Archive for the 'Things I Have Learned' Category

World Of Interiors

I don’t believe any one of you would like to live in a room with a murdered man in the cupboard, however well preserved chemically:- even with a sunflower growing out at the top of a head.

John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, Vol. II, August 1871


A couple of nights ago I had a dream in which the protagonist was Lucas Sudja. I had – and have – absolutely no idea who Mr Sudja is, or was, and so, with my finger pressed firmly on the 21st century vacuum o’ vapidity – sorry, I mean zeitgeist – I took to Facecloth to find out.


I was amused by those replies where my respondents shared their own dreams, but more pertinent to this post was Marina Organ’s question whether I had Googled Lucas Sudja, and my reply. It was only when the question was put to me that I thought about the possibility of GoogleNod – a vast archive cataloguing all that is contained, not in the “real” world, but in the world of dreams.

The content of GoogleNod would of course be utterly different to the stuff we find on its parent search engine. Utterly different, but somehow, tangentially, familiar. Lucas Sudja would be there, along with the tribunal of Henry Cow-baiting Irish Maoists, indie band The Fresco Runes, Dave Brock’s handmade wardrobe, and a myriad of other shimmering phantasms from the Land of Nod.

GoogleNod would simply collect the material, certainly make no attempt to “interpret” it. That fool’s errand can be left to the man Vladimir Nabokov called “the Viennese quack” and his increasingly preposterous acolytes. It matters not what Lucas Sudja portends. What matters – if any of it matters at all – is that he now exists, however faint and fugitive, because I dreamed him.

Further Astonishment

In my post yesterday on Christina the Astonishing, I said that I would be doing further research. In the Comments, Mary O’Grady helpfully led me to the entry on this orphaned Belgian peasant in Butler’s Lives Of The Saints, and I have also been consulting any number of Catholic websites. Those of you who do not have time to devote to such devotional devotion, and would prefer the simpler option of watching a brief video, are referred to Busted Halo (“an online magazine for spiritual seekers”) where you can watch an episode of my new favourite show, Father Steve’s Spooky Saints. Dig that crazy Catholic animation, daddy-o!


Saint Christina the Astonishing sitting in a tree to escape the stench of sin


I was intrigued by this snippet in the diary column of the Guardian. Yesterday, we were told, was

the feast day of Christina the Astonishing, a 12th century Belgian saint who could fly and occasionally lived in holes, ovens, and ponds while preaching.

Clearly I am going to have to do further research, and when I have, I will let you lot know what I have discovered.

Pigs (And Plums)

I am indebted to Richard Carter for drawing to my attention this snapshot from the Tweeting account of Andrew Ray (@Some_landscapes). Mr Ray has been reading News from the English Countryside 1750-1850 compiled by Clifford Morsley:


The Amis Cat

This is probably the most accurate observation of a cat in world literature:

Victor was a blue-point Siamese, a neutered tom-cat now in the third year of his age. He entered, as usual, in vague semi-flight, as from something that was probably not a menace, but which it was as well to be on the safe side about. Becoming aware of me, he approached, again as usual, with an air of uncertainty not so much about who I was as about what I was, and of keeping a very open mind on the range of possible answers. Was I potassium nitrate, or next October twelvemonth, or Christianity, or a chess problem – perhaps involving a variation on the Falkbeer counter-gambit? When he reached me, he gave up the problem and toppled on to my feet like an elephant pierced by a bullet in some vital spot. Victor was, among other things, the reason why no dogs were allowed at the Green Man. The effort of categorizing them might have proved too much for him.

from The Green Man by Kingsley Amis (1969)

Black Cat

Shortly after the death of Constant Lambert in 1951, during a concert performance of his Eight Poems By Li Po, a black cat appeared on the stage, sat patiently during the music, then walked off, and was never seen again.

The Pier

To a great many people, and I am here to say that I am one of them, a seaside resort cannot stake a great claim on interest or affection unless it has a pier. More perhaps than speeches or proclamations, the one fact that convinced many Englishmen in 1940 that the nation was really up against it was when detachments of Royal Engineers at every resort and with precision blew great gaps in our beloved piers so that they could not be used as landing stages by the Germans then threatening seaborne invasion.

This affection for the pier can be doubtless proved to have psycholgical implications, particularly to any Freudians left in the audience. That rigid object penetrating the loved or hostile ocean from the anchorage of the land – well, as long as you know how to spell phallus you can barely go wrong.

Anthony Hern, The Seaside Holiday : The History of the English Seaside Resort (Cresset 1967)

Deranged Intense Conviction

James Delingpole in The Spectator suggests why Game Of Thrones is so unutterably fabulous:

I think the bottom line is if your film or TV series is to become one of the truly greats then the key is to throw conventional wisdom out of the window and pursue your deranged idea with the intensity and conviction of Fitzcarraldo up the Amazon or General Giap at Dien Bien Phu. It can’t be done, they’ll say. And maybe they’re right. But oh, the satisfaction in proving them wrong.

