Archive for the 'Things I Have Learned' Category

Impish Demons

While my brainpans remain empty of words, no doubt temporarily, I must reassure you lot that I am still living and breathing, so here – courtesy of my informant Poppy Nisbet – is a fifteenth century German illustration from the Book of Revelation.

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Bolsheviks & Lizard-People

Many thanks to David Thompson for bringing to our attention this letter from the correspondence columns of the Weekly Worker. What a relief to know that David Icke’s sensible insights have been taken on board by the Communist Party Alliance!

I never claimed that the future of humanity “may rest on the beneficence of extra-terrestrial reptiles.” I… referred to the reptilian control theory, which argues that for thousands of years humanity has been controlled by a reptilian race, using their mixed reptile-human genetic bloodlines, who have oppressed and exploited humans, while claiming descent from the ‘gods’ and the divine right to rule by bloodline. Ancient and modern society is obsessed with reptilian, serpent and dragon themes, possibly due to this heritage. Even the flag of Wales has a dragon on it.

Most people have closed minds, depending on the issues. Mention the possibility of aliens secretly manipulating humanity behind the scenes and the shutters come down.

Politically Incorrect Hedge Sparrows

This was commended to my attention (by R.). Now it is commended to your attention (by me).

Oh, and elsewhere Douglas Murray notes the new thought-crime of “nun-dismissal”.

Minibus Pariah

Last night I dreamed I was a passenger in a minibus. I was accompanied by several old friends from years ago and by Quakers. For reasons never explicit, everybody in the minibus thoroughly disapproved of me. My sense of this was vivid and distressing, and I was very glad to wake from it.

I told Pansy Cradledew I had had a bad dream. “I was the subject of disapproval,” I said. She laughed. “When people say they have bad dreams you expect them to say ‘I was terrified’ or something similar. But no, you were merely subject to disapproval.” She found this highly amusing.

Later I was able to reflect that things could be much worse. I learned that Auberon Waugh’s maternal grandfather was told by a foolish friend that a guaranteed cure for blindness was to have all of one’s teeth removed. He arranged for this to be done, contracted blood poisoning as a result, and died at the age of 43.

The Importance Of The Gannet

According to a six-DVD set on the subject of British Birds made by the ornithologist Paul Doherty, the gannet is “the most pointy bird to be found in Britain”.

I am indebted to Andy Martin for bringing this critically important information to my attention. Mr Martin adds: “I wish to pass a motion that the gannet be adopted as the official emblem of Pointy Town, to appear on any heraldic designs, flags, and stationery”. I think we can consider that carried, nem. con.

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The gannet : exceedingly pointy

A Soul Above Buttons

My father was an eminent buttonmaker… but I had a soul above buttons… and panted for a liberal profession.

Sylvester Daggerwood, 1795. My thanks to Poppy Nisbet for this important quotation.

The Clappers

In a comment on Peewit Patrol, yesterday, Dave asks about my use of the phrase “running like the clappers”. The clappers referred to are those of bells, which strike the inner surface of the bell to create that clang we know and love and occasionally stuff cotton wool in our ears to muffle.

If it is argued that the clappers of bells do not run, nor trot, nor scamper, all I can offer in my defence is that the phrase, meaning “to go very fast”, seems to have originated with Royal Air Force public school chaps during the second world war. The OED cites Eric Partridge’s (not Peewit’s, note) A Dictionary of Forces’ Slang 1939-45 (Secker & Warburg 1948). Further citations suggest that it can rain like the clappers, and that one can both surrender and go to work like the clappers, so running towards a spinney for an initiation ceremony in the moonlight seems equally viable.

It should be noted that the bells the clappers of which go so very fast are specified by Partridge (not Peewit) as the bells of hell. It so happens that Dobson, the titanic out of print pamphleteer of the last century, devoted one of his pamphlets to this very subject. Fanatical Hooting Yardists may recall this piece, originally posted five long years ago, in the dying days of the Brown administration:

The bells of hell do not ring, says Theophrastus Dogend, they clank and clunk, eternally, awfully, deafeningly. This is because they are battered and broken, with great cracks and fissures. He adds that they are covered in mould, of stinking greeny-grey.

There are no bells in hell, we are told by Pilupus Taxifor. He says the clanks and clunks are the din of infernal machinery, engines of havoc, designed to torment the damned. If there be stinking mould upon the machines he does not say.

While Optrex Gibbus maintains there are precisely ten thousand bells in hell, each of them numbered, each in its own belfry, and they are rung by sinners, in expiation, the bell-pulls in the form of vipers, which bite the sinners’ hands and wrists each time they peal their designated bell.

Dobson’s pamphlet Hell, Its Bells (out of print) is an attempt to untangle the contradictions in these authorities, each of which, he contends, has at least a grain of truth. Are there bells in hell, he asks, or are there not? If there are, do they ring or do they clank? And clunk? Are there ten thousand bells, or fewer, or more, even an infinity of bells, just as there is an infinity of pits and dungeons and oubliettes in which the damned languish forever?

