Rare Bobnit Tivol Mezzotints

You will be perplexed, or perhaps even sick with worry, at the unaccustomed lack of postages over the past few days. Has Hooting Yard been ravaged by some kind of toxic gas? Has Mr Key fallen down a mineshaft? Readers, fear not. All is well, but I have been terribly, terribly distracted, and in the best possible way.

On Saturday, as is my habit, I sat down at my escritoire, or its computer age equivalent, before dawn. I wrote:

There is a tavern in the town.

The tavern was the Cow & Pins, the town was Pointy Town. I was going to embark upon a quite breathtaking architectural survey of the tavern, its beams and rafters, its cornices and lintels, but before I crafted the second sentence my attention was caught by the singing of a siskin outside my window. According to the Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds, the siskin is an attractive little finch, small and lively. Obviously I was keen not simply to listen to the bird, but to commune with it, in what might be termed a Frank Key-bird-mind-meld. So I jumped up creakily from my chair, slipped on a pair of trendy footwear items, and headed out, making for the tree where I thought the siskin was perched, singing. Alas, I stepped in a patch of filth, and was disconcerted. Rummaging in the pockets of my windcheater to see if I had upon my person a rag suitable for wiping the filth from my footwear, I chanced upon a forgotten scrap of paper on which I had once copied out a Spirograph™ drawing, the one devised by the mentalist Gaston Freakorb. Yes, that one, the drawing that plunges the viewer into a fugue state. I made the mistake of uncrumpling the paper and peering at the drawing for three seconds. Thus did my Saturday morning become unmoored from reason, from common sense, indeed from memory. The architectural glories of the Cow & Pins were forgotten, as was the attractive little finch singing its heart out on a sycamore branch.

When I snapped out of the so-called Freakorb Mind Miasma, it was midday on Sunday and I was standing in a queue. To my distress I noticed that both of my trendy footwear items were now covered in filth. Luckily, there was a Regency bootscraper right next to me, so I scraped and scraped. By God, it was fun. I thoroughly recommend the scraping of filth off one’s footwear on a Regency bootscraper, particularly when one’s footwear is as trendy as mine.

There was no sign of the scrap of paper bearing the Spirograph™ drawing, so I was fairly sure I could keep my wits about me. I wondered what I was queuing for. Glancing up and down the line, I noticed that an alarming number of my fellow queuers were wearing cummerbunds. Was I about to enter a Spandau Ballet revival meeting? Then I recalled having read somewhere that the cummerbund was part of the uniform designed for “new modern technicians” to which the Prime Minister would refer in his upcoming conference speech. But I am a scribbler, not a technician, new and modern or otherwise. I had no business here, surely.

It turned out to be a complete coincidence. I learned that some of the cummerbundiasts were indeed new modern technicians-to-be, some were raddled old New Romantics, and some simply sported the cummerbund as, in their own witless words, a “lifestyle choice”. To find all this out, I had to interrogate each person individually, making notes with my pneumatic notemaking contraption, and in so doing I lost my place in the queue. Rejoining it, I found myself standing behind a twinkly elfin chap dressed all in green, though minus a cummerbund. Suddenly he spun around to face me, and he cackled, and shouted in a weird reedy voice.

“Guess my name and I’ll tell you / What you’re doing in this queue. / If you guess amiss three times / I will cease to talk in rhymes. / I will scream and shriek and howl / And you’ll be turned into an owl.”

Then he cackled again, daring me to challenge him. I did a stage yawn. I think I did it rather well.

“I suspect,” I said, “Your name is Rumpelstiltskin. Am I correct?”

The little chap shrieked, then, but it was not a shriek of triumph. Far from it. I had rumbled him and his feeble fairytale poltroonery, and his shriek was one of becrushment. Just before he scampered away with smoke billowing out of his pointy ears, he told me what I was queuing for. I was delighted to discover that I was in line for an auction of rare Bobnit Tivol mezzotints. I was even more delighted when, fumbling in my pockets, I found a wallet crammed with banknotes. It had not been there when I left the house to commune with the singing siskin, so it must have come into my possession during my fugue state. I made a mental note to write a thank you letter to Gaston Freakorb when I got home, and slowly made my way towards the front.

