Monthly Archive for May, 2010

Blodgett And His Inner Concrete Lining

Like William Taylor Marrs, Blodgett had to weigh in the balance being dead with chills or having an inner concrete lining. He was, at the time, shivering in an Antarctic cabin, having been lured there, and then abandoned, by the criminal lunatic Babinsky. Though not of a neurasthenic bent himself, Blodgett was immensely well-read in the literature of neurasthenia, as he was in the broader field of peplack. We can ascribe this unlikely erudition to the influence on the young Blodgett of his schoolteacher Margbort Stuke, for whom pep was king, and queen, prince and princeling, lord, baron and marquise. Contracted by the school to teach alg ‘n’ trig, he was ahead of his time – perhaps regrettably – in that his lessons were more concerned with self-esteem and diversity. (Incidentally, he went on to teach a college course in serial killer studies, in which the career of Babinsky loomed large.)

So as he sat quaking in his cabin with icicles forming on his nose, Blodgett recalled the choice made by Marrs in Confessions Of A Neurasthenic (1908) and resolved to cultivate an inner concrete lining. It was for this reason that he mustered a pack of huskies, harnessed them to a sledge, and mooshed them north, until he reached the sea. From there, he stowed away aboard a steamer, a sort of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket on a reverse journey, fetching up eventually upon a beach suitable for his purpose.

Blodgett built himself a shelter using driftwood and fronds, and spent months living on the beach, daily ingesting a diet of sand, crustacea, fruit-pips, oysters, and seashells. Gradually his limbs began to stiffen, but he was at no risk of chills, for even at night it was a hot beach, as beaches go.

Eventually the concrete encrustment within him rendered Blodgett almost wholly immobile. Before complete rigidity set in, he made a flag out of cut and dyed fronds, fixed it to a pole, and awaited rescue.

Carried aboard the HMS Corrugated Cardboard by stretcher, one morning in September, Blodgett was deposited in a lifeboat and covered with a tarpaulin. Twice a day a deckhand would appear, fold back the tarp, shove a funnel into Blodgett’s mouth, and pour into it an anticoagulant soft drink, sweet and syrupy, with just a hint of steak and kidney pie. By the time the ship docked at Tantarabim, Blodgett was able to walk ashore unaided, though his gait was the subject of chuckles. He went immediately to an experimental medical facility where his inner concrete lining, now somewhat softened, was extracted in one piece, drawn out through his left ear with pliers and tweezers. Exposed to the gusty Tantarabim air, it soon hardened again, and Blodgett made a living for a few years exhibiting it, standing alongside him, under the show business moniker Blodgett And His Almost Life-Size Concrete Effigy. He would play sprightly tunes upon a xylophone while his concrete counterpart stood as if listening with rapt attention.

That same gusty Tantarabim air eventually brought Blodgett down with chills, and though he did not die from them, he returned to the medical facility to see if it was possible to have his inner concrete lining reinserted.

“That will not be possible,” said the medical facility head honcho, who was none other than Babinsky in heavy disguise. He watched the disappointed Blodgett traipse away down the path, snuffling, hand in hand with the concrete effigy, and his lunatic criminal brain plotted a further enormity.

Teeth And Sparrows

“The small bones of poultry, preserved in a hole in a wall, the medullary channel being left intact, will immediately cure tooth-ache, they say, if the tooth is touched or the gum scarified therewith, care being taken to throw away the bone the moment the operation is performed. A similar result is obtained by using raven’s dung, wrapped in wool and attached to the body, or else sparrow’s dung, warmed with oil and injected into the ear on the side affected. This last remedy, however, is productive of an intolerable itching, for which reason it is considered a better plan to rub the part with the ashes of young sparrows burnt upon twigs, mixed with vinegar for the purpose.”

Pliny The Elder, The Natural History (AD 77-79)

Poly-Olbion

I have not yet borrowed a copy of Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion from the London Library, but I will do so shortly. Could this exceedingly lengthy work become a Hooting Yard On The Air Christmas Special, a broadcast I suspect would be longer than the three hours devoted to Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno? We shall see…

Meanwhile, here is the title page of the copy held by Warwickshire County Council:

PolyOlbion+2wp

The Tragic Sense

I have made it clear in the past that I abhor Twitter. (The Hooting Yard Twitter feed, adverted to over in the right-hand column, consists of nought but pointers to postages on this site, generated by some sort of het internet robot, so I need never go near it with a bargepole.)

