Monthly Archive for August, 2007

Whitby

Dr Johnson (a sort of proto-Dobson) famously stated that when a man is tired of London he is tired of life. On the other hand, when a man is tired of Hooting Yard (not that such a mental aberration is remotely credible, of course) there are other Yards he can investigate. I have just returned from a stay in Whitby, where, among other Yards, I was happy to spot both Dark Entry Yard and Arguments Yard. Whitby is all Yards and Steps. Of the latter, the one hundred and ninety-nine steps leading up to the ruined Abbey are the most noteworthy, but there are plenty of less celebrated Steps to clamber up and down, many of then perilous and steep.

Dark Entry Steps can be found opposite the railway station, which has a somewhat battered and semi-derelict air, and has but a single platform and a single track, on which a train plies between Whitby and Middlesbrough, back and forth all day, but not at night.

My little trip to Whitby goes some way to explaining the eerie silence that has crept over Hooting Yard of late. But I am back again now, revivified, and will be posting a few more dispatches regarding “Seaside Resort Of The Year, 2006” in addition to the usual morally uplifting and instructive prose. So you can look forward to reading about the Scoresby Pump, Goth tat, a CCTV warning in Celtic uncials (in yet another Yard), the Whitby Literary & Philosophical Society, pipistrelles, and much else. Oh, and by the way, the offer may not last long, but one shop in that delightful town is currently giving away a free bra with every pair of flipflops sold. On second thoughts, I think I am misremembering that, and it’s the other way round.

Jam

“When I take the lid off the jam, and I put the spoon in the jam, that gives me great pleasure.”

Daphne Neville in The Great British Village Show, BBC1 TV, broadcast on 15th July 2007.

The Tale Of The Boffin And The Guttersnipe

A boffin was pouring bleach into a funnel when along came a guttersnipe.

“How now, boffin,” said the guttersnipe, “I am but a poor guttersnipe and for raiment I have only rags, as you can see. If I become a boffin’s assistant I can cover these rags with a fine white coat and then I shall not be spat upon by citizens as I toil along the lanes of this shining yet merciless city. Can I pour that tinted bleach into the funnel for you? Then you would be free to go and take a nap, or to think higher thoughts.”

Now as it happened, the boffin had been thinking how useful it would be to have an assistant. Yet the words of the guttersnipe set him atrembling, and he had to steady his hands as he continued to pour the blue tinted bleach into the funnel.

“Your offer is most welcome, young scalliwag,” he replied, mistaking the guttersnipe for a scalliwag, “But I fear I must decline. Let me explain why, while I pour the rest of this cobalt blue tinted bleach into, or rather through, my funnel. I had a very privileged upbringing. I grew up in a castle on the coast. Gulls, guillemots and stormy petrels perched on the windowsill of my nursery. My parents employed numerous servants. As a boffin’s assistant, you would be a sort of servant. Ma and Pa were unfailingly kind to me, but they mistreated their valets and maids and pages and cooks and chauffeurs and biddies etcetera etcetera terribly. One was confined to an oubliette and fed with contaminated lemon curd. One was thrown into the sea in a sack. Another had his head kicked in. A butler named Jarvis had his reputation sullied through gross defamation of his character. One of the maids was trampled under the huge thumping feet of Pa’s robot brontosaurus. All of them were regularly beaten with shovels. One was forbidden ever to wash his hair. One was made to sprint back and forth to the post office, repeatedly, despite being in the desperate stages of an ague. None of them were permitted raincoats. A Cyclopean page was ridiculed. Another page was torn limb from limb, tied to a quartet of wild stallions. The underbutler had his shoelaces destroyed. One was burned with flaming tongs. They were all made to sleep in a dank and dingy cave at the foot of the cliffs. Ma hacked into one parlourmaid’s computer and left it riddled with viruses. Another was upbraided in the presence of a priest. One was cast adrift in rough seas in a boat made of concrete. A hairy gardener was sent off to a zoo. When any of the servants died, their corpses were hung on gibbets and left to rot. No cruelty was beyond Ma and Pa. I vowed, when I reached adulthood, that I would never have a servant of my own, for fear of what I might be capable of. That is why I am pouring this thick cobalt blue tinted bleach into the funnel myself, even though my towering intellect would be better engaged cogitating upon the deepest profundities of existence, as you so judiciously suggest.”