I was, of course, aware of the set of mezzotints of fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol made by the noted mezzotintist Rex Tint at the very beginning of his career. Commissioned by the fictional athlete’s coach Old Halob, paid for with the proceeds from an orchard-planting scam, the twenty-six mezzotints were no sooner completed than they were scattered to the four winds, and had never since been gathered together. Nor were they now, alas, but it was quite something to have three of them up for sale, along with an even rarer mezzotint purporting to be of Old Halob himself. I had so much cash in my fugue-wallet that I easily outbid everyone, even the creepy agents deployed by Rex Tint’s sworn enemy, he who is the man they call “Sting”. I admit I was rather dismayed to be handed the mezzotints rolled up into a cheap cardboard tube, but it has to be said it was a fairly slovenly auction house, as auction houses go.

Anyway, when I got home I flattened each of the mezzotints out on my kitchenette table, and spent hours upon hours poring over them, while outside the siskin, that attractive little finch, sang and sang. That is why I have not had time to post anything. I have been transfixed by my mezzotints. So let me show them to you, in the form of rough copies I have made, just in case the pebbles weighing them down are dislodged and they are scattered once again, to the four winds.


Here we see fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol as a Christ-like figure, flanked by a couple of thieves, just as in the crucifixion. It is thought the mezzotintist Rex Tint made some sort of arrangement with his local prison to have a pair of miscreants pose for him, hence the startling pelfeusement of the portraiture. As for fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol, he’s just great, isn’t he?


In this mezzotint, Rex Tint has captured the one occasion when the fictional athlete was disqualified for cheating. It shows him winning the fourth heat of the qualifiers for the 1926 Scroonhoonpooge Farmyard Polevaulting Tin Cup, where, notoriously, he vaulted without using a pole.


Rex Tint uses his vivid imagination to show how things might have been, depicting the same vault but pretending fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol had used his pole. Old Halob tried to use this mezzotint as evidence when seeking to overturn his protégé’s disqualification, a ruse which failed and led to the cantankerous coach being locked up in the eerie barn at Scroonhoonpooge farmyard for half an hour. He was never the same man thereafter.


It is claimed that this mezzotint shows Old Halob himself, pausing on the way to his favourite tobacconist.

Smeared With Mayan Mud

Christians have their seminaries, and Muslims their madrassas – but where is the school for the aspirant Aztec fundamentalist? I speak of myself, of course. Home study is all very well, and I have tried to be diligent, but in the absence of a collegiate setting, I am falling prey to the lure of rival, and surely heretical, faiths.

This little complaint was occasioned by my stumbling upon an account of a Mayan rebirthing ceremony. True Aztec believers, even the most wishy-washy, should guard against falling into the Mayan embrace. And yet… is there not something irresistible in this Times report of 2001?

The ceremony took place at dusk. Mr Blair and his wife, wearing bathing costumes, were led to the Temazcal, a brick-coloured pyramid on the south end of the beach… Ms Aguilar told the Blairs to bow and pray to the four winds as Mayan prayers were read out. Each side of the building is decorated with Mayan religious symbols: the sun and baby lizards representing spring and childhood; a bird to signify adolescence, summer and freedom; a crab to represent maturity and autumn; and a serpent – the most sacred in the Mayan Indian culture – to symbolise winter and transformation…

Within the Temazcal, a type of Ancient Mayan steam bath, herb-infused water was thrown over heated lava rocks, to create a cleansing sweat and balance the Blairs’ ‘energy flow’.

Ms Aguilar chanted Mayan songs, told the Blairs to imagine that they could see animals in the steam and explained what such visions meant. They were told the Temazcal was like the womb and those participating in the ritual must confront their hopes and fears before ‘rebirth’ and venturing outside. The Blairs were offered watermelon and papaya, then told to smear what they did not eat over each other’s bodies along with mud from the Mayan jungle outside.

The prime minister, on holiday just a month before the 11 September attacks, is understood to have made a wish for world peace.

Before leaving, the Blairs were told to scream out loud to signify the pain of rebirth. They then walked hand in hand down the beach to swim in the sea.

