Monthly Archive for November, 2009

Animal Magnetism

Blodgett was weighed in the balance and found wanting. But for what did he want? One thing he most definitely lacked was animal magnetism, or, let us be quite frank, any kind of magnetism whatsoever. Over the years he had consulted a number of specialists in the field. They tapped his big rectangular block of a head with their little metallic tools, and they fastened apparatus to his extremities with clips and wires. They even submerged him in vats filled with a mysterious cloudy solution, supplying him with a breathing tube so he could remain there for hours on end while they conducted their tests. When, weeks or months later, Blodgett received their reports in the post, it was with a certain resignation that he read, standing at the window, looking out occasionally at the relentless drizzle, their conclusions. Time after time he had it drummed into him that he lacked magnetism. And time after time, he would fling the letters aside, or scrunch them up, or even set fire to them with his dragon breath, and pitch himself into some distracting activity. He was a master of many trades, including carpentry and millinery and tattooing and eel nurture. If particularly fraught, he would busy himself by combining his skills, for example by tattooing a design of a wooden hat upon an eel, or by tattooing a design of an eel upon a wooden hat.

I met him one morning, crossing Sawdust Bridge, shortly after one such episode. He was wearing an eel-emblazoned wooden hat and beckoning a dog. His way of beckoning was to move his arms in slow, delicate gestures, as taught to him by a magnetic theorist. But the dog was repelled rather than attracted, and it scampered off into a field to snuffle midst a clump of bee borage.

Poor Blodgett wept. I handed him a napkin to wipe away his tears. I did not tell him it was my magnetic napkin, in which a tiny, tiny iron lode was embedded. I stalked off home to my magnets, and cackled as I threw the switch on the Blodgettometer.

Tull, Cloth, Eel

Here are a few notes – by no means conclusive – from Mr Key’s American sojourn. Further bulletins may follow.

I met a fanatical devotee of Jethro Tull, with whom I shared observations about the first four or five LPs and the apparel worn by the flautist Anderson in the early days.

I am minded to note that what British people call a “flannel” and Americans call a “washcloth” has always been known in my family as a “facecloth”. This is possibly due to a transliteration by my Flemish-speaking Ma.  It has been decreed that henceforth the social networking application Facebook will be referred to as Facecloth. All Hooting Yard readers and listeners are expected to adopt the new term exclusively and with immediate effect.

I met a couple who have a pet eel named Peaches. Sadly, I did not meet Peaches The Eel herself. (Himself? Itself?)

High In The Air, Amused

“I have already been subject to abuse and physical attack (pelting with so-called ‘organic’ vegetables etc.) because of my genetic engineering experiments: eg, my production of a new type of electronic bread, enriched with GMOs, which turns into toast on a voiced command. – Paul Ohm, Atomdene, Edgbaston”

From Peter Simple’s Century by Michael Wharton (1999) – my aeroplane reading yesterday, crossing the Atlantic. I have never before read the uberreactionary Wharton, who is extremely funny and, I learn, was noting the activities of Aztec fundamentalists long before me.

Pippy Bag Packed

I have packed my pippy bag and will be off on my travels first thing tomorrow morning. Postages at Hooting Yard will thus be sparse, or perhaps non-existent, for the next couple of weeks. You can stave off hysteria by rummaging in the Archives, or buying the books. Speaking of which, almost as soon as I return to Blighty in the second week of December, a brand new Hooting Yard book will be published, thus solving your Christmas gift problems!

Tableau (Woohoohoodiwoo) Vivant

At A Don’s Life, classicist Mary Beard writes about her visit to a rag well, or clootie well, near the village of Munlochy in Scotland. What she fails to mention is that while there she posed for a thoroughly convincing tableau vivant of the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman In The Woods.

