Monthly Archive for January, 2009

The Steinerian Gnome : An Introduction

As I wander about the world, or my small part of it, one thing I find peculiarly distressing is the number of persons of frantic mien who rush up to me and clutch at my lapels, beseeching me.

“Mr Key, Mr Key!” they plead, in cracked voices, “Please tell me how to see gnomes! I want to be able to see gnomes!”

What all these poor souls have in common is a tragic awareness that gnomes exist coupled with an inability to perceive them. I speak of course of real gnomes which, though they bear a striking resemblance to the jolly garden gnome beloved of suburbia, with his pointy hat and pot belly and, occasionally, his angling equipment, are by no means made of stoneware or plastic, and cannot be bought in a garden centre. Real gnomes caper in the woods, going about their gnomey business, but are very difficult to see. Yet judging by the number of people who buttonhole me in the street, there is clearly a great desire among our citizens to “get down with the gnomes”, much as politicians like to “get down with the kids”.

It has never been entirely clear to me why I should be thought to have some kind of inner track to the world of gnomes. I can only surmise that Hooting Yard’s reputation as a repository of the sum of human, and inhuman, knowledge must be spreading far and wide, and this must be a good thing. Lord knows, I try my best, both here on the website and on my weekly radio programme, to expound the wisdom of the ages. Despite the often dishevelled and wild-eyed state of my street importuners, it is good to know that my efforts are not entirely in vain.

So what I usually do when assailed by one of these social inadequates is to take them aside and, after checking that they have sufficient cash to pay for a couple of cups of tea, lead them to a café, where we sit together at a formica-topped table. They usually calm down a bit after a couple of slurps of tea, though I often have to explain that I have not brought them to gnomeland as such, and they are unlikely to be able to see any gnomes just yet. This can crush the spirits of the more emotionally frail beseechers, who seem to think I can just snap my fingers and make gnomes appear before their eyes. It takes patience, and empathy, and as many additional cups of tea for me that they can afford, to explain things to them.

Eventually, still in the café, and possibly stuffed with pastry treats too, depending on the financial resources of the shabby indigent opposite me, I remove from my pocket a scrunched-up scrap of paper on which I have copied out some very wise words. I unscrunch the scrap, and read as follows:

“This, chum, is an extract from Theosophy : An Introduction To The Supersensible Knowledge Of The World And The Destination Of Man by Rudolf Steiner, published in 1910. He says: The spiritual outlook, in fact, is through [the Spirit of the Age (the Zeitgeist)], extended over a variety of other beings, both lower and higher, who live in the environment of man without his being able to perceive them with his bodily senses. But those who have powers of spiritual sight perceive such beings and can describe them. To the lower kinds belong those designated by the spiritual investigator, as salamanders, sylphs, undines, and gnomes. It is quite to be understood that anyone who is inclined to admit the validity of physical vision only, regards such beings as the offspring of a wild hallucination and superstition. They can of course never become visible to the physical eye for they have no physical bodies. The superstition does not consist in regarding such beings as real, but in believing that they appear in a way perceptible to the physical senses. Beings with such forms cooperate in the building of the world, and one comes into connection with them as soon as one enters the higher regions closed to the bodily senses.

Then I scrunch up the scrap of paper, shove it back into my pocket, and, after getting the pitiful wretch to hand over any remaining cash they have about their person, dismiss them from my presence. My presence being, of course, a shining aura illuminating the gutter. He was a very clever man, that Rudolf Steiner.

A Country Market

The cherry-cheeked farmer’s wife went to market, for to buy a cow. She already had a goat and a hen and a lamb and a hog and a sow. She wanted a cow so she would have a daily supply of milk, and she wanted some worms to provide her with a goodly amount of silk. But the only worms for sale that day were those of the earth and the tape, and the cow she paid good money for was not quite the usual shape. It was a cow in the form of a bear and it stood on its hind legs, and rather than providing her with milk it laid weird furry eggs. For the market to which the farmer’s wife went was a market exceeding odd, where all the beasts were blasphemous offences against God. There were spiders with horns and three-legged crows and giraffes from the gates of Hades, and owls spawned from mud and geese with ears and basilisks to frighten the ladies. The gentlemen were terrified too by the pig with ten million eyes, and the bloated sacs with razor wings which swooped down from the skies. ‘Twas market day in Scroonhoonpooge when the godly tremble and pray, for the devil sells his monsters on Scroonhoonpooge Market Day.