One reason to loathe Twitter is of course the enthusiasm with which it was embraced by The Most Gigantic Brain In The Known Universe, of whom Peter Hitchens has observed “Stephen Fry’s voice and manner generally make me switch off the radio – that strange mixture of hair oil and molasses, bubbling with self-satisfied giggles, is more than I can take at any time of day”. Hitchens may be bonkers, but in this case he is surely correct.

Anyway, I mention Twitter only because I came across an eerily prescient observation, in The Tents Of Wickedness by Peter De Vries, published in 1959:

“And have you noticed something else about figures with the tragic sense? They’re the ones who buck the race up. Not the twitterers.”

With The Mole I Creep Into The Earth

Yesterday I went to a concert given by William D Drake. One of the songs he and his band performed was a splendid setting of a sonnet by Michael Drayton (1563-1631), a poet of whom I confess I had never heard before. Here is a portrait, and the poem:

200px-MichaelDrayton

When first I ended, then I first began;

Then more I travelled further from my rest.

Where most I lost, there most of all I won;

Pinèd with hunger, rising from a feast.

Methinks I fly, yet want I legs to go,

Wise in conceit, in act a very sot,

Ravished with joy amidst a hell of woe,

What most I seem that surest am I not.

I build my hopes a world above the sky,

Yet with the mole I creep into the earth;

In plenty I am starved with penury,

And yet I surfeit in the greatest dearth.

I have, I want, despair, and yet desire,

Burned in a sea of ice, and drowned amidst a fire.

What News Of Moptops?

It has long been my conviction that newspapers in this age o’ pap ‘n’ barbarism are written and edited by numbskulls, dimwits, airheads and know-noughts. The sort of people who think “prima donna” is spelled, and means, “pre-Madonna” and who are indeed wholly ignorant of almost everything that happened before about 1985.

Here is a picture of Ringo Starr. I need not explain to Hooting Yard readers who he is.

ringo_starr2

Ringo was visiting the Chelsea Flower Show this week. A snap appeared in the Telegraph. The caption? “Ringo Starr, the narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine, with his wife Barbara Bach at the Chelsea Flower Show 2010.” [My italics.]

Cruel it may be, but one is tempted to force these nitwits to listen to “Octopus’s Garden” over and over and over again, until the cows come home.

Tales From The Riverbank

There was a pig. It was in the cellar. I was listening to a record by Paul Weller. He sang “Tales From The Riverbank”. I looked at the pig and my heart sank. I looked at the pig and our eyes met, The Jam song deafening on my Dansette, a very old record player if truth be told. The cellar was gloomy and damp and cold. So I lifted the needle off of the disc, I filed the record back under Misc., and I unlocked the door with a big iron key, and I climbed up the stairs with the pig beside me, and we ran outside into the battering sun, and down to the riverbank where we had fun, the pig and me paddling, splashing about, with voles and otters. Then I heard a shout. A fellow was waving from the opposite bank. At first I thought he was some kind of crank. But it was Paul Weller, to my amaze, dressed as he was in his Style Council days. Now the pig liked The Jam, it was that kind of pig. It had never gone near a Style Council gig. It grunted and trotted off back to the cellar. So was my pig/river idyll marred by Paul Weller.

Monkey Divertisements

We have already learned how one can guarantee a tea party free of monkey divertisements by the simple expedient of dangling, on the end of a length of string suspended from the ceiling over the centre of the tea table, a large sugarlump. And we have seen that this tactic has the additional advantage of preventing the guests from putting their brains in their pockets.

But let us say we are contrary sorts who wish, at tea parties, to encourage both monkey divertisements and the placing of brains in pockets. Is it sufficient, in such a case, merely to snip the dangling string, with a pair of scissors, and to chuck the piece to which the gargantuan sugarlump is attached into a waste bin, or to secrete it in a drawer?

