added the plea that she herself now sought advice on obtaining a map of Pointy Town, as it was her dearest wish that her husband be buried clutching said map in his cold dead white hands, as soon as the authorities had devised a method of safely extricating his corpse from the viper pit. She did not divulge her location. Her letter was not awarded any stars by the editrix.

By the time the next issue of the magazine appeared, it was November, the “month of chrysanthemums”. Much of the letters page was taken up with protests that Mrs. Pyx had not been given any stars. Several readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions unless this injustice was corrected. The editrix devoted a full page elsewhere in the issue to a carefully-argued piece explaining her decision. Stars, she wrote, were not awarded lightly, and she was damned if she was going to cave in to the demands of her more petulant readers who misunderstood the protocols. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the letters editor plucking a star from the night sky, preliminary to affixing it to the print-ready page.

Eagle-eyed readers would have noticed, buried beneath all the letters of protest, a further letter from the soi-disant Official Pointy Town Tour Guide. He wrote that he was due to meet a mysterious “contact”, at a crossroads at midnight, who dangled before him the possibility that he – the “contact” – might identify a kiosk where a map of Pointy Town could be obtained, though only for rental, rather than purchase outright.

I missed the next issue of Bestial Grunting by dint of [illegible].

God alone knows what happened, but in the fortnight since I’d bought a copy, the magazine had changed utterly. It was now called New Bestial Grunting, the editrix had become the editrix-in-chief, the letters editor had been demoted to office janitor, and the readers’ letters page had vanished. In its place was a sheet of burnt and blackened paper giving off a distinct whiff of sulphur. When I tried to return the magazine to the newsagent, thinking it might just be a faulty copy, I found his kiosk shuttered and boarded up, and daubed with the sign of the cross.

Could all this be connected in some way to the dead Mr. Pyx and the quick Mrs. Pyx and their desire to obtain a map of Pointy Town? I had to concede the possibility. I determined, at once, standing in a puddle next to the abandoned kiosk, to pay Mrs. Pyx a visit and interrogate her, under Klieg lights if necessary. But then I realised that neither she nor her late husband had ever revealed their whereabouts. Like Pointy Town itself, she was unmapp’d, and I was lost.

star_yellow_small This article was awarded one star – Mavis Handbasin, Editrix-in-Chief

Shutters And Brilliantine

In days of yore, when I was young, I tried my hand at verse rather than prose. This was not a good idea. I do not have a poet’s sensibility, although I am not entirely sure what that means. I recall with fondness a handful of the verses I wrote. There was one in particular, in which I alleged that I was sitting in a room with massive shutters and had brilliantine in my hair, that nudges at my memory. Thirty years or more have passed since I wrote it. If I recall correctly, I was sitting in a room with massive shutters, and I did have brilliantine in my hair. But of course my recollections are all askew. I barely recall last week, let alone the early years of the Thatcher administration. It may be that the debaucheries of my Wilderness Years frazzled certain circuitry in my bonce. That would account for my imperfect memory.

Yet I know there were a few occasions when I slathered my hair in brilliantine, though I am no longer clear why I did so. One such occasion was New Year’s Day 1980, which I spent in a holiday cottage on the south coast owned by the parents of a friend of mine. This friend was a big-brained intellectual with an alarmingly high-pitched voice who went on to become a successful television producer of mindless tat. Even at that young age, he did not have enough hair on his head to slather it with brilliantine. He was prematurely bald. But I was not, and I had brilliantine in my hair.

Were there massive shutters in that holiday cottage? I do not remember any, but then I have never had much of a mind for architecture. This is a failing, akin to my failure as a poet, but I lose no sleep over it. I do not dream of a parallel world in which I roam through buildings spouting expert knowledge of them in rhyming couplets. Perhaps I would be a better person if I did. But I doubt it.

