Old Halob : A Biographical Note

Before winning fame – or perhaps notoriety – as the coach of fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol, the chain-smoking miseryguts we know and love as Old Halob led a purposeless and indigent existence. The familiar image of him, in that raincoat, grim and windswept and coughing up catarrh, standing at the side of a running track spurring his fictional protégé on to ever greater sprinting triumphs, had not yet been beamed through television screens across the globe back in the days when only a cluster of hovels stood on the site that would one day become the Old Halob Stadium Of Sporting Triumph And Prowess.

In his bestselling paperback Old Halob And Petula Clark : Are They The Same Person?, Pebblehead posits the theory that the (possibly) East European coach and the English songstress are the same person. He points to the well-documented fact that both, as children, sang in the entrance hall of Bentalls Department Store in Kingston-upon-Thames in exchange for a tin of toffee and a gold wristwatch. In addition, like Petula Clark, Old Halob released a CD entitled L’essentiel – 20 Succès Inoubliables. This is where his argument fails to convince, for where the aged pop diva’s album contained songs, and was a chart hit in Belgium, Old Halob’s CD consisted of a recording of him eating his breakfast and grumbling about his moth-eaten raincoat, and was an international, rather than merely a local, success.

Pebblehead’s twaddle is thoroughly demolished, of course, if we consider that for the first fifty two years of his life, Old Halob did little except refill bird feeders in the grounds of a Home for the Deranged, a job for which he was paid with a daily bowl of gruel and slops. His parents were fabulously wealthy, and lived the life of Riley in a big forbidding castle, but their son lacked ambition, and they disowned him when, at the age of nine, he rejected their birthday gifts of a booster pack, the elixir of life, a modelling contract with L’Oreal, and a populated planet in a far distant galaxy to treat as his plaything.

No one, not even Pebblehead, knows what happened to transform the dull-witted bird feeder maintenance man into an athletics coach of legend. Perhaps a clue lies in his change of diet. Shortly after Old Halob’s fiftieth birthday, the management of the Derangement Home was restructured following a report from consultants Pricewatergatecoopersfreemanhardywillis. As part of their recommendations, Old Halob stopped eating gruel and slops and was instead fed on whelks and barnacles. The evidence is not conclusive, but future biographers would be stupid to ignore it.

And that is all I have to say about Old Halob today.

Name That Pond!

Every so often I get a metal tapping machine message from an overexcited television person pleading with me to devise a game show based on some aspect of Hooting Yard. These people are invariably young and stupid, and I try hard not to be a git as I refuse their offers of ruinous wealth and a peaktime viewing audience of millions.

But I must admit that I was tempted by the latest whizzkid’s “concept”, which was to turn The Names Of The Ponds into a thirteen-part series. The idea was that each week, a couple of contestants (Brian from Swanage and Carol from Jaywick) would stare at a photograph of a pond for fifteen minutes, then, after the advert break, use their skill, judgment, and cherished religious beliefs to work out which pond they’d been looking at. Stephen Fry would be on hand to help them, because he’s so clever.

It’s a quandary, but in the end I think I will have to get back to the teenage television person and say No, No, No. But that’s no reason why you, my loyal readers, should be deprived of the wholesome family entertainment such a game provides. So here is a photograph of a crow-surrounded pond, courtesy of OSM. Which of the thirteen ponds do you think it is? No prizes, I’m afraid, save for a warm glow of Hooting Yard-type bliss.


The Heroic Bus Driver Of Pointy Town

There was a heroic bus driver, and his name was Kim Fat Goo. He drove his bus through puddles. He drove it straight and true, though he swerved if he saw a duck or a pig or an infant human tiny or a succubus or an incubus as he steered towards the briny. He drove his bus across Pointy Town, heading for the sea. At the beach he stopped to let passengers off and he drank a flask of tea. Oh, Kim Fat Goo he drained his flask and he tipped the dregs in the sand, and he idled awhile on the promenade and he watched a spaceship land. Out poured a gaggle of alien beings with flippers and antennae and claws and flagrant disregard for the rubric of Pointy Town laws.

“We are an invasion force from the Planet of Contaminated Wheat. We are starveling spacemen and we need something to eat.”