Would that it were so straightforward! Alas, at tea parties as in life, there is a freight of woe before we may bask unburdened in Elysium (cf. Grimes). By all means remove the string and the sugarlump, but do not expect at once to find monkeys cavorting around the tea table, nor your guests to pluck their brains out of their skulls and place them in their pockets. More needs to be done.

First, you are advised to hire the services of a monkey feng shui consultant. I hasten to add that this is a person who has expertise in feng shui for monkeys, not a monkey who knows about feng shui. Several poor raddled souls of my acquaintance have plumped for the latter, and in due course lost the shirts off their backs, and a lot more. A generation ago, punks used to parrot the line “Never trust a hippy”, and, echoing them, one could well add “Nor a monkey who claims credentials in the ancient Chinese system of aesthetics believed to use the laws of Heaven and Earth to improve one’s life by receiving positive qi”. Certainly that is a mantra some extremely astute ex-punk-persons recite daily (cf. Savage).

To attract monkeys to create divertisements among the cakes and tea-strainers at your tea party, you will have to create the right conditions for them, and this is where a qualified monkey feng shui consultant proves a boon. They tend to charge quite high fees, and rarely accept payment in nuts, so be warned that your tea party overheads will be steep. By “overheads” I do not mean the string affixed to the ceiling, because you have already deposited that in a bin or drawer, along with the massive sugarlump dangling from it.

Please, please, give the consultant free rein, no matter how abstruse or ridiculous a kerfuffle they kick up. Qi is volatile stuff, a bit like ectoplasm, and monkey qi particularly so. Clinics up and down the land are filled with persons who came a cropper thinking they could dismiss their monkey feng shui consultant half way through his or her shenanigans and finish off the job themselves. No, just let them get on with it. Your parlour will look like the wreck of the Hesperus by the time they have completed their work, and your wallet be empty, but monkeys of all sorts will beat a path to your door come teatime.

Persuading your guests to put their brains into their pockets is a task yet more challenging. In this case, there are, as far as I know, no consultants to consult. You must go it alone. Do not make the childish error of leaving, on the sideboard, a trepanning drill, and hoping for the best. I am sick and tired of explaining that boring a hole in the skull is utterly inadequate if one wishes for complete removal of the brain (cf. Felix). You will need a saw. Actually, unless you have top of the range disinfectant facilities, you will need as many saws as you have tea party guests. The last thing you want, as your guests sip tea poured from a majestic Delft teapot, ornamented with paintings of fat little Dutch shepherds and shepherdesses tending pigs, and monkeys jump and swing and shriek and otherwise provide divertisements, is to have a troop of inspectors from the neighbourhood skullsaw hygiene community support hub bashing the door down and halting the tea party on grounds of by-law infraction. And they will, they will, believe you me.

It pays to ensure that each guest is partnered by an intimate acquaintance, that is, a person whom they will trust to saw through the top of their skull in readiness for brain removal. If such pairings prove impossible in advance, you will need to devise some ice-breaking party games before everyone sits down to tea. Try playing Fumbling With Mother’s Brooch, Poke The Pin In The Sheet Of Cardboard, or Catholic Persecution, each of which is guaranteed to wholly obliterate shyness or social unease.

You also need to provide each guest with an overgarment, to be worn over their stylish tea party apparel. It is unlikely that any of them will attend already dressed in something with pockets of suitable size or lining. Study a scale model of a brain and compare it with the size of an average pocket and you will understand what I am saying. The nature of the pocket’s lining is equally important, and those of the overgarments you distribute among the guests ought to be of satin, or of a fabric equally rich and smooth. Remember the brain, in all its miraculous complexity, is but a fragile thing (cf. Finch) and while resting in the pocket must be cosseted.

It is wise to make some preparations for the replacement of the brains within the skulls at the end of the tea party. Here, I very much recommend that you first shoo the monkeys out of the way. To avoid any brain being plopped into the wrong skull, with untoward consequences, each one ought to be marked with a symbol, and an identical symbol imprinted on the forehead of the corresponding brain’s owner. You can use a magic marker for this. If you are not gifted with the ability to draw startling and memorable symbolic forms, the monkey feng shui consultant probably is, though they will charge extra for doing so. The symbols should also be marked upon the sawed-off portions of head, for obvious reasons. To guard against future dislodgement, once the brains are back within the crania and the tops of the skulls are resting on the correct heads, use glue or some sort of industrial welding equipment to fix them firmly in place.

