Monthly Archive for August, 2009

Grue And Gore

I had never before visited ephemera assemblyman, but I am glad I did, and you will be too.

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I particularly enjoyed Dying Speeches Execution Broadsides, which contains much that is gruesome, in a chronologically distant, non-threatening way. Oddly, no mention is made of the killer Babinsky, whose gore-splattered end would make some of the scenes depicted look more like the twee adventures of Pippy The Pit Pony. I shall transcribe an account of Babinsky’s doom here shortly, when I can face typing up the details without emptying my guts all over the place.

Linocut

An exciting letter arrives from someone going by the online monicker “Flautist-standing-on-one-leg”.

Dear Frank, he writes, I thought it might interest you to know that some years ago, for an anniversary present, my wife arranged for me to have my portrait done in linocut by the hyperrealist linocutter Rex Hyper. It was our first wedding anniversary, and, alas, our last, for being a fogwife Mrs F withered away due to the damp and fumous mists hovering o’er the marshes, and was lying six feet under in the churchyard before our second.

On the day the portrait was to be cut, I got dressed up to the nines and slathered enough pomade into my bouffant to smother a guinea pig. Rex Hyper’s linocuts had made him so wealthy he had a private helipad on the roof of his chateau, but I did not have a helicopter, so I made my way there via the funicular steam railway. As we wheezed to the top and the brakes screeched, I saw through the smudged window a sort of Praetorian guard of gap-year crusties. These, I was to learn, were Rex Hyper’s personal security detail. The man was a raving noodlebrain given to paranoid delusions, who was convinced his helipad would be the site of an attack by giant extraterrestrial bloodsuckers. Before I was allowed to disembark from the carriage, I had to provide evidence via tape measure that I was not a giant, proof in the form of a magnetic aura probe piston that I was of earthly form and origin, and had my sucking mechanisms disabled so I would have been unable to suck Rex Hyper’s blood even if I had wanted to. When these procedures were complete, I was ushered into the great man’s presence.

The room in which he did his linocutting was cavernous and impossibly beautiful. Every inch of walls and floor and ceiling was covered in lino cut by the maestro himself. You could see it had that hyperrealist Rex Hyper touch. It was almost like being in a real room.

“Bof!” he cried, for no apparent reason, “Strike up your pose for me!”

I did so. I thought my wife would be pleased if, for the portrait she had commissioned, I posed standing on one leg, my arms deployed as if I were playing the flute. I had not been allowed to carry my flute on the funicular railway, it had a woodwind bias built-in.

The speed with which Rex Hyper slashed and rent his lino with great swingeing cuts was awe-inspiring. Now I understood why he was known, in the linocutting world, as the Billy Whizz of the Linocut. His paranoia meant that he was also known as the Desperate Dan of the Linocut, and for his gluttonous and disgusting eating habits he was called the Three Bears of the Linocut. Sooner or later he would become the Little Plum of the Linocut, with a wigwam on the helipad.

Barely forty seconds after I had struck up my pose, Rex Hyper emitted an ear-splitting yell of triumph, in what I took to be French. He tossed the completed hyperrealist linocut across to me and swept out through a set of gaudy brocade curtains. A couple of the gap-year crusties appeared, swiped my credit card through a swiper, and hauled me off up to the helipad. I was hoping for a free helicopter ride, but the funicular railway bell clanged and my dreams were shattered.

So successful was the hyperrealism of the linocut that when I got home and bounded through the door, my wife thought she was seeing two of us, me, a bit blurry and insubstantial, and my bright, dazzling, impossibly fantastic doppelganger. Indeed, in the remaining six weeks of her fogwife life she clung to the linocut, kissed it and wept upon it, and expired holding it in her now withered white arms.

After her death, I hung it in the pantry, among the pickles and preserves.

Jetty Togs Plus Buoy

Mr Key is off to the seaside today, possibly to an ill-starred resort with a rotting jetty beset by squalls. When one prances out along a pier or jetty, there is always a distinct possibility of toppling over and plummeting in to the sea. So I shall be going well-prepared, with my 1869-vintage life-saving suit, complete with Eureka! companion buoy kitted out with water, food, reading material (so that I may read the news to pass the time of day), cigars, a pipe and tobacco, plus torches.

lifesaver

From Ptak Science Books, with thanks to peacay for drawing it to my attention.

