Monthly Archive for November, 2008

Disarranged Cravat

A dandy was the Black Prince of Elegance, the demigod of boredom who looked at the world with an eye as glassy as his pince-nez, suffering because his disarranged cravat had a crease, like the ancient Sybarite who suffered because his rose was crushed. He is indifferent about the horse he rides, the woman he greets, and the man he encounters and at whom he gazes a while before recognizing him. He bears, written on his forehead – in English – this insolent inscription: What do you and I have in common? Paul de Saint-Victor, 1859

Via The Victorian Era

 

Table

Diligent readers of the Comments will know that the other day I got into a bit of a flap when someone had the temerity to include one of those godawful smiley faces to accompany her observations on the “Prophet” Mohammed cartoon. Indeed, so grumpy did I become that I could only becalm myself by mooing like a cow, which I am given to understand is a proven relaxation technique peddled by stress counsellors. I mooed the afternoon away, and so intensely did I immerse myself in cowdom that, at dusk, I found myself standing in a field, staring blankly at nothing, while gnats and midges hovered in the air around me.

While I was thus engaged, Antipodean Hooting Yard researcher Glyn Webster made better use of his time. He has devised an extremely helpful Table Of Non-Blötzmann Smileys which is reproduced below. Mr Webster has suggested that it may be possible for a boffin to tinker with the Wordpress software to make these the default symbols for Hooting Yard and, while I do not encourage the use of them at all, this is well worth looking into.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concealed In The Hollow Head

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing is abundantly clear. I am going to have to write a story to which this picture can serve as an illustration. I expect that in my tale Tiny Tim will be cast aside and replaced by Tiny Enid. The plucky heroine has not, to date, found herself concealed inside the hollow head of a mechanical man, so it is about time she did.

You can see the original source of the picture at Monster Brains.

Lugubrious Fool

This piece first appeared in April 2006.

Prince Fulgencio had a heart of stone and his palace was a palace exceeding glum. No, no, it was not a palace, it was a castle, turreted and towered, with many flags and banners flying, every one of them showing blasphemous heraldic devices. All sorts of abominations featured on those flags, from unicorns with five legs to many-headed hydra, from fiery basilisks to crows whose heads were back to front.

The Prince’s henchmen patrolled the castle battlements through every hour of day and night, armed with swords and daggers and blunderbusses and glue guns and pipes from which to blow poisoned darts. Woe betide any interloper who made an unauthorised landing on the helipad! They would be immediately surrounded, overpowered, and delivered to Prince Fulgencio’s deepest dungeons, and their ‘copter smashed to smithereens. The Prince was proud of his guards, who were the most devoted and violent in the land, as well as the fittest. They were each given regular breaks from duty to take part in bio-ching sessions. In addition, the Prince ensured they were all given a copy of his book Henchmen Are From Mars, Damsels Are From A Girly Planet, which they were expected to memorise. No one could argue that the henchmen did not have a martial bearing, clanking around in their armour, shouting their heads off, and generally being intimidating.

What they lacked, however, was entertainment. Prince Fulgencio himself did not understand fun, humour, nor high jinks, for his time on earth was spent exclusively in plotting dark and terrible deeds. He was alert, however, to unrest among his myrmidons, and it was clear that something would have to be done to appease them. He had a spy, or creature, like Bosola in The Duchess Of Malfi, who mingled incognito among the henchmen to discover what secrets lurked in their foul and treacherous hearts. The spy was called George Kaplan (a name later borrowed by screenwriter Ernest Lehman for the non-existent agent in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest), and he reported to the Prince as follows:

Kaplan - The henchmen are becoming restive, O Prince.

Fulgencio - Then I shall have each of them put to death and replaced by other henchmen.

Kaplan - If I might say so, an unwise decision, O Prince, for though restive, your henchmen are fanatically loyal to you and I know not where you might find their like elsewhere.

Fulgencio - From Mars, of course! Have you not read my book?

Kaplan - I have indeed, O Prince, many a time, but – and I tread delicately here – though you are omnipotent and wise and princely, your helicopter is not equipped to journey through space as far as other planetoids, much as you might wish it.

Fulgencio - God blast the stars!