“I will drive you to the pie shop,” said fearless Kim Fat Goo, “Get on the bus and sit quietly till we reach the pie shop queue.”

But he drove his bus up into the hills to a hermit’s abandoned hut, and he lured the invading spacemen in and sealed the doorway shut. So Kim Fat Goo the bus driver was the saviour of Pointy Town, and that is why his name rings out with imperishable renown.

This Week’s Lobster Diagram

Untold numbers of Hooting Yard readers have been writing in with a single demand. What we expect, Mr Key, they all say, is regular lobster diagrams! We know what we want and we want them weekly! Whether this is a true reflection of the popular will or a sinister campaign to divert us from our important work I cannot say. As a sop to the protesters, however, here is a lobster diagram. You will note that it emphasises the location of the lobster’s brain, which is, incidentally, the subject of Pebblehead’s latest bestselling paperback, The Location Of The Lobster’s Brain.



Aztec Fundamentalism

Ye gods and little fishes! It seems you can’t breathe a word about religion these days without being deemed “offensive”. Yesterday’s piece A Weekend With An Owl God brought to my postbag a letter from Stephen Atahualpagreen of Aztec Voice:

Dear Mr Key : I am writing to protest in the strongest possible terms about your slanderous treatment of the Aztec faith. Traducing the name of our night owl god Chalchiuhtecolotl in such disgusting terms is not funny. It is deeply offensive to our most cherished beliefs. Like any other religion, the Aztec faith demands respect in 21st century Britain, which means, among other things, respecting our cultural right to practice a bloody form of human sacrifice on big stone altars. As well as feeling wounded and offended, your attack has also made us angry, and you know what happens when the gods get angry. Please send me your postal address and telephone number so I can publish them on our website and provoke other Aztec believers to exact the retribution which is your due fate.

I did a bit of research into Mr Atahualpagreen. Apparently he sends his children to an Aztec faith school and has successfully applied for government funding to set up something called the Aztec Human Rights Commission.

A Weekend With An Owl God

If you have ever spent a weekend with an owl god, you will know that it can be a character-building experience. I have vivid memories of the time Chalchiuhtecolotl, the night owl god of the Aztecs, made itself at home in my flat for three trying days. I live in a glitzy and gleaming block, of futuristic design, impossibly stark, with lots of exciting remote control hubs, but the fact is it is small, even pokey, and it doesn’t help that I have crammed into it the contents of my ma’s laboratory and my pa’s garden shed, together with much of the furniture thrown out when the local vet refurbished his waiting room and a jumble of junk from a hellhole.

That Friday evening I was crumpled on a settee, eating lemon meringue pie and reading Pebblehead’s bestselling paperback Brute Beauty And Valour And Act, Oh, Air, Pride, Plume, Here Buckle! when the front door sensor vibrated, the hub hummed, and the plasma display flashed insistently. I had a visitor, though no one was expected. Thinking it might be a goon coming to serve me with an Asbo, I depressed the locking knob on the entry pod, put down my pie plate, and tiptoed my way through some of ma’s alembics to the door. Peering through the tintin slat, I saw a hunched and somewhat shabby figure dressed like a bus conductor, if you can remember bus conductors. He – I thought it was a he – was not holding anything that might be an Asbo, so, being an affable sort, I opened the door.

He – or rather, it – almost knocked me over as it somehow soared past me and came to rest next to the settee. Before either of us spoke, it plucked my plate off the floor and scoffed what was left of the lemon meringue pie. Then it said:

“Good evening. I am an Aztec god. My name is Chalchiuhtecolotl and I am an owl god. Of the night.”

“You look like a bus conductor,” I replied, “And a shabby one at that.”

