Perusing the shelves of my local branch of Periodicals & Other Ephemera R Us the other day, I noted the existence of a glossy magazine called Black Hair. On the cover was a photograph of a woman with black hair. Leafing through it, I saw it was stuffed full of other similar photographs, and although I did not read any of the articles, all of them seemed to focus exclusively on the particular, narrow topic of women with black hair. Being a man with almost entirely grey hair, I replaced the magazine on the shelf. Plainly, I was not the kind of reader it was aimed at. But then neither were some of the adjacent titles, which included Black Shirts, a magazine for the fascist community, Black Narcissus, for sexually frustrated nuns, and Black Pudding, which seemed to be devoted wholly to celebrating the coagulated and sausagised blood of pigs. I looked in vain for the publication I was seeking – Tiny Enid’s favourite comic, Boo Boo’s Hooba Nooba – turned on my heel, and headed on up the hill towards a clump of aspens, where I sat down and lit a cigarette and looked at aspens, in a clump.
“There is a Doctor and his Fart that haue kept a foule stinking stirre in Paules Churchyard ; I crie him mercy, I slaundered him, he is scarce a Doctor till he hath done his Acts ; this dodipoule, this didopper, this professed poetical braggart hath raild vpon me, without wit or art, in certaine foure penniworth of Letters and three farthing-worth of Sonnets ; nor do I mean to present him and Shakerley to the Queens foole-taker for coatch-horses : for two that draw more equallie in one Oratoriall yoke of vaine-glorie, there is not vnder heauen… why thou arrant butter whore, thou cotqueane & scrattop of scoldes, wilt thou neuer leaue afflicting a dead Carcasse, continually read the rethorick lecture of Ramme Allie? a wispe, a wispe, rippe, rippe, you kitchin-stuffe wrangler!”
Thomas Nashe (1567-1601), writing of the poet Gabriel Harvey in Strange Newes, of the Intercepting Certaine Letters (1593)
Shenanigans aplenty at Hooting Yard yesterday, when I awoke to discover that your favourite website had been targeted by fiendish cybercriminals from the hacking community. Well, in truth I did not notice immediately, for I spent my earliest waking hour or so researching a forthcoming Little Ruskin adventure – one where he is admonished for jumping off his favourite box on a Sunday. When it became apparent that I was unable to make postages, and that other funny business was afoot, my first impulse was to call in Detective Captain Cargpan. The doughty copper has, I understand, recently added a cybercrime unit to his force, a team of toughies who intersperse roughing up suspects down in the basement with tippy-tapping impenetrabilia into their laptops. Their helpline, however, informed me that Cargpan had taken them on a team-building awayday to some kind of jazz-funk seaside resort bowling alley aromatherapy human rights retail and leisure fairground complex, funded by a new and exciting quango. Money well spent, say I, never begrudging a single penny diverted towards the personal development of Detective Captain Cargpan and his crew.
I turned instead, as perhaps I ought to have done from the outset, to Hooting Yard’s own technoboffin, asking him to investigate. Tirelessly, he poked around in the digital innards of the website. It took all day to isolate the horrible truth – that an unkempt oik, as pockmarked as Stalin, somehow connected to Horst Gack and his mysterious wife and collaborator Primrose Dent, had tampered with Hooting Yard for his own nefarious ends. And those ends? Nothing less than a delusional attempt to undermine years of Dobson scholarship. Had the oik succeeded in his plan, the titles of every single out of print pamphlet by the titanic out of print pamphleteer would have been altered. Fake ones would have been invented, and passages deleted or rewritten or attributed to other, non-existent, pamphleteers. There would have been the perpetration of similar outrages, not least among them the recasting of Marigold Chew as mere figment.
That none of this happened is due entirely to the technoboffin. Single-handedly, he has averted disaster, and preserved the reputation of Dobson. We all owe him our gratitude.
First we had Blodgett in the sewers, now Mr Key himself has been squelching through the subterranean murk. You can hear the results in an episode of Tunnel Vision on ResonanceFM – go here for further details, I am not sure in which week my troglodyte adventures will be broadcast, but you should listen to the entire series in any case. My thanks to Bruno Rinvolucri, who made the programmes, took me down into the sewers (at West Dulwich) and, more importantly, led me back to the surface again.