Kaplan - I am sure He will, O Prince. Meanwhile, I think that if you bring to the castle a fool or jester, an entertainer in cap and bells, the henchmen will be placated.

Prince Fulgencio’s face assumed a curdled cast, but he was pragmatic. Dismissing George Kaplan with a wave of his fat and pasty hand, he sat down at his metal tapping machine and sent an advert to the classified section of the Daily Manacle.

Wanted. Fool for amusement of henchmen, it read, You will be responsible for devising, implementing and evaluating a core strategy for tomfoolery and japes, consulting with stakeholders, and demonstrating a proactive approach. The successful candidate will have a proven track record in delivering merrymaking within a goal-oriented environment. The Prince is working towards a castle which reflects the diversity of his earthly domain.

On the day of the interviews, Prince Fulgencio was sick with an attack of the seeds and bindings, so he delegated George Kaplan to weed out the chaff. Being a duplicitious knave, the spy appointed as jester a man named Selwyn Pob, a lugubrious cripple of downcast air and abject gloom. And thus it was that, upon hearing Pob’s dirges and threnodies, delivered while dragging himself around the castle on his worm-eaten crutches, the henchmen’s unrest turned to open rebellion, and they hacked Prince Fulgencio to pieces with their hatchets as he lay groaning in his sickbed, and his blood and gore were splattered upon the walls, and there, in the shadows, George Kaplan smiled, and went creeping down to the pantries, where he gorged himself on cake and buns and pies and pastries and custard, until he was replete.

Ova

In Diaries Of The Dead, I mentioned that George Orwell’s diaries are being posted online as a daily blog. They are magnificent, in a quite unexpected way. Here are some – unedited – entries for seventy years ago:

16.11.38 One egg.

17.11.38 One egg.

19.11.38 Two eggs.

21.11.38 Two eggs.

22.11.38 Two eggs.

25.11.38 Two eggs.

27.11.38 One egg.

28.11.38 Two eggs.

Clearly, Orwell’s diary would have been the most terrifying book Alfred Hitchcock could imagine.

I am also reminded that I once bought a picture postcard in Prague which included a quotation from “The Dairies Of Franz Kafka”.

EXCITING UPDATE! : 29.11.38 One egg.

Blasphemy

The witterings posted below reminded me of the complete lack of fury caused by Hooting Yard’s own Mohammed Cartoon non-controversy. Back in September 2006, to accompany a piece called Blodgett’s Jihad, a blasphemous portrayal of “the Prophet” appeared here without causing ructions. Here it is again. Shield your eyes if you do not wish to be offended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandals Of Fire & Boiling Brains

There’s nothing quite like a bit of eye-popping religious frenzy, is there? Bear in mind, as you consider the spiritual wisdom that follows, that Allah is routinely described by his adherents as “merciful”. I’d hate to come across him in a bad mood…

The hellfire is a place of the most extreme suffering, the most extreme pain of every level that you can imagine – physical, mental, and spiritual pain and suffering and torment. It is a place where Allah will burn the skins of the people, and then he will recreate their skins, and burn the skins again, so that the people in there will taste the punishment. It is a place of heat, a place of pain, a place of suffering. The people will cry in agony for water. They will cry for a drink – something to cool them – and they will be given water, they will be given a drink, but it is boiling water that will scald their faces and burn their insides.

They will drink from a river, a river that is made from the pus that flows out of the wounds of the people of the hellfire. The wounds of the people of the hellfire will ooze pus, and this pus will gather together to form a river, and this is all they will have to drink. And their food will be the tree of Zakum, a tree the fruits of which are like the heads of devils. This tree is so bitter that if the people try to eat it, they can’t eat it. But they will force themselves, because there is nothing else to eat in the hellfire – a place where the people will neither live, nor will they die, a place where the people will fall into despair, arguing with each other, admonishing each other, criticizing each other. The fire will surround them in every place. The smallest punishment of the hellfire is that a person will wear a pair of sandals of fire, and their brain will boil….

Thus Anthony Abdul Rahim Green, spouting on Peace TV, amusingly dubbed the “24 Hour Islamic Spiritual Edutainment Satellite TV Channel”. Thanks to Mick Hartley. 