As soon as the last guest has waved goodbye from the porch, you may wish to retrieve the string with its gigantic sugarlump appendage, and hang it once again from the ceiling. This will keep those monkeys at bay, so you can have a well-earned nap.

Next week, we will look in more detail at the fat little Dutch shepherds and shepherdesses, and the pigs they tend, both as teapot decoration and in brute reality.

Mr Key Goes Feral

Babbling prose into a microphone for half an hour every week is all very well, but occasionally one feels impelled to vent in a less… shall we say, prosaic manner. To this end, I am very pleased (I think) to be taking part in a performance by Phil Minton’s Feral Choir this coming Saturday, 29th May.

Tune in to ResonanceFM at 8.00 PM, and – as Charles Ives recommended – “sit down, pin back your ears, and listen like a man!” (Women are equally adept at this practice.)

Incidentally, and quite coincidentally, both Phil Minton and I have contributions due to appear in a forthcoming recipe book, to be sold for charity. I am not joking. I will of course keep readers fully informed, so you can buy innumerable copies when this invaluable tome hits the boulevards.

No Monkey Divertisements

“The tea table was crowned with a huge earthen dish, well stored with slices of fat pork, fried brown, cut up into morsels, and swimming in gravy. The company seated round the genial board, evinced their dexterity in launching their forks at the fattest pieces in this mighty dish, – in much the same manner that sailors harpoon porpoises at sea, or our Indians spear salmon in the lakes.

“Sometimes the table was graced with immense apple pies, or saucers full of preserved peaches and pears; but it was always sure to boast an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat and called doughnuts or olykoeks, a delicious kind of cake, at present little known in this city, except in genuine Dutch families.

“The tea was served out of a majestic Delft teapot, ornamented with paintings of fat little Dutch shepherds and shepherdesses tending pigs, – with boats sailing in the air, and houses built in the clouds, and sundry other ingenious Dutch fancies. The beaux distinguished themselves by their adroitness in replenishing this pot from a huge copper teakettle. To sweeten the beverage, a lump of sugar was laid beside each cup, and the company alternately nibbled and sipped with great decorum; until an improvement was introduced by a shrewd and economic old lady, which was to suspend, by a string from the ceiling, a large lump directly over the tea table, so that it could be swung from mouth to mouth.

“At these primitive tea parties, the utmost propriety and dignity prevailed, – no flirting nor coquetting; no romping of young ladies; no self-satisfied struttings of wealthy gentlemen, with their brains in their pockets, nor amusing conceits and monkey divertisements of smart young gentlemen, with no brains at all.”

From A History Of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker (Washington Irving), 1809

O! To Be In Pepinstow!

O! To be in Pepinstow, among the Tundist Adepts! We shall stand in a ring around the bonfire, breathing in the fumes and snorting like bears!

On the other hand, might it not be safer to be barricaded indoors, behind shutters, with a pile of rags ready to set afire and fling from the rooftop?

Whenever I find myself in such a quandary, I seek counsel from my pal Aesop, who lives in a tin hut at the end of a long and bosky lane. I set off to see him, taking with me two loaves of bread, and on the way I sold one of the loaves and bought a hyacinth, an aesthetic touch I learned from Sweetie Appleyard. Aesop would, I knew, happily wolf down the bread while I contemplated the flower which he would plop into a vase on his windowsill or mantelpiece.

Perhaps I should point out that Aesop was not named after the Ancient Greek fabulist, though people invariably assumed that to be the case. After all, one meets with very very few Aesops these days, and I cannot think of anyone else of my acquaintance who goes by that moniker. As far as my pal was concerned, it was simply that his pa and ma liked the name. His sister was called Atossa for the same reason, and not because the parents had a “thing” about the daughter of Cyrus the Great and mother of Xerxes I. In fact they were an ignorant pair who knew nothing of the Ancient Greeks, nor of Ancient Rome nor Sparta nor Carthage nor Ur of the Chaldees. And it must be said that Aesop himself was pretty thick, quite the dimwit. One of the reasons I bought the hyacinth was to give me something to concentrate on while he gobbled down the loaf. His table manners were absolutely awful, like Kafka’s.