The guttersnipe nodded, and limped sadly away. Later, by a pond, he wept, for in his short and brutish life he had never encountered a boffin of such moral rectitude.

Source : Mawkish Fables Of Punctilio And Rectitude For Tiny Tots by Dobson (out of print).

Matters Pertaining To Bees (19th Century)

Richard Carter of Gruts has kindly drawn my attention to this splendid passage from an autobiographical sketch by Thomas Henry Huxley:

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I was born about eight o’clock in the morning on the 4th of May, 1825, at Ealing, which was, at that time, as quiet a little country village as could be found within half a dozen miles of Hyde Park Corner. Now it is a suburb of London with, I believe, 30,000 inhabitants. My father was one of the masters in a large semi-public school which at one time had a high reputation. I am not aware that any portents preceded my arrival in this world; but, in my childhood, I remember hearing a traditional account of the manner in which I lost the chance of an endowment of great practical value. The windows of my mother’s room were open, in consequence of the unusual warmth of the weather. For the same reason, probably, a neighbouring bee-hive had swarmed, and the new colony, pitching on the window-sill, was making its way into the room when the horrified nurse shut down the sash. If that well-meaning woman had only abstained from her ill-timed interference, the swarm might have settled on my lips, and I should have been endowed with that mellifluous eloquence which, in this country, leads far more surely than worth, capacity, or honest work, to the highest places in Church and State. But the opportunity was lost, and I have been obliged to content myself through life with saying what I mean in the plainest of plain language; than which, I suppose, there is no habit more ruinous to a man’s prospects of advancement.

Bashing Biscuit Tins

If you were fortunate enough to be hanging around with Blodgett on a Thursday morning in the middling years of the last century, you would as likely as not have been witness to a display of rare skill. For it was Blodgett’s endearing habit in those days, on Thursday mornings, to bash out various national anthems, using his fists, and sometimes sticks, on the base of an upturned biscuit tin. He would have eaten all the biscuits for his breakfast, of course. Blodgett had learned by heart the national anthem of almost every state and statelet on the planet, reduced each one to its rhythmic core, and bashed them out on biscuit tins. He would do this at home, or by the edge of a pond, or halfway up a hillside. In truth, it mattered not where he was, for he had fallen into a routine. Thursday meant biscuits for breakfast, then bashing out anthems. So energetically did he thump and bash that by the end of his recital the biscuit tin would be a dented and effectively destroyed thing. Apparently he passed the ruined tins on to Jasper Poxhaven, the sinister scrap metal dealer whose yard was a few doors away from Blodgett’s chalet.

Blodgett was not fussy about his biscuits, and would gobble down whatever the tin contained. The biscuit shop was conveniently located between his chalet and Poxhaven’s yard, so you can see that fortune favoured the accomplishment of his designs. He might take his tin to the pond, or to the hillside, if the weather was balmy, but if it rained, or there were tempests and cataclysms, he would hurry back indoors. I am not sure if he kept a dog at this time, but if he did it was probably the deaf dog of which we know he became fond, its lack of hearing rendering it oblivious to the frantic bashing of the biscuit tins. It would be useful to gain some clarity about this, because it raises the possibility that Blodgett may have bought a tin of dog biscuits from time to time, and given them to the dog rather than bolting them down himself, which would have been a boon at such times as he suffered from stomach cramps. Certainly there is evidence that the biscuit shop sold dog biscuits as well as biscuits for human beings. It also sold hard tack biscuits for the many jolly jack tars and matelots who congregated at the quayside, babbling incoherent maritime gibberish while gutting fish in a desultory fashion.

