My brother poses a question:
Why are there no bananas in Poland?
Answers on a postcard, please …
My brother poses a question:
Why are there no bananas in Poland?
Answers on a postcard, please …
In correspondence received the other day, one of my readers described the eerie Hooting Yard silence as a “summer recess”. This is a splendid way to think about what otherwise might be considered the alarming emptiness in my bonce. So a quasi-official summer recess it is, punctuated by the occasional brief spot of blather.
Meanwhile, you can go and read about Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich & Wynken, Blynken & Nod in The Dabbler, and you can hear the great Norm Sherman reading A Weekend With An Owl God on the latest Drabblecast. As Norm says, if you don’t love Frank Key, you don’t know what love is …
I have often said, in recent years, that I do not believe in the concept of “writer’s block”. I think it is used as a fiddlefaddle excuse by the idle and the indigent, or perhaps by those who prefer swanning about and gallivanting to the Johnsonian drudgery of sitting at a keyboard and bashing the stuff out.
And while it is true, I think, that one does just have to sit there and tippy-tap until the cows come home, I am now prepared to admit that it is entirely possible to do so while filling the pages with twaddle. This is what has happened to me of late. The results of my writing routine have been such godawful piffle that you lot should think yourselves fortunate that I have declined to post any of them here.
I would like to think that I have mislaid my mojo, rather than lost it entirely. The dilemma I face is whether to go searching for it, or simply to wait for it to come crawling back, like a surly dog. Speaking of dogs, here is a dog:
It is rare for me to feel imbued with the entrepreneurial spirit, but that is what happened this morning. I had a bright idea and envisioned myself as the onlie begetter of a vast multinational chain of snackbar franchises. All I need do now is draw up a business plan and make an appointment to see a friendly bank manager, who will be awed by my business nous and give me a start-up loan.
For some reason I was mulling over the success of Dunkin’ Donuts – a success to which I have not myself contributed, never having entered one of these establishments. It suddenly occurred to me that a more civilised, more seemly version would be Dunkin’ Rich Tea Biscuits. Customers would enter, sit down, and order a cup of tea and one, or perhaps two, of these plain and virtually flavourless biscuits. Who could resist?
You will have noticed a distinct lack of gung ho Hooting Yard activity of late. This is due to the usual reasons, viz. a vacant space between Mr Key’s ears where normally are forged the great iron girders of prose. This vacancy itself has been occasioned, I think, by a hare-brained intention to rearrange all the books on the bookshelves. The prospect of doing so has stunned me. I ought to point out that I have no pressing need to reshelve, and I may still abandon the idea. But just the other day, gazing at the teeming rows of books, I thought how pleasant it would be to see them all in a different order. What stops me from immediately getting on with it is a sense of not being entirely sure how I wish to rearrange. There are, after all, so many different schemes one can apply, and I am ludicrously unsure about which to proceed with. So instead of reshelving, I gaze, and think, and make a cup of tea, and smoke a fag, and stare out of the window, and generally faff about to no good purpose.
At least Huw Halfbacon raked the gravel. That was a proper use of time on earth.
I bought a new washing machine yesterday. The workman who plumbed it in engaged me in a vigorous discussion about the Kennedy assassination. His sole source of information seemed to be the preposterous Oliver Stone film. I brandished a copy of Case Closed by Gerald Posner at him and tried to convince him that all the conspiracy theories are twaddle. I do not think I succeeded. He did a splendid and efficient job, and I gave him a tip. I ought to have given him the Posner paperback.
A Quaker once said to me “I haven’t had a single thought in my head for about three months. It’s wonderful!” Give or take two and seven-eighths months, that is pretty much the state of Mr Key’s inner bonce. Since I finished the bibliography and notes earlier in the week I have been lolloping around with an utterly empty head. Hence the eerie silence here.
The only problem with having an empty head is that sooner or later one begins to come over all John Lennon circa 1967, and that will never do. So, following tomorrow’s jaunt to Bristol to recite sweeping paragraphs of majestic prose at An Event, I am going to start cramming stuff into my head again, sloshing it about in the manner of a sort of cranial tumble-drier, and decanting it here, for your edification and instruction.
Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark.
There’s two of them on Noah’s ark.
One is light, the other’s dark.
But we decide which is right, and which is an illusion….
[Portentous music, with strings.]
