The appointment of Brian Eno (aged 59) as the Liberal Democrats’ adviser to help new leader Nick Clegg (aged 40) keep in touch with Britain’s youth has caused much hilarity in blogland. I particularly liked this post which reminds us of some of Brian’s more enticing plans and projects. Yet I fear people are too quick to ridicule what is obviously a piece of visionary brilliance. Just imagine the transformation in the packs of brainless hoodies and gun-toting pre-pubescent inner city “gangstas” if, instead of being issued with Asbos, they are given a stiff dose of Oblique Strategies, innit?
Monthly Archive for December, 2007
So. My harebrained scheme for 2008 is to turn Hooting Yard into a daily blog. This will not change the fundamental character of your favourite website, for it will continue to record the doings of the out of print pamphleteer Dobson and all those other characters, such as the tinies of Pang Hill Orphanage, who you have come to cherish in your bosoms. But I thought I should make an effort to be busier during those times when the muse fails to strike.
By looking at the Categories list over to the right, I see that during 2007 I posted 99 pieces of prose, which isn’t bad going, but clearly trying for 365 would be foolhardy. Though I prize the quality of foolhardiness more than most, I am not going to set myself an impossible task. Brimming with enthusiasm as I am today, however, I can see no reason short of idleness why the year to come cannot be packed with more entries under Random Twaddle, Things I Have Learned, or indeed Quotations. The latter has only one entry for the year just about to end, which I suspect is due to my having shoved other quotations into the wrong category. And I think one thing I have tended to neglect is drawing readers’ attention to particularly splendid items I find elsewhere on the net – such as this piece about the Mundaneum.
I am hoping that the idea of a Daily Hooting Yard does not crumble to dust by, oh, about the third or fourth of January, so bear in mind that suggestions and contributions are always welcome from readers, either in the Comments or directly to firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile, go and listen to Jubilate Agno again. It is “strangely mesmeric” according to one correspondent, who tells me he has so far listened to it, all the way through, four times. Very sensible man.
Last month I mentioned, in passing, Christopher Smart’s poem Jubilate Agno. I am happy to report that a reading of the complete work, all three hours of it, by Mr Key and the spoken word performer Germander Speedwell, has now been recorded and will be broadcast (and podcast) by Resonance104.4FM on Thursday 27th December at 12 noon GMT. Further details here and here.
UPDATE :Â The podcast is permanently available here. I humbly suggest that you download it and set aside three hours every day to listen to it in full.
This is a detail from a picture which appeared long ago in the Hooting Yard Calendar 1993. I reproduce it here partly on a whim, and partly to alert readers to the fact that in the new year I will be auctioning the artwork from one or more Hooting Yard Calendars. Given that the successful bidders (if any) will be buying the original pen, pencil, Tippex, and what have you drawings, I’m hoping the sales will attract “art” prices… you know, stupid amounts of money. It could be that I’m living in a fool’s paradise, but even if that’s the case, I would like to ask readers to post expressions of interest in the Comments, so I can get an idea whether to go ahead with this harebrained scheme. An expression of interest is just that, not a commitment, and by all means post anonymously if you so wish. Oh, and I haven’t yet decided whether to auction single drawings or a whole calendar’s artwork as a set, so you might want to suggest a preference.
I see that Channel Four, or the BBC, is showing, or has already shown, a so-called Liverpool Nativity, presumably a wretched attempt at making the story of the birth of The Christ “relevant” to today’s feckless Britons, or at least to their northern segment. At Hooting Yard we have no truck with such twaddle. But while you are not watching the Liverpool Nativity you might be diverted by a brief account of the Pointy Town Nativity, an annual jamboree which has nothing to do with The Christ as such. The birth that is celebrated is that of a pig, the firstborn pig on Scroonhoonpooge farmyard after the feast of Saint Loopy, and known throughout the succeeding year as the New Pig.
