The Osmonds In Winnipeg

In November 2000, a crew from ABC television descended upon Winnipeg to film a biopic called Inside The Osmonds. Guy Maddin inveigled himself onto the set. A climactic scene was planned in which the actors playing the popsters would stand aside, to be replaced by the real – now aged – Osmonds themselves.

O-Day at the Walker Theatre. I’m not even the director and I’m dizzy with fear. Since late last night, real Osmonds have been flying in from all parts of Utah, one by one: Virl, Merrill, Wayne, Jay, et al. – the first Osmond reunion in seventeen years! The Winnipeg that awaits them this morning is locked in a cruel dome of permafrost – forty degrees below, and twice as cold with windchill! We Winnipeggers pride ourselves on  moments like this. Compulsively, we muse about the impact our perfrigid town will have on the unsuspecting who visit us. How will the newly arrived celebrities cope with being here? Will they be frightened when their nose hairs are twisted out by the invisible pincers that stab into one’s nostrils at temperatures this low? What will Donny make of that first biting mouthful of air outside the airport when the cold rips into his lungs like a swallowed scissor? Will he wonder why his eyelids have frozen shut as he gropes towards his limo? And what will happen to the real parents, George and Olive, now elderly? Will the cold simply kill them? Will they be borne home in coffins, in the chilled cargo hold of the same plane that brought them here as warm and loving parents?

From “Death In Winnipeg”, collected in From The Atelier Tovar : Selected Writings by Guy Maddin (2003)

Bootless Hawk

It was raining on the moors. Ted was peering through his binoculars at a hawk. Suddenly Sylvia appeared. She nudged the binoculars aside and kissed Ted, drawing blood.

“Ouch!” said Ted, but in a manly way.

“Talk to me about boots and Fascism, Ted” said Sylvia.

“That hawk I were watching,” said Ted, “That’s a Fascist.”

“It’s not wearing boots,” said Sylvia.

She kissed Ted again, drawing more blood, and walked off to the cottage.

Later, done with hawk-watching through binoculars, Ted joined her.

“What’s thee doing, lass?” he asked, gruffly.

Sylvia looked up at him.

“I am knitting boots for the hawk,” said Sylvia, in domestic bliss.

Ted stared out of the window into the rain.

His Dabbling Absolutely Splits My Head

Dabbler-3logo (1)You will need to read Key’s Cupboard in The Dabbler with particular care this week. I am planning to use each of the phrases listed therein as the punchline of a spectacularly well-crafted and hilarious joke, each joke to form one chapter of a spectacularly well-crafted and hilarious comic novel. The critics will be helpless with laughter, and I shall be awarded laurels.

That, at any rate, is the plan. If it has a flaw – oh, and it does! it does! – it is that I am not much of a gag-writer. So that is where you lot come in. Readers are invited to provide me with jokes to which the lines listed in the cupboard are the perfect, irresistible punchlines. I will then cobble them all together into the funniest novel ever written.

Naturally, I will take full credit, to make certain of getting those laurels wrapped around my head. Your reward, and it is a fine one, will rest in the knowledge that your wit and hilarity is represented by a laurel leaf touching the bonce of Mr Key. Whingers and ingrates may be further placated by having their names scribbled on the leaves with non-permanent marker pens. I can’t say fairer than that, can I?

The Old Rugged Cross

On top of the hill, hidden behind a line of pines, stands the old rugged cross, to the foot of which is tethered a wolf which, when night comes down and the stars come out, begins to howl, and howls until the dawn.

As dawn breaks, up the slope of the hill toils the village wolfman, with his bucket of slaughtered squirrels and hamsters and mice, food for the wolf. He empties the bucket at the foot of the old rugged cross and while the wolf gobbles down its breakfast, he strides in his wolfman’s boots to the rill, and dips the bucket in, collecting water for the wolf. When the wolf has eaten its fill and slurped up all the water it wants from the bucket, back down the hill goes the wolfman, having first given a few tugs to the tether, to test its strength.

In the village tavern the wolfman reports to the villagers on the strength of the tether and the health of the wolf.

“And the old rugged cross?” asks a villager, “Hangs Christ upon it still?”

“He does,” replies the wolfman, lying through his teeth. And he takes up his pot of hooch and drains it, and bangs the empty pot upon the tavern table.