Huzzah! The book is done and dusted and the pigeon – which may have been a cumulet – has taken the manuscript away, away! Thank the Lord. But wait. I have still not finished marshalling the bibliography and notes and references into shipshape order. So there remains a spot of drudgery. This mind-numbing task is enlivened somewhat by the fact that my bibliography includes some marvellous titles, which might form an anthology all their own. Here are just a few examples that cheered me up on this rainy day:
Arthur, T. S. Grappling With The Monster, or, The Curse and the Cure of Strong Drink (Lovell 1877)
Cruse, A. J. Matchbox Labels Of The World, With a History of Fire-Making Appliances from Primitive Man to the Modern Match, together with a History of the World’s Labels (Robert Ross 1946)
Goodman, Matthew The Sun And The Moon : The Remarkable True Account Of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, And Lunar Man-Bats In Nineteenth-Century New York (Basic Books 2010)
Guides at the Dickinson Homestead : Nancy Harris Brose, Juliana McGovern Dupre, Wendy Tocher Kohler, and the Resident-Curator, Jean McClure Mudge, Emily Dickinson : Profile Of The Poet As Cook, With Selected Recipes (Dickinson Homestead 1976)
Hanna, Abigail Stanley Withered Leaves From Memory’s Garland (1857)
Horn, Henry J. Strange Visitors, A Series Of Original Papers, Embracing Philosophy, Science, Government, Religion, Poetry, Art, Fiction, Satire, Humor, Narrative, And Prophecy, By The Spirits Of Irving, Willis, Thackeray, Bronte, Richter, Byron, Humboldt, Hawthorne, Wesley, Browning, And Others Now Dwelling In The Spirit World, Dictated Through A Clairvoyant, While In An Abnormal Or Trance State (1871)
Houdini, Harry Miracle Mongers And Their Methods: A Complete Exposé Of The Modus Operandi Of Fire Eaters, Heat Resisters, Poison Eaters, Venomous Reptile Defiers, Sword Swallowers, Human Ostriches, Strong Men, Etc (Dutton, 1920)
Lavay, Jerome B. Disputed Handwriting : An Exhaustive, Valuable, And Comprehensive Work Upon One Of The Most Important Subjects Of To-day (Harvard 1909)
That will do for the time being. Now I had better get back to work.
Well, not the state of the nation, really, but the state of that godforsaken blot that is Mr Key’s mental bailiwick. This weekend I have mostly been poking about in the flues of Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives, doing a final bit of dusting before I tie the manuscript to the leg of a postal pigeon and wave it away, into the blue beyond, to be deposited on the desk of my editor at Constable. With the book done, at last, I shall be able to return to full-time active service duty at Hooting Yard. Watch this space.
I make no apology for the fact that I have become a rabid surrealophobe. We need to be careful with our terminology, however. Time was when a phobia meant an irrational fear – as in triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number 13. Nowadays, in our debased world, the -phobia suffix has come to denote little more than hatred, irrational because it is not shared by right-on Guardian reading types. Thus homophobia and Islamophobia, for instance. This is not the place to take a forensic fork to the weird interior world of Guardian readers, who are generally tolerant of absolutely everything except everything with which they disagree, which is verboten, forever and ever.
It must be understood, then, that I have neither an irrational fear nor hatred of surrealists. Quite the contrary. What I hate, with a loathing that seems to me entirely reasonable, is the bandying about of the word “surreal” to refer to the mildly out of the ordinary, or at times even the wholly ordinary.
“Oh wow it was surreal”, a halfwit will announce, panting with stupidity, at something or other. I have heard such exclamations yelped at sight of, for example, a minor traffic accident, a malfunctioning self-service till in a supermarket, and a cat behaving like a cat. There is not a jot of surrealism in any of these things. Anybody who thinks – let alone jabbers aloud – that there is needs the innards of their head sluiced out with a powerful antistupidity solvent.
It may be time to begin a campaign to Bring Back Real Surrealism, with badges and banners and marches and petitions and chance encounters of sewing machines and umbrellas on operating tables.
NOTA BENE : Mr Key is not a surrealist. His work is not surrealism.
Real Surrealism :
Leonora Carrington, The Temptation Of Saint Anthony (1947)
There have been no new potsages [sic] for forty-eight hours because my cranial integuments are struggling with a profound and intractable mystery. What has become of L’Oreal’s Light Reflecting Booster Technology? A few years ago they were crowing about it. Now, there is merely a deep and unsettling silence…
This is a brief housekeeping post which will be of interest only to those who follow Hooting Yard on Twitter. I should first of all explain that I never go anywhere near that site, all the Hooting Yard updates – 2.084 to date – being automatically generated every time I update the blog.
That said, after blowing my raspberry of contempt at Ian Katz it occurred to me that it would be a splendid idea if someone tweeted that particular postage at him. I would do so myself if I knew how. But in investigating the matter, and thus – for once – going to my Twitter page, I discovered, lawks amercy!, that various people who have been “following” me have sent me messages, asked me questions, or generally attempted to engage in conversation. All of these have of course been ignored because I have never seen them.