Mr Bewg’s Reference

Here is a slightly revised version of a very old story, which first appeared in Twitching And Shattered two decades ago. I’m posting it here today for no reason other than mere whim.

Dear Mr Corncrake,

Re : MR B BEWG, 6 DISMAL TERRACE, HOON

Thank you for your letter of 20th July regarding the above-named; I am happy to provide him with a reference.

I have known Mr Bewg for ten years, ever since he took up the position of scrivener, dogsbody and wretch in my vast, gloomy factory perched on the hillside next to the lunatic asylum. At the time I engaged Mr Bewg I suspected that he had some connection with the latter institution, and in  the decade since I have had no reason to alter my opinion.

You ask me to comment on my impression of Mr Bewg’s “suitability for the job”. Forgive me if I find this difficult. I do not wish to do violence to our native language, but to use the word “suitability” in conjunction with Mr  Bewg is to mock the Queen’s English. Indeed, it is to make a mockery of sense itself.

My problems with Mr Bewg began on his very first morning in my employ. To settle him in, I had instructed him to carry out a menial task, removing bits of goo from the interior walls of a vat. To facilitate his progress, he was supplied with a variety of tools, including a pencil-sharpener, a pin-cushion, and a decidedly ferocious blowtorch. No sooner had I turned my back than Mr Bewg became embroiled in a tussle with my pet panther, which – crazed with hunger – managed to slip its leash and embed its razor-sharp fangs in his left leg. For this impertinence I had no option but to dock Mr Bewg his first month’s wages.

It was not a good start, but I had had many a ne’er-do-well working for me in the past, and believed that I could yet mould Mr Bewg into a marginally less repellent specimen of human dregs. To this end, I assigned him to work in the filthiest, dankest wing of the factory, where he was expected to spend all day dragging sacks full of huge iron lumps backwards and forwards in infested tunnels for no apparent purpose. So ineptly did Mr Bewg execute his duties that I was forced to withhold his pay for a further year. I wrung my hands in frustration, but the man was impossible. Given a simple task, he would be utterly incapable of completing it with the requisite speed, good humour and fawning obeisance that one expects.

To take just one example: Mr Bewg failed to budge one particularly heavy sack, containing a score of medium-sized anvils, a single inch, despite being given all of five minutes to drag it two hundred yards along a stinking tunnel in which small bonfires of sulphur had been ignited moments before. I set a wolfhound yapping at his heels, but to no avail. The man was purely and simply work-shy.

But I am a fair employer, and I had no wish to consign him to the scrapheap of the unemployable and useless. Instead, I agreed with Mr Bewg that he could embark upon a training scheme. In return for a modest fee to be paid to me daily, in cash, I offered to provide him with a comprehensive course in a multiplicity of disciplines, both within the factory and in the adjoining administrative hellhole. In the first week alone, we covered a huge range of skills; licking my boots till they shone, prostrating himself on his stomach whenever I came within his sight, and dribbling with happiness at the mention of my name.

At this stage in what can only roughly be called his “career”, Mr Bewg crawled into my palatial office one day to request my assistance with a personal matter. Tempted though I was to have him savaged by mastiffs, I reclined in my unbelievably comfortable executive armchair and heard him out. He confessed that he was in some financial difficulty and begged me to help. Sipping my glass of ruinously expensive wine, I delivered a stern lecture on the virtue of thrift and beat him about the skull with a copy of Self Help by Samuel Smiles. I admitted that I was in a position to repay his paltry debts a billionfold if I was minded to, but that such a course of action  would not in the long run be of the slightest benefit to him. I then advised him that he could earn a few extra pence by selling various of his bodily organs and thus better his financial situation while basking in the knowledge that he was being self-reliant rather than coming cap-in-hand to his employer.

To prove my point, I offered to buy one of his kidneys and three pints of his blood on the spot, for which I would pay him fourpence. As the bulk of his debts were monies owed to me, I generously deducted the fourpence from his account. In this way, I was able to relieve him of the responsibility of handling any cash himself, and thereby falling prey to the inevitable temptation to fritter the money away on food, clothing, or medicine. Only after this transaction had taken place did I set the mastiffs on him.

