For Podpersons

In a startling initiative, born of who knows what brain-faff, I have resolved to post a direct link here each time a new Hooting Yard On The Air podcast is made available by ResonanceFM’s podcasting maestro. So here is the latest:

On Sawdust Bridge, Harangued Click, listen, and learn.


In a couple of weeks’ time, the show will celebrate its seventh anniversary. It is a pity, I think, that back in 2004 neither I nor anyone else thought to apply Blötzmann numbers to the episodes. Scholars, researchers, and fools would have a much easier time of it if they were able to refer to “Episode 149”, say, instead of having to identify shows by the original broadcast date. Perhaps a sensible person could devote a portion of their otherwise worthless life to the creation of a numerical index?


Allah-befuddled theocratic nutters and their chums in the airhead wing of what used to be the “left” are fond of referring to the state of Israel as “the Zionist Entity”. This is of course a pejorative term, not only denying the legitimacy of the state but implying that there is something menacing and eldritch about it, like a tentacled Lovecraftian abomination.

So much for the global body politic. What about the bosky winding lanes of Interwebshire? Your favourite website, the one that makes you drool with joy unparalleled, nestles there, attracting a modicum of attention. But no one gets het up into a bothersome lather about Hooting Yard, do they? They bash on the gates, come in and read, perhaps leave a comment or buy a book or make a donation or subscribe, and then they tootle off again, heading for the Lord knows what sink of iniquity or wittering or poppycock. In nation-state terms, then, Hooting Yard is an obscure and seldom-crowed-about country, akin to Andorra, perhaps, or Kiribati, or Palau. If the nutters drove us into the sea, would anybody even notice?

In a no doubt foolhardy attempt to raise our profile, and indeed to have other websites quaking in their boots at our (albeit imaginary) menacing Lovecraftian tentacles, the time has come to rename ourselves as The Hooting Yard Entity. You have been warned.

In Heaven

My ascent into heaven was, I am sorry to say, something of a disappointment. To begin with, the angels who bore me aloft, away from mortal clay, were a shabby bunch. Their wings were threadbare and caked in dust, their golden locks were greasy and unwashed, and as for their faces! As pockmarked as Stalin’s, and as charmless!

Things got no better when, after much puff, we eventually fetched up at the pearly gates. The pearls themselves were tarnished, and I suspected they had been eked from infected oysters, ones with the bivalve mollusc equivalent of human scrofula. They were stuck to the gates with some kind of heavenly gum or paste which had an unbearable stink and further discoloured the pearls. Whatever this stuff was – a sort of sticky ectoplasm? – it lacked adhesive heft, for quite a few pearls were either loose or had fallen from the gates and were scattered in the gutter. I had not expected gutters in heaven, nor drains, nor sewers, which is I suppose a mark of my naiveté.

I cannot bring myself to go into detail about St Peter. Suffice to say that his resemblance to Stalin was starker than that of the angels. The appraisal interview in which my time on earth was picked over in forensic detail was a sore trial unto me, not because I had wallowed in moral squalor, but rather because it acted as a reminder of the tedium and waste and sheer futility of my life. Also, I was kept standing throughout, when all I wanted was to rest my weary bones – my weary dead bones, remember – sprawled on a sofa or divan. And not only was I kept standing, but kept standing in a puddle, because the nearest drain was blocked, clogged up with heavenmuck.

At long last Stalin – sorry, St Peter – waved me through the gates. I thought I would be escorted by the tatty angels, or at least one of them, but they were sent back down to the terrestrial plane to gather up another poor dead sod. So, all alone, I stumbled into the light. The cloudy clumps beneath my feet were treacherous. It was like walking through a marsh where all the water had turned to gas. Here and there I spotted harps, abandoned, rust-covered and with broken strings. Clearly they had not been played in living memory.