The pamphleteer’s research for this paper, which he read aloud at a meeting of the Sawdust Bridge Platform Debating Initiative on the tenth of April 1954, led him up some pretty horrible pathways, pathways more abhorrent even than the one that runs parallel to the disgusting canal wherein the vomit of generations has collected. Why it is that drunks and those with stomach disorders have habitually seen fit to throw up their guts in a canal basin at the end of a long and twisting lane far from any clinics and hostelries is a mystery Dobson never investigated, so far as we know. But he was spellbound by the bells of hell, upon which, he believed, so much, so very very much, hinged. It is a pity he never got round to writing the follow-up pamphlet, Hell, Its Bells, And All That Hinges Upon Them, With Lots Of Details, a work which exists only in the form of illegible scribblings in a notebook half of which is burned and the remaining half smeared with a stinking greeny-grey goo, which might be mould scraped from the bells of hell, but might on the other hand just be the sort of goo that Dobson managed to attract to himself, in his wanderings, God knows how.

Hooting Yard Encyclopaedia topics addressed : Hell, bells, goo.

Death Room Decoration

In her letter yesterday, Poppy Nisbet mentioned the decoration of the “Zeitgeist” Death Room, consisting in part of portrait paintings (by Marjorie Monroe) “of subjects who all looked like characters from Agatha Christie” from which “the faces [were] cut out and the rest of the image left intact”. Ms Nisbet has now provided photographic evidence of what she is talking about, so you lot can better appreciate the spookiness.

Left : intact portrait, Right : wrecked portrait.

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Crow Windows : An Addendum

On Thursday I remarked that it was hard to imagine a window made out of crows. Not for the first time, I was wrong – astonishingly so, given that ornithology is involved. But wrong nonetheless, as this letter from Poppy Nisbet makes clear. It plopped through the post all the way from the eastern United States:

In the long ago I occasionally worked on local theatrical extravaganzas, my favorite being “Zeitgeist”, an excruciating interpretation of Human Life from beginning to end. We, the perpetrators of this cultural maelstrom, took over the very small town hall in a very small town nearby. The building had a central front door and hallway flanked by two minuscule offices and leading to a large open room with a stage at the far end. As a preface to the main event onstage we made the offices into a birth room and a death room. It is the death room that requires description.

The house I now live in had belonged to artists for a long time and the higgledy-piggledy remains of their art lives were still in the barn studio when I moved here. One of the artists was a portrait painter of subjects who all looked like characters from Agatha Christie. The studio was overflowing with petrified tubes of oil paint, bristle-free brushes, canvas stretchers, human bones, broken glass and empty frames, my favorite relics being paintings with the faces cut out and the rest of the image left intact. As a backdrop for the death room these edited portraits were hung on the walls above dead leaves piled high, so deep that people could only wade through them with difficulty. The resultant noise was full of memories.

The room had a dilemma that demanded solving, a large window facing the parking lot. We felt that the evening trajectories of headlights would spoil the mood on the night of the performance so we cut silhouettes of flying crows out of a piece of black foam-core board and fitted it over the glass. A sheer curtain was hung over this on the inside, making the window amendments invisible in the general murk.

The headlights swept through the birds like a fog beacon, flaring up for a moment and projecting distorted avian outlines onto the folds of the curtain and the floating dust of the leaves. It left a surging impression of flight that was surprisingly spooky. Even now, whenever I see crows I remember the motion of light in black bird shapes filling up a window.

Spirit Photography

Hooting Yard devotee Alasdair Dickson saw a ghost. Fortunately, in spite of his terror, he had the presence of mind to take a snap, and he has donated the exposure to the Hooting Yard Spirit Photography Bank. Here it is. The spectral presence of a ghoulish phantom is clearly visible executing a woohoodiwoodiwoo manoeuvre behind an Edinburgh municipal bench.

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Speaking of ghosts, over the past few years I have read quite a few books on spiritualism and the paranormal in the Victorian era and the first half of the twentieth century. A striking feature of the material is that, almost invariably, mention is made of Harry Price. Wishing to discover more about the “veteran ghost-hunter” than was divulged in scattered references, I obtained a copy of Search For Harry Price by Trevor H. Hall (Duckworth, 1978). What a hoot! The book proves to be a sustained character assassination, demonstrating in forensic detail that Price was a liar and a fraud and a charlatan, not only in the field of ghost-hunting, but, earlier in his life, as a numismatist, archaeologist, and book-collector. It is a highly entertaining read, and I have not yet arrived at the part, promised in the preface, where Hall examines “the ridiculous Brocken affair … the ‘magical experiment’ in the Harz Mountains in which a goat was supposed to change into a beautiful youth (which attracted some 800 press reports in over a dozen countries)”. I will tell you all about that in due course.

Hooting Yard Encyclopaedia topics addressed : ghosts, phantoms, spectres, wraiths, ghouls, woohoodiwoodiwoo manoeuvres, goat transformations, municipal benches.

