Dabbling In Paradise

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It’s been an unaccountably quiet week here at Hooting Yard, I’m afraid, but Friday would not be Friday without something in my cupboard at The Dabbler. And lo! This week I sing the praises of the London Library – or, to be precise, I was going to, until I discovered someone else’s recent blog postage that said almost exactly what I would have said by way of introduction to this heaven on earth. So, instead, I link to that postage, and praise instead a forgotten writer whose work I have found on the book-crammed shelves of the library.

There is another brief but useful introduction to the London Library in this In Praise Of… piece from The Guardian last year. It’s worth noting, I think, that seven of the twelve commenters there moan about the cost of membership. I get the impression that such people would complain whatever the cost, simply because it is a private institution open only to paying members. I’m surprised the word “elitist” appears nowhere in the comments.

But sense and perspective are provided by one ‘cunningfox’, who writes “£1.08 a day. Best bargain in London. What else are you going to spend it on that’s half so worthwhile?” Indeed so. I am quite alarmingly poverty-stricken, but even I can find a daily quid to stump up for access to fifteen miles of shelves groaning with books. It is all a question of choice. I recall, a few years ago, attending a gig by the great John Bently, where he had some of his Liver & Lights artist’s books for sale. I overheard some ragamuffin whingeing that they were too expensive, as he slurped his (expensive) pint and headed off to the bar to buy another round. He probably spent more on beer that evening than a couple of Bently’s books would have cost him.

Get Carter

“Get carter!”

That was my instruction, that morning, from the overseer. But there were so many carters passing along the lane, driving their carts to, or back from, the market square in the village, that I had no idea which carter to get. Nor did I have a clue what to do with the carter when I got him, other than to take him to the overseer.

So I hid behind a splurge of lupins beside the lane, lying in wait for a carter weedy enough for me to overpower. I realised I may have to wait quite some time, for all the carters passing by were big burly types who would swat me aside with their fists and forearms. My name is Vercingetorix, and I am puny.

My instruction was to get a carter, not their cart, but I could not just leave a carterless cart abandoned in the lane. It would attract remark, and remark could lead to pursuit, and pursuit to capture, and capture to blows and bruises and blood. When getting my carter, I would have to shove their cart off the lane and conceal it behind a splurge of lupins or, better, a hedge, where it would go unremarked. This was going to prove more difficult than I thought.

The sun was high and searing when at last, along the lane, came toiling a weedy-looking carter pulling a creaky old cart piled high with what I took to be turnips. Fortunate for me that this was a land without horses, or indeed pack animals of any description, for that saved me an additional quandary. I had only to get a carter and hide a cart, not hide a horse or donkey into the bargain.

I sprang out into the lane in front of the weedy carter.

“Halt!” I cried.

The carter, startled, pulled from his cummerbund a firearm, cocked it, and pointed it at my head. Reluctantly, I had to let him pass, and I scuttled back behind the splurge of lupins.

The next few passing carters were of the big and burly type, so I dared not spring out in front of any of them. I hid and hummed quietly and smoked and popped open a can of Squelcho! to quench my thirst. Towards noon there was a lull in cart-traffic, so I took the opportunity to practise my springing, leaping out into the lane and waving my arms in an alarming manner, shouting my head off. In doing so I spilled some of my Squelcho! but the little puddle it formed was soon lapped up by a dog. This dog appeared to be a dog without a master, and I wondered if it might be a helpful ally in my mission to get a carter. If I sent it bounding out from behind the splurge of lupins, yapping, it might disconcert a weedy dog-frightened carter long enough for me to get him and shove his cart out of sight.

I beckoned to the dog. I have a way with animals. I inspire pathetic devotion in dogs, cats, squirrels, even geese and leafcutter ants, just by my beckoning manoeuvre, a sort of gentle sweeping of the arm accompanied by intricate hand movements and a whispered incantation. Sure enough, the masterless dog followed me to my place of concealment behind the splurge of lupins. Immediately, I set about training it to yap at a carter. For this purpose, I fashioned a sort of makeshift cart out of the empty Squelcho! can and some twigs and lupin-petals. It didn’t look much like a cart, but I mimed pulling it and pushing it in a straight line, as if along the lane, to represent which I scored a groove in the patch of ground behind the splurge of lupins with the heel of my winklepicker. The dog gazed at me adoringly.