Much to the consternation of the Pointy Towners, adherents of various religions have taken offence at their beano. Those big but, let’s face it, witless books, the Bible, the Torah and the Koran, each get into a bit of a flap about pigs, deriding them as unclean abominable cloven-hooved beasts. On the contrary, pigs are charming, intelligent, loveable, and delightful animals, and it is well-known that leaning over the fence of a pig sty and watching pigs for an hour a day is one of the most relaxing activities known to humankind. You would be astonished at the kerfuffle caused a year or so ago when the New Pig was given the name Mohammed, which was viewed in
Pig nomenclature has become something of a minefield, then, but that does not deter the good people of
On Saint Loopy’s Day itself, the pregnant pigs of Scroonhoonpooge farmyard are gathered in a special piggery unit, part of an enormous barn decorated for the occasion with flags and bunting and embroidered portraits of Saint Loopy. Roaring Sawtooth jets from
The Naming of the New Pig is a solemn contrast to the rowdy celebrations which precede it. So solemn, indeed, that the silence is broken now and then by the sounds of sobbing and weeping and the rending of garments. Eventually, a designated orphan child will pluck a name out of thin air, and paint it, with a dangerous lead-based paint, on the outside of the barn. And thus the Pointy Town Nativity comes to a close, as the New Pig is given gifts of bran-tub scrapings, and the old New Pig is led away to an ordinary sty, and the townspeople trudge back to their daily drudgery, and the planet continues to spin upon its axis for no apparent purpose.
Blodgett went to the library one day and borrowed Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. He took it home, read it at one sitting, and was never the same man again. He identified so closely with the character of Mister Kurtz that he hit upon the conviction that he actually was Kurtz. Reincarnation is a foolish idea at the best of times, and to imagine oneself to be a fictional maniac reborn is doubly foolish, but that was Blodgett for you.
Over the following day he put his affairs in order, having resolved to set out for his very own heart of darkness. Lacking the means to travel to somewhere remote, he trudged across the cow-strewn fields until he reached the
At first, his diktats were surprisingly sensible, relating as they did to such matters as animal husbandry, crop rotation, rural post office opening hours, and other mundanities of countryside subsistence. How Blodgett knew about these things in the first place is an ineffable mystery. One is tempted to think he had a concealed laptop and was sneakily looking things up on the wikipeasantry website, but later, when it was all over, he was injected with a newfangled truth serum and passed muster when denying such subterfuge. Perhaps, as he claimed, it was simply that he was imbued with the spirit of his fictional alter ego, a multitalented polymath, rather like the late Anthony Burgess. Incidentally, I have always wondered if it is true that, when casting Apocalypse Now, his film adaptation of Conrad’s novella, Francis Ford Coppola’s first choice to play Kurtz was Burgess rather than Marlon Brando.
Anyway, as is the way with these things, Blodgett’s initial common sense soon gave way to demented megalomania, and his diktats became ever more ludicrous. He took to commanding not merely the sulking peasants of Much Snuffling but the sun and the moon and the planets. Celestial bodies tend not to adjust themselves in obedience to the ravings of a wild-eyed loon sat in the corner of the pub, and their lofty indifference first baffled Blodgett and then enraged him. So thunderous did his mood become that the Much Snufflingites held a secret meeting one night when Blodgett had taken to the hills to shout at the sky. With great presence of mind, they sent for heroic infant Tiny Enid, who arrived the very next day and booted Blodgett all the way back across the cow-strewn fields to his hovel.
He spent a day muttering to himself, and then returned Heart Of Darkness to the library, dutifully paid his fine for it being overdue, and chose another book. Next week, you shall learn what a pickle he got himself into after reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and convincing himself he was the reincarnation, not of Mister Kurtz, but of Hester Prynne.
There is a toyshop I know of where they sell toy squirrels made of tin. I do not mean the sort of clockwork toy tin squirrels you probably had when you were a tot, the ones you wound up and set down and that then skittered haphazardly across the floor before crashing into the wainscot. No, the toys of which I speak are tin squirrels plain and simple, with no clockwork mechanisms nor moving parts. They do not skitter. They come in a variety of sizes, the smallest being about the size of a leaf-cutter ant and the most enormous roughly on a par with a squirrel-shaped variant of a double-decker bus.
There are countless ways of having fun with a tin squirrel. You can place it in a crate and cover it with shredded newspaper or excelsior and pretend that it is hibernating. When you want to bring the hibernation to an end, you can point the beam of an anglepoise lamp at the crate, to mimic that mighty orb worshipped by the islanders in The Wicker Man, and bring your tin squirrel blinking into the light. Being a toy of tin, your squirrel will not actually blink, but with the power of your mind you can imagine that it does. If your mind lacks the power to summon up this simple fancy, it is a good idea, before switching on the anglepoise lamp, to do a brain exercise specifically designed to increase the imaginative faculties. You will need to be familiar with the song Imagine, written and performed by John Lennon, the man memorably described by Kenneth Williams as “that Beatle who got married to an Asiatic woman”, although Williams initially confused him with Ringo Starr. Actually, you need only know the tune, to which you should sing the following words:
Imagine there’s a squirrel / A squirrel made of tin / It’s in a crate of newspaper / Hibernating / Imagine you unpack it / And place it in the light / Imagine it is blinking / If it wasn’t made of tin it might
In nature, hibernating creatures emerge due to an increase in temperature rather than to sunlight, but we are talking here about a tin squirrel in a crate in your living room, so some license is allowed, unless you are happy to turn your heating off for as long as the tin toy remains packed in newspaper.
