Book Reviews

When the usual suspects publish their books, they can be guaranteed to pat each other on the back in the pages of their North London Literary Mafia house journals. When a starving scrivener such as Mr Key publishes his books, he does so to resounding indifference from those same publications. This is neither surprising nor particularly exasperating (on a good day), but it is a lamentable state of affairs. In the past, some review copies have been sent out, but they may as well have been chewed up by a post office hound.

It occurs to me that Hooting Yard readers might wish to marshal the power of the interweb and write their own reviews, to be posted on their own blogs, if they have such things, or on a dedicated page here. This would give new visitors some idea of what delights await them, and also be a generally cockle-warming exercise for all concerned. Just a (possibly ill-advised) thought, in a moment of grumpiness.

Darkened Sponge Cake Soup

Obtain a sponge cake. Darken it by placing it in shadow, well away from any of the sun’s rays which may be shining pitilessly into your kitchen domain. Further darkening of the cake can be accomplished by rubbing into it charcoal or play-soot.

Now empty the contents of a sachet of cuppasoup into a bowl. I know it is called cuppasoup, not bowlasoup, but just do as I advise. You can choose whatever flavour of soup you desire, but do ensure that it is one heavy with croutons. In fact, however many croutons are present in the sachet, add further croutons. If you do not have access to a supply of croutons, obtain something hard, like a block of wood or an empacture of dried-up mud, and cut it into tiny crouton-sized cubes.

Boil a kettle. Pour the boiled water into the bowl, sufficient to cover the powdered cuppasoup and the croutons and the added croutons. Remove the darkened sponge cake from the shadows, and crumble it into the soup.

Stir and allow to sit undisturbed on a counter until cold. Protect it from the depredations of domestic pets, creeping vermin, and wild animals by surrounding the bowl with electrified chickenwire.

For serving, pour the soup out of the bowl into an upturned potter’s cap, and use as a source of dunkage for digestive and other biscuits. When you, and your biscuits, are exhausted, pour the dregs of the soup into a drainage ditch, clean out the cap with soapy, soapy water, and return it to the potter.

Wolves And Fruit

In the comments on the piece entitled It Pays To Increase Your Word Power, reader Fitzmaurice Trenery makes mention of fruiterer’s adhesive. This reminded me of a little-known story that is told about Tiny Enid, in which the plucky club-footed tot devised a method of placating wolves through the agency of fruit-based gas sprays. Yes, yes, I know that a gas spray is a different order of thing to a fruiterer’s adhesive, but given that most fruiterer’s gums and pastes are made from mashed bananas and the pulp of tangerines, and that Tiny Enid’s gas spray was formed, at least in part, by a gas derived from the pulp of bananas and mashed tangerines, I think I am on pretty safe ground in forging the link.

The weird woods of Woohoodiwoodiwoo, near where Tiny Enid spent some time in a boarding house, were infested with packs of fierce and dangerous wolves, packs which had savaged any number of innocent woods-hiking types who blundered foolishly into the weird woods of a weekend. The heroic infant was not herself a hiking enthusiast, but she had a curious sentimental affection for hikers, with their thick woolly socks and social ineptitude. Alarmed by reports of wolf attacks, she took it into her head to do something about them. The attacks, that is, not the reports of the attacks. She sighed and left it to someone else to take on the task of correcting the slapdash grammar, misspellings, and vile prose in which the reports written by the cub reporter on The Daily Wolf Attacks In The Woods Clarion were couched.

