Tales Of Duntblau – II

I was born in Duntblau, above the wool shop, at the beginning of our night that lasts for half a year. The alignment of the stars in the sky over Duntblau did not augur well. Shortly after my birth, the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman paid her visit, creaking up the fire escape to my parents’ flat above the wool shop. She cast her twigs and pebbles upon the floor, and descried signs in the steam rising from her bowl of boiling ducks’ blood. She announced that, though I was not exactly a cursèd child, still, I was a tot inwardly hobbled, morally and comprehensively. There was no force in the universe that could ever come to my aid. Mama poured the ducks’ blood down the drain while Papa paid the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman her stipend. As she creaked away down the fire escape, my infant wailing woke every sleeping soul in Duntblau.

Three decades and three more years passed, with little or nothing of remark, until one day Papa called me down to the back room of the wool shop.

“Shambeko,” he said, “You have now reached the age Christ Jesus was when he was so cruelly nailed to his cross. It is time you left Duntblau, to make your way in the world.”

I begged Papa to allow me to postpone my leaving for six months, when there would be daylight, but his mind was made up. I was to quit the wool shop immediately, and Duntblau as soon as possible thereafter. As I minced out of the door, Mama handed me a snack and a bag of whatnots.

When I was out of sight of the wool shop, I collapsed on to the pavement and ate my snack, a fish-paste whirl and a plum. Then I rummaged through the whatnots in the bag, but my fingers were sticky, so I tipped the contents on to the pavement the better to grasp their quiddities. Suddenly dozens of birds swooped from the Duntblau sky, grabbing the whatnots in their beaks, and soaring away, up, up, until they vanished into the black starless night.

After a while I rose to my feet and continued along the street, or rather, boulevard. This was one of the main thoroughfares of central Duntblau, and was named after Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick, and Tich, huge cement statues of whom stood, upon tawdry plinths, at intervals from east to west. It so happened that, a couple of schtapps past the Beaky statue, where I had snacked and had my whatnots abstracted by birds, there was an alleyway leading off the boulevard to the left, and down this alleyway was the kiosk of the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman. I was minded to go and have a word with her, but just as I was readying my legs to make the required turn, I was set upon by an assailant.

It was not the first time in my thirty-three years to heaven that I felt the bash of a bludgeon on my bonce. Violence stalks Duntblau in the long night. But I had never before been knocked unconscious for such a protracted period of time. When I came to, sprawled in the gutter, I heard the toots and bangs and bellowing of improvised oompah band music, and saw the massed papier-mâché puppets of Duntblau noteworthies being carried aloft. It was the Saint Bibblybibdib’s Day Parade! I must have been lying in the gutter for a fortnight!

I knew Papa would expect me to be a lot further away by now, possibly gone from Duntblau entirely. I knew, too, that he was likely to have employed the private detectives Perkins & Throwback to scour the streets for any sign of me. He was that kind of Papa – rigorous, righteous, mad. I had to make myself scarce.

I scuttled off down an alleyway. It was a different alleyway to the one where the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman had her kiosk, but there is that old saying in Duntblau “All alleyways [something something] / But [something] a ha’porth for a kiosk”. Above me the shroud of night lay heavy upon the souls of embittered men and their wan, pale wives. The alleyway was scattered with dustbins and corrugated cardboard and dead or dying kittens. A dribbling sot lurked in a doorway, shaking his fist at nothing. I pulled up my collar as I passed him by. How does that song go?

I pulled up my collar as I passed him by,

Little suspecting he was a private eye,

Either Perkins or Throwback, hired by my dad.

The end of this story is going to be sad.

The end of this story is going to be sad. No longer feigning sottishness and the dribbling that accompanies it, Perkins, or it might have been Throwback, grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled a sack over my head. I was overcome by the pong of bladderwrack. The private eye prodded me in the back and told me to start walking. So, sightless, I walked, or tottered, Perkins or Throwback guiding me like a dog.