All of this took quite some time, and I quite neglected to keep an eye out for passing carters. Indeed, several weedy specimens I could have overpowered, even without the dog, went a-trundling their carts along the lane, as I learned later when reviewing the CCTV footage, back at the depot. The overseer was not best pleased. He ranted at me, while the dog cowered behind a filing cabinet. He called me a nitwit and a knave and several other choice words. I had been given a simple task, to get carter, and instead I was found faffing about behind a splurge of lupins with a dog and an empty can of Squelcho! and twigs and petals. I was not only puny, I was hopeless and incompetent. Still, the overseer was willing to give me one more chance. He told me to report to him the next morning for a new instruction.

“Will do!” I piped up, trying to show enthusiasm. “Can I bring the dog?” I added.

He shook his fist in my face and told me to begone.

The next morning I turned up bright and early at the depot, dog in tow. The overseer was rummaging through paperwork and barely glanced at me. I wondered if he wanted me to get carter again. But no.

“Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia!” he shouted.

Curious Dabbling

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Over at The Dabbler this week I turn my attention to some lesser-known editions of the Bible, as noted by Isaac Disraeli in his Curiosities Of Literature. This is a splendid work, highly recommended to Hooting Yard readers. To take just one essay at random, in Amusements Of The Learned, we are told that

When Petavius was employed in his Dogma Thealogiea, a work of the most profound and extensive erudition, the great recreation of the learned father was at the end of every second hour, to twirl his chair for five minutes.

Twirling in a seated position wasn’t good enough for Cardinal Richelieu. He preferred “violent exercises; and he was once discovered jumping with his servant, to try who could reach the highest side of a wall.”

Most amusing, perhaps, is the manner in which Baruch Spinoza liked to unwind from his philosophical labours:

After protracted studies Spinoza, would… unbend his mind by setting spiders to fight each other; he observed their combats with so much interest, that he was often seized with immoderate fits of laughter.

Pie Shop Deep Space Six

Remarkably, it is seven years ago today that Hooting Yard readers learned of the exciting radio serial Pie Shop Deep Space Six. My informants tell me that it is still at the development stage, beset by teething problems. Here is that original announcement:

Hurtling at inhuman speed through the universe, the thoroughly exciting spaceship Double Pneumonia was headed for a galaxy so distant that it would take billions upon billions of generations of leafcutter ants to reach it. In command on the bridge was Star Captain Barbara Bel Geddes, accompanied by First Officer Mister Unstrebnodtalb, who was only half human. No one had ever worked out what weird extraterrestrial life-form had spawned his other half, and it was best not to ask, for therein lay madness.

And a certain madcap frenzy is what you can expect in the new science fiction drama Pie Shop Deep Space Six, currently being developed by a crack team headed by Mrs Gubbins, who has returned to Haemoglobin Towers. The elderly crone has put down her knitting and, fuelled by lots of piping hot cups of tea, is conjuring up some thrilling ideas for this new radio serial.

In episode one, for example, hostile plasmatronic aliens launch an attack on space station Epsilon Nova X-977, cutting off pastry supplies to the pie shop. Mister Unstrebnodtalb outwits them using a supersonic brain-zapping process involving lots of sparks and whooshing noises.

Mrs Gubbins has asked Sir Harrison Birtwistle to compose the theme music.

Lobster Quiz

You will be pleased to hear that my lobster research continues apace, quietly, diligently, but with moments of high drama. In case any of you doubt that I am learning some startling facts, here is a little quiz.

What type of lobster am I describing?

It is found in the waters off Western Samoa. It is musical. It is furry. It is magnificent.

You will find the correct answer below the picture.


The answer is : the musical furry lobster, Palibythus magnificus.

I am not making this up.