Egg Of Power

It is now quite clear that, since the inauguration of Barack Obama as Potus, we can all rest easy in our beds. For I learn that Obama keeps on his desk an Egg Of Power.

Could it be that, when he publishes his presidential diaries in years to come, Obama will take a leaf out of George Orwell’s book, and give us simply a daily status report on the egg?

January 31. One egg. But it is the Egg of Power!

The Oval Office may be renamed the Ova Office, and Alfred Hitchcock will be rolling in his grave.

By Hot Air Balloon To Hoon

We travelled to Hoon by hot air balloon. I took my harpoon, and impaled a wolf that was roaming the woodland below us. We hauled the wolf into the basket of our balloon, by a long and sturdy rope that was tied to the end of the harpoon. We arrived in Hoon, two balloonists and an impaled wolf, making a bumpy landing. The Hoon Head Honcho of Hunted Wolves was there to greet us. “I will have that wolf,” he said, “It is not yours to keep. Here in Hoon we keep all hunted wolves, including those that have been impaled by a harpoon shot from a hot air balloon.” But we wanted to keep our harpooned wolf, as a rug for the basket of our balloon, so I pulled the harpoon out of the wolf and pointed it at the man from Hoon. “We shall keep our wolf. If you try to take it you will feel the point of this harpoon upon your neck,” I said. We did not know that the man from Hoon was a Wolfman. His head changed shape, and then the rest of him, and with his savage claws he tore the silken fabric of our balloon. We were trapped in Hoon, helpless among the Wolfmen.

Source : Victorian Tales Of Derring-Do In Hoon & Its Hinterland

Boiled Black Broth And Cornets

I paid a visit to my friend Becke Beiderbix in her fortress in the mountains. We had known each other since childhood, growing up on a postwar housing estate, a workaday world of compactness and convention. But Becke was always a singleminded girl who followed her own strange star, and while the rest of us went off to polytechnics and office jobs and became fodder for a peculiarly dull-witted type of English fiction, Becke decamped to the mountains and built herself a fortress with her bare hands. I had no idea where she had picked up the skills to do this, and in truth, when I visited I was astonished to find how solid and immense and impregnable her fortress appeared, a massive edifice perched upon a bluff, as forbidding in its aspect as the Schloss Adler in Where Eagles Dare, but without the Nazi connotations, for Becke was the most apolitical person I have ever known.

When she greeted me at the gate, she was holding a cornet in her hand.

“Hello, Dennis,” she said, planting a peck on my cheek, “As you can see I have taken up the cornet, like my near-namesake Bix Beiderbecke, the original young man with a horn, and perhaps the greatest jazzman of the nineteen-twenties.”

“From fortress-building to cornet-playing, you never cease to amaze me, Becke,” I replied, dumping my weekend luggage in a corner of the grim brickish vestibule.

“As you are well aware, I follow my own strange star,” she said, steering me into the canteen of the fortress where she ladled soup out of a tureen into a pair of bowls.

“This is my own home-made soup,” she announced, “For in addition to building the fortress and learning the cornet I have taken a correspondence course in devising original soup recipes. In your bowl you have what I dubbed Becke Beiderbix’s Boiled Black Broth, in which every single ingredient begins with the letter B. As you can see, it is a black soup, of a black so black that if you stare at it, instead of spooning it into your mouth, you will become entranced, pretty much like a voodoo zombie-person, and be entirely within my power.”

“Then I shall shut my eyes while I drain the bowl, Becke,” I said.

“Yes, I was about to recommend you do just that, Dennis,” she replied.