Dear Mr Key, writes Olivia Funnel, I thought you would be interested to learn that I have in my possession a picture of steam coming out of Binder’s ears. It is not a photograph, alas, though to the untrained eye it may as well be, for it has been executed in the hyperrealist style. It is a mezzotint by the noted mezzotintist Rex Tint, and I believe it comes from an album of his mezzotints in which were gathered together portraits of titanic figures of the musical, literary, scientific and artistic worlds, made when they were fuming, impassioned, the worse for drink, stupefied, sobbing, or half dead.
The Binder picture appears to have been torn out of the album, savagely, as if attacked by squirrels. Luckily there is damage only to the border of the page along one edge, the picture itself remaining untouched. One admires the facility with which Rex Tint has depicted steam, expelled at high pressure from the magnificent ears of the composer. I cannot help wondering what has happened to the rest of the album, which apparently has an amusing preface by the mezzotintist’s sister Dot Tint.
I was privileged to meet Dot on a few occasions when I was young. My parents took me to the unveiling of a cardboard replica of the Garden of Gethsemane, and Dot was there, smoking furiously and dazzling everybody with her foul-mouthed impersonations of certain footballing legends. I think she also danced a rather daring hoo-cha before the police arrived. Detective Captain Cargpan’s face was a picture! In fact, had Rex Tint been there I’m sure he would have rattled off a quick mezzotint to add to his album of the fuming and impassioned, etcetera.
The second time I met Dot Tint was about a year later, in an aircraft hangar where she was mooching about to no apparent purpose. There was a great din in the press at the time about foreign spies and illegal maps, and I think Dot might have been trying to stir things up, in that way she had. Cargpan was on the scene again, much more in control of himself this time, but Dot worked her spell on him and she was released from custody after only three weeks. I don’t think she was really a foreign spy, but it would have been just like her to have an illegal map secreted in her pippy bag.
The third and last time I met her was in the teeth of a ferocious thunderstorm. I was hiking in Switzerland, and Dot was hiking in Switzerland too, though we were hiking in opposite directions. We passed each other on a mountain path. I never saw her again. And I never met her brother Rex Tint at all, though I would have liked to. By all accounts he could be splendid company, when he was not bedevilled by his demons.
Anyway, if by chance any of your readers knows what has become of the rest of the portrait album, I would be interested to know. There is always the possibility that it has been eaten by squirrels, of course. We know that was the fate of Rex Tint’s album of portraits of people whose heads resembled nuts.
“I was extremely fond of digging holes, but that form of gardening was not allowed.” – John Ruskin, Praeterita, Volume I (1885/6)
Look, children, there goes little Ruskin, marching up the path with his spade over his shoulder! But who is this come a-lolloping towards him? It is Mr Snippage, the kindly old gardener, Mr Snippage who leaves ants’-nests undisturbed so little Ruskin can investigate them with his already piercing observational skills.
“What ho!” says Mr Snippage, “Now what would you be about, little Ruskin, with that spade over your shoulder?”
“I am going to dig holes here in our Herne Hill garden, Mr Snippage. I am extremely fond of digging holes,” replies the infant.
“Ho ho ho,” laughs Mr Snippage, “I knows you are, little Ruskin. But I don’t think your Ma takes too kindly to all your hole-digging, does she now?”
Little Ruskin blushes. Last summer he had dug so many holes the house on the hill had been at risk of subsidence. That is why he plans to dig this year’s holes at the farthest end of the garden. But he can find no words to say in reply to Mr Snippage.
“I know your Ma gets you a-Bible reading every morning,” continues the gardener, “And I know she added an eleventh commandment, didn’t she?”
Little Ruskin nods.
“Thou shalt not dig holes in the garden,” quotes Mr Snippage, “And she didn’t mean the garden of Eden, did she?”
Little Ruskin tosses his spade aside and begins to sob.
“There, there,” says Mr Snippage, mussing little Ruskin’s carefully-combed hair, “Let’s you and me see if we can’t find an ants’-nest to study.”