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Theophrastus

“[Theophrastus] left behind to Posterity several monuments of his divine Wit, of which I think it but requisite to give the Reader a Catalogue, to the end that thereby it might be known how great a Philosopher he was…

“… Of Nature. Three Books of the Gods; one of Enthusiasm; an Epitome of Natural Things; A tract against Naturallists; one Book of Nature; three more of Nature; two Abridgments of natural things; eighteen more of Natural things; seventeen of various Opinions concerning Natural things; one of Natural Problems; three of Motions; two more of Motion; three of Water; one of a River in Sicily; two of Meteors; two of Fire; one of Heaven; one of Nitre and Alum; two of things that putrifie; one of Stones; one of Metals; one of things that melt and coagulate; one of the Sea; one of Winds; two of things in dry places; two of Sublime things; one of Hot and Cold; one of Generation; ten of the History of Plants; eight of the causes of them; five of Humours; one of Melancholy; one of Honey; eighteen first Propositions concerning Wine; one of Drunkenness; one of Spirits; one of Hair; another of Juices, Flesh and Leather; one of things the sight of which is unexpected; one of things which are subject to wounds and bitings; seven of Animals, and another six of Animals; one of Man; one of Animals that are thought to participate of Reason; One of the Prudence and Manners, or Inclinations of Animals; one of Animals that dig themselves Holes and Dens; one of fortuitous Animals; 1182 Verses comprehending all sorts of Fruits and Animals; A question concerning the Soul; one of Sleeping and Waking; one of Labours; one of old Age; one of Thoughts; four of the Sight; one of things that change their Colour; one of Tears entituled Callisthenes; two of hearing; one of the Diversity of Voices of Animals of the same sort; one of Odours; two of Torment; one of Folly; one of the Palsie; one of the Epilepsie; one of the vertigo, and dazling of the Sight; one of the fainting of the Heart; one of Suffocation; one of Sweat; one of the Pestilence.”

From The Lives, Opinions & Remarkable Sayings Of The Most Famous Ancient Philosophers, translated “by diverse hands” from the Greek of Diogenes Laertius (1688), and quoted in The Chatto Book Of Cabbages And Kings : Lists In Literature, edited by Francis Spufford (1989)

Reproachful & Splotchy

A spur to completing the cryptic crossword in the paper each day is the knowledge that the solutions may provide inspiration for a piece of prose. Today, for example, having cracked the Guardian Crossword No. 24,862 set by Brummie, I find myself considering if any useful embroidery can be done with this:

In Dartmouth, against a background of shamanic doo-wop, a supine organism watched as Splotchy Astrid, the reproachful spinster, clambered up the wall of a marl-pit.

Spot The Woohoohoodiwoo Woman

For many of us, there comes a time when we may need to consult the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman about some matter of psychomagickal significance. We might seek answers to questions such as;

- What is the difference between good wool and bad wool?

- Is “David Carpenter” an appropriate name for my cat?

- Did a part of my tulpa perish when the airship Hindenburg exploded in flames as it attempted to dock with its mooring mast on Thursday 6 May 1937?

But to consult with the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman, we first have to find her, and of course she lives all alone in her magick and dilapidated cottage somewhere in the densest part of the dark, dark woods. So before hiking out there, in the night, without a map, wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow practise seeking the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman in the comfort of our own non-magick and undilapidated homes?

Well, now we can! The new board game Pore Over A Diagram Of The Dark, Dark Woods And See If You Can Spot The Woohoohoodiwoo Woman provides hours of fun and frolic for all the family. Just print out the diagram of the dark, dark woods below, paste it on to a board, lay the board flat on your floor, and pore over it, with both eyes, until you spot the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman. Then, when you eventually need to hike out to the real dark, dark woods, on a real storm-wracked night, to find the real Woohoohoodiwoo Woman, you will be mentally, physically, magickally, and psychically prepared. I think it’s another triumph for the toy-and-board-game manufacturing community!

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Picture courtesy of the splendid Ptak Science Books blog.