The soup proved to be bland and without even a hint of taste, but it warmed my innards and stopped the gurgling in my belly.

“Now that your belly has stopped gurgling, Dennis, I shall take you to see my workshop,” said Becke, and I followed her into the bowels of the fortress, to a room with a thousand padlocks and reinforced walls and sputtering candles. I half-expected to see a gibbering hunchback named Mungo, but it seemed Becke worked without assistance.

“Well now,” I said, “You have many towering piles of metal tapping machine directories from all around the world, much thumbed through and dog-eared, as if you have been poring over them with terrific diligence, Becke”.

“That I have, Dennis,” she replied, “It is drudgery to be sure, but necessary to the success of my project.”

Of course, I asked her what the project was, and her reply shocked me to the marrow. For all that her star was a strange one, it had never occurred to me that Becke was capable of the abduction and incarceration, in dungeons beneath her fortress, of eight completely innocent souls. She had gone through those directories searching for names, and when she alit upon an apt name she tracked the person down, wheresoever they might be, and she crept up on them and shoved a rag soaked in chloroform over their breathing channels, and shoved them into the back of her van, and drove like the devil himself at tiptop speed until back in her mountain fastness, and then she dragged the abductee down into one of her dungeons and slammed the heavy iron door shut upon them, and every day thereafter she took them a bowl of her black, black soup, and made them stare into its blackness until it was lukewarm, so they were pretty much like voodoo zombie-persons, entirely within her power, and then she commanded them to drink the soup, until the gurgling in their bellies ceased.

“But why, Becke, why?” I shrieked, as if taking part in a melodrama, wondering how the sensible, resourceful woman I had known had become quite loopy.

“Oh, this is only part one of the plan, Dennis,” she said, “It will all make perfect sense now that I have an abductee in each of my eight dungeons. You would not believe how long it has taken me to work my way through those confounded directories to find the names I need. And then of course to travel hither and yon to wherever they are and do the bit with the chloroform, which has its own risks. You gape at me goggle-eyed, Dennis, as if I have taken leave of my senses, and I would agree with you were it not that all this is merely a preparation for a grander scheme.”

I did not discover, over that weekend, what the grander scheme was. Becke showed me a few other things in her workshop, including some mysterious small trunks, then insisted that we head on up to her rooftop pingpong area and play pingpong for hours and hours. Every so often she took a break to visit the dungeons, and left me to lie on my back, exhausted, staring at the bitter sky, trying not to think about what in heaven’s name was going on far below in the subterranean depths of the fortress.

I made my farewell on the Sunday evening, after being given a bowl of a different home-made soup which I could sup without shutting my eyes. It was as bland as the black zombie soup, but extremely welcome after all that pingpong. Becke waved at me as I trudged down the mountainside towards the bus stop. I looked back, and there she stood, at her fortress gate, and above her in the now darkening sky shone a single star. I couldn’t help but smile. She may have become bonkers, but she would always be my pal.

A year or so passed. I was too busy with my halibut research to give much thought to Becke and her eight abductees. I sent her the occasional metal tapping machine message, to which she always replied, although she never said much about what she was up to, confining herself to remarks about general fortress maintenance. And then one day, passing through Pointy Town, some kind of woolly-hatted student in need of pin money handed me a leaflet. I shoved it into my pocket and forgot about it, and only later, as I was rummaging through my jacket for scrunched-up halibut research notes, did I come upon it and read it.

Pointy Town Hepcat Jazz Club, it said, is pleased to announce a concert by a thrilling new combo. For the past year, Becke Beiderbix has been teaching the cornet to an octet of eight amateurs, and she is now ready to lead them in what promises to be a fantastic debut. The Becke Beiderbix Bix Beiderbecke Tribute Cornet Octet, featuring newcomers Bixder Beibecke, Beike Bixderbec, Kebec Bixderbei, Bixbec Beiderke, Beibix Becderke, Derke Bixbecbei, Kebeider Bixbec, and Bixke Derbeibec will perform a show of Bix Beiderbecke classics. Soup will be served, in the form of Becke Beiderbix’s Boiled Black Broth. Admission free.

