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Book Review

The estimable Richard Carter has reviewed Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives on Gruts. I commend it for your attention, not least because in its second half Mr Carter has wisely adopted Hooting Yard-approved book-reviewing practice. The correct approach was first used ten years ago in our review of Dennis Beerpint’s novel The Unspeakably Squalid Becrumplement Of Tadzio Gobbo, reproduced below:

“An immense mass of clotted nonsense”. That was the verdict of the magazine Teachers’ World upon the first publication of Ulysses by James Joyce, and I am tempted to say the same about this Beerpint book, and leave it at that. Astonishingly, however, this thousand-page tome has already been made a set book for schools, colleges, and orphanages throughout the land, which means that your tots, if you have any, or you, if you are a tot, will have to become familiar with it. When examination time comes round, everyone’s knowledge of Dennis Beerpint’s fictional farrago will be tested to the full. And so, public-spirited as ever, I am going to try to save you from wasting your precious time actually reading the damn thing, by telling you what you need to know.

Plot : Tadzio Gobbo is a princeling in a fictional Renaissance city state, clearly meant to remind us of the setting of a Jacobean drama such as The Courier’s Tragedy by Richard Wharfinger. As the novel opens, Gobbo is pristine, even, and uncreased. “If he were a piece of cardboard,” writes Beerpint, “he would not be of the corrugated kind.” Chapter by chapter we watch as the princeling becomes ever more becrumpled in a variety of unspeakably squalid ways, until at the end there is a deus ex machina and he is unfolded and ironed out.

Characters : Tadzio Gobbo is a crude self-portrait of the author, sharing his weediness, neurasthenia, predilection for twee verse, and hypochondria. Many of his becrumplements are accompanied by the onset of an imagined disease, such as yaws, the bindings, ague, flux, black bile, bitter colic and the strangury. Beerpint attempts to play up a certain devil-may-care foppishness, but this is never convincing. In fact it is laughably inept.

There is a host of secondary characters, the most important being Lugubrio, the princeling’s mad, stiletto-wielding uncle. Beerpint is constantly harping on about his “frantic black eyebrows”, which soon becomes tiresome. Lugubrio’s sole motive for all his actions, from eating his breakfast to murdering a crippled beggar, is revenge, but what or whom he is avenging is never made clear to the reader.

Other characters in the novel are a mixture of fictional, legendary, and real historical figures. Among the latter are Anthony Burgess, Edward G Robinson, Emily Dickinson, L Ron Hubbard and Veronica Lake. Beerpint thinks he is being clever by setting some of the scenes in a so-called ‘Scientology tent’ on the banks of ‘Lake Veronica’, but the effect is simply witless, and the reader will struggle not to throw the book into the fireplace.

Imagery : As a poet, Beerpint has been praised for his imagery (although I cannot think why) and The Unspeakably Squalid Becrumplement Of Tadzio Gobbo is jam-packed with all his old favourites. Crows, cows, burnt toast, pencil-cases, weather systems, the blood-spotted handkerchief of a tuberculosis patient, chaffinches, hedgerows, the horn of plenty and the Garden of Gethsemane, mud, chutes, Mudchute, potato recipes and pastry fillings, starlings, pigs, more starlings, more pigs, a nightmarish albino hen and the Munich Air Disaster are all evoked at one time or another in imagistic ways, as the princeling become ever further becrumpled.

Does the book have heft? : Yes it does.

Structure : The book is divided into forty nine chapters, fairly uniform in length. Each chapter ends with a reminder, as if the reader needed one, that a further stage of unspeakably squalid becrumplement has taken place, except for the last chapter, to which I have already referred. Beerpint is clearly fond of the practice found in the picaresque novel of summarising the plot in his chapter headings. To take a random example, Chapter XXVI is titled: “In which the becrumpling of Tadzio Gobbo proceeds apace, as his mad uncle Lugubrio unleashes a swarm of killer bees into the sports arena during a wrestling contest, and a false eclipse of the sun leads to rioting and flux; together with some notes on the flocking of chaffinches and the nesting habits of starlings, an aside in which a missing punctuation mark spells doom for an apothecary, and the reappearance of Lugubrio’s lobster.”

Plagiarism or quotations : Certain passages in the book appear to have been copied verbatim from novels by Barbara Taylor Bradford, Elias Canetti, Dan Brown, and the sociopathic ex-jailbird Jeffrey Archer. Dennis Beerpint presumably considers this to be postmodernist irony, a dangerous medical condition best treated by having one’s brain sluiced out with a violent purgative.

