Monthly Archive for August, 2008

Off At A Tangent

I had to go and see a man about a lozenge, but he was at a tangent. He suggested I take a wafer. I have written elsewhere, at some length, about wafers, and I do not intend to repeat that pretty little escapade, not when I am standing at the bottom of a staircase down which I fully expect a ghoul to traipse. Upon the descent of the ghoul, I shall climb the staircase myself and enter the chamber from which it has been expelled.

My arrival may well cause consternation. A ghoul leaves, and almost immediately afterwards a chubby man wearing filthy gloves appears. When I use the word ‘chubby’ I am referring to my inner chubby man, you understand, my shadow self, the man I would be in my dreams.

I do not know who awaits me in the upper chamber, although I now know that whoever it is will half expect me to be carrying a wafer. I can use the filthiness of my gloves as an excuse for not doing so. It is an excuse I have flourished on many occasions, not always successfully. Like the ghoul, I have been expelled from chambers and attics and parlours and even from cow sheds.

But I will not be expelled from the chamber at the top of the staircase, for it is written that I shall dwell therein, unto the last trump. I am waiting for the ghoul to be thrust out, all dignity rinsed out of it, out out out, and then I shall rise up, a chubby man puffing up the staircase, and I shall take possession of my final chamber.

Today’s Cautionary Note

“Never underestimate a bee” – David Sedaris

Correspondence Received

An entertaining letter arrives in the Haemoglobin Towers postbox from, I think, the United States. It is headed “The Hooting Yard Effect”, and sounds a cautionary note for podcast listeners. Here it is, in full:

Dear Mr. Key,

In late May of this year, I was pointed toward Hooting Yard (in the metaphorical sense of having the Hooting Yard podcast suggested to me as an enjoyable listening experience, as opposed to the more literal sense of being given directions to the physical location of Hooting Yard). After listening to a few shows, and being introduced to the works of Dobson, Blodgett, and Pebblehead, learning about Bonkers Maisie, Marigold Chew, fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol, Mrs. Gubbins, and diminutive adventuress Tiny Enid, and being exposed to some highly suspect, albeit scrupulously alphabetical, soup recipes, I felt a bit lost and resolved that perhaps if I listened to the complete archive of Hooting Yard shows, I might gain a more thorough understanding of the world of Hooting Yard, and possibly even learn how to spell “Bibblybibdib’s.”

I have now completed my task, and in the space of little more than two months, have listened to all 140 shows that I was able to find on the internet. Whether or not this effort has noticeably improved my understanding of Hooting Yard, its environs, and inhabitants is a matter open for debate. However, I have noticed an unusual side effect of absorbing so much Hooting Yard over so little a time: I find that my “internal voice,” when applied to odd bits of prose I come across in the course of the day, now sounds exactly like Frank Key.

For example, I was recently in San Diego, California. In want of something to do, wandering the Old Town section, I happened across an old, restored cemetery. Most of the graves were marked by blank wooden crosses, with small interpretive signs made of deteriorating photocopied text sandwiched between glass plates. One of these signs read, as best as I can recall:

“THE UNKNOWN GERMAN
This grave marks the resting place of the Unknown German. This man came to San Diego from Germany in 18– [terminal digits illegible]. Very little is known about his life here. How and why he came to San Diego, as well as how he died, is unknown.”

I read this, silently, to myself. But the voice I heard was plainly Frank Key’s. This doesn’t happen with newspaper articles, magazine stories, street signs, short stories, or novels. It occurs only when I read unusual bits of prose like that above. I would caution any other Hooting Yard listener contemplating ingesting a large amount of your shows in a short period of time. The effect, while not unpleasant, is unusual.

Thank you for the hours of entertainment you’ve provided.

Very respectfully,
Dr Jeffrey Chilton

Occasional Graveyards, Number One

The first in our Occasional Graveyards series is a shrine to a graveyard rather than a graveyard as such. You can read about the Cross Bones Graveyard here. It is about five minutes walk from the ResonanceFM studio on Borough High Street, so next time you listen to Hooting Yard On The Air, bear in mind that Mr Key may well have been pondering the Eternal Verities at the shrine just beforehand, or possibly soon afterwards. The photographs were taken by Pansy Cradledew, who has not posted them on a flickr page, because she’s not that kind of girl.

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Food For Sport

There has been much press coverage of the frankly bonkers dietary regime followed by Olympic uberchamp Michael Phelps. It is instructive to compare the swimmer’s daily food intake with that of fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol, the sprinter and pole-vaulter who thrilled the masses during the last century.