I attended the show, of course, but shut my eyes for the soup.

Dmitri & Serge

A reader who knows a thing or two about the Russian Orthodox church gets in touch to tell me that my hunch about the two black-clad trendies alongside Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk in the photograph below was correct. They are indeed beatniks. By allowing their goatee beards to grow into more flourishing hairiness, swapping their berets for those big weird hats, and shadowing the Metropolitan wherever he roams, the pair are engaging in a performance art intervention praxis. Dmitri and Serge (for it is they) are legendary cats on the Russian Orthodox beatnik scene, best known for their jazz, their existentialist pretensions, and their French cigarettes. They have been performing their praxis for the past year, seldom letting the beardy Smolenskian out of their sight, much as ex-UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar was pursued for years, and interrupted at press conferences, by nitwits convinced he had been abducted by aliens in Manhattan in 1989.

Dmitri and Serge are guarded about how long they intend to continue haunting Metropolitan Kirill. If asked, by art students and the like, they offer only dismissive guttural noises designed to be enigmatic. They have, however, issued a Dmitri & Serge’s Praxis Manifesto, written in blitheringly difficult prose, which you can if you wish pore over in your local arts pod reading resource capsule.

How To Be Modern

Moderniser is favourite to lead Russian church, says the headline in today’s Guardian. The online edition sadly does not include the photograph of dynamic thrusting modernist Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk which appeared in the paper. But do not fret. I have found one, so readers’ jaws can drop at the breathtaking modernity of the man they call “Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk”. That’s him on the right, in the oh so modern colourful robes, unlike the hopelessly passé figures next to him, who look positively mediaeval in their black garb. On the other hand, they might be beatniks, and it’s Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk who’s behind the times, daddy-o.

What Was “The Cruel Sea” All About?

I ought to have explained that the piece entitled The Cruel Sea was simply a list of titles of the books currently being written by bestselling paperbackist Pebblehead. He always has a number of works on the go at any one time, expertly juggling everything in that big baked potato-like head of his. Hooting Yard reader Dr Ruth Pastry tells me that she is drawing a diagram of Pebblehead’s head, or more precisely of the innards of his head, which she wants me to post here when it is finished. That means we will all have a better, and long overdue, insight into the great paperbackist’s fantastic brain, in diagrammatic form, with arrows.

NOTE : Dr Pastry says her diagram will be without arrows.

