Tiny, Lethal

Reading an item in yesterday’s Guardian about tiny lethal phantasmal poison frogs, I was reminded of Dobson’s pamphlet My Terrifying Encounter With A Tiny Lethal Phantasmal Poison Frog (out of print). It is by any measure one of his most exciting works, guaranteed to have one panting for breath and to cause beads of sweat to break out upon the brow. This is due to the pamphleteer deploying, as he so rarely did, his remarkable ability for building suspense. Alerted by the title, we are in a state of heightened expectation for the appearance of the minuscule killer, so tiny yet so toxic. But Dobson is in no hurry to come face to face with the lethal frog.

He begins by recounting, in exasperating detail, how, in preparing for a morning trudge along the towpath of the old canal, he discovered that the aglets on his Batavian Crimebusters’ boots had become rusted and brittle, the bootlaces fraying as a result. Reluctant to don a different pair of boots – for reasons he enumerates over five pages – Dobson describes his search, in drawers and cupboards and hideyholes, for a replacement pair of bootlaces. Throughout this “desperate fossicking”, as he calls it, Marigold Chew is staring out of the window at the incessant rainfall, picking out a tune on her celeste, composing in her head the words of the song that would later be known as The Ballad Of Incessant Rainfall.

In his monograph on Dobson’s various items of footwear, Aloysius Nestingbird asks why the pamphleteer did not simply remove the laces from one of his other pairs of boots and reuse them when it became obvious that he had no pristine bootlaces to hand. He answers his own question by delving into Dobson’s infamous pamphlet Every Lace Has Its Own Boot (out of print), the work which plumbed in excruciating detail the unfathomable depth of the pamphleteer’s neurosis in these matters. Those of us who have read our Nestingbird will have his commentary in the back of our minds as we follow Dobson crashing about the house on his futile search. Twenty pages in, we are no closer to our own encounter with the tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog, but the tension is becoming unbearable. At the point where Dobson describes tipping out onto the floor the contents of a battered cardboard box kept under the kitchen sink, we are ready to put the pamphlet aside and to put the kettle on for a calming cup of tea.

Next, we take a nap, and when we return to the pamphlet we find that is what Dobson did too. Giving up hope of finding new bootlaces for his Batavian Crimebusters’ boots, and leaving Marigold Chew plinking and musing and staring out of the window, the pamphleteer retires to his nap-hub. Now he cranks up the suspense by treating the reader to a detailed account of his period of unconsciousness, accompanied by masterly, if somewhat florid, descriptions of his pillows, his coverlet, and his mattress. Nestingbird has remarked that “no one has ever written about the nap as brilliantly as Dobson. The only wonder is that he never devoted an entire pamphlet to the subject.” This is uncharacteristically careless of Nestingbird, who has overlooked the mid-period pamphlet Fifty Pages Of Prose About Daytime Naps In Theory And Practice (out of print). It is an inexplicable lapse on the part of the greatest of Dobsonists, one I am minded to attribute to his habit, in later years, of mulch ‘n’ mop cloth bish bosh flossy flapping.

And so we are put on tenterhooks, still awaiting the terrifying encounter with the tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog, wondering if perhaps when Dobson wakes from his nap it will be to find the diminutive assassin perched within his bouffant. But no. He wakes, he grunts, he stumbles to his escritoire and begins scribbling. What we now come upon is not the fatal frog, but one of the central mysteries of Dobsonist scholarship. This is what the pamphleteer tells us:

I woke, I grunted, I stumbled to my escritoire, and thereupon scribbled ten pages of mighty prose, putting the finishing touches to my pamphlet Six More Lectures On Fruit.

