Archive for the 'Things I Have Learned' Category

Laughter In The Dark

Having been somewhat disconsolate of late, for reasons I need not bore you with (but hence the silence here), I needed a laugh, and was rewarded this morning. In the Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg interviews Naomi Klein.

She flies, already a lot more than most people, and is set to rack up air miles that would make her, by her own admission, “a climate criminal” … Yet she confesses to getting weepy when she thinks about the future under climate change.

Imagine poor Naomi sobbing her heart out. But not to worry …

She says she is not going to be trapped into “gotcha games” about personal habits.

Speaking of the Guardian, Rod Liddle has an amusing line about the online video lectures delivered by Russell Brand:

like a condensed version of a particularly bad edition of the Guardian, filtered through the veins of an imbecile.

Werner Herzog Goes For A Walk

For me, the story that sums up Herzog’s unique world-view concerns the great German Jewish film critic Lotte Eisner, a concentration camp survivor and an early champion of his work. Eisner had lived in Paris since the war, having fled to France to escape the Nazis. In November 1974 Herzog was in Munich when he heard that she was dying. ‘German cinema could not do without her now,’ he declared. ‘I set off on the most direct route to Paris, in full faith, believing that she would stay alive if I came on foot.’ For three weeks he walked through rain and snow, without a proper map or winter clothing, trekking across muddy fields, following a straight line on his compass. ‘It was like a pilgrimage,’ he says. ‘I would not allow her to die.’ When he arrived at her bedside, Eisner was on the mend. ‘Open the window,’ he told her. ‘From these last days onward I can fly.’

from a review of The Werner Herzog Collection (BFI) in The Spectator

Toll Gate No. 4

Here is another cutting from Poppy Nisbet. (As before, click to enlarge.) There is something utterly compelling about this list. Any sense of vague coherence it may have collapses, beautifully. It cries out to be incorporated into a piece of prose, and that is the goal I have set for myself tomorrow.


The King Humbug

Don’t get fooled by “Dr.” Smartweed Pierce! (Click to enlarge and make legible.)


My thanks to Poppy Nisbet.

Bird King

A letter plops onto the mat from a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous. “I work for an important national institution,” he writes, “and if the powers that be ever discover I am a fanatically devoted Hooting Yard reader, my career will go up in smoke.” I would have thought it would guarantee instant promotion to the very top of the tree, plus gongs and baubles, but I may have an imperfect grasp of these matters. Anyway, the letter from this shadowy figure is headed – rather worryingly – “Plagiarism”. Here is what he has to say:

Mr Key! I thought I should bring this rather important matter to your attention. Your secret is out.

While away on an extended family holiday recently. I read the 1986 novel It by Stephen King. I like to submerge myself in fantasy/horror guff while I am disconnected from my mainstream way of life. Anyway, I read a 1100 page Stephen King novel – why am I defending myself? That is not why I am here.

If I may interject for a moment, I too am puzzled why my correspondent feels the need to defend himself. I have read a few Stephen King books over the years. He is a superb storyteller, and I have nought but admiration for his industry and craft.

So, during the book, a young boy, who is keen on birdwatching, is affoisted (I think I may have made that word up) by the evil clown/spirit thing in a water tower. In order to defend himself, he must really ‘believe in himself’ or some such of the like that allows the story to move on in a semi-logical way.

“How does he do this?” you ask. I shall tell you:

1. He holds up his birdwatching book ‘like a shield’ (does not specify whether book is opened or closed)

2. He chants – and this is the point, Mr Key, so pay attention – “Robins! Gray egrets! Loons! Scarlet tanagers! Grackles! Hammerhead woodpeckers! Redheaded woodpeckers! Chickadees! Wrens!”

There! Did you see that? In the middle of a book which has sold millions! A list of birds! “Robins! Gray egrets! Loons! Scarlet tanagers! Grackles! Hammerhead woodpeckers! Redheaded woodpeckers! Chickadees! Wrens!”

So: tell me the truth. Is it plagiarism, or are you and Stephen King in actuality the same person? Or; hah!, no doubt you have some other high and mighty explanation!?

I note that the book my correspondent quotes from was published in 1986, the same year as the inaugural Malice Aforethought Press pamphlet which unleashed Mr Key’s prose into a panting and expectant world. Clearly, then, Mr King was employing some kind of eldritch mind transference powers to “tap into” the Key cranium, rifling through it not only for its present contents but for material it would contain in the future. So let us say, rather, some kind of eldritch time-travel mind transference powers – precisely the kind of gubbins we find in Mr King’s books. I rest my case, though I would add that I have a distinct memory of taking a snooze in the year 1986 during which I had that uncanny feeling one sometimes gets that my brain was being rummaged through, past, present, and future, by a freakishly tall recovering alcoholic American bestselling writer.