In my more light-headed moments I would like to think that Hooting Yard is precisely that kind of deranged idea pursued with intensity and conviction. Though, I must admit, not in recent days, when the Key Cranium seems like a vast and sleepy hollow. I shall try to channel the Lannisters. They know how to get things done.

Ten Years Ago Too

Another item that appeared on Hooting Yard ten years ago today was this:

Colossal, crude, terrible and sublime, Brann opened the ears of the people by the mighty power of his untamed language, by the smashing fury of his wrath of words… Waste, futile and planless, mere howling, empty, chaotic waste, for no purpose under heaven but to serve as food for idle fancies as to what might have been – such to me is the death of Brann, and my throat chokes with sorrow and my soul is sick with vain despair.

That is a quotation from Milo Hastings’ preface to Brann The Iconoclast, a collection of pieces by William Cowper Brann (1855 – 1898). You can read the whole thing here, or you might prefer, as I do, to repair to a deserted windswept promontory and shout those colossal, crude, terrible and sublime words at the sky, and watch birds drop down dead.


Norwegian Wood


In 1946, Sylvia Townsend Warner – superb novelist and archetypal posh communist – received, as a Christmas present from Alyse Gregory, an empty matchbox. This is her letter of thanks:


Dearest Alyse,

Usually one begins a thank-letter by some graceless comparison, by saying, I have never been given such a very scarlet muffler, or, This is the largest horse I have ever been sent for Christmas. But your matchbox is a nonpareil, for never in my life have I been given a matchbox. Stamps, yes, drawing-pins, yes, balls of string, yes, yes, menacingly too often; but never a matchbox. Now that it has happened I ask myself why it has never happened before. They are such charming things, neat as wrens, and what a deal of ingenuity and human artfulness has gone into their construction; for if they were like the ordinary box with a lid they would not be one half so convenient. This one though is especially neat, charming, and ingenious, and the tray slides in and out as though Chippendale had made it.

But what I like best of all about my matchbox is that it is an empty one. I have often thought how much I should enjoy being given an empty house in Norway, what pleasure it would be to walk into those bare wood-smelling chambers, walls, floor, ceiling, all wood, which is after all the natural shelter of man, or at any rate the most congenial. And when I opened your matchbox which is now my matchbox and saw that beautiful clean sweet-smelling empty rectangular expanse it was exactly as though my house in Norway had come true; with the added advantage of being just the right size to carry in my hand. I shut my imagination up in it instantly, and it is still sitting there, listening to the wind in the firwood outside. Sitting there in a couple of days time I shall hear the Lutheran bell calling me to go and sing Lutheran hymns while the pastor’s wife gazes abstractedly at her husband in a bower of evergreen while she wonders if she remembered to put pepper in the goose-stuffing; but I shan’t go, I shall be far too happy sitting in my house that Alyse gave me for Christmas.

Oh, I must tell you I have finished my book—begun in 1941 and a hundred times imperilled but finished at last. So I can give an undivided mind to enjoying my matchbox.


P.S. There is still so much to say…carried away by my delight in form and texture I forgot to praise the picture on the back. I have never seen such an agreeable likeness of a hedgehog, and the volcano in the background is magnificent.

The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner, ed. William Maxwell (Chatto & Windus 1982)


You lot do not visit Hooting Yard for news of the latest doings in the world of pop culture, but this, I think, is worth noting:

The ballads are seldom the high point of a huge pop show, but in [Miley] Cyrus’s case, a degree of interest is added by the fact that she sings one of them while being pursued around the stage, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, by a giant fluorescent orange fluffy bird.

Alexis Petridis in The Guardian.


Last night I dreamed of Sir Maurice Bowra (1898 – 1971). When I awoke, this morning, I had to look him up to find out who he was. When I went to sleep last night, his was a name I knew, that I had come across here and there over the years, but I could not have said I knew anything about him.

I learn, today, among other things, that he wrote : “I expect to pass through this world but once and therefore if there is anybody that I want to kick in the crutch I had better kick them in the crutch now, for I do not expect to pass this way again.”

In my dream Bowra was hanging about on the street wit a man named Henderson and a third party whose name was not divulged. Bowra had lank sandy hair and looked not unlike the actor David Warner. But in reality, he was “built like a sandbag, … short and square with no neck and possessed a huge bittern booming voice”. This is what he really looked like.


The Home Life Of The Grahames

The marital life of the Grahames became uncosier by the year. “Elspeth seldom got up before eleven, often went to bed in her clothes … Much of the time she spent on her divan, sipping hot water. She ate practically nothing and mouse-nests proliferated in the larder ; she put Kenneth into special underwear which was only changed once a year. It is perhaps not surprising that he took a long solitary walk every day.”

John Sutherland, The Lives Of The Novelists (Profile Books, 2011), quoting from (I think) a 1959 biography of Kenneth Grahame by Peter Green.


Sentences that leave you wanting to know more:

Later this duke shot himself while searching for cormorants.

One of the Dukes of Bedford, mentioned in a review of Requisitioned : The British Country House in the Second World War by John Martin Robinson.