Also like a dog, indeed so much like a dog that it actually was a dog, was a dog that started trotting alongside us after we had been walking for, oh, I don’t know, call it a few miles. At some point we began to go uphill, at a steeper and steeper gradient. I was panting. The dog was yapping. Perkins or Throwback seemed tireless, humming a varied selection of tunes by Rodgers & Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart, Leiber & Stoller, Brecht & Eisler, Ashford & Simpson, Flanders & Swann, Goffin & King, and Holland, Dozier, Holland, Dozier, Dozier, Holland, Holland, Dozier, Holland, Dozier, Dozier, Holland.

Eventually, we stopped. The private eye muttered something menacing, and I heard him trudging away. When I thought it safe to do so, I pulled the sack off my head and looked around. We were high up in an important mountain range, muffled by snow, and ice, and a thick, swirling, freezing mist, a white nothingness. The dog had stopped yapping and was gazing up at me adoringly.

“Toto,” I said, ” I’ve a feeling we’re not in Duntblau anymore.”

Tales Of Duntblau – I

They clapped me in irons, and read me my rights. Or perhaps it was the other way round. Maybe the clapping and the reading happened at the same time, I can’t be clear. The day was so hot, the sunlight so bright, the meadow so bespattered with buttercups, and here and there a dumb stupid cow, I could not think straight. In any case, they read my rights to me in a wholly unfamiliar language, guttural and seemingly lacking in vowels. Then they shoved me into the back of a van and slammed shut the door.

We drove for several hours, over the mountain pass to Duntblau. I only learned this later. At the time I had no idea where we were going. There were three other miscreants in the back of the van with me, but they were clueless. They had also been clapped in irons, and were as dumb and stupid as the cows I had left behind in the meadow. I soon gave up my attempts at conversation. Instead I studied their heads for evidence of criminality. I have often found phrenology a capital way to pass the time.

When we arrived at the police station in Duntblau, we were bundled out of the van and led through a door along a filthy corridor and through another door and another corridor, less filthy, and oh get on with it. We ended up in an interrogation room. Well, I did. Perhaps the other three were taken to their own interrogation rooms. Perhaps they were shot. I don’t know.

On that day and the next I must have answered thousands of questions. All my replies were spirited and perky, for I was keen to make the right impression and to help them with their enquiries.

The chief interrogator, who spoke my language with an accent I would have found amusing in any other circumstances, was a dwarf. I thought he had a criminal shape to his head, but did not say so. From time to time he was joined by a colleague, no dwarf he by golly!, but this fellow stayed silent, and seemed more interested in contemplating the tulips in a vase on the windowsill. The window itself had been covered over by a poster of the type sold by Athena in the 1970s. It was upside down.

The questions hurled at me ranged over the entirety of my life, from before birth up to the moment just before I was clapped in irons. He was a very thorough dwarf. He took no written notes, but tapped his fingertips upon his temple every now and then, as if lodging what I said into his memory. His trousers were of the drainpipe variety, for what it’s worth, and his shoes were of blue suede. He did a lot of strutting to and fro as he fired his questions, rarely bothering to look at me. I remained perky.

Midway through the second day, there came the roars and flashes of a thunderstorm so terrible and violent that all of us, me and the dwarf and the tulip-worrier, were cowed. We sheltered under a table, much as James Joyce did when so storm-frightened in Scheveningen, in 1917.

Once the storm ceased, and I was back in my chair, and the dwarf was strutting, and the other chap had left the room to fetch some Baby Bio for the tulips, my interrogation lost its focus. The dwarf started to ask increasingly irrelevant and even incomprehensible questions. From details of my life, his attention now passed to such matters as the Munich Air Disaster, the Tet Offensive, and John Major’s traffic cones hotline, none of which I had had any involvement in, as far as I could remember, honest guv. But he was relentless, like a swordfish. I found it harder and harder to remain perky. Eventually, I snapped. I interrupted the dwarf in the middle of a question which, as far as I could ascertain, revolved, none too steadily, around the circumstances of the raid on Entebbe, and asked a question myself.