The puzzle is that no such pamphlet exists. Given the importance within the canon of the original Six Lectures On Fruit (out of print), it seems barely credible that Dobson could have completed a sequel only to destroy it so utterly that not a trace remains. As Nestingbird has demonstrated, though the pamphleteer wrote innumerable fragments and scraps and unfinished doo-dahs, whenever he considered a work complete he invariably published it, including the stuff that can only be described as bollocks. That is Nestingbird’s word, not mine. There is no other reference, anywhere, to this pamphlet, and in fact Marigold Chew, in a late interview, directly denied its existence. “Everything Dobson had to say about fruit,” she said, into a tape recorder, “is contained in the Six Lectures. The very idea that any further essays could have been wrung out of his brain is preposterous. He simply didn’t know enough about fruit.” As with all of Marigold Chew’s tape-recorded pronouncements, this has the ring of truth, and it is backed up by the remarks of the Pointy Town fruiterer Sigismundo Figorplumtree, who recalled that Dobson used to stand in front of his market stall fruit display scratching his head and wearing an entirely vacant expression for hours upon end on many a market day morning. As if that were not evidence enough, we have the famous incident when the pamphleteer took part in a charity fruit quiz on the radio and failed to answer a single question correctly.

My own theory about this perplexing mystery is that Dobson is deliberately pulling the wool over our eyes. By claiming to have written a pamphlet for which no credible evidence exists, he guesses, rightly, that our bafflement will be sufficient to make us forget all about the tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog, at least temporarily, so causing us greater terror and alarm when he reminds us about it a few pages later. It is an inspired display of narrative fireworks. Here is how he makes our hearts thump:

Having pocked the final full stop on my majestic fruit sequel, I decided to go a-trudging along the canal towpath in the incessant downpour after all. I determined to wear my Latvian Civic Cavalry boots instead of the Batavian Crimebusters’ boots, for the laces in the former were, I knew, in tip top condition. Earlier in the week I had run them through a pneumatic bootlace testing contraption hired from Hubermann’s. It was worth every penny, though when the time came to return the machine to that most gorgeous of department stores I admit I shed a few tears. As I trundled it along the lane atop my cart, I wondered if I would ever be able to afford to buy one of my own. Then all my bootlace problems would vanish in the ether! Perhaps, I thought, as I rounded the sordid duckpond, if I could write a pamphlet that would outsell a Pebblehead paperback, I might – oh, hang on, I am forgetting myself. You will want to know about my terrifying encounter with a tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog.

Aloysius Nestingbird rightly numbers this as among the top one hundred paragraphs ever committed to paper by the out of print pamphleteer. Yet even after this, Dobson continues to twist the knife. It seems the suspense could not be brought to a higher pitch, but it is. I have read the pamphlet a thousand times, studied it, subjected the text to the most abstruse critical scrutiny, and even discussed it with frightening Continental literary critics, all hornrimmed spectacles and atrocious beards and Gitanes and arrogant hand gestures, but still I cannot work out how he does it. No sooner has he reminded us of the tiny toxic Epipodobate with which he is destined to come terrifyingly face to face than he postpones the awful moment by spending dozens of pages wittering on about other types of poison dart frog, frogs in general, toads, green things, things with legs, tiny beings, poisonous beings, radiant beings, Ecuadorian and Andean life-forms, and – weirdly – the Flemish painter Dirk Bouts. Now we are unable to let the imminent encounter slip from our minds. There is no relief from the tension. (Dobson’s ability to shoehorn Bouts into his frog nightmare is sheer genius.) If the reader manages to get through all this without swooning or just dropping dead, it is a capital idea to toss the pamphlet aside and put the kettle back on, or, if there is a dog in the vicinity, to take it for a walk, and let it off its leash, when one reaches an expanse of greensward, and throw a stick for it to fetch, repeatedly, and then perhaps to head to a pond, and take from one’s pocket the paper bag of stale breadcrusts one has brought with one, and chuck the crusts one by one into the pond as nutriment for ducks, if there are ducks in the pond, or swans, if there are swans, and unleash the dog again and allow it to leap friskily into the pond for a swim, if the bye-laws permit the swimming of dogs in the pond, then on the way home pop in to the orphanage to distribute alms, and perhaps leave the dog there, to serve as the orphans’ pet, unless the orphanage is in a designated risk o’ rabies zone, in which case Skippy, or Praxis, or whatever the dog is called, will have to be returned to wherever it was one gathered it, from outside the post office perhaps, or the dog pound, and then as one skips lightly along the path towards one’s door, becalmed, becalmed, one will be both physically and mentally prepared to face the final hideous revelation of the Dobson pamphlet, the encounter, so long threatened, with the tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog of the title, so, once safely back in the parlour, thirst quenched by that nice cup of tea, one can fling oneself into one’s armchair, à la Nayland Smith in the Fu Manchu books of Sax Rohmer, and in hands no longer shaking with fear, pick up the pamphlet, and read…

