On The Love Song Of Ah-Fang Van Der Houygendorp

Bathsheba Gubbins, thou art so fair!

With your crochet hooks and your basilisk stare.

Come away with me to the Land of Trolls

Where we’ll live underground like a pair of moles.

Bathsheba Gubbins! I know I’m a chump

But meet me tonight at the village pump.

Let the villagers mock, let the villagers gawp.

I am Ah-Fang Van Der Houygendorp

And I shall love you till the cows come home

They’re coming home now, o’er the rain-soaked loam.

Which of us has not, when in mawkish or maudlin mood, sung those words, with tears rolling down our cheeks? Ah-Fang Van Der Houygendorp’s song of love to his inamorata is both cloyingly sentimental and, in its last line, not sentimental at all. Perhaps it is this duality of affect that has made it a verse adored, memorised, and recited – while weeping – by the entire nation.

Curiously, however, the nation in question is neither the country of Ah-Fang nor of Mrs Gubbins, but the distant, possibly legendary, land of Tantarabim, in which neither of them ever set foot. How The Love Song Of Ah-Fang Van Der Houygendorp became so dementedly popular in that faraway land is an instructive tale, and it begins with cows, as so many things do.

Some years ago, a wandering minstrel of Tantarabim wandered so far, so very far, that he found himself in Jaywick, the jewel of the Essex coast. Plopping himself on a bench outside the Never Say Die tavern, he took his piccolo from its cotton pochette and prepared to play and sing. Before he could begin, however, out of the mist emerged several cows. As luck would have it, the minstrel had arrived in Jaywick on the Sunday morning of what is still commemorated, at least in Jaywick, as “the day the cows came visiting”. Entranced – as who would not be? – the minstrel slipped his piccolo back in its pochette and followed the cows in their cowy progress around the town. Being a minstrel, he composed a ditty about the experience, which he added to his repertoire.

It was some years later, outside another tavern in another town, still far from his homeland, that the minstrel was interrupted in a performance of his ditty.

Oh I have travelled through many lands

But none so fair as Jaywick Sands

was as far as he got before an unkempt dishevelled hairy sallow pockmarked greasy infected dippy doo-dah person, with a glass eye and a pair of worm-eaten crutches, loomed in front of him, blocking out the sun, and boomed “Is this going to be a song about cows?”

“Why yes, it is indeed!” said the minstrel.

“I know a better one,” said the unkempt dishevelled hairy sallow pockmarked greasy infected dippy doo-dah person, plucking out his glass eye and polishing it with a filthy rag, then leaning his crutches against the tavern wall and slumping to the ground. And then, in a baritone so gorgeous it was barely conceivable that its possessor was one so unkempt and dishevelled and hairy and sallow and pockmarked and greasy and infected and dippy doo-dah, the stranger sang The Love Song Of Ah-Fang Van Der Houygendorp. As he held the final note, protracting the word “loam” to wrench from it more heartbreak than is present even in the closing scene of Random Harvest (Mervyn LeRoy, 1942), the minstrel burst into tears. He continued to weep as he travelled far and wide, was weeping still when eventually he puttered into the harbour at Tantarabim aboard a packet steamer, many many moons later.

Now it must be understood that they are a cold-hearted lot, the indigenous Tantarabimers. They snarl and growl and grunt, but rarely sob. At screenings of Random Harvest, they are infamous for their mockery and chortling and fruit-chucking. Yet now a miracle occurred. The minstrel, returned to his homeland, perched on a harbourside crate and slipped his piccolo from its cotton pochette and tootled the yearning melody of The Love Song Of Ah-Fang Van Der Houygendorp. And then, he began to sing the words. Frankly, his baritone was weedy and reedy in comparison to that of the unkempt dishevelled hairy sallow pockmarked greasy infected dippy doo-dah person, but that mattered not a jot here in faraway Tantarabim. Those loitering at the harbour were soon weeping, and as he was cajoled to sing the song again and again, so Tantarabimers came scurrying from their hovels and caves and country estates, thronging the harbour so densely that many were shoved into the sea. Those who could, trod water, weeping still. Others drowned. And on and on the minstrel sang, until even the thickest and most stupid of Tantarabim fatheads could remember the words, and all took up the song, and they sing it still, morning, noon, and night, weeping, weeping, in that distant, possibly legendary, land.


G is for Mrs Gubbins, obviously

“Bathsheba Gubbins! You have been found guilty of a raggle-taggle salmagundi of crimes, some so heinous that they beggar belief and make strong men break down into convulsive weeping. Now, by dint of the awful and arbitrary power invested in me, do not ask when or by whom, I pronounce sentence. Mrs Gubbins, you shall be taken from this place, by horse and cart, during a rainstorm, and deposited none too kindly in a chamber within the sort of institution appropriate to a crone of your advancing years, and there you will remain, and there you will knit. You will knit and knit and knit forevermore, without cease. When cities burn and the planet crumbles and the sun is extinguished, still you shall knit, Bathsheba Gubbins! You shall knit tea-cosies and scarves and miscellaneous woolies, and at the very instant they are completed, they shall unravel and you will knit them again from scratch. From dawn until dusk and through the cold dark horrors of the night, you shall knit much like Sisyphus hopelessly pushing his boulder uphill. As he gaped to watch it roll down to the bottom of that hill, so shall you see your knitting unravel until all you have to show for your toil is a tangled skein of wool, wool you must knit again and again into a tea cosy or a scarf or a wooly. The only sound in your chamber shall be the interminable clack clack of your knitting needles. Knit, La Gubbins, knit! From now until the end of time, and beyond, clack clack clack! Take her down.”