Blenkinsopiana

We know the identities of six of the octogamist Medea Blenkinsop’s husbands. There is the nobleman Blenkinsop himself, his horse trainer, the Emperor of China, the postman, the circus giant, and the maniac in the cellar. But what of the remaining two? Who were they?

Over the years, students of this kind of thing have toiled fruitlessly. This should not surprise us, as there are only certain kinds of toil which bear fruit, and even then, much of the fruit will be rotten and eaten away by canker-worms, at least in the orchards I frequent, with my stick and my lantern and my bird-scarifier.

Lately, however, evidence has come to light suggesting Medea Blenkinsop’s seventh husband was none other than the dwarf Crepusco, confidante of the composer Binder. How like Medea Blenkinsop to be married to both a giant and a dwarf at the same time! This revelation, in a recent issue of the Bulletin Of Blenkinsopiana, has already stirred up a vipers’ nest of controversy in the field. When I say “field”, I am referring to an academic field, that of Blenkinsop studies, not the field adjacent to one of the orchards in which I skulk, at night, breathing in the heady scent of rotting pears and persimmons. I cross the field to reach the orchard gate. There are many cows living in the field, it is their home, and though, after the Blunkett incident, the government has warned us of cow peril, I know the cows and the cows know me, and we have reached an understanding, and let me tell you here and now it is a fine, fine thing to have an understanding with cows, a finer thing than all else under the boundless firmament.

Much of the controversy centres upon the idea that Crepusco is being counted twice, in that he is the same husband as the maniac chained in the cellar. This is clearly gibberish. Crepusco was no maniac, at least not habitually, and it is absurd to suggest that Binder, a Triton among minnows in the world o’ symphonic composition, would have had to creep down to the subterranean reaches of the Blenkinsop country pile every time he sought counsel from his confidante. In any case, what kind of composer would have a maniac for a confrere? – apart from Harrison Birtwistle, that is.

No, I think we may safely assume Crepusco was indeed a separate, seventh husband. The case is compelling. We know Medea Blenkinsop and Crepusco went a-walking together along perilous clifftop pathways, in all weathers, she in her kagoul and he in his amusing knitwear. We know there were clinches in grottos. We know they swapped railway timetables, something Medea never did with her fourth husband, the suspicious postman. And we know that Crepusco’s torso was emblazoned with a tattoo, Rococo in design, spelling out the legend “God help me for I am besotted with Medea Blenkinsop and I worship the very spittle with which her lips are flecked”.

It is, actually, this last point that bolsters the otherwise worthless arguments of the anti-Crepuscoists. When, they ask, with some justification, were Medea Blenkinsop’s lips ever spittle-flecked? Not a trace of spittle is ever depicted in any of the hundreds of portraits of her, whether they be photographs or paintings or crayon scribbles or pencil drawings or primitivist daubings or mezzotints by the noted mezzotintist Rex Tint or hyperrealist linocuts by the noted hyperrealist linocutter Rex Hyper. It may be that, battered by wild gales as they clung to one another upon a stormy clifftop, shouting their heads off to be heard above the screeching of auks and gulls and kittiwakes, a fleck or two of spittle might have appeared, fugitively, upon Medea Blenkinsop’s lip, without a Rex Tint there to record it for posterity. We shall never know.

Nor, it seems, are we likely to know the identity of husband number eight. The author of the essay in the Bulletin admits as much, when she writes:

The more I have studied this kind of thing, the more convinced have I become that Medea Blenkinsop’s eighth husband was but a phantom, a chimera, an invention of her madcap brain, woven from whole cloth, a life-sized rag doll she carted about with her, to the opera and to cocktail parties, much as Oskar Kokoschka did with the Alma Mahler doll he had made for him at the end of their affair. But I am not one hundred per cent sure, even now, even now, oh baby, twenty-four hours from Tulsa.