Another thing you can do with your squirrel is to tap it with your fingernails to elicit a tinny sound. If you have bitten fingernails, this may not be such an easily-achieved pleasure, so you may wish to experiment by tapping the toy with different utensils, such as a spoon or a fork or a whisk.
Real squirrels, ones not made of tin, are noted for their devotion to nuts of all kinds, and you can entertain the family by creating a tableau. Place your tin toy on, say, a windowsill, and attach some twigs and leaves to the window with sticky putty. Then scatter some nuts around your squirrel. It doesn’t much matter whether they are hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, or macadamia nuts, or indeed whatever nuts you happen to have bags of in your cupboard. Just cast them upon the windowsill, and gasp as a scene from the savage world of nature comes to life before your eyes.
Speaking of savagery, it may amuse you to set a predator upon your tin squirrel. Owls are particularly fond of sinking their fearsome talons into real squirrels and ripping them to pieces, but no owl I am aware of is likely to take the slightest interest in a squirrel made of tin, for reasons I hope are too obvious to need pointing out, particularly if you have been doing that recommended brain exercise, which ought to have pepped up the buzz and spark inside your cranium. A tin squirrel would be the quarry of a tin owl, so you will need to go to a toyshop that sells such a thing. If you have difficulty finding one, you can always fashion a toy owl out of a used baked bean tin, by bashing it into shape with a hammer and giving it the appearance of an owl with modelling paints or dÃ©coupage. Clearly it will only make a believable tin predator if your toy squirrel is one of the smaller ones available. If you splashed out on the double-decker bus-sized tin squirrel you would be advised not to attempt to have it preyed upon by a tin owl, unless you have access to a scrap metal merchant and are skilled in the shaping of tin into birdlike shapes.
For more ideas on having fun with your tin squirrel, rummage through your local secondhand bookshop and see if you can find a copy of Dobson’s out of print pamphlet How I Conquered My Fear Of Googie Withers, Together With A Few Tips On The Limitless Possibilities For Entertainment Afforded By A Toy Squirrel Made Of Tin.
Use Your Loaf is an exciting new panel game in which contestants are challenged to recreate the feeding of the five thousand. Those of you who have read your Bible will be familiar with the story. Having gathered five thousand men, and an unspecified number of women and children, in some wild and remote backwater, the Christ manages to eke a slap-up lunch for the lot of them from five loaves of bread and two fish, also unspecified. On the face of it, this seems unlikely, and one suspects either charlatanry or perhaps defective memory on the part of the chroniclers who recorded the event. But the game is about wholesome family teatime entertainment , not theology, so a pox upon those who get into a skeptical flap, say I.
Incidentally, I use the term “the Christ” because this is now the accepted way of referring to the beardy preacher man following Melvin Gibson’s motion picture The Passion Of The Christ, also a piece of wholesome family teatime entertainment, with added homoerotic violence.
Although lacking in homoerotic violence, Use Your Loaf is nevertheless an energetic and quite dangerous game in which blood is often spilled. Each member of the panel is given a bread bin containing five baps, and a tray with a couple of fish on it. For health and safety reasons, the fish are not actual fish, but replica blennies made of marzipan. Contestants must then answer a series of bap- and blenny-related questions to win either a reasonably sharp kitchen knife, a pair of pinking shears, a huge and lethal slicing machine, or a fretsaw. When the tools have been allocated, the panel members – usually consisting of Stephen Fry and Stephen Fry’s friends – are given ten minutes to cut up their bread and fish into as many pieces as possible. After the advert break, in which celebrity beauty editor Nadine Baggott extols either pentapeptides or smokers’ poptarts, a lovely and arithmetically competent assistant counts up each contestant’s bap and blenny bits. The winner is, of course, the one who achieves a score as close to five thousand as possible.
Use Your Loaf is shown on The Bread And Fish Programmes Channel every weekday at teatime.