I have said that sometimes Blodgett bashed his biscuit tins with his fists and that sometimes he deployed a pair of sticks. Had you asked him about this, he would have explained that the different timbres of fists and sticks were each appropriate for certain national anthems. Indeed, one of his little mottos at the time was “European fists, South American sticks!”, which he always shouted with great enthusiasm. That leaves unclear the preferred thumping implement for the anthems of other continents, but Blodgett was the first to admit that he was not yet fully au fait with all the anthems in the world, just most of them. This may have been a specious claim, but who in that wretched seaport knew enough to challenge him? Certainly not Poxhaven, whose knowledge of music was confined to his eerie renditions of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie The Moocher”, drunkenly wailed under the moonlight as he staggered out of The Cow & Pins.

It was only on Thursdays that Blodgett ate biscuits for breakfast. The rest of the week he strained to suck a glutinous purple goo through a straw. He had been assured by a quack that it was a miracle goo, a panacea for all known ailments, corporeal and cerebral, that by ingesting it he would in all likelihood cheat Death itself. To be sure, the quack himself looked to be at least two hundred years old and still went tobogganing every winter. That is what he told Blodgett, in any case. It is a pity that we do not know the recipe for the goo, for we could mix up a supply and subject it to lab tests, with our wiser heads. All we know with any certainty is that Blodgett once described the taste of the goo as approximating to that of the straw through which he sucked it. In the years of which I write, such a straw would most likely have been made from cardboard.

Of course, neither Blodgett nor anyone else became immortal by sucking goo through a straw, but long before his death he had abandoned his Thursday morning biscuit tin bashing. Why? It would be an exaggeration to say, as Ford Madox Ford does at the beginning of The Good Soldier, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard”, but I’ll admit that when I heard all about it I sniffled into the napkin I happened to be holding. Jasper Poxhaven had, it turned out, been hoarding all those battered and dented biscuit tins rather than flattening them his big pulverising machine and selling the tin to a tin buyer, as one might have expected him to do. But I told you he was sinister. Now he built the huge collection of biscuit tins into a tower, out at the front of his yard, for no other reason than a deluded sense of self-importance. He hoisted a flag, embroidered with his likeness, atop the tin tower, and took to perching up there, in all weathers, like some ascetic of the ancient world, except that rather than contemplating the ineffable he hurled imprecations and spittle upon the citizenry below. He was bonkers as well as sinister. But the biscuit tins, remember, were bent and battered, and the tower was unsafe. And one day a gale swept in from the west, and the tower toppled, and it toppled at the precise moment that Mrs Purgative, the proprietress of the biscuit shop, was pulling up her shutters, and she was buried under the biscuit tins and the flagpole and the flag and Poxhaven himself, who somehow survived. Mrs Purgative did not, and soon her shop was taken over by a potato magnate, and no more biscuits were sold in the town from that day to this.

As Blodgett was to reflect, when writing his memoirs many years later, potatoes come in sacks rather than in tins, and you cannot bash out the national anthems of the world on burlap, with fists or sticks or anything else. And so he ceased his Thursday morning biscuit-scoffing, and his rhythmic thumping of biscuit tins, and on those days too he sucked glutinous purple goo through a straw for breakfast, but it did not save him.