Tiny Enid’s first impulse was to slaughter the wolves, one by one, in hand-to-paw combat, or with pebbles and a catapult, or with her trusty blunderbuss. She had got as far as driving towards the weird woods in her souped-up jalopy, flying a banner emblazoned with the words “Death To The Wolves In The Woods!” daubed in blood, when she had to brake sharply and slew off bumpety-bumpety-bump into a field to answer an urgent message on her metal tapping machine. Tiny Enid was an independent sort of girl, but she had a mysterious mentor whose advice she often took. It was this mentor who suggested to her that rather than killing the wolf population she instead seek a method of placating them. “I have no particular love for wolves,” came the tapped-out message, “But we must be ever mindful of biodiversity, Tiny Enid. The earth can support both wolves and hikers, just as it supports both fruit flies and fruit.” The diminutive adventuress was not wholly convinced by this analogy, but on this occasion she deferred to her mysterious mentor, possibly because she had been reading up on the Gaia theories of James Lovelock, drawn to them by her interest in the primordial and chthonic deities of the Ancient Greek pantheon. Never forget that Tiny Enid was a girl of broad education, even if the only book she ever learned by heart was Atlas Shrugged by the postage stamp collector Ayn Rand.

Faulty as the fruit and fruit fly analogy may have been, it obviously set Tiny Enid to thinking how fruit might help her placate the wolves of the weird woods. She turned her jalopy round and sped back to town to consult some encyclopaedias in the library. Unfortunately, thick-headed Andy Burnham had got there before her, and the reference section had been turned into a chill-out zone for feral teenagers. There was not an encyclopaedia to be seen, just games consoles and reconstituted patties of meat in buns. Tiny Enid felled a handful of youths with pebbles fired from her catapult before heading off to the laboratory of her pal Professor Fang, a man who knew a thing or two about fruit and wolves, as he knew about everything else in the universe, everything, that is, except for hiking and thick woolly socks, for he was an indoors type.

“I want two things from you, Professor Fang,” announced Tiny Enid in her shrill shouty way, “First, a method of placating wolves with fruit, and second, a way of reprogramming the spongiform grey blob that passes for the brain of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Due to his thick-headed ways I have had to use my stock of pebbles just now, and will have to waste precious time collecting further catapult ammo. Who knows how many hikers will be torn apart by wolves in the weird woods of Woohoodiwoodiwoo while I am scrabbling around at the allotments replenishing my pebble supply?”

“Give me fifteen minutes,” replied Professor Fang.

So it was that, in the time it would take to read a chapter of Atlas Shrugged, the madcap boffin devised both the spray of banana pulp and mashed tangerine-based gas with which Tiny Enid was able to placate the wolves, and a similar gas, derived from tomatoes and conference pears which, when injected into Andy Burnham’s head through his ears, would allow his brainpans to work properly.

History – and hikers – tell us that Tiny Enid succeeded in becalming the wolves and making them less savage. After the heroic club-footed infant had clumped from one end of the weird woods to the other spraying her gas, not a single hiker was ever attacked again. The Daily Wolf Attacks In The Woods Clarion, having no news to report, was forced to close down, and its cub reporter became a bitter enemy of Tiny Enid, feeding spurious stories about her to The Independent On Sunday and other downmarket rags. Not that the tiny one cared, for she was forever after the champion of beardy men and batty women with maps in protective cellophane pochettes on lanyards, safe at last to tramp through the weird woods of Woohoodiwoodiwoo.

As for the terrible tale of Andy Burnham’s brain, that is unsuitable for family reading, and will have to wait for another, more ghastly, time.

The Fainting Goat

You would do well to remember, if ever you are out walking in the vicinity of the farmyard at Scroonhoonpooge, that you may come face to face with the fainting goat. If you encounter it on the lane leading out of the farmyard towards the orchard, and as soon as it sees you it topples over in a swoon, you must not be alarmed. You must certainly not think that the goat has fainted because you have caused it fright, by dint of something alarming in your appearance. Even if there is something terrifying about you, such as a twisted-up face or a too-brightly coloured clinker jacket or your being armed with a mail order Mannlicher-Carcano sniper’s rifle, none of these things will be what causes the goat to faint. The goat will faint for the reason it is known as the fainting goat, which is that it is constantly fainting, dozens of times a day, even dozens of times an hour.