And then, as I crept from the wreckage of the aeroplane onto an Andean slope, so incredibly high above sea level, out of the corner of my eye I saw something. It was tiny. It was lethal. It was phantasmal. It was poisonous. It was a tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog! I was transfixed with terror. My whole body stiffened, as if I were a piece of timber. The slopes of the Andes are steep, so immediately I began to roll downhill, just as a piece of timber would.. As I rolled, so the distance grew between me and the tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog, until I could no longer see it. By the time I came to rest at the foot of that Andean slope, I was no longer paralysed with fear. The tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog was far, far above me now, in the thin air, and it was so tiny I calculated that even hopping as frantically as it could, I would be long gone before it reached sea level. I stood up, in Ecuador, and walked away from the mountain, delivered from peril, sound of limb, numb of brain, writer of pamphlets.


On yesterday’s radio show I played the Hooting Yard Chant, in a simple version for two voices. It has now been given an audio going-over by Outa_Spaceman, and sounds quite formidable. Put it on repeat and use it as the soundtrack to your day.

Hooting Yard! Hooting Yard! Ha-ha and gazebo! We will vanquish all our foes! Where have all the flowers gone? Hooting! Hooting Yard!


A Sad, Wizened Old Man

A letter arrives from Peter Christian:

Dear Frank, he writes, Have you been moonlighting over at the Dictionary of National Biography, or have they been somehow stealing your unpublished works? The following DNB entry is a blatant fiction, and its Hooting Yard origins manifest, I would say:

“Cowley, Sir John Guise (1905–1993), army officer, was born at Mussooree, in the foothills of the Himalayas, during an earthquake on 20 August 1905, the son of the Revd Henry Guise Beatson Cowley, army chaplain, and his wife, Ethel Florence (née Prowse). When the family returned to England by ship John won a contest for the ugliest baby on board. His early years were spent in a Dorset village, where his father was the rector and Thomas Hardy was a neighbour. He recalled Hardy as a sad, wizened old man who spoke seldom but who occasionally, though an atheist, attended church services, at which he always asked Cowley’s father to read the same passage from the Bible—Elijah’s vision of the earthquake.”

After Belshazzar’s Feast

Returning from Belshazzar’s feast, Agnetha and Benny grew increasingly despondent, and by the time they reached the hotel both of them were staggering under the oppressive weight of grim Scandinavian misery.

“If Fernando were here,” groaned Benny, “He would brighten things up. He could draw sunbeams from a cucumber.”

“You forget that Fernando is but a fictional character in a songlet, Benny,” snapped Agnetha. Tears were rolling down her cheeks.

“Oh,” said Benny, staring out of the hotel window. He saw Anni-Frid flit past, like a phantom. Agnetha was beating her fists upon a piece of pine furniture.

“At least here there is no mysterious writing upon the wall, as there was at the feast,” added Benny, trying to open a crack in the gloom.

All of a sudden Björn came striding manfully into the hotel lobby. His hair and beard and face and clothing were blackened from the charcoal he had been burning.

“I am looking for Anni-Frid,” he said, “Have you seen her?”

“No,” said Benny, lying through his teeth. But had he really seen her? Or were his eyes playing tricks on him again, as they had in Uppsala?

“Check the abandoned cow byre,” said Agnetha, “She went there earlier to clean her rifle.”

“Since many years I haven’t seen a rifle in her hand,” said Björn. He dashed outside into the mist that engulfed the hotel grounds.

Agnetha and Benny slumped in the lobby armchairs, expecting to hear a rifle shot in the distance. But none came. The only sound was the whirring of the fan above their heads and, outside, the strange cries of such Scandinavian birds as had not flown south for the winter.

“Anyway, how would Fernando draw sunbeams from a cucumber?” asked Agnetha, eventually.

But Benny had fallen asleep, lost in dreams of Belshazzar.

What Is Wrong With Grooving?

