Hooting Yard Archive, May 2006

Twenty billion years of apocalyptic ballyhoo, a howling dog in a rowing boat, a consumptive shoemaker, and a gratuitous lawnmower illustration.


Sunday 14th May 2006
“Who but a man diverted from the…”
One of the Commonest Questions…
Tuesday 2nd May 2006
“The vapours of earth may indeed for…”
Answers to Readers' Questions
Just as We Divide…
Gratuitous Lawnmower Illustration
Monday 1st May 2006
“I went to visit a consumptive shoemaker;…”
Slowly but Surely…
Is Jesus Irresponsible?
Dog in Boat

Sunday 14th May 2006

“Who but a man diverted from the paths of honest feeling and natural enjoyment, possessed of a demoniac mania, lost to the peace and serenity of the virtuous and the blessed, could find pleasure amid the damps, and dews, and chills, and raw-edgedness of a garden in the early morning, absolutely find pleasure in saturated trousers, in shoes swathed in moisture, in skies that are gray and gloomy, in flowers that are, as Mantalini would put it, ‘demnition moist’? The thing is incredible!” — Oliver Bell Bunce, Bachelor Bluff : His Opinions, Sentiments, And Disputations

One of the Commonest Questions…

Episode five of Testimony Of A Tundist

One of the commonest questions with which Tundists are taxed is, to quote Binder, “how does Tundism affect one's daily life?” There is a simple answer: we take frequent baths, eat large breakfasts, prune our shrubs, avoid cramp, polish our teeth with whetstones, gasp, trill, plunge pieces of metal into salt water, hack at planks, play ping pong, drive camels through the desert, wail, pen billets-doux, get cross, have pangs, collect postage stamps, micturate, peel onions and sob, knit balaclavas, cackle, preen, chirrup, hoot, and dust sand from the soles of our magnificent, bright and battering sandals. I dare say you could say the same, give or take the odd tinct or tinge.

Ten days after I was admitted to Tundism, albeit upon the lowest rung of the Ladder of Sibodnedwab, the gathering in the tower came to an end, in the usual way. Understand that there is much I cannot tell you. After the ritual [ ]ing and [ ]ing, and once the [ ] had been [ ]ed, the gathering broke up, and we went our separate ways. I was taken under the wing of an elderly Tundist named Plankton Chews, an amateur detective who roomed in a garret high in a house standing slap in the middle of a sinful quarter of Hoon.

Chews was to be my mentor, the guide who would steer me through the arcane and formidable doctrines of Tundism. The first six months I spent studying owls. Chews was a great one for bookish learning: he cared not whether I ever clapped eyes on a real owl. All I needed to know, he said, could be garnered from the thousands of books jammed tight on the shelves of the Tundist Owl Library, handily situated just around the corner from his garret.

A brief digression. No lift or other mechanical contrivance existed in the house to make Chews' garret accessible by my wheelchair, so a room was found for me on the ground floor of the toffee apple factory next door, its janitor being a great friend of Chews', having consulted the great detective some years before in connection with the episode which became known as The Perplexing Case Of The Wistful Leper, documented so thrillingly - and I am being sarcastic - by Chews' assistant Dr Boilbag in his famous compendia of the detective's singular adventures. My room was well-appointed, with many cushions, a kettle, plaster of Paris putti dangling from the ceiling, a Tilly lamp, a cast iron escritoire, mosquito nets, oodles of cutlery, and a stupendously complicated ventilation system. I lived there happily for some twenty years, until my incarceration, to which I have already alluded.

To resume: the importance of gaining a thorough knowledge of owls is addressed with characteristic perspicuity by Binder (chapter fifty four). This is what I learned during my months of study: the owl has a short, stout form, downy feathers, and a large head with a flat face. The eyes are round and staring, and have a fringe of stiff feathers around them: the bill is short, strong, and hooked: and the ears are very large and pointed forward. Some owls have tufts of feathers on the head which stand up like horns, from which they get the name of horned owls. During the daytime owls hide away in holes in trees, in caves, and in old buildings; but in the dusk of evening, when they see better than in broad daylight, they fly about looking for game. They live mostly on rats, mice, moles, squirrels, and other small quadrupeds, and on other birds; some of the smaller kind eat moths, beetles, and other insects. They catch their prey with their claws and not with their beaks; if it is small they swallow it whole at one gulp, the bones and hair or feathers being afterwards vomited up in a ball or wad, but if large they first tear their prey into pieces.