This constant swooning is a mystery as far as the local vets are concerned. There are several vets with practices in walking or short bus journey distance of Scroonhoonpooge farmyard, and all of them at one time or another have been called to tend to the fainting goat. They have tried all sorts of treatments, from goat-friendly smelling salts to the deployment of Peruvian whistling vessels to simply shouting very loudly into the goat’s ear, and though such techniques may revive the goat from its faint, none have served to stop it clattering over in a dead swoon again and again as the long countryside day draws on towards dusk and rainfall. When it is conscious, the goat seems hale and hearty, even frisky, and engages in all the normal activities one might expect of a farmyard goat. I would list these activities but I am sure you are thoroughly up to speed with the doings of goats, given the demographic of the Hooting Yard readership.

There has been a certain amount of bickering among the local vets, as each of them grows frustrated at their inability to stop the continual fainting of the fainting goat. When they passed out of their veterinary colleges, they were all brimming with confidence, armed, as they thought, with the knowledge and expertise to handle all sorts of bestial maladies, from the workaday to the exotic. Whether it be a cow with a pox or an ostrich beset by Von Straubenzee’s Gruesomeness, these vets believed they could march into a farmyard or menagerie and win the undying gratitude of farmers and menagerists by weaving their vetty spells. An injection here, a siphoning off of fluid there, and to the gasps of their keepers the cow or ostrich or whatever beast it may be would leap up, restored to vigour, and there would be a round of applause and the discreet passing of banknotes into the pocket of the smug vet.

But the fainting goat goes on fainting, day in day out, and not one of the vets has a clue what to do about it. When they gather of an evening on the balcony of the Café Simon Schama, at first they boast of their breakthroughs, the splint affixed to the leg of the sparrow, the gunk drained from the badger’s boils, the palsied pig unpalsied. But as they sip their fermented slops, tempers fray, and the talk soon turns to the fainting goat, that damned intractable fainting goat, and harsh words are said and there is spitting and chucking and fisticuffs, black eyes and bruises and the odd dagger slash. And so it goes on, night after night.

Now curiously enough, during the night the fainting goat never faints. It remains wide awake all night every night, either in its comfy pen or out in some field, doing goaty things, things other goats do in daylight. Apprised of this singular information, some have posited that the goat’s swoons are not swoons so much as its repeatedly falling asleep from exhaustion. It is indeed a cogent case, but it is nevertheless mistaken, for reasons crystal clear to those, such as some among the vets, who have made studies of the goat’s neurological peculiarities. It sleeps not, yet it faints. The one is understood, and explicable, the other not. There are more curious cases among the goat population, as among other farmyard beasts, but not many, sure enough. That is why the vets fret so.

But you will not fret, will you, as you wander past Scroonhoonpooge farmyard, on your way to the orchard, to pluck persimmons from the trees, illegally, and you come upon the fainting goat upon the path and it faints at your feet? You will pat its little horns and lift it to its feet, and send it tottering off along the lane to its next collapse, for you are wiser than the vets, you are wiser than the farmer. The only thing wiser than you is the fainting goat itself. No goat was ever wiser, nor had so explosive a brain. 


The Dimwit And The Winter Sports Enthusiast

Bobsleigh and curling were the great enthusiasms of the winter sports enthusiast. His enthusiasm was that of a spectator rather than a participant, his body being too gangly and chaotic for him to accomplish even the simplest athletic technique with any measure of success. As a youth, he had fancied himself as the sort of person who could throw himself off a high diving board and perform breathtaking pirouettes before plunging, straight as an arrow, into the municipal swimming pool, but his efforts were laughable. After dozens of attempts, he saw sense, slinking away from the pool and indeed away from the town, heading north until he reached snow and ice, where he felt at home, and where winter sports were engaged in all year round, and he became a fan of bobsleigh and curling, and he bought a pair of sunglasses and a season ticket to events.

It was in a stadium watching a curling quarter-final that the enthusiast met the dimwit. The dimwit was an important figure in this cold country, having risen, as so many dimwits do, to civic office. He had his own box in the stadium, as he had boxes in all the stadia thereabouts, for though he knew nothing of the rules and drama of curling or of any other sport, winter or otherwise, the dimwit liked to be seen out and about, being important, a golden chain of office slung around his neck, and a cap upon his head.