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Self-portrait with Doll by Oskar Kokoschka (1921)

Constipated Bees

“Among the animals who expend industry on hygiene and the protection of their dwellings, we must place Bees in the first line. It may happen that mice, snakes, and moths may find their way into a hive. Assaulted by the swarm, and riddled with stings, they die without being able to escape. These great corpses cannot be dragged out by the Hymenoptera, and their putrefaction threatens to cause disease. To remedy this scourge the insects immediately cover them with propolis – that is to say, the paste which they manufacture from the resin of poplars, birches, and pines. The corpse thus sheltered from contact with the air does not putrefy. In other respects Bees are very careful about the cleanliness of their dwellings; they remove with care and throw outside dust, mud, and sawdust which may be found there. Bees are careful also not to defile their hives with excrement, as Kirby noted; they go aside to expel their excretions, and in winter, when prevented by extreme cold or the closing of the hive from going out for this purpose, their bodies become so swollen from retention of fæces that when at last able to go out they fall to the ground and perish.”

From The Industries Of Animals by Frédéric Houssay (1893)

Is that not inexpressibly sad?

The Lure Of Seals

When OutaSpaceman wrote to tell me about an online seal maker, my immediate reaction was one of terror. Has technology advanced to such a stage, I wondered, that with a laptop and an interweb connection one can actually create a pinniped, with flippers, that will bark at you as you throw sprats to it from a bucket? It was with no little relief that I learned it was not that kind of seal.

seal (1)

As the world mourns Edward “The Tedster” Kennedy, let us not forget another American politician of the era, whose life we can celebrate by banding together in an association of enthusiasts to practise his favourite pastime.

UPDATE : Over at The Pavilion Of Innocent Pastimes, Glyn has been making the other type of seals.

A Note On Pedagogy

A new academic year will begin soon, and all across the land anxious parents will watch as fresh clumps of tinies skip through the school gates for the first time. By now, most places have been allocated. But I am still receiving letters seeking judicious Hooting Yard advice on what type of school is best. Often, my correspondents seem deluded, for they bang on about so-called “faith” schools, or Montessori schools, or even Steiner schools. Please remember that the latter are based on the ideas of a man who believed in invisible gnomes.

There is of course only one type of institution to which the wet-behind-the-ears infant ought to be entrusted, and that is a Dobson school. Named after the titanic twentieth century out of print pamphleteer, these academies use pedagogic methods devised, not by Dobson himself, but by Desdemona Ferncraze, a brilliant bluestocking who was for many years responsible for the instruction of the inmates of Pang Hill Orphanage.

Shortly after her arrival at Pang Hill, Dr Ferncraze, a voracious reader of everything she could lay her hands on, contracted a common ague which led to water on the brain, after which she became convinced that the sum of all human – and inhuman – knowledge was to be found in the pages of Dobson’s pamphlets. Even the pamphleteer himself did not make such a claim, though he came close to doing so in his slim work of 1953 The Death Of Stalin Has Led Me By Dense Entangled Byways To The Unshakeable Conviction That A Complete And Thorough Pedagogic System Can Be Based Entirely Upon My Own Pamphlets (out of print). Curiously, it seems this was one work of Dobson’s which Desdemona Ferncraze never read. She developed her “method” while lying in her sickbed on an upper balcony of Pang Hill Orphanage, having instructed the gruesome brute Pepstow to dispose of her entire library, save for the Dobson items, by shredding the books and feeding them bit by bit to gulls and other scavenging birds. This he did, despite his qualms, for he burned with a secret passion for the stricken bluestocking. Pepstow was at his least gruesome and brutish when in her presence, though such was his yearning that he became tongue-tied and could only grunt at her unintelligibly. Dr Ferncraze herself was utterly oblivious to his blandishments, before and after her ague, a circumstance of such pathos that it has been adapted for the screen under the title Desperate Pang Hill Orphanage Brutes. For dramatic purposes, a fictional rival brute has been inserted into the story, hence the plural.

When sufficient water on her brain had been evaporated using the Gillespie Head-Steaming Procedure, Desdemona Ferncraze leapt from her sickbed and set about drilling the Pang Hill orphans according to her new lights. Out went the wall-friezes of alphabets and numbers and fluffy farmyard animals, out went the Good Citizenship And High Self-Esteem Module Workbooks, and out went the Tuesday morning caterwauling. Instead, each week was devoted to the memorising of the complete text of a Dobson pamphlet. By midnight on Friday, scratching at their slates, every single tiny was expected to be able to write out an accurate copy, including any marginalia that their wild-eyed teacher saw fit to add. Those who failed were handed over to Pepstow, who wreaked his gruesome brutality upon them down at the drainage ditch.