“Would it be at all possible, captain,” I said, “At this stage in the interrogation, given my cooperation and compliance thus far, not to mention my perkiness and eagerness to help you with your enquiries, for my irons to be unclapped, or declapped, or whatever the correct terminlogy is for the process, for they are chafing most miserably, captain.”

He could not stop himself from sputtering out the rest of his senseless question, but we both knew he did not expect a reply. He gathered himself, like Kate Winslet at an awards ceremony, strutted to the door, opened it, and shouted out for Tulip Man to bring the irons-declapping key.

They released me late in the afternoon, after giving me a cup of tea and a sandwich filled with some sort of godawful reconstituted fish-paste substitute. I would be hearing from them in due course, I was told, but I was free to go so long as I made no attempt to leave Duntblau. If I took a single step beyond the town limits, I would be hanged from the highest of the many gibbets, and crows would feast on my entrails. Understood? Yes, captain.

And so I minced out of the police station into the gorgeous air of Duntblau, windy, and overcast, with drizzle. From now on, and forever after, it would be my home. Wild was the Duntblau wind. I heard the sound of Duntblau mandolins.

24 Hours

Exciting news from ResonanceFM,,,,

Bank Holiday Monday, 27 August : 12:00am – 11:59pm.

Twenty four hours in the company of Frank Key, writer in residence and creator of Resonance’s longest running programme, Hooting Yard on the Air. Comprising a selection of programmes from the very first in April 2004 to the present day.

It has been an eerily quiet summer here at Hooting Yard, what with one ting and an udder (as my mother used to say). I hope to return to the land of the living soon.

Brave Helios!

My apologies for the recent lack of potsages [sic] here at the Yard of Hooting. This has been occasioned my my inability to cope – either mentally or physically – with the damnable weather. Whatever happened to “overcast, with drizzle”? Instrad, I am battered and blinded by the sun – or, as the Moody Blues liked to call it, Brave Helios! Well, Brave Helios is an accur’d orb I would happily see blotted out, or wholly extinguished. I shall pray for rain, or, better, a howling blizzard,, and resume tippy-tapping when I am able.

He Do The Police In Different Voices

From the archives, August 2012:

I used to know a man who, like Sloppy in Our Mutual Friend, could do the Police in different voices. It began as a party trick, for which he always received thunderous rounds of applause, upon which he eventually became dependent. There came a time when he no longer used his normal speaking voice at all. He couched every single utterance in one of his different Police voices, but the novelty wore off, and people no longer clapped, and he grew sour and disillusioned and rancorous, and ended his days drunk to high heaven sprawled on the floor of a hotel lobby at a seaside resort. It is a cautionary tale, then, his life.

But that ruinous end cannot dim the joy of his early forays into doing the Police in different voices. I remember as if it were yesterday the first time I came across him. I was attending a sophisticated cocktail party in a sophisticated house in a sophisticated part of town, and, being myself deeply and ineradicably unsophisticated, was having a rather hard time mingling. I was leaning against a mantelpiece, trying my best to look insouciant, but the only people who deigned to speak to me were those who challenged my very presence, accusing me of being some kind of valet or factotum or, worse, an interloper. I grew increasingly cantankerous, losing any sheen of sophistication I might have hoped to assume. I spat at people and pointedly ground out my cigarette butts on the expensive carpet. Across the room I saw a couple of genuine factotae approaching, huge burly monobrowed fellows, like minatory bears, bent, I supposed, on chucking me out into the street. Before they reached me, however, the hubbub of sophisticated chitchat suddenly ceased, and one voice was ringing out solo.