Songs My Mother Taught Me

My mother had a tin ear and a voice like a corncrake. In spite of these shortcomings, she saw it as her maternal duty to teach me a number of songs. I do not think she hoped that one day I might have bouquets thrown at me as I took a bow upon the opera house stage, it was merely that she felt the ability to sing songs was a necessary social accomplishment, like having good table manners or making small talk with riffraff.

It was on the day after my sixth birthday that Ma announced her intention. I was happily sprawled on the floor playing with a stick and a lump of coal when she swished into my nursery through the butchers’ drapes, grabbed me by the wrist, and hauled me off to what she henceforth called “the music room”. This was actually one of the pantries in which she had cleared space for her spinet.

She began, inappropriately, by teaching me the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss. These were quite a challenge for a six-year-old who spoke no German and was accompanied, not by an orchestra, but by a cack-handedly tinkled spinet, and much aggression.

“For Christ’s sake, Arpad!”, Ma would shout, “Try harder or I will set the Grunty Man on you!”

The precise nature of the Grunty Man had never been explained to me, but, like all six-year-olds, I was terrified of him. Ma did let slip that his awful rages could be soothed by song, and I believed her. Indeed, I still do, so many years later. Ma has long been in her grave, and her little Arpad has grown old and frail, but I never crawl into my bed at night without putting out a saucer of suet and marzipan to placate the Grunty Man should he smash his way into my chalet as midnight strikes. When he removes the treats from the saucer, the pressure knob concealed beneath it will click up and activate a gramophone player, and the fearsome creature will be lulled by the dulcet tones of Dame Nellie Melba crackling from a 78.

When I had mastered the Four Last Songs to Ma’s satisfaction, we moved on to Dr Bogenbroom. This is a 1971 song by Jethro Tull, not one of their better-known pieces, and one which, curiously, I found far harder to learn than the Strauss. Much of the difficulty was due to the fact that Ma was now accompanying me on a wheezy and motheaten sackbut, an instrument with which she showed even less proficiency than the spinet. Our family factotum, Mungo, of Carpathian peasant stock, had grown fearful of the sound of the spinet after a series of nightmares, and had thrown it down a well. Ma resolved to change the locks on all the pantry doors, and to banish Mungo to the garden. He made himself a yurt as shelter against the snow, for this was a time of great howling blizzards. In the evenings, from my nursery window, I would hear Mungo singing away. He had a deep and booming voice and sang the Carpathian ditties remembered from his childhood, but Ma said they were abominations and nailed fast the shutters on my windows. Thereafter the silence was broken only by my own relentless practising, over and over again, of Dr Bogenbroom. It took me many months to crack it, but I did. As a reward, Ma gave me a new lump of coal to play with. The other one had crumbled, so I had been tapping my stick upon the floor, or upon the shell of Mungo’s tortoise.

I did not have much playtime, though, because Ma insisted I next learn Essay On Pigs by Hans Werner Henze. Difficult, brutal, and shouty, these five settings of the poem by Gastón Salvatore suited me perfectly, and in a matter of days I had them down pat. In fact I learned them before Mungo had finished repairing the spinet. Ma had pushed him down the well and made him fetch the various broken fragments, then locked him in a linen cupboard with a hammer and pliers and nails until he put the instrument back in one piece. She hated the sackbut, as did I, and we both looked forward to the day she could bash out her witlessly-arranged accompaniments upon the spinet once more. But Mungo was a slow worker, and almost a year passed before he was done. During this time, it was my job to feed his tortoise, and I became very familiar with curly kale and lettuce, to my immeasurable benefit in later life.

I fear I must pass in silence over the next stage in my song-singing education, for it is too painful to recollect. Ma somehow got it into her head to teach me Drink Ye Every One The Waters Of His Own Cistern, Until I Come And Take You Away, the single – and singular – song written by the out of print pamphleteer Dobson. I learned it. I sang it. I can still sing it. But it gives me no pleasure to do so, and it frightens even the crickets in my hearth. I will write about them separately, by the way.

