Devoted Hooting Yard readers will know that I am always on the lookout for boosters of one sort or another. I don’t really care what kind of booster it is, nor what it is designed to boost. It is entirely possible that my enthusiasm is stirred simply by the sound of the words ‘boost’ and ‘booster’. Broadly speaking, I would aver that you can’t go wrong if your sentence has ‘boost’ in it somewhere, even if it doesn’t make sense. A while ago I employed a team of boffins to analyse the neurological responses of a sample of listeners to my radio show. The results, though difficult to clarify, buried as they were in a vast pile of inexplicable data, showed that magnificently pleasurable brain-tinglings occurred in seven out of ten people, irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity, sock-size, religious or political affiliation, or the angle of the ears towards their wireless sets, whenever I declaimed in sprightly tones the words ‘boost’ or ‘boosters’. Further tests showed that the remaining three out of ten persons each had so-called “boffin-resistant brains”. Apparently the cranial integuments of such persons send out weird wild rays or beams of some unknown substance which thoroughly beflummox the dials and chockers on the boffins’ conical scanners.

Anyway, I make mention of all this because, during my stay in Flanders, I could barely walk ten paces upon the cobbles without seeing this excellent example of booster-related advertising.


I am not sure whether Belgacom boosts anything else, in addition to het internet, but I wouldn’t put it past them.


According to the art critic Cosmo Hoxtonwanker, “few things boost the ego of the great artist as much as the emergence, and failures, of their epigones, talentless imitators whose own work never cuts the mustard, but clearly owes everything to the example of the master. The opportunities for preening are legion.”

One might have hoped that the egos of the truly great would need no such puffing up, but Hoxtonwanker is surely right in this (as he rarely is in anything else). One thinks of the out of print pamphleteer Dobson, convinced at an early age that he would bestride the twentieth century like a colossus, but at the same time forever riven by doubts and insecurities. Marigold Chew has recalled how happy Dobson would be when some neophyte pamphleteer would blunder onto the scene, publishing a handful of hand-stitched copies of a tract with a title like Gosh, How I Wish I Was Dobson!, in prose that curdled as one read it. The bestselling paperbackist Pebblehead is reported to be equally gleeful when he sees the shelves stacked with pathetic imitations of his own tremendously thick glossy potboilers, so much so that he invites their authors round to his “chalet o’ prose” for cocktail parties, lording it over them and taunting them, often physically, by poking at them with a stick and dropping beetles into their drinks.

It is, of course, only the supreme talents, in any creative endeavour, who provoke the slavish and witless efforts of epigones. The rest of us must continue to plough our lonely furrows, keeping our spirits up as best we may, our egos fragile and subject to the vicissitudes of a world of pap.

Until now. For it is with possibly preposterous overexcitement that I can report the latest innovation from Blodgett Global Domination Cyber Enterprises GmbH. For the past couple of weeks, this brand new company, operating from an allotment shed near Sawdust Bridge, has been seeking ways to crush the likes of Google and Microsoft under its singularly decisive boot. Their first product is designed to appeal directly to persons of a creative bent who wish like hell they had an epigone, for just the kind of ego-boost Hoxtonwanker identifies.

The E-Pig One is a tiny robot pig that can be plugged in to your computer with a USB cable or a bit of fusewire knotted to a magnet. Once initialised, synched, and prinked, the circuit boards in the E-Pig One start buzzing away, creating copies of your most recent creative projects – whether they be novels or paintings or three-hour slabs of improv racket – and then cleverly draining all the spark out of them (if any). The resulting mess is then belched out on to the E-Pig One’s so-called “sty”. It has all the hallmarks of your own work, as it might have been imitated by a lesser being without access to the empyrean peaks of creative genius you inhabit. So you can bask and preen, while the E-Pig One whirrs to a standstill, charging up for its next task.

Such has been the industry buzz, Apple are apparently already working on an iPig. It won’t succeed. The beauty of the E-Pig One lies almost entirely in its spelling. That is what the punters will pay for.