On the fifteenth inst at eight forty-six pee em I was proceeding along Letsby Avenue in a northerly direction when I spotted the accused taunting a kitten. I apprehended him in the course of this bestial enormity and – “ and then, without missing a beat, he quoted that twit-and-jug bit from The Waste Land, “ – Twit twit twit, Jug jug jug jug jug jug, So rudely forc’d, Tereu”. Then he continued, in so deep and grave and sonorous a voice we might have been listening to T S Eliot himself, “And I dragged him down to the nick for a mild roughing-up by some of Inspector Cargpan’s boys.” It was marvellous, and we all applauded, and my lack of sophistication was forgotten as all eyes turned to the owner of the voice.

Or, as I learned soon enough, voices. A couple of weeks later I went to another sophisticated cocktail party. This time I took the precaution of wearing spats and a dressing gown, to give myself airs. I was leaning against a mantelpiece when once again, there was a hush and a single voice made itself heard:

On the sixteenth inst at six fourteen pee em I was proceeding along Letsby Avenue in a westerly direction when I spotted the accused engaged in a hate crime against a sparrow. No! Oo-er, missus. Really! Nay, nay and thrice may! Titter ye not! Oo-er. I dragged him down to the nick and handed him over to Inspector Cargpan’s boys for a roughing-up in the basement.”

It was extraordinary. There was no hint of T S Eliot. This time it was is if Frankie Howerd had come back to life. Again there was a round of applause. I left my mantelpiece and made my way across the room to congratulate the speaker personally, but before I could reach him he had flitted away, possibly with some of the silverware tucked in his pocket.

Over the next few years, during my inveterate partygoing, I came upon the fellow, who I had dubbed “Sloppy” after his Dickensian inspiration, on numerous occasions. Every time I heard him he do the Police in different voices. Some of them were recognisable. As with his Eliot and Howerd, he could do pitch perfect impersonations of Enoch Powell and Bernard Levin, both Mike and Bernie Winters, and the Irish one-time hostage Brian Keenan. I even heard him do Yoko Ono. He had other voices which seemed to spring from his repertoire of invented characters, a chuckling Quaker, for example, and a breathless bike wanker. He never repeated himself.

The last time I saw, or rather heard, Sloppy, was at a sophisticated cocktail party at an art gallery private view. I was leaning against a mantelpiece staring vacantly at a splattery daub when a voice rose above the arty babbling. And this time it was not a speaking voice. Sloppy was singing! Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say he was caterwauling, in an ear-splitting high-pitched screech. I recognised that sound immediately, and did not need to wait for the words “Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light” to know he was doing the Police in the voice of Gordon Sumner.

That, at least, was what I thought. But on my way home that night, through certain half-deserted streets, the muttering retreats of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells, I picked up the Evening Rag, and reading it on the unsophisticated top deck of the unsophisticated bus which took me to my unsophisticated home, I read that the man I knew as Sloppy had been buried that day in a seaside resort graveyard, having died drunk to high heaven sprawled on the floor of a hotel lobby earlier in the week. I realised, with a shock, that the screeching caterwauler at the private view must have been Sumner himself, and I wept. I could connect Nothing with nothing. The broken finger-nails of dirty hands. My people humble people who expect Nothing.

la la

To Carthage then I came

Burning burning burning burning

O Lord Thou pluckest me out

O Lord Thou pluckest

burning.

The Dunst Comparator

This year’s foopball World Cup coincided with the Hooting Yard shutdown, which means I have neglected to keep you lot apprised of the choice witterings of commentators. Each time there is a big foopball tournament, we find ourselves wondering if one of the TV babblers will say anything to match that classic observation from 2010 : “For a moment there, he looked like a baby gazelle who’d just plopped out of the womb.”

My favourite moment from this year came early in the contest. Commenting on one of the Argentinian players, the BBC man said : “He’s five-foot-five, the same height as Kirsten Dunst. A dangerous little winger.”

Was he in possession of a chart matching the heights of foopballers to Hollywood stars? Or is a foopballer’s height relative to Kirsten Dunst a standard measure? These questions were never answered, more’s the pity.

