Portal To Plovdiv

It is far too long since we turned our attention to the fair city of Plovdiv. Word reaches me, however, of the intriguing appearance of a supposed watering-hole in north London, pictured below. I say “supposed” because, reportedly, nobody has ever been seen either entering or leaving this mysterious establishment. My hunch is that it is some kind of portal to Plovdiv. Boffins are probably hard at work tweaking the complicated gubbins designed to rend asunder the laws of physics so that, on stepping through the door, one is instantly transported – teleported? – to Plovdiv itself.


Many thanks to Max Décharné for the snap.

Maison Crimplene

This piece first appeared on a site called something like gitfeed or wankerlist under the title Ten Amazing Facts About Maison Crimplene That Will Make You Dribble Into A Tin Bowl.

The ceilings of Maison Crimplene are painted blue, with scattered spots of brilliant gold, to resemble a mediaeval painted sky. The floors are uniformly filthy. They have never seen a mop.

On one wall of the tea ceremony parlour in Maison Crimplene hangs a hyperrealist portrait of John Prescott, painted by the noted hyperrealist Rex Hyper. On the opposite wall hangs a similar painting of Prescott’s wife Pauline. They are gazing at each other, forever.

The major domo of Maison Crimplene is Pottymouth Peabrain of Plovdiv. Each time he opens his mouth it pours forth a tirade of disgusting abuse. But he speaks in Bulgarian, which few visitors to Maison Crimplene understand.

The bomb that tore through the cellars of Maison Crimplene but somehow left the building standing was planted by a gormless idiot boy from the nearest village, across the lake. He drowned in the lake shortly afterwards, when he toppled from his dinghy, surprised by a tern.

A black and white photograph of Maison Crimplene, taken at long distance from a mountain peak, appears on the cover of the September 1956 issue of Maisons Snapped From Mountains magazine. Its editrix at the time was noted hyperrealist painter Rex Hyper’s sister, Dot Photog.

The extensive gardens of Maison Crimplene are littered with discarded bubblegum wrappers. Brutes with tails disport themselves in the trees and bushes, grunting in the daylight hours and howling in the night.

In one room of Maison Crimplene, off the main passageway and down a short flight of slippery steps, are stacked hundreds and hundreds of gunny sacks crammed with gutta-percha. Ticks creep up and down the walls of this room.

During the Second World War, troops from several combatant nations were billeted in Maison Crimplene, sometimes at the same time. Fighting,, brawling, and stabbings were averted through an unspoken code of bonhomie, exquisite manners, and pipe-smoking.

Oh! the chandeliers in Maison Crimplene, the chandeliers!

The most expensive room at Maison Crimplene is the one where Perry Como once stayed, accompanied by a pair of puppets made by the noted Swiss puppeteer Rolf Swisspupp. Como’s bill was settled by the priest from the nearest village, across the lake, in which the gormless idiot boy drowned when he toppled from his dinghy, surprised by a tern.

On Blots

Long, long ago, in 1990 to be precise, I published an immense duckpond pamphlet . . . no, wait a minute . . . a pamphlet the title of which was The Immense Duckpond Pamphlet. The text was a story, broken into twenty-six alphabetically-titled chapters, beginning “A is for Aminadab”, “B is for Blodgett”, and so on. The whole thing has been posted online, so you can go and read it if you feel so minded. If you do, you will eventually arrive at “V is for Violence”, where your reading will be interrupted by a big blot, to wit:


Let me explain what happened. I had been happily scribbling away, from the letter A through to the letter U, without much in the way of an ache in the brain. In fact I was getting along swimmingly. Unusually for me, I think I had already worked out how the tale was going to end. But I was not entirely sure how I was going to get there, and with the letter V, I ground to a halt. At the time, I probably thought I was suffering from writer’s block, an ailment I am now convinced is a phantasm. What we call “writer’s block” is basically an excuse to stare out of the window and make a cup of tea. In 1990, I suspect I stared out of the window, downed a bottle of hooch, and fell asleep. When I woke up, I probably downed another bottle of hooch and fell asleep again. Eventually, I will have emerged from such debauch and returned to The Immense Duckpond Pamphlet, yet still found myself unable to get from V to Z . . . or at least from V to W.

This was when I had the bright idea of circumventing the need to write Chapter V by inserting a big blot. I could then sally on with renewed vigour to W, that bit closer to the home straight. So I typed up a few coherent words and then typed gibberish, and I got some ink and obliterated all but a few traces of the gibberish. In retrospect, I have to say it was an excellent method of moving the story along. And it is the blot, rather than the story, which is my subject today.