Quoted in How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered The World : A Short History Of Modern Delusions by Francis Wheen (2004). Elsewhere in this splendid book, we are reminded that Margaret Thatcher was a devotee of mystical ‘electric baths’.

Instances Of Inanity In Blodgett

Yesterday I alluded to three particular Blodgettian inanities. There are, of course, many, many more, so many they are numberless. But it is worth looking in more detail at the trio I mentioned, if only to get the measure of the man.

His tin shadow. The tale is told that Blodgett awoke one day in a state of terror. Whether he had had a night of awful dreams brought on by a bedtime snack of processed goat’s cheese triangles and gooseberry paste, or whether he was just in a flap, we do not know. What we do know is that when he flung open his curtains to greet the day, Blodgett found the sky to be hazy and overcast, and the sunlight so weak that it cast no shadows. In his tumultuous mental state, Blodgett took this as evidence that he was becoming, or indeed had already become, insubstantial.

A sensible person would have tested this misperception by, for example, the Dr Johnson trick of kicking a stone, but there were no stones on the floor of Blodgett’s hotel room, not even a pebble. Doubtless there are other experiments Blodgett could have tried, such as bashing his body against the walls, or plunging off the balcony. But the mania seems to have had him in its grip. Looking at himself in the mirror was no help, as Blodgett always had a grey and ghostly pallor. It was one of his defining features. As a tot, he was always cast as a ghastly wraith in the school play, even when such a character was not actually required. Peering at himself now, in the milky light of his Tyrolean hotel room, Blodgett fancied that he was becoming transparent.

Hastily dressing in what fashionistas would deride as “tatterdemalion casual”, Blodgett crashed out of the hotel into the abnormally bustling streets. All these Tyrolean folk going to and fro, bent on their mysterious Tyrolean business, seemed solid enough. Blodgett, on the other hand, felt himself wafting, as if he were but a wisp that would be blown away by the first gust. The haze was oppressive however, and there was no hint of wind. Blodgett found a cafeteria attached to a secondhand snowplough dealership where he took breakfast. As he dunked iced dough fingers into a thin broth, he kept checking to see if his shadow had appeared, but there was no change in the light. It does not seem to have occurred to him that nothing else was casting a shadow in that town, on that morning. He was, as usual, a monster of egocentricity.

The reports tell us that after breakfast, Blodgett visited the town’s one and only metallurgical institute, where he badgered the janitor to let him in. It appears that he then armed himself with some hammers and cutting blades, found a supply of tin, hammered a quantity of tin into a flat sheet, and cut an outline of his body with the blades. He was seen carrying his tin effigy through the streets, heading towards a Tyrolean glue and adhesive supplier. The next witness statements indicate that Blodgett had glued the feet of his tin self to his heels, so that as he strode through the streets and lanes and expansive boulevards of the town, he dragged the tin Blodgett behind him, like a shadow. It is said that he was much becalmed, and no longer jangling with terror.

The Swiss dramaturge Rolf Turge wrote a squib based on Blodgett and his tin shadow, in which the lead character goes berserk when the haze disperses and sunlight batters down upon the town, casting shadows so strong they are as black as pitch. In real life, Blodgett was oblivious to the sun, and he dragged his tin shadow with him for months and months, until the glue dissolved when he stepped into a chemical puddle outside a post office in Pepinstow.

His dockside groans. Can one reasonably include Blodgett’s dockside groans in a list of his inanities? After all, which of us has not groaned when trudging around the docks? There is surely something about all that clanking and shouting, the winches and bales, the crates and chains, the chugging and hooting, the stink of oil and fish and brine, that elicits a groan from the sunniest of dispositions, and not just a single groan but a whole series of them. Why, then, charge Blodgett with inanity, when his dockside groans were of a piece with yours or mine? Do we succumb to inanity too? Well, no, of course we don’t. We are level-headed, sensible persons. And Blodgett, of course, was not. He lived in a fool’s paradise. So when we consider him plonking himself down on an iron bench at Pepinstow docks, and groaning, we think to ourselves, “there is a man flailing helplessly in the extremes of inanity”. He may no longer have a tin shadow glued to his heels, for the glue dissolved just a couple of hours ago in a chemical puddle outside the post office, but he is by no means freed from his embonkersment. Look, a gull has perched on the bench next to him. Now, soberly, taking your time, judge them both, the man and the bird, and choose which one you would trust to best perform a simple task such as savagely ripping and rending a sturdy cardboard box to shreds. Your answer will not, I think, be the man with the ghostly pallor who sits there groaning, groaning at the dockside.

