What is Hooting Yard?A splendid place. Much cake is eaten there.
Where is it?
Let me give you directions. Turn around, head for the door, turn left, past the baths, the chemist's shop, the Town Hall, the pigeon lofts and the owl sanctuary, along Blister Lane, go right at the duckpond, then up Pang Hill until you reach the gasworks. Now strike off down Amnesiac Lane towards the graveyard, hop over the fences and head west to Bodger's Spinney. Dip your cup in the stream & rest awhile. Make your way to the mysterious village, where the dandelions are blue and the air is thick with the stench of vinegar. Dither in the square until you spot the newspaper kiosk, where you will be able to buy a gazetteer of the village and its hinterland. Study this carefully. Whisk yourself along the towpath of the canal & cross it at Sawdust Bridge, following thereafter the course of the Great Frightening River. Camp out on the knoll & eat up your sausages. There are many butterflies to be seen there. Do not net them. Hare ye on, past the big Fireworks Factory & the Dental Institute (you will notice that the cross bar is missing from the T, so it reads as the Denial Institute) until you find yourself in a thicket of nettles. Free yourself with the aid of secateurs. Then you must catch the funicular railway to the very top of Pilgarlic Tor, and hurry down the other side on foot, splashing through puddles until you reach the infected pig farmer's house. Hide in his orchard & snooze. Now stride with giant steps across fields of barley, turnips, bracken & furze, yes, bracken & bracken & furze & javelin weed, past the abandoned quarry & on through a knot of allotments, finding shelter in a hut empty but for the rusted remnants of a lawnmower, the skull of a badger, & a smudged & unreadable instruction manual for a pencil sharpener. As the sun rises, trudge south, skirting the Shabby Lime-Kilns & the serried belvederes of Haemoglobin Towers until you hit upon an astonishing tract of rhubarb fields, at the far end of which, nestled beside the alleyway leading off to Plunkett Hall, you will find Hooting Yard, where you will be welcomed.
Will I need a phrasebook?
No. But do make sure you are armed with the necessary documentation, certificates & so on.
Albigensian heresy clearance, bee permits, cartography qualifications, dust inspection slip, encomia, freight dockets, guarantees of rectitude, Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Hoon visitor's ticket, ice readings, jalopy licence, klaxon waiver, lip prints, mortuary attendant's sash, night soil test results, orlop deck pass, pigsnout haberdasher boneyard ravings gumboil ratification tag, question paper, rag & bone chit, "Savonarola's Wisdom-in-a-Bucket" proof of purchase, thumping headache medication prescription, Ülm map, visual impairment notice, wax thing, x-rays envelope, your own pod, and nothing whatsoever that begins with Z. All this stuff must be packed into a satchel which you hand over at the gate.
What sort of gate is it?
A white wicket gate, if you must know. A guarded white wicket gate, to ensure that there is no monkey business.
Oh, so I can't bring my monkey?
Certainly not. Even if you could, your ape would be driven insane by the mere sight of the Duty Git who guards the gate. His is a terrible & gruesome countenance, & his voice can extinguish the very stars in the heavens. Indeed, there have been complaints from Plunkett Hall.
When I get past the Duty Git, what then?
Then you will be ushered aboard a dilapidated charabanc & taken to meet Mr Key & Ms Cradledew.
And who might they be?
Let me read to you their potted biographies. Frank Key was born in a lighthouse. Much hectoring attended his infant years. As a youth, he fell in with an itinerant trio of bell-ringers named Mat & Nat & Bam. Often plagued by whitlows, he is no stranger to medical interventions of a peculiarly jarring kidney. Of late, he has been living quietly on the attic floor of an abandoned & crumbling hotel, where he is visited by his familiar, who keeps him entertained with piccolo recitals & the chewing of brazil nuts. A keen ornithologist, Frank recently received a special tin badge from the Hooting Yard Cormorant Patrol. He likes to buff his badge to a shine with a frayed rag.
And what of Ms Cradledew?
Again, the potted biography is my source. After a brief & successful career as a child, Pansy Cradledew put to good use her almost fanatical interest in pencil cases. She was the youngest ever person to become an Adept of the Order of the Hinges, and from this platform was able to launch a series of sparsely-attended lecture tours. Much enamoured of the pingpong table & its accoutrements, Pansy too is au fait with bird lore, & is often to be found daubing any available wall surface with enormous paintings of starlings, corncrakes & buffleheads. Despite persistent rumours, Pansy is not a flapper. Perhaps she is being mistaken for her cousin Tallulah. Do you require any further information?
Not at the moment. I must say I like the cut of their jibs!
As well you might. The projecting arm of Pansy's crane is crimson & elegant. The boom of Frank's derrick is blue & sparkling. Only a few have seen fit to remark on their jibs. I salute you for that.
I am not used to being saluted.
Fear not. Salutes are rarely essayed in Hooting Yard, nor are forelocks tugged. I was using a figure of speech.
Oh? Have I hit upon a raw nerve?
No, no. My gasp was one of awe, for look! Look how the stars are glittering so brightly above that miserable-looking hut near the wicket gate!
Ah yes, they twinkle so. It is a profound mystery that the firmament takes on so sublime an aspect over so humble a hut.
What is the hut?
It is where the Duty Git stockpiles his potatoes. No more, no less.
Tell me more about the Duty Git.
I am afraid I am not at liberty to do so. I once let slip what I considered a trifling bit of gossip about him - something about his shoes, or his boots, or his head, or his ectoplasm - & let me tell you that the ensuing pandaemonium is not something I ever wish to witness again for all the tea in China. There is only so much one person can take in a lifetime, however long it may please the Lord to eke. Would you care for some buns or cake?
That's kind of you.
As I said, Hooting Yard offers a warm welcome. There is celery too, if you are peckish.
Thank you. Pansy & Frank seem charming, & you have been most solicitous. So I'm rather puzzled by your alarming hints about the Duty Git.
No doubt you want to know what in the name of heaven he does with all those potatoes!
Not particularly. It's just that you make him sound so fearsome & terrifying.
He is indeed. He is an excellent myrmidon & no mistake. Now, if you will finish munching that celery & sweep up the crumbs from the bun I gave you, I shall take you by the hand, or should I say mitten, & lead you fondly into Hooting Yard. Tarry a while, stay alert, & try your best not to frighten the owls.