Letter Of Complaint

Dear Mr Key : As someone with sausages on the brain, I was dismayed to note that you listed this condition as among the characteristics of the contemptible scoundrel who stole Dobson’s blotter. We are no more likely to turn to criminality than any other common or garden person you might encounter among the teeming masses, and to suggest otherwise is deeply unhelpful. I run a support group for people with sausages on the brain and am proud to say we do a lot of good work. We have organised sponsored archaeological digs, for example, and also other sorts of digging, with spades and shovels and special little forks, in loose soil, with prizes donated by wealthy television personalities, some of whom are newsreaders, who give their time freely, or almost freely save for small administrative fees, for the greater good. It might surprise you to know that some of these magnetic personalities have sausages on the brain themselves, and they are proving successful in life rather than languishing in prisons after being convicted of blotter theft. Digging up the ground in pursuit of archaeological knick-knacks, or just for the fun of it, is not the only activity we sponsor. Last month we held a fund-raising event at the perimeter of a remote airfield. There were balloons and ice cream wafers and clay pigeon shooting and a bran tub and scale model trench warfare novelty sing-songs and inflatable cloud chamber daredevil rides and all sorts of other things, hosted by Jimmy Savile, and the whole event passed off without any police involvement whatsoever, apart from a couple of cases of moral besmirchment. You can check the police log for yourself, and you will find not a scintilla of evidence that anyone with sausages on the brain thieved as much as a scrap of blotting paper, let alone an entire blotter. It is true that the stationery department at Hubermann’s has installed a state-of-the-art electronic security system with bleepers and klaxons and magnetic resonance panels for the exclusive detection of people with sausages on the brain who might find themselves wandering in a footloose and shabby manner therein, but that is just a sensible precaution in this disgusting world. Our support group was happy to provide advice to Hubermann’s management team, when a delegation visited our headquarters here on the atoll. Our single rowing boat plies back and forth to the mainland twice a week, by the way. Stories that the boat’s captain has to be bribed with frankfurters are completely baseless, as is the vindictive tittle-tattle suggesting there is a leak in the boat and that constant baling with buckets is required in order not to drown. The sea hereabouts is not always wild and dangerous, and attacks by shrieking demented guillemots have become much rarer, with only a handful of lacerations to passengers’ heads reported last Thursday. Uninvited visitors to the atoll are never beaten insensible with heavy cast iron frying pans, as has been reported in the scummy end of the press. We abandoned this custom some weeks ago after a plenary vote. Of course, if a wayfaring stranger turns up without a gift of boil-in-the-bag sausages for the welcoming committee, that is construed as unforgivable bad manners and the culprit simply gets what’s coming to them. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, and sometimes you just have to be cruel, cackling like a maniac as you enact your cruelties. That has always been my motto. In fact, I had it tattooed across my chest and my back, in vivid empurpled Gothic lettering, with flamboyant curclicues and bloodstains. Just try telling me I am wrong, and I will meet you at dawn at a place of your choosing, somewhere out on the moors, to engage in hand to hand combat, providing you do not try to enhance your musculature with chemical boosters. Here at the sausages on the brain support network we fight ferociously but fairly, as you will be able to see at first hand if you attend one of our daily rehearsal bouts. Daubed with the blood of goats and wearing special contact lenses to give them hallucinatory visions, the best of our warriors would curdle the fluids of the most jaundiced observer. Even Jimmy Savile swooned when we laid on a display for him, and I am not sure he has ever fully recovered. So by all means make your spiteful little remarks about us, but be warned that our vengeance will be immediate and savage and utterly, ridiculously disproportionate. Yours faithfully, Sausages On the Brain Person.