It has suddenly occurred to me that I posted that poem at Hooting Yard ten years ago. I mistakenly attributed it, then, to Dobson,

There were massive shutters in that room, and I had never left it. Ah, I had brilliantine in my hair. There were roses, there were lockets, I was lacking something, so unnerved – but for my hatred shedve seen it, even eaten it, got it on her eyelash, crushed it, broken it, eked it out of someone’s purse or loved it, lusted after it. So here’s my signifier – you can read it, you can keep it. You’re so fucking thick you don’t even know what to do with it. Well … eyebrows, hair, my pastels, then breakfast and a lover. Oh come on, you must be guessing. Or maybe you’re just so fetching. I’m done with fleshing out my lying. My hair is in a tangle and I haven’t paid the rent. But I had brilliantine in my hair, and yours were better shutters. Damn it, I couldn’t even see your rubbish, but I had brilliantine in my hair.

What is all that about, apart from shutters and brilliantine? It sounds peevish to me. I note that, ten years ago, typing it out, I typed it as prose rather than verse. It makes little or no difference. Either way, it is a fragment of the past, of a different time, when I stood on a south coast beach on New Year’s Day and posed for a photograph, black and white, remembered but lost, with brilliantine in my hair.

A Letter From New England

A letter arrives from Christopher Lamere in New England. (I note, incidentally, that Mr Lamere’s name is an anagram of H[is] R[oyal] H[ighness] Elastic Emperor, though this may not be significant.)

Dear Mr. Key

I want you to know that you are my favorite writer. This may seem like a vast honor for a no-name, penniless, friendless failure of a 25 year old to bestow, but it is God’s truth. The imagery which you conjure gives me chills. The truths you tell with your stories fascinate and disturb me, especially because I often initially read your tales as flights of fancy instead of actual true events. As a resident of New England, your descriptions of far away ye Olde England are unnerving portraits of a distant land which my home tries to imitate.

Imagine my surprise then, while wandering through some not very dense woods which as an American I would never call a spinney, I found myself at the edge of a wooden lake. At first, I was convinced that the plank upon plank of maple wood was merely the foundation for some as yet unconstructed building, but when I pressed my ear to the varnished surface, I heard that interminable sloshing of some hidden beast. I was shocked to find that your story of the wooden lake was not a mere fantasy, but an ominous story of hidden portent.

It’s the most frustrating thing in the world, since it seems like a conspiracy which I was excluded from. Even with words whispered between my close friends, when I broach the subject of vast lake monsters, or even the mere idea of lakes hidden by wood, their whole demeanor changes. It’s as if they’ve never heard of a lake, or monsters, or wood, or even nails. While I have not been ejected from my town as of yet, people tend to narrow their eyes and hiss “outsider” when I come around. What should I do? I don’t own a hammer, and there is no duckpond in my town.

Yours in fear,

Christopher Lamere

Have no fear, Mr Lamere! I have given much thought to what you should do in order to avoid otherwise inevitable gruesome consequences. First, make a magnetic tape-recording of the hissing sounds made by your townsfolk. Under cover of darkness, subject the tape to certain blasphemous manipulations, then use rusty blood-caked garden shears to cut it and form it into a loop, such that, when played, it will repeat after approximately thirteen seconds. Take it to the precise centre of the wooden lake and play it through an enormous loudspeaker or electric hooter at deafening volume. Have to hand a supply of pebbles which you can hurl at any townsfolk who approach, intent on silencing you. As the godawful hiss resounds across the wooden lake and into the dense woods, execute a tableau vivant of a historical or mythological theme – Judith with the head of Holofernes would be apt, or perhaps President Nixon holding his arms aloft just before boarding the helicopter on the White House lawn that ferried him to retirement. From time to time, increase the volume of the hissing tape loop. Before several days have passed, your lack of a hammer and a duckpond will count for nothing. And, as I so often say when dispensing advice, irrespective of the nature of that advice, remember to wear gloves.

