A Grand Plan

Every so often I find myself devising grand schemes and projects. These rarely come to fruition. One that did, probably because it was modest in its ambitions, was last year’s set of alphabetic postages here at Hooting Yard, where I adopted the constraint of posting twenty-six consecutive entries, entitled A through to Z. One that didn’t was the plan that my pre-Wilderness Years pamphlet House Of Turps would be the first volume in a series of twenty-six. I think this scheme failed primarily because it was never clear in my then-fuddled brain how the succeeding twenty-five pamphlets were intended to relate to the first one.

So the likelihood is that the preposterous plot hatched this morning will remain incomplete, if indeed it is ever even begun. It occurred to me that I ought to devote my time to tippy-tapping a blog postage for every single word listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, in alphabetical order. According to Oxford Dictionaries, “the Second Edition of the 20-volume  Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries”. Since January 2007 there have been 1,607 Hooting Yard postages (this is the 1,608th) to which one can add just short of a thousand entries in the archive for the previous format between 2003 and 2006. Clearly I would be taking on a gargantuan task, particularly given that I would want each and every postage to be packed with sweeping Dobsonian paragraphs of majestic prose. Even if I confine myself to the obsolete words – a highly tempting grand plan in itself – it would take years and years of toil, quite possibly more years than remain to me on this spinning terrestrial globe.

I may, however, make a start, in the near future. Foolhardy, I know, but then I am living in a fool’s paradise, am I not?

An Easter Sunday Morning Moan

Prompted by his recent piece in The Dabbler, I decided to improve my ornithological knowledge by reading Tim Birkhead’s The Wisdom Of Birds. And lo! that is how I began my Easter Sunday on this sunny morning, to the sound of cawing crows outside.


I am afraid to say I am ready to hurl the book across the room in exasperation. This is an expensive and lavishly-produced Bloomsbury book, and by page 18 I have fought my way past no fewer than three howling typos: a missing indefinite article on page 2, “who” for “how” on page 6, and “know” for “known” on page 18. This is proofreading-by-spellcheck, and it simply isn’t good enough.

I shall persevere, for the time being. But this slipshod approach fatally undermines the pleasure of reading, for me. Tim Birkhead has been ill-served by his publishers. I’d insist on getting the whole print-run pulped and starting again, with a competent copy editor.

UPDATE : Still on page 18, and another one! – “principle” where what is meant is “principal”.


For the past few days I have fallen victim to the disorder known as vacancy-between-the-ears. Contrary to popular belief, this malady does not mean that the head is entirely empty. There are, for example, certain fugitive thoughts that flit through, such as “I think I shall make another cup of tea” or “I shall pop out to the corner shop and spend my latest Old Halob subscription”. But when vacancy-between-the-ears strikes, the victim is hard pressed to have more interesting thoughts than these, and it is the more interesting thoughts that give rise, in the general run of things, to Hooting Yard postages.

So, for example, the idea of nipping out to buy a pouch of acrid Serbian tobacco does not lend itself to paragraphs of tremendous prose, of which postages are wrought. It is, of course, possible that something exciting may occur during the nipping-out, such as the sight of a flock of bitterns, or the inadvertent stepping into a puddle, or perhaps a religious revivalist meeting with hymns and tambourines and hellfire-and-brimstone preaching. But one of the distressing effects of vacancy-between-the-ears is that even diversions such as these fail to set the cranial synapses a-snapping. The scribbler is bereft.

In these circumstances, the best thing to do is to embrace the vacancy and make no effort to cram anything into it. There will be the usual cupboard o’ stuff at The Dabbler on Friday, but otherwise Mr Key has decided to wait for ideas to plop into his head, like manna from heaven.

Back soon.

Diverse And Vibrant

When Sebastian Coe spoke of “the greatest tickets on earth”, he was talking twaddle, but at least it was amusing twaddle. Too often, the twaddle babbled by politicians and others is composed of readymade phrases seemingly used to fill time – or, in written form, space – without the inconvenience of thought.

One practice that has become ubiquitous is an inability to say “diverse” without immediately adding “vibrant”. The most recent culprit I noted was the cabinet minister Francis Maude, on last week’s Question Time. Having told us how great it was that the country is “diverse”, and not really knowing what else he wanted to say, after a very brief pause he added “and vibrant”, clearly playing for time.

