Sunday Morning In England

Rediscovered Urban Rituals, who helped to organise a May Day Jack in the Green procession in Deptford in 2006, recreated the famous Charlton Horn Fair procession today.

The Abbot of Bermondsey granted a charter in 1268 for an annual fair to be held at Charlton, which was eventually banned in 1872 for ‘licentious conduct’. The celebrants dressed up in drag and adorned themselves with horns and masks, presumably evoking ancient ritual & fertility symbolism. The procession of ‘Hornified Fumblers’ traditionally met at Cuckold’s Point in Rotherhithe, after crossing the Thames from the City. They paraded through Deptford and Greenwich and on to the Fair.

What better way for Mr Key to spend his Sunday morning than to trail in the procession’s wake, albeit dressed in mufti?



Snapper : Pansy Cradledew Photographic Interventions GmbH. Mezzotints of the snaps will be made available in the fullness of time.

Lost Names

I am a devotee of the ludicrous yet brilliant television series Lost. This surprises some readers, not least because it is of course a blatant plagiarism of the Hooting Yard serial story Blodgett And His Pals Hanging Around On A Mysterious Island After Surviving A Plane Crash, episodes of which appeared here back in December 2005 and January 2006. But I forgive the writers and producers of the American series, because I am like as unto a saint and martyr.

One of the features of the show that has always appealed to me is the manner in which certain characters are named after great thinkers of the past. Rousseau, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham and Mikhail Bakunin all appear in the Lost scripts, and there may be others I have forgotten for the moment. Early on, I assumed the significance of these dubbings would become apparent, until at last it dawned on me that they are, though deliberately chosen, purely arbitrary. A programme such as Lost encourages fervent babble in online fora and discussion groups, where airheads expound and exchange their theories about this or that clump of minutiae, and clearly these names are planted, like the books characters are seen reading, as fodder for the nutters. I must add that despite my enthusiasm for the show, I do not waste precious hours reading or contributing to the online drivel.

The point of noting this is that it has only belatedly occurred to me what a tremendous fictional device it is. I am minded to write stories featuring protagonists called Charles Lindbergh or John Ruskin or Tallulah Bankhead or Hazel Blears, where no reference is remotely intended to their famous living, or dead, or brain-dead, counterparts. Expect passages such as the one below to turn up at the Yard soon:

“So, Ringo Starr, you continue to defy me?” hissed evil Nazi Obergruppenfuhrer Blind Jack of Knaresborough to his quailing captive. Suddenly, a rescue party led by daring trio Nova Pilbeam, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and Thomas De Quincey crashed in to the chamber. The Nazi hellhound spun on his heels, but was swiftly grappled to the floor by David Miliband.

Later, as the gung ho heroes sat in the helicopter taking them back to Blighty, they were moved to receive congratulatory radio messages from both Richard Milhous Nixon and Ayn Rand.

The Freezing Coachman

“Tolstoy tells the story of an aristocratic woman at the theatre weeping at the imaginary tragedy enacted on the stage. At the same time, outside in the cold, a real tragedy is taking place: her old and faithful coachman, awaiting her in the bitter winter night, is freezing to death.”

Raymond Tallis, “The Freezing Coachman : Some Reflections On Art & Morality”, in Newton’s Sleep (Macmillan, 1995), abridged version in Theorrhoea And After (Macmillan, 1999)

Countless readers, coming upon the words “the freezing coachman”, will think of neither Tolstoy nor Tallis, but of the indefatigable paperbackist Pebblehead. It is well nigh impossible to keep track of the short stories featuring the eponymous frozen hero he taps out on that battered old typewriter of his, pipe packed with scraggy Montenegrin tobacco clamped Simenon-like in his jaws. Unlike Tolstoy’s character, Pebblehead’s freezing coachman remains alive, a ghoulish figure covered in ice, with a reproachful gaze and a booming monotone. In many, but not all stories, he has a Dutch accent.

Pebblehead has been criticised, by the snooty and the hare-brained, for the wild inconsistency of his coachman. In The Freezing Coachman And The Blunkett Cow Attack, for example, he is a sort of mystic cow-whisperer, a gentle and benevolent soul with a heart of gold. Cold gold, but gold nonetheless. In The Freezing Coachman And The Carpets Of Madness, by contrast, he is evil personified, so evil that Beelzebub himself is reduced to a quivering gibbering wreck in his presence. And then of course there is the famous story The Freezing Coachman Goes Rogue, and we all know what happens in that one!