The enthusiast and the dimwit bumped into each other as they both made for the automated snack dispenser in the lobby of the stadium. The enthusiast recognised the dimwit, for the latter’s photograph was regularly published in newspapers and magazines and propaganda sheets, and he often appeared on television, against a backdrop of ice-girt palaces and official buildings.

“Gosh!” said the winter sports enthusiast, “You are Bogdan Vingo, the minister of broad sweeping policy pronouncements!”

“I am indeed, little gangly chaotic person,” replied the dimwit, buffing his chain with the cuff of his coat.

And so began a surprising friendship that was to last as long as they both lived, for the winter sports enthusiast and the dimwit discovered they had much in common, not least that, in a certain light, they could be taken for twins. They were not twins, of course, but the resemblance was close enough to disconcert the visually impaired citizens of that freezing land, and both used it to their advantage, in advancing their separate schemes and plots.

If you were to chance upon your Doppelgänger, you might wish it wasn’t a dimwit, but needs must when the devil drives. And the devil did drive the winter sports enthusiast, for as he realised the opportunities for mischief and shenanigans afforded by his striking likeness to the dimwit, he dug himself ever deeper into a pit of moral turpitude, and by the time he was racked by remorse and wished to clamber out of it, it was far too late.

Source : The Dimwit Doppelgänger & Other Cautionary Anecdotes From The Freezing Cold Country In The North by Pebblehead.

Carpentry In Liechtenstein

The always intriguing Strange Maps has a very useful map of Liechtenstein showing the eleven enclaves (some of which are possibly exclaves) into which that tiny principality is divided. They are (in alphabetical order) Balzers, Eschen, Gamprin, Mauren, Planken, Ruggell, Schaan, Schellenberg, Triesen, Triesenberg, and Vaduz.

Tiny Enid is thought to have spent some time dwelling in a chalet in Planken, though no plaque or inscribed stone exists to mark what might, after all, be just a rumour put about those seeking to muddy the waters of the plucky tot’s biography, if a biography can be said to have waters. I shall have further words to say about those who sow confusion in the field of Tiny Enid life studies shortly, and they will be stern words, sulphurous ones, declaimed from a platform, a platform I hope to erect in Planken itself, or failing that, in Schaan or Balzers. The platform will be made from expensive wood, as you would expect, but the carpenters will be cheap, if I do my homework, which involves consulting a directory of Liechtensteinian carpenters and other woodworkers and ranking them according to price. Such an activity can becalm the most anguished of souls.

Gravitas, Punctilio, Rectitude & Pippy Bags

“And about bloody time!” I hear you cry. At long last, after much travail, the new Hooting Yard anthology is available. Gravitas, Punctilio, Rectitude & Pippy Bags contains no fewer than a hundred and one stories eked from the pea-sized but pulsating cranium of Mr Key. 340 pages, or thereabouts, packed with common sense, with a few pictures thrown in, including that old favourite the Chumpot Patent Soap label. Now you can curl up in your exciting 60’s style wickerwork seating pod, or sprawl on a lawn in a snowdrift during a winter picnic, and furrow your brow as you grapple with the exceedingly sensible doings of exceedingly sensible characters such as Dobson and Pebblehead and Tiny Enid and fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol.

Simply click on the picture to order your copy.

Dobson On The Web

On the Guardian’s online books pages the other day there was a piece asking Which are the best books that never existed? I am grateful to the eagle-eyed Hooting Yard reader who alerted me to the fact that someone going by the name of “boiledonions” nominated How To Knit Knots While Remaining Invisible To Hurrying Brutes by Dobson. Much as I applaud the wisdom of the choice, I feel I should point out that this is, of course, a pamphlet rather than a book, and an out of print one to boot. I should also express my dismay that “boiledonions” seems to be claiming that it does not exist.