It’s been a while since we paid a visit to the groovelab, high in the Swiss Alps, where tireless boffins attempt to isolate the essential core of Hooting Yard’s grooviness. But we may have to pack our pippy bags and hike over there again, for it appears that objections have been raised to the very practice of grooving itself. Our dulcet-voiced South African correspondent Letta Mbulu has found herself leaping to the defence of all things groovy by asking, in the form of song, the cogent question What is wrong with grooving? Actually, Ms Mbulu asks what is wrong with groovin’, but I fear we ought not encourage her use of apocopation, otherwise we start getting into Hootin’ Yard territory, at which point civilisation begins to crumble.

I pause here briefly to note that Ms Mbulu’s name is an anagram of Umlaut Belt (or Bëlt), which is, as we know, the name given to a far, far distant string of glittering stars and planets somewhere in this or another galaxy, dubbed as such by a fearsome Teutonic astronomer great of beard and brain alike. His own name, alas, I cannot quite recall. It is not even on the tip of my tongue. It is as if it has been utterly expunged from my memory, possibly by a bash on the bonce received when negotiating an Alp in Germany, on my way to Switzerland, there to visit the groovelab boffins.

I had my pippy bag and my hiking apparel, and I had a handful of feed for any goats that might cross my path as I wended my way. The sky was blue, and I thought of Ruskin. Well, in truth I thought of both Ruskin and Letta Mbulu. I wondered, as I often have, if Ruskin would have got down with the Hooting Yard groove, had he been born in a different era. We tend not to associate Ruskin with grooviness of any kidney, but that is a mistake, I think. It has not escaped my notice that his very name suggests a Mbuluesque apocopation. What is wrong with Ruskin’?, indeed.

Had I had my portable metal tapping machine upon my person upon that Alp, I may well have pranged a message to Ms Mbulu, insisting that she make a new recording of her song substituting Ruskin’ for groovin’. Not that this would have gone down too well with the boffins in the groovelab, who I know consider Ms Mbulu their staunch champion and her song their anthem. When your working day consists of exhausting hours of experimental groovy research, it must be a terrific dampener to learn that some are calling into question the practice of grooviness itself, its tenets and ethics and its jib-cut. I was keen to speak with the boffins, to see how they were bearing up, to spread some pep. Though I am often of lugubrious mien, I am not averse to dispersing pep where and when I can, particularly among boffins confined to their fastness in the Swiss Alps. I had gifts for them, too. Stuffed into my pippy bag were samizdat copies of some of the more inspiring letters from Ruskin’s Fors Clavigera.

So there I was, toiling up an Alpine slope, on the lookout for goats, thinking about Ruskin and Letta Mbulu, and nary a thought in my head regarding the beardy brainy Teutonic astronomer who had named the Umlaut Bëlt. Perhaps had it been night rather than day, had the broad sweep of the heavenly firmament glittered in darkness above me, rather than the bronze and battering sun, I might have thought about stars and planets and astronomers old and new, Teutonic and otherwise, and that name I cannot now remember would have come to me. Around it, I could have framed a piece of anecdotage to beguile the boffins over lunchtime sandwiches in their canteen chalet. I would draw together their singing heroine Letta Mbulu with the stars in a distant galaxy, somehow work in Mr Ruskin, and then, la!, flip from my pippy bag the copies of Fors Clavigera to boost their pep. Alas, it was not to be.

As I have indicated, I was well prepared should I meet with any goats who crossed my path. I had handfuls of goat feed, chiefly nettles and genetically modified sultanas and bran flakes, with which to assuage them. What had not occurred to me was that, being Alpine goats, they would be clumping about above the path, and, in a frisky moment, dislodge a rock or two, which, rolling unstoppably down the slope, would land upon my bonce, and knock me out.

It was night when I came to. Above me, the mighty firmament, the stars in their courses glittering against a cloudless black expanse. Out there, somewhere, possibly visible if I had a powerful telescope, was the Umlaut Bëlt. What was it Dobson had written? Of all the belts in all the galaxies, the Umlaut Bëlt can lay claim to being the grooviest belt imaginable. I wondered if the boffins in the groovelab knew that. Try as I might, I could not remember the name of that long dead Teutonic astronomer. I got to my feet. Strewn on the path, I saw the untouched goat feed. Alongside it, my open pippy bag, and the few remaining shreds of my copies of Ruskin’s Fors Clavigera, chewed up and munched by the Alpine goats which, like the rocks that had bedizened me, had descended from the slopes. The goats were gone now, and my boffin-gift was gone too. I could hardly present them with the sorry tatters which, in any case, a mountain wind would soon disperse into the night. To arrive at the groovelab without a gift to pep the boffins would be unforgivably ungroovy. Sadly, I turned around, and began the long hike back to my homeland. I was in no mood for grooving. Perhaps I never would be, ever again.

