Buster And Radbod

There are some questions we can answer without hesitation. Asked “what is your favourite website?”, one hundred percent of sensible people immediately shout “Hooting Yard of course!” with unhinged and hysterical enthusiasm. Similarly, when asked in which schoolbook depository they would prefer to site a sniper’s nest, an overwhelming number of would-be assassins reply “the Texas Schoolbook Depository at 411 Elm Street, Dallas, TX 75202-3317, without a doubt!” For my part, and in spite of the intervening decades, a question I can answer without even thinking is “what was your favourite weekly comic when you were tiny?” It was The Hammer Of Christ, and, within it, the strip I most adored was Buster And Radbod.

Each week, I followed the adventures of the chirpy pair with my jaw dropped and drool flowing freely down my chin, my heart and pulse rates pounding desperately. It was through Buster and Radbod that I learned to read, and I am forever in their debt.

They were, in many ways, an ill-matched fictional pair. Buster was squat, hissy, and preening, given to throwing fits and always attired in a bright yellow duffel coat and a little pointed wooden cap. He existed on a diet of chocolate swiss rolls, sprats, lettuce, and untreated milk straight from the goat. We were never given a glimpse of the goat, but it was understood that it lived in a field a short walk across the verdant hills from Buster’s house and that its name was Buttercup. Buster had more than one iron pail in which he would collect the milk, one painted red and one unpainted, and a third, extra special pail that leaked and that he was always promising to mend, but never did. Buster had too many teeth crammed inside his mouth, certainly more than a non-fictional person would have, and some of them were sharpened into fangs. He liked to sit atop a rotating plinth and spin round and round until he was sick. I was always curious as to the engine which rotated the plinth. It bore a distinct resemblance to undersea drilling equipment I had seen, either in real life or in catalogues, although of course nearly all of Buster and Radbod’s adventures took place on dry land, far from the sea. Buster was once or twice shown to be in possession of a pair of swimming trunks, they were visible in pictures of his open wardrobe, alongside a snorkel and an oxygen canister, but I cannot recall him ever wearing them. Buster had an owl as well as a goat. The owl was also called Buttercup, and Buster treated it cruelly, often pelting it with the shells of pistachio and brazil nuts throughout the impossibly long afternoons of his idyllic fictional summertime. The owl took its revenge by regurgitating gobbets of semi-digested stoat or weasel on to Buster’s pointed wooden cap, which he would then have to rinse clean under the village spigot. Doing so was always a risky business, for lumbering in the vicinity of the village spigot was the village wrestler, a hairy brute capable of tearing an anvil in half with his great hairy hands. Luckily for Buster, the village wrestler was chained to a post next to the village spigot, and he was blind, so usually it was possible to skip nimbly out of his reach, even though, being squat, Buster was not the most nimble of cartoon characters. Indeed, he was not nimble at all. He slouched and he trudged and he often trailed one of his legs behind him, as if he were a lame child, but this was just rascality. Buster pretended to be lame to diddle small coinage from shopkeepers and the ground staff at the aerodrome, but most of them were wise to his tricks. In quite a few stories Buster and Radbod mooched around the aerodrome, trying to enter the hangars, but they were invariably stymied by one circumstance or another, be it the weather or early closing or an attack of killer bees or a rusty padlock. Once they were about to step into an unguarded and unlocked hangar when they were surprised by the ghost of Sylvia Townsend Warner and fled screaming into the hills. Other literary phantoms haunted the comic strip from time to time, for differing narrative purposes, and not always at the aerodrome. The ghost of Emily Dickinson, for example, hovers in mid-air outside the village shampooist in several frames of a particularly exciting adventure in which a toggle on Buster’s duffel coat is discovered to be a smooth round fragment from the tomb of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Buster hires a broom to fight off the ancient Egyptian ghouls who come to reclaim the pharaoh’s toggle. The hiring of brooms, sweeping brushes, dusters, squeegees, rags and other cleaning materials is one of Buster’s hobbies, along with bell-ringing, stamp collecting, making fluted paper cupcake cases, pelting his owl with the shells of pistachio and brazil nuts, First World War battle re-enactments, tongue twisters, snakes and ladders, playing songs from the Fort Mudge Memorial Dump LP on the glockenspiel, churning up froth in a pail, bandage sculpture, tick tack, tacky tock, driving nails into mud idols, Subbuteo table football, poop tack clatter tack whizz, ping pong, hopping about flapping his arms, conjuring tricks, removing splinters from gashes, cardboard appreciation, amateur dramatics, pencil sharpening, scattering pins all over the place, bowling, bowls and dishes, and running a flea circus. I thought of Buster rather than Radbod as a role model. Buster had nonchalance, élan, a filthy temper, a ready wit, and peevishness. He was insouciant when one of his lungs collapsed. He smoked Gitanes. He sometimes wore his pointed wooden cap at a jaunty angle. He could hold his breath under water for several very very tense minutes. He rattled about in a fantastic old jalopy. He had ambitions to be a bargee on an extensive system of canals. He was a dab hand with a banjo, and not in a musical sense. Once, he felled the blind brute village wrestler with a simple flick of his duffel coat cuff, and afterwards had the grace to polish the blind brute village wrestler’s chain with a hired rag and his own home-made swarfega. He dazzled at cocktail parties. He spat upon hissing coals. He tiptoed from rooms with a swish of elegance. He was off on a frolic of his own.