Three Examples Of Uncontrollable Flapping About And Twitching

Our first example of uncontrollable flapping about and twitching took place in a pantry cluttered with jars in much disorder. Some of the jars contained goo or curd or pips or suet, in varying quantities, and some of the jars were empty. None were clean. All the jars had a coating of grime, as if they had lain untouched for many moons, as indeed they had, for this was an abandoned pantry. The lids of the jars would not have been easy to loosen had a determined person entered the pantry bent upon loosening the lid of any one of the jars, perhaps to eke out some goo or curd or pips or suet, or perhaps to pour into one of the empty jars a new and exciting substance. And hark! Here comes such a person, a wheezing person stomping down the passage towards the pantry and kicking the door in. He is a liveried attendant gone to seed and become a brute and he is holding a hammer. He has come to smash all the jars in the pantry for he has lost all sense of decorum. And then an Angel of the Lord appears, all a-shimmer, and commands him to lay down his hammer and leave the cluttered jars untouched. This is when the person begins flapping about and twitching uncontrollably, for about thirty seconds, in fear and shame, before fleeing the abandoned pantry. That happened on a Thursday.

The second example involves a peasant and a cow and many bees. It was a Saturday. The peasant had trudged into the field to take a close look at the cow, for the cow had been fractious and the peasant was concerned. Though unlettered, the peasant had a goodly store of country wisdom and was confident that if the cow was sick he would be able to identify the nature of its malady and cure it. Like many a tragic hero in fiction, the peasant sought redemption for an enormity in his past, an enormity committed due to a character flaw. Careful study of tragic heroes will reveal that they often have such a flaw. One thinks of Coriolanus, for example, or Dobson. Neither the nature of the peasant’s fatal flaw, nor of the enormity for which he sought redemption, need concern us here, for this is not a tragedy, it is just an example of uncontrollable flapping about and twitching. In any case, it is reportage rather than fiction. That being so, the reader is entitled to hard facts, rigorously researched, and the winnowing out of all fluffiness. That is why I have employed a Hooting Yard Fact-Checker so you can be absolutely sure that what you read here is the pure and unvarnished truth. Obviously you need to have confidence in the person charged with the fact-checking, and that is why I fought hard to get someone for the job who I know can be relied upon. Yes, it is easy to laugh at an ex-schoolteacher pushing sixty who still wishes to be known as “Sting”, but this was the man, remember, who first pointed out to the world that “Russians love their children too”. It is just such acuity of insight that makes him perfect for the job I have employed him to do, and for which I pay him a pittance each month. “Sting” has promised to set up a separate Hooting Yard Fact Check website, so we can all look forward to that.

I ought to point out here that, just as you can rely on me (and “Sting”) to provide you with big tough facts, so in return I expect a degree of attentiveness from you. Toe-tapping, head-scratching, and sloshing out of the ears with some sort of wax-crumbling fluid, these can surely wait until my report is done. That is the bargain we strike.

Now we’ve got that cleared up, like a rash, we can return to the peasant and the cow and the bees. But wait! You will want to be sure that they are bees, and not hornets, or wasps. Wait for a minute while I fire off a quick instruction to “Sting” to check up on that. Hmm. I have just realised how apposite his absurd nickname is for such a task.

OK. I have sent my missive and imagine that, as I write, “Sting” is checking his encyclopaedias and databases and whatnot. Unless I tell you otherwise, you can assume that the bees we are about to encounter in our second example of uncontrollable flapping about and twitching are indeed bees.

So the peasant with the tragic flaw trudged into the field to look at the cow, hoping to ascertain the nature of its sickness. Because it was a Saturday, the field was muddier than usual. The cow was standing more or less in the centre of the field, gazing at nothingness in a cow-like way. Its hocks had lost their shine, and the cardboard tag stapled to one of its ears was smudged. In this day and age, it is quite common for cows to have pieces of cardboard or plastic stapled to their ears, serving a number of purposes, and the staplers used are not so different from the staplers used in offices up and down the land. “Sting” told me that.