Similarly, the front page headline on a recent issue of my local council’s Pravda-style newspaper was a quote from a resident announcing “I love that the borough is so diverse and vibrant”.

Can one be diverse without being vibrant? Or vibrant without being diverse? And, if interrogated, chained to a chair in a dank basement, could most of the people trotting out this stuff define what they actually mean by “vibrant”?

Hooting Yard – it’s diverse! It vibrates!


dobbsBeware, earthlings, for the tentacles of Hooting Yard creep ever further in our tireless pursuit of global dominion. Most recently, Mr Key turns up on the SubGenius Hour Of Slack Podcast (The Church Of The SubGenius Weekly Radio Ministry) where he can be heard reciting the Lark Rise To Candleford peasant version of Captain Beefheart’s Old Fart At Play, in among an hour of sound collages and Devo cover versions. Thanks to Outa_Spaceman for his “intervention”, if that is the word I am looking for.

Important Market Research

Those lovely people at Hubermann’s have been in touch regarding the Hooting Yard Christmas Gift Guide. Anticipating vast hordes of shoppers sweeping into view from the blasted heath beyond the vintage carpark, they have asked me to do a spot of market research so they have some idea of what to stuff into the bin outside the bargain bin basement. Please help by indicating below which of the five items you will definitely be buying for your nearest and dearest.

The top item on my Christmas shopping list is…

Jumbo Sack O’ Agricultural Waste Matter

Wandering Mendicant’s Collapsed Lung, Preserved In Jelly

“Two-In-One” Marionette

Grow Your Own Marsh

The Radiating Lance Of Saint Poppo

Global Dominion

Hooting Yard’s campaign for global dominion continues apace with the first of four “sponsored” episodes of Norm Sherman’s Drabblecast fiction podcast. Hear Mr Key read a story with added music and sound effects! My thanks are due to Norm and to Salim Fadhley. Follow the link and home in on episode 188, and remember there are three more to come, each with Hooting Yard-related enticements.

Self-Tidying Gulls

Last week we looked at self-tidying swans, and we can now extend our ornithological researches courtesy of Johnny Seven. Mr Seven, incidentally, is a man to whom you should be profoundly thankful. Not only does he present the excellent “Pull The Plug” show on ResonanceFM, but he is currently the sound engineer charged with making sure Mr Key’s dulcet tones are transmitted into your ears every week.

Long, long ago, in the last century, Johnny snapped a gang of self-tidying seagulls. He writes: “Taken on Tuesday 10th December 1984 (I know this since it’s written on the back of the photographs), I was interested in the slate-grey blanket of fog shrouding the trees on the embankment in Putney. No sooner had I set up the tripod than the hungry birds came (picture no.1). See their expectant little faces. Imagine their disappointment when croutons were not scattered. I moved further back to get a wider (and, to be honest, less pleasingly composed) view, and the gulls moved further up the railing toward me, increasing in number (picture no.2, and detail).”

Self-Tidying Gulls 1

Self-Tidying Gulls 2

Self-Tidying Gulls 2 (detail)

You will note that, unlike the self-tidying swans, these self-tidying gulls are not accompanied by an equal number of water gulls. This is due to their choice of emperchment, upon railings, if, indeed, it was a conscious choice. Who can say what weird shenanigans occur in the tiny brains of birds? One thing we can be sure of is that they know how to line up very neatly, with the precision for which self-tidying gulls are applauded, in some circles.

Istvan & Gilbert

Reading Gilbert Adair’s second Evadne Mount mystery, A Mysterious Affair Of Style (2007), I note that his film director character Rex Hanway has a cat called Cato. This served to remind me of a personal favourite from the implausibly vast Hooting Yard archives, the 2004 quotation from Spine-Tingling Tales Of Glucose Deficiency by Istvan Scrimgeour :  “He had two pets: a cat called Doge and a dog called Cato.”