Narrative sloppiness : Untold oodles of it. It is a sloppy, flabby and slapdash book from first to last. At its core is a burning jewel of flummery and poppycock.

Brow : Neither high, middle, nor low. Not even no-brow. This book’s brow is frantic and black (see above).

Bookcase location : Finding the right spot for this volume on your bookcase or bookshelf is likely to be fraught with difficulty. Dobson’s invaluable pamphlet on the shelving of books, which is sadly out of print, will not help you, even if you manage to track down a copy, for as the titanic pamphleteer readily admits, “There are certain books, especially those written by twee poets such as Dennis Beerpint, which resist proper shelving on even the most well-ordered of bookcases. Top left corner? No. Squeezed in among the drivel and tat on the bottom shelf? Hardly. Shoved behind the collected works of Edward Upward and quietly forgotten? Certainly not, because you will always remember that it is there, and its hidden presence will reproach you every time you go anywhere near the bookcase, and you will be as the lowest worm or beetle or that which creepeth on its belly in the foulest muck of the earth.” Maddeningly, Dobson goes no further, he leaves us in the lurch, he refuses to say what I think he means – set fire to the damn thing in your garden, just as Burgess biographer Roger Lewis was tempted to do with a rival Life of the absurd Mancunian polymath.

Marketing ploy : Each copy of The Unspeakably Squalid Becrumplement Of Tadzio Gobbo comes with a free gift, viz. a paper bag of badger food. For that reason alone, I recommend that you buy a copy at once.

A Message From Our Marketing Department

Those of you who use Twitter please note. The Dabbler has very kindly started a Twitter campaign ‪#‎briefbrieflives‬ to spread news of my book like a particularly benign rash. Please follow and retweet all these tweets (I think I have the terminology correct) in order that this fiendish initiative bears fruit.

The Bishop Of Southwark


An unseemly number of enquiries arrive at Hooting Yard HQ asking why yesterday’s postage In Ponga makes reference to the Bishop of Southwark. The answer is simple, and is given in the form of an exclusive extract from Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives, available now from all good bookshops, both actual and virtual.

Butler, Tom (English bishop, b. 1940). In December 2006, Paul and Nicola Sumpter were sitting in a bar near Southwark Cathedral when they heard their car alarm go off. Rushing outside, they found a grey-haired man in the back seat of the car, throwing the toys of their infant son out of the window. When challenged, the man said “I’m the bishop of Southwark. It’s what I do”. He then got out of the car and disappeared into the night, leaving behind a bag containing, among other things, his crucifix.

The Light Pours Out Of Me


Here is a snap taken at Yada’s restaurant in Peckham last night, where I did a reading as part of the LitCrawl festival. The photo was taken by one of my fellow-readers, Tony White, and also on the bill was Audrey Reynolds. I read a couple of stories and also took the opportunity to extol the many and various virtues of Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives, waving a copy of the book at the audience and reading a couple of extracts. This, for example, provoked pleasingly immoderate laughter:

Scott, George R. (British poultry expert, 20th century). Scott was the author of the 1934 book The Art Of Faking Exhibition Poultry. In the introduction, Socrates, Galileo, Voltaire, Nietzsche and D. H. Lawrence are each called to support his attack on the despicable practice, nowhere more vile than in “the pseudo-scientific Hogan cult, with all its blowsy jargon; its crapulous fundament of snide anatomy; its noisy and prolific drool of whim-wham”.


Here is an (anonymous) review on Amazon of Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives:

This is a near-perfect example of a gift book that keeps on giving. Small and appealing, with a well-organised, encyclopaedia-style layout and charming portrait illustrations. The text is a delight – easy to dip in and out of, and full of facts that are perplexing, bizarre, amusing and sometimes poignant. What really sets it apart, however, is Frank Key’s unerring eye for the deliciously obscure and his unique sense of humour, which runs like a seam of precious metal through the book. An unexpected treasure.

I need hardly remind you lot that you are under instructions to buy copies of the book for everybody you know. While you’re about it, you should add your ha’ppenyworth to the online reviews at Amazon. You know it makes sense.