It seemed to me that the blot needed to be more than a mere blot, but an integral part of the story. For this reason I considered using one of the Rorschach blots. When Hermann Rorschach – who, like William Tell and Alain de Botton, was Swiss – devised his test, he created ten “official” inkblots. I studied these in great detail, and became exasperated at their fearful symmetry. The Immense Duckpond Pamphlet was crying out for an asymmetric blot, for obvious reasons. I took the ten Rorschach blots and fed them into a ripping and shredding and slicing and slashing contraption, hoping never to see them again. I blame the child-rearing practices of Swiss parents in the late nineteenth century, who encouraged their tinies to make “Klecksographs”, or inkblot pictures. Rorschach himself was known to his little Swiss pals as “Klecks”, or “inkblot”, due to his clearly unhinged enthusiasm. Rather than putting away childish things, he constructed a pseudoscience from them, the nincompoop.

With a heap of scrap paper and a jeroboam of ink, I tried out a series of asymmetric inkblots for my pamphlet, until at last I hit upon the perfect design. But to be sure I had got it right, I tested it on several guinea pigs. I do not of course mean real guinea pigs. I made notes of their responses, and now, for the first time, I can reveal the results. The guinea pigs themselves must remain anonymous, for reasons of primness.

Each guinea pig was forced to gaze at the blot for an hour. I then asked them to describe as accurately as possible what they thought they had been staring at, as understood by the pulsating doughy brain within their cranial integuments.

Guinea Pig A : Where am I? Is this the Old Town of Plovdiv? Is that the Central Post Office mural designed by Georgi Bozhilov of the legendary Plovdiv Fivesome? Surely it cannot be! Mother, mother! I feel a chill and a fever! Wrap me up in your winding-sheet and stick me in front of the inglenook!

Guinea Pig B : The horror! The horror!

Guinea Pig C : As it turned on Elm, the motorcade passed the Texas School Book Depository. As it continued down Elm Street, shots were fired at Kennedy; a clear majority of witnesses recalled hearing three shots. A minority of the witnesses did recognize the first gunshot blast they heard as a weapon blast, but there was hardly any reaction from a majority in the crowd or riding in the motorcade itself to the first shot, with many later saying they heard what they first thought to be a firecracker or the exhaust backfire of a vehicle just after the president started waving. Within one second of each other, President Kennedy, Governor Connally, and Mrs. Kennedy, all turned abruptly from looking to their left to looking to their right, between Zapruder film frames 155 and 169. Connally, like the president a World War II military veteran (and unlike the president, a longtime hunter), testified he immediately recognized the sound of a high-powered rifle, then he turned his head and torso rightward attempting to see President Kennedy behind him. Connally testified he could not see the president, so he then started to turn forward again (turning from his right, to his left). Connally testified that when his head was facing about twenty-degrees left of centre he was hit in his upper right back by a bullet, fired in a gunshot that Connally testified he did not hear the muzzle blast from. When Connally testified to this, the doctor who operated on him measured his head facing direction at twenty-seven degrees left of centre. After Connally was hit he then shouted, “Oh, no, no, no. My God. They’re going to kill us all!” [Guinea Pig C continued to blather on like this for hours and hours. I’m afraid he bored me to tears and I stopped taking notes.]

Guinea Pig D : It doesn’t look much like an immense duckpond to me.

From Plovdiv

Here at Hooting Yard we rarely take note of tennis tournaments, but let it be recorded that Tsvetana Pironkova, who surprisingly knocked Venus Williams out of the Women’s Singles at Wimbledon yesterday, hails from Plovdiv in Bulgaria. No doubt the plucky giant-killer was inspired by the Plovdiv Central Post Office mural painted by Georgi Bozhilov, a member of the legendary Plovdiv Fivesome. Perhaps, too, she grew up listening to the stories of Ugo and his blind Ma and his pal Ulf in Old Plovdiv. I like to think she owes her success to these things, which have been given the all-important Hooting Yard imprimatur.

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.

Old Farmer Frack

I have received a number of letters asking me to give some account of Old Farmer Frack. It is true that he was a mad old man, probably due to ergot poisoning. But he could be surprisingly lucid, too. For a time he employed a professional voice coach, more used to working with thespians, to help him develop exciting new roars and bellows. His cows were much given to bellowing, and Old Farmer Frack wanted to be able to bellow back in a way they would understand.