His futile picking at unbuttons. Blodgett devoted much of his time, one autumn, to a study of the unbutton. At first, he went off on completely the wrong track. Adducing that the unbutton was “that which is not a button”, Blodgett mistakenly concerned himself with “that which is, where the button is not”, in other words, the buttonhole, the emptiness, the void the button will, one day, occupy, or, perhaps, once did occupy, before its thread snapped and it fell into a puddle, perhaps even the chemical puddle outside the post office in Pepinstow, where it lay alongside Blodgett’s unglued tin shadow. But of course a buttonhole is but a buttonhole, not an unbutton. Autumn was a month old before Blodgett realised his error. He had been shuttered in his Tyrolean hotel room picking futilely at buttonholes, only occasionally stepping out to wolf down breakfast and afternoon tea and dinner at a cafeteria. Then, one morning, he had an epiphany. A monologue devised years later by the Swiss dramaturge Rolf Turge gives us a flavour, albeit imagined, of the Blodgettian brainpan pirouettes of that day.

I was picking futilely at a buttonhole when a crow landed on my Tyrolean hotel room windowsill. I cast aside the buttonhole and looked at the crow, and the crow looked at me. I thought, if I were to make a puppet of the crow, out of black rags and tatters, I would use buttons for its eyes, would I not? And then I thought, perhaps the crow is thinking of making a puppet Blodgett, out of torn-up shrouds and winding-sheets. Would it, too, make my eyes out of buttons? Or, being a crow, primed by the bird-god that made it to peck out my eyes, would it need, for its puppet, not buttons, but unbuttons? That is when I realised that the unbutton is something greater, stranger, far more uncanny than a mere buttonhole. The crow flew away, bent on Tyrolean worms no doubt. But I had seen the error of my ways, and I stamped my foot repeatedly upon the buttonhole I had been picking at with such futility, and I crashed out of my hotel room into the street, the abnormally bustling street, and my eyes glowed brightly, real eyes, not shiny buttons on a puppet, and I strode with my head held proud and high, seeking afresh the true unbutton I knew, now, was there, somewhere, hidden in plain sight.

By the time autumn turned to winter, Blodgett had found an unbutton, or at least what he took to be one. Certainly it met the definition of “that which is not a button”, and Blodgett pounced upon it, there in that Tyrolean town. Yet, having found it, what did he do? It is a measure of the man’s inanity that he simply picked at it futilely, for days on end, sitting on an iron bench at the dockside, groaning, shadowless, having fled the Tyrol for Pepinstow, in the autumn of 1963, just before the Kennedy assassination, and the Beatles’ first LP.

Inanity And Its Bedfellows

I am beginning to think that stealing the titles of other people’s blog postages may be the Way Forward… forward, of course, to that bright upland where I can bask under the Aztecs’ mighty orb when my work is done. Even while the Key cranium is ticking and whirring as it ponders John Ptak’s postage header along comes Patrick Kurp at Anecdotal Evidence with “Emptiness; Uncertainty; Inanity”. Again, I advise you to read the original postage, but meanwhile I shall be pondering some prose to which it will serve as a fitting title.

The “inanity” part should give me no trouble, as virtually any anecdote about Blodgett will fit the bill. His tin shadow, his dockside groans, his futile picking at unbuttons… there is so much material.  But “emptiness” and “uncertainty” may be more troublesome.

One uncertainty is to what extent I can get away with writing about prose I have not yet written. Best not to dwell upon it, for that way emptiness lies.

ADDENDUM : As Dave Lull notes in a comment, Patrick Kurp’s title is a quotation from Dr Johnson’s A Dictionary Of The English Language (1755). Though that is clear from reading the postage, I ought to have acknowledged it here.

