Archive for the 'Things I Have Learned' Category

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


Equipment : dish


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).


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

Butch Otter

I was delighted to learn that the Governor of Idaho is named Butch Otter. Mr Otter is not to be confused with his namesake, the character who made occasional appearances in the Unconscious Squirrel cartoon strip, along with his anthropomorphic pals Milksop Weasel, Mordant Heron, Smarmy Badger, and Rancorous Peewit.

Invisible Crowe

croweMrs Catherine Crowe, who wrote the best-selling Night Side Of Nature [1848], an enormous compilation of ghost stories, was found ‘in the street, clothed only in her chastity, a pocket-handkerchief, and a visiting-card. She had been informed, it appeared, by the spirits, that if she went in that trim she would be invisible’,

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

Baron De Kepen

In certain letters to his wife Josephine, Napoleon Bonaparte referred to her private parts as “Baron de Kepen”. Nobody knows why (nor who the Baron was).


Joesphine de Beauharnais

Raid And Attack

I was excited to note in the television listings that there is a showing this afternoon of a remake of the 1977 film Raid on Entebbe, entitled Raid on N. Tebbit, in which a crack team of Mossad agents attempts to rescue hostages from the home of a deranged octogenarian ex-cabinet minister.


Readers may recall that the very same N. Tebbit was in the news a few years ago for attacking a child dressed in a dragon outfit.

Sausage Surprise

You’d be surprised how many people around the world appreciate sausages.

A world sausage expert quoted this morning on Farming Today on Radio Four.


Zamoyski is adept at painterly scene-setting. One vivid paragraph shows the Paris revolution of 1848, which sent King Louis Philippe scurrying into exile and ignited populist insurrections across Europe, as caused by a clumsy bandsman with a big drum. After a day of innocuous, anti-climactic Paris demonstrations, a company of soldiers stationed on a boulevard corner tried to retreat from a rowdy but hardly murderous crowd into the courtyard of the ministry of foreign affairs. They were blocked because the musician carrying the drum got jammed in the porte-cochère of the ministry. As a result some soldiers had to turn and face the crowd, grew rattled, and fired shots that left over 30 dead. The mangled corpses were piled onto a wagon, which was trundled through the streets of Paris by rabble-rousers crying for revenge. It was the drummer, rather than the previous uprisings in Palermo and Naples, and the granting of constitutions in Sicily, Sardinia and Tuscany, that triggered the continent-wide uprisings of 1848.

Rupert Davenport-Hines reviewing Phantom Terror: The Threat of Revolution and the Repression of Liberty, 1789 – 1848 by Adam Zamoyski in The Spectator.

Mobile Gull Appreciation Unit Field Guide Pamphlet

Many thanks to long-time Hooting Yard devotee Jonathan Coleclough, from whom I received in the post today this splendid pamphlet. Mr Coleclough suspects it was published in 2008, though whether or not it is out of print is not clear.


Myers & Butler

To a man of [Frederic] Myers’ eager temperament restrained indifference was not possible; his pent-up enthusiasm was sooner or later sure to find some line of discharge. And it so happened that a ready line of discharge was at that point presented to him by the crusading Christianity of Mrs. Josephine Butler, the still young and beautiful wife of George Butler, Vice-Principal of Cheltenham College, and later Principal of Liverpool College. Mrs. Butler later, of course, became famous for her work among prostitutes and her campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts. At this time however she was chiefly engaged in what might be described as the spiritual seduction of promising young men. Her religion was emotional rather than dogmatic, and her methods of conversion were simple. Having aroused her quarry by her exciting concern for his welfare, she would flatter him with an earnest account of her own inner trials and victories – an account delivered perhaps at twilight while she lay with her slim form stretched out upon a sofa – and at last capture him by a well-staged dénouement. She might, for instance, call him into her room to find her kneeling in pale beauty before her mirror, devoutly praying for his salvation. Only men with the coolest heads could resist such an appeal; and Myers was not one of them. During the next few years he met or visited Mrs. Butler repeatedly, and his way of life changed so much that his friends hardly knew him. One of them, Richard Jebb, noted in his Journal for 26 February 1866: “Myers devotes himself to self-discipline. He never goes anywhere. He gets up at 6.30 and goes to bed at 10.00. His days are spent in reading Ecce Homo and in thinking.”

Alan Gauld, The Founders of Psychical Research (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968)

Talking Twaddle

In 1871, T. H. Huxley was invited to join a committee for the investigation of Spiritualist phenomena. He declined, writing:

supposing the phenomena to be genuine – they do not interest me. If anybody would endow me with the faculty of listening to the chatter of old women and curates in the nearest cathedral town, I should decline the privilege, having better things to do.

And if the folk in the spiritual world do not talk more wisely and sensibly than their friends report them to do, I put them in the same category.

The only good that I can see in a demonstration of the truth of ‘Spiritualism’ is to furnish an additional argument against suicide. Better live a crossing-sweeper than die and be made to talk twaddle by a ‘medium’ hired at a guinea a séance.

Quoted in The Founders Of Psychical Research by Alan Gauld (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968)

220px-Huxley7T. H. Huxley : Victorian with beard

Schubert : The Stories Behind The Lieder, No. 1

In “Der Liedler” (1815), a minstrel saves a maiden from a werewolf by smashing his harp against him and then hurling him over a cliff.

As noted in The Spectator by Damian Thompson, who adds “Even Schubert couldn’t polish this particular turd. Long, corny, cod-mediaeval ballads never showed him at his best.”

Invoking Sumai (2)

Here is an example of the way in which invoking Sumai can liven up the most tedious of evenings.

A country road. A tree. Evening.

Estragon, sitting on a low mound, is trying to take off his boot. He pulls at it with both hands, panting. He gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again.

As before.

Enter Vladimir.

ESTRAGON: (giving up again) Nothing to be done.

VLADIMIR: (advancing with short, stiff strides, legs wide apart) I’m beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything.

ESTRAGON : (interrupting) I invoke Sumai!

Enter a big band orchestra, crooners, chorus girls, dancers, acrobats, jugglers, clowns, etc, who proceed to put on some tiptop variety entertainment for the next two hours.