Then it screeched at me. It was the loudest and longest screech I have ever had the misfortune to hear. My ears did not stop ringing until Sunday lunchtime, by which time the owl god had completely taken over my life. Within the confines of my fab but tiny flat, it swooped, it pecked at things, it shifted shape, it did some strange rewiring manipulations to my stereo system, it fluttered and preened, it fixed me for hours with a cold inhuman stare, it sprouted tufts and feathers, it would not let me read my Pebblehead paperback, it hawked up gobbets of semi-digested pie, it smashed all ma’s lab equipment to smithereens, then ate the smithereens, it shifted shape again, it summoned some of its Aztec god pals and held a rowdy Saturday night party, it kept me awake by looming menacingly just out of sight, it filled the bath with wounded mice and stoats and weasels, it made me sit through a four-hour documentary about Spandau Ballet, its metabolism speeded up to the point where everything in the flat was shaking, it phoned up my friends and told them I had moved to Dawlish, it somehow managed to drag a live swan into the bathroom and savaged it with its talons, it screeched and screeched, drowning out the Shipping Forecast, it burned its bright incandescent fury into my soul, and on Monday morning it shape-shifted again, just as it was pulverising my bread bin, and turned back into what looked like a shabby bus conductor.

“I am leaving you now,” it said, and it sounded almost regretful. I watched it leave, and slumped on what was left of the settee. I took a nap, and then I went to see the priest to explain to him that I was renouncing the Roman Catholic faith, forever. He tried to lure me into the confessional box, but I threatened to tear his beating heart out of his chest and make an offering of it to That Mighty Orb, the Sun. That shut him up. I sashayed off through the glittering streets, past Pang Hill Orphanage and across Sawdust Bridge, towards glory.

Tiny Enid Takes A Nap

Tiny Enid knew how vitally important it is to take an afternoon nap. Because she was so often engaged in thrilling adventures, which usually involved kicking someone’s head in, she did not always find it easy to lull herself to sleep. As this rare picture shows, she was as resourceful a girl when it came to naps as she was when bashing up Prince Fulgencio’s evil henchmen.


Suspension Chloriforeene from the State Library of Victoria, via Boynton


The Central Lever

“The days of pulling the central lever are behind us” – Hazel Blears, quoted in The Guardian, 23 February 2007

Readers of a certain age will remember the levers. There was a row of them, colour-coded, black and pink and orange and cerise and yellow and golden and dun and red and lavender and green and mauve and coffee and blue and wheat and white. They had to be pulled in a precise order, of course, which changed from hour to hour. It was not well-paid work, being a lever pulling person, but it was dignified and responsible and important work, and those who pulled the levers were accorded due respect. And none gained as much respect as the puller of the central lever, the only one which changed colour, or rather was wrapped in burlap sheaths of different colours, hour by hour, and sometimes minute by minute, by dint of a scheme so abstruse, so utterly bewildering, that those responsible for it rarely lasted more than a couple of months in the job before they had to be retired off to a seaside resort. Pebblehead’s bestselling paperback They Selected The Burlap Sheaths For The Central Lever : True Stories Of Heroic Colour-Coding is a useful, if failed, attempt to demystify the whole shenanigans in words of one syllable.

It is sometimes hard to comprehend just how important the levers were. Nowadays, we are able to live happy and fulfilling lives without them, without the relentless pulling of them… or so it seems. I have my doubts. It is not mere nostalgia that makes me hanker for the days when the pulling of the levers, and particularly the pulling of the central lever, was uppermost in people’s minds, drawing us together, binding us, giving us a sense of common purpose.

Blodgett always remembered his time as the puller of the central lever as the happiest period of his life. His enemies said – still say! – that he only did the job for the free toffee apples, and normally one would agree. I have had stern words to say about Blodgettian gluttony myself, but for once I think his motives were pure. After an apprenticeship on the golden and pink levers, he stepped up to the central lever pulling position on St Gertrude’s Day in 1952, and none who saw it will ever forget the beam of fantastic glee on his pockmarked and greasy face as he stood there, on his plinth, as the duty cadet swapped a blue for a slightly different shade of blue dyed burlap sheath on the central lever. The flock of trained nightingales on the railings burst into joyous song. Fiery stars flamed in the sky. Blodgett waited for the parp of a cornet which would be his signal to pull the central lever for the first time. Just thinking about it makes me want to weep, so please forgive my snufflings, as I forgive those who snuffle before me.

