Monthly Archive for October, 2009

Important Sausage Information

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My thanks go to OutaSpaceman for sending this photograph of a packet of what are no doubt extremely toothsome toffee apple sausages. He asks “Will they protect me when ghouls attack?”

Indeed they will. To be more precise, they will actually deter any attack. The last point in the government Ghoul Czar’s handy checklist referred to the preventative measure of nobbling a ghoul so it is incapacitated from launching an attack in the first place. Toffee apple sausages are absolutely perfect for this purpose.

I need hardly explain why ghouls are simultaneously attracted and repelled by this combinatory foodstuff. You do not even need to open the packet. Simply take a saucer from your crockery cupboard and place it on the floor, as you might do if intending to treat your cat to some milk. Instead of pouring milk into the saucer, however, just place the packet of toffee apple sausages on it, unopened, and go about your business, whatever that business may be, whether it is pickling the tiny bones of a wren or rearranging your collection of Vinder’s soccer coupons in their leather-bound album.

When a ghoul comes a-shimmering and a-groaning into your homestead, it will be lured by the toffee apple sausages, and hunker over the saucer, befuddled. One cannot speak of its brain being discombobulated, for ghouls do not have brains as such. Whatever that hideous insubstantial blob nestling within its ghastly head may be, it is not a brain. But the blob will throb in the presence of toffee apple sausages, and if the ghoul lingers long enough over the saucer, its head-blob will either shrivel or explode, depending on what category of ghoul it is. The one thing it will not be able to do is to summon the wherewithal to launch an attack.

It will have been successfully nobbled.

There is much else that can be said about the commingling of sausage and toffee apple, quite irrespective of ghouls, but now I have to go and make a few changes to my exquisite hand-drawn map of Blunkett-by-the-Blears.

When Ghouls Attack!

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Picture courtesy of The Victorian Era

When ghouls attack, there are certain precautions the sensible householder can take to avoid permanent disarrangement of the senses. Ghouls will oft times take you into their chill embrace and drip ghastly ectoplasm from their extremities. This can be such a disgusting experience that your nerves will be bedizened before you even have time to shout “Allahu Akbar!” or some similar appeal to a deity. Not that calling upon any god, not even some of the Aztec ones, will do you much good with a ghoul on the attack. By and large, ghouls are godless, and have no concept of spiritual fervour or fear. Being semi-transparent and insubstantial, they are also, regrettably, impervious to being beaten with shovels or fire-tongs. How, then, can you defend yourself and your loved ones against their malign implacability?

Here are some tips from a pamphlet recently issued by the government’s newly-appointed Ghoul Czar:

A flamboyant ping pong technique unnerves most ghouls. Practise relentlessly, even on the Day of Rest.

Ghouls hate syrup. Keep plenty of tins in your pantry.

A lopsided cake-stand artfully placed on the dresser will throw a ghoul into a quandary.

If you have a pond, keep a pet swan.

Recital of Sylvia Plath poems can send ghouls back to the netherworld from which they emerged. But never, ever whisper a word from the works of Ted Hughes in their presence.

Slack-jawed farmhands can be positioned between you and a ghoul to stave it off.

If you are staying in a ghoul-haunted guest-house, insist on having a trapdoor in your room.

Spray the air with essence of toffee apple.

Ornate stippled eider duck decor baffles the keenest ghoul.

An unctuous demeanour will behove you well.

Bear in mind that there is no known defence against the Brechtian ghoul.

Like racehorses, ghouls can be nobbled. This prevents any mischief in the first place.

Soup From The Carpathians

Carpathian thick potato and sausage soup is a delicious soup from the Carpathians, perfect for those long winter evenings as darkness falls and the temperature plummets and a chill sets in to your bones. It is very simple to make. Basically, you just boil up a pan of potatoes and sausages and add a suitable coagulant. When it is thick enough for your iron spoon to stand up in it unsupported, tip the whole lot into a bowl and garnish with the horns of a goat or two, for added crunch.