The miraculous thing about Aesop was that in spite of his stupidity he always dispensed judicious advice, at least on matters related to Tundism. He had, you see, once been an Adept himself, unlikely as that may seem. Though beetle-browed and inarticulate and insanitary, he had been privy to the mysteries. It was never clear to me whether they drummed him out or if he had to escape their Tundist clutches, but either way he now had to remain in hiding in his tin hut at the end of the lane sheltered in clumps of larch, laburnum, hornbeam and pine, those being the four kinds of tree which grow in and around Pepinstow by dint of the soil conditions.

I am tempted to sally off on a digression regarding the many Tundist proclamations about soil, those dealing with dry crumbly soil, the winnowing of it through sieves, the transformation of soil into mud through the agency of rain or ditchwater, the commingling of soil with blood on battlefields scarred by war, the distribution of pebbles within expanses of soil, soil the home of worms as of untold creeping things, the cloddy nature of impacted soil and the engine of impaction whether organic or machine, circumstances of soil pulverisation, thoughts agricultural, horticultural and botanical, and the related yet separate issues, important to Tundists, of day soil and night soil and the employment of night soil men, their wages and duties and equipage, but all this can be studied more profitably at source, for example in one of the many Tundist soil journals publicly available.

The unholy snorting and bellowing of the Pepinstow chapter of Tundists could still be heard, though faintly, as I approached ever closer to Aesop’s tin hut smothered under the clumps at the end of the lane. It was seven forty-five in the evening, Tundist time, when I bashed my fist on his door. The loaf of bread was still fresh and the hyacinth unwilted. At seven forty-six the door creaked open. To my surprise, there in the vestibule stood not Aesop but his sister Atossa, whom I had not seen for many years. She did not recognise me, and she is as much a dunderpate as her brother, so I had to explain at length who I was, and why I had come a-calling, and why I held in one hand a loaf of bread in a paper bag and in the other hand, not in a bag, a hyacinth. By the time I was done with all this rigmarole, enunciated in ringing tones the better to penetrate Atossa’s wax-blockaded ears, it was seven fifty-two. It need hardly be said that time is of the essence to Tundists, and thus to those whose quandaries skitter within a Tundist purview. Soon enough it would be eight o’ clock, and the bonfires in Pepinstow would be at their height, ready for burnings, and not any old burnings but Tundist burnings!

Atossa scowled, but she let me in to the hut, pointing with her shrivelled white hand to the carpet, where Aesop lay sprawled in the gloom. I thought he was dead, but of a sudden he leapt to his feet and shook my hand with his usual muscular vim, making me wince. He snatched the loaf of bread and began gobbling, paper bag and all. An empty vase stood on the mantelpiece, so I dropped the hyacinth into it, set for contemplation.

“When you have finished eating, Aesop, perhaps you could advise me on my quandary,” I said, “I am in two minds whether to join the Tundist Adepts, standing in a ring around the bonfire, breathing in the fumes and snorting like bears, or, conversely, with my Hat of Caution on my head, to be barricaded indoors, behind shutters, with a pile of rags ready to set afire and fling from the rooftop. What say you, pal Aesop?”

He still had his mouth full of bread, so I waited for the quandary to lodge in his brain during his chewing. What I did not expect was for his sister Atossa to jump straight in with her own, unsolicited advice.

“You are not in Pepinstow any more. You have entered in to the Tin Hut of Atossa, as it shall henceforth be known. Here all is dim, both light and wits. Stay with us, mister, for at eight o’ clock sharp we shall be whirled up in the air on storm-tossed currents blowing ooh ferocious! We shall want you for ballast.”

It was one minute to eight. I had sixty seconds to decide my fate. At that very moment, Aesop swallowed his last mouthful of bread, belched, as he does, fixed me with his black vacant eyes, and said…

I forget exactly what he said, for he was inarticulate, though I recall there was something about soil, possibly night soil. I threw myself out of the tin hut just as it was lifted clear of the ground by storm-tossed currents.