I have never been a fan of comic books, nor have I developed a taste for graphic novels. I can admire the skill and inventiveness, but somehow I can’t drum up genuine enthusiasm. Of course, as a child, I had my weekly diet of comics, including Pipsy Papsy, Factorum Et Dictorum Memorabilium, and The Dinky, but when I discovered proper books I was smitten by prose, and there was no turning back.
Until last week, that is, when I discovered a fantastic comic featuring the cartoon superhero Laundry Bag Boy. I have to admit it has been a revelation, and I am smitten all over again, this time by crude and cack-handed drawings and by storylines which have surely been devised by a dribbling toddler. Yet there is a majestic genius about Laundry Bag Boy, his adventures, his scrapes, his pratfalls, his laundry bag, that I find irresistible. The comic I picked up, absent-mindedly, from where it had been discarded on a bench under a sycamore by a path in a park, was fat and dog-eared and threatened by rainfall. I thought no more than to carry it to the nearest municipal waste bin and consign it to oblivion, but the waste bins had been commandeered by an avant garde arts project organised by a man called Simon, whose name was Peter, just like one of the apostles of Christ. But whereas the apostles were, as Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891) observed, “illiterate half-starved visionaries in some dark corner of a Graeco-Syrian slum”, the artist Simon and his pals were goatee-bearded trendies from Shoreditch destined to rot in hell. Before they rotted, they had filled all the municipal waste bins in the park with some kind of compacted orange substance, hard as concrete, rendering the bins unusable. According to leaflets available from a temporary kiosk, this “art intervention” was a “courageous statement about
Issue 10, Volume 34 of Laundry Bag Boy contained a couple of short strips about Douglas The Pig, who was, I learned, Laundry Bag Boy’s pet pig, and a few pages of adverts and promotions for other publications. The bulk of the comic, however, was a single full-length comic strip adventure called Laundry Bag Boy : The Shakatak Years. Now, just as in my adulthood I have never been a comics buff, nor have I ever cared much, or at all, for Shakatak, the British jazz-funk band who had hits in the 1980s with “Night Birds” and “Down On The Street”, among others. Frankly, their smooth pap left me cold when first I heard it, and still does, two decades on. Readers who disagree with me, and who wish to champion the music of Shakatak and show me the error of my ways, are invited to argue their case in the Comments, but I will only pay attention to contributions which shake me to the core and force me to reassess my entire Weltanschauung. Those are the stakes. Be very careful before you tap that keyboard and hit “Send”.
The plot of the story, such as it is, posits that for a period of seven years – precisely which years are maddeningly unspecified – Laundry Bag Boy acts as a kind of familiar to the dull as ditchwater jazz-funksters. They remain unaware of his presence, but he is always there, haunting them, watching over them, in a patch of shadow on stage or perched up in the rafters of the recording studio, breathing softly, clutching his laundry bag, which is sometimes empty but more often about two-thirds full of filthy unmentionables long overdue for the washing machine. With his yellow hair and blazing eyes, we, the readers, can always spot the superhero, but to the Shakatak personnel, including roadies, sound engineers and hangers-on, he might as well be invisible. You may wonder why none of them smell the pong emanating from his laundry bag, at times when it is about two-thirds full. This is because one of Laundry Bag Boy’s superpowers is an ability to pluck from the empty air a canister of air freshener and spray the contents of his noisome bag until it smells of roses and honey and lavender and poppy coral and citrus mango and pumpkin and neutradol and peach and apple and one other fragrance the name of which I cannot be bothered to look up right at this minute. More than one critic, reviewing a Shakatak concert, is claimed to have dubbed them the sweetest-smelling band in the world, although whether this really happened, outside the pages of the comic book, is not something I am competent to assert or deny, for I don’t care one way or the other. I am less interested in Shakatak than in Laundry Bag Boy himself. I have read mountains of prose in my time, books upon books upon books, but never have I fallen so deeply under the spell of a fictitious being. Despite looking, from some angles, like an incompetent portrait of the columnist Peter Hitchens, Laundry Bag Boy, with his aforementioned yellow hair and blazing eyes, and his pet pig Douglas, and his conjured-up air fresheners, and his laundry bag, stands, in my view, above the heads of Emma Bovary or Oscar Crease or Sancho Panza or Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or Hans Castorp or Molly Bloom or Murphy or Molloy or Malone or Tyrone Slothrop or Doctor Slop or the Widow Wadman or Ishmael or Ahab or Pangloss or Percival Bartlebooth or Bartleby, the scrivener, or Trilby or Svengali or Hazel Blears or Gregor Samsa or Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, or Batman or Robin, The Boy Wonder, or Robin Hood or Humphrey Clinker or Pip or Magwitch or Geoffrey Firmin or Asenath Waite or the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred or Pinkie Brown or Charles Swann or Quentin Durward or Martin Chuzzlewit or Fu Manchu or thousands of other fictional characters. He is a true superhero, and yet has a humanity that is palpable. Not literally palpable, of course, that would be stretching my enthusiasm too far, but figuratively, or so I would aver, and had already averred, during that very first skim reading, sheltering from the rain under the ruined bandstand in the park, as I became transfixed by the adventures of Laundry Bag Boy’s Shakatak Years.