In the past, entire Carpathian families lived off this soup for years on end. It is true that in some cases they suffered from nutritional… difficulties, and had many ructions with the Carpathian goat-herding community, but we live in a different age, and can put such unpleasantness behind us. There is no benefit whatsoever in reviving ancient Carpathian blood feuds, although of course to do so can enliven an otherwise dull week.

If you are worried by the prospect of a gang of Carpathian peasants hoving into view armed with flaming torches and pitchforks, call our helpline. Our staff have been fully – well, adequately – trained in Carpathian thick potato and sausage soup dispute resolution techniques, and will not hang up if they hear you screaming for mercy.

Shamanic Career Trajectory

“The changes in his appearance suggest an atavistic religious process. In one of the few surviving photographs he appears in Russian army uniform, neatly groomed, but with an intense, monastic appearance, like an Orthodox mountain hermit, but near the end of his campaign he rode bare-chested, ‘like a Neanderthal’, hung with bones and charms, his beard sprouting in all directions and his chest smeared with dirt. He had gone from monk to shaman in a few years.”

Baron Roman Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg (1885-1921), as described by James Palmer in his biography The Bloody White Baron (2008)

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I Had A Hammer

I had a hammer. I hammered in the morning. I hammered in the evening all over this land. I hammered out danger. I hammered out a warning. I hammered out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land. They should have seen that coming. As I said, before I hammered the love out of them, I hammered out a warning. It was hardly my fault if they thought I was just larking about. Personally, if I had seen one of my siblings roaring towards me at dusk, armed with a hammer, I’d have made a run for it, particularly when it was clear I had been hammering things all day all over this land. Anyway, I had a good night’s sleep, and the next day I continued hammering. There was not much left to hammer in this land, so I crossed the border. I hammered the fence and the border guards, and then I had a happy day hammering everything that lay in my path in this new country. Bang bang bang, that was me, with the occasional dull thump if I hammered something soft and squishy. I didn’t discriminate. If I saw it, I hammered it, it really was as simple as that. But then I was fortunate to have such a good hammer. When my hammering was still in the planning stages, it was suggested to me that I should obtain a silver hammer from Maxwell’s. “Pshaw!” I said. I actually said “Pshaw!”, like a character in a bad play from the interwar years. But I was right to do so. Maxwell’s silver hammer was fashionable enough, in its time, but the kind of hammering I intended to do required something sturdier, a real thumper. So I got my hammer from Hubermann’s. I was so pleased with it that I hammered my way out of the shop, and didn’t stop hammering until I got home. It was the following day that I started to hammer all over this land. Then, the day after that, I hammered my way half way across the neighbouring land. It was much bigger, and much more densely packed with people and things, so I had a lot more hammering to do than in my own land. But eventually I got to the frontier, having hammered pretty much everything in sight. As I nestled down for the night in a border chalet, I inspected my hammer, and was pleased to see that it was almost as good as new. There were a couple of scuff-marks, and quite a lot of blood, but otherwise it looked as if it would serve me well for as long as I continued hammering, all over as many lands as I descended upon, like an angel of death, with my hammer.

Water-Cresses Without Sewage

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This is Shirley Hibberd – or James Shirley Hibberd to give his full name – a Victorian writer and horticulturalist (1825-1890). I draw him to your attention apropos of nothing in particular. By all accounts he was a prolific author, churning out books and articles on many subjects apart from his specialist field. He wrote beautifully. Consider this, from “The Instincts And Habits Of Bees”, published in The Intellectual Observer : Review Of Natural History, Microscopic Research And Recreative Science, Volume VI (1865).

“If a man has but one stock of bees and is of the right temper to make pets of them, his attachment to them will grow so surely that it will be strange if he does not, in a very short time, renounce many a commonplace pleasure in order to make room in his heart for a strong affection for these happy confectioners, and perhaps appropriate a portion of his head to an investigation of their instincts and habits, so as to prove for himself all the written records of bee history, and live in hope of adding to them the results of personal observation.”