Radbod, by contrast, was a somewhat colourless character.

Recently I learned that a complete set of The Hammer Of Christ, bound in the hide of a cloven-hooved beast of the barnyard, and containing all the adventures of Buster and Radbod, will be for sale at an auction to be held at the dilapidated Custom House by the harbour steps in the stinking seaside resort where I usually spend my holidays. I am by no stretch of the imagination an experienced auction-goer, and I have no idea how to make a bid. Do I nod, or raise an eyebrow, or hold up a pencil, or flail my arms around? I do not want to cut an idiotic figure, but nor do I want to miss the chance to get my hands on such a treasure. It is a quandary, to be sure.

Having given it much thought, I have decided to take my lead from Buster himself. In one episode of this most marvellous of comic strips, he goes to an auction at a Custom House, not unlike the auction at the Custom House I plan to attend, and, when the lot he covets comes up, he sneaks outside and, through an aperture, pumps into the auction room a fast-acting nerve gas. Or maybe it is just any old gas, I can’t quite remember. I suppose that’s something I ought to check before carrying out my nefarious plan. If I pump the wrong sort of gas through an aperture, who knows what might happen? The problem is that, just as I am ignorant of bidding behaviour at auctions, I haven’t got a clue about gases. I know there are lots of different kinds of gas and that they act differently upon the people gathered in a room into which one or other of them is pumped through an aperture, but how I am to go about picking my gas is an absolute mystery. And so, for now, it shall remain, for there is much that trumps gas research in my daily round, and right now I feel, as I so often do, the call of the monkey, and I must pick nits out of my hair and shovel bananas down my throat and swing from larch to sycamore in my larch and sycamore enclosure, beyond the back garden, by the railway lines, where hooting freight trains thunder along the track carrying vast loads of pig iron to Pig Iron Town, where I have never been, and will never go, for it is far, far away, and built entirely from pig iron.

Bring Forth, Devil, Your Elks

Bring Forth, Devil, Your Elks is the title of a history of hunting in Finland noted in the latest issue of the splendidly-named periodical Books From Finland (reviewed here).

Interestingly, the out of print pamphleteer Dobson once planned a series of bestiaries for children to which he gave almost identical titles. They included Bring Forth, Devil, Your Moose, Bring Forth, Devil, Your Stormy Petrels, and Bring Forth, Devil, Your Common House Flies. Unlike the Finnish volume, none of Dobson’s works ever saw the light of day, for he abandoned the writing of them when it was pointed out to him that he could make more money by churning out a potboiler about decorative cardigan buttons, a subject on which he was an acknowledged expert.

Unfortunately, a glut of decorative cardigan button books appeared on the market just as Dobson was finishing his manuscript. His money-making scheme shattered, the pamphleteer was forced to take a job as janitor at an evaporated milk factory. As we now know, this experience was pivotal in his pamphleteering career.

Further Reading : “Dobson’s Pivotal Experience As A Janitor At An Evaporated Milk Factory” by Petula Clark, in The Journal Of Evaporated Milk Studies, Vol XLVI, No 7 (out of print).