Yes, We Remember!

I am fairly sure the answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!”

“Can we not all remember the time when, on first taking to heart Milton, and afterwards Akenside, – (before knowing anything of Dante,) we conceived the grandest moment of possible existence to be that of a Seraph, poised on balanced wings, watching the bringing out of a world from chaos, its completion in fitness, beauty and radiance, and its first motion in its orbit, when sent forth by the creative hand on its everlasting way?”

Harriet Martineau, Life In The Sick-Room : Essays Of An Invalid (1844)

Important Announcement

Here is an important auction announcement. This coming weekend, May the first and second, sees ResonanceFM’s fundraising marathon. From noon to midnight on Saturday and Sunday a series of guests will be trooping into the studios offering delectable items to be snapped up in live auctions.

Mr Key will be on air between 1.30 and 2.00 PM on Sunday, eliciting bids for a pair of uberrarities, the books Derek The Dust Particle and Bring Me The Head Of Derek The Dust Particle!, written by Perry Natal and illustrated by Frank Key, published two decades ago by Indelible Inc.

So turn on, tune in, drop what you’re doing, and bid as if your life depends on it. Resonance needs you, almost as much as you need Resonance.


I know I promised not to babble on about the general election, but hope I will be forgiven for sharing with you this important note. Thanks to Gaw over at Ragbag, I learned that ‘Clegg’ is another word for a horse-fly. Here is the full OED definition, with handy quotations for use when a Liberal Democrat canvasser comes a-pounding at your door:


Also 5 clege, 6 clegge, 7-9 clegg.

A gadfly, horse-fly, or breeze.

a1449 W. BOWER in Fordun’s Scotichron. (1759) II. 376 The unlatit woman..pungis as the cleg. 1483 Cath. Angl. 66 A Clege. 1570 LEVINS Manip. 53 A clegge, flée, solipunga. 1656 Burton’s Diary (1828) I. 308 Sir Christopher Pack did cleave like a clegg, and was very angry he could not be heard ad infinitum. 1658 ROWLAND Moufet’s Theat. Ins. 936 The English [call it] a Burrel-fly, Stowt, and Breese: and also of sticking and clinging, Cleg and Clinger. 1855 ROBINSON Whitby Gloss., Clegs, the large grey flies which torment horses and cattle in summer. ‘He sticks like a cleg.’ 1872 Daily News 24 Aug., For animals of their size, ‘clegs’ are exceedingly light-footed.

b. Comb., as cleg-stung adj.

1808 MAYNE Siller Gun in Pop. Poems Scotl. (1862) 136 Like cattle prodit with a prong, Or cleg-stung fillies.

Film Studies

From his exile in a pompous land, reader Mike Jennings very kindly alerts me to a newly published film studies textbook from the University of Ülm:


The title translates as Oi Mate! Are You Looking For A Punch In The Face? : Horst Gack and the Cinema of Belligerence. The first study dedicated to the visionary director of “Goats and Ogres: A Film from the Hillsides”, “Revenge of the Pig” and “The Fatal Duckpond”. This thumping tome collects together essays by some of the most incisive and rigorous minds of Teutonic academia. Unfortunately all the contributors have chosen to remain anonymous following reports that Horst Gack’s mysterious wife and collaboratrix Primrose Dent is “not best pleased” with the book. We know not why, but then she is an international woman of mystery, so her motivations and manias are forever hidden from the public gaze.