I appropriated a portion of my head to wondering who this reminded me of. I appropriated another portion of my head to discovering the titles of some of the books of this proto-Dobson. They include:

The Seaweed Collector: A Handy Guide To The Marine Botanist Suggesting What To Look For, And Where To Go In The Study Of The British Algae And The British Sponges (1872)

Clever Dogs, Horses, Etc (1868)

The Golden Gate And Silver Steps, With Bits Of Tinsel Round About (1886)

Water-Cresses Without Sewage (1878)

And, in 1856, this:

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The photograph of Shirley Hibberd, by an unknown snappist, is copyright The Oxford Dictionary Of National Biography.

The Single Most Fantastic Piece Of Hyperbole Ever Uttered By A Human Being In The History Of The Universe

“It is the single most brilliant piece of film-making I have ever seen.”

Elizabeth Taylor on the edited rehearsal footage of a recently deceased popster. As we speak, earnest cineastes the world over are hurriedly revising their “Best Films” lists.

The Greatest Letter Ever Written

Every now and then, I come across a piece of writing so magnificent that I consider packing in this whole business. Why continue tapping away when such genius stalks the land? This, from yesterday’s Observer, is quite simply matchless:

Dear Mariella, I have had a long-time interest in beekeeping. Unfortunately I have a mortal fear of bees (and similar stinging insects), and neither my partner nor I enjoy the taste of honey, rendering the material benefits of keeping bees somewhat moot. I have read a great deal of books on the subject and have yet to determine just why I am so fascinated by this most peculiar hobby – though I do quite enjoy watching beekeepers remove the honeycomb frame from an apiary, as I find it quite relaxing. It has got to the point where it is affecting my marriage, as my partner is entirely unsympathetic to what she describes as an “obsession”. I tend to spend most evenings reading apiarist manuals and commenting on beekeeping forums on the net, to the detriment of our sex life. I am interested in sex, but at this point I am more interested in bees. Is this kind of relationship normal? How can I bring my partner round to enjoying my interest in beekeeping with me?

Municipal Monkey Vampires

The other day I popped in to the Town Hall to find out a bit about bins, park benches, signage, flowerbeds and civic statuary. I think it is time to engage more fully with the maintenance of my bailiwick and the municipal doings therein. This impulse was prompted when, sitting on a park bench next to a civic statue of the much-missed Alderman Spandau, alongside which was a bin in which weeds hoed from a flowerbed had been chucked, I read a sign, placed there by the council, which implored me, and, I suppose, anybody else who read it, to refrain from smoking within the precincts of the park, to tidy up after my dog, though I did not have a dog as such, to ensure I paid my council tax promptly, and to place any litter I wished to discard in the bin provided. Each of these instructions, or pieces of advice, or commands, or whatever we might call them, was translated into several languages. It was a bloody big piece of signage. Incidentally, for those of you attuned to the resonances of the colour spectrum, the bench was brown, the statue was grey with patches of green, the bin was black, and the weeds were, weirdly, gash gold-vermilion. I wouldn’t have put them in the bin, I’d have taken them home and arranged them in a vase and placed it on my mantelpiece, if I had a mantelpiece. The sign itself was beige, with the writing in red. If I had to be more precise, I would say it was blood red. I did not at the time understand why this might be significant.

If I had either a dog or a mantelpiece, I might not have been so quick to visit the Town Hall. Both would have claims on my attention. I would have to take the dog for walkies, and shop for biscuits, and give it baths, and possibly take it to the vet for injections from time to time. As for a mantelpiece, that would need dusting, I suppose, and minor upkeep, such as the patching up of crumbly bits, if it was rotting, and also much time spent in judicious contemplation of items to display upon it, and the arrangement thereof. Those too would have to be dusted, in addition to the mantelpiece itself, if I were to avoid becoming engulfed by dust and thus have trouble with my breathing apparatus, one day. But unencumbered as I was by both dog and mantelpiece, when I hurled myself out of bed that morning, I was free to go along to the Town Hall without other duties to distract me.

I know nothing of architecture, but by God I recognise municipal pride expressed in brick and concrete when I see it. I must have walked past the Town Hall numberless times without paying it any attention. Now, I stopped on the steps to take in its majestic frontage. Gosh. Feeling somewhat belittled, I entered through the grand doorway. I did not have an appointment with anybody, so when I presented myself at the reception desk I was treated with a certain disdain. Perhaps I was mistaken for a mendicant. I suppose I ought to have washed my hair and worn a less grubby cravat for what I considered a pretty momentous visit. I was pointed towards a row of plastic chairs and told to sit and wait. Before taking my seat, I browsed through a rack of leaflets affixed to the wall, and took a few of them to pass the time.