Crikey! What a revelation! Until now, it has been beyond the most acute of wits to grasp why on earth the criminally-minded octogenarian crone never ever ceases to knit. Veteran of innumerable armed robberies and mystic badger abductions, La Gubbins sits clacking away, occasionally dribbling, staring into the middle distance, seemingly happy in her toil. Only the chance discovery of this dictabelt recording, in a cardboard box underneath a sink in an outhouse in the grounds of a mysterious country pile situated behind enormous wrought iron gates partly hidden at a bend in a bosky lane lined by titanic cedars and larches along which brightly coloured sports cars driven at reckless speed by raffish chaps wearing cravats and goggles zoom past, has revealed the truth of the matter. The matter being that endless knitting, which at last we can understand as Sisyphean.

Where and when the dictabelt recording was made is unclear. It is fanciful to suggest, as Van Spurtbosch does in his recently-published monograph, that it came from the same cache that yielded the dictabelt recording from the police motorcycle of Officer H B McLain whose radio microphone was accidentally stuck in the open position as he accompanied the presidential motorcade along Dealey Plaza in Dallas on the twenty-second of November 1963 and thus picked up sounds and “impulse patterns” which were to become germane to the inquiry regarding the identity of the assassin or assassins of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on that day, and in that place. Waters were muddied in that case by Officer McLain later suggesting his dictabelt was not the source of the recordings, but rather that of one of his colleagues. Equally fanciful is Van Spurtbosch’s wild claim that John McClane, the character played by Bruce Willis in the Die Hard tetralogy, was based on the Dallas police motorcyclist. One need only compare the spellings of the names to see it ain’t so. Had Van Spurtbosch done his homework, much grief, much much grief, indeed as much grief as there is Gubbinsy knitting, could have been spared.

Grief, like Gubbins, begins with G, so in this instalment of our alphabetic postage schedule, you have had double helpings. Remember that, next time you are minded to bemoan your lot.

One Thousand

Today there is cause for celebration. No, not the Muggletonian Great Holiday, that was last week. The reason for unbridled cheer is that what you are reading is the one thousandth postage at Hooting Yard since the site was rejigged at the beginning of 2007. (I cannot recall precisely how many postages appeared in the old format, to be found in the 2003-2006 Archive, but if memory serves it is something in the region of 950.) A milestone to be celebrated, then – but how?

Ideally, you lot would cancel all other engagements, put your feet up, and spend the rest of the day rereading all one thousand postages, in chronological order, making notes in your jotter, pausing occasionally to stare out of the window as you mull over a particularly arresting item, and generally wallowing in the sheer Hooting Yardiness of it all. Always remember that a day devoted to Mr Key is never a wasted day. However, I am sensible enough to realise that most of you will have other things calling on your attention, such as feeding the hamster, waiting at the bus stop, smoking, genuflecting, pootling about, milking the cows, rummaging in the attic, taking your pills, repairing the fence down by the drainage ditch, tallying up the entries in your ledger, doing the dishes, spreading jam on bread, clutching at straws, embarking on a perilous journey downstream by kayak, grovelling in filth, putting the spuds on, intoning spells against the pestilence, mucking about, boiling your shirts, describing an arc parallel to the surface, dusting the mantelpiece, rekindling that lost love, chopping celery, going for gold, doing the odd bit of trepanning, squeezing out sponges, cutting up rough, vomiting, preening, polishing your shoon, checking the gutters, making hay while the sun shines, piling Ossa upon Pelion, folding your towels, voting with your feet, remembering a childhood idyll, splitting an atom, clocking in, lurking in the shrubbery, gathering your wits, burning an effigy, being Ringo Starr, toiling to no purpose, making whoopee, burgling the Watergate building, casting the runes, mesmerising a duck, emptying the bins, licking some stamps, darning a hole in your pippy bag, crunching numbers, thwacking a bluebottle, going rogue, distributing alms to paupers, looking shifty, holding out a glimmer of hope, pole-vaulting, caterwauling, playing pin-the-paper-to-the-cardboard, rinsing lettuce, closing the barn door, glorying in crime, sticking to the point, feeling off colour, pondering the ineffable, gargling, straining, wheedling, pining, flailing, and lying crumpled and woebegone and exhausted and hot-in-the-brain. You may have to do all of these or none, but in either case the chances are that you will be unable to devote your every waking hour to Hooting Yard, even though you yearn to do so. We shall have to come up with some other form of celebration.

It is at times like these a person’s thoughts turn to cake. It will have to be an enormous cake, to fit a thousand candles on to it. Think of all that burning wax!

I shall leave you with that thought, and press on. One could, of course, throw a party. Invite a thousand guests, and have each of them commit to memory, for party-piece recital, the text – or, as bespectacled postmodernist Jean-Pierre Obfusc would say, the discourse – of one Hooting Yard postage (including this one). The drawback to this otherwise fantastic scheme is that some postages run to thousands of words, whereas some, very occasionally, have been wholly pictorial, other than the title. Allocating all one thousand to the satisfaction of every single guest is a task fraught with difficulty, and is unlikely to be achieved without conflict and, indeed, fist-fights. Now, incidents of physical violence are not unknown among the readership. Even the surprisingly numerous Hooting Yard devotees of the Mennonite faith engage in punch-ups from time to time. Don’t even go there, as the airheads say. Taken all in all, I am not sure the party is such a good idea. Anyway, where would you fit so many people? They would not all fit into your chalet or hovel or well-appointed yet curiously pokey high-rise urban living pod, and rental fees for barns and disused aeroplane hangars have gone though the roof, according to what I have been reading in So You Want To Rent A Barn Or A Disused Aeroplane Hangar, Do You, Chum? magazine. (It’s interesting to note, by the way, that the late Harold Pinter was on the editorial advisory board of this threatening, sinister publication.)