What is most startling about the book is that it completely avoids the sort of obfuscatory postmodernist verbal diarrhoea that besmirches so many academic texts these days. The formidable German intellects who have turned their brainpower towards the films of Horst Gack do so in prose so plain and simple it can be understood by tiny tots. This passage, from an essay entitled “The Use Of Smudged Camera Lenses In Revenge Of The Pig“, is typical. It was translated for Hooting Yard by our old pal Fatima Gilliblat:

“See the pig. See the pig in black and white. See the pig blurred. See the pig go from the sty to the barn. See the clouds louring. See the rain falling. Hear Horst Gack cry “Cut!” Hear Primrose Dent cry “No, don’t cut yet!” Hear a kerfuffle. See the camera fall off its tripod. Hear imprecations and threats. See Horst Gack stomp off to lock himself in his trailer. See the pig emerge from the barn and roll in the muck. See Primrose Dent channelling the spirit of Leni Riefenstahl. See the rain continue to pour down relentlessly until darkness falls.”

Life-Lessons, Number One

I think it is time for Hooting Yard to provide readers with life-lessons, some simple rules of conduct for prancing through a complicated world with elegance and brio. Mr Key is, of course, far too ignorant to be able to cobble together any such rules himself, so he will rely on the tried and tested wisdom of others. And to begin with, we have this unarguable rule to live by:

Never, ever question Higgins’ safety nous.

Make of that what you will, but bear in mind the awful fate of the last person who dared to question Higgins’ safety nous. Thereby hangs a tale to curdle the stomach and derange the collywobbles.

Futurist Stories (Abridged)

“Through a blue haze one saw the ground, covered with snow, shining under the magical moon… A piercing wind blew from the frozen river – the muff – if it would come it would keep her warm – … Like a knife they went through my soul – Rose petals – … I had been the momentary victim of a freakish fancy… The rain irritated me… Through her tears she saw a star shining in the night… War – It had shattered homes – brought skeletons – where once children laughed. Brought famine – once birds had eaten crumbs… Little fool muttered the maddened officer… A night of drunkenness, of horror, had passed in the Belgian chateau… Play on, he whispered. Play for me – for England – whose son I am… She saw no friends – the ones of former days – Nihilists. They were perhaps hiding in foreign lands – or were in the darker seclusion of some Siberian Prison… Speak, speak – Angel or demon, or both, speak to me before I throw you into the sea… The alienist gave his testimony. The prisoner was mad. Clearly… I shall have ceased forever, I hope, to count the bars of my iron door, my sole occupation and the one thing which keeps me from thinking too much of the past, so bitter… Lydia – risen from the ashes – walked out into the snow and cold… I found myself in a small room, blue with smoke and poorly furnished. An old man was cooking supper, as he hummed some weird old gypsy tune… The snow is falling and covering in white the grim rows of houses opposite my little shop, the streets are deserted save by a few hurrying pedestrians and some merry school children going down to the frozen river for an hour’s skating before dusk – … On the steps of this now abandoned house sat the muttering old woman… Strange, weird music of the desert played by slaves… The agonizing sorrow of Gethsemane again swept over Christ, as He stood by the Lake.”

What was that all about? Let me enlighten you. I took a snippet from each of the extraordinary Futurist Stories by Margery Verner Reed, published in 1919, and cobbled them together. I hope this drastic abridgement will persuade you to read the entire book. This is passionate, sometimes hallucinatory, prose, unlike anything I have read before, as if bulky 19th century novels had been boiled down to their emotional essentials.

Who was Margery Verner Reed, and in what sense did she understand Futurism? I have been unable to discover anything about her save that she also wrote Under-Currents and the splendidly-titled Prose Petals. Tireless literary researchers are implored to add their ha’porth in the Comments.

Oubliette Of Fops

The harebells are in bloom, and there is a man prancing along, waving a stick. There is phlox and flax, campions, pinks, hollyhocks and bee borage, chrysanthemums and vetch, dahlias, hyacinths and delphiniums, and all the colours seem reflected in the man’s cravat. It is silken, and embroidered with fantastic skill. One admires the casual yet stylish way he has knotted it about his neck. His hat, too, with its elegant angles, is pleasing to the eye. He rounds a pond, still waving his stick. The pond is home to mergansers, teal, and some ferocious swans. The sun emerges from behind an impossibly fluffy cloud, and bathes the scene in light so bright it bleaches the colour from things. The man makes a pause and dips his hand into a pocket of his blazer, from whence he plucks a pair of sunglasses and in one easy movement slides them behind his ears and onto his nose, while still managing that rhythmic wave of the stick with his other hand. A flock of swallows swoops across the sky. The man continues walking, now past a large stone edifice, quite a wonder of masonry. It looks as if it has been plumped down here in this field at random, long ago, for in parts it is crumbling, and it is tilted where the ground has subsided slightly beneath it. Much writing is carved upon one face of it, and the man stops, and stops waving his stick, and reads the words.


