Drink Ye Every One The Waters Of His Own Cistern, Until I Come And Take You Away

“Drink Ye Every One The Waters Of His Own Cistern, Until I Come And Take You Away”. As we have learned, this was the title of a song written by the out of print pamphleteer Dobson, one of several appalling stabs he made at the form. No one with any sense has ever listened to a Dobson song more than once, for the experience is excruciating, as I can avow. That is by no means all I avow, and if we had but world enough and time I would give you a list of every single avowal I have ever made, which I am sure you would find interesting reading. Alas, time presses, heavy as a big lump of iron, and you will have to be satisfied with that single avowal of the frankly horrifying nature of the Dobson songbook, beside which the Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred is like an infant’s picture book devoted to perky piglets and bunny rabbits.

“Drink ye every one the waters of his own cistern, until I come and take you away” is also a line from the Book of Isaiah (Authorised Version, chapter 36, verses 16 and 17). Most of the lyrical content of Dobson’s wretched songs was taken from Isaiah, for no apparent reason. One would have thought so prolific a pamphleteer would have been capable of penning his own words, even keen to do so. Not Dobson. What he appears to have done, so far as we can tell, is to pick phrases pretty much at random from the book Peter Ackroyd has called “a series of incandescent utterances”, to shove them together with no regard for sense or metre or singability, and then to set them to music so woefully inadequate that it beggars belief. No wonder Marigold Chew took to wearing a pair of reinforced cork earplugs. Discovering that the standard earplugs sold at Hubermann’s failed to block out completely the din from Dobson’s rehearsal room, the resourceful Marigold located a cork reinforcing atelier hard by the banks of the Great Frightening River. On her first visit, she was surprised to discover the workshop populated entirely by gnomes, some Swiss, some Austrian, and some claiming citizenship of Gondwanaland. “They may have been disturbingly-proportioned little men wearing pointed caps,” she later wrote, “but they certainly knew how to reinforce cork.” As with all his fads, Dobson’s songwriting shenanigans petered out after a couple of months, and peace once more reigned in the house, but Marigold Chew, enchanted, continued to visit the little people by the river for the rest of her life.

“Drink ye every one the waters of his own cistern, until I come and take you away” are the words the Grunty Man roared at a cowering tangle of orphans he waylaid one terrible Thursday afternoon. The pallid tinies were foraging for roots and scraps in a noisome ditch beyond Blister Lane when cracks of lightning rent the sky, thunderclaps boomed, and before they could run back to the safety of the orphanage, the Grunty Man was there! They had thought him a mere figment of nightmares, but here he was, all too real, solid and hairy and brutish and grunting. They trembled as the Grunty Man repeated his strange and evil plan, all except one precocious orphan who put her hand up to ask a question, as if she were in a classroom rather than in a noisome ditch. This disconcerted the Grunty Man, who was impatient for the nippers to glug down the water from their cisterns so he could carry then away to his horrible lair up in the hills, as his scheme dictated. “We did not bring our cisterns with us on our foraging expedition,” piped up the brave tot, “So may we be excused to go back to the orphanage and there to drink from them every one?” As soon as the Grunty Man had grunted his confused agreement, off they all scampered, back to Pang Hill Orphanage, where they armed themselves with pitchforks and shovels. Then they burst out through the iron gates as one, and ran back to the ditch, and chased the Grunty Man back into the hills from whence he had come. For many long years after that fateful Thursday afternoon he sat stewing in his lair trying, in his slow-witted way, to work out the flaw in his plan, which as I said before, was both strange and evil.

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.


The Pabstus Tack Trilogy

What better way to spend a wet Bank Holiday afternoon than to curl up in front of the television to watch a trilogy of films by one of the great unsung auteurs of the silent screen? The cable channel UK Golden Pap is to be congratulated for screening the masterworks of the great – and greatly misunderstood – Pabstus Tack. When Tack’s films are mentioned, which is rarely, they are dismissed as fey, twee confections for children, in an age when childhood was seen as a time of purity and innocence. Thus the damning rebuke of a cravat-wearing, pipe-smoking, goatee-bearded critic like Jean-Luc Boff, who wrote: “With these insipid pieces of froth, Tack not only drains his films of sound and colour, but also of plot, tension, engagement, disturbance, of life and death and sex.”

What Boff says is true, yet he fails to understand just how radical an approach Tack took. Yes, these films are indeed fey and twee, yet at the same time they are cloying and saccharine, miraculously inoffensive, whimsical in the most nauseating sense of the word.

The first in the trilogy is Pippi The Pony Goes To The Paddling Pool. The part of Pippi was played by Tack’s own pony, Poopy, a placid, well-groomed little darling with gossamer ribbons flowing from its mane. In silent black and white, we watch as Pippi canters towards a paddling pool and splashes about, gently and charmingly. There are no fancy camera angles, no clever-clever montage. “Look,” Tack is saying, “A pony in a paddling pool.”