Letter From A Wooden Child

Dear Mr Key : I was minding my own business, sitting on my bench in the attic room of the Mercy Home For Abandoned Infants Made Of Wood, when my attention was drawn to your article entitled Wooden Child And Fiery Serpent And Trees. I should at once make it clear that I am a wooden child and that I often run errands along the very same lanes of your bailiwick such as the one shown in the picture, and that on numerous occasions when running such errands I have been menaced by serpents belching forth flame from their mouths or from their fundaments and sometimes, terrifyingly, from both.

Before I go on, you may be interested to know the nature of my errands. From time to time, the beadle at the Mercy Home, or one of his lieutenants, will require a crate of crab apples or bandages or plums or dust or conference pears or talcum powder or grease or vinegar cakes or marzipan or holy water tablets or pins or assorted crustacea or similar produce to be collected from the village shop. Being the possessor of a withered leg, the beadle himself is not able to undertake the journey along the winding lanes, and his lieutenants are kept so busy grouting and lathing and scraping and plugging and patching up holes in the fabric of the Mercy Home that the task falls to one or another of the abandoned wooden infants such as myself. We merrily do the beadle’s bidding, for Old Ma Dystopia, who runs the village shop, will usually treat us with a wooden biscuit or a wooden toffee apple before getting us to sign the impost for the crate we have come to collect. She is a kindly soul who is reputed to be over two hundred years old and to have taken part in many folk tales, living as she does in her ramshackle shop deep in the dense and gloomy woods. She is certainly a keen observer of the disposition of trees.

What prompted me to write to you was your observation that the wooden tinies you rescue from perilous fiery serpents are skittish, and that you are rarely rewarded or thanked for your endeavours. Now, it is true enough that I do not recall a single occasion when, menaced by a serpent on this or that errand, my imperilment has been averted by you, or indeed anyone like you, emerging from the shrubbery armed with a portable fire extinguisher. Granted that my memory is not the most acute, given that my head and all its innards, including the brain, are, like the rest of me, made of wood. Yet I feel quite sure I would remember so stirring an incident. As it is, I have always had to effect my own deliverance from the threat of fiery serpents upon the lanes, using a combination of quick wits and wily stratagems. I am not lucky enough to carry my own fire extinguisher, partly because I am, on my return journey at least, laden with a crate of produce and thus hard put to carry anything extra, and also because the beadle is reluctant to let his tiny wooden charges get their hands on his one fire extinguisher, which he keeps bolted to the wall of his office. It is not the case that we are too skittish to be entrusted with it, by the way, rather that the beadle is a possessive and neurotic man prey to his own secret demons, for which I fervently hope he will one day seek professional counselling, or acupuncture, or even just straightforward puncturing, with a sharpened skewer.

My main point is that, if ever there came a time when you did spray your so-called exciting fire-suppressant foam into the mouth or the fundament of a fiery serpent waylaying me upon the lane, I would certainly be profuse in my thanks and would, upon my return to the Mercy Home For Abandoned Infants Made Of Wood, hold urgent discussions with the beadle to arrange for you to be properly rewarded, perhaps with a lemon meringue pie or a box of paperclips. I am confident that all my wooden fellows would do the same. So I can only assume, when you assert that it is rare for you to be thanked or rewarded for your efforts, that the wooden children you have assisted in the past must hail from some other home for wooden children, perhaps one that nestles even deeper in these deep and gloomy woods, a home where the wooden children are, God forbid, skittish wooden ingrates.

I hope you will see fit to publish this letter and thus to set the record straight.

Passionately yours, A Nameless Wooden Child xxxx

Wooden Child And Fiery Serpent And Trees



Intriguingly, the serpent is belching fire not through its mouth but from its fundament. This is more common than you might think. Often, when I roam the lanes of my bailiwick, I come upon similar scenes of wooden tinies being menaced by fiery serpents, and in a significant number of cases serpentine fundament-fire is seen to occur. For the serpent, the advantage of this is that when a public-spirited figure such as myself chances upon it and extinguishes the flames with a handy portable fire extinguisher, it does not gag or choke on the jet of exciting fire-suppressant foam, as invariably happens with mouth-sourced serpentine flames, but merely shrugs it off, inasmuch as a serpent can shrug, and slithers off on its merry way down the lane. Unfortunately, I have to say that the skittish wooden tinies whose imperilment I so selflessly avert tend to be an ungrateful lot, and it is rare indeed that I am even thanked, let alone given a reward. Nevertheless, I shall not stint in my roamings, along the winding lanes of my bailiwick, armed with my fire extinguisher.