We are fortunate, then, that the fictional athlete’s coach and mentor, the all-too-real and non-fictional Old Halob, devoted many pages of his Memoirs to this very topic. Old Halob himself grew up in paupery, and often had little else to eat but birdseed stolen from bird-tables on the lawns of bird-obsessed villagers in his bird-choked village. Later in life, dining in expensive restaurants, he would often demand a bowl of millet as a side helping, and, being Old Halob, he always got what he wanted.

When it came to devising a diet for his sporting protégé, the irascible and chain-smoking coach paid heed to the theories of the nutritionist Catnip Wedge, who was himself a top bobsleigh competitor, though never a champion. Wedge was convinced that he could have won a mantelpiece’s worth of cups and medals had he eaten more “Laughing Cow” brand processed cheese triangles during his active bobsleighing years, backing up this theory with abstruse charts and diagrams. Old Halob could make head nor tail of these, but was won over by a certain hectoring tone in the nutritionist’s prose. As he wrote in the Memoirs:

I could make head nor tail of Wedge’s abstruse charts and diagrams, but there was something in his hectoring prose that convinced me he must be correct. Thus it was that when I took fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol under my capacious wing, I insisted that he eat a dozen packs of “Laughing Cow” brand processed cheese triangles for breakfast every day, including the packaging, with the tinfoil and that little red thread ostensibly designed to unseal each portion. Within a fortnight, he came second in the Bodger’s Spinney Athletics Club’s Annual Rainsoaked Five Hundred Yard Sprint Practice. In all his previous attempts at this race, the spindly fictional athlete had toppled to the ground in a swoon at the report of the starting pistol. It was the first time I realised that I had a future champion on my hands.

Old Halob’s hands, by the way, were hairy and curiously fat, but that need not concern us here. He sought out the more obscure writings of Catnip Wedge and, though he did not really understand them, as the translations were unreliable, he soon had prescriptions for Bobnit Tivol’s lunches and dinners as well as his breakfasts:

Lunch, he wrote, consisted of curd and balls of suet and reconstituted meat slices on a bed of sponge and fish innards, washed down with two big tumblers of aerated malt vinegar sprinkled with plenty of pips, followed by a slab of seed cake and a toffee apple. Dinner was a whole vegan pig substitute boiled in linseed oil, with a drizzle of cognac, two bowls of raw ears of wheat with paprika and enriched mulch, duck brains, cornflakes, hedge clippings, roast potatoes, cabbage and sugarsnap peas, and a dozen smokers’ poptarts, plus pails of water siphoned from a distant eerie pond. If he had a race coming up the next day, I insisted that the fictional athlete tuck in to an extra supper of innumerable sausages in sausagey sauce straight from the saucepan.

Bobnit Tivol’s performances, both on the track and in the pole-vault, underwent a dramatic improvement, but he failed to become an outright winner until Old Halob made a significant and unexpected addition to his diet.

All else would have been as naught, he wrote, had I not experienced a mental thunderclap one Thursday morning. I had good reason to be thankful to Catnip Wedge for showing me how to shovel food down fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol’s gullet, but for him to be a perennial runner-up was not good enough. That morning, as I hacked and spluttered my way through a coughing fit brought on by my umpteenth cigarette of the day, the supply of oxygen to my pulsating cranium was temporarily cut off, and, during the resulting spasms, I think I had some sort of abnormal hallucinatory insight. Whatever it was, when I came to, writhing on the linoleum with sputum dribbling down my goatee, it was crystal clear to me that what was missing from all of Wedge’s advice was guidance upon elevenses. Now, for any athlete, fictional or otherwise, elevenses is the most important meal of the day. I realised I would have to devise something for my protégé, a toothsome snack that would make him into the world-beater I knew he could be.

And so began a series of experiments. Over the next few months, Old Halob tried out a bewildering variety of elevenses recipes on the lanky runner, including Bath Olivers, distilled ditchwater, lettuce ‘n’ castor sugar flan, jugged stoat, fish in pastry, contaminated yoghurt (pronounced yoh-hoort), chocolate swiss roll, greasy partridge pie, milk of magnesia through a straw, and the bone marrow of sacrificially slaughtered Toggenberg goats. Some of these snacks knocked seconds off Bobnit Tivol’s sprinting times, but some made him windy or sluggish or hysterical. None seemed to work consistently. The breakthrough came on the eve of the fictional athlete’s most important race to date. Back to the Memoirs:

The breakthrough came on the eve of the Blister Lane Exciting Tiptop Sprinting In Inclement Weather Challenge Ribbon. I desperately wanted Bobnit Tivol to be able to twine that legendary ribbon around his legendary – albeit fictional – forehead, and I was so fraught that I collapsed into a coma. Unsupervised, the fictional athlete spent the whole day snacking on elevenses, neglecting his breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not only did he scoff down my various recommended elevenses, but he got out the pots and pans and cobbled together some of his own, such as a delicious lemon meringue pie with eels. The next day, at Blister Lane, he triumphed. We never looked back.