When by chance an owl comes out of its hiding place in the daytime, the little birds often attack it in flocks, and try to avenge themselves on their enemy, who kills so many of them by night. When thus attacked the owl ruffles up its feathers, wags its head with a stupid look, and shows its anger by snapping its bill; but as it cannot see well enough to fight, it has to bear the blows and pecks of its persecutors as well as it can. In ancient times hunters used to take advantage of this to catch little birds. After covering the twigs, bushes and trees with a kind of sticky glue called birdlime, the hunter would imitate the cry of an owl, and the birds, flocking together to fight their enemy, would perch on the twigs and stick fast, so that they were easily caught.

Owls are found in nearly all parts of the world. In my country there are only six or seven species, and some even of these are rare, and are seen here only at certain times of year. The family of Strigidae, to which all owls belong, may be divided into three classes: the typical, the horned, and the hawk owls. The typical owl is strictly a nocturnal bird, with complete discs around the eyes, and a large external ear. The horned owls have two horn-like tufts of feathers on the head, and a smaller external ear. In the hawk owl, the external ear is still smaller, while the discs around the eyes and the tuft-like horns are wanting. In Tantarabim there are about forty kinds, including the burrowing owl, the chocolatey owl, and the triumphantly vindictive owl.

In ancient times the owl was thought to be a very wise bird, and the Buttonites made it the emblem of wisdom. The Windigos and Parpalepts also hold it in great respect, because it is said that Windilep Parpago, the founder of their empire, was once saved by an owl. After losing a battle she was forced to flee her enemies and hide herself in a wood. An owl perched in the very clump, or thicket, where she was lying low, and her pursuers, thinking that the owl would have been frightened away if she had gone in there, did not poke at it with their lances nor slash it to ribbons with their brightly gleaming cutlasses, and so passed her by. For a long time the Windigos used to wear an owl's feather in their hats, and some Parpalept tribes still worship a mud idol formed in the shape of an owl.

The owl belongs to the order raptores, or birds of prey, and is, of course, of Tund. There is more, much more, but the Tundist Owl Library is still standing, and has been thrown open to Strobs, so if you are keen to pursue this brief introduction to strigine studies, you may consult a map and bound towards the Library armed with a very sharp pencil and your best notebook.

To be continued…

Tuesday 2nd May 2006

“The vapours of earth may indeed for a moment obscure the sky. One while fogs hang about the ground; another while clouds send forth the thunder-bolt; but, above the regions of darkness and of tempest, the eye of faith contemplates the eternal azure in its unchanging calm.” — Ernest Naville, The Heavenly Father

Answers to Readers' Questions

The Hooting Yard postbag was gnawed by shrews over the Bank Holiday weekend, rendering much of the correspondence indecipherable. Still, it's a timely reminder that many readers have been waiting patiently for answers to their questions, so here is a quick round-up.

Tim from Swanage: Stay in your pod!

Maisie from Crows-An-Wra: I think you may have inadvertently downloaded the cephalopodcast. Put it in a bucket filled to the brim with brine and take it to the seaside.

Arpad from Helsinki: The correct pronunciation is noo-gaah.

Dave from ‘The Old Boathouse’: You are in grave peril. Try to escape from your pod as soon as you can.

Constance from Verona: I am afraid your letter is one of the most thoroughly-gnawed ones and I am unable to read a word of it.

Ingmar from Spokane: Chop up the celery first, then trap the flies. Your mother's brooch has fallen behind the dresser. You will find solace in polevaulting. On Thursday you will receive news from afar, but do not act upon it, or the cosmos will be plunged into twenty billion years of apocalyptic ballyhoo.

Just as We Divide…

Episode four of our new daily serial Testimony Of A Tundist

Just as we divide people into Tundists and Strobs, so with objects. Every different class of thing - plants, implements, landscapes, weaponry, minerals, etc - is split, violently, into the Tund and the Strob. So, for example, with the sub-class root vegetables: turnips, parsnips, and potatoes are, as we say “of Tund”, whereas such loathsome abominations as carrots are “Strobs”. Or consider implements, more particularly that branch of implementa known as kitchen utensils: of Tund, whisks, forks, and cheese graters; Strob, cruets and spoons.

My examples, of course, are far from exhaustive. There is a taxonomy of Tundism which initiates must learn. One of the tests inflicted upon those who seek to wear the Vest is a four-hour question-and-answer session, of merciless rigour, at which students will have a list of disparate and random nouns screeched at them by the Interrogators (usually twelve in number) and must reply, loudly and instantly, “Tund” or “Strob”. Most have to attempt this examination dozens of times before succeeding, and some never do. Countless are the times a glazed and incoherent aspirant will be shouting “Strund!” or “Tob!” after the first ten minutes, only to be led sheepishly from the hall with a sympathetic pat on the head and an injunction to buckle down to further study.