Not long after this incident, Mr Bewg announced that he had found himself  another job, and wished to resign. lf his inane burbling was to be believed, he had been offered the position of assistant slave at a charnel-house, the main duties being to crawl on his hands and knees in foul pits of ordure. As I listened patiently, he explained that he felt this post would give him opportunities undreamed of in his current position, and that he was prepared to take a cut in salary in order to take up the offer. Poking at him with a stick, I nodded my consent. I had no wish to stand in his way. My only concern was that he would have the decency to fulfil the terms and conditions of his contract before setting off for pastures new. I then reminded him of the form he had signed on his first day at the factory, the main clauses being that in order to leave, he would have to give forty years’ notice and to repay every single penny of his wages since day one. To my surprise, Mr Bewg (who moments before had been adamant that he wished to leave) said that he would like a few days to think about it. Once again I nodded my assent, then summoned fourteen of my myrmidons, who bundled Mr Bewg out of my office and set him to work on his latest task, which was to lie face down in a muddy ditch while a herd of demented bison charged over him.

In view of the above, I must add that I cannot in truth recommend Mr Bewg to you. His work is shoddy, his attendance and punctuality leave much to be desired, and I have the gravest doubts about his character. His sickness record is appalling, and I have been put in the uncomfortable position of having to threaten various members of the medical profession with violence after they were so irresponsible as to provide Mr Bewg with certificates. However, should you decide to ignore my warnings and offer a job to Mr Bewg, he will be available for work upon completion of his notice period, in forty years’ time.

Yours sincerely,

B Git

 

Vespertilio-Homo

I haven’t read it (yet), but the title alone is enough to whet my appetite. The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York by Matthew Goodman is reviewed here. If you act quickly you have a chance to win a signed copy by visiting the excellent Wonders And Marvels blog.

Hooting USA

In case it’s overlooked in the Comments to the piece below, here is an informative memorandum from R.:

It is unimaginably strange to hear an ‘Unspeakable Desolation’ story read in a US accent … for those not traumatised by the mere suggestion, http://tinyurl.com/58avg5  is the place to go, but you have to weather an advertisement, a dictionary definition, and some stuff about trains before the dawning of the Main Feature. ‘Weird, awesome stuff,’ the host declares.

I have to say I like Norm Sherman’s narration very much, particularly the way he intones the words “magnetic … mute … blind … love monkeys”. 

Dinghy Maintenance

If you have a dinghy, be sure to maintain it properly. Like all seagoing craft, dinghies can suffer from wear and tear which, if allowed to continue unchecked, will imperil their ability to remain afloat, especially in choppy seas or when sucked into a maelstrom.

The most prudent course of action is to enrol in a dinghy maintenance evening class. Consult the prospectus of your local community lifelong learning hub, if such a thing exists, and, if you do not see a dinghy maintenance class listed, bombard the hub outreach staff with pleas and demands and threats until they are cowed. You can use wheedling tactics, such as suggesting that you will bring your own dinghy to class for students to practise maintenance techniques upon. That way, you can sit back and watch, perhaps smoking your pipe in a listless manner, while all the wear and tear on your dinghy is repaired by eager hands. If the hub has a no pipe smoking policy, which it probably has, you can stand outside and peer through the window to watch perky young wannabe chandlers fix all the rips and tears and curious discolorations in the fabric of your dinghy.

You will want to be sure that the instructor is fully qualified, so in the period between enrolment and the first session, employ a gumshoe to carry out exhaustive background checks. It has been known, occasionally, for dinghy maintenance evening class instructors to be shameless charlatans who bluff their way into the job despite having little or no maritime knowledge. Your gumshoe should be able to flush out such rascals.

If money is tight, and you cannot afford the services of a gumshoe, it is possible to vet the instructor yourself, so long as you have a pair of binoculars, a sturdy pair of walking boots, a dictaphone, false identification papers, a pair of sunglasses, and a hat. Most such instructors live in cheap rented accommodation in the less salubrious parts of town, even when they are qualified, so be prepared for your exquisitely refined sensibilities to be dragged into a moral sewer, and take a packed lunch.