Her spinet now restored, Ma’s pedagogic impulses were a-buzz. By the time St Bibblybibdib’s Day swung round, she had taught me Che gelida manina, Roll Along Covered Wagon, all one hundred and fourteen songs in the collection published by Charles Ives in 1922, and The Light Pours Out Of Me by Magazine. Keen as I was to crack right on, it was on the eve of my patron saint’s day that I was felled by an ague. I lost the use of my limbs, was rendered half-blind, and could only croak pitifully. Now, Ma had no truck with the medical profession, relying instead on Mungo’s befuddled and, I suspect, inaccurate memories of Carpathian peasant nostrums. Most if not all of these seemed to involve gunk and fluid drained from the gall bladder of his tortoise, and the chanting of gibberish at my bedside. I cannot say if, or how, it contributed to my recovery from the ague, but the chanting certainly had a profound effect on Ma. I have said she had a voice like a corncrake; now she began to behave like one. After listening, rapt, to Mungo, she would lollop off across the fields to the edge of Scroonhoonpooge farm, and hide in the wheat, gobbling down insects and seeds and shoots and frogs. As I got better, and my sight returned, I noted that when sitting at my bedside she was furiously knitting herself a pair of woollen wings.

By the time of my seventh birthday I was fit as a fiddle. I jumped out of bed and scampered to the pantry, keen to begin work on The Song Of Investment Capital Overseas by the Art Bears and More Than A Feeling by Boston. Ma had given me to understand that these two songs would complete my repertoire, and with them under my belt I would never be at a loss to entertain sophisticated people at cocktail parties for the rest of my life. But when I pushed open the pantry door I was met with a sight so traumatic that it meant I would never become the sort of person, with easy manners and social dash, who receives invitations to cocktail parties. Mungo was keening his deafening Carpathian peasant chant, and applying a poultice made from his tortoise’s gall bladder goo to Ma, who was encased from head to toe in a corncrake suit made of wool. She, in her turn, was calling “crex! crex! crex!” over and over again. Of the spinet, there was no sign.

I never did learn to sing those two songs. Over the following year, Ma tried all in her power to turn me into a corncrake chick. I was forbidden to sing anything at all, even the Essay On Pigs, my stick and my lump of coal were cast into a dustbin, and my time was split between hiding in the wheat and being chanted at by Mungo in the pantry.

God knows what would have happened had fate not intervened. Shortly before my eighth birthday, Mungo was called up by the Carpathian peasant army reserve, and returned to his homeland. We waved him off from the station. He left his tortoise with me for safekeeping. It lives with me still, and I feed it on curly kale and lettuce, but I have never drained a drop of fluid from its gall bladder. Ma eventually came to her senses and shed her corncrake ways, but she never taught me any more songs.

He’s A Proper Caution, That Arlok

I am deeply grateful to Odd Ends for posting a link to Astounding Stories Of Super-Science, January 1931. Why so? Readers already know – or ought to know – that I am no aficionado of SF, though oddly it seems some SF-minded persons are keen on my work. Mine not to reason why.

There is one writer in the field, however, cruelly neglected, whom I adore, unreservedly. I speak of course of Hal K Wells, a man whose prose was forever pitched at hysteria level. Lap up those adverbs and adjectives!

I have just realised that I raved about Mr Wells as recently as last April. No doubt my forgetfulness can be adduced to the shuddering miasma of crepitant dread to which my brain has been reduced by reading this newly-posted story, entitled The Gate To Xoran:

The attack of the Xoranians was hideously effective. Clouds of dense yellow fog belched from countless projectors in the hands of the bluish-gray hosts, and beneath that deadly miasma all animal and plant life on the doomed planet was crumbling, dying, and rotting into a liquid slime. Then even the slime was swiftly obliterated, and the Xoranians were left triumphant upon a world starkly desolate.

“That was one of the minor planets in the swarm that make up the solar system of the sun that your astronomers call Canopus,” Arlok explained.