Galvanism, Thoroughly Explained

Madam Galvani observed convulsions in a dead frog, which laid near an electrical machine which was in action. Although there is a diversity of information as to whether it was she or a student who noticed the incident first. As she is said to have been an invalid, and the frogs were for her benefit, it is more than likely she had an eye on them, and it would not be strange if they both saw the convulsions at the same time. However, the subject was investigated by Dr. Galvani, who was a Professor of Anatomy, and they found that. a knife touched the frog, and that when a metallic substance in contact with a nerve of the creature, was brought within the action of the electrical machine, there followed a twitching of the limb. And since that time a great many discoveries have been made about all this, and a machine constructed, called the Galvanic Battery; the principle of it, being that when two metals are connected by some substance capable of exciting their different electricities, similar effects to these described may be observed. Charges from the battery will occasion contortions and violent jerkings in dead corpses, which are rather horrible to witness. After the skin has been removed from the hind legs of frogs and some salt sprinkled over them, (while they are raw of course), the legs will quiver and jerk in a curious manner, occasioned by the action of the salt upon them. It is likely that Madam Galvani was going to have the frogs for her dinner. They have a taste between fish and chicken; you broil them over the fire, and then put a little sprinkle of salt, and the least dust of pepper, if any at all, then you will have delicious morsels. It is not necessary to cook them out of doors; building fires is a dangerous employment for children, and if you ever have any, bring them into the kitchen, and do the cooking there, where you can get help if you should need it. A word more about that pepper. Pepper, spice and other irritants, should be used with caution, if used at all, for the effect of them is to excite the coating of the stomach, and lead eventually to disease. In concluding about the battery alluded to, it is capable of producing great quantities of electricity; there is a positive pole and a negative pole,—the positive pole attracts a negative pole, and a negative pole attracts a positive pole. These terms, positive and negative, express different quantities of the fluid, positive being more, and the negative less. The term pole, in this connection, meaning point; point of concentration. Exactly how the metals are arranged in a pile, and the vessels with acid and water, and so on, are adjusted, is explained in works on the subject. We have learned so much of the ways of electricity, that we cannot be surprised as our predecessors were, even if dead bodies jerk and thump around. They have, by tracing remarkable phenomena, which astonished them, elucidated them and placed them where they belong, under and within this property of matter.

from Properties And Powers In Every-Day Matters by A Corey (1876), as noted in Odd Books : A Safe House For Literary Misfits, which is highly recommended.

Well-Loved Characters

In The Invention Of Murder : How The Victorians Revelled In Death And Detection And Created Modern Crime (2011), Judith Flanders makes a passing reference which, though brief, has me eager to read the novel in question:

In 1860, in The Trail Of The Serpent, Mrs Braddon had advanced her plot through Sloshy, the adopted child of a mute policeman

Come to think of it, I may not bother to read the book itself, but simply adopt the characters for my own use. Sloshy! The mute policeman! They shall live again at Hooting Yard!


Dabbler-3logo (1)Here are some flappers:


You can read about one particular flapper, and a criminal flapper at that, in my cupboard this week at The Dabbler. The flapper is accompanied in my tale by a chump (unillustrated).

Ray Bradbury wrote a famous collection of short stories called The Illustrated Man (1951), made into a film (1969) starring Rod Steiger (1925-2002). Were Mr Steiger still with us, I think I would write to him suggesting he play a character called The Unillustrated Chump. This would not be an adaptation of The Chump And The Flapper, the story in today’s Dabbler, but a wholly different work, based on the boiling frustrations of a chump who, try as he might, cannot get his likeness depicted by a single illustrator. Mr Steiger did boiling frustration very well, and though he may have had difficulty playing a chump – for he was the most unchumpish of men – his training in the Method would no doubt have stood him in good stead. Alas, it is not to be.

Born To Boogie?

I have often asked myself if I was born to boogie. Born to mewl and puke, yes. To scratch and gobble and preen, most certainly. And in the end, to kick the bucket, and feed the worms, or, wedged in my final box, ignited, to blaze in glory. But inbetweentimes, must I, can I, boogie? Was it writ in the stars, spread out across the firmament in their particular alignment at the moment of my birth, that I should boogie?

Once, on a Wednesday I recall, I studied and studied a chart of those stars, but I learned nothing. Partly that was because I did not really know what I ought to be looking for, partly because the chart had been dropped in a puddle and was smudged. I gazed at it for hours on that Wednesday, hoping for enlightenment of a boogie-related kind, but eventually I gave up and crumpled the chart in my fist and tossed it into a dustbin.

I was told, also on a Wednesday, but a different Wednesday, that to properly boogie one had to wear a boogie-hat and a shirt with boogie-cuffs and a pair of boogie shoes. But the person who told me this was unreliable, in matters boogie at any rate, for he had never, to the best of my knowledge, himself boogied. He just spouted off about boogie, one of those boogie-spouters who were so tiresomely prevalent at one time. Some people feel nostalgic for that time, of course, even weep when they think of it, but not me. I couldn’t give a monkey’s.

It was another person who told me, and not on a Wednesday this time, but a Sunday, that if I wanted to witness proper boogie I should make a beeline for the monkey house. Apparently, monkeys boogie better than any other creature on earth. They truly were born to boogie. I am not sure this is the truth. I hoped to study a chart, not dissimilar to the chart o’ stars, but a chart of monkeys, one that had not been dropped into a puddle and smudged, but try as I might I could not get my mittens on one. The whole monkey boogie business is still up in the air as far as I am concerned. And I cannot quiz the person who told me to get me hence to the monkey house, for in a quite unrelated development, he was found hanging from a bridge over an important river, his pockets weighted with stones. They said he had boogie in his eyes at the last, but what in heaven’s name that might mean I have no idea.