Dr Ferncraze’s astonishing discovery was that a firm grounding in the pamphlets of Dobson, memorised in whatever order, fitted the orphans perfectly for lives as bumbling, distracted polymaths given to lengthy walks along canal towpaths, chucking pebbles at swans, just like the pamphleteer himself. With her boundless energy, she set up a network of similar Dobson schools in and around Pang Hill, in derelict buildings and abandoned campsites. They are still flourishing, if that is the word I am looking for, though it probably isn’t. Such a school is, without a jot of doubt, the perfect place for the progeny of Hooting Yard readers.

Medea Blenkinsop

“The reviewer gets carried away with his own sensational tale of ‘Medea Blenkinsop, or the Octogamist’:

‘But think of the shifts and perplexities of a wife with eight husbands, being not only mysteriously married like Aurora Floyd to her noble husband’s horse-trainer, but… also to the Emperor of China, who writes compromising letters by each mail, the more compromising as she is also secretly married to the postman, who is of a suspicious temper…; also, under peculiar circumstances, to the giant of a show that is coming to be set up at a fair in the neighbourhood; also to a maniac whom she keeps in the cellar.’”

Cited in The Maniac In The Cellar : Sensation Novels Of The 1860s by Winifred Hughes (Princeton University Press, 1980)

My Winch

I always wanted a winch of my own, something I could use to haul things up and then to lower them again. Winching is splendid exercise, for one thing, and for another thing, it is often very useful to winch things off the ground. Think of a flood, or an infestation of ferocious ants with powerful biting jaws, or even both at the same time! You might think the floodwater would drown the ants, but that is not necessarily so, for they might be swimming ants. My brother Raoul tells me that his barn was almost swept away in a mighty flood, and that there was a swarm of fierce ants bobbing about in the water, biting anything that came into their path, such as my brother Raoul’s goose. Raoul has a licence for only one goose, otherwise I am sure he would have more. His goose was bitten by the ants, but he was able to rescue it before the ants’ venom coursed through its veins. He does not have a winch, so he had to slosh through the floodwater in the barn and pluck his goose from it with his bare hands. Well, they were not bare, for Raoul was wearing farmers’ gloves. But if he had had a winch, he could have winched the goose, if not the entire barn, out of danger. That is the kind of thing you can do if you have a winch. It is not always easy to hire one at short notice, as I know to my cost. The winchless circumstances in which I learned that cost are too recent, and too upsetting, for me to talk about without bursting into tears. I have not even told Raoul. After all, as the old saying has it, “Never sob in front of a farmer”.

A Pair O’ Pigs On A Concrete Boat

Importantly, here are two pigs aboard a concrete boat moored in the mud at Burnham-on-Crouch. Readers will recall the town as one where Daniel Defoe reported the existence of fogwives. He had nothing to say of pigs and concrete boats, but it is unlikely, given the sunlight, that we are looking at mistpigs. Note the heavy chain tethering the concrete boat to the mud, to ensure it does not drift off into the River Crouch and cause maritime havoc.

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Photograph courtesy of the Pansy Cradledew Maritime Concrete Latter-Day Daguerrotype Company Ltd.

Cadmium-Electroplated Bird Table

Cadmium! So soft, so ductile, so bluish-white, so bivalent, so high in fatigue resistance! And yet so toxic! Is there a better metal with which to electroplate your bird table?

Not according to Hooting Yard’s bird table electroplating expert Sogennantes Chumpot, who has this to say:

“Whether you spell starling the usual way or get it confused with Stalin, one thing is for sure. All starlings love to alight on a bird table to peck millet and bread-crusts put out for them by ornithologically-minded citizens. And not just starlings, but other birds too, such as robins and goshawks and linnets. But in a climate where it seems always to be raining, where wild winds howl, where eerie mists descend and the air grows thick and muggy before great cataclysmic storms wreak ruination, even the best-made bird table will rot away and topple sooner or later. By Christ, I have seen numberless collapsed bird tables in my time, never without shedding tears as I then look up into the bleak expansive skies to see flocks of starlings, and other birds, kittiwakes and swifts and crows, skirling and swooping but with no sturdy untoppled bird table upon which to land and take sustenance from the provender there freely scattered by their human pals. It is a tragedy as old as time, best evoked, I think, in that terribly sad opera by Bouff, The Collapsed Bird Tables Of Verona.”