Twelfth Night

On the first night, the man with the hammers came a-crashing through my door. I immediately identified him as Babinsky.

On the second night, the man with the hammers, who was not Babinsky after all, summoned men with whisks and men with tongs. I tried to reason with them.

On the third night, all of them, the man with the hammers included, went off on what they called “night-time manoeuvres”, and left me alone. I smoked my pipe and listened to the rain.

On the fourth night, Babinsky himself appeared. This time I think it really was him. He showed me some very, very convincing documentation.

On the fifth night, the kitchenette was flooded with dishwater. Luckily I had plenty of cloths and rags to mop it up.

On the sixth night, Babinsky and the man with the hammers and the men with whisks and the men with tongs sang Christmas carols. Their voices were surprisingly dulcet.

On the seventh night there was a pox upon my house.

On the eighth night I tossed and turned and could not sleep. Downstairs, Babinsky & Co were plotting an enormity.

On the ninth night they all went off to commit the enormity. I hid in a cubby so they would not take me with them. It was a tiny cubby and I became cramped.

On the tenth night, there was an important hockey match on television. I have never understood the rules of hockey, so I could not understand what Babinsky and the man with the hammers were so het up about.

On the eleventh night, I suddenly realised that the men with whisks and the men with tongs had never returned after committing the enormity. It also occurred to me that I had not read a word about the enormity in the Daily Shovel.

On twelfth night I took stock, and I peeled potatoes. I peeled potatoes and I peeled potatoes. By the light of the silvery moon I peeled potatoes, and then I peeled potatoes.


I was much taken with the title of a recent postage at the excellent Ptak Science Books blog, to wit Visionaries, Ice People, And The Marriage Of Stupid And Brutal. Indeed, fomenting within my pea-sized yet pulsating brain is a piece to which I can apply this title, a piece which will bear no actual relation to John Ptak’s post, though that is well worth your attention. Now, on Channel Four News, I have just heard an arresting reference to “a visionary cobbler”.

Clearly the ethereal spirits which reign within my brainpans are gently prodding me to turn my attention to visionaries. Watch this space.

Sponges Of The Lumpenproletariat

Sponges Of The Lumpenproletariat is a magnificent work of social history, a companion volume to Blood Sausage Of The Petit Bourgeoisie. As in the earlier work, the author has tracked down several representatives of the class and interviewed them in depth. Where before we learned so, so much about petit bourgeois blood sausage consumption, now we find out almost too much about the lumpenproletariat and its devotion to sponge, in both its cake and bathtime forms.

This is history turning the world topsy turvy, of course. We think of blood sausage as a workers’ aliment, perhaps a snack to be eaten while tramping between factory and pigeon loft, or in the subterranean gloom of a mine, while canaries tweet in their cages as reassurance that no toxic gases are about to fell the pitmen where they huddle. It is interesting to note that birds feature in both those examples of lumpenprole snacktimes, yet the blood of birds is rarely to be found in blood sausage. Rare, yes, but not entirely unknown. One of the author’s key findings in Blood Sausage Of The Petit Bourgeoisie is that a small subclass of shopkeepers and rent collection men developed a taste for sausages made from the blood of starlings, nuthatches, and whooper swans. Such a commingling of avian gore is against the laws of God, which is perhaps why it was a short-lived fad. Not so with the more common sausages made from the blood of pigs and hens and goats, which are shown to be decisively petit bourgeois rather than lumpenproletarian. Accepted wisdom is knocked on its head.

I wish I could remember the name of the author. I would be lying if I said it was on the tip of my tongue, because it isn’t, chiefly because I no longer have a tongue. A year or so ago, much like accepted wisdom, I too was knocked on the head, by a malefactor, who stole my wallet and my cardigan and, for good measure, broke both my arms and tore out my tongue. When I recovered, I was told I had been set upon by none other than the killer Babinsky, so I was lucky to be still alive. As far as I know, the maniac is still at large, so make sure you lock your doors and stick pins into your little wax Babinsky doll before you go to bed.