But the variations in his character are as nothing when compared to the bewildering number of guises under which the “coach” of which he has charge appears. It is described, in one Freezing Coachman story or another, as a coach or a carriage or a landau or a landaulette or a britzka or a gig or a trap or a charabanc or a float or a buggy or a hansom or a shandrydan or a post chaise or a brougham or a droshky or a berlin or a wagon or a calash or a jitney or a pony cart or a minibus or a caboose or a caravan or a sleigh or a fiacre or a dray or a jeep or a lorry or a sulky or a cab or a van or a brake or a crate or a taxi or a rattletrap or a sedan chair or a bus or a tin lizzie or a carriole or a curricle or a dustcart or a stanhope or a quadriga or a phaeton or a trolley or a tumbrel or a troika or a saloon or a hearse or a diligence or a bubblecar or a fourgon or a flivver or a clarence or a growler or a conveyance or a roadster or a tilbury or a runabout or a jalopy or a calash or an oxcart or a hackney cab or a tarantass or a black maria or a barouche or a tractor or a tonga or a tank. This may be a case of Pebblehead being slapdash, or playful, or simply not having a clue what he is talking about, given that some of these vehicles can hardly be described as a “coach” by any sensible person.

The moral of Tolstoy’s tale, that an appreciation of great art does not necessarily make one a good person, is obvious. Equally, nearly all of Pebblehead’s stories have a clear moral point to make. We are told that one should never bury a dog while it is still alive, never accept toffee apples from spooky strangers, always rain curses upon a cow that attacks a blind Member of Parliament, or upon a blind Member of Parliament who attacks a cow, depending on which version of the story you believe, never walk widdershins three times around a kirk, never push a boy scout into a crevasse, don’t count your chickens, eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day according to government guidelines, never put all your eggs in one basket, always check the accuracy of George Orwell’s daily egg count, always uphold the ineffable majesty of the tinpot king of the land of Gaar, never get too close to the edge of the bottomless viper pit of Shoeburyness, and don’t ever, ever wave a towel in the face of an Ampleforth Jesuit. It is true that sometimes we put aside a Freezing Coachman story feeling that Pebblehead has lectured us rather than entertained us, and some of the lessons we are taught are fit only for five-year-olds, but at their best these tales can be both unforgettable and devastating.

I am thinking, for example, of The Freezing Coachman Sorts The Abstract Expressionist Wheat From The Chaff, a thinly-disguised and blistering attack upon the adolescent cod-mystic witterings of Barnett Newman, who tried to imbue his big flat boring daubs with universal and eternal significance. There is an irresistible urge to clap with glee when, in the final paragraph, the Freezing Coachman steps out of his cabriolet and upturns a pot of emulsion over the head of the ludicrous painter “Bennett Nerman”, before beating him with a spade, poking him with a stick, and tying him fast to railway tracks upon which the 4.45 non-stop express to Uttoxeter is due to thunder within the next couple of minutes.

It may well be the finest of all the Freezing Coachman stories, but do not take my word for it. Read every single one of them, the brilliant and the witless, and make up your own mind.

Hey Babe, Hand Me That Astrolabe

“Swinburne… boasted to Burne-Jones that he had ‘discovered the one serious rhyme in the language’ to ‘babe’, which was, not very helpfully, ‘astrolabe’.”

Mollie Panter-Downes, At The Pines : Swinburne And Watts-Dunton In Putney (1971).

I was directed to this magnificent and eccentric book by Nige, who also provides a link to Max Beerbohm’s account of his Putney visit.

Buy The Record, Please

“Let the joy be unconfined!” says Chris Cutler, with good reason. For his ReR Megacorp has just released the second album by Vril, entitled The Fatal Duckpond. Before we go any further, follow this link to buy your copy, immediately. When you come back, read on.