And he takes little Ruskin by the hand and leads him off towards where he knows there will be an ants’-nest or two.
Ma Ruskin looks on at the scene from the drawing-room window. She clutches her doctored Bible to her bosom and offers up a prayer of thanks that the kindly old gardener has turned little Ruskin away from the path of sin.
Next Episode : Little Ruskin is given three raisins as a special treat.
Cardboard Adam stands hand in hand with cardboard Eve in front of a cardboard tree around which is twined a serpent of plasticine. Plasticine, too, are the fruits which hang from the cardboard branches of the tree. In truth, cardboard Adam and cardboard Eve are not so much holding hands as sharing a single hand between them, for they have been cut from a single sheet of cardboard. Cardboard Adam’s other hand is a plain cardboard hand, but to cardboard Eve’s other hand is stuck a glob of plasticine. It is not perfectly spherical, for a chunk has been taken from it. The suggestion is that cardboard Eve has bitten the chunk out of the plasticine fruit. Tiny glittering beads are sunk in the head of the plasticine serpent, and they give the impression that they are gazing at Eve’s cardboard hand.
There is a little motor attached by wires to the balsa wood panel upon which cardboard Adam and cardboard Eve are posed. Depressing a knob on the motor switches it on and causes the panel, and thus the cardboard figures, to tremble. Their trembling is redolent of the terror they experience when the Lord informs them of their Fall.
Over on the draining board, a third cardboard figure is lying flat. It has been daubed with a blotch of crimson paint, and punctured with a toothpick. This is cardboard Abel. Cardboard Cain has been chucked into a patch of filth out in the gutter, representing the Land of Nod.
It took me two years to make my replica Eden, or Eden and Nod. It was time well spent. I am now going to use my leftover cardboard and plasticine to make a model of Pointy Town pier, including the bats and the goats and the crocus.
We have seen how a comment comparing one of his symphonies to a pimple made Binder fume. In truth, the composer was much given to fuming. He fumed in circumstances where others, of a less choleric disposition, might simply tut or mumble or shrug. Nobody ever actually saw steam coming out of Binder’s ears, but he was invariably portrayed thus by cartoonists and by the more scurrilous painters of his day. Binder was a favourite subject of portraitists of all stripes, because he had such an extraordinary head. Words cannot quite capture its phantasmal oddity. And yet he was deemed the most handsome of composers by his admirers of both sexes, who were legion. Queues used to form at his dressing-room door whenever he deigned to appear at a concert hall, conducting one of his own works and a squib by an inferior for contrast. Even when fawned over, Binder fumed. He could occasionally be placated by marzipan treats, but not very often.
“It was the first time, I realised, that I had ever clearly seen a jazz-band. The spectacle was positively frightening…
“Oh, those mammy-songs, those love-longings, those loud hilarities! How was it possible that human emotions intrinsically decent could be so ignobly parodied? I felt like a man who, having asked for wine, is offered a brimming bowl of hog-wash. And not even fresh hog-wash. Rancid hog-wash, decaying hog-wash. For there was a horrible tang of putrefaction in all that music. Those yearnings for Mammy of Mine and My Baby, for Dixie and the Land where Skies are Blue and Dreams come True, for Granny and Tennessee and You – they were all a necrophily. The Mammy after whom the black young Hebrews and the blond young muffin-faces so retchingly yearned was an ancient Gorgonzola ; the Baby of their tremulously gargled desire was a leg of mutton after a month in warm storage ; Granny had been dead for weeks ; and as for Dixie and Tennessee and Dream Land – they were odoriferous with the least artificial of manures.”
Aldous Huxley, Do What You Will (1929)
Much as one admires the scholarship evident in his magisterial survey of the forty-nine Binder symphonies, one cannot help wishing the writer had given a bit more weight to the true masterpieces. Even the most enthusiastic of Binderists, among whom I count myself, is forced to admit, sooner or later, with a gun pointed at one’s temple, that there is chaff among the wheat, lead among the gold, cacophonous racket among the celestial choirs. While it is true that some people prefer the cacophonous racket, they tend to be trendy wankers with hornrim glasses and goatee beards, and their opinions can be dismissed with a contemptuous flourish of the cravat. Untie the cravat from around your neck before attempting to flourish it.