And just as we learned about the true social sphere in which blood sausage is prized, so in the new book by wotsisname we discover the importance of sponge to the lumpenproles. I had no idea, for example, that horny-handed sons of toil were quite so partial to dainties such as fairy cakes and sponge fingers. Equally surprising, given they are sometimes called the great unwashed, is the value placed upon bath sponges by the lumpenproletariat. Even those who use their bathtubs for coal storage treasure their sponges, often holding soapsud squeezing contests on some patch of waste ground behind their noisome hovels. I have a dim memory of seeing some such event when I was tot, as the rag and bone man’s cart clopped by pulled by a great grey drayhorse. My pa told me the horse’s bright and battering sandal was fettled for him by Felix Randal, the farrier. As an agricultural worker rather than a lumpenprole, Felix Randal was probably not that big on sponges, either cakey or bathtubby, although had he lived long enough to build up his fettling business into a chain of franchises, he might have aspired to becoming a petit bourgeois, and then he could have stuffed himself with blood sausage. It is unlikely, though not impossible, that he would have developed a taste for the blood of horses.

All in all, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Quite apart from a text which bounds along in sprung rhythm, it has a mighty armature of footnotes, though they are printed in so tiny a font that I wish I had received my review copy before I was attacked by the killer Babinsky. So terrifying was his countenance, ever since that awful night I have had to wear shaded spectacles à la the Irish minstrel and tax evader Paul Hewson. Not only does this becloud my vision but, as you can imagine, it has shattered my reputation as a person of effortless swish and élan.

Oh, and not only footnotes but gorgeous, gorgeous illustrations, in vivid colour, of sponges and blood.

And not only footnotes and illustrations but a really terrific index.

And not only footnotes and illustrations and an index, but a tear-out coupon in the frontispiece of each copy which, when taken to your newsagent, can be exchanged for a blood-soaked sponge. The idea, I think, is that one squeezes the blood from the sponge much as a lumpenprole would have squeezed soapsuds from it, and then one forms the blood into a sausage, and eats it, perhaps with a side helping of sponge cake.

And thus is the clash of classes in the grand sweep of history quietly subverted by this author whose name I am at a loss to recall.

Atoll Via Asbo

Banished to a remote atoll, I subsisted on molluscs and rainwater. It was my own fault. I had been issued with one of the new-style Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. Now I would have many long years to reflect upon the consequences of brazenly smoking a cigarette at a bus stop, past which an endless parade of vehicles belched noxious fumes. It was, as they say, a fair cop, guv. I readily placed my wrists into the manacles presented by the Community Patrol Invigilation Cadet as I lay sprawled in the gutter following a salutary Tasering. My week in a befouled hulk anchored off the seaside was an enormous help. I was able for the first time to acknowledge the depth of my criminality. I can say, without dissembling, that I positively enjoyed the sensation of being tossed out of an aeroplane and descending, with the aid of an automatically-opening parachute, which I have since ripped up for bedding linen, onto my atoll. For it is, now, very much my atoll, where I subsist upon molluscs and rainwater, and my rapidly dwindling carton of untipped full strength Paraguayan cigarettes.

Thrills & Spills With Zig Et Puce

Only six issues of the children’s comic Zig Et Puce were ever published. Our correspondent Fatima Gilliblat has spent the last ten years writing a definitive study of this milestone in Latin tot literature. Here is an extract from her forthcoming book, a brief summary of the content of each issue.


Zig Et Puce, Number One. Zig steals eggs from the Mavis Nest. Puce whittles a stick. Zig glows like a lightbulb. Puce bangs a pan. Zig clocks off. Puce wears blue pyjamas.

Zig Et Puce, Number Two. Zig, in an extremity of barbarian anguish, pops a cig into a dovecote. Puce outbids a flapper at an auction. Zig melds tarp with gauze. Puce takes part in a testimonial match for a retiring football ace who now has but the one leg. Zig meets Tod. Puce murmurs, like the sea.

Zig Et Puce, Number Three. Zig crunches twigs underfoot as he stalks his quarry. Puce spies a window of opportunity. Zig goes to the gallows. Puce mucks about with currants. Zig looks like Eve Marie Saint in On The Waterfront. Puce reads Simone De Beauvoir in her American circumstance. Zig spits. Puce clanks.