Coincidentally, the very first one I read concerned Alderman Spandau, whose statue I had sat beside in the park. I learned that his title of Alderman had no civic significance, but that he had been so called because he was an expert, albeit an amateur one, on the subject of alder trees, with which the park was riddled. I learned too that an enthusiasm for trees ran in the family, and that he had a cousin, who also bore the name of a German prison, who was known as Sycamoreman. Fascinating as all this was, it had nothing to tell me of bins and park benches and signage and flowerbeds, or of civic statuary in general, so I tucked the leaflet into an inner pocket for safekeeping, and turned my attention to the next one in my clutch. It was all about food poisoning. Again, not my immediate concern, though I noted it managed to work in a mention of Alderman Spandau, claiming his death had been due to the unwise ingestion of several contaminated eggs on toast. There was no reference to his cousin, although yet another German prison was alluded to, for reasons which I could not quite pin down. I replaced this leaflet in the rack. As I was doing so, a council person emerged from behind a panel and approached me, his hand held out in greeting.

Seldom have I beheld such glistening buttons!

This council person gave off a powerful reek of spam and hair oil, but I was impressed by his politesse. As he led me up staircases and along corridors towards his office, he explained that, following a rash of complaints about surliness and the grumps, the municipal authorities had trained their entire workforce in the manners and mores of the imperial court of Austria-Hungary circa 1844. This had worked wonders in what he nevertheless termed the “public interface skillset”. I couldn’t help thinking what Alderman Spandau would have made of it all, but then I remembered that he was merely a tree enthusiast rather than a civic dignitary.

I have not looked into the matter, but I assume that the word dignitary comes from the same root as dignity. This was a quality singularly lacking, I am afraid to say, among the members of the current council administration, a framed photograph of whom was prominently displayed on the wall of the office into which I was led. They were pictured together in a field, lined up as if they were a sports team, and each had a glassy-eyed stare. Each wore an unfortunate kagoul. I noticed there was a dog – mercifully unkagouled – in the front row, and asked, joshingly, if it, too, was a councillor, or just a mascot. To my surprise, the council person replied that the dog, Skippy by name, was actually the Mayor of our bailiwick. It had won more votes than all the other councillors put together.

“The rest of them are a complete shower,” he said, brightly, “but needs must when the devil drives.”

I observed that, Skippy apart, they all looked as if they had had their brains removed.

“Let us say… modified,” he replied.

Intriguing as this revelation was, I did not want to waste time talking about the councillors. I put it to the council person that I was ready and willing to contribute, manfully and with gusto, to all matters pertaining to bins and park benches and signage and flowerbeds and civic statuary, but that before I could do so I needed to know more about them all. He made a great show of buffing his buttons with a silken kerchief, and said:

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry your little potato-shaped head about such things. Skippy has everything under control.”

Though reassured in terms of the maintenance of civic order, I was somewhat deflated. Was there no way, I protested, that I could play the part of an active citizen? I passed over the comment about the shape of my head, for I did not think it had been meant unkindly, and, after all, my head is on the small side, and it resembles a potato. This is often remarked upon by people, but usually at times when conversation has fallen flat and they are desperately trying to think of something to say. The council person had no such problem. Indeed, he began babbling a stream of what I took to be boilerplate municipal jargon. It was unremittingly opaque, and he must have noticed my eyes glazing over, for suddenly he grabbed me by the elbow and ushered me towards the window.

“There!”, he shouted, pointing, “That is what I’m talking about! The municipal monkey pound!”

I looked, and sure enough, just past the car park and a clump of alder trees, there was a pound, and it was full of monkeys. At ground level you would never have recognised it, but from a high window up here in the civic empyrean there was no mistaking it. I was rapt.

“Explain it to me again, this time without the jargon,” I said.