Chumpot has more to say, much more, but as a scion of the great soap-making family she has a tendency to prattle on, and I think we can safely interrupt. The point is that she has gathered a vast trove of information on cadmium-electroplated bird tables, and plans to make it available via a new web hub portal, with listings, prices, and specifications, plus a bulletin board, chatroom, Witter feed, wiki, forum, blog, stump, and rivets, all powered by Ubuntu! (I am not sure what that all means, but I am copying from scribbled notes which may not be entirely accurate. Chumpot was making her announcement on a lawn, on a common, and had to contend with the racket made by a petrol-powered mowing machine, a brass band, and a very noisy swarm of hornets.)

Further details will follow once Sogennantes Chumpot actually sets up the website, which she plans to do as soon as it is safe to release her from the remote isolation clinic where she is being held following a severe bout of cadmium poisoning. I am not sure why she felt it necessary to – in her words – “become a bird table, complete with cadmium electroplating, in order to really get with the programme”, but that is what she did, and now she is paying the price. Hats off to her, say I.

Binder’s Fogwife

Shortly after completing his twelfth symphony, Binder decided to take himself a wife. He had been distressed at the critical reception given to his latest work, which was considered to be extremely sordid. Binder felt that perhaps some feminine influence might temper his moral grubbiness. But he knew no women, at least, no women who would consent to wed him in a million years. Though he was a successful composer, he lacked a certain vital human pith. This, at least, was the judgement of his confidante, the dwarf Crepusco, who told Binder that he seemed more like a cardboard cut-out or a man of cellophane, rather than a person of flesh and blood. Poor Binder!, we might think, yet there was truth in the charge. Ever since his days at the Academy For Tiny Musical Magnificos, he had lived in a sort of rarefied ear-world. If he were to bag a wife, that would have to change.

The composer was living at the time in a godforsaken estuarine village surrounded by marshes and mud flats. So one foul misty Thursday evening he hied himself down to the tavern, where he thought he might meet a bride. But upon clumping through the door, he found only men, coastal peasantry and invalid sailors for the most part. He fell in with a couple of sharkers and swaggerers who caroused and quaffed in large silver cans to his health. Fellows they were that had good big pop mouths to cry Port a helm Saint George, and knew as well as the best what belongs to haling of boilings yare. By chance, this pair, whose names were Vermig and Beamish, were themselves both due to be married. Binder, sipping from his mug of brewer’s fudgemuck, congratulated his new pals, and asked if perchance their brides-to-be had a friend to whom he might be introduced. He had already, before leaving for the tavern, taken some tips from Crepusco regarding vivacity, dash, and élan, and was eager to practise his skills. To his surprise, Vermig and Beamish fell about in hysterical fits, spitting and sloshing and slapping their sides. Binder blushed. Eventually his companions becalmed themselves, and Vermig spoke.

“We know not yet who our brides will be,” he said, “Tomorrow, we are heading up into the great purple hills yonder, where we will find ourselves a pair of fogwives. Come with us, dear chap, and there will be a fogwife for you too!”

Binder had no idea what Vermig was talking about, but he reasoned that a fogwife was better than no wife at all. He arranged to meet the ruined sailors next morning at the crossroads, all togged up and kitted out for a-roaming in the purple hills.

And up in those hills, the next day, in mid-afternoon, Binder and Vermig and Beamish chanced upon a trio of hill-women tending their pigs on a vertiginous slope. Both the women and the pigs were lopsided, for they spent all their lives on steep gradients. The would-be bridegrooms learned that their would-be inamoratas were known as the Ellipses, for there were three of them and they were each named Dot. Vermig did most of the talking.

“Oh cherishable if lopsided girlies,” he declared, after they had broken the ice by talking pig lore, “Come with us down from the hills to our misty marshy estuary paradiso, where thick fog will swaddle you, and be our wives. You may bring your hill-pigs, for though we cannot promise them the sloping land they are used to, we have much mud and muck and it oozes with briny goodness.”

