T is for Taylor, more precisely Joseph Taylor, author of Apparitions or, The Mystery of Ghosts, Hobgoblins, and Haunted Houses Developed. Being A Collection Of Entertaining Stories, Founded On Fact, And Selected For The Purpose Of Eradicating Those Fears, Which The Ignorant, The Weak, And The Superstitious, Are But Too Apt To Encourage, For Want Of Properly Examining Into The Causes Of Such Absurd Impositions (1815), wherein he remarks, inter alia, “idiots in general are remarkably fond of any thing relative to a funeral procession”. Well worth bearing in mind, I think.


S is for Saints

Well, just one saint, actually, Saint Bibblybibdib, the church dedicated to whom stands, in partial ruin, in sunlight that is forever dappled, as was Saint Bibblybibdib himself, usually, by all accounts. It may have been that Gerard Manley Hopkins was thinking of St Bibblybibdib when he wrote “Glory be to God for dappled things” in Pied Beauty, though in praising “all things counter, original, spare, strange” the Jesuit does not actually mention the saint by name, or indeed by inference, and it may be that I am just indulging in wishful thinking. It would not be for the first time.

His dappledom, whatever may have caused it, is one of the few things we know about St Bibblybibdib. As with many, though not all, saints, his life is more myth than history, and it is arguable that he never existed at all, being rather an amalgam of several shadowy figures obscured by the mists of time. Who those figures might be is open to conjecture. One recent hagiographer posits the possibility that the saint we think of as “Saint Bibblybibdib” is a combination of over two hundred persons of mediaeval times or earlier, who all got cobbled together through an error in the illumination of a codex in the scriptorium of an abbey perched on a declivity in the foothills of a large and important mountain range during a ferocious twelfth-century thunderstorm.

But just as I prefer to imagine Father Hopkins sprawled on the grass among the tombstones of Saint Bibblybibdib’s churchyard on a gorgeous springtime afternoon, contemplating the saint and writing his sprung rhythms, so I like to imagine a real, corporeal, dappled saint, roaming mediaeval fields and riversides, dressed in some sort of ecclesiastical garb, a battered halo hovering above his bonce, being saintly.

What else do we know about him? Not much. His symbolic attributes include a toasting-fork, a funerary urn, a finch and a robin, half a wolf, a bloody sword, a corrective boot and a medallion of beaten tin. These are arrayed around him, clockwise in alphabetical order, in his icons, some of which date as far back as 1937, when he was canonised, on the same day, coincidentally, as the Hindenburg disaster. That hagiographer I mentioned posits something else, as it happens. He claims the Hindenburg exploded in gigantic balls of flaming gas because one of the crew was heard to curse Saint Bibblybibdib as the airship approached Lakehurst Naval Air Station for its high landing, known as a “flying moor” because it would be moored to a high mooring point, and then winched down to ground level. As we know, there was to be no winching of an airship on that fateful day. The hagiographer provides no evidence for this grave charge, which must cause considerable pain to any living relatives of the cursing crewman, and which, it must be said, paints Saint Bibblybibdib himself as a petulant and vengeful saint, flying into a rage at the merest slight. I am sure there must be at least a few saints of whom that might be a fitting character sketch, but surely not dear old Saint Bibblybibdib! I prefer to think of him dappled, with his attributes, bestowing his patronage hither and thither. Alas, as far as I have been able to ascertain, Saint Bibblybibdib is the patron saint of nothing, of nothing or no one at all.


R is for “Remembering Marie A.” David Bowie performs Bertolt Brecht’s splendid song in the 1982 production of Baal.

ADDENDUM : I realise that, by rights, R should have stood for R, Hooting Yard’s indefatigable anagrammatist-commenter. No doubt he is hard at work on an anagram as I write. But an anagram of what?


Few experiences are as alarming as sinking up to your waist in a quagmire. Having blundered into a quagmire, because you were not looking where you were going, your immediate reaction will probably be to shout your head off, calling for help, and to flail your arms in a haphazard manner, hoping perhaps to summon rescue by visual as well as auditory means. Unfortunately, it so happens that the overwhelming majority of quagmires are to be found in rustic settings, with low population density, rather than in the hurly burly of our crowded cities, where you could confidently expect at least one passer-by in the teeming urban throng to notice your pickle and dash to your assistance, perhaps with a winch. Out in the countryside, depending upon how remote from human habitation it is, hours or days or even weeks might elapse before some wayfarer comes striding past the quagmire to witness your plight. That is not to say that urban quagmires do not exist, but they tend to be spiritual ones, quags of moral turpitude, and they need not concern us here.