When new objects come into being - inventions, discoveries, exhumations - a Tundist committee is called into session to debate whether to admit the thing to the Tundist pantheon or to consign it to the dustbin of Strob. I was once called to sit on the committee, when a new item of smuggler's headgear was brought to our attention. The session lasted for two weeks, with a bitter division of opinion among the members. We do not rest, you see, until a unanimous decision has been reached and, with two hundred and two Tundists sitting together, there can be grave difficulties. The smuggler's speckled hood, by the way, was finally classified as of Tund.

As he made off, I followed him. I have no talent for landscapes: I will not attempt to describe the surroundings through which, for three and a half hours, I struggled to propel myself in his wake. Not once did he look back. Perhaps he knew I was tailing him, perhaps not. Eventually we arrived at a village, a miserable cluster of clapboard buildings dominated by a round stone tower topped by one of the tallest lightning rods I have ever seen. We had negotiated only a few of the village's foul alleyways when I guessed that my quarry was headed for the tower. Is this the Tower of the Tundists?, I thought. It was not: there is no such structure. My assumption was correct, however. Still without glancing behind him, the vested man vanished into the tower through a doorway. Undeterred, I wheeled myself after him, only to be stopped short by a figure lurking in the shadows of the portal. She was stooping and grey, and she too wore the Vest. Her voice was shrill but kindly.

“I am afraid you cannot enter the tower,” she said.

“I must! I must!” I wailed. Had I had the use of my legs, I would have stamped my feet. Oh, petulant me.

“I am so sorry,” she said, and she meant it. She gently eased the big oak door shut, and I heard her lock it from the inside.

Bribery. Subterfuge. Reckless daring. I had nothing of value to effect the first, and my intellect was not sufficient to cope with the second. As for the third, a woman in a wheelchair who, if I have not mentioned it before, was wracked by influenza and who had eaten only a discarded dough bun in the last two days, was in no fit state to engage in derring-do, to clamber up the walls of the tower and climb in through an upper window, or to obtain a few sticks of dynamite and blast the door open. What else could I do?

I pounded the door with my fist. The shrill grey woman opened a little hatch, at her eye level, and peered down at me, not without sympathy.

“Trap flap moon!” I cried. It was worth trying.

She looked at me quizzically, as if thinking very carefully about what I had said. I had no idea what I meant, but, surprisingly for me, I had correctly intuited the Tundist password - almost.

“Ah,” she said, after a long pause. The key will turn in the lock, she will open the door, they will let me in, I will join them, whoever they are, my eyes and ears and heart and brain and spleen will explode with glory…

“Frap,” she said, “Frap. I really am sorry,” and the hatch was closed again, and my head was ajangle. I went for a roll around the tower, slowly, trying to think. I sensed - I knew - that inside that tower there were at least two people, the man I had followed and the woman who barred my way, and both wore vests that shone with an unearthly glow, and perhaps there were even more of them inside, Glew perhaps, and others I had never seen, and I wanted to join them, I wanted them to welcome me, embrace me, explain to me the hot mystery nestling like an egg inside me, make me understand the tremors which darted through me as the image of that glow settled in my brain, in my heart, in the pit of my stomach, oh, I knew I could not bear to live longer without the succour they could give me. I circled the tower a second time, now seeking other entrances, but there were none.

Close to tears, I steered myself away from the tower, thinking to find a tavern in one of the tenebrous alleys where I could sing a couple of tear-stained ballads in return for a bowl of broth and enough firewater to douse the inferno in my skull. As I entered a particularly ill-starred row of hovels, somebody was maimed, and my luck came in. It happened very quickly: cyclist careering along, sudden appearance of wheelchair rolling dead into the cyclist's path, skewed swerve to avoid collision, cyclist smashes into wall of derelict bakery, crumples to the ground, awful tangle of limbs and flesh and rubber and metal, gash on forehead, wheels still spinning, cyclist passing out.

And me? My eyes were popping out. The cyclist wore a Tundist's vest. Forgive me: there was nobody about. I went over to the bleeding man, reached down to him, disentangled him as best as I could from his mangled bicycle, and then disentangled the vest from him. I tore off my windcheater and blouse, and pulled on the vest. Scrambling back to the tower, beating on the door, this time wearing the Vest, this time saying “frap”, this time the door opening, letting me pass, guiding me in… I found my haven among the Tundists.