Those cavils aside, there is a wider point here, and one all readers should note, and note well, in your little Daily Hooting Yard Devotional Observations notebooks, and it is this: Dobson may be a figure of the last century, and he may be out of print, but wherever and whenever you can, as you roam the highways and byways of the interweb, you should take whatever opportunities as present themselves to sing his praises, and to make his work more widely known.

So well done, “boiledonions”. You may even have won a prize.

It Pays To Increase Your Word Power

If you are planning to introduce the phrase “let the cat out of the bag” into a conversation, you can give your words a weightier punch by having a bag with a cat in it, ready to be released at the right moment. This is a variant on the argument from demonstration, and when we are looking at methods of adding heft to what we say, it can be very effective.

The technique is simple. First, obtain a cat. The standard domestic moggy will suffice, and you can pick one up from an animal shelter or pet shop. I do not recommend abducting one while it is dozing in the sunlight on the windowsill of a happy family home, for that would be very wrong of you, and though you probably would not be sent to prison, a black stain would be seared upon your immortal soul for the crime of causing misery to blameless citizens, leaving bereft infants sobbing into their pillows as they spend fitful nights lamenting the loss of Tiddles. Make a note of that, in case you are tempted to cut corners and go out marauding, on the lookout for the first cat to cross your path.

Choosing a bag is slightly more problematic, but only if you are dim. Clearly the bag must be big enough for the cat to fit inside it, and it must have some form of clasp or seal. If you have not grasped that much, go and get your brain hardened up at a cranial integument-stiffening facility and come back when you are less of a fool. The rest of you will have gathered that, as long as it meets the above provisos, pretty much any bag will do. It is unwise to spend excessively on some kind of designer handbag, a choice you might make if you are an oligarch or a plutocrat. Even if you have the riches of Croesus, there are much more constructive uses for your money, such as donating goodly sums to a charitable fund for out of print pamphleteers. Incidentally, the act of making such a donation is guaranteed to remove from your immortal soul any black stains or other besmirchments with which it has been seared or smeared, so listen up! I am not suggesting that by handing your money over to an impecunious scribbler you are thereby excused snatching a cherished family pet from its windowsill slumber, so don’t go thinking you can weigh the evil act against the good. Anyway, just get the damned bag and put the lawfully-obtained cat into it. Simply pick up the cat, put it in the bag, and use the fastening mechanism, whatsoever it may be, to ensure the cat stays put until you are ready.

Let us leap forward in time to the exciting moment in the conversation that all this is leading up to. You are sitting in an armchair. The bag with the cat in it is on your lap. To add a vivid if unnecessary detail, let us picture your interlocutor, looming over you, standing at the fireplace, stabbing the air with his pipe as he speaks. “Blah blah blah,” he says. His words are unimportant in this context, for all our attention is rightly upon you – you who have learned that it pays to increase your word power. “Blah blah blah,” he continues, seemingly unstoppable, until he pauses to take a puff of his pipe, aglow with expensive Montenegrin tobacco obtainable only through a specialist supplier in the most exclusive quarter of your city. You take the opportunity of his brief silence to say, “Ha! That’s let the cat out of the bag!” and as you crow the words, you unfasten the bag and let the cat out of it. Quod erat demonstrandum.

This ploy will work on a handful of occasions, after which it begins to lose its effectiveness. Thereafter, both the bag and the cat will need to be given new purposes in your life. You can use the bag to haul potatoes back from market, or to place as a hood over the head of any hostage you see fit to take, if you are that way inclined. As for the cat, it will be happy with regular bowls of milk and a supply of maimed but still-living field mice or small birds. 

From Ancient Peru

More evidence – as if it were needed! – of the overlooked rise in Aztec fundamentalism. According to the Guardian, newly released Ministry of Defence files include a document showing that a person was “contacted by aliens” descended from “legendary feathered serpents from ancient Peru“. People, be on your guard!