Up on the hill, the wolf sleeps in the shadow of the old rugged cross, upon which hangs not Christ, but the carcass of a demon, beset by midges, bluebottles and flies.

The Tiny-Headed Boy

The boy stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled. He was microcephalic. He had a tiny head. His hat was made of flowers and his coat was made of lead. He fixed his gaze upon the sea and this is what he said:

“I am a tiny-headed boy, alone upon the ocean. My head was of an average size until I drank a potion. I drank it from a pot I found on a shelf upon the poop. A potion recommended on Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, Goop. The ingredients are rain and hail and dew and melted snow, heated on the burning poop deck ’til they are aglow. When it’s hot, you gulp it down and say a little prayer. Oh burning ship! Oh boundless sea! Oh solids, liquids, air! And soon enough you find your head will shrink until it’s tiny. And you stand upon the burning deck and sail across the briny.”

The boy stood on the ship in flames and resolved to say no more. He stared across the sea until he came in sight of shore. And like the potion he had gulped, his spirits were now aglow. Ahead of him lay the coast of the Land of Gwyneth Paltrow!

Q & A : Lothar Preen

He’s a maestro! He’s a psychopath! He’s got a majestic bouffant! Lothar Preen answers this week’s Q & A.

When were you happiest? Whenever I squash lesser beings under my stylish black boot.

What is your greatest fear? That when I die, I shall find heaven too pokey and constricting for my afterlife ambitions.

What is your earliest memory? The creation of the universe.

Property aside, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought? My life, when I paid off several different gangs of ruffians in the dockyard taverns of Marseilles.

What is your most treasured possession? My majestic bouffant.

Where would you like to live? At the top of a lighthouse erected on the grassy knoll.

What would your super power be? The sending forth of lightning bolts from the tips of my little fingers.

If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose? Feudal serfdom.

Who would play you in the film of your life? The great god Pan.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? Trembling underlings.

What is your must unappealing habit? Affectionately mussing the hair of trembling underlings in moments of weakness.

What is your favourite book? Popsy The Pig And The Ipsy Dipsy Lobster by Prudence Foxglove.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice? Tar and feathers. Or just tar.

What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you? “O maestro, I beg of you, please have mercy on my immortal soul!”

What do you owe your parents? My parents died in an avalanche on the day I was born.

What or who is the greatest love of your life? The Phlogiston Variations by Chlorine Winslow.

What was the best kiss of your life? The mirror, a dozen times a day.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Look on my works, ye weedy, and despair!

What is the worst job you’ve done? The mass poisoning in Blister Lane.

If you could edit your past, what would you change? My bouffant would be more majestic.

When did you last cry, and why? I weep whenever I hear the innocent laughter of children.

How do you relax? Pulling the legs off flies.

What song would you like played at your funeral? Something German and argumentative and shouty and improvised.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you? That should be rephrased as “what is the most important lesson you have taught life?”

Tell us a secret. I owe the majesty of my bouffant to L’Oreal’s light reflecting booster technology.

Big Ears Addresses The Parley-In-Exile


Good evening. My name is Big Ears. You may know me from the books about the wooden toy Noddy written by Enid Blyton, in which I feature quite prominently. It should go without saying that I am not a toy myself. I am a brownie, also known as an urisk, tomte, domovoi or Heinzelmännchen, depending on which part of Europe you are familiar with. In other words, I am a sort of hob, or hobgoblin. That being so, you may wonder what I was doing living in Toytown and hobnobbing with a wooden toy like Noddy. If you read Mrs Blyton’s biographical sketches of Noddy with due care, however, you will recall that the toadstool house in which I resided, at the time, was outside the town. One could say that it was in the hilly, lumpy, bumpy part of town outside of town, very similar to the location in which a half-eaten corpse is found in John Paizs’s film Top Of The Food Chain (1999), although in that case the town was Exceptional Vista rather than Toytown. As far as I know, Noddy never went to Exceptional Vista. I have certainly never been there myself.