Cake, burning wax, and party all proving prohibitive, what are we to do? Well, in extremis, one can always turn to Mrs Gubbins for some outré ideas. For once in her life, the octogenarian crone is not helping police with their inquiries, in spite of that dodgy business with the pile of mysteriously bleached bones and the trained vulture, and she is to be found snugly ensconced in an attic room at Haemoglobin Towers, furiously unravelling tea-cosies. Where once she did knit, now she unravels. By heck, there will be a glut in the used wool market by the time she is done! It is possible this is part of yet another criminal scheme, but if so it is one that is far too complicated for my puny and innocent brain. Best to ask no questions, and leave La Gubbins to her unravelling. I popped my head in to her sanctum, though, just to ask if she had any bright ideas for a Hooting Yard Thousandth Postage celebration. She looked up, fixed me with that unnerving gaze, like a blind person looking at a ghost, and pronounced the single word “Nobby”. Then she went back to her unravelling.

It was difficult to know what to make of this. The only Nobby that sprang to mind was Nobby Stiles, the popular Manchester United and England midfielder of the 1960s. His joyous capering on the pitch after England hoisted the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966 had captured the imagination of the press in those more seemly times, so perhaps that was what Mrs Gubbins was recommending – joyous capering on a field of grass. Or was she suggesting that I should enlist Nobby Stiles to help with planning a celebration? It seemed unlikely, though not of course impossible, that the retired footballer was a Hooting Yard fan, but even if he was, I did not know him, had never even collected his autograph when I was a tot, and had no idea how to get in touch with him. I entertained the thought that perhaps the crone had said “knobby”, with a K, meaning that which is characterised by having knobs, or the quality of knobbiness, such as, for example, a gnarled tree-trunk, or the backs of certain kinds of toad, but that seemed even more unfathomable. La Gubbins being the kind of woman she is, it is likely that her pronouncement was a sweeping one, containing all possible meanings of “(k)nobby”, with and without a K, plus additional meanings thus far unrevealed to the common timber of humanity. But I am afraid I had to dismiss, as wildly impractical, the idea of getting Nobby Stiles, and perhaps some other lesser-known Nobbys, to assist me in arranging a celebratory caper, of people and toads, round and round a tree in a field, much as it was appealing.

It was back to square one, and as we all know, deep in our hearts, the question always to be asked at square one is “What would Dobson do?” The beauty of the question is that if we are able to arrive at a half-way sensible answer, we know the guidance given will be infallible. Working out a valid Dobsonian response, however, is to blunder along a path strewn with nettles and serpents, unless of course one is satisfied with the generic answer “Write a pamphlet!”, which is, admittedly, correct ninety-nine times out of a hundred. Even in the present case, I can think of few methods of celebration more apposite than that every one of my readers should sit down at their nearest escritoire and pen a pamphlet. But think of the logistics. Someone would have to collate all the screeds, typeset them, print them, and distribute them to an uncaring world. I try my best to retain an attitude of breezy optimism, but I cannot see it happening. And I have not seen any vans driving past recently announcing, from the lettering on their sides, that they are in the business of Pamphleteering Solutions.

But “Write a pamphlet!” is not, invariably, the answer to the question “What would Dobson do?” Very, very occasionally, by deep analysis of the question, exercising the brainpans to their fullest extent and beyond, a different answer is revealed. To find out what this is we need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the complete Dobson canon, and to have pieced together as much biographical information on the out of print pamphleteer as we can, not excluding rumour, hearsay, tavern mutterings, and wild surmise. That is why I put the question to Aloysius Nestingbird, who knows more about Dobson than anyone else alive. As it happens, Nestingbird is only barely alive, following a calamitous bobsleigh accident. Quite what a frail ninety-two-year-old was doing plunging down the Caspar Badrutt Memorial Perilous Ice Declivity at the Pointy Town Antarcticorama is a question for the bigwigs at the Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing, who I understand have already empanelled a Board of Geriatric Investigation to be headed by the fiercely independent, because ignorant of bobsleigh matters in general, Ant, or it might be Dec, the taller of the pair, the one with the glassy eyes of death.

Anyway, I bluffed my way into the clinic where Nestingbird languishes, using the techniques prescribed by Blötzmann in his Methods Of Dissimulation To Be Employed When Entering Restricted Medical Facilities (Second Series), an invaluable work which I always carry with me, just in case. Nestingbird was almost invisible beneath a panoply of tubes and wires and monitors and bleepers and what have you, but I ripped them out of my way and put my mouth to his still-bloody, gored ear, and put to him, in a dulcet whisper, the question. I want to arrange a celebration of the thousandth Hooting Yard postage. What would Dobson do? Nestingbird groaned, and some sort of despicable fluid bubbled out between his bloody lips, but he managed to tell me the answer, albeit in a croak so weak I barely heard it. But hear it I did. He said “Nobby”.

Returning home via the funicular railway, I racked my brains to see if I could wring any sense from this. Put in my position, it appeared, Dobson would “do Nobby”, or, I suppose, “do a Nobby”, as if that made any difference. Neither was a phrase I had ever heard before, and nor had any of my fellow-passengers, whom I badgered about it, growing, I am ashamed to say, rather hysterical, to the point where I was bundled off the train as soon as it reached the base station and taken round the corner, past snow-covered shrubbery, and handed over to Detective Captain Cargpan and his toughs. It is lucky for me that Cargpan is a fanatical devotee of Hooting Yard, otherwise I feel certain I would have ended up back in the clinic, and in a much worse state than Aloysius Nestingbird. Instead, the doughty copper let me off with a mussing of my tremendous bouffant. He didn’t know what “doing Nobby” was, either.

I had the sinking feeling that if I sought advice from anybody else, from born-again beatnik poet Dennis Beerpint, for example, or from Old Farmer Frack, I would get the same response. When I eventually arrived home, I made a cup of tea and heated a couple of smokers’ poptarts. Perhaps the celebration would have to wait upon the two-thousandth postage. Or perhaps I should be grateful for my simple snack. I sat down at the table, slurped the tea and shovelled down the bitter poptarts. Was this, after all, “doing Nobby”?

Ask The Artificial Brain!

Ubermungo™ is Hooting Yard’s terrifically lifelike artificial brain, built out of dough and string and wax and coathangers and processed cheese triangles and fig newtons and titanium. Every Sunday, it answers readers’ questions.