The original trio of Cutler (drums), Lukas Simonis (guitars), and Bob Drake (bass & guitars) is augmented this time by Pierre Omer (guitars). Very sensibly, the puckish combo asked Mr Key to come up with the album and track titles, and to contribute liner notes and illustrations. Here, as a special treat for Hooting Yard readers, are those liner notes. It should be noted that the emboldenment and italicisation of certain words were inserted by Mr Cutler, or one of his minions, to excellent effect.


These notes are reproduced with permission from Beekeepers Write About Compact Discs magazine (a weekly periodical).

As far as I can ascertain, the second album by the band VRIL has been made without any bee involvement whatsoever. These eighteen new waxings by the group – now a quartet – form the soundtrack to the European arthouse film classic The Fatal Duckpond.. Seven hours long, black and white, and silent for large s t r e t c h e s apart from these musical numbers and sparse patches of dialogue mumbled in an incoherent and invented language, the film is a visionary reworking of the 1956 Hollywood western The Bloodsoaked Revenge Of Escobar Beppo, itself an adaptation of a rare and little-performed Jacobean drama whose author was stabbed to death in a brawl and whose corpse was flung into the then stinking Thames.

Importantly, VRIL have based their “groovy sounds” – I think that is the appropriate term – on all three sources. This does make it rather difficult to pinpoint exactly which bit of the plot, or plots, is being evoked in each piece. To take just one example, the fourth track, Baffling Calcium Lantern Light, could refer equally well to the barnyard scene in the new film, the “Casa Incognita” episode in the western, or indeed the bit in the Jacobean drama where the audience always shuddered.

Much as it would be helpful to summarise the plot, of one or all of the sources, it has to be said that it is a hopeless task. The original Jacobean tragedy is a skein of untangleable knots, the western is dense and brooding, and the latest film is frankly incoherent, in the best sense of the word. How the director managed to pull the whole thing together without any bees or beekeepers is a triumph, albeit a strange one.

Ah yes, the director. Rumour has it that behind the person who appears in the (interminable) credits lurks the eerie figure of Horst Gack. It was he who was really pulling the strings, he who took the play and the western and decided to transform them into something quite unprecedented. It is said that he pored over all known texts of the drama for over a decade, and sat through thousands of screenings of the western, sometimes alone, and sometimes accompanied by his mysterious wife and collaborator Primrose Dent. It may even be that the whole thing is the brainchild of Primrose herself. Certainly it was she who got VRIL on board to create the musical soundtrack. She tracked the band down to a squalid cafeteria in Pointy Town, where they had been retained as the regular afternoon entertainment. The cafeteria clientele, an intriguing jumble of matelots, Jesuits, pin cushion sales reps, mountebanks, prestidigitators, and – yes – beekeepers, were so distraught when they learned that Primrose planned to whisk the band away to expensive rehearsal studios in a Swiss canton that they rioted. Wily Primrose filmed the brouhaha and inserted the raw footage into the finished version of The Fatal Duckpond. Unfortunately for us, she shot without sound, so the band were unable to incorporate the din of shouting, thumping, smashing and whatnot into the piece accompanying this section of the film.

All in all, despite its perplexing beelessness, this is a tremendous album, even for those who have never seen the film to which it acts as a soundtrack. And quite honestly, the listener is probably better off not having to sit through hours of bad acting, blurry visual effects, gruesome smudgy charcoal burnings, blank screens, hectoring rants from unseen crew members, and still shots of daffodil-strewn fields.

NOTE : It occurs to me that newer readers may be unaware of the earlier Vril release, Effigies In Cork. You will find an informative note about it here, but one of the links appears to be out of date, so to buy your copy, go here.

A Note On Rugs

Apropos of crow and hare oracles, R., in a comment, takes me to task for being cavalier about the precise nature of the rug upon which one’s cards are dealt and pebbles scattered, and asks for – or rather demands – a rug reading list. It pains me to suggest that such a request merely demonstrates R.’s lack of attunement with the esoteric spheres. It also reminds me that the old fraud G I Gurdjieff began life as a travelling rug salesman. As how could he not? For his trade is hidden in his name. Take the first three letters, reverse them, and voila!, “Gur” becomes “Rug”. Thus we see how human destinies can, sometimes, be inscribed in our being.