Had I been asked to write about Binder’s symphonies, for example, I would have had much more to say about the second than that it “is based on the sound of winches”. Much, much more. But I was not asked. Despite my having a broader, more profound, and pretty damned unbeatable knowledge and appreciation of Binder and all his works, I was passed over in favour of some upstart, who is probably about twelve years old and knows next to nothing.
I bet this callow young Binderist is ignorant of the fact that, in preparing his difficult second symphony, the composer decamped to a remote rustic haven to get it together in the country. That is why he became so obsessed with trying to mimic the sound of winches using glockenspiel and bassoon and cheese-grater. He was listening, day by day, to farmyard winches, winching muck into or out of slurries, or similar manoeuvres familiar to our agrarian brethren and sistren. I cannot pretend to any useful knowledge of farmyard doings, for I am as urban as I am urbane. So much is obvious from the way I wear my cravat. But, you see, I can make the imaginative leap, I can place myself in that country cottage next to the old barn where Binder got his shit together, man. I can, if you will, inhabit Binder’s brain.
The critic Chumpot made an ambiguous comment about the fourteenth symphony, and paid with his life. Fuming Binder was so outraged by the pimple reference that he hired a hitman, who machine-gunned Chumpot as he skulked in the very same burning cities where Binder skulked as an orphan child. With my matchless ability to think and see and hear and feel exactly as Binder did, I am on my way to those cities now, by charabanc, and when I get there I will track down the contemptible young pup who had the gall to write about the forty-nine symphonies, and I shall bash him to death with a spade. I know it is what Binder would have wanted.
Binder’s first symphony is cranky. The second is based on the sound of winches. In the third symphony, Binder drags us through his mental muck. The fourth is of a piece with the first. The fifth, the majestic fifth, owes much to pomposity. The sixth is tart, and the seventh tarter still, while the eighth, the so-called “sausage-shaped symphony”, is radiant. For his ninth symphony, Binder donned a pair of muslin gloves. Dachshunds and mastiffs bark and howl in the tenth, owls hoot in the eleventh. The twelfth is sordid. The thirteenth symphony had its premiere in an abandoned aircraft hangar. “A pimple burst,” said Chumpot, of number fourteen. He never heard the fifteenth, for Binder had him shot. Gunfire is heard at the beginning of the sixteenth. Symphony Number Seventeen ends with the cracking of a plank. Eighteen is hated, nineteen sounds like a forest in the rain, and by the time he wrote number twenty Binder was taking vitamin pills twice a day. The twenty-first symphony is usually played backwards. The twenty-second has to be heard through a hat with flaps. The twenty-third is obstinate, like a mule, or like the donkeys of Binder’s twenty-fourth. Take a stick to the stalls for twenty-five, and a bucket to the circle for twenty-six. The twenty-seventh symphony can look after itself. Number twenty-eight uses a motif of milk. Twenty-nine is tarter even than seven. Thirty is so groovy you might die. When the idea for his thirty-first symphony popped into Binder’s brain, he was aboard a great steamship. Its sinking is mourned in the thirty-second. Thirty-three was commissioned by Stalin. The score for Symphony Number Thirty-Four, the “Symphony of Buttons”, calls for several buttons and a hurdy-gurdy. Thirty-five is mostly silent, or at least so quiet one strains one’s ears to hear a damned thing. Binder’s favourite was his thirty-sixth. The thirty-seventh lacks elegance. Thirty-eight is gaudy. Thirty-nine is the music of champions. Forty falls flat. Forty-one comes from outer space. The opening bars of Binder’s forty-second are used as the theme to a piece of TV tosh. Symphony forty-three has a certain relentless pigginess. Symphony forty-four is birdy, not piggy. Forty-five is just grating. Forty-six, Binder’s longest symphony by far, frightens both birds and pigs. Forty-seven is played in a ditch. Forty-eight is all tinkly and twee. Contemplating the pippy splendour of his forty-ninth and final symphony, Binder was heard to remark that it reminded him of the burning cities he had skulked in as an orphan child.