Dear Ubermungo™. I am a flapper. When I flap with too great enthusiasm, my cloche hat becomes dislodged. What advice would you give? – Poopy Clingclang

Well, Poopy, if you glue your hat to your head with a proprietary hat-head adhesive, future dislodgements will be rarer than albino Stalinists, and you can flap the night away to your heart’s content.

Dear Ubermungo™. What in the name of god is a nudibranch? – P V Bib

Wait while my innards process the question, P V.

Dear Ubermungo™. Yesterday I tied a yellow ribbon round an old oak tree. Today I am searching for the hero inside myself. Tomorrow I am thinking it might be a good idea to find out if my friends are electric. Are any of these activities valid? – S Fry

Stephen – No, they are not. Go and boil your head.

Dear Ubermungo™. Who won the FA Cup Final in 1968? – Bathsheba Gubbins (Mrs)

My innards are still whirring and buzzing away at P V Bib’s question, Mrs Gubbins, but the answer is something like West Bromwich Noblia. You may wish to check that.

Dear Ubermungo™. Shortly after taking part in the Tet Offensive, I was sitting on a balcony in a foreign capital city when my attention was drawn ineluctably to a toad sitting on a neighbouring balcony. Like many toads, it had a jewel embedded in its head, a jewel that glittered so brightly it was visible through the toad’s translucent green skin. My balcony was covered with an awning, so when a violent rainstorm began, I was untroubled. But the toad’s balcony had no awning, and despite its amphibious nature the toad appeared disconcerted by the rain, and it hopped away, out of my sight. The thing is, in the years that followed, I have been haunted by that brief vision, and more particularly, unmoored from peace and reason by my ignorance of precisely what sort of precious stone was lodged in the head of the toad. If I were to draw, with a pencil, from memory, a sketch showing the way the soon-to-be expunged sunlight glistened, through the skin, upon the jewel, the angles it cast, the tints and textures of the light, do you think you might be able to ascertain whether it was, say, a ruby or an emerald or an amethyst? – “Phnom Penh Vet”

Dear Tet Vet, All would depend on the skill with which you wield a pencil. You should also bear in mind that I am a mere artificial brain, and have no eyes, and thus cannot see. What I can do, at last, is tell P V Bib that a nudibranch is a sea slug.

Dear Ubermungo™. What is life but a vale of affliction? – Old Halob

Life can also be an opportunity to stand at the side of a running track, coughing up catarrh and keeping a beady eye on a stopwatch, dressed in a sordid raincoat and a Homburg hat. You should know that better than anybody, Old Halob!

Bungled Heists

At the last count, Blodgett is thought to have been involved in no fewer than six bungled heists. By comparing the circumstances of each heist, we may learn not only about their bunglement, but something, too, about Blodgett the man.

First heist. The plan was to steal a consignment of birdseed being delivered to a crow sanctuary. Prices in the millet market had rocketed, and a tidy sum could be expected when the “hot” birdseed was offloaded to a fence. The gang spent weeks hidden behind a hedge observing the routine. At exactly 11 o’ clock each morning, a truck arrived at a gate in the perimeter fence and, after a cursory check of paperwork, it was waved through and driven at snail’s pace to the silo, whereupon a sanctuary worker hauled the vacuum-packed bags of millet off the truck and put them on a hoist which was winched up to the top of the silo. There, on a platform, a second worker slit each bag open with a birdseed-bag-cutter and dumped the contents into the silo. The empty bags were chucked back to the ground and replaced on the back of the truck, which then drove off, through the gate. The entire operation took about fifteen minutes. Blodgett’s role was to thump the truck driver and the gatekeeper, disabling them for sufficient time to allow the gang to steal the birdseed before the truck entered the crow sanctuary. At this time, Blodgett carried quite a thump, and he practised it on life-size cardboard cut-out persons, which toppled over at the first thump. This was the key to the embunglement of the heist. Both the truck driver and the gatekeeper were great thick-set brutes, much less flimsy than Blodgett’s practice figures. When thumped, neither of them toppled over. Instead, they thumped back, the two of them, with alarming violence, until Blodgett was sprawled on the ground battered and bloodied and unconscious, at which point they summoned Detective Captain Cargpan by walkie-talkie.

Second heist. Blodgett joined a different gang for his next heist. This was a smaller-scale affair, the aim being to pinch a packet of arrowroot biscuits from a half-blind doddery octogenarian crone as she creaked along a secluded lane. Technically, it can be argued that such a venture falls outwith the strict definition of a heist, but quite frankly I am not prepared to countenance such a cavil, as it would threaten the basic integrity of my narrative thrust. The idea was that the gang would hide behind a clump of aspens, and, at the approach of the crone, Blodgett would leap out into her path and thump her. Taking advantage of her surprise, alarm, and possibly fatal injury, another member of the gang would snatch the packet of arrowroot biscuits from her pippy bag, and the gang would make off with all due speed, cackling. In this case, the bunglement consisted of failure to realise that the crone in question was Mrs Gubbins, herself a criminal mastermind, and one who could deploy her knitting needles to lethal effect. When set upon by Blodgett, she poked him in the solar plexus with a sharpened 4.25, jabbed his head with it as he crumpled to the ground, and then coolly tucked it back in her bag before calling Detective Captain Cargpan on her klaxon.

Third heist. Blodgett had rejoined his original gang, but made it clear he wished to have no part in any thumping on the next job. He was thus engaged as a look-out man. Blodgett did not pay attention, however, to a particularly riveting Dan Corbett weather forecast, and was ill-prepared when a dense and freezing and engulfing mist descended upon him as he sat in his perch overlooking the big cash-register warehouse. He was peering hopelessly into the murk when he felt the begloved hand of Detective Captain Cargpan nabbing him on the shoulder.