If it was shortly after dawn that you sank into your quagmire, bleary-eyed on a morning hike, you at least know that you have many hours of light ahead, and this knowledge should help you to keep your pecker up. After all, statistically, the longer the daylight, the more chance there is of a peasant passing by. I have not studied statistics, and of course there are all sorts of variables to take into account, but I think I can safely say that you have more reason for optimism if you have sunk into a quagmire early in the morning rather than at dusk, as the sun sinks in the west and the sky turns black. You can adjust the intensity of your hope or hopelessness based on what o’ clock it is when you sink, for of course it may be neither dawn nor dusk but two-thirty in the afternoon or one minute past midnight. If the latter, should you survive your ordeal, you would be well-advised to review your decision to go marching about the bleak countryside in the middle of the night, and resolve not to do so in future, if it can at all be avoided.

For the purposes of our blathering, let us assume it is mid-morning, and summer, and thus many hours of daylight lie ahead. You have spent, I would guess, about ten minutes bellowing and waving, to no avail, before you apprehend the futility of doing so. The effort you have expended has served to exhaust you. You are tempted to weep. Around you, the countryside is still and silent, save for a breeze rustling the leaves of the trees, the chirrup and tweet and caw and boom of birds, the scurrying in the undergrowth of busy moles and other habitués of field and mud and duff. For the countryside is never truly still, nor truly silent.

And the pong! I have not yet mentioned that. One of the salient features of the average quagmire is that foul mephitic fumes rise from it. You would naturally want to cover your nose with the embroidered linen handkerchief you keep in your trouser pocket, but of course both pocket and handkerchief, and indeed trousers, are submerged in the quagmire. You have no choice but to snuff up the noisome stench. After an hour or so, you will get used to it, so there is another reason to look on the bright side.

Another thing I have not mentioned is the possibility that, stricken with panic, you may have struggled to kick your legs, down there in the filthy gloop. This is a very bad idea indeed. If you do manage to move your lower limbs about, even a tiny bit, the resulting dislodgement of some of the sludge may make you sink further. It is bad enough having sunk up to your waist. Imagine how much more alarming it would be if you plunged in further, up to your neck. Actually, do not imagine that, because it will make you terrified, and it is absolutely critical that you keep your wits about you. A person in a quagmire is still a person.

It is a great pity that only in fairy stories do we find talking animals. As the day passes, any number of creatures may come to gaze upon you, their curiosity stirred, their tiny stupid brains wondering if you might be food. Squirrels, reindeer, puff adders, or, from above, vultures, to give just four examples. Would that one of them could comprehend human speech and relay a message on your behalf! Some beasts are more intelligent than others, such as dolphins and pigs and crows, but even they cannot speak the Queen’s English. You can at least take comfort that none of the animals that come to look at you is prepared to scamper or creep or crawl or slither or slink across the quagmire, there to devour you, flesh and bone.

From time to time, especially as the evening draws on, it is a good idea to resume your shouting and gesticulating, just in case a countryside person happens to be passing, on foot or by bicycle or astride a horse pulling a cart. But what if nobody comes?

What if nobody comes? One thing we can be sure of is that the sun will set, the sky will turn black, myriad stars will twinkle upon you, in your quagmire.


P is for Piffle

Some people do spout the most extraordinary piffle, and I suppose we should expect the words of politicians to be particularly piffle-strewn. Consider this, reported in today’s Grauniad:

“One of his shadow cabinet allies insisted Ed Miliband was growing in stature as a leader by the hour.”

By the hour? He became the Labour Party leader on Saturday afternoon, and if we grant that to get elected in the first place he must already have demonstrated just a teensiest smidgen of leadership quality, what on earth must he be like by now, and what will he be like in a week’s and a month’s time? Assuming the next general election takes place in 2015, and his stature continues to grow by the hour, he will have become a mighty potentate, a modern Ozymandias, King of Kings!