Oily Git

On more than one occasion I have found myself locked in a chamber with an oily git. It is not an experience for the faint-hearted, and I have certificates. And let me tell you something, I made damned sure I kept my certificates far away from the oily git, at the times I was locked up with him, because he would have smudged them, just as he smudges anything with which he comes into contact, he can’t help himself, it’s what he does, it’s the essence of him in many ways, he’s a smudger, a smudger good and proper, and it is both sickening and heartbreaking to watch as he smudges things, you feel helpless to stop him, and you would never be able to stop him smudging in any case, no matter how many certificates you had accrued and clutched to your bosom with pride. At the last count I had forty-six certificates, but rather than clutching them to my bosom I keep them in a locker, and the locker is padlocked, with double padlocks, and the keys to the padlocks are locked up in a separate locker, to which the key is hidden. As for me, yet again I’m locked up with the oily git and he has already smudged the walls and the floor and even the ceiling, with his antics, and it is only through my quick wits that I remain so far unsmudged. But sooner or later the oily git will insist on clasping me in a bear hug, in a fit of misplaced camaraderie, and then I will end up smudged again, until they let me out of the chamber, one day. I have the benefit of knowing that my certificates are safe, though they will probably curl up at the edges, for the locker is in a place of much humidity. I have hunted for a spare locker in a place of less humidity, or even of no significant humidity at all, and I was following up a lead on such a locker when I once again found myself being locked up with the oily git. I suppose that particular locker will be taken by the time they let me out, one day, but I am nothing if not indefatigable, I will wash off the smudges and check my certificates – in that order – and then I will ascertain whether the locker is still spare, and if, as is likely, it has been taken, I will redouble my efforts and hunt for another, similar, locker, in a place of little or no humidity, to which I will transfer my certificates once I have been entrusted with the keys. And of course I will add a pair of padlocks, for additional security. It is the thought of being able to do this one day that makes my time in the chamber with the oily git bearable, though I say nothing about it to him. I try to speak to him as little as possible, other than to fend off his attempted bear hugs for as long as is seemly, even though I know that sooner or later I will succumb, and be hugged and smudged. It was ever thus. The oily git has no certificates at all, as far as I know, but I have seen a couple of smudged coupons sticking out of his coat pocket. I have not had a chance to examine them closely, but I suspect they are coupons of little value, the sort that are handed to gits oily or non-oily, by those who distribute such things. It is quite possible that the oily git is very pleased with his coupons, and treasures them. I would rather boil my own head than be seen with a couple of coupons sticking out of my coat pocket, but there you go, he is an oily git and I am not. For the time being we are locked together in this chamber, yet again, and though I may become smudged, you can rest assured that neither his oiliness nor his gitdom will rub off on me. Remember, I have forty-six certificates, and they don’t poke out of my pocket like tawdry jamboree prizes, they are kept safe in a padlocked locker, and soon I trust they will be safer in a better locker, one in a place less humid than my current locker. I bet the oily git hasn’t got a locker. And if he did its door would be smudged, and neighbouring lockers would be shunned by all righteous and upstanding persons. The oily git does not even wear a hat, for goodness’ sake. It is true that I remove my hat when locked in the chamber with him, and of course it rapidly becomes smudged, but I pride myself on my manners. That is another thing I have to do when they let me out, which is to get my hat washed. I may do that before checking up on my certificates, depending on my state of mind and how badly smudged the hat is. You can appreciate that there is much I must take into account, even if for the time being I am in a kind of limbo. The Pope recently announced that Limbo did not exist, but he was referring to that ethereal realm where unbaptised infants who pass away were long thought to languish until such time as the mercy of God allowed them into Heaven, but that is not the limbo to which I refer, and after all I am both an adult – and a righteous and upstanding one, with forty-six certificates, and as far as I am aware I was baptised soon after my birth, all those decades ago. It is hard to tell whether the oily git is older than me, or younger, but I think we can be as sure as eggs is eggs that he was never baptised. Had he been he would not now be an oily git, I’ll wager. Another thing I can quite clearly see, even from the confines of this chamber, is that I shall inherit my Kingdom, whereas the oily git will but bite on bitter fruit. And never shall I allow him to smudge my Kingdom, for it will be pristine. There will be antelopes in my Kingdom, elegant and high in the withers, and I shall look upon them from my turret. And where will the oily git be then? Why, he will remain locked up in this chamber, smudging the floor and the walls and the ceiling, biting upon smudged and bitter fruits and seeds.