This, it seemed, was too much to ask. He insisted I would get the hang of things, plopped a cap on my head and pinned a badge to my lapel. Five minutes later, we were outside, at the electronic gate of the monkey pound, and he was pressing a buzzer.

“Ah, Chevenix!” he said, as a civic functionary emerged from a hut to open the gate, “Here is our new volunteer.”

And I was in. I was doing my bit for the council. Not as I had hoped to, in the realm of bins and park benches and signage and flowerbeds and civic statuary, but nonetheless I had my foot in the door. I was an active, civically-minded citizen.

Chevenix, the monkey pound supervisor, proved to be the most unfailingly helpful person I have ever met, in any capacity. He gave me a brush to rid my volunteer’s cap of accumulated filth, and a rag to polish my volunteer’s badge, and he took me on a guided tour of the monkey pound, and told me more about it than any sane person could wish to know.

Quite unbeknown to me, our bailiwick had been plagued for some years by monkeys, and not just any monkeys, but monkey vampires. These were qualitatively different from vampire monkeys, I was given to understand, but I am hazy on the details, and Chevenix soon passed on to other matters. The monkey vampires had all been rounded up, from their nests and hiding places in ginnels and air-vents and pavilions, and were impounded here in the pound behind the car park and the clump of alder trees pending a decision on whether or not they should be subject to extraordinary rendition. Skippy was mulling it over, but it was low on his list of priorities. Some of those in the know wanted all the monkey vampires to be put in a sealed train, like Lenin, and taken to the Carpathians. Others preferred the idea of ferrying the monkey vampires, one by one, to havens. There was even a body of opinion suggesting they be kept in the municipal monkey pound in perpetuity. Chevenix did not divulge to me which, if any, of these options had his backing. I supposed that, as a functionary, he had to remain neutral.

The monkey vampires themselves were fascinating, at least when visible. The pound was constructed with many tromple l’oeil gardenia bushes, mazes, baffles and cubbies, and it was possible to walk round and round for hours without seeing a single “customer”, as the council insisted on calling the impounded monkey vampires. Some, I was told, were velveteen, and thrashed about in the darkness. Others threw pickle jars over the fence. When the moon was full, there was keening. The smell was a mixture of gnats’ blood and marzipan and bilgewater. Crocuses, real ones, grew in patches here and there, and sometimes very tiny, almost transparent, monkey vampires could be seen sucking moisture from the buds. Chevenix had a sack stuffed with aerosol sprays which he made judicious use of. Several of the monkey vampires had learned to count, and were reportedly devising their own calendar. It had been noticed that no birds ever flew over the pound with the exception of startled chaffinches. On a log, a pot of paint with a much-dented lid acted as a lure. One of my fellow-volunteers, a bedraggled harpy of advancing years, was in charge of brazil nuts.

I hope to be given my own little sphere of influence one day. I have not been home since I got here. I sleep in a hammock in the corner of one of the mazes, and do my ablutions in the paddling pool. I feed on brazil nuts left unattended by the harpy, and suck moisture from crocuses.

One thing Chevenix did not tell me was that the municipal monkey pound was built on the site of a paupers’ graveyard. I discovered this for myself, by a combination of sharp wits and cemetery erudition. I have noticed unseemly traffic between the monkey vampires and the spirits of long-dead paupers. It is going on all the time, at a lopsided angle to common perception. My quandary is whether to tell Chevenix, or the council person, or even Skippy the mayor, what I know.

Prints

Proof at last that Hooting Yard’s eco-credentials are second to none! It is two and a half years since we raised the important issue of carbon hoofprints, with reference, I recall, to a vagrant goat god. Well, we were scorned and ridiculed, but now, eventually, as I suspected would happen, the world has caught up with our visionary eco-consciousness.

Mr Eugenides provides the valuable service of directing our attention to a recent study:

The eco-pawprint of a pet dog is twice that of a 4.6-litre Land Cruiser driven 10,000 kilometres a year, researchers have found.

(Incidentally, I think it was our Antipodean correspondent Glyn Webster who created a superb compendium of wisdom by tapping “researchers have found” into Google. Perhaps he can post it in the Comments.)

