Dabbling Times

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Over at The Dabbler, my cupboard contains a selection of newspaper headlines which appeared in The Times in 1789 and 1790. Was it really true that the Irish were not refined enough for opera? Did the paper have a regular “Elopements” column? Is it seemly for a clergyman to eat filberts while conducting a burial service? You will not get answers to these important questions, but they are well worth thinking about, are they not?

Milk, Poultry, And Idiots

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In this week’s Dabbler there is a third set of Brief Lives (or Brief, Brief Lives), involving, inter alia, milk, poultry, and idiots.

In connection with which, Mr Key is about to embark upon a thrilling project which will have the unfortunate effect of becalming Hooting Yard for some while. I will still of course be pouring out sweeping paragraphs of majestic prose, but for a few months there may be fewer postages here than is usual. So if two or three days go by without word, do not fret and imagine I have fallen down a mineshaft or met with some other calamity.

News of Project Thrilling will be announced in due time.

Dabblers’ Light Railway

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In my Dabbler cupboard this week I make a convincing argument that the names of the stations on the Docklands Light Railway are as worthy of having their own dedicated forecast on the radio as those oh so evocative shipping areas.

And while we are on the subject of BBC Radio 4, I should note that I learned something very fascinating on Farming Today this morning. Apparently, on no account whatsoever should you ever tell anybody how many sheep you have, even if they have the gall to come out and ask you directly. Remember that.

Muddy Dabbling

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This week in The Dabbler I pay homage to the two heroes of my teenage years, Samuel Beckett and Robert Wyatt, and how they sort of collided, in spirit, in Wyatt’s song “Muddy Mouth”.

Do I still idolise either of them? Probably not. Beckett’s early novels remain matchless, but he wrote himself into an airless and sterile impasse. The later, shorter, fictions lack the comic energy that makes Watt a bonkers masterpiece sui generis. As for Wyatt, he still makes some fine records, but I can’t really uphold as a hero an unreconstructed communist who has that curious British middle-class leftie obsessiveness about Israel. (See also the late Iain Banks.)

Dabbling With Oranges

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Over at The Dabbler this week I round up some amusements of the learned, including Baruch Spinoza’s pastime of setting spiders to fight each other and then laughing immoderately at the result.

There is mention of James Boswell too, which inspired Jonathan Law in the comments to note this intriguing passage from The Life Of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1791):

It seems [Johnson] had been frequently observed at the Club to put into his pocket the Seville oranges, after he had squeezed the juice of them into the drink he made for himself. Beauclerk and Garrick talked of it to me, and seemed to think that he had a strange unwillingness to be discovered. We could not divine what he did with them; and this was the bold question to be put.

I saw on his table the spoils of the preceding night, some fresh peels nicely scraped and cut into pieces. “O, Sir, (said I) I now partly see what you do with the squeezed oranges which you put into your pocket at the Club.” JOHNSON: “I have a great love for them.” BOSWELL: “And pray, Sir, what do you do with them? You scrape them, it seems, very neatly, and what next?” JOHNSON: “I let them dry, Sir.” BOSWELL: “And what next?” JOHNSON: “Nay, Sir, you shall know their fate no further.” BOSWELL: “Then the world must be left in the dark. It must be said (assuming a mock solemnity) he scraped them, and let them dry, but what he did with them next, he never could be prevailed upon to tell.” JOHNSON: “Nay, Sir, you should say it more emphatically: – he could not be prevailed upon, even by his dearest friends, to tell.”

It seems to me that Sherlock Holmes, having cleared up that business about The Five Orange Pips, ought to have turned his attention to The Mysterious Case Of Dr Johnson And His Collection Of Orange Peel.

Tag : Fruit in literature.

Dog Dabbling

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Over in my cupboard at The Dabbler today, I sing the praises of Matzo the Bookshop Dog. This is a fairly blatant piece of advertising for Woolfson & Tay, the independent bookshop – now moved from Bermondsey Square to Bankside – which, in 2011, hosted that memorable, indeed imperishable, Evening Of Lugubrious Music & Lopsided Prose. I urge those of you who live within a thousand-mile radius to visit the shop regularly, and buy books, and drink tea, and eat cake.


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Today is Eurovision Song Contest Eve, and over in The Dabbler I present some thoughts, penned earlier in the week after watching the first semi-final. Chief among those thoughts is the wisdom, for a contestant, of being accompanied by your priest. All together now . . . ♪♪♪  “My lovely horse . . .” ♪♪♪

Clowns And Fruitcakes

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This week in my cupboard at The Dabbler, you will find a letter from an inept foreign spy sent on a mission to discover what in heaven’s name is going on in the Westminster bubble. I managed to decipher the enciphered text using incredibly complicated code-breaking techniques devised by Snippage, the code-breaker extraordinaire, who cut his chops on Dobson’s mysterious pamphlet Several Observations On Kathy Kirby, Composed In A Cipher So Baffling That Centuries May Pass Before Anybody Will Be Able To Wring Any Sense From It (out of print). Of course, Snippage failed to decipher the pamphlet in toto, but without his efforts we would not even know the title, which is given on the cover as Gwzhfgsjlf seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter klrtfghsdjwi (uto fo pirnt).

Dabbler Earth

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Over in my cupboard at The Dabbler this week, I am thrilled by the announcement of “Islamic Google Earth”, and wonder what other parallel worlds may be brought into existence. What I do not mention in the piece is Hooting Yard Earth, an important new interweb-based initiative over which boffins are currently slaving in their remote subterranean Alpine fastness. Details are sketchy, but apparently they think they have nearly completed work on an app which will tell you how to get from Sawdust Bridge to the Blister Lane Bypass without becoming hopelessly entangled in one of those terrible thickets of poisonous nettles.

A Short Break (Again)

Things have been pretty quiet here at Hooting Yard, and they are going to be even quieter over the next few days as I head off for another jaunt in the cause of art. This will probably be the last one, at least for the foreseeable future, so when I return early next week I shall resume my usual practice of hunkering down in my Diogenesian Barrel of Reclusion and sending forth sweeping paragraphs of majestic prose to an eager, panting populace..

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Meanwhile, over at The Dabbler, you can read a note on the death of Margaret Thatcher.


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Over in my cupboard at The Dabbler today I try, as best I can, to come to terms with the most seismic event in our national life for centuries. I am not ashamed to admit that I wept, wept I tell you!, and copious were my tears, and salty were they too, at the self-willed downfall of perhaps the one true political colossus of the past five hundred years.

On the other hand, it might be that, with The Miliband Resignation, I was trying my hand at devising a convincing Robert Ludlum-style title, in preparation for a forthcoming cinema franchise. But who would star as David Miliband?