As he approached the cow, the peasant tried to dredge from his brain some of the folk wisdom with which it had been crammed since infancy. He remembered “If your cow is sick on a Monday morning / Go and spit upon a spade just as the day is dawning”, but that was no use to him, as it was Saturday. He remembered “Cow, cow, blotchy and stiff / Spray it with a bottle of Jif”, but that particular spell lost its efficacy when Jif products were renamed Cif as part of a marketing exercise early in the 21st century. And he remembered “Your cow is sick, it’s got bird flu / But the Russians love their children too”. As a piece of countryside lore this was useless, of course, as it did not suggest any remedies for the sick cow, but it is evidence of the extent to which the terrific profundities spouted by my fact-checking employee have entered the collective wisdom of the world.

Be that as it may, before the peasant got a chance to inspect the cow, a swarm of bees came in from the west, and buzzed menacingly about his head. Cue his uncontrollable flapping about and twitching, perfectly understandable in the circumstances. The bees harried the peasant until he turned tail and fled the field on that Saturday morning. The cow, by the way, had only a minor ailment, from which it recovered without human intervention, although I understand that it is currently in a cow-based twelve-step programme in an adjoining field. As for the peasant, he would have to await a new challenge to redeem himself from the peccadillos of his past, whatever they were.

We move on now, breathlessly but with vigour, to the third of our examples of uncontrollable flapping about and twitching. Forget pantries, forget peasants, this is a case of unearthly sci-fi stuff, set on a spaceship roaring through galaxies unimaginably distant, on a Tuesday evening. Captain Biff Bucklebim is at the controls on the deck of the USS Milquetoast Jesuit. He is a bit like Captain James T Kirk from Star Trek, but has a larger head and a speech impediment. As he likes to joke, it has been no impediment to his rise through the ranks of Starship Command, which has been meteoric. Captain Biff is still only twelve years old, although such are the warps and wefts of intergalactic travel that he is simultaneously ten thousand years old, and yet unborn, and akin to a god. Hard to get your head round, I know, and probably too much of a challenge for “Sting”, who is still working on those bees.

The USS Milquetoast Jesuit is sponsored by L’Oreal, and is powered by light-reflecting booster technology, just like Andi MacDowell’s hair. Captain Biff is contractually bound to use various L’Oreal hair products, but if he had his way he would smear his ginger mop with grease from the engine room. He is that kind of captain. When danger threatens, as it often does, he tousles his mop with one hand while punching the starship’s complicated control panel expertly with the other, all the while barking out commands to his crew. His accent is a curious mixture of Wyoming, Luxembourg, and vampire. He is extremely fond of Janacek’s String Quartet Number One, “The Kreutzer Sonata”, and likes to have it played by the starship band at moments of high peril. When they are otherwise engaged, for example if they have been beamed down to a newly discovered planetoid to give an impromptu concert of Thomas Beecham Lollipops, Captain Biff loses his rag and flies into a temper tantrum, with much uncontrollable flapping about and twitching.

I hope you have found these three examples helpful. Please add your own in the Comments. And please note that as soon as “Sting” gets back to me about the bees, I will add his findings here as a post scriptum.

I Heard The Owl Call My Name

Regular readers know that my grasp of matters ornithological is second to none, so it is only fitting that I have been asked to compile an anthology of fictional works with the word “owl” in the title. It might be argued that such a task is purely bibliographical and requires no specialist ornithological knowledge, but I will defend my ramparts, as one must in this world of rascals and cut-throats and people who claim to know rather more about birds than I do. I am used by now to lippy slanderers who accuse me of almost fathomless bird ignorance, and though I have been known to quail and sob, I try my best to turn my becardiganed back on my detractors and get on with the job. So I am pleased to announce that work on the anthology is almost complete.