He followed this up with Biffy The Africanised Killer Bee Joins A Swarm. In this, possibly the finest of the three films, Biffy – played by Tack’s pet Africanised killer bee, Letitia – is shown buzzing around a municipal flowerbed, then going off to join a swarm of her fellows. Tack’s camera is static except at the very end, where it pans to show Biffy’s journey from solitude to companionship.

The last film is the one where Tack takes the greatest risk with his creative vision. With Schmoopy The Vampire Bat Sucks The Life-Blood From A Consumptive Orphan the task of retaining a quintessentially Tackesque tweeness must at times have seemed impossible. But once again, the auteur in Tack pulls it off, in a magnificently sugar-coated fairy cake of a film. Schmoopy, by the way, was played by Tack’s own vampire bat, Flopsy, while the part of the consumptive orphan went to a doe-eyed – and consumptive – orphan the director found swooning and crumpled, clutching weakly at the railings of Pang Hill Orphanage during a blizzard.

If there is a better way to spend eleven hours on a wet Bank Holiday than watching these films, I for one am at a loss to think what it might be.

A Weekend With An Owl God

If you have ever spent a weekend with an owl god, you will know that it can be a character-building experience. I have vivid memories of the time Chalchiuhtecolotl, the night owl god of the Aztecs, made itself at home in my flat for three trying days. I live in a glitzy and gleaming block, of futuristic design, impossibly stark, with lots of exciting remote control hubs, but the fact is it is small, even pokey, and it doesn’t help that I have crammed into it the contents of my ma’s laboratory and my pa’s garden shed, together with much of the furniture thrown out when the local vet refurbished his waiting room and a jumble of junk from a hellhole.

That Friday evening I was crumpled on a settee, eating lemon meringue pie and reading Pebblehead’s bestselling paperback Brute Beauty And Valour And Act, Oh, Air, Pride, Plume, Here Buckle! when the front door sensor vibrated, the hub hummed, and the plasma display flashed insistently. I had a visitor, though no one was expected. Thinking it might be a goon coming to serve me with an Asbo, I depressed the locking knob on the entry pod, put down my pie plate, and tiptoed my way through some of ma’s alembics to the door. Peering through the tintin slat, I saw a hunched and somewhat shabby figure dressed like a bus conductor, if you can remember bus conductors. He – I thought it was a he – was not holding anything that might be an Asbo, so, being an affable sort, I opened the door.

He – or rather, it – almost knocked me over as it somehow soared past me and came to rest next to the settee. Before either of us spoke, it plucked my plate off the floor and scoffed what was left of the lemon meringue pie. Then it said:

“Good evening. I am an Aztec god. My name is Chalchiuhtecolotl and I am an owl god. Of the night.”

“You look like a bus conductor,” I replied, “And a shabby one at that.”

Then it screeched at me. It was the loudest and longest screech I have ever had the misfortune to hear. My ears did not stop ringing until Sunday lunchtime, by which time the owl god had completely taken over my life. Within the confines of my fab but tiny flat, it swooped, it pecked at things, it shifted shape, it did some strange rewiring manipulations to my stereo system, it fluttered and preened, it fixed me for hours with a cold inhuman stare, it sprouted tufts and feathers, it would not let me read my Pebblehead paperback, it hawked up gobbets of semi-digested pie, it smashed all ma’s lab equipment to smithereens, then ate the smithereens, it shifted shape again, it summoned some of its Aztec god pals and held a rowdy Saturday night party, it kept me awake by looming menacingly just out of sight, it filled the bath with wounded mice and stoats and weasels, it made me sit through a four-hour documentary about Spandau Ballet, its metabolism speeded up to the point where everything in the flat was shaking, it phoned up my friends and told them I had moved to Dawlish, it somehow managed to drag a live swan into the bathroom and savaged it with its talons, it screeched and screeched, drowning out the Shipping Forecast, it burned its bright incandescent fury into my soul, and on Monday morning it shape-shifted again, just as it was pulverising my bread bin, and turned back into what looked like a shabby bus conductor.

“I am leaving you now,” it said, and it sounded almost regretful. I watched it leave, and slumped on what was left of the settee. I took a nap, and then I went to see the priest to explain to him that I was renouncing the Roman Catholic faith, forever. He tried to lure me into the confessional box, but I threatened to tear his beating heart out of his chest and make an offering of it to That Mighty Orb, the Sun. That shut him up. I sashayed off through the glittering streets, past Pang Hill Orphanage and across Sawdust Bridge, towards glory.

Succour For Convulsive Infants

Today is the feast day of St Scholastica, the patron saint of convulsive children. This is good news for Pang Hill Orphanage, where the tinies are often convulsed by wild enthusiasms for exciting games such as Pin The Paper To The Hardboard and Put The Detritus In The Waste Basket. St Scholastica can also be invoked against rainstorms, so her feast day is doubly welcome, as Pang Hill is almost invariably lashed by ferocious teeming rain no matter what the weather is like elsewhere.

This morning the orphans will have gathered in the big pantry behind the canteen to sing their special song:

O Scholastica please stop the rains / So we can concentrate our fuming brains /

On playing Watch The Orphans Faint / O Scholastica our patron saint!