Young Ned Miliband, soon-to-be Supreme And Majestic Potentate Of The Universe


O is for Ozymandias

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, / Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!”

Now as it happens, I am mighty, and I was hanging around one Thursday morning on the boundless and bare lone and level sands, and I took the opportunity to look on the works of the King of Kings, and I did not despair. What I did was guffaw. Well, first I belched, for I had just finished eating a big pie, two dozen blackbirds baked in puff pastry, with a side helping of spring onions and marmalade. I belched, and then I guffawed. Not everyone is able to emit a full-throated guffaw, in all its glory, but I can. I used to be a chuckler, but that was before I embraced my mightiness, and developed a guffaw to go with it. I was taught it by a mountebank, on a seaside pier, far away from the sands on which I was prancing on that Thursday morning.

I had been sent to inspect the works of Ozymandias by one mightier than myself, if you can imagine such a personage. This unbelievably mighty wight was so mighty he would have flicked Ozymandias from his mighty presence as if the King of Kings were a mere fly, or a bluebottle. He, my mighty employer, had not had a moment to spare to go and see the works of Ozymandias, but he had heard reports, and was aware of the accepted wisdom that looking on them could plunge him into despair. Such a prospect confounded his mighty brain, so he took me on as a sort of surveyor-emissary, at a handsome salary.

“Go thou and look upon the works of Ozymandias, King of Kings!” he boomed in his mighty baritone at the conclusion of my interview, “And make haste to return to my mighty office on the top floor of this mighty skyscraper, and tell me of your findings. Though you are a mere speck of weediness in comparison to me, you are yet sufficiently mighty to be in a position to test the authenticity of Ozymandias’ claim.”

Before leaving the skyscraper, I called in to the PX to collect a wadge of pie-coupons. As I was counting them, and calculating how many blackbird pies I would be able to devour during my survey, it so happened that the mountebank who had taught me to guffaw popped in.

“I hear you are going to look on the works of Ozymandias, King of Kings,” he said.

“Gosh, news travels mightily fast in this skyscraper,” I replied.

“That it does, that it does,” said the mountebank, “But remember, this skyscraper, mighty as it is, will one day topple, or be toppled, and be nought but dust and ashes. In fact, I have it on good authority that such topplement may well occur before you have time to return from the boundless and bare lone and level sands for which you are headed.”

“Really?” I asked.

The mountebank tapped a finger on the side of his nose in the universal gesture of conspiratorial scalliwaggery, and then he swept away, his cape billowing behind him with controlled urgency and stylish élan.

And that is why, on that Thursday morning some weeks later, I guffawed as I looked on the works of Ozymandias, King of Kings. For the mighty skyscraper had toppled, and in its topplement my mighty employer had perished. I had my fat salary, and half my wadge of pie-coupons, and a belly full of blackbird pie and spring onions and marmalade, and I need never return from the boundless and bare lone and level sands. Here I could build my own mighty works, and guffaw at the universe! Now there was none mightier than me!


We enter the second half of our alphabet with N, which could have been for Nebuchadnezzar, had we not dealt with that king’s wild manias under M for Mead and Medica Sacra. That being so, N is for Nothing.

“Oh what horror to bite on nothing”, sang Peter Blegvad, once upon a time. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Our next letter, O, could be taken for Nothing, too, if it were to be misread as 0, or zero, which it can be, if you are not looking carefully and don’t give a damn about context. Iggy Pop claims that his band, The Stooges, has the best band-name ever, simply because of that “oo” in the middle. But the “oo” sound, written down, can also be interpreted as a double-zero, a double nothingness, as in, for example, the surname of the poet Rupert Brooke, propelled into the nothingness of death by a gnat-bite to his lip, as he sailed towards the Dardanelles, and Gallipoli. Edgar Allan Poe has just the one O at the centre of his surname, the O of a maelstrom, such as the maelstrom that lies in wait for Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket as he vanishes into a white nothingness. Iggy, too, has a central O in his surname, coupled by the O of his real surname, Osterburg.

But I ought not be babbling about all these Os now, when we are speaking of N, when we are speaking of Nothing.