Narcoleptic Presbyterians

Tomorrow sees, at long last, the publication of my important reference book Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives. Within its pages you will learn, among much else, that Eric Clapton is an anagram of Narcoleptic, that Britney Spears is an anagram of Presbyterians, and that, during a foopball match in which the Brazilian Ronaldo faced an opposing defender named Rolando, a commentator asked “how long is it since Ronaldo was marked by an anagram of himself?”. There is much more in the book other than anagrams, so go and queue up at your nearest bookshop for opening time tomorrow morning …

Furrowed Brow

Yes, yes, I know there has been an unseemly silence at Hooting Yard for a while. There are a number of reasons for this, the only one of interest to you lot being that I have received the page proofs for Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives, to be published (at last!) by Constable in September. This is my final opportunity to proofread the text of this classic reference work, so you can imagine your beloved Mr Key peering myopically at the pages, brow furrowed in concentration, trying not to dribble, and having to go and have a lie down in a darkened room every once in a while.

Meanwhile, for those of you suffering from Too Few Postages At Hooting Yard Mental Imbalance Syndrome, I ought, belatedly, to let you know that ResonanceFM is now uploading editions of the radio show on to its Mixcloud page almost as soon as they are broadcast. That link takes you to all the Resonance programs – this link is to the Hooting Yard shows currently online. (If it doesn’t work, just search for Hooting Yard from the main page.) That should keep you occupied for the time being.

Back soon, with unfurrowed brow.

The Funny Mountain


Crack open a bottle of aerated lettucewater, toss your pointy hat into the air, and cut several brisk capers around your hovel! The cause of your unalloyed glee is the publication of a brand new Hooting Yard paperback, the eighth in the series. The Funny Mountain is now available for purchase from Lulu, so point your browser over there at once, and buy untold copies of what they are already calling the most important sweeping paragraphs of majestic prose since oo-er missus I don’t know when!


There may be a short interval of unearthly silence at Hooting Yard, during which time Mr Key is engaged in the important business of concocting, for your delight, a paperback book. If all goes well, this will be available from Lulu in time for you to purchase multiple copies as Christmas gifts for your nearest and dearest and for anybody else you feel compelled to present with a Christmas gift, whomsoever they may be. Personally, I always feel the need to give a gift to the newsagent’s cat. I never do, because it is a very stupid cat and would neither understand nor appreciate any gift I might give it, but every year I feel I ought to. Thus are my Christmases ruined, as I toss and turn and bite my pillow, racked with catguilt. Your Christmas, on the other hand, will be one of unsurpassed joy, as you clutch the latest Hooting Yard paperback to your bosom, weeping with gratitude.

Paris In The The Autumn

The Public Domain Review Book Of Essays 2011-2013, which I told you lot about yesterday, is reviewed on the Paris Review website. Well, sort of reviewed. The author confesses he had never heard of Christopher Smart before, and devotes the bulk of his piece to a summary of Mr Key’s essay on Jubilate Agno. I added a comment directing readers to the audio recording at the Internet Archive. Sooner or later, Germander Speedwell and I are going to “go viral”, I am sure of it.

A Timely Reminder

It has come to my attention that some among you lot are not spending your appointed three hours per day listening to Jubilate Agno, Christopher Smart’s lengthy and demented poem, recited in full by Mr Key and Germander Speedwell. Happily, there is a link to the recording at the Public Domain Review. Backsliders take note!

Which prompts me to bring to your attention the newly-published Public Domain Review : Selected Essays 2011-2013, a book which you ought to buy immediately. Go here for further details and ordering information. Mr Key’s piece on Kit Smart is included in the book, so it is a necessary purchase (along with Kew. Rhone.) for all fanatically devoted Hooting Yard completists, which of course is every last one of you.


Kew. Rhone.

When Kew. Rhone. was released by Virgin Records back in 1977, it was somewhat overshadowed by another record issued by the label on the very same day – Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. The influence of John Lydon’s band was immeasurable, prompting thousands of snotty and not-so-snotty teenagers to form their own groups and make their own racket. Kew. Rhone. had far fewer adherents, but it had a decisive influence on some, not least on Mr Key himself. Along with Edward Gorey, Kew. Rhone.’s lyricist and illustrator Peter Blegvad was my teenage self’s great creative spur, firing my imagination in ways that have not yet fully worked themselves out.

