Dear Mr Key, writes Poppy Nisbet, I like to think I am the world’s leading authority on Hooting Yard. I spend at least four hours a day reading and rereading – and rerereading! – your work, and try to fit in a further two hours listening, or relistening, (or rerelistening!) to a few of the hundreds of podcasts available from Resonance104.4FM. A couple of years ago I made the wise decision not to bother ever reading anybody else, and tossed on to a bonfire various books I had accumulated, including all my signed first editions of Jeanette Winterson. I have never regretted that decision, and indeed I took several snapshots of the flames consuming the La Winterson tomes, and made a tape recording of the crackling blaze. These are intended as mementoes for my grandchildren, to teach them a valuable lesson about life and literature.
I will shortly be appearing on the television quiz show Socially Inept Brainbox Challenge, where of course I shall be taking Hooting Yard as my special subject. I have every confidence that I will achieve the top score of 92 out of 92, but to be on the safe side I am poring over your works with even greater diligence and concentration than ever, making many notes in my jotter pad. Incidentally, this jotter pad I will also be bequeathing to my grandchildren. They do not know how lucky they are.
All this is by way of preamble to explain my consternation upon reading your piece yesterday on cornflakes. For round six of Socially Inept Brainbox Challenge I have chosen as my intensive grilling topic Breakfast At Hooting Yard. I am all too aware that breakfast is almost the only meal of the day ever mentioned in your work. Nobody seems to have luncheon or dinner or supper, at least not with any regularity. But you harp on about breakfast all the time, and a quick search elicits over one hundred separate pieces in which it is mentioned in greater or lesser detail. The thing is, these multitudinous breakfasts are almost always eggy, and when they are not they often involve smokers’ poptarts or some sort of fish-based preparation. While we read occasionally of breakfast cereal cartons, said cartons have usually been torn up and the cardboard used for scribbling upon, or for the construction of toy squirrels, etcetera. We rarely find anyone actually eating breakfast cereal, and when they do it is as likely as not Special K.
I was therefore not merely in a state of consternation but actively flabbergasted to read a piece in which cornflakes were an all-consuming passion. It seems to me that this is without precedent in your work. Now, we can take this in a number of ways. It may signal a bold new direction, and a not unwelcome one. Those of us whose lives beat to a Hooting Yard pulse are always ready to learn a new rhythm. At least, I think so, though I suppose I can only speak for myself. Conversely it may be that a sudden shift from eggy breakfasts to cornflakes leaves certain readers feeling unmoored, bewildered by a tangle of unfamiliar signposts. I admit this was my own initial response. I found myself having to reread all your breakfast-related babblings to tally up the eggs and smokers’ poptarts and kippers and so on, wondering if I had lost my wits. It certainly put me off my stride in terms of my prep for Socially Inept Brainbox Challenge, so bear in mind that if my score is less than the highest possible 92 I am going to hold you personally responsible, Mr Key.
What I need to know, before the charabanc arrives to take me to the television studios for the recording of the quiz, is whether the cornflakes mania to which you devoted yesterday’s piece is an anomaly, or whether we ought to prepare ourselves for further breakfast unhingements. Or are we to find that cornflakes are now on the standard Hooting Yard breakfast menu? If the latter, I think you owe it to your readers to make a compelling case for cornflakes over Special K, an alternative cereal which, I would aver, fits more snugly into the glorious and only semi-fictional world of Hooting Yard.
I await your considered response with bated breath. Not that I am aware quite how I might bate my breath. I am gravely disappointed that nowhere in the entire Hooting Yard canon can I find any guidance on the matter. As I never read anything else, I suppose I must remain in a state of dire ignorance (and unbated breath) until such time as you choose to address the topic. And while you are about it, you might also turn your attention to giraffes, of which you have had very little to say, and that little not particularly enlightening.
I remain, yours etc.
By way of reply, I would direct Ms Nisbet to World Wide Words, which gives as concise and informative an explanation of bated breath as one could wish for. As for cornflakes, I don’t know what to say. Yesterday I was merely reporting what I had heard on the grapevine about Pepinstow. I may have misheard, or it might have been garbled, and it may well be that Pepinstow’s mania was indeed for Special K rather than cornflakes. But in order to find out, I would have to track down my informant, and that would be no easy matter. Pepinstow’s tale was told to me by a very elderly gent I met down at the quayside. He was, by his own description, an ancient mariner, and I noted that he had an albatross – not, sadly, a giraffe – slung around his neck, like a necklace. He jabbered the Pepinstow business at me before embarking on a boat, bound for distant shores the whereabouts of which I know not. That is the thing with albatross-disporting ancient mariners, in my experience you cannot always rely on them, more’s the pity.