The Cruel Sea

The cruel sea. The dismal pond. The glued vicar. The obsolete pudding. The terrible sludge. The grimy harpoonist. The Dutch pillbox. The prominent moustache. The customised hat. The awful pan. The disguised shrubbery. The pale horseman. The wicked nephew. The clueless dolt. The filthy sniper. The hot flap. The rotting twig. The crumpled swine. The village idiot. The spasmodic throbbings. The puckish stormtrooper. The flailing chump. The godforsaken peasouper. The dribbling maniac. The shabby cartographer. The unhinged wrestler. The tiny toadstool. The wielded hoe. The bloody stump. The tin bath. The crunchy plopper. The urgent message. The ticketyboo avalanche. The cupped sprain. The turquoise pip. The shoved helmet. The fantastic Moira. The governed tang. The collapsed lung. The indigestible suet. The stuck shirt. The old git. The worrisome spinster. The shambolic circus. The disgusted postman. The cheap bale. The splendid toucan. The fractious hamster. The baleful merchant. The spiffing socks. The Dungeness werewolf. The intrepid golliwog. The gaudy spats. The bewitched gubbins. The tawdry lump. The tungsten spigot. The wilful witch. The Ruritanian tyrant. The speckled toffee. The crumpled pooper. The insignificant mendicant. The woeful copse. The bad shunter. The first Adam. The globular emission. The spent fork. The other fork. The cataleptic nincompoop. The boiled dish. The sudden rink. The icy wastes. The dirty placebo. The incomprehensible gibberish. The fat fissure. The tansy klopstock. The gruesome boots. The Mexican floozie. The sordid details. The tattered tent. The vindictive biologist. The shabby phantom. The crashed pantechnicon. The odd chimp. The slimy bog. The shattered walnut. The horrible dirigible. The muddy waters. The contaminated mayonnaise. The belligerent scruff. The tidal estuary. The sodden moorhen. The avenging pig. The omnipotent Dagobert. The teeming downpour. The slapdash embroidery. The stale cake. The unbreakable jugs. The bonkers churning. The copper tricycle. The idiot savant. The charmless ragamuffin. The shredded diktat. The holy farmyard. The blistering flotsam. The deaf wonk. The gladsome cravat. The industrial stapler. The careworn widow. The lopped fig. The bulky cargo. The hepcat smoothie. The fundamentalist satrap. The oiled hair. The brusque Ostender. The lovely pie. The crushed kaboodle. The glamorous trumpet. The foul expat. The immense saucepan. The sequined tugboat. The gorgeous innards. The frail sot. The desperate genuflection. The dark peel. The grotesque kipper. The unsinkable sieve. The chumpot tawny. The albino chicken. The Germanic straw. The wiggling blob. The dug ditch. The safety pin. The fictional athlete. The abominable beaker. The popped savage. The glitzy surgeon. The extra limb. The chubby pickpocket. The pitted ointment. The wan hoop. The stricken passengers. The dotty haberdasher. The clumsy ghost. The frightful crevasse. The cloned duck. The unfortunate blot. The skindiving fatso. The drugged weasel. The jellied eel. The monstrous bag. The unreliable toothpaste. The preening bombast. The bitter chutney. The damp patch. The cluttered freak. The mordant heron. The sleeping ogre. The delightful custard. The unspeakable goat. The double chimney. The restricted barn. The potty boffin. The golden glut. The tugging pang. The clatterboard bodice. The shining throne. The plump shrike. The girly mittens. The sticky wolf. The Baptist cocoa. The snivelling orphan. The cantankerous toppler. The vile rug. The insanitary hellhole. The plastic splint. The chipper baronet. The navy buttons. The cheesy blubber. The surviving thieves. The untidy shore. The metal stick. The invisible tapeworm. The bent captain. The disgruntled Jesuit. The gleaming gloaming. The ratty scrimshaw. The hard biscuit. The grubby spittoon. The withered hoist. The ashen jackanapes. The gilded dustbin. The last splat. The heavy hod. The token undertaker. The whooper swan. The cruel sea.

The Hooting Yard Encyclopaedia Of Birds

Currently in preparation, The Hooting Yard Encyclopaedia Of Birds will prove, I think, to be a majestic work of birdy scholarship destined to blow the roof off the pretty little hut of contemporary ornithology. Apart from anything else, it will include stuff about dozens of birds other avianists don’t even know exist, such as the lopwit. As a brief taster, here is part of the entry on the great grey shrike:

The Latin name of the great grey shrike, Lanius excubitor, translates into English as butcher sentinel. Whenever this bird is hereafter mentioned in Hooting Yard, that is what it will be called, as in the sentence “Oh look,” said Dobson, taking a pause from hammering a nail into a plank to no apparent purpose, “There is a butcher sentinel singing its little heart out atop that wooden pale.”

An Old Folk Song Commemorating Victory In The War Against The Big Magnetic Robots

From high up on Pilgarlic Tor we watched them march away to war. Away they marched, our foes to fight, and they put the robot men to flight. The big magnetic robots fled, and not a chap of ours was dead. They scattered, in their clanking way, to Timbuctoo and Mandalay. Our chaps marched home in triumph then, and so we sacrificed a hen. We wallowed in our poultry gore, victorious on Pilgarlic Tor.

Old Halob, Ant God

It has taken me a while to catch up with this, but recently at The Lumber Room elberry wrote “Being worshipped by ants is nothing to be proud of”. I can see “where he’s coming from”, as the airheads put it, but he is clearly unaware of the curious case of Old Halob, the coach and mentor of fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol.

