Archive for the 'The Dabbler' Category


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Dear Mr Key, Are you still alive?

Dear Mr Key, Has your pea-sized yet pulsating brain finally given up the ghost?

Ahoy there Key!, Is there a terrible vacancy between your ears we devoted readers ought to know about?

These are just some of the letters I have received in response to the eerie silence which has fallen over Hooting Yard like a leaden pall. The awful truth is revealed in today’s Dabbler, and it is all about bees!

From The 20th Century

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In my cupboard in yesterday’s Dabbler I resurrected some prose from the last century. The twelve potted biographies you will find there served originally as the texts accompanying illustrations for the 1993 Hooting Yard Calendar, entitled The Golden Age Of Bodger’s Spinney Variety Theatre. (One of the illustrations is reproduced for The Dabbler.)

I revisited some even earlier prose in a dream last night. When I was about fifteen years old I wrote a dreadful surrealist(ish) play-of-sorts called The Shepherd Of Amsterdam. The text no longer survives, long ago consumed by fire or eaten by worms. Last night it returned to haunt me in my sleep. I was in charge of putting on a stage production of the work, due to begin in fifteen minutes in spite of the fact that no rehearsals had taken place and the actors were wholly unfamiliar with the play. Indeed, there was only the single copy of the text in my possession, which I belatedly thought to photocopy. I was heading to the library for that purpose when I was told that the soundtrack CD of the play – produced by a walrus-moustachioed impresario who, I was assured, was “a big fan of Hooting Yard” – featuring music by Verdi and Monteverdi, was ready, awaiting only the addition of the actors performing the words.

Then I woke up.

Prolix Dabbling

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Before Twitter, there was Prolix – a communal steam-powered system where messages had to be a minimum of 50,000 words and include copious quotations in Latin and Ancient Greek. You can read about this forgotten Victorian marvel in my cupboard over at The Dabbler this week.

Our NHS Mum

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In The Dabbler this week I have a good moan about a couple of current exasperations, the phrase “our NHS” and the word “mum”. The piece ought to have been far more vituperative and indeed unsuitable for family reading, but the editor chose to illustrate it with a photograph of that lovely cuddly character John Lydon, so I suppose it’s fortuitous that I toned down my invective.

Dabbling On The Brocken

I am seriously concerned at the stupidity of so-called “scientists”, joined by a writer on philosophy, going to the Harz Miountains to make a goat stand in a ring at midnight to see if, when a Latin incantation was recited, the animal would turn into a young man. – Hannen Swaffer, 1932

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Back in January, I promised to tell you more about “the ridiculous Brocken affair” involving ghost-hunter Harry Price, a goat, a maiden “pure in heart”, and The Bloksberg Tryst. If you hie over to The Dabbler, you will find a full account.

Royal Dabbling

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Bang up to date as ever, in The Dabbler this week I trawl through the list of wedding presents given to Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips back in, er, November 1973. I wonder which one of them insisted on keeping the design of wild horses made from aluminium pellets? Or the biro?

Dabbler Dad

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Today would have been my father’s 90th birthday. Over at The Dabbler, I remember him in a version of a piece first posted here three years ago.

Dabbling With Gruel

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In The Dabbler this week, a very special treat – Miss HatHorn’s animated film of A Recipe For Gruel, in full. Hooting Yard is brought to the screen and, as you might expect, it is all bright sunshine and jollity, or rather, incessant drizzle and misery. The film features both knitting and probably the best crossword in cinema history.


Books. Pencils. Dabbling.

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Mr Key has been feeling somewhat debilitated for the past few days – not unconnected, perhaps, to sci-fi hero Lantus Solostar and the Humalog – hence the Hooting Yard silence. Over at The Dabbler today, however, there is a brief note on books and pencils (and in praise of Henry Petroski).

Dabbling In Etiquette

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This week in my cupboard at The Dabbler I offer some handy tips on etiquette. Those of you likely to encounter, over the weekend, black-hearted Prince Fulgencio and/or grunting farmyard pigs will find this advice particularly helpful. As far as I know I do not have an appointment with the prince, nor with any pigs, but I ought to check my day-book to make absolutely sure.

My day-book, by the way, has a yellow cover, like a fin de siècle symbolist publication, whereas the cover of my night-book is as black as the black, black heart of Prince Fulgencio. Indeed, the precise shade of black was created by replicating, to the nth degree, the blackness at the heart of the prince’s black heart, as depicted in the official mezzotints.

A dumb bear loomed over the shoulder of the mezzotintist as he worked, as dumb bears do in certain tales, ones you have probably forgotten, for you did not pay proper attention when sat at your mother’s knee as she read to you, about dumb bears and mezzotintists and the black, black heart of Prince Fulgencio, from those dog-eared storybooks, so many years ago. All the illustrations in the book had been torn out and used as makeshift wallpaper for the bomb shelter.

Oh! it was the loveliest of bomb shelters, lovely and subterranean, and before the wallpaper was pasted up the walls clanged when you rapped them with your tiny fists. Since then, worms have eaten their way through the walls, huge wriggling toxic albino worms like something from a nightmare. It is said by some that such worms gnawed their way into Prince Fulgencio’s black heart, while he yet lived, and that was what made him so terrible and terrifying a prince. But that did not stand up in court, nor in the star chamber.

I keep my night-book in my star chamber, and my day-book in the pantry. Oh! It is the loveliest of pantries, lovely and subterranean and filled with jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar and a jelly jug for jugged jelly.



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This week in my cupboard at The Dabbler I revisit my explanation of the true meaning of the words ACRONYM and ACROSTIC. There has been a very slight bit of rewriting, the sort of thing that, in years to come, when I am long dead and gone, may keep scholars occupied, or indeed fighting with one another, as they fret and worry and chew their pencils over the difference between the original and the revised versions. To lay a trap for those future scholars, let me just note here that the Dabbler text includes the word filthy, which is absent from the original Hooting Yard text. This might be connected to the recent appearance on these pages of the filthy magpie. Or it might not. Of such arcana, pamphlets can be written – and will be! – by scribblers with nothing better to do.


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Over at The Dabbler today, I resurrected my playlet about the Fripps, and the invention of an entirely new kind of cake. Of more import, perhaps, is the comment from Brit – the third one down – the implications of which, I must say, are quite terrifying. Please have a nerve tonic ready to glug as soon as you have read it. You’ll need it.

Cheese Horror

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“The horror that whole families entertain of cheese is well known.”

A potted history of swoons, shudders, convulsions, and dread in my cupboard this week in The Dabbler.


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Over at The Dabbler you can read my exclusive World Cup 2014 preview, which is uncannily similar to my Euro 2012 Foopball Tournament preview of a couple of years back. I am hoping to bring you the best of the commentators’ startling insights (“How long is it since Ronaldo was marked by an anagram of himself?”) in the coming weeks.


Over at The Dabbler today, I sing the praises of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (and am snippy about that git Damien Hirst).