The Renaissance

Renaissance : noun, from the French for “rebirth”. If you stumble upon this word in the course of your reading, you need no longer scratch your head in dimwitted befuddlement. Its primary definition is a reference to the occasion, in early July in the Year of Our Lord MMXVIII, when the Hooting Yard website, having been kaput for some while, came blazing back to life (hence, rebirth) like a phoenix rising from the ashes. (If you want to know what a phoenix is, you will have to wait for the “P” section of the Hooting Yard Guide To Non-Existent Birds.)

String And Wood And Tin

Lonely, he made a companion of string and wood and tin, and sat her at his window, as if she were looking out. And whenever he returned from tiresome jaunts, she was there, framed in the window, to welcome him home.

But when he was at home, she had her back turned to him. She was facing the outside world, immobile, yet desperate to go frolicking dizzily into that world, where other things of string and wood and tin were surely to be found.

Bellhop’s Catbrain

At the hotel, the bellhop had, implanted in his head, the brain of a cat. His own brain had been removed and sat in preserving jelly in a jar on a shelf in a cupboard in a lab. It was a locked lab, the only key to which was kept in the pocket of the mad crazed lunatic boffin who had carried out the brain-swap, during a thunderstorm on the previous Tuesday. This boffin habitually assumed the guise of a janitor, and performed janitorial duties the better to hoodwink his hoodwinkees, of whom there were several dotted about the site, from the parking attendant to the secretariat. The secretariat consisted of but a single secretary, into whose head the boffin planned to insert the brain of a badger, having first removed the secretary’s actual brain and placed it in preserving jelly in a jar on a shelf in another cupboard in the lab. He calculated that the use of two different cupboards would prevent him from muddling up the two different brains, the bellhop’s and the secretary’s.

Each cupboard was itself locked, as locked as the lab, and the boffin-janitor thus had three keys to cope with. To anybody unlettered in the art and science of locksmithery – that is to say, to as near as dammit every single person present upon our gaily rotating planet, alive or dead – the three keys appeared to be identical, or at least so similar one to another that they could not be told apart. Thus, affixed to each key by a looped length of cord cut from a bootlace was a small rectangle of cardboard. On each rectangle was written, in a biro shortly to be exhausted of its ink, in draughtsmanship staggering in its delicacy, as if learned and perfected in an earlier century when penmanship counted for something among the educated classes, and surely too beautiful for the usual effusions of the humble biro, an indication of the lock the attached key was designed to unlock.

The labelling of the keys was simple, and thus resistant to misunderstanding by anyone but a halfwit. “Lab”, “Cupboard with red door”, “Cupboard with yellow door”. The boffin-janitor could think of no circumstance that might cause him to muddle the keys, save for the unscheduled repainting of the cupboard doors, in different colours, over a bank holiday weekend, by contractors hired and brought in from some area beyond janitorial control. That such a thing could happen was so egregious that he tossed the idea aside, much as one might toss a tossable bittybob down a well, were one passing by a well, clutching a bittybob for which one had no use. There was a well in a field between the hotel and the lab. The boffin-janitor passed it on most working days, but had never tossed anything into it.

Nor had he drawn any water from it, for he could not. It was a dry well. It had been dry for some years, by dint of subterranean engineering works not unconnected to the construction of the car park anent the lab, and another, larger, more distressingly bleak car park that served the hotel. The works had been carried out, in their underground phase, by a team of what used to be called navvies, the brain of each of whom had been removed and in its place implanted the brain of a mole. All the removed brains had been stored in preserving jelly in jars on shelves in cupboards in the lab, but one night malfeasance had occurred, conducted by highly-organised ne’er-do-wells. It was on the morning after this enormity that the boffin-janitor went tootling into the nearest village to parlay with a locksmith.

In reporting these matters, it may be that I have got some of the details wrong. I was drifting off to sleep when my papa told me the tale, which he himself had heard from an old pal of his, a frequent guest in many an hotel, a travelling salesman who dealt in exotic rugs and carpets, whose name I seem to recall was G. I. Gurdjieff.