Note the disposition of the trees.

The picture appears in Monster Brains, to which the reader is referred.

A Cowboy Story

Bristow, Cuddy and I were out on the trail. It pleased me that the shanks and withers of my horse were clearly superior to those of my companions’ horses. Were we to gallop to a gulch I felt sure that I would get there first. But we were in no hurry. I was the only one with a working knowledge of the importance of vitamins, so I was in charge of our picnic arrangements, as usual. My plan was for us to chow down at sunset, further up the trail, once we’d passed Binsey Poplars. There ain’t no poplars at Binsey, just scrub and tumbleweed, but the place is sainted to the memory of Gerard Manley Hopkins, so that’s why the folk there call it what they do. A lot of those folk are monks who spend their days grunting over illuminated manuscripts in the scriptorium, but there’s a fair smattering of cowpokes and wranglers and ornery cuss-mouthed old biddies too. You’d need some kind of vade mecum to keep track of all the shenanigans they get up to, and that includes the monks.

Bristow was originally from Finland. His real name had lots of double ‘i’s and double ‘k’s in it, it was too much of a mouthful, so he was known as Bristow. Back in Helsinki, or Helsingfors, he had a wife, name of Theodora, who wallowed in a swamp of moral turpitude. She had a way of tilting her head at a particular angle that drove Bristow hobgoblin crazy, and that was why he’d left Finnish shores and was beside me now, on his horse, heading along the trail. He was so daze-brained that he thought he knew more about vitamins than I did, but I had him down as a cornpone and buckwheat kind of man, and I was rarely wrong.

I’d been wrong about Cuddy, true enough. Cuddy was a talented countertenor who’d sung a few arias in his time, back east. But then he got infected tonsils and suffered all sorts of disasters. He lost an eye and some of his bones and could no longer pay the rent on his flophouse room, so he hitched a ride on the Big Old Golem Railroad and fetched up on the prairie with nothing but a pair of spurs and a bottle of mouthwash. His hair was yellow and he had gruesome personal habits, but I gave him a horse and let him ride with me. Sometimes a man needs a helping hand.

Cuddy sang as we rode along the trail. “Oh Mama,” he sang, “What colour will the lights be? Will they turn blue on me?” It was a song that Wacko Jimmy Osterburg would record on the phonograph years down the line, but even with his ravaged tonsils I always preferred Cuddy’s take on it. You could tell he’d once wowed the plutocrats at the opera house. But those days were gone, and Cuddy knew it. Maybe that’s why he never bothered polishing his spurs. My spurs were glistening. I had them made specially, from pewter, by a pewter spur maker back in Choctaw country. They were fastened to the heels of my Bingle boots. The Bingle company makes the sturdiest boots you’re ever likely to wear, and I know I’m going to die with my Bingle boots on. They’re advertised as “the boots of destiny”, and even if you have no idea what your destiny will be, they’re the boots you’ll want to be shod in when you meet it.

It was hot on the trail. We came to a place where to one side of us was a swarm of flies and to the other side was a swarm of bees. Cuddy stopped singing, took from his holster his self-loading repeater Chabrol Truffaut-Rivette and shot them all dead, one by one.

The Mormons have a home-made hooch called leopard sweat. You can look that up if you don’t believe me. I’m no kind of saint, let alone a Latter Day one, but I had a flask of the firewater in my pochette. The hooch was a gift from a Mormon prophet we’d met yesterday. He was out in what he called the wilderness and had got himself hopelessly entangled in a thorn bush. Bristow and Cuddy wanted to rob him and taunt him with rattlesnakes, but I advised mercy, and I was listened to, so we rescued him from the thicket and got a flaskful of leopard sweat as a result. I was damned if I was going to share it with my companeros. They could make do with their own spit. The pochette, by the way, was a delicately embroidered reticule made for me by a good time girl name of Maud from Old Ma Purgative’s Whorehouse back in Vinegarville. This Maud had a way of tilting her head at a particular angle that reminded Bristow of his Helsinki Theodora, so we got out of there quick before he got the jeepers. I was keeping a close eye on him, and sometimes two eyes, through binoculars, if he strayed too far ahead or dallied too far behind. Bristow’s horse suffered from sleep apnoea and hysterics, and he sat askew on his saddle, so that was causing us no end of problems.

