On The Raking Of Gravel, Again

With my rake and my shovel
I shift around gravel
For I am the handyman-gardener of Hoon
I am weird and uncanny
And I look at you funny
And wolves howl at the full moon

This was, apparently, the song attributed to the handyman-gardener of Hoon, a weird and uncanny fellow with a squint in one eye whose chief occupation was the raking and shovelling of gravel. The song, thought to be broadly autobiographical, was recorded by folk song collector Cecil Flat, to an accompaniment of piccolo, accordion and marimbas. More recently, the argumentative German improv group Weltschmerz devised an argumentative improv version, in which the words are recited in guttural shouts against a backdrop of tuneless tape-recorded shovelling and raking of gravel. Inevitably, this shot to the top of the hit parade and the band appeared on several overexcitable teenage pop television shows. Eagle-eyed viewers noticed, in the heaving throng of the studio mosh pit on one such show, an elderly man, weird and uncanny, with a squint in one eye, holding in one hand a shovel and in the other a rake. He appeared to have gravel sprinkled in his hair. He was only on screen for a few seconds, but those who saw him were convinced they had spotted the handyman-gardener of Hoon. Alas, this was in the days before Het Internet and YouTube, and no copy of the broadcast is known to exist. We have only the letters pages of the following week’s teenage pop press to turn to.

Dear Teenage Pop Press, reads one typical letter, Yesterday evening, as we do every week, my family gathered around the bakelite television set in our ill-starred yet snug hovel to watch The Overexcitable Teenage Pop Television Show. There were some fantastic beat combos playing, including Agnetha and Anni-Frid and Benny and Bjorn, John and Yoko, the Bernard Levin Madrigal Singers, Gordon Sumner’s Gordon Sumner Tribute Band, Level 42, A Flock Of Seagulls, Tony Gubba’s Gubtastic Gubba Gubba Hey Group, and a chap standing on one leg playing the flute. What we were waiting for, of course, was the smash hit Song Of The Handyman-Gardener Of Hoon performed by Weltschmerz. Now here is the intriguing thing. When the argumentative German improv group were making a din with their shouting and their rakes and their shovels, the camera cut away for a few seconds to the studio mosh pit, wherein a teeming throng of overexcited teenage persons were cavorting and cutting capers, as is de rigueuer. In among them, I am sure I spotted an elderly man, weird and uncanny, with a squint in one eye, holding in one hand a shovel and in the other a rake, who appeared to have gravel sprinkled in his hair. Could it be that this was the handyman-gardener of Hoon himself? And if so, why was he in the mosh pit, rather than up on stage with the band, shouting out his own song?

In the following week’s issue came a response:

Dear Teenage Pop Press, it read, Further to the letter in last week’s issue regarding the elderly man, weird and uncanny, with a squint in one eye, holding in one hand a shovel and in the other a rake, who appeared to have gravel sprinkled in his hair and who appeared for a few seconds on screen during Weltschmerz’s deafening performance of the Song Of The Handyman-Gardener Of Hoon on television recently, I think the person your correspondent spotted was me. I am elderly. I have been described, both by strangers and by members of my own family as weird. There is certainly something uncanny to be seen whenever I look in the mirror. On the evening in question I attended the television studio with both a rake and a shovel about my person, for reasons I have been advised by tiptop legal advisers not to bruit about in the popular press. The one point on which I would take issue is that I did not have gravel sprinkled in my hair. I tend my magnificent bouffant with great care, and would never be so neglectful of its preening to allow gravel to become sprinkled in it. There is the possibility that what your correspondent saw was electrical or electronic interference, given the primitive state of transmission on black and white television screens at this point in history, when we have not yet progressed to colour, or high definition, or whatever further wonders the pipe-smoking boffins have up their sleeves. Though it may be thought that I am a tad too elderly to go cavorting and cutting capers in a mosh pit, it has long been my habit to go in search of the hero inside myself, until I find the key to my life. This has led me down some unexpected by-ways. It is not, for example, the only time I have been mistaken for the handyman-gardener of Hoon, even by myself. The day after the television show I was taking a stroll along the canal towpath near fields and a spinney and standing stones and an army firing range surrounded by an electrified fence when I came to a rustic cottage. Its grounds were strewn with gravel. As I had my shovel and my rake with me, for reasons which again I am not minded to divulge, I took it in to my head to do a spot of shovelling and raking of the gravel, on the spur of the moment. After all, it occurred to me that this might be the key to my life. And so it proved. I have been happily shifting about gravel with my rake and my shovel ever since, and I am now waiting for the next full moon, to hear if wolves will howl, as was foretold in the song.

I have studied all available documentation from that time and that place but am so far unable to confirm whether or not wolves did indeed howl at the full moon. The only hint I found was a report in Recordings Of Wolves Howling magazine, in which the member of Weltschmerz with the severest haircut gave an argumentative interview in which he revealed that the band had been making tape-recordings of the howling of wolves. He did not explain why.

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