Fourth heist. This heist was, at least in its conception, the most ingenious. Inspired by the classic art-house film Snakes On A Plane, had it been fictionalised for the cinema it could have been called Otters In A Laundry Basket. Unfortunately, the otters escaped from the laundry basket and ran away to a riverside before they could be deployed. This was Blodgett’s fault, as he had been enrolled into the gang specifically to train and control the otters. He was in bad odour after this, and considered becoming an informer for Detective Captain Cargpan, but instead holed himself up in a chalet in Jaywick for some years, lying low.

Fifth heist. Tempted out of his Jaywick hidey-hole by the prospect of a share in the proceeds from a daring smash ‘n’ grabby-type heist, Blodgett returned to the criminal fray as part of yet another gang. A plate glass window was to be smashed, and a display of ornate cornflake packets dripping with jewels was to be snatched. The packets were the work of a bumptious and bespectacled artist of great, if unfathomable, repute. Everything went according to plan, except that the gang left Blodgett to guard the art in a lock-up under the arches of Sawdust Bridge while they tracked down their expert fence, who was hobnobbing with hedge fund managers. Peckish Blodgett opened up the packets and ate all the cornflakes, dry, without milk, thus destroying their value as art. Left with nothing but a bunch of jewels, albeit valuable ones, the gang fell foul of a pasteman in the trade, who tricked them as a pasteman will, and turned them over to Detective Captain Cargpan, who was waiting outside with his ruffians.

Sixth heist. One can gain some idea of the duration of Blodgett’s criminal career when one considers that the sixth heist took place more than fifty years after the first. By now, Blodgett was old and wheezy, and as creaky as Mrs Gubbins had been (see second heist). It was his creakiness which led to the bungling of his last heist to date. The vaults of the big important bank into which the gang broke their way with the aid of industrial slicing and cutting and burrowing equipment were, of course, heavily alarmed. Multiple sensors would pick up the tiniest sound or movement. One by one, each sensor was disabled by the gang’s sensor disablement man, using his pliers or pincers or, in one case, a soaking wet dishcloth. Things were set fair for a successful heist. But Blodgett creaked as he crept towards the cash-cage, alerting a tiny rodent, which scurried in fear towards the big important bank’s basement wainscotting, and in so doing dislodged some wiring, causing a short circuit which knocked out all the electrics. Plunged into Stygian blackness, Blodgett and the gang were helpless, and could do nothing but await the arrival of the janitor in the morning. This janitor was an old mucker of Detective Captain Cargpan, who was himself on the scene within seconds, blackjack and manacles at the ready.

According to a story in a recent issue of the Weekly Heist Intelligencer, Blodgett is a member of a gang plotting a forthcoming heist at an amusement arcade in a seaside resort. Letters have since appeared in the correspondence columns pleading with the gang to drop Blodgett from their plans. The inherent sentimentality of the criminal demimonde suggests this is unlikely to happen. It is thought Detective Captain Cargpan has already splashed out on a railway ticket to the seaside resort.

Punchy & Zippy & Bangy & Crashy

Last week, Mrs Gubbins suffered some sort of mental collapse and called in a team of consultants to overhaul the Hooting Yard “brand image”. The octogenarian crone put aside her knitting and got it into her head that what was needed was a brand new logo. “It has to be punchy and zippy and bangy and crashy,” she drivelled, adding that she wanted something that a half-blind orphan child could reproduce with a crumbling crayon. I have no idea how much the consultants charged for their work, but knowing these charlatans it was probably thousands and thousands of pounds. When the invoice turns up I shall cast it into a waste disposal chute. Anyway, here is the new logo, based I am told on an illustration from an alchemical treatise of long, long ago.



Tea Cosies : Your Questions Answered

After I posted the piece entitled Denktash Fugue Syndrome, in which mention is made of Mrs Gubbins and her knitted tea cosies, I was deluged with mail from younger readers who complained that they had no idea what I was talking about. The general tone of these missives was along the lines of “Oi, Mr Key, what in the name of heaven is a tea cosy, for crying out loud, innit?”

It would appear that today’s youth have been seduced by something called “tea in a bag”, and no longer make use of teapots and, thus, of tea cosies. This is a sorry state of affairs. However, here at Hooting Yard we occasionally make attempts to be “with it” and “groovy”, so we decided to track down some of these so-called “tea bags” and see what all the fuss is about.

Our delegated rapporteur, decked out in trendy East European clothing, strode manfully into an indoor retail-and-leisure consumer park and, selecting a boutique at random, went up to a counter and said, politely yet forcefully, “I would like a bag with tea in it, please”. He had chosen an inappropriate boutique to make such a request, however, for the only bags for sale at this counter were empty ones, with handles, made of leather or plastic or cotton or the pelts of various endangered animals. Surmising, not unreasonably, that bag and tea had to be purchased separately, our doughty rapporteur picked from the display a small dimity pippy bag and, having paid the criminally expensive asking price with his Hooting Yard Card™, made off along the rattling pneumatic pedestrian express walkarama in search of somewhere to buy tea.

Locating an emporium packed to the gills with grocery items, our chap hunted the aisles until he found a cardboard box of shredded tea leaves. After paying for this at a bleeping self-service console, he wasted no time in ripping open the box with his gnarled fingers, until it looked as if it had been savaged by a squirrel. He then poured the contents of the box into the pippy bag.

The next step was to eke from the bag a lovely cup of piping hot tea, so our rapporteur repaired to a yard where he knew he would find an outside spigot. Holding the pippy bag open under the spigot, he filled it with brackish water, then zipped it shut. He then caught the bus back to Haemoglobin Towers, where Mrs Gubbins was waiting with her array of giant bunsen burners. Using a contraption of coat-hangers to suspend the pippy bag over the fearsome flames, crone and rapporteur waited for the tell-tale sight of steam escaping from the partly-unzipped bag to alert them that the bag’s innards were coming to the boil. From there, it was a simple matter of detaching the bag from its coat-hangers and placing it under a tea cosy. Of course, Mrs Gubbins used a pair of heat-resistant padded mittens to perform this action.