I think it no accident, either, that my correspondent R. shares an initial with the subset of floor covering types he is getting all worked up about. I do not use the phrase “worked up” lightly, for of course it reminds us of “The Work” about which Gurdjieff babbled and wrote for much of his preposterous life. I wonder if R. would be driving himself to the same level of hysteria had I recommended dealing the cards and scattering the pebbles upon a mat, or even upon linoleum.

In addition, may I advise R. to be careful what he wishes for? A cursory reading of the medical literature warns us against becoming fumous-brained about floor coverings such as rugs, mats, and especially carpets. Quite literally, that way madness lies!


Along The Banks Of The Smem

“Many people have a prejudice against goat’s milk, thinking it has a peculiarly goaty flavour. This misapprehension has probably arisen from the experience of tourists in Switzerland and Italy where goat’s milk is in common use, and frequently offered in mugs or glasses which have not been properly cleaned.” – H S Holmes Pegler, “Goat-Keeping”, The Listener, Vol I No 16, 1st May 1929.

The engine gave a hoarse shriek; we had arrived at Pinpotting, or Pottingpan. The black coaches of the train waited a minute in the silvery light of the mountain, disgorging a miscellaneous collection of people and swallowing others. Peppery voices could be heard up and down the platform. Then the wheezy engine at the front squeaked again and drew the black chain rattling away into the cavernous tunnel. The broad sweep of country lay pure and peaceful once more, with its sharply etched backcloth scoured bright and clean by the damp wind. It was good to breathe the air. I was one of those who had disembarked from the train, and I stood waiting on the platform until it was empty but for the guard, who soon vanished into his hut.

I had come to this mountain village, with my peg-leg and my religious hysteria, on the advice, even the orders, of the family physician. In his twinkly shouting guttural manner, Dr Gobbo insisted that a six-month stay in the clean mountain air would restore to me the gusto I had lost. For my part, though I did as he suggested, I was unconvinced. My life thus far had been a catalogue of maladies, mishaps, and calamities. I had an ague shortly after I was born, and then, at about three or four years old, I had a grievous ague. I vomited for twelve hours every fortnight for years. This sickness nipt my strength in the bud. At eight years old I had an issue in the coronal sutor of my head which continued running until I was twenty-one. One October I had a violent fever, it was like to have carried me off, ’twas the most dangerous sickness that ever I had. At fifteen or sixteen I had the measles, but that was nothing, I was hardly sick. I had a dangerous fall from my uncle’s horse. The following year I had smallpox. When I was twenty I had a fall and broke one of my ribs, and was afraid it might cause an apostumation. Much later coming back from abroad I was like to be shipwrecked but no hurt done. The following year I had a terrible fit of the spleen and piles. Then I received laesio in testiculo, which was like to have been fatal. After that my affairs ran kim kam, there were treacheries against me. A couple of years later an impostume broke in my head. Also I was in danger of being run through with a sword, and in danger of being drowned twice. That year I was in great danger of being killed by a drunkard in the street, but one of his companions hindered his thrust. Now, standing on the deserted railway station platform, I mumbled a prayer to several saints, asking them to protect me from further harm. Perhaps Dr Gobbo was correct.

I set off towards my hotel, a mile or two distant on the banks of the Smem. Seldom had I seen a river so teeming with fish. I hoped to find, upon arrival at the hotel, that my room overlooked the river, that I might be able to spear fish from the comfort of my balcony. I had brought no spears with me, but could spend happy hours whittling sticks gathered in the gorgeous woodland. I would need to obtain some string, to attach to my whittled spears in order to be able to haul them back to the balcony, with, I hoped, a bream or gudgeon impaled upon them. I was confident, from my knowledge of Mitteleuropean mountain village hotels gleaned from various encyclopaedias, that string would be the sort of item available in a little shop attached to the hotel, much like a church repository. From my perch upon the balcony of my room, armed with string and sticks whittled into spears, I might well be able to provide myself with enough fish for my dinner each day, and thus be spared the ordeal of mucking in with the other guests in the dining room, whom I feared might snigger at my peg-leg and be dismissive of my religious hysteria. I knew only too well that Satan can lurk even in the bosom of the most innocent-seeming Mitteleuropean mountain village hotel guest.