It has been pointed out to me, more than once, that had I been born to boogie I would have boogied by now. Well, frustum dustum, as they say, that is a persuasive point. If I started to boogie today, or next week, or in whatever years are left to me, would there not be something forced and artificial about my boogie, a knowingness that would be fatal to the boogie itself? Thereagain, some have posited the idea of the past-it boogie, or the creaking wizened boogie, as not uncommon variations on the classic boogie, which I suppose might be defined as the boogie practised by monkeys, if indeed monkeys do actually boogie, and I was not being lied to, yet again.

I shall retrieve that smudged star-chart from the dustbin, and hop it down to the monkey house, and perhaps, perhaps, things will become clear to me, at least in terms of boogie.

Nisbet Spotting Addendum

Dear Mr Key, writes Dr Ruth Pastry, I read yesterday’s piece about nisbet spotting and put two and two together. I think the “hapless enthusiasts” of the Nisbet Spotting Society were seeking high and low for that odd being depicted in the Hooting Yard “implausible” emblem, as shown in the heading of your website and on those fetching lapel accoutrements. My unpaid intern research assistants tell me that the emblem first appeared, in black and white, on the cover of an edition of the ReR Quarterly magazine in the late 1980s, cheek by jowl with several other emblems. If this is the case, then in terms of simple chronology it would have been impossible for nisbet spotters of the early 1970s to spot it, as it did not yet exist. Had you had a bit of stamina and kept up regular production of the Official Journal of the Nisbet Spotting Society, those hapless enthusiasts would not, with the passing of time, have been quite so hapless. Yours indefatigably, Dr Ruth Pastry.

Implausible circle

Dr Pastry is correct about the provenance of the emblem. If any reader has a copy of the magazine in question, perhaps they would be good enough to scan both front and back covers and send them to Mr Key. On the question of whether or not the “odd being” is indeed a nisbet, I think it best to reserve judgement until a panel of experts has been empanelled to consider the matter with due diligence.

In Praise Of Nisbet Spotting

Reading a couple of blog postages today led me to cast my mind back to the heyday of nisbet spotting in the early nineteen-seventies. In The Dabbler, ZMKC fondly recalls an absurd and pointless exchange of correspondence with a schoolfriend, while BlackberryJuniper And Sherbet apologises (unnecessarily) that she is “thinking aloud about nothing in particular”.

Absurdity, pointlessness and “nothing in particular” as one’s subject matter all dovetail neatly into the theory and practice of nisbet spotting. I earlier gave some account of this exciting activity here. To recap, aged around ten or eleven, I created a newspaper or magazine which purported to be the Official Journal of the Nisbet Spotting Society. Written by hand, illustrated with drawings and collages, the pages carefully stapled together – though not with fairy staples – the contents of the Journal chronicled the failure of the Society’s members ever to spot a nisbet. Indeed, I made it a conscious point never to explain what a nisbet was. I suppose it was my version of the Snark or the Boojum, though I don’t think I had read Carroll’s “Agony In Eight Fits” at the time.

Did the nisbet even exist, or were those seeking to spot one on a futile quest? We shall never know, for before I faced up to deciding one way or another, I abandoned the Journal after five or six issues and discovered other enthusiasms. I continued to write, though I don’t remember what. Then soon enough I entered the dread world of teendom, and became very serious and earnest, as teenpersons will do, and my writing suffered accordingly. I had an important message for the world, if only it would listen. It did not.

It took about ten years for me to regain my mojo, and to realise that the absurdity and pointlessness and “nothing” of nisbet spotting showed the way forward. To a large extent, everything I have written over the past quarter of a century, since the first Malice Aforethought Press booklet in 1986, has been a sort of hommage to those hapless enthusiasts of the Nisbet Spotting Society.

The Qualities Of Janitors, No. 4

Among Sam’s other attributes was the gift of divination. He was the primitive man, a part of nature’s self, and he looked upon the truth unblinded, undimmed by the veil of knowledge formalized. In this respect he was absolutely uncanny, a person to be discussed and analyzed in remote rooms or upon quiet walks. Sam never talked about these supernatural powers, and so far as I know the Society for Psychical Research never had him under inspection, but he had these powers, abnormally, unhumanly developed, not only had them, but used them, nightly… Sam had but to cast one searching, secret-revealing glance at the luminaries of the college heaven, and there was nothing that would fain be hid that was not revealed, revealed not merely in broad outline, but in tiniest detail, threatening disorders forecast to the very quarter of an hour.

from Samuel Osborne, Janitor by Frederick Morgan Padelford (c. 1913)