Dot and Dot and Dot repaired to a crevice in the hillside, where they discussed this proposal, and found it good.

The very next day, in the foul air of the village, the three couples were married in the dilapidated church, and bells would have rung out had sound been able to travel through the enshrouding mist, the mist from the marshes that smothered and muffled and swirled sluggishly around, through night and day, until it penetrated the limbs and the lungs and brought Dot and Dot and Dot, so unused to it, surely to their sickbeds within a twelvemonth.

Dot Vermig and Dot Beamish were true fogwives, and before another year was out both lay entombed in the fogbound churchyard, and their widowers sat in the tavern gathering their wits for another foray into the hills. But Dot Binder, though she suffered much, from agues and gnawing of the vitals, was nursed back to vigour by the wondrous passing manoeuvres of the dwarf Crepusco, and she lived happily with Binder for many decades, and took two of her lopsided pigs to the premiere of his forty-ninth and final symphony, and she survived him, and set up home with Crepusco, far from the estuary, in a mountain chalet, with a balcony for tubercular guests, and an eyrie adapted for the pigs, and mezzotints of her long departed friends Dot and Dot framed upon her mantel.

Fogwives

There are great unwritten works we mourn, books their authors planned but never penned. Ruskin’s survey of Swiss towns and villages is one, Dobson’s series of pamphlets provisionally entitled Sundry Imperilments Of The Mists And The Marshes is another. We know from his scribblings that the out of print pamphleteer intended to write no fewer than sixteen essays, each devoted to a particular menace of mist and marsh, yet he never completed a single one, nor even began any of them, possibly due to sheer unalloyed ignorance. So when we want to familiarise ourselves with so important a topic, we must turn to Daniel Defoe:

“I have one remark more, before I leave this damp part of the world, and which I cannot omit on the womens account; namely, that I took notice of a strange decay of the sex here; insomuch, that all along this county it was very frequent to meet with men that had had from five or six, to fourteen or fifteen wives; nay, and some more; and I was inform’d that in the marshes on the other side the river over-against Candy Island, there was a farmer, who was then living with the five and twentieth wife, and that his son who was but about 35 years old, had already had about fourteen; indeed this part of the story, I only had by report, tho’ from good hands too; but the other is well known, and easie to be inquired in to, about Fobbing, Curringham, Thundersly, Benfleet, Prittlewell, Wakering, Great Stambridge, Cricksea, Burnham, Dengy, and other towns of the like situation: The reason, as a merry fellow told me, who said he had had about a dozen and half of wives, (tho’ I found afterwards he fibb’d a little) was this; That they being bred in the marshes themselves, and season’d to the place, did pretty well with it; but that they always went up into the hilly country, or to speak their own language into the uplands for a wife: That when they took the young lasses out of the wholesome and fresh air, they were healthy, fresh and clear, and well; but when they came out of their native air into the marshes among the fogs and damps, there they presently chang’d their complexion, got an ague or two, and seldom held it above half a year, or a year at most; and then, said he, we go to the uplands again, and fetch another.”

From A tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-26)

Dapper, Elegant

As we sink further into barbarism, it is pleasing to be given reminders that the dapper and the elegant can survive, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places. I am not at all sure I would wish to live in Vietnam, but I would certainly like to see us copy their toilet signage. Would it not lift your spirits, ever so slightly, to see our public conveniences marked with these silhouettes?

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Some other signs here (via David Thompson).

Old Ground

Here are some of the topics I have considered writing about today, in no particular order…

The interior workings of the brain of a moose.

The delivery of a brand new Snodgrass-Ponsonby Machine, to replace one sent for repair.

Two Mossad agents playing pingpong in a dismal hangar.

Nelson Eddy, by a waterfall, calling “you-oo-oo-oo”, to Jeanette Macdonald, because he has sprained his ankle and wants her to call an air ambulance.

A map of Vange, with all its unmarked pathways marked.

A discursive yet exhaustive history of the unbutton.

… but each of these subjects has been done to death by Dobson, in a series of pamphlets. It is true that the pamphlets are out of print, but it’s old ground, old ground. I think I shall instead turn my hand to a mashed potato waltz, and whistle down the wind.