Zig Et Puce, Number Four. Zig is embalmed within the tomb of a great but anonymous ancient Egyptian monkey god king. Puce blots her copybook. Zig has gum disease. Puce clings to the raft of the Medusa. Zig makes much of much that has not panned out as planned. Puce goes for the Bob Stokoe Memorial Bucket.

Zig Et Puce, Number Five (the notorious banned issue). Zig shows grit. Puce, in tumbling, dislodges the Buttons of Beb, which cascade down the mountainside and are scattered about the lanes of a village in a Swiss canton. Zig foots the bill. Puce goes rogue. Zig is in a ditch with Tod and a cup and an owl. Puce dissolves in water. Zig hails the chief. Puce watches Cowards Bend The Knee, or The Blue Hands, with Latin intertitles.

Zig Et Puce, Number Six. Zig milks a cow. Puce milks another cow. Zig pays a visit to the place where it goes “clunk!”. Puce keeps milking cows. Zig is a harbinger of harbours and binges. Puce milks more and more cows. Zig crashes upon the rocks, like the sea. Puce sashays along Kaiser Wilhelm Strasse. Zig whimpers. Puce bangs.

Gish ‘n’ Wasps

In a comment on Googie ‘n’ Bee, R. writes: I think there could be some useful mileage in Lilian Gish + wasps, too. I am afraid to say that this demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the connections between stars of the silver screen and the sorts of insects that buzz and fly and sting, the Aculeate Hymenoptera.

A modicum of research reveals a plethora of anecdotal material linking Googie Withers with bees. Much of this is hearsay, and some of it is undoubtedly fictitious, merely the product of fuming brains careening pell-mell into poltroonery for want of any more useful employment. Nevertheless, bloody good anecdotage should never be discounted entirely, as Dobson once said, at a picnic.

Conversely, conversely, say it again daddy-o, you will wander the world for umpteen years before you ever come upon a reliable Gish-wasp story.

Now, useful mileage there may be if we are talking about Tallulah Bankhead and hornets, or Nova Pilbeam and German wasps, or even Vilma Banky and bees. In the latter case we even have a story involving ectoplasmic bee goo, though it has been suppressed by Vilma Banky’s estate, for understandable reasons.

I hope that makes things clear.

Character Flaw Of Mediaeval Peasant

This piece was written specifically to placate the person who arrived at Hooting Yard yesterday, having typed “character flaw of mediaeval peasant” into a search engine.

Hello. My name is Cleothgard and I am a mediaeval peasant. I am calling to you across the centuries because I want to tell you about my character flaw. It is not, I am afraid to say, a character flaw that would elevate me into the realm of the tragic. That would be a splendid flaw to have, but I am a mere peasant, and as I look about me in this vale of tears it has not escaped my attention that tragic, and indeed heroic, character flaws tend to be displayed by princelings and such. Mine is more what you might call a mundane flaw. One of the reasons I decided to bellow so hectically that time itself is bedizened and shrunk is that I know with a fair degree of certainty that no poet nor playwright is ever likely to consider my character flaw a fit subject for their pen, or I should say quill, or scratchy stick. I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be. I don’t even know who Prince Hamlet is, or was, or will be, and I was always meant to be a peasant. ‘Twas writ upon the stars.

My character flaw is a tendency to overdo the grovelling when confronted by a baron. When I see one approach, upon his horse, in all his finery, glittering and clanking, accompanied by his retinue, I immediately start to snivel and slobber and I pitch myself forward face down into the muck. Mediaeval muck is much, much filthier than your modern muck. It oozes and stinks and harbours all sorts of minuscule disgusting life-forms, things you have eradicated through science and hygiene. While thus prostrate, I begin to groan incoherently. What I am actually trying to express is the sense that I am but a worm unfit to exist on the same planet as the baron, who is brighter than the sun and completely fantastic, but my abasement is such that I cannot form the proper words with my mouth, which in any case is by now packed with mud.