When I got home, I reread the comic with closer attention, three or four times I think. I learned more about Laundry Bag Boy, that he had many more superpowers, and ones that made the air freshener thing seem like a party trick. He could, for example, meld his brainwaves with those of
I soon learned that such a sky is a constant throughout the canon, for I was so enthused by The Shakatak Years that I took myself off to a specialist supplier of comic books and bought as many other Laundry Bag Boy titles as I could fit into my own, non-laundry, bag. Regrettably, most if not quite all of the stories had a subplot related in some way to jazz funk, though not specifically to Shakatak, and yet this did not dim my glee. I deduced that either the writer or the artist, neither of whose names appeared in any of the comics as far as I could see, was a devotee of that devilish music, and lacked the self-control to expunge their aberrant leanings from the otherwise stupendous stories. Yet how often we forgive writers and artists for what are, after all, minor irritants. For example, I have never been able to stomach Dennis Beerpint’s infuriating habit of conflating dishcloths with other kinds of rags and sponges, yet I am still able to enjoy his verse for its vigour and punctilio. I feel the same about Laundry Bag Boy, much as I might wish that William Hurlstone’s Bassoon Sonata, say, could stand as a substitute for True Colours by Level 42.
Another thing I have noticed about Laundry Bag Boy is that he never blinks. This may be a limitation of the cartoon strip medium, or it may be that his eyes are Ã¼bereyes, piercing and all-seeing and never for a moment at rest. And there is a lot for him to look at. Although the quality of the drawing is scrappy and fumbled, occasionally looking as if created by a cretin on a damaged Etch-A-Sketch, throughout the series there is an incredible amount of detail. The sky may be shown as flat and birdless and cloudless, but everywhere else in these pictures is a magnificent clutter of things. To take a picture at random, consider the opening frame from Laundry Bag Boy Gets Into The Groove With Herbie Hancock (Issue 4, Volume 28). Examining this with a Winckelmannscope reveals, in a rectangle taking up half the page, potatoes, bloaters, the weirdstone of Brisingamen, fourteen owls, dental floss diagrams, cotton, pins, pork rind, fur balls, rotating things, custard, muck, shoelaces, coat-hangers, an aerodrome, flame retardant fabric samples, snappy-cap tin cans, a glazed bowl, a Viking helmet, a syrinx, a rickshaw, geese, pots and pans, Edvard Shevardnadze’s golden tooth mug, bunsen burners and other burners, a tea strainer, a fencepost, gravel, cloth, sand, effluvium, ectoplasm, railings, a Brothers Johnson compilation compact disc, basil, hornets, dust, tweaking mechanisms, a pail of lugworms, a dictaphone belt, sandpaper, grimy unpleasantness, winches and pulleys, talcum powder, country and western paraphernalia, lozenges, screwdrivers, shredded wheat, box cutters, Basho trug holders, shipping timetables, phosphorescence, a spider’s web, a fountain pen, mysterious hat-like objects which are not hats, a basin, a dimity scrap, a bathtub, a shoe tree, a bee, an ice bucket, an immortal, a puppet crow with one button eye dangling loose, a puppet cow, a tap and an outside spigot, a copy of The Protocols Of The Elders Of Pointy Town, dubbin, flock wallpaper, old man’s beard, Mary Westmacott’s cot, hinges, blubber, fruit, clamps, sugar, goo, pond life, a desk sergeant, a calendar, litmus paper, an Unanugu jumper (darned), salivating weasels, snapping turtles, basalt, tonic water, goat pens, hacks and traps and charabancs, Wolfe Tone’s death mask, an earwig, a selection of different berries ready for the crusher, and the berry crusher, and another crusher, and yet other crushers, and crushers galore. It really is extraordinarily packed with detail. Laundry Bag Boy himself does not appear in this opening frame of the cartoon, and nor does Herbie Hancock. Their absence at the beginning is a crucial part of the plot, but I will not spoil it for you by explaining why.