M is for Mead, that is Dr Richard Mead (1673-1754), and also for his Medica Sacra : Or, A Commentary On The Most Remarkable Diseases Mentioned In The Holy Scriptures (1748, posthumously reprinted 1755). Here you can read about the diseases of Job, Jehoram, Judas, Herod, and others, also of palsy, demoniacs, and “the bloody sweat of Christ”. The full text is online, and to whet your appetite here is part of Mead’s chapter on the disease of our old pal King Nebuchadnezzar:

“Those things, which are related of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, appear so surprizing and contrary to nature, that some interpreters have imagined that he was really transformed into a beast. For ‘being driven from the company of men for seven years, his dwelling was with the beasts of the field, he fed on grass as oxen; his body was wetted with the dew of heaven; his hair and nails were grown like those of birds. At length at the end of that space of time, his understanding was restored to him, and he was established in his kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto him. Now his crime was pride and the contempt of God’ [See Daniel, Chap. iv. and v.]

“All these circumstances agree so perfectly well with hypochondriacal madness, that to me it appears evident, that Nebuchadnezzar was seized with this distemper, and under its influence ran wild into the fields: and that, fancying himself transformed into an ox, he fed on grass in the manner of cattle. For every sort of madness is, as I shall specify more particularly hereafter, a disease of a disturbed imagination; which this unhappy man laboured under full seven years. And thro’ neglect of taking proper care of himself, his hair and nails grew to an excessive length; whereby the latter growing thicker and crooked, resembled the claws of birds. Now, the ancients called persons affected with this species of madness [Greek: lykanthrôpoi] or [Greek: kynanthrôpoi]; because they went abroad in the night, imitating wolves or dogs; particularly intent upon opening the sepulchres of the dead, and had their legs much ulcerated either by frequent falls, or the bites of dogs.”

ADDENDUM : I suppose, given the day, that M ought to have stood for Miliband. Thereagain, if we are to have an M Addendum, I would prefer that it be this quotation from Charles Darwin, from one of his letters : “Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind?”


After that little interruption we return to our alphabetic schedule with L. And as with G, L is a double bill, for L stands for both Lettuce and Leeks.

According to the BBC, there was much amusement recently when police in Hampshire released an e-fit picture of a burglary suspect who appeared to be wearing a lettuce on his head.


What has gone unremarked is the possibility that the image may be devastatingly accurate, and that it is the habit of burglars and other ne’er-do-wells in the Hampshire area to sport the makings of salads upon their bonces. It would not surprise me if some urban folklorist, attached perhaps to a polytechnic, was at this very moment preparing a monograph on, say, the radish-wearing footpad of Gosport, or the Winchester Watercress Rascal.

A wider range of vegetables has been used by miscreant scamps in the past, of course, though for hiding behind rather than wearing openly upon the head. Six long years ago here at Hooting Yard we dealt, in passing, with the case of the chap who skulked under cover of a serried array of leeks hanging from a ceiling.


It just goes to show that sooner or later the so-called “real world” tends to catch up with Hooting Yard, albeit sometimes at a slightly lopsided or tangential angle.

Abba Dabbler

Dabbler-3logo (1)We interrupt this programme alphabet to point readers, with a pointy stick, towards The Dabbler, where this week Mr Key’s cupboard contains a couple of pieces about Belshazzar’s feast. Or, more accurately, one is set before Belshazzar’s feast, and the other just after it. Intriguingly, when these little tales first appeared here at Hooting Yard, many readers thought they were about the Swedish pop group Abba, presumably because the protagonists share their Christian names with the Scandinavian foursome, and quote lyrics from a couple of their songlets. I would like to take this opportunity to make it crystal clear that these are sheer coincidences, and no resemblance to any real persons, either living or passed beyond mortal realms, was intended.

ADDENDUM : The two “Belshazzar’s Feast” tales, with musical accompaniment provided by legendary noise decomposer Lepke Buchwater, will form Mr Key’s segment of the Resonance Radio Orchestra evening at the Jellyfish Theatre on Sunday 3rd October. (See D is for Date For Your Diary.)