The Falls

“We shall pick up an existence by its frogs,” wrote [Charles] Fort in a memorable phrase; but he also told of falls of alkali, asbestos, ashes, axes;

of beef, birds, bitumen, blood, brick, and butter;

of carbonate of soda, charcoal, cinders, coal, coffee beans, and coke;

of fibres, fish, flesh, and flints;

of gelatin, grain, and greenstone;

of hay;

of ice, insects, and iron;

of larvae, leaves, and lizards;

of manna;

of nostoc;

of sands, seeds, silk, snakes, soot, spiderwebs, stones, and sulphur;

of turpentine, and turtles;

of water, and worms.

Damon Knight, Charles Fort : Prophet Of The Unexplained (Gollancz 1971)

Christmas Dinner Revisited

In his comment on Christmas Dinner, Hooting Yard’s in-house anagrammatist R. provided one of his finest letter-jumbles : crams tern in dish. This is, quite clearly, the essential Yuletide recipe for my readers, and I thus present a handy pictorial guide:

Ingredients : tern

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Equipment : dish

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Method : cram tern in dish. Serve.

Christmas Dinner

Brit (of The Dabbler) wrote to ask me if, as one of the world’s leading ornithologists, I would be tucking into a bird-packed Christmas dinner next week. Specifically, he wondered if I might be tempted by Grimod de La Reynière’s 1807 concoction, the rôti sans pareil. This is a bustard stuffed with a turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a pheasant stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a duck stuffed with a guinea fowl stuffed with a teal stuffed with a woodcock stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a plover stuffed with a lapwing stuffed with a quail stuffed with a thrush stuffed with a lark stuffed with an ortolan bunting stuffed with a garden warbler stuffed with an olive. The puckish gastronome did not actually recommend washing this down with a brimming tumbler of fresh warm starling’s blood, but that would be appropriate.

This year, however, in an act of right-on cultural outreach to our non-Christian Middle Eastern chums, I think I will go for whole stuffed camel – the recipe for which you can see here (scroll down to the end if you wish to avoid some blather about Dobson and Marigold Chew and Charles Montagu Doughty).

Chlorine

Lomg-term Hooting Yard aficionados may recall that in the closing years of the last century I produced four or five calendars. Each of these had a specific theme, thus the 1992 Hooting Yard Calendar was entitled Accidental Deaths Of Twelve Cartographers, while its 1993 successor commemorated The Golden Days of the Bodger’s Spinney Variety Theatre. In 1994 I thought to illustrate a fictional work of fiction (Fangs In The Mist – a phrase stolen from J. P. Donleavy) and, in casting about within my bonce for a suitable name for the fictional author, I lit upon Chlorine Winslow. “Chlorine”, it seemed to me, sounded like it might well have been a popular girl’s name in Victorian times, and I recall that I chuckled immoderately to myself having decided upon it.

Now, years later, I discover this:

Mrs [Leonora] Piper had become a medium in 1883. The thing had happened in the usual way – by contagion. She had been suffering from a tumour and had gone to visit a medium who gave medical consultations, but who also specialized in developing latent mediumship in others. At her first sitting Mrs Piper felt very agitated and thought she was going to faint. On the next occasion, the medium put his hands on her forehead. Once more she was on the point of losing consciousness. She saw a flood of light, unrecognisable faces, and a hand which fluttered before her own face. She then passed out. When she came to, although she could remember nothing, she was told that a young Indian girl named.,incredibly, Chlorine, had manifested through her and had given a remarkable proof of survival after death.

From The Spiritualists : The Passion For The Occult In The Nineteenth And Twentieth Centuries by Ruth Brandon (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1983).

The Interval Ends With A Shocking Revelation

Well, that was a slightly longer interval than intended. Now that the forthcoming paperback is almost ready, I really ought to buckle down to important Hooting Yardery again. One thing I have been doing while ignoring you lot is continuing my intermittent reading – begun last December – of Vincent Bugliosi’s magisterial Reclaiming History. This, you may recall, is a preposterously huge tome – 1,518 pages of dense text – devoted to the Kennedy assassination.

Two phrases are particularly evocative for hopeless JFK obsessives like me – the grassy knoll and the picket fence. So magisterial is Bugliosi’s magisterial book that he even finds space, in a footnote, for a minor though shocking revelation. The fence in Dealey Plaza commonly referred to as the picket fence is not a picket fence at all! Dogged in his pursuit of absolutely everything anybody could ever possibly care to know about the events of that day in Dallas, Bugliosi conducted an interview by telephone on 18 August 2005 with Gary Mack, curator of the Sixth Floor Museum. Mr Mack told him: “In a picket fence, the wooden slats are not touching each other across the width of the fence. Here, they are. The fence is more properly referred to as a stockade fence.”

I had to go for a long walk to clear my head after reading that. I can only hope it has cleared sufficiently for me to resume bashing out the prose you lot have come to rely upon to keep you sane in a doolally universe.

Dal-Dealey_picket_fenceThe picket fence – not a picket fence