Bear in mind that at this stage, the baron and his retinue have only just hove into view on the horizon. This is partly what I mean by overdoing the grovelling. My fellow mediaeval peasants are all still going about their business, tilling the fields or scratching at their buboes or, in the throes of the chorea imagnativa aestimative, dancing in a frenzy. When the baron gets closer, a goodly number of them will tug their forelocks and dribble with happiness at the sight of him, but I feel this urge to outdo them. That is my character flaw.

And it is made all the more pathetic by the fact that the baron will not even notice my existence. I am pretty certain this is the case, for over the years, not a single baron passing through our bailiwick has ever acknowledged me. They might command their retinue to smash up the mediaeval farming tools and hack at those tilling the fields with their big sharp swords, or they might burn down our huts, or, very very occasionally, they might turn out to be a so-called “good baron” and distribute alms and largesse. But because of my ludicrous grovelment, flat on my belly in the muck, groaning away, I seem to escape their attention. There is, I suppose, an advantage to this in that I have never had one of my limbs sliced off or smashed to pieces. Thereagain, nor have I been presented with a groat by a good baron’s alms-giving dwarf.

Swings and roundabouts. Fate is meant to decide the lot of a mediaeval peasant like me, but the nature of my character flaw is such that I become a sort of invisible peasant, merged with the muck in which I sprawl, and so Fate passes me by. If I could, just once, stand straight and tall – well, not tall, exactly, because nutritional deficiencies mean I am stunted and shrivelled – but if I could at least stop abasing myself quite so preposterously as soon as I spot a baron half a mile off, then who knows what I might reap?

I dare say in your world o’ the future there are still peasants with character flaws, and good barons and bad barons. And I expect the peasants still till and scratch and dance, and the barons are still really terrific and shine so brightly. Fate will arrange things just so, I assume, even though Fate has taken one withering look at me and left me where I am, slobbering in the muck.

Googie ‘n’ Bee

The two most consistently popular search terms leading interweb hikers to swing open the gates of Hooting Yard, far ahead of all rivals, are bees and ectoplasm. Occasionally, some befuddled soul gets here after searching for bee ectoplasm. Another favourite, much to my delight, is Googie Withers, though the 92-year-old screen siren gets misspelled as Google Withers in some searches, which makes one wonder what is going on inside some people’s cranial integuments. And then of course there are the search terms which are arresting in their singularity. Today someone came to Hooting Yard because they wanted to find out about character flaw of mediaeval peasant.

Anyway, perhaps I should write a piece in which Googie Withers, taunted by a particularly pesky bee, paralyses it with a splurge of ectoplasm. Or, alternatively, a bee taunted by a particularly pesky nonagenarian actress stops her in her tracks by emitting a jet of ectoplasmic bee goo.

Either scenario could provide heroic tot Tiny Enid with the perfect pretext to come clomping club-footedly to the rescue, of either Googie Withers or the bee.

Which scene warms your cockles? Vote now and vote often!

In which scenario would you prefer to see plucky tot Tiny Enid intervene?

A Tin Of Button Polish

Who but an Englishman, the legendary Sir John Franklin, could have managed to die of starvation and scurvy along with all 129 of his men in a region of the Canadian Arctic whose game had supported an Eskimo colony for centuries? When the corpses of some of Franklin’s officers and crew were later discovered, miles from their ships, the men were found to have left behind their guns but to have lugged such essentials as monogrammed silver cutlery, a backgammon board, a cigar case, a clothes brush, a tin of button polish, and a copy of The Vicar Of Wakefield. These men may have been incompetent bunglers, but, by God, they were gentlemen.

From Ex Libris : Confessions Of A Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (1998)

Lost In Three Minutes

You lot know I am a devoted fan of the preposterous television series Lost. As, it seems, are millions of Iranians. The clamour for pirated DVDs is such that the main video distributor in the country is putting the series on general release, and talks are afoot for it to be shown on state television. So far, so good. But…

Programmes will be carefully censored to exclude “un-Islamic” scenes such as those featuring scantily clad women or male-female physical contact.

Given the beardy mullahs’ usual ideas about what constitutes being “scantily clad”, given that none of the women characters shuffles about in a big black sack, and given that men and women hang out with each other in a relaxed, trapped on a tropical island kind of way, I am trying to work out which scenes will not be censored.

Lost, the complete series – now available in the digested three-minute version!