Giving the infusion a few minutes to brew, the rapporteur then borrowed the mittens from La Gubbins, fully unzipped the pippy bag, and upturned it, sloshing the tea inside into a couple of dainty tea cups. There was a little spillage, but that was soon mopped up by a passing factotum armed with a mop and a pail. A dash of milk added, and the duo sat on a threadbare ottoman to enjoy their well-earned cuppa.

All in all, and in spite of the sterling efforts of both the rapporteur and Mrs Gubbins, this seems to be a frankly foolish way of obtaining a cup of tea, and it is not an experiment we will be repeating.

Denktash Fugue Syndrome

Mrs Gubbins, the octogenarian crone given to knitting and villainy, has recently come under the supervision of a doctor. It will not be too long before she becomes a nonagenarian crone, and though she is in terrifyingly tiptop health for one so aged, there have been signs that all is not well. First there was the abduction of Little Severin, the Mystic Badger, after which she went on the run for several months, holed up in a dank cave guarded by bats and owls. This was followed by her becoming smitten by the unlikely figure of Mark E Smith, and her habit of playing the complete works of The Fall at ear-splitting volume on a brand new Bang & Olufbangbangbang hi-fi system, with her windows open, at all hours of the day and night. A dawn visit from Blunkett and Blears, respectively sightless and diminutive, and somehow all the more minatory for being so, set her back on the straight and narrow.

A couple of weeks ago, La Gubbins’ knitting circle invited Rolf Harris to give a talk. Unable to attend, yet honoured to be asked, Harris instead sent a tape recording of an entertaining address in which he spoke for some hours about various Rolfs and Ralphs and Rafes and Raufs. Fatefully, at one point he mentioned the name of Rauf Denktash, the one-time President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Hearing those two syllables, denk and tash, together, Mrs Gubbins was propelled into a fugue state, from which she has yet to emerge.

Denktash Fugue Syndrome is a thankfully rare condition, so rare that Mrs Gubbins is only the second person in history to display the symptoms. It was first identified by the Victorian mountaineer and eccentric Dr Henry Hyde Hargreaves Hopton Hibbingdibhoondoon during a sojourn in Tashkent. The journals in which he wrote of his discovery have long been lost, or disfigured by potato mould, depending on who you believe, but the basic facts were retailed by Dobson in one of his early pamphlets. Atop a Tashkent mountain one day in 1862, the doctor’s brain was ravaged by mysterious fumes, and, when he tried to say “Tashkent” it came out as “Denktash”. With him upon the peak was a dumpy, bearded sage, a man not unlike the Beatles’ pal the Maharishi in appearance, who, when he heard the word “Denktash”, was sent into a fugue state. In his journal, Hibbingdibhoondoon spelled it “foog”, but it is clear what he meant.

What remains unclear is for how long the sage remained so affected. Dobson’s account simply peters out, in that annoying way he had, and which can make his early works such a trial to read. Also unclear is the nature of the fugue itself. In Mrs Gubbins’ case, it appears to take the form of dribbling, staring vacantly into the fireplace, and absentmindedly unravelling not only the tea cosy she has herself been in the midst of knitting but also those of her compañeros in the knitting circle.

Doctor Drainditch, who has been called in to treat the loveable yet spiky crone, claims to be the only living expert on Denktash Fugue Syndrome. Unfortunately, the treatment she recommends consists of a two-week retreat in a dank cave guarded by bats and owls with an abducted badger for company, followed by a therapeutic course of listening to the complete works of The Fall at ear-splitting volume. So round and round we go, it seems.

If you, or anybody close to you, is suffering from Denktash Fugue Syndrome, there is a helpline number available. Premium rates apply, and if you manage to get through you might be lucky enough to hear a pre-recorded message from Rolf Harris telling you not to worry yourself sick. All callers are entered in a raffle, with the chance to win one of Mrs Gubbins’ tea cosy knitting patterns. You must tell your parents before placing the call, and if your parents have passed to the ethereal realm beyond our puny understanding, there is a range of ouija boards and ectoplasmic goo on special offer at Hubermann’s department store.

Robust And Transparent

It is ever more apparent that Hooting Yard needs to be both robust and transparent. I want to move the debate forward, and that is why I am making arrangements for someone – possibly the octogenarian crone Mrs Gubbins – to clamber up a ladder on to the roof of a large and imposing building and to shout, through a loudhailer, a robust and transparent message. The message will be shouted in a transparently robust manner, from behind a transparent screen, made of robust glass. It’s a big ask, but I think it’s important to begin the conversation. One benefit of such robust transparency is that we might, as a result, be invited into the government’s big tent of all the talents. Asked to predict the likelihood of this, our resident prognosticator Little Severin The Mystic Badger scrabbled around in a pile of twigs and muck and came to no definite conclusion. Perhaps he is insufficiently robust. Nor, of course, is he transparent, being a badger.

Hot Things

Among the most inventive minds at work today are our management consultants, those busy-brained men and women forever thinking up exciting new ideas for the world of work. We are all, I hope, familiar by now with “Hot Desking”, a revolutionary approach which allows a business to sell off half of its office furniture for the greater good. Now I learn, somewhat belatedly, that the BBC has launched a “Hot Shoes” initiative. First the furniture, now the clothes. What will be the next hot thing?

Here at Hooting Yard we always try to keep one step ahead of the latest management thinking, so we tasked Mrs Gubbins to come up with a list of hot thing initiatives. Being an octogenarian crone, La Gubbins baulked at the use of “tasked” as a verb, but we fed her a bowl of gravy pudding and offered to help find that knitting needle she mislaid, and she soon came on board.

She initially decided to set up a working party to originate and assess various hot ideas, but this was felt to be crass, until it dropped the “working party” title and renamed itself as an “ideas silo”. The silo has a hub with radii, each radius has a directional pointing device, and at the end point of each is a “brain crate”. Responsibility for sifting through the crates rests with Mrs Gubbins herself, in between her core activities of knitting tea cosies and taking naps.

