A Bit More … Urrrgh

The Grauniad asks some of those who worked with him to share their memories of the late Ken Russell. Among them, Glenda Jackson, who recalls:

As a director he never said anything very specific. He’d say, “It needs to be a bit more … urrrgh, or a bit less hmmm“, and you knew exactly what he meant.

That’s so true, isn’t it? Paying due attention to the ellipsis, Hooting Yard has been on a constant mission to be a bit more … urrrgh, and a bit less hmmm, and we shall redouble our efforts in memory of the great man, until it’s entirely … urrrgh and there is not  a trace of hmmm whatsoever.

Buying Books

Today is, apparently, “the start of a two-week frenzy of online shopping”. I am told by persons who know such things that it is much easier to make purchases online than it was for Richard Bradley in the late 18th century trying to buy an island and having to negotiate with the Tobabmanser of Jancacunda and his singing man. Though in general I disapprove of shopping frenzies, I do think it would be a good idea for you all to go here and buy copies of all six Hooting Yard books, available in both paperback and ebook formats. They do, after all, make the perfect Christmas gifts for your loved ones.

Buying An Island

It was just as well that the Lemane plan had been abandoned, as Richard Bradley’s efforts to buy the island for the crown had descended into farce. Stopping to purchase some goods to take upriver as ‘dashes’ – that is, gifts or bribes – he had been blackmailed by a local trader into buying far more merchandise than he had intended. Then he had been made to pay a large number of ‘barrs’, or small iron bars worth five shillings each, to local figures. Bradley paid barrs not only to such dignitaries as the ‘King of Barra’ and the ‘master of Gillifree’ but to two ‘Key Keepers’, the ‘Tobabmanser of Jancacunda’ and to the latter’s retinue of fifty servants. The Tobabmanser was unable to conduct any negotiations without his ‘singing Man’ (who also required payment in barrs of course), and when the ‘King of Lemain’ arrived he also brought a large retinue of servants, including the requisite key keeper, singing man and principal marabout. The whole negotiations cost much more than Bradley had anticipated, and during the palaver, wilting in the West African rainforest, he sickened and died. Later, his brother Henry would proudly announce to Sydney that the island had been purchased, only to discover that he had laboured in vain as the government had abandoned the plan.

from Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place : The Lost Story Of Britain’s Convict Disaster In Africa (2011)

Black Is The Colour

Black is the colour of my true love’s bear. It is a big, fierce, black, and untamed bear and it lumbers about, roaring. She has confined it to her attic.

Why, I asked my true love as we canoodled on a municipal park bench, did she keep a wild black bear in her attic?

It was a sorry tale she told me, of her twin brother, of his job as a zookeeper, of the closure of the zoo, of the need to find homes for the zoo’s birds and serpents, its ants and dromedaries and gazelles, its sharks and bears, of her twin’s ursophilia and of his volunteering to take the big fierce black untamed bear a-home with him, of how, as brother and bear went hand-in-paw along the lane leading to his home, the bear set upon him, fierce and furious, gouging and slashing and thumping and biting, until her twin lay dead upon the path beside the river, of how, upon its further rampages, the bear fetched up outside her, my true love’s, house, and bashed its way through the door, roaring, of how she coaxed it up into the attic, with a bowl of water and dumplings, of how she slammed shut the door at the top of the stairs and blocked it with a large mahogany sideboard, of how she sat, exhausted and weeping, in her kitchen, until I came a-knocking at her door and invited her to join me for a walk in the municipal park and for a canoodle on the municipal park bench.

“I did not know you had a twin,” I said.

“He lies dead upon the lane, so I have a twin no more,” she said, “Now I have but his bear.”

“What will you do?” I asked.

“Short of keeping it confined to the attic and feeding it with dumplings and bowls of water, I have no idea,” she replied.

“I am sure you could sell it for a tidy sum to an inhumane rascal,” I said, at which my true love ceased canoodling and glared at me and slapped my face.

“How dare you suggest such a thing!”, she cried, impassioned, “That bear may be big and fierce and black and untamed, but it is my last link with my dead twin, and he loved it more than life itself!”

And she stood up and strode away across the municipal park lawn.

