Archive for the 'The Dabbler' Category

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).


Nisbet Dabbling

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This week in The Dabbler, my cupboard contains a reminiscence of my childhood devotion to nisbet spotting. I have been thinking of taking up the hobby again.


In his latest Dabbler Diary, Brit gives an account of a thrilling event he attended last week:

To Bristol Grammar School, to hear Frank Key address a Sixth Form Literary Society! You didn’t expect that either, did you? It was arranged by the inestimable Roland Clare, editor of  By Aerostat to Hooting Yard, who introduced Frank with a comprehensive, lavishly illustrated and frequently hilarious lecture on nonsense. I have to say, though, that for all the amusement afforded by the surrealists, the dada-ists, John Lennon, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band and others, none of the nonsensarians are nearly so funny as Frank Key reading his own material. The only ones who come close are Ivor Cutler and the Bible.

Frank warmed up his unsuspecting young audience with Little Dagobert and the Binder Symphonies, at which there was much baffled tittering, then battered them mercilessly into submission with How to Think of Things Other Than Juggling, which contains the longest sentence he has ever written. It’s quite a thing, listening to a really, really long sentence being read aloud. One goes through a full range of emotions, from hilarity to despair and back again. It’s a journey. I could see some of the sixth formers seriously struggling at the midway point. “At least it’s not Neil Kinnock,” I wanted to say to them. But, as all things must, the sentence did at last pass, and Frank took pity on his audience and finished with a corker.

Afterwards I mingled with some of the pupils and assorted guests, including some of Bristol’s most thrusting young eccentrics and, quite unexpectedly, the well-known philosopher Julian Baggini. A youthful poet with a curly black moptop analysed Frank’s long sentence with admirable seriousness, praising its hypnotic effect. When all had dispersed, Roland and Frank and I stood around and surveyed the buffet leftovers. How deeply moving it was to watch the penniless authors methodically consume the free sandwiches.

I cannot speak for Roland, but as far as I recall I ate only a single sandwich.