As a result of her first such sift, Hooting Yard will shortly be launching a series of hot initiatives entitled “Hot Pencil Sharpeners”, “Hot Carpets”, “Hot Puddings” and “Hot Peter Wyngarde Monogrammed Cravats”. I think readers will be able to appreciate the tremendous benefits these hot things will have on the ongoing Hooting Yard project. And remember, you are important to us. Please let us know what we can do to make further 360° improvements.

Civic Platform

Yesterday I mentioned Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform, and I am reminded that for a long time now there has been talk of creating a Hooting Yard Civic Platform. Unfortunately, the discussions have been mired in disagreement, unintelligibility, hysteria and pomposity, but perhaps it is time to let bygones be bygones and crack on with the job. Any future Hooting Yard Civic Platform will be robust rather than weedy, and it will be fit for purpose. Those are really the only two things we need to bear in mind, for all else is “as a vapour of haze in a mist of unknowing”, as Mrs Gubbins put it the other day, while talking in her sleep. It is difficult to overstate the importance of Mrs Gubbins’ contribution to this project. The crone is nearly ninety now, and has very few teeth in her head, but she has been around long enough to see an impressive number of Platforms, both Civic and otherwise, come and go. Our Platform, when it is built, will rest on solid foundations, and we must thank her for that, even if she is likely to be taking an afternoon nap when we do so.

I had hoped to bring on board a squad of zonk-eyed Milibands to kick-start this new, energetic phase of Civic Platform development, but Mrs Gubbins’ head turned green and septic when this idea was mooted, so I abandoned it. Instead, I got a pot of paint and daubed NOT WEEDY, ROBUST on a makeshift proto-Platform donated by Old Farmer Frack. Apparently it is made out of bits of a cow byre that he smashed up one night, but it serves its purpose admirably and looks very civic, plopped in the middle of a field rife with bracken. Mrs Gubbins, whose head is thankfully back to normal, has planted some nettles thereabouts, to add what she calls “a dash of Spartan rigour” to the scene. Whether the Spartans made use of nettles in such a way is not something I know about, and nor I suspect does La Gubbins, but it is always best to humour her fancies.

Attractive as the proto-Platform is, it lacks a certain coherence, for it remains unclear what kind of initiatives and policies will be launched from it. And believe you me, I intend the Hooting Yard Civic Platform to be a launch pad for a bewildering number of initiatives and policies. That is why a particularly damp and gloomy cellar in Pang Hill Orphanage will be the headquarters, soon I hope, of the Pang Hill Orphanage Think Tank, from which ideas will fizz. It would already have been set up had I been able to bash into Old Farmer Frack’s head the notion that, as a mad bellowing rustic, he is not a suitable candidate to be the Think Tank’s Director. He has his heart set on the position, bless him, even though it does not involve cows, but I am hoping to fob him off by making him an Honorary Patron.

Which brings me neatly to the main point of this otherwise witless bibblydib, which is that you too can apply to sit alongside Old Farmer Frack at the snackbar counter reserved for Honorary Patrons of the Hooting Yard Civic Platform. To be considered for this unbearably thrilling way of spending your twilight years, all you need to do is to complete the following sentence in no more than ten thousand words: “I will prove to be a robust rather than weedy patron of the Hooting Yard Civic Platform, because my first priority will be…”

Mrs Gubbins will sort through all the entries posted in Comments over the next couple of weeks, in between naps and nettle husbandry.

Knitted Bulgarian Folk Tale Puppet

Ahoy, Mr Key!, writes Dr Ruth Pastry, Thank you so much for affording us readers a glimpse of the inner workings of Hooting Yard in your piece on that Olympics logo. Brief as it was, I was fascinated by the reference to the editorial conclave, and to the fact that the bloated janitor remains an unreconstructed Blunkettite. The real reason I am writing, however, is because I am desperate to find out what Mrs Gubbins was knitting. Can you tell me?

Well, Ruth, yes I can! A few weeks ago, the octogenarian crone was approached by a charity working with the filthy and destitute denizens of that cluster of hovels out Pointy Town way. As you may know, these ill-starred wretches are even lower than the lowest of the low, wallowing in a dank pit of turpitude and lacking even the most basic sanitation. Other charitable organisations shun them because, you know, there are limits. Anyway, Mrs Gubbins was asked to knit something for them, and she wisely decided to bring a little joy to their hearts – if they actually have beating human hearts – by making for them a life-size knitted puppet of Ugo, hero of a series of exciting Bulgarian folk tales.

We have published a number of Ugo stories here at Hooting Yard, so this would be an opportune time to pluck them from the Archive and present all six here afresh, some three years after they originally appeared:

Ugo Goofs Off

Ugo lived in Plovdiv. In the fog, Ugo goofed off. “There you go, Ugo, goofing off again,” said Ugo’s ma. It was foggy. Ugo stepped in some goo. He got it on his boots. “Ma, I’ve got goo on my boots,” said Ugo. Ugo’s ma gave him a rag to wipe the goo off his boots. She had a drawer of gewgaws. Gewgaws and rags. Ugo’s ma was blind, so when Ugo goofed off and got goo on his boots, she opened the drawer of gewgaws and rags and rummaged, feeling for a rag rather than a gewgaw, for if she gave Ugo a gewgaw he wouldn’t get the goo off his boots, but with a rag he would. Ugo sat in the porch after goofing off and wiped the goo off his boots with a rag. In the fog. In Plovdiv.