All of this is in Latin, or possibly Goat Latin, but we are given subtitles. Having read it, the man spits upon the masonry, and strolls on, again waving his stick. Suddenly, in the harsh sunlight, from nowhere, comes a trio of grunting toughs, who maul and manhandle him to the ground and drag him into a pit. The light grows brighter until the screen is completely white, and then appear, in a lovely font, bold and black, the words:

“I Profaned A King’s Tomb” – Peter De Vries, The Mackerel Plaza, MCMLVIII

Thus the opening of Horst Gack’s new film Oubliette Of Fops, the follow-up to his award-winning Het Ontbijt. Where that earlier masterpiece limited itself to a small group of Belgians eating breakfast in a cafeteria, this latest work operates on a much broader canvas, at least in terms of ambition. Granted, after the opening scene the bulk of the “action”, if we can call it that, takes place in the oubliette of the title, a tenebrous hellhole scarcely more expansive than the breakfast cafeteria, in which various semivisible fops and bravos groan and languish. But this is primarily a film of ideas, ideas hatched not by Horst Gack but by his wife and collaboratrix Primrose Dent, international woman of mystery. So what we have, over three or more hours, is a series of meditations upon kingship, temporal power, being eaten by worms, and the desperate quandary of fops consigned to an oubliette for profaning a king long dead. “If we live we live to tread on dead kings” go the words of the song, and this perhaps was the refrain running through Primrose Dent’s head as she wrote the screenplay while jetting between important capital cities, staying in expensive hotels, and sipping cocktails on terraces which, not so long ago, or not too far in the future, ran or would yet run with the blood spilled by revolutionaries or counterrevolutionaries, and in some cases by irredentists. It is this context which makes the film so rich, so appealing, and it certainly compensates for Horst Gack’s trademark cackhanded camerawork and those infuriating longueurs of which he seems so fond. Or perhaps, as the critic Giles Lapwing has asserted more than once, the prizewinning director is simply a hapless incompetent.

Oddly enough, Lapwing himself actually has a walk-on part in the film. In a piece of bravura hyperrealism, Horst Gack shows him being abducted from his Pointy Town pied à terre, bundled on to a rickety cart, and driven by wild horses across a desolate and unspeakable landscape before being thrown by the same trio of toughs into the oubliette. What are Horst Gack and mysterious Primrose Dent trying to tell us here? For if there is one thing the world knows about Giles Lapwing it is that he is the most unfoppish of men. Indeed, such is the general shabbiness of his appearance and demeanour that he has on countless occasions been ejected from sophisticated soirées, much like the Emerald Isle crooner Van Morrison. Sometimes the pair of them have been kicked into the streets in tandem, memorably when trying to gain access to their own joint birthday party at the Grand Metropolitan Palace o’ Fops ‘n’ Dandies on the quayside regeneration zone at O’Houlihan’s Wharf. By all accounts Lapwing and Morrison were pursued by outraged Palace habitués to the end of the pier, whereupon they toppled into the sea and had to swim out to a barnacle-encrusted rock.

Oubliette Of Fops is certainly a challenging piece of cinema, and it will be interesting to see what the critics make of it, if, indeed, any of them get a chance to see it. Word has it that while Horst Gack is preening himself ready for the festival circuit, Primrose Dent is keeping all existing prints of the film under lock and key in one of her mysterious secret cavernous subterranean secure storage facilities. There are at least four of these on each continent, their exact locations of course known only to the international woman of mystery herself. Horst Gack is apparently ignorant of their existence, happily accepting his wife’s increasingly gnomic pronouncements, issued in the form of scribbled notes passed over the breakfast table. It is reminiscent of the scene in Het Ontbijt, where the husband and wife at the cafeteria’s corner table pass coded teabags to each other.

There are at present no plans to release Oubliette Of Fops in 3D, though apparently a Smellovision version is on the cards. The smells will be those of lemon verbena, turpentine, and snackbar fug.