Here is a transcript of part of yesterday's Hooting Yard On The Air radio show. When the podcast becomes available, I shall add a link to it.
Regular listeners to Hooting Yard On The Air will know that I have been away for a couple of weeks. I wish I could say that I have been somewhere interesting - Aztec ruins, say, or the magic mountain, or even a chalet on the shingle beach at Pointy Town - but alas, I have been a pallid sickly wretch, suffering from risings in the spleen and the ague and black bile and the bloody flux and vapours in the cranial integuments. At times like these I tend to rely on the regular infusion of Baxter's Terrible Fluid, or Dr Gillespie's Vital Nerve Powders. The latter, sprinkled on to a plum or a conference pear, can work wonders on even the puniest constitution, and indeed, here I am back behind the microphone on a Wednesday afternoon, bringing the show to you live from the gleaming skyscraper which houses the ResonanceFM studio. Yes, I struggled my way through the weird pneumatic doors, I panted for breath as I staggered on to the moving walkway, there was a ringing in my ears as I slumped on the floor of the turbo-elevator which shot me to the top of the building in just four seconds, and I needed a bowl of energising vitamin soup before I could speak… but here I am, ready to provide you with half an hour of instructive prose to inspire your moral sentiments. Excuse me for a moment while I mop my still fevered brow.
There. Now, one consequence of lying abed groaning and whimpering in the throes of neurasthenic horrors is a disinclination to write. Some might choose to call this writer's block, or even idleness, but they know not whereof they speak. At least one acquaintance made this accusation in the past fortnight. As I tossed and turned in an agony of twitching fits, I became aware of a message on my metal tapping machine. Weakly, I reached for it, nearly falling from my rumpled pallet as I did so. And when I read the message, I was convulsed anew, as if ten thousand demons with ten thousand forks were pricking me ten thousand times.
“For crying out loud, Key!” I read through my tears, “Stop being such a milquetoast whinger. There is nothing wrong with you that a brisk walk around the duckpond in a hailstorm won't fix. Put on your boots and seize the day!”
I tossed my metal tapping machine on to the floor among the piles of rags, and sobbed. Some hours later, when I had stopped sobbing, I did indeed clamber from my sickbed, put on my boots, and I launched myself towards the duckpond. I got as far as the garden gate before collapsing in a mewling heap. I shuddered and shook, twitching and shattered, and hideous visions swam in my brain. I knew they were visions, because there are no giant golden poisonous toads in this neck of the woods, but still… even though I sensed they were the product of my fuming brain, they were frightening enough, particularly the one called Graham, which had more eyes than you normally see on a toad, even a giant golden poisonous toad, and each eye was quivering on the end of a stalk, which again is untoadlike, as far as I know, not that I have ever made a study of the world's toads, though it is on my list of Things to Do.
Anyway, there I was, cutting the opposite of a dash, when the postie bashed his way through the garden gate, clonking me on the head. The hallucinatory toads vanished, and I sat up on the gravel, rubbing the lump that was already swelling where I had been clonked.
“Oh, sorry I clonked you on the head,” said the postie, “Here, I have a letter for you.”
Even in the most trying of circumstances, I try to be polite, so as I took the envelope from the postie I thanked him. He recoiled from me, as if I had screeched some blasphemous execration, as indeed I had, for the clonk on my head had dislodged some of the nerve-wirings in my brain, and for the next three days whenever I spoke, whatever I tried to say, I spewed forth a tirade of foulness. Luckily a cure was affected before I had to do this show, otherwise ResonanceFM would be shut down by the authorities for broadcasting disgusting language in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon, when innocent and sensitive ears would be appalled, and rightly so.
I was able to treat the dislodged brain-wiring by myself, for though I have neglected to learn about the toads of the world, I do know a thing or two about the magnificent complexity of the human brain. I had a good teacher. Years ago I attended a two-day course at the Blotzmann Institute, where I learned, among other things, that if you immerse your head in a bucket of warm soapy water and do the Culpeper Manoeuvres until at the point of drowning, most of your brain problems will be solved. It certainly works for me.