Ugo’s Pal Ulf

In Plovdiv, Ugo had a pal called Ulf. Ulf had the plague. “Look at my bubo, Ugo,” said Ulf. “Oooh!” said Ugo when he saw the bubo. Ugo had the flu. His ma made him a tincture for his flu but there was not much she could do about Ulf’s bubo. In the Plovdiv lazaretto, Ulf mooched about in a foul mood. Ugo and Ugo’s ma brought food for Ulf. “Have some pancakes, Ulf,” said Ugo. Ulf gobbled a pancake. “Far be it from me to poo-poo you, Ulf,” said Ugo’s ma, “But you should put the pancake on your bubo, like a poultice.” “Oh,” said Ulf. He did as bid, and soon his bubo was gone. But Ugo still had the flu, so his ma was thrown for a loop. She could cure the plague but not the flu, and did not know what else she could do. For the time being. In the lazaretto in Plovdiv.

Ugo’s Pod

In the old town of Plovdiv, Ugo plopped his pod onto a stool. Ugo’s ma said, “Ugo, why are you using a pod instead of a jar?” Ugo’s ma was blind, but she knew that the plop of Ugo’s pod was different to the plop of his jar. “Oh, ma,” said Ugo, “My jar is in the shed.” Ugo’s ma bashed Ugo on the head. “Never leave your jar in the shed, Ugo,” she said, “When you do I will bash you on the head, as I just did.” Ugo said, “Sorry, ma. My pal Ulf put my jar in the shed.” “Ah,” said Ugo’s ma. On Thursday last. In a hovel. In the old town of Plovdiv.

Ugo’s New Hooter

Back in Plovdiv, Ugo won a hooter as a booby prize. Ugo tooted his hooter in his blind ma’s ear. “Ooh, Ugo,” said Ugo’s ma, “That hooter makes a din!” “It’s a hooter, ma. I won it as a booby prize,” said Ugo. “And what did your pal Ulf win, Ugo?” asked Ugo’s ma, shelling peas as she spoke. “Ulf won a toy wolf, ma,” said Ugo, “It’s as noisy as my booby prize hooter, because when you press your thumb on its tum, the toy wolf that Ulf won roars.” Ugo tooted his hooter again and ran off to find Ulf. On a very wet Tuesday. Near the old fort. In Plovdiv.

Ugo Turns Blue

It was Saint Hector’s Day in the old town of Plovdiv. Ugo’s hood got snagged on a tack and he turned blue, or, as Carl Sagan used to say, blooow. “Oooo” said Ugo’s pal Ulf, “Ugo, you look all blue.” “Ack” said Ugo. “I’ll go and fetch your blind ma, Ugo, to see what she can do,” said Ulf, though he could have pulled Ugo’s hood off the tack on which it was snagged. But Ulf had been sniffing glue. Ulf found Ugo’s ma sitting on a stool. “Ugo’s ma,” said Ulf, “Ugo has turned blue. His hood is snagged on a tack.” Ugo’s ma was chewing a chew, but she jumped off her stool and ran to Ugo, who was indeed very blue. Ugo’s ma spat out her chew, and it landed in a pot of glue. It was the glue Ugo’s pal Ulf had been sniffing. Ugo’s ma unsnagged Ugo’s hood from the tack. “Ack” said Ugo. “Ooo, Ugo’s ma, I knew you would know what to do,” said Ulf. Ugo’s ma clouted Ulf on the head with a spoon, and confiscated his glue. Ugo went off to find his shoes. It was time for mass. At Saint Hector’s Cathedral. On the Left Bank. In Plovdiv.

Ugo Goes Loopy

One morning in Plovdiv, Ugo went loopy. He put on his shoes and went out to the yard and made a noise like a shrew. Thinking there was a shrew in her yard, Ugo’s blind ma tooted her hooter to alert the Plovdiv Shrew Patrol. But Ugo started to sound like a goose. “Ooo,” said Ugo’s ma, “What am I to do? A shrew and a goose!” Then Ugo began to moo, like a cow. “Wow!” said Ugo’s pal Ulf, who came tumbling into the yard dressed up like a moose, for Ulf was loopy too. “Is that you, Ugo’s pal Ulf?” asked Ugo’s ma. “Woo woo woo,” said Ulf. “Ulf, there is a shrew and a goose and a cow in my yard,” said Ugo’s ma. “No, Ugo’s ma,” said Ulf, “It’s only Ugo being loopy.” “Ah,” said Ugo’s ma. She packed Ugo and Ugo’s pal Ulf off to school. On a tram. In Plovdiv.

That Olympics Logo

The new logo for the 2012 London Olympics has caused a flap. Sorry, it’s not a logo, it’s a brand, a brand which, according to diminutive Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, “takes our values to the world beyond our shores, acting both as an invitation and an inspiration”. I agree, and I know that Hooting Yard’s values are exactly the same in every last detail as Tessa’s. In fact, at an editorial conclave the other day, loveable octogenarian crone Mrs Gubbins looked up from her knitting and said “When in doubt, just ask ‘What would Tessa Jowell do?’” and we all nodded in recognition of the deep wisdom of those words. (All except the bloated janitor, of course, who still swears by Blunkett, but that’s another story.)

Certain people seem to think that the logo – the brand, the brand! – is devoid of content and meaning, and make the same charge against Tessa’s words. Such carping is only to be expected. For my money, anything Tessa Jowell says ought to be carved in stone and studied, much as one would study the work of a great literary giant. The rewards are immense.

To show that I know what I’m talking about, we commissioned a new Hooting Yard brand, the better to embody our values. It cost slightly more than the £400,000 price tag of the Olympic thing of beauty, but I’m sure you will agree that it was money well spent. At a meeting to identify funding, the vitamin-deficient inmates of Pang Hill Orphanage insisted that they can cope with severely reduced gruel rations for the next forty years. Indeed, they have never looked so blissful.


Ditch That Pod!

Those of you who enjoy listening to the Hooting Yard On The Air podcasts, be warned. Following an important meeting chaired by Mrs Gubbins, the programmes will shortly be recalibrated, and you will no longer be able to listen to them on such equipment as iPods and mp3 players. Instead you will need to obtain a 1952 Zenith Radio Hat. I am sure you will agree that your listening pleasure will be distinctly enhanced.