From B To Z

A thought has occurred to me – possibly a rather foolish one, but then, many of my thoughts are foolish, as I have no doubt are many if not most of yours, dear readers. The previous postage, because it took for its subject the thirteen Bierce siblings, all of whose names began with A, I chose to entitle ‘A’. Once posted, I noted the elegant simplicity of it upon the screen, in contrast to all those postage titles formed of whole words and phrases, some of which, distressingly, fail to fit neatly on to a single line. This is when the foolish thought bubbled up in my brain. Mayhap, I thought, I should entitle the next twenty-five postages alphabetically, from B to Z. Their subject matter would, of course, be constrained by the letter of their title. Thus I would be following an Oulipian procedure for a couple of weeks at least.

Whether or not this thought becomes a plan and then an actuality, well, who can say?

File under vague, ill-thought, pointless twaddle.

The Hapless Bivalve!

Here is another example of the Incoherent Twaddle Generation Method. This also dates from 1987, and is again from a decisively out of print Malice Aforethought Press pamphlet, Forty Visits To The Worm Farm, a story which also appears in Twitching And Shattered (1989) and in This Fish Is Loaded : The Book Of Surreal And Bizarre Humour, edited by Richard Glyn Jones (Xanadu, 1991).

The glands of the investing tissue secrete lime and deposit it always submerged. These arrest the spat at the moment of emission. They detach with a hook the piles covered with fascines and branches, if we can use the term, buried in the sands or mud, their polypiferous portion sallying into the water. The raches, roughened and furrowed down the middle with pointed spiculae, or tubercular ramifications prolonged in a straight canal, the columellar edge sometimes callous – this is the critical moment for the hapless bivalve! He seizes it with a three-pronged fork, aiding also the functions of the stomach, filled with villainous green matter, which is conical, swollen in the middle, diminished, and tapers off, producing new beings, covered with vibratile cilia, furnished with two fins, limited only by the length of the stem, but in a moment beginning to dissolve its corporation, a soft reticulated crust, or bark, full of little cavities. The hinder ones loosen their hold, with four or six rows of ambulacral pieces designated by the names compass, plumula, bristling envelope, levelled bayonets, smothered. Last come the terrible and multiplied engines of calcareous immovable thread-like cirrhi with transverse bands, many of which crumble. Sometimes they are dredged.

ADDENDUM : I note that Amazon has copies of This Fish Is Loaded for sale from $0.47. Alongside Mr Key, the book includes work by Woody Allen, Mervyn Peake, Vivian Stanshall, Alfred Jarry, Bob Dylan, and the great, great Leonora Carrington (and many more, not least Yoko Ono’s late husband).

Ca Ne Plane Pas Pour Moi!

Pansy Cradledew is in distress. In a letter smudged by her tears, she wails:

Another of my sacred cows has been desecrated. How could Plastic do this (or, more to the point, NOT do this!) to us?

If you feel strong enough to cope, you can find out the reason for Pansy’s desolation here. I suppose there is a crumb of comfort in the Nixonian closing words “I am an artist, not a crook”.


Summer o’ Cartographic Excitement

Readers with school community education hub-aged tinies will be keen to find activities to entertain and instruct their nippers through the summer holidays. Surprisingly few children today take as great delight as Little Ruskin did in jumping off a box, so that splendid hobby is unlikely to occupy all their time in the coming weeks. Thus I am pleased to announce Mr Key’s Summer Holiday Cartographic Excitement Project.

The idea is that, when the weather is foul or the bliss of frolicking outdoors begins to pall, your tinies can busy themselves drawing maps of Hooting Yard. First of all, of course, they will have to be familiar with all the tales and investigations posted here, so I suggest you make them click on the “Prose” category (in the Archives) and read everything, possibly twice. Then give them paper and pencils and crayons and pots of paint and so on, and have them create a map, or maps, which accurately, or indeed inaccurately, represent the settings of the stuff they have read. They may wish to draw a detailed street map of Pointy Town, or the branch line out to O’Houlihan’s Wharf, or even something as ambitious as the entire landscape, showing Sawdust Bridge and Bodger’s Spinney and Pebblehead’s “chalet o’ prose” and Scroonhoonpooge Farmyard and the running track where fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol sprinted round and round and round under the watchful eye of Old Halob and the dingly dell hotel carpark and the bottomless viper pit and so on and so, exhaustively, forth.

That should keep them busy until summer’s end, at which point they, or you, can scan their maps and send them to Mr Key, who will display each and every one received here on the Hooting Yard website.