When preparing the sandwiches for your lunch, do not stint on the marmalade nor on the chopped up radishes, for you will need to avoid hunger pangs while concealed in shrubbery keeping an eye on the communal doorway of the instructor’s cheap rented accommodation waiting for him, or her, to depart, or to arrive. If you want to smoke your pipe after eating your sandwiches, wave your hand in a fluttery motion to disperse the fumes which, arising from your place of concealment, could betray your presence, not merely to the dinghy maintenance instructor but also to any passing busybodies or police officers or civic politeness enforcement patrols.

After a week or so of constant surveillance, you ought to be in a position to judge your instructor’s rectitude. If they turn out to be a shady rogue, jump out at them suddenly from the shrubbery, screaming your head off, and pursue them down the insalubrious streets waving a hammer. Keep chasing them until you are on the outskirts of town and then invoke an ancient municipal banishment order, citing the ukase of Prince Fulgencio. That should do the trick.

If, on the other hand, you learn that your instructor is superbly qualified in the field of dinghy maintenance, with untold certificates and diplomas to prove it, creep quietly away and be sure to arrive promptly for the first lesson. There, you will be able to take stock of your fellow students and satisfy yourself that they are sufficiently perky to be entrusted with the maintenance of your dinghy while you relax outside, looking through the window, puffing upon your pipe.

A Few Owls

Eared. Earless. Horned. Saw-whet. Eagle. Mindanao eagle. Fish. Pygmy. Bare-legged. Maned. Crested. Elf. Scops. Giant scops. Jamaican. Caribbean giant. Australasian hawk. Papuan hawk. Northern hawk. Palau. Mascarene. Long-whiskered. Laughing. White-faced. Spectacled. Striped. Stilt. Fearful. Screech. Cuban screech. Tawny. Barn.

Memorise, and repeat.

The Fishmongers’ Prayer

“Oh Lord, through Thy infinite grace, shower my counter with bream and plaice” is the opening couplet of the Fishmongers’ Prayer. This has the distinction of being the longest prayer in the English language, which is why you will rarely hear it recited in full. Its length is due to the fact that, within the rolling cadences of its many, many verses, all known types of fish, both edible and inedible, are mentioned at least once. It was the work of a piscatorial monomaniac named Egbert Bock. He was not himself a practising fishmonger, nor indeed did he live in or even near a fishing port. He was a squat, scruffy little man whose ears were perplexingly shaped, inasmuch as they looked as if they had been stuck to his head upside down. His obsession with fish is thought to have been caused by a traumatic childhood incident involving several flounders. Nine times out of ten such happenstance will lead to a phobia, but in Bock’s case it had precisely the opposite effect. Interestingly, when experiments were made upon his brain after his death, it was discovered that the areas devoted to fish and the mongering of fish were terrifically shrivelled. Some seaside vicars still include an abridged version of the Fishmongers’ Prayer in their services. But not many.

The Lost Lozenge

I felt pangs when I lost my lozenge. I was in a bricked-up brutalist bricky building when I noticed it was missing. I’d mislaid it before, once on a Thursday and once outside a tent on a campsite of many gusts. It’s a yellow lozenge, a small cake or tablet of medicine and sugar meant to be held in the mouth and dissolved, but I have never put it in my mouth. I carry it in the pocket of my trousers, whichever pair of trousers I am wearing, and it is from my pocket it must have fallen, earlier, without my noticing. On the Thursday I found my lozenge within minutes, it had dropped on to the floor, and the floor was covered in bright red linoleum, so the yellow of my lozenge was easily visible. Outside the tent I was perplexed, but a passing widow woman approached me holding my lozenge in her black-gloved hand and said she had seen it tumble on to the grass when I was doing calisthenics a few minutes before. Usually when I do my jumping about and somersaulting and so on I wedge my lozenge deep into my pocket and push a scrunched-up rag or dry dishcloth in on top of it, but at the campsite I neglected to do so, for I was distracted by the millions of starlings swooping in the sky. In the bricky building, however, there was no red linoleum and nor was there a helpful widow woman. Also, it was bricked-up, so there was little light for me to see by, and soon it would be dusk and the bricky building would be darker still. I did not know if I had lost my lozenge here or elsewhere. No wonder I felt pangs.