The voice coach was Satnav Gobgag, scion of the Bulgarian aeroplane manufacturing dynasty, whose huge hangars on the outskirts of Plovdiv were the site of tremendous aeronautical innovation during the interwar years. Satnav was a great disappointment to his parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, for despite receiving a first class education in the kinds of things that would make anyone fit to head an aeroplane-building business, he turned his back on the family firm and devoted himself to the questionable career – questionable in Bulgaria at that time, anyway – of drilling drama-struck misters and misses in the art of projecting their voices, be they dulcet or stentorian. It has been said that no one took to the stage of the Plovdiv Theatricum in the middle years of the last century who had not learned their stuff from Satnav Gobgag.

Exiled after the war to the country where Old Farmer Frack herded his tubercular cows, and by now grey and stooped and often covered in crumbs and dust, Satnav Gobgag fetched up at a ruined hotel on the seafront at Cack. He was only thirty-four, but looked to be twice that age, such had been his privations. It is well worth avoiding such privations if one can, but Satnav did not have the benefit of hindsight. Cut off without a penny by the Gobgag clan, accompanied in his exile by his pet coot, Satnav was on the point of starvation when into his hotel one day wandered Old Farmer Frack.

Q – What was the mad old man doing there, so far away from his cows?

A – He was in Cack to collect bags of sand, and stopped in at the hotel for a greasy breakfast, for he was fond of greasy breakfasts, but back at the farm usually made do with a dish of cowfeed.

Q – For what purpose did Old Farmer Frack need bags of sand from the beach at Cack?

A – To forestall, or avert, the flooding of his barns.

The pair struck up a conversation in the breakfast room of the hotel. And of what did they speak, this ill-matched duo? Why, they chattered away about the single topic that was convulsing the citizenry of Cack in those dark days, namely the invasion of an army of killer moorhens which was sweeping through the town in wave after wave of destructive mayhem. Satnav’s poor coot was cooped up in his hotel room for its own protection, and the penniless voice coach was frantic with fear what would happen to it when, as must surely soon happen, he and his coot were tossed out on their ears for non-payment. He reckoned without the lackadaisical approach of the hotel manager, Grimes, who affected a foppish disregard for such niceties as money. So long as his chef cooked up a greasy breakfast, and there were petunias in the plant pots, Grimes was happy to lean against the wall in the lobby flicking ash onto the tiles from the Norwegian cigars he had specially flown in. By coincidence, his smokes arrived once a month on an aircraft of Gobgag manufacture.

Old Farmer Frack was temperamentally blind to any animals except his cows, so his brain was perplexed by this talk of moorhens. He kept trying to change the subject, without success. After a while, he sat back in a daze, hypnotised by his companion’s mellifluous fluting, high-pitched jabbering, booming ostinato, silky whispers, and impeccable diction, for Satnav was deploying all of his vocal talents in describing the terrible sight of a thousand murderous moorhens tramping relentlessly towards the shopping arcade. It was when he made a noise like a cow that Old Farmer Frack sprang out of his seat, grabbed him roughly by the collar, and demanded that he repeat his bovine bellowing. Shortly thereafter, a deal was struck between the two men. Satnav Gobgag fetched his coot, and his paltry luggage, from his room, and accompanied Old Farmer Frack aboard his cart as they trundled off along meandering lanes to the farm.

Within days, the mad old fool was having rewarding conversations with his cows. He bellowed at them and they bellowed back. As he herded them from field to field, purposelessly, through all hours of the day and night, his voice coach reclined on a rickety sofa improving his English with a thorough reading of Dobson pamphlets while his coot plashed happily in Farmer Frack’s pond.

The idyll could not last. One autumnal day, when fallen leaves from the pugton trees so clogged the pond that the coot stayed indoors, there came a hammering at the door. Old Farmer Frack was miles away, in the furthest of his fields, though a faint bellowing could be heard when the wind died down. The coot, still nerve-wracked from its sight, through the hotel window, of lethal moorhens, trembled. Satnav Gobgag dropped his pamphlet – I think it was Dobson’s Some Remarks On The Grotesque Pallor I Encountered This Morning In My Shaving Mirror (out of print) – and strode in his brave Bulgarian way to the door. Opening it, he was astonished to find Grimes, the hotelier of Cack, florid with rage and somehow deeply threatening in a windcheater the colour of custard and a stout pair of wellington boots. All foppishness gone, Grimes had come to demand money. So much money, in fact, that Satnav pictured himself doing the washing up in the unsavoury hotel kitchen for the next forty years.