We were still hours away from Binsey Poplars when the trail was blocked by an incomprehensible and gigantic and hard and rectangular and monolithic slab of pure black iron. It was so huge that we were engulfed in its shadow long before we reached it. Bristow’s horse shook with terror and Cuddy’s horse went all wobbly. My own horse, with its superior withers and shanks, trotted bravely towards the slab, but it was obvious there was no way to pass it. I tapped at the metal with a tuning fork and out rang a tone at once sweet and sinister. I thought the sound might prompt Cuddy to sing again, but he was busy chewing a prune.

Fatefully, but of necessity, we left the trail, detouring off into unknown country and hoping to rejoin it beyond Stovepipe Hat Gulch. Before we got that far, though, we came to a cluster of ruined and rotting shacks. The horses were thirsty, so we dismounted and took them to a burbling rivulet. As we did so, a group of people emerged from the shacks. There were men, women, and children, all of them slobbering inbred halfwits and all of them armed with Mannlicher Carcano rifles. This, you will recall, was the cheap mail order firearm later to be used by Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot President Kennedy in November ’63. I could see Cuddy reaching for his gun so I socked him on the jaw, knocking him to the ground. I wanted, if I could, to avoid a shootout.

The leader of the slobbering inbred halfwits came towards me. His stride was uncertain and spavined, and as he got closer I saw that his eyes were milky and sightless. Then he tilted his head at a particular angle and, behind me, Bristow let out a horrible scream. I turned and saw that he was aiming his Balzac at the halfwit, but he was shaking too much to be able to make a steady shot. I ran back and knocked the revolver from his paw.

If you read the literature, you will find that cowboys often found themselves in predicaments. Such predicaments may differ in circumstance and detail from those you face in your everyday, contemporary lives, but you are still able to place yourselves, through an imaginative leap, in predicaments distant in time and place. So let us briefly exchange places, you and I. I will leave you with Bristow and Cuddy, the one gibbering at the memory of his Theodora and the other unconscious, while you are set upon by armed and slobbering inbred halfwits in a hot and hostile desert landscape away from the trail, and I shall sit on a bendy bus slewing through rainy windswept streets, bearing me god knows where, and god knows why.

Robust And Transparent

It is ever more apparent that Hooting Yard needs to be both robust and transparent. I want to move the debate forward, and that is why I am making arrangements for someone – possibly the octogenarian crone Mrs Gubbins – to clamber up a ladder on to the roof of a large and imposing building and to shout, through a loudhailer, a robust and transparent message. The message will be shouted in a transparently robust manner, from behind a transparent screen, made of robust glass. It’s a big ask, but I think it’s important to begin the conversation. One benefit of such robust transparency is that we might, as a result, be invited into the government’s big tent of all the talents. Asked to predict the likelihood of this, our resident prognosticator Little Severin The Mystic Badger scrabbled around in a pile of twigs and muck and came to no definite conclusion. Perhaps he is insufficiently robust. Nor, of course, is he transparent, being a badger.

Deluded Idiot

Dear Mr Key, writes Tim Thurn, Please look very carefully at the attached photograph. I have been staring at it constantly for about five hours, and I have convinced myself that the person we see here depicted is the out of print pamphleteer Dobson. You may wish to assert that a) the image is not a photograph and b) Dobson would never have allowed himself to be caught on camera while so preposterously engarbed. You are of course fully entitled to express such objections, but bear in mind that I am a man of mighty optical acuity and I know what I am talking about. Call me a deluded idiot if you must. I am now going to go on an Easter picnic event. Yours sincerely, Tim.