The boffins have now completed their work, and so exquisite has it been that you lot won’t even know anything has happened. But, by the long grey beard of Methuselah, it has! New Hooting Yard may look identical to old, tired, dull, pasty-faced Hooting Yard, but it is revivified and a-throb. Steam was pouring out of the funnels late into the night. I saw it with my own eyes.
Actually, a couple of vague traces of the boffins’ work are apparent. The three postages from yesterday have had to be reposted, and I have added the original date in the interests of fanatical and pointless accuracy. Also, any comments made on those postages have vanished into the murk, so I would ask readers who spent hours crafting their pearls of wisdom to type them out again and repost them.
It is at times like this we all ought to whistle along to Time, forward! by Gyorgy Sviridov (1915-1998)
[Originally posted on Friday 24 July]
A churn, some bindles, a bean stubble rake, gorse pincers, a clodding mell, two Kentish binding rakes, a disc coulter and a subsoil pulveriser plough, a potato grading shovel, five Morris’s turnip fly catchers, two hand-cranked threshers, a seed rusky, an automatic sheaf tying mechanism, a whin bruiser, Keevil’s cheese-making apparatus, a mouldbaert, fan tackle and chogger, a Nellis fork, a plough graip, half a dozen liquid manure pumps, a pair of hedger’s gloves, Gilbert’s improved iron sack holder, four American butter separators, a cauterising iron, a mouth cramp, a charlock slasher, eight barley hummellers, an adze, a curd agitator, grinding stones, Drummond’s iron harvest sickle, a dairymaid’s yoke, a clod knocker, Biddell’s scarifier, Fowler’s self-adjusting anchor, a bitting iron, fifteen creels, two caschroms, a dung hack, a Crees lactator, five horn trainers, a fagging stick, a pea hook, two Lipmann glass stoppers, a trenching fork, Gilbee’s horse hoe, a drain ladle, hackle prongs, a flax brake, Hall’s smut machine, a heckling board, three flauchter spades, a hay tedder, an Ivel three-wheeled petrol-powered machine, Finlayson’s grubber, a potato riddle, four root pulpers, paring mattocks, Morton’s revolving harrow, Samuelson’s cake-breaking machine, a foot pick, sheep netting, two oilcake crushers, Reade’s patent syringe, various instruments for destroying moles, a barrow turnip slicer, a Paul net, a Sandwich clean-sweep hay-loader, probangs, castrating shears, Hannaford’s wet wheat pickling machine, a scutching board, a swath turner, a plank-drag harrow, and Blurton’s tumbling cheese rack.
Source : From a forthcoming Hooting Yard publication, the first in the series Out Of Print Pamphlets Reprinted. Further details soon…
[Originally posted on Friday 24 July]
Boffins are at work mucking about with the Hooting Yard website to ensure its continued gorgeousness for years to come. While they go poking and prodding around in its innards, you may note some hiccups. Fear not. As Julian of Norwich said, “all will be well, and all will be well, and every manner of thing will be well”. Very sensible woman, that Julian. Had a pet cat.
[Originally posted on Friday 24 July]
The bread I eat in London, is a deleterious paste, mixed up with chalk, alum, and bone-ashes ; insipid to the taste, and destructive to the constitution…
The milk… should not pass unanalysed, the produce of faded cabbage-leaves and sour draff, lowered with hot water, frothed with bruised snails, carried through the streets in open pails, exposed to foul rinsings discharged from doors and windows, spittle, snot, and tobacco-quids from foot-passengers, over-flowings from mud-carts, spatterings from coach-wheels, dirt and trash chucked into it by roguish boys for the joke’s sake, the spewings of infants, who have slabbered in the tin-measure, which is thrown back in that condition among the milk, for the benefit of the next customer ; and finally, the vermin that drops from the rags of the nasty drab that vends this precious mixture, under the respectable denomination of milkmaid.
I shall conclude this catalogue of London dainties, with that table-beer, guiltless of hops and malt, vapid and nauseous ; much fitter to facilitate the operation of a vomit, than to quench thirst and promote digestion ; the tallowy rancid mass called butter, manufactured with candle-grease and kitchen stuff ; and their fresh eggs, imported from France and Scotland.
From The Expedition Of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett (1771)