Potsdam Windbag

So universally is the author of Tales Told By An Idiot known as the Potsdam Windbag that, in a new anthology of his work, his real name does not appear, even on the garish dust jacket. I have to confess that I do not know what that name is, and nor have I bothered to find out. I could have consulted an encyclopaedia, or a dictionary of nineteenth century Teutonic bloviators, but I am currently adopting an air of foppish lassitude, and I could barely bring myself to squelch across the sodden fields to the railway station to collect the copy of the book that had been left there for me, in a postal pouch, by a postal pouch person employed by the railway.

But bestir myself I did, during one of our recent thunderstorms, and thus for the past week I have been overjoyed to reacquaint myself with the prose of a true master. Admittedly, it is difficult to say of what precisely the Potsdam Windbag is a master. His stories are baffling, pointless, often idiotic, and grind on at pitiless length. One example included in the new book, The Tale Of The Something Or Other, I Have Not Yet Worked Out What It Is Though, prates on for over four hundred pages before stopping abruptly in the middle of an ungrammatical sentence. Perhaps that is not fair. There is a sort of grammar at work, but it is one unique to the Potsdam Windbag. He wrote exclusively in fractured English rather than in his native tongue, despite never leaving his beloved Potsdam nor ever, so far as we know, communicating with any English speakers. One of the most arresting facts about him is that, when he died, his extensive library was found to contain not a single work in English except those he had written himself.

And my! did he write. This new anthology is so hefty that I had to hire a peasant and his cart to carry it back across the fields. The thousands of pages of dense, sometimes incomprehensible prose are a mere fraction of the Potsdam Windbag’s outpourings, estimated to run to more millions of words than the combined works of hundreds of other windbags whose forgotten and unread books happily clog the bookshelves of our proper libraries.

Now, the surprising thing – surprising to me, at any rate – was that the peasant who hauled the tome home for me in his cart was steeped in the writings of the Potsdam Windbag. When he was growing up in a bare cabin in the forest, a paperback of the popular selection Tales Told By An Idiot was the only book his parents owned. His father, a woodcutter, had been an autodidact who had taught himself to read through persistent study of the texts, and thereafter read the Tales as bedtime stories to the peasant throughout, and indeed beyond, his childhood. This, I thought, might account for the strangulated vowel-sounds and guttural grunts which littered his speech-patterns. We were talking, the peasant and I, over a shared bowl of soup at my kitchen table, for having hired him for the carting and enjoyed his company I was loth to watch him vanish into the downpour. In fact, he has not left my hut since I invited him in a week ago, and has taken to sleeping on the floor of the pantry.

He told me of his favourite Potsdam Windbag story. Sadly, it is not one that has been collected in the new anthology, so I cannot reproduce it here. It is an early example of science fiction, in which the world becomes convinced that a character called “Stephen Fry” is a super-intelligent being with an all-powerful brain. Characteristically, our author never makes a convincing case why so many should fall under the spell of this pandemic delusion. His tears dropping into our soup, the peasant wept as he recalled the terrific sadness of the story’s end, where “Fry” is revealed as merely an average man with a reasonably large vocabulary. I wondered if the Potsdam Windbag was trying to say something about himself in the tale he called The Cleverest Man In The Universe. His command of the language he chose to write in, if eccentric, is highly impressive, and, as I said, his work-rate was prodigious. But it is one of the later stories, and it could be that, looking back on his life’s work, the Potsdam Windbag was seized by the thought that it was all a waste.

The biographical details are sparse. Born and died in Potsdam during the nineteenth century, wrote acres of clotted prose, may have hobnobbed with Potsdam’s movers and shakers from time to time. Other than that we know little. Yet what does it matter? We have the work, and – in the form of this bulging anthology, available to everyone with the physical strength to heave it home from bookshop or library – I hope a brand new readership, who will be well-rewarded in fighting their way through the coagulated morass of these teeming thousands of pages.

The peasant will awake soon. We shall share soup, and read to each other.