But I realised of course there could be no such thing as living memory here in heaven, where we were all dead. At least, I was. I couldn’t see another soul in the entire expanse of misty light which stretched as far as I could see. Hey-ho. I picked a cloudy clump at random and lay down upon it, and I waited for trumpets and hosannahs. Then it started to rain.

Twenty-five billion years later, fully rested, I sat up and peered into the mist. The torrential rain had slowed to a drizzle. Off in the distance, I saw a wall had been erected. I heaved myself to my feet and squished through the milky clumps towards it. As I approached, an angel of the Lord appeared, carrying a step-ladder and a bucket of gum or paste and a brush and a large roll of paper. I watched the angel erect the step ladder and clamber up it and spread paste upon the wall and unroll the paper and stick it up and brush it smooth and descend the step ladder and pick it up and carry it and the bucket and the brush away, vanishing into the mist. When I got closer, I saw it was a gigantic poster of Stalin. Not St Peter, but Stalin himself. Under his grim yet avuncular countenance, there was a slogan. Unfortunately I cannot read Russian. I felt sure the words were egging me on in the valiant struggle for a Utopian workers’ future, with tractors and electrification and rallies. I struck a determined pose, staring forward, pointing at nothing. For there was nothing, just the poster on the wall and the endless expanse of white misty milky light, in heaven.

About The Funnel

I should perhaps give some explanation of the postages headed The Funnel, Volumes One and Two. They comprise the lists of contents of the only two editions of a decisively obscure magazine entitled The Funnel, conceived and written by Dobson and edited and published by Marigold Chew.

Dobson was insanely jealous of the success of the Reader’s Digest, every single issue of which sold more copies than even his most popular pamphlets. Trudging along one morning past the pollarded willows by the canal just before the level crossing, it occurred to him that whereas his pamphlets tended, in the main, to address one subject at a time, the great attraction of the Reader’s Digest was its variety. Each copy came packed with diverting disquisitions on topics as various as John’s kidney, escapes from imperilment, Jane’s liver, Aztec antiquities, anticommunist hysteria, and astrological flummery.

“To hell with pamphlets!” shouted the pamphleteer, at a siskin perched upon a bough. The siskin is, in the words of one ornithologist, an attractive little finch, but it has no understanding of human speech, so Dobson’s words were wasted. But when he arrived home, having plodded around the edge of the eerie marsh, he repeated his imprecation to Marigold Chew.

“Gosh,” she said, adding “You could just staple four or five pamphlets together, and that would provide the variety you seek, Dobson.”

“Have you actually seen the Reader’s Digest?” shouted Dobson, “It covers far more than four or five topics. It is so packed with prose that its binding needs a spine, unlike virtually ever other magazine available at this point in the twentieth century!”

“So staple ten or a dozen pamphlets together, Dobson,” said Marigold Chew.

“No staple is big or sturdy enough for the popular magazine I envisage!” shouted Dobson, and he began pouring milk into a bowl.

Over the following weeks and months, the pamphleteer and his inamorata thrashed out the details of a publication Dobson was convinced would have the editor of the Reader’s Digest either grovelling piteously at his feet or banging his head repeatedly against the damp stone walls of an oubliette in a secure facility for lunatics. Each issue of the as yet untitled magazine would contain not ten, not a dozen, but thirteen articles, penned by Dobson but with titles provided by Marigold Chew. She would enter into a shamanistic trance-frenzy, cavorting dizzily around a bonfire in the back garden, twigs and bones and feathers entwined in her hair, and summon from eldritch tonybuzanities a set of two-word titles based on the alphabet (issue one) or the qwerty keyboard layout (issue two). Fuelled by plentiful tumblers of aerated radishwater, Dobson would write all the articles in one marathon scribbleathon, the reams and reams of dazzling prose typeset and Gestetnered by Marigold Chew, and untold millions of copies piled high in a convoy of container lorries revving their diesel motors outside the house, ready to fan out across the land to doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms and other carefully selected distribution points.