I don’t know about you, but I find these memories almost unbearably moving, so much so that I am going to sob into my napkin. Michael Phelps may be the most successful Olympian in history, but he has not been coached by Old Halob, and compared to fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol he is just a weedy milksop.

Paper Pianos, Blots, & Dead Physicians

Here are a few useful things I learned while reading Buchanan’s Journal Of Man, Volume 1 Number 4, published in May 1887:

“Pianos have lately been made from paper in Germany, instead of wood, with great improvement in the tone.”

“There is no denying that the young man about town of the nineteenth century is a blot upon our boasted modern civilization. His is not a pleasant figure to contemplate, though it is one that we all see very often and know very well – clothed irreproachably in the most expensive raiment that London tailors and unlimited credit can supply. He lives lazily and luxuriously on his father’s money and his wife’s, and, being after his natural term of days laid away in a tomb at Mt. Auburn, ends his existence without making any more impression upon the world’s history than a falling rose leaf, or an August cricket’s faintest chirp.”

“In 1885 we were informed of the success of spirits at Cleveland, Ohio, in communicating messages by the telegraphic method in rapping, in which our millionaire friend, Mr. J. H. Wade, has taken much interest. A little apparatus has been constructed, with which the spirits give their communications in great variety. I have repeatedly stated that the diagnoses and prescriptions of deceased physicians have always proved in my experience more reliable than those of the living. This has been verified at Cleveland. The late Dr. Wells of Brooklyn has been giving diagnoses and prescriptions through the telegraph.”

I think we can agree with the correspondent of the Vineland Rostrum, who said of the Journal’s editor J R Buchanan “We never read an article from the pen of this world-renowned thinker, but that we feel we are in the presence of one whose shoes’ latchet we are unworthy to unloose”.

Many thanks to Odd Ends.

Crimestoppers

Elberry at The Lumber Room has an excellent solution to feral youths and knife crime:

I imagine there are several thousand, or hundreds of thousands, of young men carrying knives ‘in self-defence’ who will, however, pull it as soon as they imagine a confrontation is in the air. They would be far better to carry expandable batons, and far less likely to accidentally kill someone. They would do even better to stay at home reading Sir Philip Sidney.

Personally, I would recommend The Anatomy Of Melancholy, but just staying indoors, reading improving literature, seems to me a splendid idea.

To Knit Knots, Peradventure

Much has been written, in the past, by people who knew of these things, about the knitting of knots. Knots, we learn, have been knit from cord and twine and rope and string and wool, among other materials. While it is true that more knots have been tied rather than not, without the aid of knitting needles, it remains the case that the knitted knot has its own special place in our hearts, whether our hearts flutter like a bird’s or a squirrel’s heart, or pound like a drum. For with the knitted knot we see a true craft, whereas it can be argued that the mere tying of knots, while sometimes requiring deftness and digital agility, can as well be done by a brute in a hurry. Not so the knitted knot.

Hurrying brutes, particularly those whose tails thump upon the ground as they rush headlong to the scene of their next enormity, are most unlikely to have the patience and wit necessary for the knitting of a knot. Nor are their paws likely to be dexterous enough to handle knitting needles, or even crochet hooks. Crochet is not knitting, of course, and the crocheted knot is a different creature to the knitted knot, and one with its own literature, exemplars, and paragons.

There exist pattern books containing instructions for knitting knots, and depictions of knots so knitted, but it would be a mistake to think that one needs such a pattern before embarking upon the knitting of a knot. Some of the finest knitted knots have been the work of improvisers, brave, adventurous souls who begin to knit with no other aim in mind than the knitting of a knot, its final form unimagined, not even a blurred wisp in the mind’s eye of the knitter.

Even improv knot knitters, however, need a degree of foresight, for they will wish to avoid the act of knitting being interrupted by a hurrying brute. Such interruptions can prove fatal, if not to the knitter then almost certainly to the knot. A brute in a hurry, coming upon a knitter, will tear and shred and rip and rend, all the while roaring its brute cries as its tail thumps the ground. Thus the knitter of knots is advised, in many of these books of the past, to find a secluded haven in which to knit. To be hidden behind a clump of brambles, or snug in a concealed nook in a cave, or safe behind the ramparts of a mighty and towering fortress, each of these has been recommended. A knitter’s choice of refuge will depend to some extent on the nature of the brutes who hurry through the lands in which they knit. There are single brutes who roam alone, and pairs, and occasionally trios, but by far the most common, and the most frightening, are those who hurry about in packs.