Now, where was I? I took the letter from the postie and crawled back into the house, somehow managing to hoist myself into a chair at the kitchen table. I did not like the look of the handwriting on the envelope. It spoke to me of theft, spasms, and cruelty. It spoke of moral turpitude. It spoke of rubber truncheons and contempt. You might ask how I could read so much into the few scribbled lines of my name and address, but I am not going to tell you. Instead, I am going to sulk while we have a short interval.
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That's better. I'll get back to how I overcame what might have been writer's block, or might have been something far more lethal, something almost too awful to contemplate, in a moment. But I want to mention that, in between recovering from my neurasthenic terrors and coming in to do today's show, I went to see the film Snakes On A Plane. Most of the critics have - with their customary laziness - made a big deal of Samuel L Jackson's line “I'm sick and tired of these beep-ing snakes on this beep-ing plane!”, but for me there was a much better moment in the screenplay. One of the stewardesses enters the cockpit, where the co-pilot is trying to control the plane. (The captain has already been bitten by a poisonous snake.) She says: “What's with the oxygen mask deploying?” Now, put yourself in the scene. You are that stewardess. You are wondering why all the oxygen masks have been released, for no apparent purpose, so you go to the cockpit to find out. Come on now, think yourself into the situation. What do you say, what words come out of your mouth? “What's with the oxygen masks?” you might say, or at a push, “What's with the oxygen mask deployment?” But “What's with the oxygen mask deploying?” I think not. A great moment in a foolish but amusing film.
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So I sat at my table, glaring at this envelope with its repellent handwriting. I plucked a plum from my plum bowl, sprinkled it with Dr Gillespie's Vital Nerve Powders, took a bite, and glared at the envelope some more. I turned it over to see if there was a return address, and there was, but it was badly smudged and illegible. I cursed the postie. I flapped my arms, as if I were a bird, a big, legendary bird, like a roc. I pulled a piece of straw out of my hair. I pondered the implications of that anonymous 18th century suicide note which read, in its entirety, “All this buttoning and unbuttoning!” I couldn't remember if there was an exclamation mark appended to it, so I tottered to my feet and headed for the bookshelves whereon nestled a dictionary of quotations. I never made it across the room, because as I took a few unsteady steps I was confronted by a phantom. It may have been a ghoul, but I think it was a phantom. It was grey and ethereal and shimmering and damp and cold and mournful, and it was clutching in its slender bloodless hand the key to a hotel room. Through some kind of ghostly thought-transference, it told me that the hotel it belonged to was far away, in Winnipeg, and that I must go there immediately. I tried a bit of thought transference myself, to explain that my passport had expired and that I was too sick to go to Winnipeg in any case, but I made a botch of it, and transferred my thoughts not to the phantom but to a carpet beetle near the skirting board, which was so traumatised by being suddenly zapped with alien thought processes that it had a heart attack and perished, flipping on to its back and wiggling its many, many little legs hopelessly in the air. Can carpet beetles have heart attacks, or did I misread the signs? Who knows, apart from entomologists? What I do know is that the carpet beetle was dead and the phantom was still looming there, reproachful and anguished. It was, by the way, a Dutch phantom, a Rotterdam phantom, one of the phantoms of Rotterdam. What was it doing in my house? Why was it imploring me to go to a hotel in Winnipeg? What awaited me in the hotel room? I tried to remove a sliver of plum peel that was caught in my teeth, without success. The Rotterdam phantom shifted suddenly, spine-tinglingly. Now it was behind me. I span around. The phantom was dissolving, slowly, but it had left the Winnipeg hotel key on the mantelpiece.
I opened a window. From my neighbour's house I could hear the strains of “20 Great TV Themes” by the Dennis Drivel Accordion And Pan-Pipe Orchestra. I realised it was the limited edition version, including the theme from “It Shouldn't Happen To A Vet”. My head cleared. Everything seemed to fall into place. I had been sick, but now I was well. I flapped my arms again, like wings, but not like the wings of a legendary bird like a roc. I flapped my arms as if they were angel's wings, and I was being borne to heaven, and I took the dead carpet beetle with me, for why should insects not share in the rapture of paradise?