The pangs began in the pit of my stomach, as pangs often do, and slowly moved upwards until I felt a constriction in my throat. Pangs like those, that interfere with one’s breathing, can be lethal. To think that I might perish through pangs for something as tiny as a lost lozenge! And it was a very tiny lozenge. When manufactured, in, I supposed, a lozengery, it had been somewhat bigger, but before it came into my possession it had been partially sucked upon and  some of the outer coating had thus dissolved. The semi-sucked state of the lozenge was the reason it was so precious to me, and why I kept it in the pocket of my trousers, and felt pangs when it was lost. To be more precise, it was the identity of the sucker that was important, for this lozenge had been sucked by my all-time hero, the wrestling champion Bruno La Poubelle. He choked on it, and spat it out, and it landed at my feet, for I happened to be standing next to my hero on the balcony of a plush hotel. He was a guest, of course, whereas I was a mere employee of the hotel, a mopper of balcony tiles, with my mop and bucket. Bruno La Poubelle stopped choking as soon as he expelled the lozenge, turned around and swept back into his suite, and I picked up the lozenge and popped it into my pocket. That was years ago, and I have treasured the lozenge ever since, and kept it safe, except for the Thursday and the gusty campsite and, now, today, when for the third time I have mislaid it.

I had other La Poubelle memorabilia: a milk tooth, a discarded cochlear implant, a battery from his wrestling training machine. These were displayed in a small votive shrine I had made in my kitchenette, but the lozenge I preferred to keep on my person. Now, leaning against a wall in the bricked-up building, I mentally retraced the steps on my journey here, trying to recall where I might have been when last I was sure that the lozenge was in my pocket. There were many, many steps to remember, for I had come from afar, on foot. I knew that I had the lozenge at Sawdust Bridge, because I had to turn out my pockets at the customs post. I distinctly recalled putting it back in my pocket after the frantically-eyebrowed customs man gave me the tap with his tappy stick, clearing me to carry on across the bridge and down through the subterranean car park, past the gated Hazchem compound and up again on to the path alongside the allotments. From there I hurried past the haunted zoo and slowed my pace as I forded the river at Shallow Sludge, crossed the football pitch and the park and the airfield, then rolled down the slope towards the puddles and ponds and the hermitage. There was another customs post hereabouts, but it was deserted, watched over by a solitary mordant heron. I struggled through bindweed and brambles and then followed for a few miles the line of the Great Celestial Pneumatic Railway until I reached the engine house, where I turned off past the crushers and hooters and thumpers and clunkers and carried on past the swan hospice and the post office and the ear clinic, where Bruno La Poubelle had discarded that cochlear implant and had a second one fitted, and the glue factory and the paper mill and the lunatic asylum and the terracotta army parade ground and the canoe maker’s and the clown shop and the windmill and the newsagent and the Aztec fundamentalist temple and the trendy so-called “suet pudding skyscraper” and the bordello and the ironworks and the futuristic plasma ray gun repair shop and the guide dog enclosure and the bell foundry and the cave full of vampire bats and the other cave and the country club and the patch of muck and the bowling alley and Rolf Harris’s house and the pit of fire and the pit of doom and the buttercup fields and the sinister laboratory and I ended up here at the bricked-up brutalist bricky building and discovered that I had lost my lozenge.

When I arrived, of course, the bricky building was not fully bricked-up. I was able to make my entrance through an unlocked side door which led into the gloomy vestibule, on the walls of which hung the stuffed heads of otters and badgers and giraffes. I lay down on the floor to take a nap, and when I awoke I found that, while I slept, the remaining unbricked-up bits of the building had been bricked-up. I was so beset with pangs about my lost lozenge that it did not immediately occur to me that I was trapped. Now I have realised that is the case, I am going to have to do something about it. I am a shape-shifter, so  will shimmer ethereally for a few seconds and become like a beetle, and scuttle out of the bricky building through pipes and ducts. It will take much longer to retrace my steps in beetle-form, but it will be another fortnight before I can shape-shift again, and I will search diligently for my lozenge, and hope I am not trampled underfoot by the crowds making their way to the wrestling stadium for Bruno La Poubelle’s final bout.

 

The Right Kind Of Headgear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan Van Eyck, Man In A Red Turban, 1433