During a period in his life when he was not yet as old as he was due to become, Old Halob found his prowess as an egger-on of sporty feats under severe strain. This was in the days before he had turned the spindly, albeit fictional, Bobnit Tivol into a champion sprinter, and to date much of his work had been concentrated in the field of ice hockey puck brandishing technique. His record was patchy, but he had taken more than one raggle-taggle team of amateurs through cup competitions, in one case reaching the quarter-finals. It was his attempt to broaden his scope to the training of racing starlings that shattered his confidence. This was Old Halob’s first and only intervention in non-human, or inhuman, sport, and he quickly realised he was out of his depth. He found it well nigh impossible to communicate his vision of sportiness to birds, despite filling his pockets with millet and curtailing his habit of throwing rocks at swans.

Casting around for tips, he fell in one day, upon a sandbank, with an animal behaviourist of great repute. This fellow, who may actually have been a charlatan, advised Old Halob to start by working with ants, work his way up through stoats and weasels, and only when he knew what he was doing to tackle the starlings. This argument was not without merit, for even a sports coach of genius, as Old Halob undoubtedly was, has to have a full understanding of ants and stoats and weasels, their habits and appetites, their anatomies and peccadillos, before hoping to work effectively with either birds or fictional athletes.

Thus the irascible chain-smoking coach took up lodgings at the edge of an ant farm, and spent hours upon hours every day drilling the ants in all sorts of sporty disciplines. So fantastic was his rapport with the tiny insects that they came to worship him as a god, one who wore a Homburg hat and spat out much phlegm. Their weird alien insect brains underwent some kind of Old Haloby modification, and he became their single, simple focus, their one and only, their world.

It was through his work with the ants that Old Halob honed the techniques which would make him a legend, and thus, contrary to elberry’s rash statement, he was always proud to be worshipped by them, as well he might be. Unfortunately, he did not go on to wreak his magic with either stoats of weasels or starlings, for one day he was out walking when he toppled into a ditch and was put in a clinic for a year or two. As the history books tell us, it was in that clinic, from his bed upon the balcony, that Old Halob learned of the existence of fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol. The future was set fair.

The Cow & Pins Redux

It pains me to say it, but a few readers are claiming that the Cow & Pins is a fictional tavern, a tavern simply made up by Mr Key for his own amusement. A “Facebook group”, whatever that might be, has been set up, called The Cow & Pins Is A Fictional Tavern, A Tavern Simply Made Up By Mr Key (Of The Hooting Yard) For His Own Amusement, which, at the last count, had somewhere between three and thirty-five thousand six hundred and forty-six members. One can tell that the originators of this calumny are not true devotees, because they have made the elementary mistake of referring to “The Hooting Yard”, when of course it never attracts the definite article, never has and never will, so long as there is calcium in Mr Key’s bones.

Anyway, to prove these accusers wrong once and for all, here is a hyperrealist photograph of the Cow & Pins inn sign, taken by Rex Hyper, the noted hyperrealist.

Potato Blot

Mustard Plaster provides a link to the pamphlet The $100 Prize Essay On The Cultivation Of The Potato, Prize offered by W.T. Wylie and awarded to D.A. Compton to which is appended How To Cook The Potato, Furnished by Prof. Blot (New York, 1870). Well worth a read if you are a potatoey person, which I sincerely hope you are.

Prof. Blot, by the way, is Pierre Blot (c.1818-1874), a man whose name I would have had to invent had he not already existed. According to culinary historian Jan Longone, “As far as I can tell, no other nineteenth-century cook in America was treated with a comparable level of media hyperbole”. Alas, after his death, an article written about him concluded that “he lived to see himself neglected and discarded by a capricious public”.

The Pierre Blot revival begins here!

Birdwatch

Given that this weekend sees the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2009, I thought it would be helpful to repost these two diagrams from the Hooting Yard archives, giving readers some idea of what to look out for, in their gardens, through their binoculars, this weekend. (Click to see the diagrams a bit bigger.)