One of the works I turned up, and one I am annoyed about, and want to take issue with today, is Margaret Craven’s 1967 bestseller I Heard The Owl Call My Name. Now, really! Granted it is a work of fiction, but when did you ever hear an owl hoot “Margaret Craven, Margaret Craven”? That is simply not the kind of call an owl makes, and to pretend otherwise is to be living in a fool’s paradise. Of course, as a fictioneer, Ms Craven has the right to bend the world to her whim, and I am not asking for blinkered stodge, but there are limits to what the reader will accept. And before you start arguing that maybe the name the owl calls is not that of the author, but that of her protagonist, bear in mind in that case that the owl is calling out the name “Brian”. I think you will agree that is equally as idiotic an approximation of an owl sound as “Margaret Craven”.

I Heard The Owl Call My Name became a bestseller some years after its initial publication, in the early 1970s, alongside such empty-headed slop as Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. Coincidentally, my other current project is a wholesale rewriting of the latter entitled Roman Catholicism And The Art Of Booster Jetpack Maintenance, in which the narrator is a futuristic science fiction Jesuit priest. Whether it will sell as ludicrous a number of copies as Robert M Pirsig’s mystic drivel is another matter.

Old Halob : A Biographical Note

Before winning fame – or perhaps notoriety – as the coach of fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol, the chain-smoking miseryguts we know and love as Old Halob led a purposeless and indigent existence. The familiar image of him, in that raincoat, grim and windswept and coughing up catarrh, standing at the side of a running track spurring his fictional protégé on to ever greater sprinting triumphs, had not yet been beamed through television screens across the globe back in the days when only a cluster of hovels stood on the site that would one day become the Old Halob Stadium Of Sporting Triumph And Prowess.

In his bestselling paperback Old Halob And Petula Clark : Are They The Same Person?, Pebblehead posits the theory that the (possibly) East European coach and the English songstress are the same person. He points to the well-documented fact that both, as children, sang in the entrance hall of Bentalls Department Store in Kingston-upon-Thames in exchange for a tin of toffee and a gold wristwatch. In addition, like Petula Clark, Old Halob released a CD entitled L’essentiel – 20 Succès Inoubliables. This is where his argument fails to convince, for where the aged pop diva’s album contained songs, and was a chart hit in Belgium, Old Halob’s CD consisted of a recording of him eating his breakfast and grumbling about his moth-eaten raincoat, and was an international, rather than merely a local, success.

Pebblehead’s twaddle is thoroughly demolished, of course, if we consider that for the first fifty two years of his life, Old Halob did little except refill bird feeders in the grounds of a Home for the Deranged, a job for which he was paid with a daily bowl of gruel and slops. His parents were fabulously wealthy, and lived the life of Riley in a big forbidding castle, but their son lacked ambition, and they disowned him when, at the age of nine, he rejected their birthday gifts of a booster pack, the elixir of life, a modelling contract with L’Oreal, and a populated planet in a far distant galaxy to treat as his plaything.

No one, not even Pebblehead, knows what happened to transform the dull-witted bird feeder maintenance man into an athletics coach of legend. Perhaps a clue lies in his change of diet. Shortly after Old Halob’s fiftieth birthday, the management of the Derangement Home was restructured following a report from consultants Pricewatergatecoopersfreemanhardywillis. As part of their recommendations, Old Halob stopped eating gruel and slops and was instead fed on whelks and barnacles. The evidence is not conclusive, but future biographers would be stupid to ignore it.

And that is all I have to say about Old Halob today.

Tremendous Potato Urgency

One morning Tiny Enid awoke from uneasy dreams with a sense of tremendous urgency related to potatoes. She was based in Winnipeg at the time, and had taken a room in a motel of undoubted seediness. “I could not pinpoint the reasons for my sense of breathless urgency on that grim March morning,” she wrote, many years later, in her Memoirs, “All I knew was that potatoes had something to do with it.”

The heroic young adventuress eschewed the motel breakfast, a Winnipeg-style egg ‘n’ dough platter, sneaking out of a side entrance to avoid the man with the twisted lip at the front desk. The city was still new to her, and she had yet to locate any of the potato-related premises she felt such a tremendous urgency to visit. She limped across the plaza to her rented booster car and threw off its tarpaulin in one elegant sweep. Tiny Enid had been practising her elegant sweeping arm movements for some weeks, and the superb elegance with which she swept the tarpaulin off the car won her a round of applause from a nearby line of patient pastry persons queuing outside a pastry shop.