You may wonder what a hob was doing living on the outskirts of a town of toys. Would I not have been better off spending my days somewhere more suitable for one of my kind, such as a stream or a waterfall or a disused underground railway station? Well, of course I would! But I had no choice. You see, although Mrs Blyton never mentioned it, I was banished to the outskirts of Toytown after falling foul of the Parley of the Spout, the hobgoblin assembly under whose jurisdiction I fell. For many years, nay, for many centuries, the parley was well and responsibly run, but in 1922 there was a concerted effort, eventually successful, by a bunch of hot-headed hobs to stage a parley-coup. These whippersnappers had all come under the spell of the poet T S Eliot who, in that year, published a poem called The Waste Land, though so fanatical were the coup leaders they had got hold of an earlier draft which went by the title He Do The Police In Different Voices.

It is only fair to point out that Mr Eliot was completely unaware of this particularly fractious hobgoblin groupuscule, and bore no responsibility for the manner in which they twisted his words.

I myself had always been on good terms with the Parley of the Spout, but when the new regime began flexing its muscles I swiftly became hobgoblin non grata. It was decreed that my ears were too big, a preposterous charge, but one I had not the resources to rebut. The stripes on my trousers were subject to criticism. My cap was either too pointy or not pointy enough. And the last straw came when Lil’s husband got demobbed and the wind crossed the brown land, unheard, and the nymphs departed and at my back in a cold blast I heard the rattle of the bones and the sound of horns and motors and burning burning burning burning and the agony in stony places, the shouting and the crying, prison and palace and reverberation of thunder of spring over distant mountains, and other withered stumps of time were told upon the walls. I was brought before a special session of the Parley’s Star Chamber.

“What do you have to say for yourself, Big Ears?” they snapped.

I said “I swear, I can’t bear to look at you. And no more can’t I,” I said.

This did not go down well, and after a horrible hobgoblin screeching of “Twit twit twit Jug jug jug jug jug jug”, so rudely forc’d, I was shoved in to a sealed compartment on a train, like the psychopathic mass-murderer Lenin on his way to the Finland Station, but in my case, my ears were deemed too big and I was heading across mud and moorland for the station at the edge of the Enchanted Wood just outside of Toytown, a banished brownie, a brownie banished.

I spent seven long years in my toadstool house before taking the wooden toy Noddy under my wing. Some say I should have spent my time plotting against the Parley of the Spout. I once asked Mrs Blyton her opinion of the matter, but she was too busy typing, her food laid out in tins, out of the window perilously spread her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays, on the divan piled stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays. She was so distracted she mistook me for Tiresias, an old man with wrinkled dugs.

I would like to thank you for inviting me to talk to you this evening. I am sure we can yet topple the regime, if we strive together with vim, gusto, and our improbably enormous ears!

Polish Logic 1920-1939

There used to be a library cataloguing methodology called the Dewey Decimal System, which could result in books with enormously long references: A.832.102.098/67 might be an example. Instead, every book fanatic knows that the quaint, humane system used in the London Library is much clearer: all the interesting stuff is in Science and Miscellaneous and arranged alphabetically. Fruit Farming follows Flagellation.

Thus Stephen Bayley, in the Telegraph, while bemoaning the decimalisation of our currency forty years ago. The London Library’s idiosyncratic approach to cataloguing is indeed a thing of wonder, as the juxtaposition in this photograph shows.


Snapshot from the London Library’s set for St Valentine’s Day

Diverse And Vibrant

When Sebastian Coe spoke of “the greatest tickets on earth”, he was talking twaddle, but at least it was amusing twaddle. Too often, the twaddle babbled by politicians and others is composed of readymade phrases seemingly used to fill time – or, in written form, space – without the inconvenience of thought.

One practice that has become ubiquitous is an inability to say “diverse” without immediately adding “vibrant”. The most recent culprit I noted was the cabinet minister Francis Maude, on last week’s Question Time. Having told us how great it was that the country is “diverse”, and not really knowing what else he wanted to say, after a very brief pause he added “and vibrant”, clearly playing for time.

Similarly, the front page headline on a recent issue of my local council’s Pravda-style newspaper was a quote from a resident announcing “I love that the borough is so diverse and vibrant”.

Can one be diverse without being vibrant? Or vibrant without being diverse? And, if interrogated, chained to a chair in a dank basement, could most of the people trotting out this stuff define what they actually mean by “vibrant”?

Hooting Yard – it’s diverse! It vibrates!