While I was buying up back numbers in the comics shop, I took the opportunity to pump the proprietor for more information about Laundry Bag Boy. Intriguingly, the shop was run not by a geeky nerdy nerd geek, the kind we tend to associate with such establishments, but by a batty crone with a Quakerly air about her. Her hair was white and wild and she had a decided plum in her mouth. She was kind enough to offer me, from a somewhat battered tin, a choice of arrowroot and Garibaldi biscuits to munch while I browsed the cardboard boxes packed with comics. Unlikely as it seemed, she knew everything there was to know about my new-found fictional hero, a walking encyclopaedia of Laundry Bag Boy lore and learning, arcana and imponderabilities, facts and figures. One thing she told me in particular had me quite perplexed. In spite of the popularity of the yellow-haired, blazing-eyed superhero, there was no official worldwide fan club to which I could apply. This seemed anomalous, when there are such organisations devoted to virtually everyone you can think of, from fictional detectives such as Sherlock Holmes and Solar Pons, to real detectives like Sir Ian Blair and Cargpan of the Yard, from Sir Granville Bantock to Rock Hudson, from Lascelles Abercrombie to Spiderman, from Mike Huckabee to Ayn Rand, from Brutus Maximus to Popeye, from Arianna Huffington to Ringo Starr, from Krishnan Guru-Murthy to Tuesday Weld. Yet in this seething maelstrom of often ill-advised fandom, there was an unfathomable void where Laundry Bag Boy ought to have been.
I have decided to correct this preposterous state of affairs. Tomorrow, at
NB :Â Please check the Comments on this piece, for a particularly enlightening contribution from reader Randi Mooney.
Long, long ago, in what seems like another life, I used to be paid a pittance to write capsule film reviews. Since then, I have always had great respect for those who have mastered what is a bewilderingly difficult form, summarising a film (or a book, or a play, or whatever) in one or two sentences. I was prompted to recall my own faltering steps in the art by the television listings in today’s Guardian. There are four films on the terrestrial channels tonight, with only BBC2 eschewing cinema, in favour of snooker. And what an inspired choice the viewer has! Here are condensed versions of the (uncredited) capsule reviews:
BBC1, 11.20 : The Ghost And The Darkness : tedious adventure.
ITV1, 11.05 : Showtime : leaden action comedy.
Channel Four, 10.00 : Happy Gilmore : feeble sports comedy.
Five, 10.00 : The Glimmer Man : dull and clichÃ©-ridden action thriller.
I like to think that all Hooting Yard readers pay assiduous attention to the Comments appended to postings. However, just in case some of you do not read them avidly, I have plucked the following Comment from its proper place and am posting it here. Why? Because it is particularly splendid, a model of what a Hooting Yard Comment can be. This is Fitzmaurice Trenery on By Pointy Town Horse-Trough I Sat Down And Wept:
Rhodes Gunnarsson, the noted Icelandic farrier-in-exile, favoured the enclosing of the horse in wood on all sides with perhaps ten inches to spare (effectively a horse-shaped box, or horse-box) which was airtight apart from a U-shaped hole at the top, into which enough horseshoes were fed to fill the remaining horseless cavity of the box up to about halfway.
It is a testament to the Icelandic horse’s unflappable character that during this whole process the box’s occupant remained quiet. Confused perhaps, but not alarmed. Even when the whole apparatus was winched up in the air and dropped into a bronze house-sized steam-tombola the stolid pony retained its quizzical solemnity. Not even after the tombola was activated and the box rolled and banged and crashed around inside did the horse cry out or make any attempt to escape the fearsome clangour.
And when after one week the tombola was finally halted, and the horse-box emerged from the chute, and the box was dismantled, the horse stood there, serenely, with what might be described as a horsey smirk. And the only horseshoes left were those on the feet of the horse, and they produced a brilliant shine the like of which challenged the moon, made night into day, and drew delighted crowds from the neighbouring valleys.