Later, back in Pepinstow, I saw the Tundist fires burning. The Adepts were silent now, and ominous. I crept in shadows past my chalet, all the way past it until I reached the kiosk of the night soil man. It was empty, save for a coathanger on which hung a bright new uniform. I tried it on. It was a perfect fit. Night would fall, soon, soon, and I would be ready.

What News Of Cows?

If I am to believe the findings of the Unofficial Blötzmann System™ Het Internet Übersurvey of twenty million fluffyheads – and why should I not? – then I must accept that three out of every four visitors to Hooting Yard alight here to discover the very latest in cow news.

cows

A related survey, not quite as über, suggests, astonishingly, that not all cow news involves the tragic figure of blind, bearded David Blunkett. While I try to get my head around that, you may wish to read and digest this thrilling tale of attempted cow tipping at Wagner Farm.

Cow picture courtesy of an inexplicable world.

Chewing Molten Lead & Other Adventurous Pastimes

“Books on ‘Hindu feats’ became available throughout the twentieth century, explaining such classic Indian wonders as snake charming and ‘the bed of nails’, but also including a wide range of potentially dangerous demonstrations that were less obviously Indian. These were the books to read if you were interested in ‘Driving a spike into your head’, ‘Eating a ball of fire’, or the equally imaginatively entitled ‘Car on head’. More delicate readers could relax at home with one of the more gentle ‘feats of the yogi’, such as ‘hypnotizing a rabbit’. But anyone attempting the more adventurous pastimes would do well to read the instructions carefully. ‘Chewing molten lead’, for example, required a special compound that ‘melts at approximately 160 degrees. If you wish a lower melting point, add to the above a small amount of quicksilver… When melted, this mixture may be poured on the tongue which, it goes without saying, must be moist with saliva.’ And if the student was not convinced by that explanation, the following assurance of the author was given: ‘Personally, I have never developed enough courage to try this, although several have told me it is OK.’”

Peter Lamont, The Rise Of The Indian Rope Trick (2004), quoting from Thrilling Magic by Leonard H Miller (1959)

Stupid Snakes

“I have studied the ways of snakes long and carefully. All of them are stupid animals.”

R H Elliot, The Myth Of The Mystic East (1934)

Chalet O’ Prose

Pebblehead, that titan of the potboiler, has always kept secret the precise whereabouts of his legendary “chalet o’ prose”, wherein he taps out the billions of words of his bestselling paperbacks. On a recent hiking holiday, however, the noted daubist Rex Daub stumbled upon the location, and was able to execute a rapid daub in his portable hikers’ daubum.

chaletoprose

The chalet o’ prose itself remains half hidden behind a verdant slope. In the foreground, we see postie struggling up the lane heaving a sack full of fan mail. You will note that he is not wearing a postie’s uniform. That is because, in this mountainous region, wherever it is, all the posties are amateurs, a tradition harking back to the days of King Vud. This lame and pocky monarch took against professionalised posties in uniform from an early age, after a tantrum. It was an opinion from which he never wavered, and his first act upon his coronation was to grant crown licences for postal delivery to a gaggle of peasant amateurs. The existing uniformed posties were shipped off to a remote and barnacle-encrusted atoll.

Also in the picture we see Pebblehead’s famous “seven cows”, munching grass on the verdant slope. The paperbackist has written movingly of these cows, or of six of them at least, and rather more dispassionately about the seventh, in a series of cow-related potboilers. Clockwise in the picture, starting from the largest cow, we see Spinach, Toffee Apple, Miliband, Chlorophyll, Banana Brain, Graticule and Gaston Le Mesmer, all of them familiar to readers of the series, but not, until now, visually, caught brilliantly as they are by Rex Daub’s daubing.

Beyond the chalet o’ prose, the roof of which we see, blue, blue, there is some other stuff in the background, but Rex Daub may have invented this just to finish off his daub. It is a tendency he has, when in a hurry, as he often is, whether or not on a hiking holiday. For further particulars see A Pedestrian Memoir Of Hiking Holidays Accompanied By Noted Daubist Rex Daub by Dobson (out of print).