On a Thursday night in November, Marigold Chew induced a shamanistic trance-frenzy and delivered forth twenty-six titles for Dobson to crack on with. At dawn, brandishing the flayed skin of a wolf on which the titles were daubed in her own blood, she went looking for the pamphleteer, who was nowhere to be found in the house. She found him beyond the pollarded willows by the canal just before the level crossing, slumped in the muck, weeping.

“Here, Dobson,” she cried, still in a partial frenzy, “The contents of issues one and two of The Funnel are ready for you, wrenched from realms beyond sense!”

But Dobson continued to weep, clawing at the mud.

“All is hopeless, hopeless,” he whimpered, “I have just been apprised, by Sputnik or some such space age contraption, of the latest Reader’s Digest circulation figures. I must be mad to think I could ever match them. No, Marigold, I am afraid it is back to the drudgery of pamphleteering for me. Tell the convoy of container lorries to drive away. I shall weep and claw some more and then I shall come home and pour milk into a bowl.”

“Right-o, Dobson,” said Marigold Chew, brightly, “And I shall put the kettle on and pop the smokers’ poptarts into the toaster.”

And thus dawned a Friday morning in November. Far far away, in Texas, Lee Harvey Oswald woke from an uneasy sleep, got ready for work, and before leaving the house, plopped his wedding ring into a pale, translucent, blue-green china teacup with violets and a golden rim that once belonged to his wife’s grandmother.

Extract From The Encyclopaedia Of Eggs

Work continues apace on my forthcoming Encyclopaedia Of Eggs. Here, just for the hell of it, is an entry under the heading “Fiction, Eggs In, Quotations Regarding”:

She gave him his own egg, but he was so overwhelmed that he froze and, holding it well away from his body, repeated the word ‘egg’ with great difficulty.

Patrick Harpur, The Rapture (1986)


I have been thinking of drawing a Venn diagram showing all possible Venns. There is John Venn himself, the invenntor of the diagram, also notable for having built an automatic cricket-ball-bowling machine which was used to great effect in Cambridge in 1909 against a visiting Australian XI. There is red ochre-stained Diggory Venn, the reddleman from Hardy’s The Return Of The Native (1878). And there is a hamlet in Saskatchewan called Venn which, in its glory days, had a wood crib grain elevator.

There, that is three Venns to be going on with, sufficient for a diagram. Time to get the coloured pencils and paper!


Dabbling With Tonybuzanities

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Over at The Dabbler this week I recall my favourite pedagogue, a chap with a jarring speech impediment. A slightly different version of the piece appeared here some years ago. One detail that I certainly had no intention of changing, for obvious reasons, was the pedagogue’s use, for pedagogic purposes, of tonybuzanities. These awe-inspiring pedagogic aids are named after Tony Buzan, he of the sepulchral voice and the flowing black cape – truly a boulevard magnifico, if ever there was one, and a magnifico whose brain pulsates at a rate lesser mortals can only dream about, while dribbling and grovelling at his feet.


I Hiked With A Zombie

I have learned to be very picky when it comes to choosing my hiking companions. Once, I tramped the moors with a skittish widow-woman. Another time, I tramped other moors in the company of a pig-ignorant popinjay. These hikes taught me much, and they were hard lessons, from which my immortal soul took weeks to recover. Sprawled on a pallet in a post-hiking clinic, I had time to review my entire approach to hikes. One thing that became absolutely clear to me is that I needs must have a companion of some kind, for I am temperamentally unsuited to solo hiking due to the particular admixture of blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm which makes me what I am.