Almost four decades on, Kew. Rhone. is now a book, and one which I urge every last one of you lot to add to your shelves. It is with a certain amount of overexcitement that I tell you I am one of the contributors, so quite apart from its many other charms, the book is a necessary purchase for all devoted Hooting Yardists. Here is the press release:

First released in 1977, Kew. Rhone. is an album by a mismatched assortment of musicians performing intricate jazz- and pop-inflected songs with lyrics about unlikely subjects and unlikelier objects, lyrics which refer to diagrams or function as footnotes, or are based on anagrams and palindromes.

Kew. Rhone. would never trouble the charts, it aspired to higher things, and yet, re-released in various formats over the decades, curiosity about this categorically elusive work has grown. Now its authors and some of its connoisseurs have broken silence to discuss the record and to reflect upon the times in which it and they themselves were forged.

Peter Blegvad, Kew. Rhone.’s lyricist and illustrator, excavates each song in turn, uncovering themes and sources. In the second part of the book, a consortium of writers and artists respond to the album in various ways, illuminating without dispelling the mystery of a work designed to resist interpretation even as it invites it.

With contributions from: Amy Beal, Carla Bley, Franklin Bruno, Sheridan Coakley, Jonathan Coe, Jane Colling, Andrew Cyrille, François Ducat, John Greaves, Doug Harvey, Lisa Herman, Jeff Hoke, Dana Johnson, Andrew Joron, Glenn Kenny, Frank Key, Simon Lucas, Karen Mantler, Harry Mathews, Tanya Peixoto, Benjamin Piekut, Margit Rosen, Philip Tagney, Robert Wyatt, Rafi Zabor and Siegfried Zielinski.

Kew. Rhone. is published by Uniform Books on 26 November.


Unexciting Book News

Back in February I announced the forthcoming book Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives. You lot have no doubt been panting with spittle-flecked anticipation ever since, impatiently awaiting the day when you can sashay into your nearest bookshop and buy dozens of copies for family, friends, and semiliterate hobbledehoys you encounter in the queue at the soup kitchen.

Alas! What with one thing and another, unbeknown to me, Constable have decided to postpone publication until September 2015. To ensure that your Christmas is not thereby ruined, I will try my best to issue a brand new Lulu paperback for the festive season. Watch this space.

Exciting Book News

You lot are already aware, I think, that Mr Key is a jolly, fun-crazed fellow, ever prepared to sprinkle a little happiness into your godawful lives. Indeed, I am often mistaken for Santa Claus, or at least a rakishly thin version of him dressed in drab rather than red, without a bulging sack of gift-wrapped treats for well-behaved tinies, and unaccompanied by reindeer. But those caveats aside, it can be hard to tell the difference, so lavishly do I spread joy and hysteria where’er I trudge.

So it should come as no surprise that already, in mid-February, I have solved all your Christmas present purchasing worries for 2014. For on 6 November this year, the splendid publishing house of Constable will unleash upon a panting world Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives. You can already go and pre-order your copy.


Now I had better finish writing the damned thing.

Baffling, Brilliant, Brutal, & Hysterically Funny

Hooting-Book-Cover-for-web-pageNow here is a treat for you lot. The splendid persons at Dabbler Editions, purveyors of e-books to the e-literate, have launched upon the world an e-anthology of Mr Key’s outpourings. By Aerostat To Hooting Yard : A Frank Key Reader contains 147 stories selected by the estimable Roland Clare, who has also written a scholarly introduction. Truly it may be said he has pored over numberless sweeping paragraphs of majestic prose and has actually managed to work out some of the things going on inside Mr Key’s brainpans.

According to the Dabbler, the anthology is “baffling, brilliant, brutal, and hysterically funny”. It is also dirt cheap, well within the means of even the most impecunious reader (few, if any, of whom are as impecunious as Mr Key himself). And remember, you do not need a Kindle to read a Kindle e-book. There are plenty of ways to read this earth-shattering and heart-rending tome on any of the electronic contraptions you might have lying about in your hovel. Just ask your nearest computer whizz person.

So the basic idea is that you go and buy the book from or or amazon.wherever-you-are. You then award it five stars and post a review explaining that it is the most noble effusion of the human spirit since [insert previous noble effusion of your choice]. You then harry and hector everybody you know, and buttonhole strangers in the street, also to buy the book. And on the seventh day you may put your feet up and actually read it.

Come on, readers. If you cannot make this the bestselling e-book of all time, you can at least ensure that Mr Key is in with a chance of winning the mrs joyful prize for rafia work.

N.B. Those of you active on Facecloth and Twitter should strain every sinew to splurge news of the book all over the place. Remember, you will get your reward in heaven.