Who would have thought that Blodgett would be the last person ever to pull the central lever? He did so for many, many years of course, with gusto and vim, to the applause of those who were, very occasionally, allowed past the railings to watch. But came the day that the pulling of the levers, the black and pink and orange and cerise and yellow and golden and dun and red and lavender and green and mauve and coffee and blue and wheat and white ones, as well as the central lever, became somehow irrelevant to our town, mocked even, seen as an antiquated and idiotic ritual. And Blodgett and the others were paid off with a crate of toffee apples and given free cabins in the hills, and the levers rusted, the burlap sheaths were left to rot, the nightingale trainer was taken to a quarry and shot by the new regime, and one day gigantic bellowing engines came and flattened the square where the levers and the railings had stood for a hundred years, and it was all gone.

After-comers cannot guess the beauty been. An evaporated milk factory was built on the spot, indecently fast, and I watch children cycle round and round it, and I shout at them, and wave my bludgeon, and they cycle round and round and round.

Killer Hornets!

We like to keep abreast of the latest bee, wasp, and hornet news here at Hooting Yard. According to The Telegraph our plucky British honeybees are at risk from swarms of killer hornets. The fiendish Vespa velutinae have reached France, where “thousands of football-shaped hornet nests are now dotted all over the forests of Aquitaine”. We will be setting up a Hornet Patrol soon, so drop us a line if you wish to volunteer. Badge, cap, and whistle provided.

The Ebbing Away Of The Age Of Gilded Tin Baths

There is no one left alive who witnessed the ebbing away of the age of gilded tin baths, nor do we have any written records of that time. The pitiful smidgen of information we do have has come down to us in the form of incomprehensible pictograms and a pair of 78 rpm shellac discs, and these are locked away in a concrete bunker far, far underground, beneath the Museum At-Or-Near Ack. The bunker is only accessible through a heavily padlocked orrin hatch, one of very few such hatches ever manufactured, based upon a patented hatch design which, despite what you may have read in the sorts of magazines beloved of the conspiracy-fixated, has absolutely no connection with US Senator Orrin Hatch (Rep., Utah).

Those of you with even a smattering of knowledge about hatches and bunkers will understand how hard it is to get anywhere near those pictograms, those 78s. When last one of our investigators examined the hatch, she reported back that it showed no signs of having been opened since the notorious Blötzmann Incident (1956). The reckless idiocy of Blötzmann’s intervention has been thoroughly dissected in Pebblehead’s bestselling paperback A Man And His Shovels, so I need not rehearse it here.

Our investigator – codename Hortense – reported something else. She said that the metal ladder which forms the final stage of the approach to the bunker was rife with scratches and dents and had buckled in a few places. This is new. The ladder has until now been kept in pristine condition by the maintenance team at-or-near Ack, whose rigorous training is well-attested. Hortense was unable to posit a convincing explanation for the ladder damage, and for the time being the file has been put aside. When I say ‘aside’, I mean literally that, placed on the right hand side of my desk, next to the pot with the bonsai pugton and the framed photograph of Bing Crosby embracing a howler monkey. Had I classed it as an ‘active’ file, it would be in the wire tray on the left hand side, alongside my important stationery, buzzer, message funnel, and metal tapping machine. The area of the desk immediately in front of me is kept bare, so I can think clearly. I know this sounds as if I have fallen victim to the fad for feng shui, but that is not the case. In fact I am minded to say that Mr Crosby’s howler monkey would benefit more from feng shui than I would. Incidentally, you may have been told by some earnest nitwit that the correct pronunciation of feng shui is ‘fung shway’. Not so. It is actually ‘fong shoo’, or possibly ‘fing shoy’.

What I was thinking clearly about at the moment was not Hortense’s report on the damaged metal ladder, but a more urgent matter. That very morning the postie had brought me a package containing a miniature shellac disc wrapped in greaseproof paper. There was also a letter, obviously written by a mad person, claiming that the disc was a copy of one of the two discs locked in the bunker, and that if I listened to it with care I would learn many, many interesting things about the ebbing away of the age of gilded tin baths.