“Our first task in conquering a world is to rid it of the unclean surface scum of animal and plant life. When this noxious surface mold is eliminated, the planet is then ready to furnish us sustenance, for we Xoranians live directly upon the metallic elements of the planet itself. Our bodies are of a substance of which your scientists have never even dreamed – deathless, invincible, living metal!”

You know you should just stop whatever else you are doing and go and read the whole brain-bedizening story right now. Then unjangle your nerves with a nice cup of piping hot tea.

NOTE : Checking the link back to that April postage, I have noted – not for the first time – some kind of formatting problem in older posts resulting in the appearance of extraneous characters. I think this happened after the tumultuous and terrifying hacker attack of some months ago. Steps will be taken, gingerly, to eradicate these alien hoofprints. Until then, just try to ignore them.

The Ballad Of Sopwith Tim

He came in a Sopwith, his goggles were tight. He landed among us in dawn’s early light. O say can you see him in the airfield canteen, telling us of all the places he’s been? Widnes and Wivenhoe, a village called Splat – the latter’s in Cornwall but I’m sure you know that – Totnes and Topsham and Snodland and Looe, places without proper airfields too. His goggles are still fastened tight round his head as we hang on to every word he has said. We wonder how long he is going to stay in our pitiful village, so out of the way. He is chomping his breakfast with gusto and vim. He tells us that his name is Tim.

Whatever became of Sopwith Tim? Not a trace remains of him. Tragically, his fate was sealed when he came down in that airfield. How could he have known of the villagers’ lust for burying under soil and muck and dust the corpses of strangers who ate their fill in the sinister canteen on top of the hill? He landed in the airfield and walked up the tor, in his goggles he passed through the canteen door. He told them his tales of venturesome flights, until the poisonous breakfast put out his lights. They chopped him to pieces and buried his bones and covered his grave with mysterious cones. Then they smashed up the Sopwith and sold it for scrap. You won’t find that village on any known map.

Kokoschka And Toads

“When one opens a door there’s something on the far side that was not there before. I had a premonition that it would be irrevocable when, from a crate filled with wood-shavings or curly paper, she unpacked the death mask of her late husband. Even when they were drawing up the ground plan of our future house some had thought the choice of site a dubious one, for there was an underground spring there in which the foundations would some day be awash. But with much labour and expense the water was diverted. There was another disagreeable impression I will not pass over. It was like this. When we went to look at the house, which was just being finished – the beribboned tree already set on the rooftop by the master carpenter – there, in the future bathroom, where the spring had been piped and made to provide our water-supply, there was an aquarium such as people use for ornamental fish. It was full of hideous creatures swirling around in clusters. This was the visiting card of someone I loathed, a candidate for the lady’s favours, a zoologist who had made a name for himself with experiments in cross-breeding. Presumably he had caught these toads here in order to take them to Vienna and use them for his experiments in the Institute in the Prater. A few days earlier he had committed suicide – this I learnt subsequently. So this was his bequest to us. As quickly as I could I emptied the tub full of batrachians into the swampy field that had come into existence all round the house since the previous winter. What I should have liked best would have been to spare her the sight of these fat-bellied creatures, for she was pregnant. Instead she had to watch and see how each of the yellowish, disgusting toads of the larger sort, the females, carried one of the smaller, greenish males to the water on her back. In coupling with the females the males had fastened on to their sides with their sucker-feet. It was early spring.”

From A Sea Ringed With Visions by Oskar Kokoschka (1962) Though he does not name her, “she” is Alma Mahler – the actual woman as opposed to the later rag doll.

Singalonga Spem In Alium

There are times when one leaps out of bed and feels impelled to gather thirty-nine pals or passers-by together to execute a faultless rendition of Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis. To assist in this enterprise, here are the words, from the Sarum Rite:

Spem in alium numquam habui praeter in te Deus Israel qui irasceris et propitius eris et omnia peccata hominum in tribulatione dimittis. Domine Deus, Creator coeli et terrae respice humilitatem nostram.