The course of true love seldom runs smooth, but I couldn’t help thinking that it damned well ought to. Clearly I had upset Ursula more than I knew, and I would have to find some way of making it up to her. But how? It would be pointless trying to raise her brother from the dead, for I have had a bash at resurrection in my time and it failed utterly. Could I reopen the zoo, and convince my true love that the bear would be happier there, and march it back from whence it came? But then I would presumably have to go and collect all the birds and serpents and ants and dromedaries and gazelles and sharks too, and somehow provide for them. The more I thought about it, the more probable it seemed that the bear was going to be lumbering about in Ursula’s attic for the foreseeable future. It would get lonely up there. Perhaps what I needed to do was to procure another bear, from another closing-down zoo, and take it to the attic, to be a pal. But in doing so, would I not risk, in leading the second bear along the lane by the river towards her house, the same fate as my true love’s twin brother? I too might be gouged and slashed and thumped and bitten and left for dead, and that would not help anybody.

I was still sitting on the municipal park bench, mulling these things over, when I saw my true love come sprinting towards me across the lawn.

“Oh woe is me!” she was crying, “First my twin brother, and now the bear!”

“What has happened, my darling dear?” I asked, as she slumped on the bench.

“I took up a bowl of water and a dumpling for it, and it choked on the dumpling!” she cried, “I could not revive it try as I might.”

“You gave the bear the kiss of life” I asked, curious.

“I tried, yes, oh I tried!” she said.

Later that week, there was a double funeral, for my true love’s twin brother and for the bear. We buried them in the same tomb. We mourned, we wept, we wore black, black, black.


There are many ways of arranging a water-party at yachting stations and at all riverside places. At yachting stations, for instance, a sailing yacht is hired to convey a party of from eighteen to twenty-five to some point of interest on the coast, in which case luncheon and tea are provided at an hotel in the vicinity of the place where the party have landed, and the expenses are equally divided. Not unfrequently, on the return journey, the yacht is becalmed, and does not reach its destination until between two and three the following morning. If it happens to be a fine moonlight night, this prolongation of a water-party is an additional source of enjoyment; but if there is no moon as well as no wind, and the calm betokens a storm, it is the reverse of pleasant. But these little contretemps, when they do occur, rather lend a zest to the day’s pleasure, and are something to talk about afterwards.

from Manners And Rules Of Good Society, Or Solecisms To Be Avoided by A Member Of The Aristocracy (1916)

In Another German Forest

In another German forest, tenebrous and dense

I stumbled through the duff until I reached a fence

I followed the fence for miles, rattling a stick

Was ever there a forest with German trees so thick?

Was ever there a hiking Herr as thick as myself?

The fence led me directly to the dwelling of an elf

It was an elf of untold sin, its heart as black as pitch

And with a hideous cackle it shoved me in a ditch

I crawled through the ditch but the trees grew thicker still

The sky was blotted out and I began to feel quite ill

I was undone by a German elf in a forest dark and drear

And all because I did not have the proper hiking gear

So get your boots from Hubermann’s, and your compass too

Or else you’ll get stuck in the woods of Woohoohoodiwoo

That Get Carter Dog

One of the pieces I read at An Evening Of Lugubrious Music & Lopsided Prose last week was Get Carter. It seemed to be greeted with particular enthusiasm by the audience, so much so that I have received a number of letters on the subject, extracts from which I reproduce below:

Dear Frank, Thank you so much for your performance last Friday. After a terribly busy week it was the perfect opportunity to relax, and indeed as soon as you started speaking I promptly fell into a deep and refreshing snooze. My ears pricked up, and I woke, however, when you mentioned the dog in Get Carter. I was utterly enchanted by this pooch, and I wonder if perhaps you have a tiny black-and-white illustration of it?

All Hail, Mr Key! Last Friday I had tickets to two events, one being your “gig” with Outa_Spaceman and the other a concert by that titan of something-or-other, Tinie Tempah. As it happened, my ticket for Mr Tempah was engulfed by a fireball, leaving me with little choice but to trudge down to Bermondsey Square to see you. Gosh, am I glad I did! Though virtually everything in your performance went in one ear and out the other – I speak, of course, of my own ears – I marvelled at the portrait of the dog in Get Carter. I wonder if perhaps you have a tiny black-and-white illustration of it?

Ahoy Key! Last week I found myself trapped under a bookshelf in Woolfson & Tay and was quite unable to extricate myself by 7.00 PM when your performance began. I thus had to listen to the whole thing, which was a not unmixed blessing. Full marks, however, for the bit about the dog near the end of the first half. Though your words were vivid enough for me to see the dog clear in my mind’s eye, I wonder if perhaps you have a tiny black-and-white illustration of it?

Dear Frank, Just print a picture of the damned dog and have done with it.