I did, once, go on a hike all by myself, and it was a disaster. I got hopelessly lost, entangled in a clump of bracken, dive-bombed by a flock of angry guillemots, drenched by rain and stung by hailstones, apprehended by surly border guards and subjected to interrogation in a subterranean interrogation chamber the cold stone walls of which were stained with the blood of peasants, entangled in a clump of gorse, waylaid by banditti, buffeted by gales, accused of trespass in a top secret military installation, deafened by the relentless pounding of voodoo drums, entangled in a clump of nettles, haunted by hallucinatory visions of the skittish widow-woman and the pig-ignorant popinjay, poisoned by befouled water from a deceptively idyllic rill, attacked by tiny flying biting things, strafed by fighter jets, entangled in a clump of hawthorn, besmirched by the excreta of starlings, savaged by weasels, battered and bruised after toppling into a ha-ha, almost suffocated in a slaapsok accident, lacerated by barbed wire, discombobulated by the jumbling of my blood and black bile and yellow bile and phlegm, ridiculed by wayfaring minstrels, burned by the sun, stung by bees, entangled in a clump of thistles, threatened by bellowing cows, and lost, lost, hopelessly lost.

“Never again must you go hiking alone!” shouted Dr Heinrich Weems, my post-hike traumatic neurasthenia syndrome counsellor.

At my first consultation, he had actually forbidden me ever to hike again full stop, but I protested that I would die if I did not hike. This was utter twaddle, of course, but I deployed the full gamut of my thespian skills, learned at the feet of Sir Donald Sinden and Bruce Willis, and Dr Weems was convinced I spoke the truth.

“Ach! You poor fellow!” he shouted, “So if I understand you correctly, you will keel over and die in agony unless you regularly embark upon jaunty hiking expeditions, across moors and heaths, through woods and forests, up hills and mountains, and down vales and dells?”

To which flagrant poppycock I responded with a nod, adding “Yippee-ky-ay, motherfucker”, a Willisism which never fails to do the trick.

In subsequent meetings with Dr Weems, we moved from his consulting room in an agreeable Swiss chalet to his secret underground laboratory. Here, in tenebrous gloom, he induced a catatonic trance by babbling Blavatskyan gibberish into my ears, and then proceeded, with pincers and slicers and a suction tube and a funnel and a Petri dish, to extract samples of my blood and my black bile and my yellow bile and my phlegm. When I regained consciousness, he showed me the jar in which he had mixed my four humours together.

“By means of a pipette,” he shouted, “I am going to feed this goo, diluted with duckpond water, to my experimental squirrels. Then we shall see what we shall see.”

I cancelled my next appointment with Dr Weems. I had no doubt he was a very sensible therapist, but the lure of the hike grew too strong to resist. Each morning I would wake to find that, during the night, I had kitted myself out in full hiking gear, the boots, the socks, the etceteras, and I was even clutching a sturdy stick in my behikinggloved hand. Clearly my unconscious mind was desperate to go a-roaming ‘cross moors and heaths and through woods and forests and up hills and mountains and down vales and dells. Once or twice I was reckless enough to start out alone, but I never got further than my garden gate. Somehow I heard the guttural shouting of Dr Weems inside my brain, and I knew he was right.

Thus did I begin my search for a new hiking companion. I loitered down by the docks, and in penny arcades, and on traffic islands, in post offices and department stores, near electricity pylons, at fashion shoots, under awnings, in railway station canteens and airport chaplaincies, on quaysides and in souks. Wherever I loitered, the skittish widow-woman and the pig-ignorant popinjay descended upon me, imploring me to take them hiking, but I rebuffed them with Sindenisms and Willisisms, or, in extremis, bashed them with a shovel.

It was around this time, stormy March, that I began to wonder if perhaps Dr Heinrich Weems might be the ideal person to accompany me on a hike. It was true that he was shouty and guttural, that we had a professional doctor-patient relationship, that he lumbered about on crutches, that his table manners were as disgusting as Franz Kafka’s, that his bouffant was riddled with beetles and other creepy-crawlies, and that he had never shown the slightest interest in the great outdoors, indeed that his sickly pallor and near-blindness suggested he never ventured outdoors at all. Yet weighed against this were many points in his favour. Well, not many, but some. Perhaps not some, just one. And if not even one, if in fact he might prove to be the most odious companion a hiker could ever hike with, still, I was desperate, and surely not even Dr Weems could be as vile a fellow hiker as the skittish widow-woman or the pig-ignorant popinjay? When stormy March turned to stormy April, I cast aside all doubts and caught a bus to the slope on which his agreeable chalet teetered.