Before revving up the engine of her booster car, Tiny Enid tramped over to the queue. She wanted to find out if she would sense an aura of potato urgency here, so close to her motel. It was possible, after all, that among the pastries sold by the pastry shop could be pastries with a potato filling. Was that urgency that cracked her awake a premonition that a Winnipeg-based criminal mad person had poisoned the potato pastries? If so, it would make sense for her to be bang on the scene rather than having to speed around the city, lost, unnerved, and not knowing quite what she was seeking, nor why. So many of the adventures of the tiny adventuress had begun from these moments of curious intuition.

But it was still early in the day, and the pastry shop proprietor had not yet hoisted the shutters, hence the queue. Tiny Enid was hopeless at small talk, and she was at a loss how to engage with the still-clapping queue which was so impressed with the elegance of her sweeping arm movements. She pulled her sprightly black gold green crushed crepe hat down low, and pretended an interest in pebbles piled close to the pastry shop shutters. If her instincts were correct, she must be first into the shop when the shutters went up, before a poor innocent Winnipegite was felled by a poisoned potato pastry pie. Tiny Enid was a girl of impeccable manners, and she flushed with shame in anticipation of having to push aside the unkempt hobbledehoy who was first in the queue and who looked as if he had not eaten for a month.

Luckily, as the pastry shop proprietor appeared with a hook on the end of a wooden pole with which by some shenanigans he hoisted the shutters, there was a distraction. Over by the statue of prominent Winnipegite Elias Conklin, who had been the city’s mayor in 1881, a swarm of killer bees appeared out of the blue and set upon a defenceless old woman wearing her widow’s weeds. The massed buzzing of the bees was nauseatingly loud, and the reaction of the pastry shop queue was instantaneous. Even the starving hobbledehoy forgot his grumbling belly as the line broke up, sprinting over to the Conklin statue flailing impromptu bee-scarifiers.

Our tiny heroine took the opportunity to sneak into the pastry shop. Thumping the proprietor in the guts with her girly bludgeon, she incapacitated him with a few kicks to the head, swiftly located behind the counter every single piping hot pastry with a potato ingredient, and stuffed the lot of them into a canvas sack. She dragged the sack over to her rented booster car, chucked it into the boot, and sped away, just in time, for the killer bees had been confounded, the widow woman was safe, and the patient pastry people were heading back to the pastry shop with coinage clutched in their fists.

An hour or so later, having dumped the canvas sack of potato pastries into the river at the Forks, where the Red River meets the Assiniboine, and then driven around until she found verdant parkland, Tiny Enid slumped onto a tuffet, dusted off her sprightly black gold green crushed crepe hat, and lit one of her high tar Paraguayan cigarettes. Soon, she knew, she would have to hunt down the criminal mad person and bash them about, but for now, the world could take a pause, and she could sit on her tuffet and smoke and watch the coots and moorhens for whom a Winnipeg pond was home.

Light Reflecting Booster Technology

It is with some trepidation that I announce an imminent court case. For a long time I turned a blind eye to the continued boasts of the L’Oreal company that some of their shiny hair products are enhanced by Light Reflecting Booster Technology. I am appalled that they continue to make this claim in their television adverts despite numerous letters urging them to desist. Well, I have been provoked far enough. Here at Hooting Yard we will be suing L’Oreal for infringement of intellectual property rights. Regular readers will be aware that every single word that appears on this website, and every word broadcast in the associated podcasts, could not have been wrenched from the innermost depths of Mr Key’s soul without Hooting Yard’s very own Light Reflecting Booster Technology. We got there first, L’Oreal!

P.S. : If anyone can recommend a suitably shabby and cheap solicitor, please get in touch. Because I’m worth it.