I have decided that K, in our alphabetic schedule, stands for Knowledge. More specifically, this postage is about the status of Knowledge, how we know what we know, and how we can “know” things which we know are untrue. Actually, the real reason K stands for Knowledge is simply that I wanted to advert to this splendid postage by backwatersman. Having read just the title, and been astounded, I now “know” that…

The last words of the Emperor Napoleon were “weasel trappers may be lurking in your area”.

Alas and alack! I then continued to read the full postage, and though I was mightily entertained – and learned a thing or two – I was shattered to discover that these were not Napoleon’s last words, nor had anybody ever claimed them to be. But to look on the bright side, there is a part of my brain that will always have the comfort of once, very briefly, on this day, having “known” that they were.

I am happy to admit that this was a pretty desperate attempt to shoehorn an otherwise K-free postage into my scheme. I could have waited for M for Misreading, or N for Napoleon, or even W for Weasel, but I was impatient. You will thank me for it one day.


The OED defines jiggery-pokery as “deceitful or dishonest ‘manipulation’; hocus-pocus, humbug”. By OED, I mean the Oxford English Dictionary of course, the common referent of that abbreviation. The out of print pamphleteer Dobson, however, tried to foist upon the world another OED, the Omni-Encyclopaedia Dobsonia. We must be careful, when ploughing through the works of the pamphleteer, not to mistake one OED for the other. If we look up “jiggery-pokery” in Dobson’s own OED, we are told simply, “see pamphlet”. In fact, pretty much anything we look up in Dobson’s OED carries the same advice or instruction. It is difficult to see the point of this so-called reference work, which consumed many, many hours of the pamphleteer’s time. Even if we consider it as a sort of universal index to the contents of his pamphlets, it is by and large worthless, as he never deigns to inform us which particular pamphlet he is enjoining us to “see”.

In the case of jiggery-pokery, though, we are on firm ground. The pamphlet to which the OEDobsonia refers must be The History, Theory And Practice Of Jiggery-Pokery, From Ancient Times Up To Yesterday Morning, With Practical Tips And Cut Out ‘N’ Keep Cardboard Display Models For Your Mantelpiece (out of print). At barely a dozen pages, the pamphlet is distressingly brief, and nowhere does Dobson grant us a definition, so we are never entirely clear what he means, or understands, by the term “jiggery-pokery”. There is one lengthy paragraph which seeks to describe, in mind-numbing detail, a series of “manipulations”, “passing movements”, “flummeries and gesticulations” and “hoo-hah” which the pamphleteer watched being performed by a man he describes as “a shattered ship’s captain” on board a boat plying an unidentified sound on New Year’s Eve 1949. If we accept this to be a description of jiggery-pokery, we are none the wiser regarding its purpose, as Dobson does not bother to tell us. One suspects he had no idea what he was looking at.

The pamphlet’s title makes great claims, which only the most charitable reader could consider are met. History? Well, Dobson has a couple of sentences in which he makes glancing reference to “well-known instances of jiggery-pokery by Lars Porsena of Clusium and one-eyed Horatius Cocles” and to “that funny business involving a certain Frankish king”, but we are left scratching our heads wondering what on earth he is talking about. I just scratched my head, incidentally, and a beetle fell out of my bouffant. Time to wash my hair with a proprietary shampoo! Wait there.

I have returned, cleaned and preened and ready to proceed. Where were we? Ah yes. If the “history” element of the pamphlet’s title is scarcely justifiable, what about “theory”? On page five, Dobson announces, with quiet menace, “The time has come to consider jiggery-pokery in the abstract”. This is menacing because anybody who has even a passing acquaintance with the pamphleteer’s work knows that when he embarks upon passages of “abstraction” the best thing to do is to bash one’s head repeatedly against a surface of adamantine hardness until one loses consciousness. There was a time, when I was foolishly attempting to write a magazine article entitled “Abstract Dobson”, when I actually installed a rectangular panel of granite next to my writing desk, so I could do the bashing without having to get up from my chair. If you fear your cranium cannot withstand repeated bashing, it is important to find an alternative method of dealing with the all too potent horrors of Dobson in “abstract” mode. Some illegal pharmacists with pharmacies tucked away down sordid alleyways may be able to procure for you the kinds of powdered tranquilisers that can stun an entire herd of cattle, but ingesting them, even in a bergamot-scented tisane, has its own risks. Some more experienced Dobsonists have tried the trick of simply flipping past the awful pages and resuming their reading when the pamphleteer gets some sense back in his head. Do what you have to do.