Various writers have pointed out that the knitter of knots can use the knots they have knitted as part of the apparatus to bind and immobilise a hurrying brute. This is undoubtedly true, but these same writers tend to neglect the inconvenient fact that, before such binding and immobilising and judicious use of knitted knots can occur, the hurrying brute must first be overpowered. In most cases, at least those cases that bear examination, the overpowering of a brute in a hurry requires inhuman strength, and the kind of musculature rarely found in the average knot knitter. Even more important, then, to ensure that before the very first clack of needle against needle, the knitter has located a place of safety in which to knit.

Perhaps the finest of the books I chanced upon when researching this article is actually more a pamphlet than a book proper. It is How To Knit Knots While Remaining Invisible To Hurrying Brutes by Dobson (out of print), and contains a plethora of terrific mezzotints by the mezzotintist Rex Tint. Dobson claims to have invented a so-called “enshrouding spectral ether-cloak” which, when activated, renders the knot knitter invisible, thus obviating the need for a time-consuming search for clumps of brambles, nooks in caves, or mighty and towering fortresses. It also silences the clack of knitting needles, or at least drowns out the clack, by generating a noise like the buzzing of a million hornets, audible only to a brute hurrying past, its tail thumping the ground. I suspect that Dobson’s “cloak” is wholly spurious, but the pamphlet is worth it for the mezzotints alone.

The Nightingale Board

For most of us, the words “Nightingale Board” call to mind that empanelled panel of eminent persons who devote valuable time to the counting and measuring and tallying and calculating of nightingales and nightingale populations, their habitats, flight patterns, wingspans, song variations and much else that is nightingale-related, sometimes tangentially. I have been meaning to write about the Nightingale Board for some time now, and regret the distractions of voodoo pig husbandry, ditch digging, aimless lolloping and despair which have prevented me from doing so. What I had in mind was to do a comparative study of the Nightingale Board and the Hummingbird Board, the latter an equally tireless band of empanelled persons who count and measure and tally and calculate all things hummingbird-related. I had, in fact, set aside this morning to attack the project with vim and verve, having farmed out the voodoo pig husbandry and ditch digging to a paid companion, made a promise to myself not to lollop, aimlessly or otherwise, and countered despair by drinking an infusion of Baxter’s Perky-Uppy Expectorant Fluid. After vomiting into an iron pail, I planned to sit down and bash out thousands of words on both the Nightingale Board and the Hummingbird Board.

Alas! As I wiped my chin with a rag, the postie brought a letter from Hooting Yard reader Roland Clare, drawing my attention to a completely different Nightingale Board. Mr Clare has borrowed from his brother a book entitled Small Homes And How To Furnish Them by Mrs Waldemar Leverton, published in London in 1903 by C Arthur Pearson Ltd.

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With great diligence, Mr Clare has executed some photorealist pencil drawings of selected paragraphs from the book, the first of which tells us about this other Nightingale Board:

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Elsewhere in the book there is a splendid passage instructing the reader on the important matter of toy owl construction:

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According to Mr Clare, it is thought that “Mrs Waldemar Leverton” is a pseudonym, an anagram of the name of the true author of this excellent book, the Rev. Lowland Stammerer. Intriguingly, that godly man was a founder member of the very first Nightingale Board to be empanelled in his bailiwick. He may also have been involved in the Hummingbird Board, though my researches into that must sadly be postponed yet again, for I must lollop aimlessly now, in despair, while my paid companion husbands voodoo pigs and digs a ditch.

A Princely Breakfast

Yesterday I was very pleased to be a guest writer at the IGGY Summer U. The students on the creative writing course, aged 13 to 16, were charming, enthusiastic, creative and full of ideas. One of the things I shared with them was the inspirational joy of cryptic crossword clues. Forget about trying to solve them (that is a separate pleasure), just treat them as phrases cut loose from any context, in which case they can act as starting points for pieces of prose.

“Prince enters flat of major” was one of the clues in yesterday’s Guardian crossword, and I wrote a short piece inspired by it.

Prince Fulgencio’s entourage – all clanking armour and burnished golden helmets – gathered in the corridor outside the dingy flat wherein Major Blenkinsop lurked. The brevet captain of the entourage rapped on the door, thrice, before the more brutish and sullen members of the entourage kicked it down and stomped into the flat, roaring their heads off and unleashing a flock of half-starved starlings to sow havoc and confusion. Thus was the necessary atmosphere created for Prince Fulgencio’s entrance. He had come to have breakfast with the Major, and wanted to eat his cornflakes and doughballs while watching starlings peck the wallpaper off the walls. That was the kind of Prince he was, especially at breakfast time.