Q – Had something happened to Grimes to make him suddenly mindful of the unpaid bills of his hotel guests?

A – Yes. He received a clonk on the head from a piece of falling masonry.

Q – Had he tracked down other past guests, or did he have some sort of vendetta against Satnav Gobgag?

A – The former. Grimes now spent his days on horseback, criss-crossing the land demanding money with menaces from those who had taken advantage of his formerly lax manner.

Q – What menaces did he threaten?

A – Menaces so heinous they are unsuitable for family reading.

Q – What happened next?

A – Satnav Gobgag did the washing up in the unsavoury hotel kitchen for the next forty years. His coot remained on the farm, where he visited it every other weekend until it perished. Old Farmer Frack, having learned as much bovine bellowing as he needed, continued to be mad, and bellowing, and his cows bellowed back at him, for ever and ever, Amen.

Take Me Back To Old Plovdiv

This piece first appeared in August 2004. I am posting it again for the simple reason that now, thanks to the indefatigable Salim Fadhley, it can be accompanied by a photograph, and thus be truly inspiring…

I am suffering from a spiritual malaise. I am soul sick. I have not eaten any breakfast. I need to darn a hole in the sleeve of my jumper, but I have no further wool that matches. I feel inconsequential and abandoned and remote. My cheeks blush furiously with an embarrassment born of pity. Every last pencil I have is blunt. I am being driven crackers by my landlord’s drooling hound. My senses are atrophied, like a muscle unexercised. Pots and pans are strewn haphazardly in my kitchen. My legs have given way. I have an evil taste in my mouth. Hope is something for other people, not for me. My teapot is cracked and the cosy is stained and threadbare. Nervous spasms contort my features. I keep to the shadows if I have to move in the street. Do you hear that sound? It is my groan of despair. I have extinguished all the lanterns and I know in my cold, base heart that they will never be lit again. The air is heavy with menace and all I can hear is the screaming of desolation and ruin. Insects swarm about my face but I cannot summon the energy to swat them away. I have sprained my ankle. Dust lies everywhere, ashes and dust. Desire, ah, desire for me is not even a memory. Feral cats hiss at me and extend their claws. Even my poultry is contaminated. All sense of urgency is lost and yet I cannot relax. My head is swimming. My shoes let in rainwater and my socks are soaking wet. The washbasin is cracked. The taps no longer work. Even the most innocent and cherubic children spit at me. I gag on my own wretchedness. And then with a mighty effort, I pull myself up, and I trudge across Bulgaria like a whipped cur, and I go the Central Post Office building in Plovdiv, and I look at Georgi Bozhilov’s mural. Yes, that Georgi Bozhilov, whose nickname was Slona, or Elephant, a member of the so-called Plovdiv Fivesome. I gaze at the post office mural and somehow I am pulled back from the brink, and I embrace life again, wholeheartedly, blissfully. Here… here is a photograph of the mural, so you too can gaze upon it, and experience revelation!


The Socks Of Pepintude

Today I am wearing the Socks of Pepintude, and so attired I shall stride forth decisively. There is of course a risk that curs will snuffle at my socks, and kittens too, possibly, for the Socks of Pepintude emit odours which convulsively befuddle our four-footed friends, though they remain undetectable by the human nose. Or so I have been told by my spy at the lab, who keeps me up to date on such matters. It is best to wear a pair of tough Uruguayan Air Force boots over the Socks of Pepintude. This will go some way to deter curs, and kittens, and thus one’s decisive progress through the boulevards meets with less travail.

You may ask where I am going, so decisively, through the boulevards of this important town. I am going to the post office. Alas, unlike the post office in Plovdiv it is not emblazoned with a mural painted by the Plovdiv Fivesome, but none the less it is a very fine post office. Outside it on the esplanade is a flagpole with a big blue flag flying atop it. The doors are made of some weird iridescent metal and swoosh open as one approaches. Having thrown off any trailing curs and kittens I am going to cause those doors to swoosh and I shall make my decisive strides into the post office lobby, where a cadet in a cadet’s cap and tunic will point me towards a queue leading to a counter behind which I know in the innermost fibres of my being there will be a tally-stick person ready to sell me some postage-related items.

When the exchange has been made, I will exit again through the swooshing doors, having saluted the cadet, and I shall stride decisively into the esplanade, and gaze at the flag atop the flagpole, and I shall not flinch.

Source : Forty Visits To The Post Office by Dobson (out of print)