I do not wish these clearly very perspicacious folk to think ill of me for not responding to them. So, my apologies, but in future I would recommend adding comments here on the blog to those of you who wish to communicate. I am not sure I can face the Twitter experience on a regular basis.
My latest project is to stage a series of tableaux vivants. These will take place daily over the coming week. Each one will last for a duration of no more than one minute, at a push, at various locations in the hustle and bustle of the London streets, what Keith Pratt termed “the hurly-burly of the urban conurbation”, and each one will be a vivid, static, solo re-enactment of a significant historical event. I have thus far chosen six subjects:
The death of Socrates
The sinking of the Lusitania
The Punic Wars
The relief of Mafeking
The second resignation of David Blunkett
My first choc-ice
I would be grateful to readers for suggestions for the seventh and final tableau vivant, which it is intended will outshine the other six in both vividness and historical significance.
Here is a piece of signage at the entrance to a school self-esteem ‘n’ diversity awareness hub in Bermondsey. (Click to enlarge.)
You will note that, upper right, the academy is proud that “Students [are] able to show case their talent in a professional setting”. Walking past the sign fairly often, I grew increasingly exasperated, and eventually fired off an email:
It is really quite appalling, as Prince Charles might say, that your sign at the top of Dunton Road is illiterate. “Showcase” is one word, not two. Having such an elementary error on what I would suppose to be a “showcase” for your academy is like those shopfronts that boast of a “proffesional” service.
Are you going to correct it?
I received the following reply:
Dear Mr Key,
Many thanks for taking the time to email the Academy regarding the mistake on our sign at the top of Dunton Road.
I will raise your concern with the company who design and manufacture our signs so that it does not happen again.
With all good wishes,
You will not be surprised to learn that this only served to increase my exasperation. I wrote back:
It’s not really a case of it being my concern, as if I had sent a complaint about an incident. It’s a basic error on a public sign on an educational institution. Did nobody at the Academy raise “their concern” when the sign was delivered?
You also seem to be suggesting that it is the fault of some arm’s-length supplier, though I suppose that evasion of responsibility is all too common these days.
Marvellous news that “it will not happen again”, but the question I asked was whether you were going to correct the existing sign.
Mr Dane’s response?
Dear Mr Key,
I have asked the design and manufacturing company to explain the cause of the error. The matter will then be dealt with by the Academy internally.
Tempting as it was to stride into the school, locate Mr Dane’s office, and sluice out his brain with some kind of cleansing fluid, I contented myself with the following riposte:
Dear Mr Dane
What an extraordinary reply. Do you ever engage your brain rather than write boilerplate sentences?
Why do you need to have the company explain the error to you? And what precisely do you mean by “dealt with”?
Here is the reply I would have thought fitting from an educational establishment.
“We now realise that one of our public signs is illiterate and gives a thoroughly bad impression of the school. This ought to have been picked up, at least by the English-teaching staff, but nobody noticed. Now you have brought it to our attention we will tear the sign down and replace it with one that is written in correct English.”
Reply came there none. Six months on, the signage is still there. It really is appalling.
“Congratulations . . . to Peggy Laugher, Ann and Zillah Bottom, Almeria Goatpath, Thisbe Brownjohn, Teresa Twistleton, Rebecca Bramblebrook, Junie Jones, Susannah Sneep, Peter Palafox, Flo Flook, Simon Toole, Molly Ark, Nellie Knight, Fanny Beard, May Thatcher, May Heaven, George Kissington, Tircis Tree, Gerry Bosboom, Gilbert Soham, Lily Quickstep, Doris Country, Anna Clootz, Mary Teeworthy, Dorothy Tooke, Patrick Flynn, Rosa Sweet, Laurette Venum, Violet Ebbing, Horace Hardly, Mary Wilks -”
Since the turn of the year I have been immersing myself in the novels of Ronald Firbank. The quotation above, from Valmouth (1919), is a list of the centenarians of the eponymous townlet, where something in the air means “Valmouth centenarians will be soon as common as peas!” This is the only one of Firbank’s books I have read previously, and because I have a chronological list of every book I have read over the past thirty years, I can date that earlier reading to 1989.
Two years earlier, in 1987, under the Malice Aforethought Press imprint, I published a set of twenty-six alphabetic potted biographies entitled A Zest For Crumpled Things. The fifth of these was named . . . Violet Ebbing. I still remember the weird tingle of surprise as I read Firbank in 1989 and saw that name, which I had plucked out of the aether. What spooky forces were at work?, I wondered, and still wonder.
I don’t think I have ever put the text of A Zest For Crumpled Things online, so I shall endeavour to do so at some point. Meanwhile, it seems you can pick up a copy for the bargain price of £88.44 here.