Do not imagine that I am - was - a callous wretch. I called for an ambulance, from the telephone in the tower, and the cyclist was nursed back to health within days, and was brought to us on a stretcher, and I sought him out, and told him what I had done, and why I had done it, and he understood, he placed his bruised hand in mine and said he understood. I returned the Vest to him, for of course I was not yet worthy of it. Once safe inside the tower, I had not tried to deceive the Tundists. I told them everything. They had me wait in a room filled with crocuses and dust. On the other side of the tower, in another room, twenty Tundists deliberated. As darkness fell, the shrill grey woman wheeled me to them, through passages loud with the hiss of an extraordinary network of piping, funnels, ducts and cylinders, and as we entered the room, a Tundist with a stovepipe hat and a crimson face moved towards me and announced their decision. They did not cast me out.

To be continued…

Gratuitous Lawnmower Illustration


Monday 1st May 2006

“I went to visit a consumptive shoemaker; seated here I can single out his very house, nay, the very window of the room in which he is lying. On that straw roof might the raven alight, and flap his sable wings. There, at this moment, is the supreme tragedy being enacted. A woman is weeping there, and little children are looking on with a sore bewilderment. Before nightfall the poor peaked face of the bowed artisan will have gathered its ineffable peace, and the widow will be led away from the bedside by the tenderness of neighbours, and the cries of the orphan brood will be stilled. And yet this present indubitable suffering and loss does not touch me like the sorrow of the woman of the ballad, the phantom probably of a minstrel's brain. The shoemaker will be forgotten - I shall be forgotten.” — Alexander Smith, Dreamthorp

Slowly but Surely…

Testimony Of A Tundist, part three. The first two episodes appeared on April 29th and 30th.

Slowly but surely, my banjoing fell to rack and ruin. The fireworks factory hands, all four hundred and fourteen of them, began to find other amusements for their lunchtime revels: skittles, boules, chuck-mattress. The day came when I did not even bother to wheel myself up onto my plinth, banjo in one hand and a clutch of song-sheets in the other, and nobody noticed, and nobody cared. I knew then that I would have to leave. I was penniless, witless and, twenty three hours out of twenty four, distraught and fraught. And insomniac.

Why? I could not have said, in those grim days. Only in retrospect can I see, so clearly, the admixture of yearning, numbskullery, and a scarcely perceptible throb of impossible glory which nestled in the root of my being. Or to put it another way - what was it about that Vest that the sense of it prowled through every nerve of my body? I was certain that it was the Vest, and not the man who wore it. I was equally sure that it was not even the Vest itself, but the Vest's glow… perhaps simply the glow, the shimmer.

In the first days after that singular encounter by the pond, I would be plucking some happy-go-lucky sea shanty to a blissful crowd of factory workers when the glow would impinge upon me, pellucid and incandescent, and of a sudden I would be all butterfingers, and my fluting voice would crack. As weeks passed, the glow did not merely cause the odd hiccough in the middle of a song, but led to me breaking into uncontrollable sobs, tossing my banjo aside, and wheeling myself away, away.

As the tocsin rang and the workers trooped back to their posts, I would sometimes overhear them exchanging theories about my indisposition: drink, tumour, neurasthenia, the jangles, snapping synapses. I half-believed half the theories myself. Strangely, I never tried to locate Glew, wearer of the glowing Vest. As it was, I could barely recall what on earth he looked like. Had he stood before me with the Vest absent or covered, I knew I would never have recognised him.

On with it: I left the factory, bound I knew not where. I lived for months on hawberries and handfuls of water cupped from streams. I was dallied with by a wandering band of rogues who bent the spokes on my wheelchair. A stinking barn was my haven for the winter. In February I found a crate of liquorice abandoned and hawked its contents in a scattering of dreary hamlets. One day I was covered in soot, I cannot remember how. In March, in an orchard, I fell out of my wheelchair, and lay in the damp grass mewling through the night, until rescued at dawn by a cherry-cheeked farmer's wife who gave me another haven at her hearth for a brace of days, until her goitred son strode home from hunting and pitched me out the door with curses and a bludgeon. April found me moping in a fishing village. In May, through a combination of luck, low cunning, and a road accident, I attended a Tundist gathering. Let me tell you about it.

I was squelching my way through a reeking ditch not ten miles east of Flappings, that dim and abominable fishing village, when ahead of me, making an assiduous study of toadstools, I saw Glew, or a man I took for Glew - a man, at any rate, who wore a glowing vest. Destiny's darning-needle pierced my soul. If that sounds laughably melodramatic, laugh - but laugh in the knowledge that I am being painfully sincere. Quaking, I wheeled myself frantically through the mud towards him. I was far too excited to greet him with a wayfarer's cheery “hello”.

