The Pious Infant

Never has an infant been so pious as little Henry Clump, the pious infant whose life is told in The Pious Infant by Mrs Regera Dowdy – or so I thought. But when I was enmired in the research for Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives, I learned of Saint Rumwold, by comparison with whom Henry Clump seems the spawn of Satan.

Saint Rumwold was born in King’s Sutton in 622 AD, the son of Saint Cyneburga and King Alchfrid. His first words – uttered on the day of his birth – were “I am a Christian”. He then asked to be baptised, and to receive Holy Communion. The next day he preached a sermon, quoting freely from the Bible. On the third day, he gave another sermon, addressed to his parents, after which he keeled over and died. We can be sure he ascended into Heaven.

Lost Books, Real And Imagined

I am currently reading – or peering at, with my iffy eyes – The Book Of Lost Books by Stuart Kelly (2005). Among other things I have learned is that we have lost a work by the ancient polymath Callimachus (c.320 – c.340 BCE) entitled On The Changes Of The Names Of Fish. I, for one, would love to read it, and I suspect it inspired a dream I had, where I came upon a copy of On The Stiffness Or Otherwise Of Bolts Of Cloth by Rotting Engineering Equipment Jr.

Film Review

Yesterday I went to see the new Walt Dinsey [sic] film Beauty And The Beast. (I know, I know. Don’t ask.) A more fitting title would have been Feisty Bookworm And The Prince With Bad Table Manners. Belle, the Beauty, as played by Emma Watson, is feisty, and a bookworm. The only other thing to note about her character is that she has a rather problematic relationship with her father’s horse, but we shall come to that.

The putative Beast (one Dan Stevens) is hardly bestial. I was expecting something like the Grunty Man, that awful figure of children’s nightmares. Other than being a bit hairy, sporting a pair of goaty horns, and growling occasionally, this so-called Beast seems perfectly civilised. He speaks in a mellifluous RADA-trained voice not unlike that of the late Alan Rickman, and has a well-stocked library. The extent of his bestiality seems to be that he slurps his soup straight from the bowl. Franz Kafka had worse table manners (his father used to hide behind the newspaper when dining with FK).

Now, about that horse. Its name is Philippe. The Feisty Bookworm arrives at the castle astride Philippe. We then see neither hide nor hair of the horse until, after an indeterminate period – days? weeks? months? – the Beast frees the Bookworm so she can rescue her father from imminent incarceration in a lunatic asylum. Suddenly, there is Philippe, fit as a fiddle, ready to gallop back to the village. Where has he been all this time? The Feisty Bookworm has expressed not a jot of concern for him, and we have seen no sign of a stable, nor even a trough. It is all very mysterious.

Hooting Yard Rating : Three stars for tiptop soup-slurping.

Sporting Glory

I often receive letters from readers crying plaintively “Mr Key! Mr Key! How can I become a tiptop sporting champion? If anyone can give me a top tip, it is you!”

Actually, it is not me you need to ask, but Hooting Yard’s tiptop sports correspondent Fatima Gilliblat. This is what she has to say:

The best way to become a tiptop sporting champion is to ensure you were born on 23 March. It was on this day of the year that champs such as Roger Bannister, Mo Farah, Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny, Steve Redgrave, and the bobsleighing Olympian Shelley Rudman dropped from their mothers’ wombs, as did the cricketer Mike Atherton and the pugilist Joe Calzaghe. If you were born on any other day, I am afraid that the road to sporting glory will be steep and pitiless and you will almost certainly fail.

Burgess

I once saw the novelist Anthony Burgess settle down at a concert grand, put a reproduction of ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ on the music stand, and play the picture in a camp, but straight-faced, demonstration of synaesthesia. As ever with Burgess, you were not quite sure if he was taking the mick.

Stephen Bayley, reviewing books about colour in The Spectator.

anthonyburgess

Slow Djinn

There was an item on Radio Four’s Farming Today this morning about a slow djinn. I have no idea why, in the run-up to Christmas, the BBC’s premier agricultural radio slot is banging on about a dull-witted Arabian demon, but I suppose it must be something to do with “diversity”.

Critical Insight Of The Year

There are startling similarities to be found in the film characters John McClane in Die Hard and Ellen Ripley in Alien. In particular,

both have formative traumatic experiences in air ducts: arguably, both heroines are born within the air ducts.

Just one of many nuggets of wisdom scattered throughout “Making fists with your toes: Towards a feminist analysis of Die Hard”, an essay by Zoe Stavri, aka Another Angry Woman. Make sure you read it before watching that magnificent film for the umpteenth time.

Thanks to Roberta Mock for drawing this to my attention.

Government Chicken Directive

I learn from the BBC that chickens are to be kept indoors to create a Bird-Flu-Free-Zone. This prompts a little song we can all sing as we round up our chickens (if we have any):

Bring in your chickens!
It’s Indoor Poultry Week.
Pop your chicken on the couch
And pat its little beak.

Apparently we should also be on the lookout for dead or debilitated swans, and report any sightings to the police.

Eel Zzub

An occasional feature of my dreamworld is the appearance of a nonsensical word or phrase which – within the dream – takes on huge, if intangible, significance. Previous dreams have revealed to me the crucial importance of Bomba, the Glove of Ib, and the startling yet compelling realisation that my milieu is that of Dr Ludwig. All these things are of great import until I awake, at which point their utter stupidity becomes apparent.

The latest manifestation occurred a few nights ago, when I was made aware of the ancient chivalric code of Eel Zzub. By following the precepts of Eel Zzub, I would become a person of great honour and probity. The fact that such precepts were not in any way made clear in the dream was irrelevant. Eel Zzub was the way to go – at least until I woke up.

I would add two points, which may or may not be pertinent. First, it was resoundingly clear, in the dream, that the Eel of Eel Zzub was nothing whatsoever to do with eels. Second, in my waking state I could not help but recall that Zzub Books was a wholly fictitious publisher of slim volumes of twee verse, invented by Ed Baxter and listed in one of the Small Press Yearbooks circa 1990.

Encounter With A Swan

One consequence of my recent problems with my eyes is that I am less inclined to visit art galleries and exhibitions. Peering myopically at blurred canvases is not entirely rewarding. Spending a few days in Amsterdam, however, I felt impelled to visit the Rijksmuseum, and I am very pleased that I did. For it was in the “Golden Age” galleries that I encountered the most magnificent painting of a swan that I have ever seen.

Jan_Asselijn_-_De_bedreigde_zwaan;_later_opgevat_als_allegorie_op_Johan_de_Witt_-_Google_Art_Project

This is The Threatened Swan by Jan Asselijn, painted in 1650. As so often, the reproduction barely does justice to the original, which has a gleaming, translucent whiteness even my poor eyes found spellbinding.

I saw many actual swans swanning around on the canals of Amsterdam, but none was quite as magnificent as this one.

In Dubrovnik

Learning that the cathedral in Dubrovnik houses a holy relic of Christ’s nappy inspired me to write the first verse of a brand new Christmas carol.

Baby Jesus
You make me happy
In Dubrovnik
They’ve got your nappy

Readers may wish to add further verses in the Comments.