For now, all I will say about Dobson’s “Theory of Jiggery-Pokery” is… glubb… glubb…glubb-glubb. Some of you will recognise that as the telephone call made by a terrifying semi-aquatic creature in The Thing On The Doorstep by H P Lovecraft. Warning enough, I think.

And so we come to “Practice”, which I suppose Dobson addresses in that interminable paragraph about the shattered ship’s captain, but as we have seen, whether what he witnessed was jiggery-pokery, or some kind of maritime ballet, is by no means clear. Over the years I have watched various crew members of ships, from Rear Admirals to barnacle scrapers, perform all sorts of baffling physical manoeuvres, and not once have I thought any of it fitted the definition of jiggery-pokery, except on one occasion when I was aboard a very sinister ship which sailed into a clammy mist, in which all sorts of ugly shenanigans took place until, at the last, I was marooned, with several other paying passengers, upon a remote atoll, populated only by squelchy creeping things, and bereft of paper and pencils and writing desks and panels of adamantine hardness. Luckily, the one, brine-soaked, Dobson pamphlet I managed to salvage from the ship was written in his more familiar majestic sweeping paragraphs, with nary a pippet of “abstraction” within it. Its title, by the way, was Popular Games And Pastimes Suitable For Those Marooned On Remote Atolls Pending Rescue By A Ship Of Fools (out of print).

Returning to the pamphlet under discussion, my copy of The History, Theory And Practice Of Jiggery-Pokery, From Ancient Times Up To Yesterday Morning, With Practical Tips And Cut Out ‘N’ Keep Cardboard Display Models For Your Mantelpiece contains neither practical tips nor cut out ‘n’ keep cardboard display models for my mantelpiece, not that I have a mantelpiece in my chalet, for architectural reasons. I suspect Dobson appended these items to his title to woo a wider readership, attracting the kinds of people who like practical tips and the construction of cardboard display models. I once cut out, from a Kellogg’s cornflakes carton, ‘n’ constructed ‘n’ kept, a cardboard display model of the head, just the head, of Henry VIII. But that was long ago, when I was young and tiny, and almost as long ago it was lost. Both are lost, the time of my youth and the cardboard head, lost too, one suspects, the wits of Dobson when he sat down to write his jiggery-pokery pamphlet. Perhaps that was his own kind of jiggery-pokery, as a pamphleteer, to convince us he was a sensible man writing sensible prose, when more often than not he was a nincompoop.


This morning I embarked upon the latest, and I hope final, proofreadnig of the forthcoming Hooting Yard paperback anthology. As I read, a Great Imponderable occurred to me, and as it happens the ‘I’ in our alphabetic schedule stands for Imponderable.

Why is it, I wonder, that so many of my stories are set in the countryside, and feature peasants and farmyards and rustic squalor, given that I grew up on a suburban council estate and have lived my entire life, apart from about two months in 1980, in what Keith Pratt in Nuts In May calls “the hurly-burly of the urban conurbation”?


H is for Hybrids

“Indeed, many people… think that the aliens, having subjected abductees to breeding experiments in parked spaceships or secret underground laboratories, have already produced a race of hybrids who will someday rule or even replace us. The hybrids may in fact be shopping and commuting all around us as I write. And even if they aren’t, their mixed parentage could help to explain the familiar images found in abduction memories like the following…

He’s got on a, a multistriped t-shirt… And some, like, little blue shorts…  They had sophisticated-looking toys… They have a yo-yo… It looks like an Etch-a-Sketch screen, except it’s filled with all sorts of stuff.

They were dressed like 1920s thugs, and came into the bedroom with old-fashioned Tommy Guns, aiming at me and blazing away.

Beth Collings saw a naked man in an enormous white cowboy hat.

Karla Turner… mentions two people she knows who have seen aliens disguised as hillbillies. Katharina Wilson had an experience with an alien masquerading as Al Gore.