Exhaustion & Ignorance

Cracks began to appear in his story immediately. So rapid was their onset that the story itself had not even started, as I have just demonstrated. Not only that, but the story was full of holes. There were more holes than there was story, at this stage. If one examined it, the story did not hang together. But it was exceedingly difficult to examine it in any detail, because of the cracks and the holes. These were now so legion that the story itself was barely perceptible. It would be more accurate to say that it was not perceptible at all, by any of the senses, even if all five were in working order. It is, I suppose, vaguely possible, but only vaguely, that someone blessed with a sixth sense might be able to perceive the story, but oh, dimly, dimly. There were just far too many cracks, and far too many holes, and it simply did not hang together. How could you hang a hole, after all, or a crack, even separately, one by one, discrete, let alone all together? It would be a very peculiar nail from which you might hang such a vacancy, or multiplicity of vacancies, if you were minded to try a nail, rather than a hook or a paperclip. But let us assume, for the sake of argument, and for the sake of his immortal soul, that such a nail or hook or paperclip existed, and from it you were able to hang, after much effort and sweat and elbow grease, numberless holes and cracks uncountable. Would you then be any closer to an appreciation of his story? I would aver that you would not, You would be exhausted and still wallowing in ignorance. As it happens, Exhaustion and Ignorance are my middle names. So I need not bother my little head about his stupid story. I can merely collapse, panting, upon my pallet, in a state of bliss.

The Funny Mountain


Crack open a bottle of aerated lettucewater, toss your pointy hat into the air, and cut several brisk capers around your hovel! The cause of your unalloyed glee is the publication of a brand new Hooting Yard paperback, the eighth in the series. The Funny Mountain is now available for purchase from Lulu, so point your browser over there at once, and buy untold copies of what they are already calling the most important sweeping paragraphs of majestic prose since oo-er missus I don’t know when!

Shoveller Pod

A new podcast from ResonanceFM, featuring items on shovellers, an alternative to Facebookcloth, and the home life of Thomas and Jane Carlyle,

On Knowing Your Shovellers

podcast pic

Jam Today

I am going to have jam today. I had no jam yesterday, or for several days before that, and I think it is very unlikely that I will have jam tomorrow, or for the foreseeable future. The precise extent of the foreseeable future is, of course, a matter of conjecture. Some people have the attention span of a gnat and can foresee little more than the next few seconds, if that. Then there are seers and wizardy persons, who can foretell, or at least claim to foretell, events that occur far into the future. Nostradamus is perhaps the most famous example, but there are others, such as those boffins who concoct long-range weather forecasts. Between the gnat-brained and the seers are the vast majority, the rest of us, who can make reasonable guesses at what might occur a few days or even a few weeks hence, according to our appointment diaries. I know, for instance, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that in a couple of weeks’ time I will, touch wood, be visiting a hospital to see a consultant to find out what he has learned from a study of a sample of my precious blood. Yet it remains possible that this will not happen, for reasons mundane – a rescheduling of the appointment – or dramatic – the hospital collapses to ruin in an earth-shuddering cataclysm. So even the foreseeable future may not be wholly foreseeable. Of one thing I can be sure, and that is the fact that I will have jam today.

I intend to spread it, the jam, on a slice of toast, possibly two slices of toast depending on the amount of jam and the liberality, or miserliness, with which I spread it. I might even eke out three toast-slices’ worth, if I go a bit mad. I know I will have the jam today. From where I sit, if I crane my neck at a certain angle and peer intently through my spectacle-lenses, I can see the jam, in a small plastic container with a tear-off lid, resting on the countertop anent the electric toaster in which I shall be toasting the slices of bread. Will, shall … the future tense. Can I really be sure I will have the jam? Could something happen, mundane or dramatic, to prevent what might otherwise seem inevitable? With the jam in my possession, now, could it yet happen that I will not, after all, have jam today? To which the only conceivable answer is, alas, yes.

I might discover, when tearing off the lid of the container, that the jam is contaminated, and gives off a foul reek, and must at once be consigned to the dustbin. Or, in a variant of the anomalous phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion, there may be an inexplicable occurrence of spontaneous jam combustion, and I will be left with not jam but cinders. All sorts of other eventualities, the likely and the unlikely, are feasible. The only way I can guarantee having jam today is to cease writing, right this second, and make my toast, and spread my jam, and eat it. So that is what I shall do, and I will report back.