These thoughts of succulent and private fish dinners made me peckish as I followed the path along the bank of the Smem. There was as yet no sign of the hotel, so as I approached a peasant’s hut I decided to stop and ask if I might be given a snack. I had not had the opportunity to change my bank draft into the coinage of this country, assuming that I could do so at the hotel, thus I readied myself to bestow grand and holy benisons upon the peasant through the power of my voice and by swinging a tin censer from my unwithered hand. Pausing by a clump of edelweiss, I lit the censer with my World War One platoon sergeant’s pump gaz lighter, then clonked up to the door of the hut and hammered upon it.

The peasant who appeared in answer to my knocking was, I am afraid to say, an irreligious lout who stank of goat. The sacred smoke from my swinging censer had absolutely no effect upon his morals. As I am sure you can appreciate, I was thoroughly perplexed at his immunity, and the consequent knotting of my tongue and clogging of my throat meant that I had much difficulty making myself understood. What ought to have been a simple snack request came out as a strangulated cry of spiritual desolation. To my surprise, however, he gestured for me to follow him into the gloom of his hut.

Within, all was filth and grease and squalor. Until now, I had harboured a hopelessly romantic view of the lives and habitations of Mitteleuropean mountain village peasantry, based to some extent upon my musings upon John Ruskin’s magnificent, yet sadly unwritten, study of Swiss towns and villages. I had also watched The Sound Of Music on more than one occasion, which explains why, despite being a botanical ignoramus, I was able correctly to identify the clump of edelweiss next to which I had paused just moments earlier.

The peasant was blundering about in the corner of his disgusting parlour, and now he emerged, bearing a beaker of milk. Though he was a sinful man, it was clear he was offering it to me as refreshment. What I wanted was something more substantial, involving pastry and salted fish and black cherries, but I supposed that some solid sweetmeats might follow, so I took the beaker and gulped down the contents in one go, to show my appreciation. Yuck. I was immediately reminded of those childhood days of fortnightly vomiting. The milk had a peculiar goaty flavour, which I ascribed to the fact that the beaker in which it came was, like everything else in the hut, the peasant included, unwashed. It would have been rude of me to suggest to the peasant that he and his beaker and each of his appurtenances would benefit from sponge and soap, so I held my tongue, now thickly coated with milk residue. I still hoped for food, even though whatever I was offered would, I supposed, be grubby and begrimed. But the peasant snatched back the beaker and flailed his arms as if shooing me away, like one of his goats. I gave the censer a desultory little swing, to waft some sanctity into the midden, gagged on the aftertaste of the goaty milk, and backed out of the door, which was immediately slammed shut. I had not even learned the peasant’s name.

I looked up at the mountains. These were the steep snow-covered slopes that fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol had sprinted up and down, for hours at a time, as part of the rigorous training regime devised by his coach Old Halob, in the early years before he won all those medals. Peg-legged, I could never hope to emulate the spindly wastrel, try as I might. I allowed myself to weep. And then I gathered myself, and turned, and headed off towards the hotel, and the worst horror of all.

Hares His Ruin

Should you find yourself consulting your hare oracle with unseemly frequency, or favouring it to such an extent that your crow oracle sits neglected on the shelf, you may be on the slippery slope to a hare mania leading to criminality. Here is a newspaper cutting from 1904. Consider it a warning.


In sentencing a man at Marylebone yesterday for stealing a hare, Mr Plowden said to the prisoner, who had previously been bound over for a similar offence: “You are an honest man, I believe, except when you see hares. Then, your honesty completely breaks down. It’s a good thing you don’t live where hares are abundant.”

Source – Man Bites Man : The Scrapbook Of An Edwardian Eccentric, George Ives, edited by Paul Sieveking (Jay Landesman, 1980)

Crows And Hares

In a comment on Overheard, OSM makes the assumption that I must have entered an esoteric incensey fairy airhead goddess gift shop by mistake, believing it, in myopic confusion, to be a tobacconist’s. Well, let me state loudly and clearly that I marched into what I well knew to be a shop full of woohoowoo with due deliberation. And I did so, dear readers, purely for your benefit, for I was researching the arcane and eldritch powers of crows and hares.