“Once recollections of this kind are taken to be authentic, guesswork as to the aliens’ true nature and purpose becomes irresistible. What if, for example, Katharina Wilson’s visitor wasn’t just masquerading as Al Gore but was Al Gore – the hybrid or body snatcher who has already replaced the man from Tennessee? And if so, the alien takeover of our executive branch surely wouldn’t have stopped at the second in command. Consider this provocative observation by the renowned abduction expert David M Jacobs:

Because the late-state hybrids are mainly human, they have strong sexual drives but little conscience. It is as if they have human attributes but lack human controls. Even if they do have a conscience, they know that the human victim will immediately forget what happened to her. The hybrid might assume there is no lasting effect upon the human and he can therefore do and say anything he pleases with impunity.

“Could the space creature who assumed the form of Bill Clinton have been hideously mocking us when it kept invoking ‘executive privilege’?”

Frederick Crews, “The Mind Snatchers” (1998) in Follies Of The Wise : Dissenting Essays (2006)


G is for Mrs Gubbins, obviously

“Bathsheba Gubbins! You have been found guilty of a raggle-taggle salmagundi of crimes, some so heinous that they beggar belief and make strong men break down into convulsive weeping. Now, by dint of the awful and arbitrary power invested in me, do not ask when or by whom, I pronounce sentence. Mrs Gubbins, you shall be taken from this place, by horse and cart, during a rainstorm, and deposited none too kindly in a chamber within the sort of institution appropriate to a crone of your advancing years, and there you will remain, and there you will knit. You will knit and knit and knit forevermore, without cease. When cities burn and the planet crumbles and the sun is extinguished, still you shall knit, Bathsheba Gubbins! You shall knit tea-cosies and scarves and miscellaneous woolies, and at the very instant they are completed, they shall unravel and you will knit them again from scratch. From dawn until dusk and through the cold dark horrors of the night, you shall knit much like Sisyphus hopelessly pushing his boulder uphill. As he gaped to watch it roll down to the bottom of that hill, so shall you see your knitting unravel until all you have to show for your toil is a tangled skein of wool, wool you must knit again and again into a tea cosy or a scarf or a wooly. The only sound in your chamber shall be the interminable clack clack of your knitting needles. Knit, La Gubbins, knit! From now until the end of time, and beyond, clack clack clack! Take her down.”

Crikey! What a revelation! Until now, it has been beyond the most acute of wits to grasp why on earth the criminally-minded octogenarian crone never ever ceases to knit. Veteran of innumerable armed robberies and mystic badger abductions, La Gubbins sits clacking away, occasionally dribbling, staring into the middle distance, seemingly happy in her toil. Only the chance discovery of this dictabelt recording, in a cardboard box underneath a sink in an outhouse in the grounds of a mysterious country pile situated behind enormous wrought iron gates partly hidden at a bend in a bosky lane lined by titanic cedars and larches along which brightly coloured sports cars driven at reckless speed by raffish chaps wearing cravats and goggles zoom past, has revealed the truth of the matter. The matter being that endless knitting, which at last we can understand as Sisyphean.

Where and when the dictabelt recording was made is unclear. It is fanciful to suggest, as Van Spurtbosch does in his recently-published monograph, that it came from the same cache that yielded the dictabelt recording from the police motorcycle of Officer H B McLain whose radio microphone was accidentally stuck in the open position as he accompanied the presidential motorcade along Dealey Plaza in Dallas on the twenty-second of November 1963 and thus picked up sounds and “impulse patterns” which were to become germane to the inquiry regarding the identity of the assassin or assassins of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on that day, and in that place. Waters were muddied in that case by Officer McLain later suggesting his dictabelt was not the source of the recordings, but rather that of one of his colleagues. Equally fanciful is Van Spurtbosch’s wild claim that John McClane, the character played by Bruce Willis in the Die Hard tetralogy, was based on the Dallas police motorcyclist. One need only compare the spellings of the names to see it ain’t so. Had Van Spurtbosch done his homework, much grief, much much grief, indeed as much grief as there is Gubbinsy knitting, could have been spared.

Grief, like Gubbins, begins with G, so in this instalment of our alphabetic postage schedule, you have had double helpings. Remember that, next time you are minded to bemoan your lot.