Mission accomplished. I had jam today! Hurrah hurray! Though it is only fair to say that it tasted far less toothsome than I had hoped. It was bland jam. Tomorrow, I hope instead to have marmalade. But it is best not to hope too desperately, for who knows what might occur, before the sun rises tomorrow, to crush my marmalade desire?

A Visit To The Tearmonger

Pitched past pitch of grief, I wept buckets of tears. Then, on my bakelite wireless set, I heard Chrissie Hynde commanding me to stop my sobbing. I usually find Ms Hynde persuasive, and in spite of the fact that I felt more pangs, I did as she bid. The buckets were both about three-quarters full. I hoisted them, one in each hand, and carried them off across the blasted heath. I hoped to get a good price for my tears from the tearmonger.

“What have you got for me today?” he asked, when I came toiling up to his kiosk. He was a fat slick duplicitous argumentative mocking gloomy patched-up greasy dribbling bug-eyed ragged vitamin-deficient debauched great bear of a man, all frills and flaps, and I did not warm to him, but he was the only working tearmonger in that part of the glade.

“Two three-quarter buckets of my own grief-stricken tears,” I said, lifting the buckets on to his counter. He eyed them coldly.

“What use are they to me?” he snarled, “You are neither an orphan nor a virgin, if memory serves.”

“Look,” I said, imploring him, “These tears were wrung wildly from pangs of grief. They must be worth something.”

“I might see my way to giving you a soup,” he said.

“A soup?” I asked, “What is that in panes, soilings, and pins?”

I knew very well that a soup was worth only a fraction of a pin, but I hoped, hopelessly, to shame the tearmonger into offering me a little more. He started faffing about with a sachet of gruesome murder victim’s widow’s tears.

“See this?” he said, “Tears shed in the actual presence of the lumbering walrus-moustached psychopath Babinsky, as he buried his axe in the head of the poor woman’s husband! Now those are tears that fetch a pretty pin,”

“But I was pitched past pitch of grief!” I protested.

He dipped his fingers into one of the buckets, then licked them with his unholy tongue, tasting my tears.

“Not salty enough for true grief,” he said, “And in any case, the buckets are only three-quarters full. In my experience, true grief gives vent to unstoppable tears. I think you were just moping.”

Under my breath, for the first – and, I hope, last – time in my life, I cursed Chrissie Hynde. I knew it would be pointless to appeal to the tearmonger. I had him down as a jazz-funk fan. There was little I could do but accept his soup. He gave me an eggcupful of minestrone, and I turned away, heading for that place in the past we’ve been cast out of, oh oh oh oh oh oh.

The Interval Ends With A Shocking Revelation

Well, that was a slightly longer interval than intended. Now that the forthcoming paperback is almost ready, I really ought to buckle down to important Hooting Yardery again. One thing I have been doing while ignoring you lot is continuing my intermittent reading – begun last December – of Vincent Bugliosi’s magisterial Reclaiming History. This, you may recall, is a preposterously huge tome – 1,518 pages of dense text – devoted to the Kennedy assassination.

Two phrases are particularly evocative for hopeless JFK obsessives like me – the grassy knoll and the picket fence. So magisterial is Bugliosi’s magisterial book that he even finds space, in a footnote, for a minor though shocking revelation. The fence in Dealey Plaza commonly referred to as the picket fence is not a picket fence at all! Dogged in his pursuit of absolutely everything anybody could ever possibly care to know about the events of that day in Dallas, Bugliosi conducted an interview by telephone on 18 August 2005 with Gary Mack, curator of the Sixth Floor Museum. Mr Mack told him: “In a picket fence, the wooden slats are not touching each other across the width of the fence. Here, they are. The fence is more properly referred to as a stockade fence.”

I had to go for a long walk to clear my head after reading that. I can only hope it has cleared sufficiently for me to resume bashing out the prose you lot have come to rely upon to keep you sane in a doolally universe.

Dal-Dealey_picket_fenceThe picket fence – not a picket fence