Hopkins At Easter

Some Gerard Manley Hopkins for Easter. Here is the final stanza of The Wreck Of The Deutschland:


Dame, at our door

Drowned, and among our shoals,

Remember us in the roads, the heaven-haven of the Reward:

Our King back, oh, upon English souls!

Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east,

More brightening her, rare-dear Britain, as his reign rolls,

Pride, rose, prince, hero of us, high-priest,

Our hearts’ charity’s hearth’s fire, our thoughts’ chivalry’s throng’s Lord.

Imperfectly-Remembered Mitteleuropean Folk Songs In Translation

Last week, the Guardian newspaper was giving away a seies of poetry pamphlets. There were selections from T S Eliot, Sylvia Plath, and Philip Larkin, among others, but I was dismayed to note that they did not include Dennis Beerpint.

The twee versifier has been rather quiet of late, so I was pleased to learn that a new book is in the works. For the last year, apparently, Beerpint has been busy with a project entitled Imperfectly-Remembered Mitteleuropean Folk Songs In Translation. He has collected at least four or five examples, enough for a characteristically slim volume of verse.

Under cover of darkness, Pansy Cradledew smashed her way into Beerpint’s so-called “poetry hut” and managed to steal Gestetnered copies of a couple of the pieces, so we can give readers a sneak preview. The first is called “The Shepherd’s Lament”:

There is a shepherd in the hills / There is a [something] green / But black is the crow in the [something] tree / And lightning blasts the sky / The shepherd’s lass has golden hair / She [something something] milk / But the crow has flown away, my love / And the ducks have left the lake.

Marvellous. And here is the second one, which seems to be untitled:

As I roamed the bosky verdance / Upon a summer morning / [Something something] gravel pits / And O my love was [something]. / Entwined in posies [something something] / I heard the sound of gunfire / Then [something] over by the cowshed / Upon a summer morning. / Tra la la and fol de rol / The geese are all a-[something] / My pig has got his hat on / And I’ll see you in the gloaming.

Fantastic. I expect the editor of the Guardian will be kicking himself that he neglected to include Dennis Beerpint in the series.


Today is March 20th, and most right-thinking people will of course be celebrating the anniversary of Yoko Ono’s marriage to a whining, bespectacled Liverpudlian pop singer, which took place back in 1969. But amid the carousing, let us not forget that today is also the feast day of Saint Wulfram (circa 640-703). Wulfram is one of the few saints to share his name with a metallic element, in his case a very hard, heavy, steel-gray to white transition metal also known as tungsten. Pedants may point out that wolfram the metal is spelled with an O whereas Wulfram the saint is spelled with a U, and they would be correct, but such orthographical nit-picking, while valuable, need not concern us here.

Saint Wulfram of Fontenelle, whose life was recorded for us after his death by Jonas of Fontenelle, protects those in danger upon the sea. In art, he is usually depicted in the act of baptising a young king, or the son of King Radbod of Frisia. Radbod is not a name you come across very often these days, which is a pity. I think I would be much more likely to buy one of those magazines such as Heat or Hello or Pap if, on the cover, it said “Inside – Big News About Radbod!” But I digress.

There are some lines from The Saga Of King Olaf by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which are often recited by those of us who wish to commemorate Saint Wulfram, or indeed to implore him for help if we are imperilled upon the sea, perhaps assailed by howling gales on the poop deck as gigantic waves crash repeatedly against our fragile ship. Longfellow wrote:

To the ship’s bow he ascended, By his choristers attended, Round him were the tapers lighted, And the sacred incense rose.

On the bow stood Bishop Sigurd, In his robes as one transfigured, And the Crucifix he planted

I think we can all agree that such resonant words are more likely to give us succour than the doggerel penned by Yoko Ono’s late husband, mentioned earlier.

So on this day, let us remember Saint Wulfram, and King Radbod too. I sincerely hope that, if any new parents give birth to a baby boy on this special day, they might see fit to call their child Wulfram, or Radbod, or both.

Trevor Howard

From yesterday’s Grauniad:

Trevor Howard, the star of the 1945 movie Brief Encounter, earned the respect of his peers recounting his brave military past, parachuting into Nazi-occupied Norway and taking part in the Allied invasion of Sicily. After his death, Public Record Office files revealed that he had been invalided out of the army and judged to be mentally unstable with a “psychopathic personality”.