Wasps And Squirrels

Hooting Yard’s anagrammatist-in-residence, R., has alerted me to a non-anagrammatical matter of some importance. Winchester woman finds 3ft wasp nest on bed, says a report on the BBC news page. As R. remarks, it is “disappointing that it’s the extent of the nest, rather than the magnitude of a particular wasp, to which this headline refers”. I have read and reread the story, in the faint hope that R. misunderstood it and that there really is – or was – a 3ft wasp at large in Hampshire. It would make a terrific short story, wouldn’t it? As Mrs Gubbins awoke one morning from uneasy dreams she found herself transformed in her bed into a gigantic wasp. Or has somebody already written something similar?

Elsewhere at the BBC, I heard – in the woozy world between sleep and wakefulness – something about squirrels with leprosy. This was a report on Farming Today on Radio 4, a show I have come to think of as Girly Farming Club. The BBC seems forever to be wringing its hands at the under-representation of women, but Farming Today is produced and presented by an exclusively female team. Regrettably, however, not one of them sounds remotely like a proper peasant.


The Yazidi, a primarily Kurdish religious minority, have been much in the news recently, threatened with death by the rampaging nutcases of IS, or Isis. You can read about their current travails elsewhere. I want here simply to mention the somehow endearing fact – reported by the BBC’s Paul Wood – that in the Yazidi faith it is forbidden to eat lettuce.

Wooden Cats


One of the few photographs ever taken of the Blister Lane Bypass. From The GEC Research Laboratories 1919-1984 by Sir Robert Clayton and Joan Algar (Peter Peregrinus, 1989). Many thanks to Linda Clare for bringing it to my attention.

File Under D For De Quincey

Hats off to Greg Ross at the ever-intriguing Futility Closet for these selected entries from the index to the Collected Writings of Thomas De Quincey:

Aldermen not necessarily gluttons
Anecdotes, on eating peas with a knife
Bed, early retirement to, of the Ancients
Christenings, Royal, often hurried
Coffee, atrocious in England
Cookery, English, the rudest of barbarous devices
Devonshire men good-looking
Fleas in Greece
Greece, Ancient, its people a nation of swindlers
Horses, weeping
Johnson, Dr, at dinner, an indecent spectacle
Leibnitz, died partly from the fear of not being murdered
Lisbon earthquake and its effect on the religion of Germany
Muffins, eating, a cause of suicide
Music, English obtuseness to good
Pig-grunting, mimicry of
Rhinoceros, first sale of a
Servants, England the paradise of household
Solon, what did he do for Homer?
Spitting, art of
Talk, too much in the world
Toothache, that terrific curse
Waterton’s adventure with a crocodile
Women, can die grandly

NOTA BENE : You can read what De Quincey had to say about that muffins / suicide hoo-ha here.

Burn The Pig!


From The Expositor, or Many Mysteries Unravelled – including that of the Learned Pig (1805), available online at The Public Domain Review. My thanks to Richard Carter.

Cat Radio Quiz

What is this cat listening to on the radio? There will be a prize for the first correct answer received.



Here at Hooting Yard we hate and despise A. A. Milne and all his works. Dorothy Parker had it right when, in her “Constant Reader” column in the New Yorker, she wrote,

And it is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.

Nevertheless, I am delighted to learn that the “Pooh” part of the name Winnie-the-Pooh was originally attached to a swan, Pooh being the name Milne’s son Christopher Robin gave to a swan he befriended in Angmering in Suffolk. If I did not have more important things to do with my time, I might go through the entire awful canon and rewrite the stories, making Winnie-the-Pooh a savage and violent swan instead of an allegedly cute bear. Volume I : Winnie-the-Pooh Attacks Tim Henman And Breaks His Arm.

Fish, Coppers, And Wasps

I missed this story in the papers. Today I learned that

A man sought by police investigating the theft of a fish tank from a furniture shop in Leeds hid in a bush and was attacked by a swarm of wasps.

Welsh Road Signs

According to a story in the “Funny Old World” column in the current issue of Private Eye, road signs in Wales are “mistranslated into Welsh on an enormously regular basis”. The example given is of a sign at a roundabout between Penarth and Cardiff. The English Cyclists dismount is given in Welsh as Llid y bledren dymchwelyd, or Bladder disease has returned.


Hitler-worshipping English aristocrat Unity Mitford’s middle name was Valkyrie. She was conceived in the town of Swastika, Ontario, where her father was prospecting for gold.