Sadly, Gunnarsson fell foul of the ancient Icelandic law when, on returning from a gymkhana in
Nobody knows what became of Gunnarsson after his clash with the authorities. Some say that his method of shoeing gave his ponies the ability to gallop over water, and that he plies the seas looking for sailors who need ironwork replacing – a bedstead perhaps, or a front gate. And some say he floats still, on a raft made of bronze, off the coast of
Incidentally, eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that the title By Pointy Town Horse-Trough I Sat Down And Wept is not in the same format as all the other headings in this blog, and nor does the piece appear to belong to any of the Hooting Yard Categories listed to your right, despite two such categories being assigned to it. The best minds have been drafted in to resolve this dilemma, which resists all attempts to correct it. The piece has been posted and re-posted at least a dozen times, text coding has been stripped out, amended, and re-inserted, but all in vain. Such incomprehensible inconsistencies give me sleepless nights. I am not joking.
Recently discovered shoved into a potato sack in an outbuilding on a dismal farmyard, the manuscript entitled An Essay Concerning A Bird Perched On A Promontory has been authenticated as the work of Dobson. Why it was never published as a pamphlet is anybody’s guess. Still, it would be out of print by now, so it hardly matters. We are very pleased to have been granted permission, in the form of a grubby piece of paper pinned to an equally grubby piece of cardboard, to reprint an extract from the essay here. So without further ado:
Correct praxis in the matter of the observation of a bird perched upon a promontory is a matter of the utmost importance. When I told people I was going to make this the subject of a pamphlet, I was startled by the vituperation of their reactions. I had, it seemed, touched a nerve.
“For crying out loud, Dobson!” said one acquaintance, “Whatever other qualities you may possess, in terms of ornithological knowledge you are a profoundly ignorant man. Why, I doubt you even know the difference between a coot and a moorhen, let alone more exotic birds such as fork-tailed storm petrels, anhingas, blue-crowned motmots, godwits, loons, noddies, bobolinks and buff-collared nightjars. To save yourself from humiliation at the hands of the avian establishment you should abandon this project and instead write an essay on something you know about, such as the construction of yurts.”
This was fairly typical of the hostility I met with, but I laugh off such ill-informed abuse. I laugh it off melodramatically, as if I were a villain in a nineteenth century Italian operetta, Count Guido perhaps in Boffo’s La Scrappizziettante, my waxed moustachios twitching as I cackle and plunge a stiletto into the breast of the Cardinal in Act II, Scene 4. Such invective from those who doubt my ornithological expertise sways me not one jot from my path. It is worth mentioning at the outset of my essay, however, for reasons of both vanity and revenge. Well do I know the sound of the clanking chains of vengeance, for I have heard them often and anon. As for vanity, well, that is a dish I have gobbled up with gusto, like a particularly toothsome soup enriched with gourmet croutons. I regret to say that my pamphlet The First In A Series Of Twenty-Six Bagatelles Devoted To A Celebration Of The Humble Crouton is now out of print. I have not yet written the subsequent twenty-five pamphlets, for it seems more urgent to address praxis in the matter of bird-stroke-promontory observation.
Why should this be so? The plain fact is that, as I wander about the coastline of my bailiwick, I am often struck by the incompetent manner in which this activity is carried out. I dare say if we were dealing with a more trivial matter, such as, say, the buffing with a rag of a bobsleigh championship medal, or the invocation of an Aztec god, I would not bother my ugly large head about it. But what could be more important than observing birds perched upon promontories? Friddle your brain for as long as you wish, but I suggest you will, in the end, be forced to accept that the answer to that question is “Nothing”, or, better, “Nothing, Dobson, you are of course correct as always”.
So let us start from first principles. I am talking about trousers. If you are going to set out to look at a gull or a coot or a bufflehead by the edge of the vast and inexplicable sea, wear corduroys. It matters not if they are ill-fitting, baggy, big in the bottom, or even stained with stains of immoral besmirchment. You can’t go wrong in corduroys. While we are on the subject, it is widely believed that the textile is so named from the French “corde du roi”, that is, the cloth of the king. Utter twaddle. This and many other myths about fabrics are comprehensively exploded in my pamphlet A Disquisition Upon The Various Types Of Cloth From Which Trousers May Be Woven, Together With Some Pictures Of Hume Cronyn (out of print), where the corduroy question is addressed in a footnote on page 44, and again in the Envoi, where I quote liberally from the catalogues of textile manufacturing concerns from over sixteen different countries, so prodigious was my research when I buckled down to it after years of procrastination. I cannot count the number of ways I found to keep putting off doing the work I knew I was born to do. I took up hamster husbandry. I took needle and thread and darned things which did not need darning. I studied maps, my brow furrowed, with no intention of ever visiting the places so mapped. I trampled through gorse. I worked my way through the canon of traditional nursery rhymes and baked each pie mentioned therein. But eventually I saw sense and got down to work and went to the library and obtained a key to the basement where were kept all the textile manufacturing catalogues from many lands, and I read each and every one, making notes in my little notepad with my little note-making pencil, soon worn to a stub, alas, but not before I had garnered a mass of facts, and not just facts but unassailable facts, as if there is a difference when one considers the strict definition of a fact, as I did, and do, usually, unless I have not eaten enough breakfast and thus am prey to becoming a tad light-headed, as can happen on a Wednesday, for reasons I shall not go into here.