Ruskin Goes To Croxsted Lane

The peculiar forces of devastation induced by modern city life have only entered the world lately; and no existing terms of language known to me are enough to describe the forms of filth, and modes of ruin, that varied themselves along the course of Croxsted Lane. The fields on each side of it are now mostly dug up for building, or cut through into gaunt corners and nooks of blind ground by the wild crossings and concurrencies of three railroads. Half a dozen handfuls of new cottages, with Doric doors, are dropped about here and there among the gashed ground: the lane itself, now entirely grassless, is a deep-rutted, heavy-hillocked cart-road, diverging gatelessly into various brick-fields or pieces of  waste; and bordered on each side by heaps of – Hades only knows what! – mixed dust of every unclean thing that can crumble in drought, and mildew of every unclean thing that can rot or rust in damp: ashes and rags, beer-bottles and old shoes, battered pans, smashed crockery, shreds of nameless clothes, door-sweepings, floor-sweepings, kitchen garbage, back-garden sewage, old iron, rotten timber jagged with out-torn nails, cigar-ends, pipe-bowls, cinders, bones, and ordure, indescribable; and, variously kneaded into, sticking to, or fluttering foully here and there over all these, – remnants broadcast, of every manner of newspaper, advertisement or big-lettered bill, festering and flaunting out their last publicity in the pits of stinking dust and mortal slime.

John Ruskin, from Fiction : Fair And Foul, 1880


If Your Well Freezes Over

If you wake up one morning to discover that the water supply from your well is frozen, the best thing to do is to clamber down the well, using the rope to which your bucket is tied, and to hack at the ice with an axe. You should wrap up warm, with a balaclava and a muffler and mittens, all of the finest wool, although you may find that your exertions, swinging that axe as best you can in the confined space at the bottom of the well, make you pant and perspire, and half way through your hacking you will want to climb back up the rope and take off some of your woollens before heading back down to continue the job. You can rest your axe in your bucket betimes, so long as the bucket is not given to tilting. If that is the case, the axe may fall out of the bucket into the freezing water you have just partly exposed by hacking sufficiently at its icy carapace, and your axe will sink like a stone. You would then need either to don skindiving gear to fetch it from flooded subterranean caverns, or to buy a new axe. In either case, the interval between your costume-change and dive or your purchase and your beginning once again to hack and hack and hack would probably result in the water at the bottom of your well being frozen again, if it was one of those mornings when the sky was overcast and a milky sun gleamed in vain.

It may be that you have a neighbour close by from whom you can borrow an axe. But bear in mind that your neighbour’s well is likely to be frozen if yours is, and they will be hacking away themselves and thus unwilling to relinquish their axe just because you stupidly rested yours in a tilting bucket from which it fell.

If you manage successfully to smash enough ice with your axe to uncover the water, climb back up to the top of the well and put your woollens back on. Now lower the bucket on the end of the rope until it is fully submerged and fills with water, winch it back up, untie the knot or knots with which it is attached to the rope, and carry the bucket to your delightful rustic haven, trying for as little spillage as possible. Remember that the water will be extremely cold, and will probably have shards of ice in it, so you will need to heat it up, even unto boiling point, before putting it to use, for example to make a cup of tea.

Depending on the size of your bucket, you may want to return to the well to fetch more water before it freezes over again. You will need to pour the water out of the bucket into some other receptacle or receptacles, perhaps a series of pans. Then stride jauntily back to the well swinging the empty bucket, and greeting your neighbour, in a hearty countryside way. He may be approaching your fence because he wishes to borrow your axe, of course, and as you have finished your hacking it would be polite to lend it to him. If he has lost his own axe because he has a tilting bucket in his well, you might think it wise to give him some tips on how to tie his bucket to its rope so that it remains upright. Try not to give this advice in a pompous, shouty way, for your neighbour may have a short fuse and lose his temper and run amok with the borrowed axe across the fields, frightening cows and such other barnyard beasts as are congregated there in the bone-chilling cold of this misty winter morn.