I rapped upon his door with my sturdy stick, but answer came there none. Then I noticed that the door was ajar. I pushed it open, gingerly, for I find that gingeriness is invariably the best approach when pushing open the ajar doors of chalets, no matter how agreeable they are. Equally gingerly, I entered the chalet lobby. There was no sign of life, unless you count the sudden darting, across the floor, from wainscot to wainscot, of one of the doctor’s experimental squirrels. The sight of it made me shudder, and I was about to turn on my heel and wait at the bus stop for the next bus back to town when I spotted something resting on the chalet lobby telephone table. It was not a telephone. It was a voodoo ouanga bag, and it had been torn open, bitten open, savagely, with dripping fangs, and its contents were strewn on the tabletop, luck stones, snake bones, lizard jaws, squirrel teeth, bat bones, frog bones, black hen feathers and bones, black lamb wool, dove hearts, mole skins, images of wax and clay, candy made of brown sugar mixed with liver, mud, sulphur, salt, and alum, and vegetable poisons. I shuddered again, and while I was in mid-shudder the trapdoor leading down to the underground laboratory creaked open, and from the fumous black depths emerged Dr Heinrich Weems.

It was he, yet it was not he. For as I discovered, by poking him with my stick, he had been transformed into a zombie. But what a zombie! A brainless being, bereft of life, the walking dead he might be – but one with a rucksack and a woolly sweater and a lanyard around his neck from which dangled a transparent plastic pocket crammed with maps. A zombie with stout boots and thick socks and a sturdy stick. He was a zombie ready for a long and arduous hike.

As we strode together out of the chalet into the great outdoors, clouds scudded and the sun shone. We set off for the moors and the heaths, for the woods and the forests, for the hills and the mountains, for the vales and the dells. Within me stirred my blood and black bile and yellow bile and phlegm, in perfect harmony. Within my hiking companion, the zombie that once had been Dr Weems, nothing stirred, nothing at all, save for a magnificent implacable brainless devotion to the hike.

Bang, Whimper, Tweet

My sister, a librarian, on old new technology:

“But papyrus scrolls feel so much better!”

Such were the cries of lamentation heard across the ancient world as papyrus scrolls were replaced by that new-fangled Roman invention the codex, or book.

“Why do I have to flip these – what are they called? pages? The scrolls ran so smoothly under my hand, they signified a seamless flow of knowledge, a noble tradition, now it’s all chopped up into scraps signifying nothing …”

The Luddites’ fretful complaints drone on down the centuries, ever eloquent in bemoaning the end of civilization as we know it, while civilization as we aren’t quite used to it yet is busy being born. The invention of the printing press was the work of the devil according to these doomsayers, and maybe they were right because it did spread those dangerous things called ideas to the previously unlettered masses. They began thinking for themselves, founding new churches, having revolutions, writing novels that sent Victorian ladies into a swoon, and reading everything from the Bible and Shakespeare to tabloid gossip and vampire boyfriend sagas. Where will it all end? Not with a bang or a whimper apparently, but with a tweet.

What’s In Your Ouanga Bag?

A ouanga bag confiscated by Marines in 1921 near Gonaives is described as follows:

It was a hide bag, and in it were these objects : luck stones, snake bones, lizard jaws, squirrel teeth, bat bones, frog bones, black hen feathers and bones, black lamb wool, dove hearts, mole skins, images of wax and clay, candy made of brown sugar mixed with liver, mud, sulphur, salt, and alum, and vegetable poisons.

“From The Author’s Notebook”, appendix to The Magic Island (1929) by W B Seabrook (1884-1945), an “American Lost Generation occultist, explorer, traveller, cannibal, and journalist”, says the Wikipedia. Oh, also an alcoholic, a sadist, and a suicide.