Rustic persons have long been aware of the magical and oracular nature of crows and hares, harbouring knowledge lost to the typical urban Hooting Yard reader. That is why I get so many letters from people who somehow expect me to be privy to ancient countryside lore, people who are too timid, or proud, to set foot themselves in esoteric incensey fairy airhead goddess gift shops. By last week I had grown so fed up with the constant stream of crow- and hare-related missives that I betook myself to an appropriate emporium.

Those of you wallowing in the slops of ignorance need to know, first of all, that a crow is a type of bird and a hare is very similar to a rabbit. Try not to get them mixed up. Memorising one of Pontius Wilmslow’s so-called “animal mnemonics” may be of help:

The crow is black, and flies across the sky. The hare is brown and gambols in the meadow.

There. Repeat that a few hundred times, until it is lodged securely in the blob of your brain, and you won’t go far wrong.

In order to exploit the oracular nature of your personal crow and/or hare spirit guide, you need a few pebbles and some cards. For the latter, the best thing to do is to obtain an old pack of playing cards, steep them one by one in bleach, and then scribble runic devices upon them with a magic marker pen. If you are not sure what a runic device looks like, just scribble any old how, on one card after another, imagining perhaps that you are a grunting primitive caveman trying ignorantly to assuage a psychotic and enraged cave-god. All that really matters is that you can tell the difference between one card and another. When you’ve done that, get some pebbles, scrub them clean of muck and mud, and scribble the same runic devices upon them. Divide the cards and pebbles into two sets, and chuck one in to a cardboard box marked “Crow” and the other into a cardboard box marked “Hare”. Decorate the cardboard boxes with winsome starry moony emblems and tie ribbons around them. Knot the ribbons with knots you have learned to tie from Poopy Klammberg’s Book Of Magick Knots, available from your local esoteric incensey fairy airhead goddess gift shop. Yes, I’m afraid you’re going to have to step through its door sooner or later. I did, and I have lived to tell the tale.

You will be surprised how quickly you will learn whether it is propitious to consult your crow oracle or your hare oracle, or both, or neither, during particular weather conditions, or to answer specific questions. Let us say you wake up on a freezing cold morning, with the wind coming in from the west and a hailstorm brewing. Uppermost in your mind, after your nightmares, is the question of precisely how much time will pass before David Blunkett is again attacked by a cow. Instinct will tell you whether this is a matter for the crow or the hare. Taking the appropriate box from its plinth upon your homemade sacred shrine, cast a handful of pebbles upon the rug, and then deal out some of the cards. Oh, don’t forget, before doing so, to cleanse both pebbles and cards by wafting incense over them and babbling a mantra. The combination of the runes on the cast pebbles and the dealt cards, and their disposition upon the rug, will hold the answer to your question. Be warned that it is not immediately obvious. In fact, it may be quite beyond your wit to understand it. In such cases, take a snapshot of the rug, with the cards and pebbles in clear view and sharp focus, and send it to me. I will tell you what it all means, for I have communed with both the crow spirits and the hare spirits, and there is an invisible star on my forehead, and straw in my hair.

Life Imitates Hooting Yard

There are times, I think, when the gods who order our puny human affairs take their lead from Hooting Yard. How else to explain this magnificent headline?

MP Blunkett injured in cow attack

Incidentally, it is somewhat disconcerting that the BBC feels it necessary to qualify the numinous Blunkett name with the designation “MP”, as if there might be other newsworthy Blunketts in the known universe. There are not.

I am going to go on a little trip now. I will be gone only for a couple of days, and will return in time for this week’s Hooting Yard On The Air at teatime on Thursday. I live in hope that a brief change of scene, and the thought of that cow, will loosen up the cranial integuments, the knotting of which has caused such regrettable silence of late.

The University Of Life, On A Canal

“Then next, take canal life as a form of ‘university’ education. Your present system of education is to get a rascal of an architect to order a rascal of a clerk-of-the-works to order a parcel of rascally bricklayers to build you a bestially stupid building in the middle of the town, poisoned with gas, and with an iron floor which will drop you all through it some frosty evening; wherein you will bring a puppet of a cockney lecturer in a dress coat and a white tie, to tell you smugly there’s no God, and how many messes he can make of a lump of sugar. Much the better you are for all that, when you get home again, aren’t you?”

John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, Letter LXXV “Star Law” (1877)