Now, you must understand that in all my years of service to the Commission I have never heard even a whisper that such a copy existed. My first impulse was to smash the shellac into smithereens, for I have a short fuse and am not to be dallied with by poltroons. Wiser counsel was provided by Hortense, who offered to listen to the tiny 78 on her Mikiphone and to appraise its contents with her unorthodox yet piercing intellect. I gave her the go-ahead and, as I so often do, sat contemplating the blue eyes of Bing Crosby and the black eyes of the howler monkey, pondering on the ineffable mysteries of existence.

I was snapped out of my reverie when Hortense came dashing breathlessly into my sanctum, her face twisted into a rictus of Lovecraftian terror. Throughout my life I have been plagued by nosebleeds, and the one that began to flow the instant Hortense crashed in was the big potato, as they say. I was far too busy flapping around trying to find a cloth to staunch the gore pouring out of my nose to listen to my investigator’s gibbering. By the time I had recovered myself, Hortense had swooned, and in so doing, she banged her head, causing – as we later discovered – complete memory loss. She never did remember what she heard on that shellac disc, and nor was she able to recall at which railway station she had rented a luggage locker in which to put the disc for safe keeping. I remonstrated with her, of course, but with a faint heart, for despite my ferocious temper I am a complete softy in the presence of amnesiacs.

So now I sit at my desk looking into the eyes of the crooner and the howler, and Hortense reclines on a sofa somewhere far away, having her brain massaged by nuns. The truth is, she was the only investigator I had, all the others having been taken from me by the blithering fatheads upstairs. And now Hortense is gone, and Hortense’s memory is gone, and I wonder if the ebbing away of the age of gilded tin baths is also gone, irretrievably, vanishing into the past, its splendours never to be rekindled in the minds of men and women in this baffling age of pap.

Exciting Gruel Recipe Quiz

The following recipe is an effective remedy for a common malady. All you have to do is to use your skill, judgment, and pulsating brain flashes to work out the malady.

1 Pint New Gruel, 1 gr. Tincture of Green Acorns, 1/2 gr. Hypo, 1/16 gr. Castor Sugar, 3 Clove Kernels, 1/2 lb. Coffee Essence, 3/4 lb. Sugar of Zinc, 2 gr. Bisulphate of Lead, 1 Pint Spirits of Sulphur, 5 gr. Bicarbonate of Saltpetre, 1 oz. Table Salt.

Tip: I recommend making up a big pot of the lovely gruelly goo and using it to treat a variety of wretched and woe-inducing medical conditions. If you lack the patience to do so, and are instead making wild and witless guesses, you will find the correct answer at Mustard Plaster.

Gubbins Music

If you hear news from Haemoglobin Towers that birds are dropping dead from the sky and cows stand stunned in the fields, it can mean only one thing. Alas, Mrs Gubbins has a new musical fad. The octogenarian crone has taken her dusty hi fi system down from the shelf, opened the windows, and is blasting out the latest acquisitions from her record collection, day and night, over and over again.

Last time this happened, her undiluted enthusiasm for The Fall meant that the peasants thereabouts had to put up with the complete works of Mark E Smith cranked out at ear-splitting volume for weeks on end. La Gubbins only grew tired of the self-styled “Northern white crap that talks back” after it was pointed out to her that Smith is slowly but surely turning into Anthony Burgess – Mancunian, drunk on words, and frighteningly prolific, of course, but the most compelling evidence is the physical resemblance.

burgess1.jpg smith.jpg

La Gubbins had always harboured a deep if irrational hatred of Burgess, so she burned all her Fall records on a pyre and silence reigned. But now she has discovered the work of Swiss maestro Blinky Guido, laid her hands on every single record he ever made, and is in the throes of madness. Hence the dead birds and the stunned cows.

Blinky Guido will be known to some of you as the man who created prog-wop, an unholy alliance of progressive rock and doo-wop which some enlightened lands have made illegal. You may have sat through the full twenty-minute horror that is Why Do Fools Fall In Love In The Magic Kingdom Of Elves or, even worse, These Little Eldritch Unicorns Of Mine. Someone swears they saw Mrs Gubbins smuggling a mellotron into her room the other day, which doesn’t bear thinking about.

Perhaps the only way to bring an end to this nightmare is to doctor a photograph of the Swiss prog-wop pioneer to make him look like J B Priestley, another writer who elicits from Mrs Gubbins a strangulated cry of loathing.