“Is that the Tundist's vest?” I blurted. He sprang upright, dropping a little inspection fork from his right - no, left - hand, and fixed me with what can only be described as a steely glare. His face was like most faces.

“Trap frap moon,” he said. Nonsensical as the words were, he freighted them with meaning. Meaning what? My hearing is often muddy. I decided to ignore his remark, and repeated my question. The man's countenance changed. He assumed the mask of a simpleton. I had, you see, made it quite clear to him that I was no Tundist. If you have a copy of Binder, read the section on modes of greeting and farewell. Binder - not I - will tell you the exact words with which I would have replied, had I then worn the Tundist's Vest. But no, he knew me for what I was - a Strob.

I said I would not quote from Binder, but I am tired, and a short extract will do no harm: Tundists divide the world cleanly into two populations: on the one hand, themselves, and on the other, everyone else, non-Tundists, whom they term Strobs. In their traffick with Strobs, the Tundists display an air of simple-mindedness, almost a cretinism, by which means they hope to discourage any intercourse or engagement with the non-Tundist world. In this sense, perhaps, they are exclusive and cultist.

But, might I add, it would be wrong to construe from this that we Tundists distance ourselves from or despise the world. The matter is far more complex. It is Binder's one lapse. Should his book one day be reissued, I hope to ensure that a corrective footnote is inserted. We are, you will recall, worldly-wise, and our reluctance to go blabbering about, proclaiming our Tundism willy nilly, is based upon the stern directive issued by Diocletian Birdbag in that great foundation stone of our Vestery, the Gruesome Pages, the only copy of which is housed in a heavily-guarded marble monstrosity in the Pavilion of Tund, to which no map that I know of will direct you.

“You are not Glew, are you? Do you know Glew?” I prattled. The man began to drool and mumbled something incomprehensible. “Where did you get that vest? It is tremendous! Can I get one?”

I am afraid I babbled on like this for some time. While I was doing so, the man retrieved his fork from the muck, carefully wiped it clean with a fork-cleaning cloth and, placing half a dozen toadstools into his punnet, slung it over his shoulder and started to walk away from me. He let out a couple of yelps and continued to drool. With hindsight, I have to say that he rather overdid his pretence of doltishness, but it worked a treat at the time. As he made off, I followed him.

To be continued…

Is Jesus Irresponsible?

Dear Mr Key, writes Pansy Cradledew, I fear I must protest that you gave publicity to Jesus Inspirational Sport Statues by including it as one of your so-called ‘detours’ yesterday. In many of the representations, Jesus is shown inappropriately dressed for the sport, such as attempting to kick a football in sandals, or perform ballet in an ancient Hebrew shift. By choosing not to wear kneepads or safety helmet when rollerblading, Our Lord is setting a poor example to today's youth with His reckless behaviour. In many of the scenes, He only seems to be participating in the sport half-heartedly, just standing around with His arms posed in what He thinks is some kind of benevolent attitude. It's all a bit wishy-washy and unsportsgodlike. As for the golf statue, should He not be mindful of the traumas the Roman Catholic church has undergone in recent years due to the antics of its less salubrious priests? Yours in Christ, Pansy Cradledew.

Having reviewed the site, and looked more carefully at some of the statues, I think Pansy has a point. In any case, would it not be more inspirational to show the little tots with Satan looming over their shoulders, threatening them with fire and brimstone unless they perked their ideas up and went out there to win? Where can I find Beelzebub Inspirational Sport Statues?

Dog in Boat

There was a dog in a boat, and the boat was on a lake, and the lake was surrounded by mountains, and the mountains were high and snow-capped, and the air was clear and pure and the sky was blue. The dog was huge, it might have been a wolf, and it stood upright in the boat, alert and bristling. The boat was an ordinary wooden rowing boat but the oars were missing. The mountains were enormous. There were no birds in the blue sky and the pure clean air was very still. The boat was out in the middle of the lake, and water slapped gently at its sides. It was early morning. There was a tiny village at the foot of the mountains, at the shore of the lake, and everyone in the village was still asleep except for the dog handler, for the dog handler was dead. He had been mauled and savaged and his body lay rotting on the jetty that poked out from the village into the lake. At twilight, a detective will arrive in the village, having journeyed over the mountains on a donkey. By the time the detective arrives, the giant dog in the boat will have plunged into the lake and swam energetically to the shore, leaving the boat in the middle of the lake. And when the moon comes up the dog will be howling, howling and howling, howling and howling and howling and howling, somewhere in the mountains, and the detective will be sitting alone at a table in the village tavern, and his donkey will be tied to a post outside, and no one will sleep.

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