Thus tucked comfortably into a pair of corduroy trousers, the keen observer of birds perched upon promontories is ready to take the next step in the praxis. This involves combing one’s hair. It will be argued that there is little point combing one’s hair if one is to stride, hatless, out to the coast, where howling sea winds and squalls of spray will dishevel even the most carefully preened hairstyle. Such arguments hold no water with me, for I confess that in this area of personal grooming I am fanatical. It is true that I have not combed my own hair since I was ten years old, but that does not mean I cannot hand down absolute rules to the seething mass of humanity from aloft my Dobsonian perch, much like a Tsar issuing a ukase, and as mercilessly. For the purpose of moulding your mop into a neat and tidy state before going off to the promontory in hope of spotting a peewit or a swift or a Temminck’s lark, I recommend the use of a tortoiseshell comb with a decorative handle of filigree and bippety bip. I suppose, in extremis, a cheap plastic comb, one given away as a free gift with a cheap pair of socks, will do, if you are the sort of person who wears cheap socks. I know I am.
Earlier I said that I have heard the chains of vengeance clank. I repeat that here, for emphasis.
Stage three is, it has to be said, critical, and not for those faint of heart. With your ornithological kit stowed in your ornithological kitbag, you need to propel yourself from the homely comforts of your hearth out into the wilds, continuing on until you reach a suitably bird-haunted promontory. This may involve passing through fearsome and spooky forest, or across mist-enshrouded moors riddled with wolf-packs, or negotiating a big and busy motorway the underpasses of which have been flooded by recent tempests, or avoiding roadside bandits armed with staves and blunderbusses, or other such ordeals of the journeying soul. For all your patina of modernity, you might as well be a grunting savage toiling through the wastes ten thousand years ago, preparing to cast your uncomprehending eyes upon an elemental sight. For what could be more suggestive of the primitive, the pre-human, than a raven on a rock, or a bittern on a boulder, or an osprey on an outcrop, at the edge of the land, at the rim of the world, battered by the winds and staring out to sea?
I do not want you to answer that question, for it may be you have up your sleeve competing images, possibly involving oozing slime and pterodactyls, which render my own less than fab. That would never do. Remember who is the pamphleteer here, and who the reader.
I will assume you have reached a promontory, and that there is a bird perched upon it. Some swivel-eyed members of what we might call the bird-obsessed community will insist that you be able to identify what sort of bird you are looking at. They will want you to take in at a glance such features as the beak or bill and colouration and thickness of feathers and size and shape of head and wingy bits and arrive at a snap, if informed, judgement regarding bird type. God knows there are thousands upon thousands of specific bird types for your puny brain to compute, in that at-a-glance moment, and I suppose we can admire to some extent the person with impeccably-combed hair and corduroy trousers who announces “That is a cassowary” or “Oh look! Yonder upon the promontory perches a sandpiper”, but at the same time we should be aware that they are showing off, and are very likely the kind of bumptious birdy know-alls who would cut us dead at a cocktail party in an elegant drawing room. I hasten to add that I am not speaking from personal experience here, as I have never been treated with contempt by an ornithologist at any kind of party, cocktail or otherwise.
The only important thing, once you are standing near the promontory looking at a perching bird, is that you are clear it is a bird and not, say, a squirrel, or a lugworm, or a pebble. I have known many who, through incorrect praxis, have made such errors, and I cannot really blame the authorities for displaying giant photographs of them, with their names and addresses printed in big block capitals, on billboards and hoardings throughout the capital city, as part of the five year plan dubbed We Must Ridicule Citizens Lacking Knowledge Of Birds. This has been one of the most successful campaigns so far devised by the regime, and though its long term benefits, and indeed its short term benefits, are unfathomable, I for one would rather live on a diet of prunes than see it reversed.
Nick Halling, in a very excited voice, during World’s Strongest Man Super Series on Channel Five:
“It’s like a cartoon… but glued to the floor!!!”