Englished, thus:

I have never put my hope in any other but in you, O God of Israel, who can show both anger and graciousness, and who absolves all the sins of suffering man. Lord God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, be mindful of our lowliness.

However mindful we are of our lowliness, it may be that in our post-Christian, diverse and vibrant community hubs, trendy groovers will want to sing a more inclusive version suitable for all faiths and none. To wit:

Spem in alium numquam habui praeter in te Dobsonius Tractator qui irasceris et propitius eris et omnia peccata hominum in tribulatione dimittis. O Dobsonius, Creator tractati superbus respice humilitatem nostram.

Laptop-Wielding Cybercriminals

While watching Die Hard 4.0 the other day, it occurred to me that things might pan out very differently if, in films featuring laptop-wielding cybercriminals, the malefactors had to rely on PCs using Windows Vista.

Criminal mastermind cackles evilly and issues a command to his technowhizz sidekick.

“Upload the virus now!”

Sidekick nods, taps the keys… and on his screen, a message appears:

“Please wait. Windows is checking for updates and carrying out several other incomprehensible and purposeless activities. This may take a few minutes, or possibly hours, during which time your computer will make little whirring noises. Do not power off or unplug your machine.”

With The Futurists

I am indebted to Ed Baxter (who in turn acknowledges the assistance of Adrian Barry) for providing an answer to the question: “Who was on the bill with Russolo and Marinetti when the Futurists visited London, performing at the London Coliseum in June 1914?” The query was posed by Ed himself, by the way, but, recognising that this information would be of immeasurable benefit to Hooting Yard readers, he has kindly allowed me to post the results of his research here, including the invaluable links. And the answer is:

Lydia Kyasht, Russian ballerina, b.1885, performing an excerpt from Javotte.

Helen Eley and Sam Hearn, after their tour of Hullo, Tango! (a successful 1913 revue – 485 performances in the West End -  devised by Max Pemberton and Albert de Courville. Music by Louis Hirsch; Lyrics by George Arthurs. Additional songs by Maurice Abrahams, Grant Clarke and Edgar Leslie. One song from which “Get Out and Get Under” was still popular enough to be performed in the 1960s.)

Arthur Winckworth, Emilie Smith and George Graves & company in Koffo of Bond Street (farcical playlet, four years old already in 1914, featuring popular comedian Graves and opera singer Winckworth).

George French , b. 1876, Scots comedian and panto star who drew on multiple cultural personae including a very popular madcap Geordie footballer, chosen to appear in the 1912 Royal Music Hall Command Performance.

Gertie Gitana (“the Staffordshire Cinderella,” b. 1887), popular for her signature tune “Nellie Dean” (premiered in 1907). Her earnings rose to well over £100 per week and her name could fill any hall. Recorded songs on the Jumbo label in 1911 – 13.

Cecilia and Lina Lallier - no details available

The Nathal TrioA novel turn. “One of these performers, in the guise of a monkey, might be described as Darwin’s “Missing Link”. He climbed a rope fixed from the orchestra to the roof of the building, gripping with his toes as easily as with his fingers, and hanging head downwards from that dizzy height, literally made the audience gasp.”

Henry Helme, a “singer from the French Alps.”

In the interlude(s), The Bioscope (films unknown, but likely to be independently made in the provinces by small companies and comedic in nature: see here.

Alfred Dove & orchestra, playing (i.a.) Saint Saens’ Javotte. Dove was conductor of the London Coliseum Orchestra, later the musical director for Oswald Stoll, who during the First World War put together all-female orchestras. The Coliseum retained its male drummer during the War.

Note: Marinetti “got the bird” for a full twenty minutes from the audience “more thoroughly than we have ever heard it given in the history of variety theatres,” according to The Stage. Later Marinetti castigated the English newspapers for their baleful influence on perceptions of the avant-garde: “the public drank in their poisonous garbage.” Plus ça change?