Of course, our tireless endeavours to be the most eco-superduper website in the universe continue apace. Even as I write, earnest beardy besandalled Cassandras are hard at work in the Hooting Yard Eco-Pod tallying up stats on the carbon talonprints of a crow, the flipperprints of sea lions, and – thrillingly – the eco-suckerprints of various squelchy aquatic life-forms.

Watch this space.

Po-Mo Paragraph

“… we can see those English-speaking academics who are investing their time, energy and personal endorsement in the concept of postmodernism as sorry figures indeed. They thought they were participating in an exciting and new theoretical movement. Instead, all they are producing, albeit unwittingly, is an English-language version of a French theory from the 1980s, which itself derives from a German thesis from the 1940s and 1950s that was originally developed by a group of ex-Nazis to lament the defeat of the Third Reich.”

Keith Windschuttle, The Killing Of History : How Literary Critics And Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past (1996)

Service Pack Six

To enhance your Hooting Yard experience, and to provide you with unalloyed glee – or at the very least a short break from your habitual sobbing into a filthy napkin – it is recommended that you download Hooting Yard Service Pack 6.

Service Pack 6 contains a bundle of exciting features which integrate Hooting Yard with popular web drivel such as Witter, Faceditch, Dobsonpamphlet, Piffle, Skippy, Zippy and Michel Foucault’s Insurrection Of Subjugated Knowledges Lite. As an added bonus, this update will cause your computer to do a lot of buzzing and whirring for no apparent reason, and it may even hiss and emit jets of steam.

Press the button below when you are “in the zone”*. Note that the button will remain inactive until you enter “the zone”, which you can do by casting aside that filthy napkin and rereading every single word posted in Hooting Yard since December 2003, learning selected passages by heart, and then declaiming them in a booming voice from atop an atoll or a grassy knoll, stunning passers-by with your erudition.

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* NOTE : The zone referred to ought not be confused with other zones into which you may be enticed from time to time.

Walrus Watch

From Wasp Watch to Walrus Watch. Glyn Webster prods me in the direction of The Dim-Post and its Walrus o’ the Day. I agree with Mr Webster that it is indeed a most magnificent walrus. The pedant in me hesitated to link to it, due to the annoyingly misplaced apostrophe in the postage title, but I am in a magnanimous mood. Also, comment number four, from “garethw”, which I recommend you read after glorying in the visual magnificence of the walrus, served to remind me that it is quite some time since I have been active in my pursuit of L’Oreal. Readers may recall that I was outraged to discover the company was claiming to have invented light reflecting booster technology, even employing the airhead Andie MacDowell to parrot this balderdash in its television adverts. For the umpteenth time, let me set the record straight. Light reflecting booster technology was originated and developed and concocted and devised here at Hooting Yard, for purposes other than hair. One day, I feel sure, L’Oreal will admit this, and get me to disport my bouffant in their adverts instead. Perhaps they think I have let them off the hook. Not so! I shall fire off one of my much delayed more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger missives later today.

Wasp Watch

Miriam Burstein directs us to what sounds like a masterpiece of wasp-related fiction:

“This evening, I came across a one-two punch sort of death in a Catholic novel, the Rev. Langton George Vere’s For Better, Not For Worse (1882).  Early on, the novel’s two female protagonists nearly tumble into a quarry; much Flashing Neon Foreshadowing ensues.  At the end, the Honorable Laura Mapleson shoots Lizzie, the younger of the two female protagonists, then chucks the body into the nearest “rippling stream” (231)…  Righteous smiting soon follows.  Laura, who apparently failed to look where she was going, stumbles into a nest of wasps, and is quickly beset by “infuriated insects” (231).  While trying to rid herself of the aforementioned insects, the Flashing Neon Foreshadowing kicks in, and Laura “lay a bruised and bleeding mass of humanity in the darksome depth of the old disused quarry, where her victim, the palefaced girl, had stood and shuddered, as she thought of the horror of a fall into that dreadful darkness!” (231)”

Facts About Weasels, Number One

A weasel can both kill a rabbit and wriggle through a wedding ring.

This is the first in our important new series Incontrovertible And Startling Facts About Weasels.