In A German Forest

In a German forest, sunk in gloom

Surrounded by men who spell my doom

All these Fritzes, Horsts and Kurts

Explain the depth of my Weltschmerz

But then they all fall to their knees

Attacked by German killer bees

And now my spirits are surely buoyed

As I am filled with Schadenfreude

Bernard Dabblevin

Dabbler-3logo (1)

I was so delighted by the quotation from Bernard Levin – oops, I really must remember to call him Bernard “Massive, unflagging, moral, exquisitely shaped, enormously vital, enormously funny, strong, supple, human, ripe, generous and graceful” Levin whenever I mention him – that I posted it again today, at The Dabbler.


One point that has occurred to me is the seemingly outrageous omission from the list of “the Jethro Tull”. But I realise that, even in 1970, the great critic intuited that the band led by the hairy monopod flautist would never, ever, vanish down “the memory hole of instant oblivion”.

The Necessity Of Puddings : A Postscript

I wonder if it would be possible, given sufficient intellectual rigour, and pen and paper, and time, and a good library, and copious amounts of tea, to write a study of the poetry of Emily Dickinson demonstrating, without fear of contradiction, that the key to her work, the one overriding fact that, more than any other, gives us an insight into her singular genius, and allows us for the first time to see her whole, free of ambiguities and uncertainties, free too of the enigmatic patina that has accreted around her, like an enshrouding mist, so that we can at last take her proper measure, is the assertion, by her champion Thomas Wentworth Higginson, that she was able to connect, in her own mind, albeit timidly and suggestively, but nonetheless inextricably, for once we have heard it we ourselves cannot do the untangling, and thus the iron link or chain is now in our own heads, transmitted across the years from the brain of the Belle of Amherst, comets, and meteors, and puddings.

Coverdale, Tyndale, King James

The first one ashore was Captain Miles Coverdale, a man all too aware that he shared his name with the first translator of the Bible into English.

The second man ashore was Corporal William Tyndale, who had absolutely no idea that he shared his name with the first man to translate the Bible into English from the original Greek and Hebrew.

The third ashore was Cornet James Version, known to all and sundry as“King” James Version.

As dawn broke, the Captain, the Corporal and the Cornet stood, panting and brine-drenched, on the glittering sands. They took their firearms from the rubber sacks in which they had carried them ashore, and cocked them. Yonder, in the trees and bushes, savages could be lurking. This was an uncharted land, the first they had spotted from the periscope of their submarine in all their months at sea, months that would turn to years, for the submarine was on a five-year mission, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no submarine manned by a Captain and a Corporal and a Cornet had gone before.

There was a sudden rustling in the trees and bushes beyond the shoreline sands. Instinctively, Captain Miles Coverdale aimed his ray gun and fired. It was his way, to shoot at the first sign of movement and worry about the consequences later. That was why he was the Captain. As the foliage burst into flames, he pranced forward, taking further blasts, signalling for the Corporal and the Cornet to follow him.

Above, in the sky, birds shrieked.

Just before they reached the burning trees and bushes, a figure stepped out to confront them, a figure unlike any they had seen before. It was indubitably a man, but what manner of man? His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion, and his straight black lips. The Captain was in no doubt.

“Watch out, men!”, he cried, “This is one of those savages I warned you about!”

“Shall we kill it immediately, in cold blood?” asked the Corporal.

“Wait, I think it is about to grunt some unholy savage babbling,” said the Cornet.

And indeed, the strange figure held up a hand as if in greeting, and shook charred leaves and twigs from its hair, and its watery eyes fixed the trio of submariners in a mesmeric gaze. Its voice, when at last it spoke, was booming and monotonous, empty of human expression and lacking any variation in tone or cadence.

“Bibite unusquisque aquam cisternae suae donec veniam et tollam vos,” it said.

“Crikey! What was all that about?” asked the Corporal.

“If I am not mistaken,” said the Captain, “It is speaking Latin. It said something along the lines of ‘Drink ye every one the waters of his own cistern, until I come and take you away’”.

“Actually,” said Cornet “King” James Version, “Now you mention it, I am quite thirsty. Permission to glug from my cistern, Captain?”

Captain Miles Coverdale assessed the situation in a twinkling, as he had been trained to do back at Captaincy Training School. While keeping a beady eye on the savage, he commanded his men to take the cisterns from their satchels and to glug away. Mid-glug, the Cornet had a sudden thought, and piped up.

“Captain,” he said, “The savage said that when we had drunk each from his own cistern he was going to take us away. Where do you think he’s going to take us to?”

But even as he spoke, the savage came lumbering forward, and it swept the three of them up, and it carried them off into the trees and the bushes, they were swept away, they were swept away and gone. Birds continued to shriek in the sky, and the glittering sands were again deserted as before, and just offshore the submarine lay bobbing on the water, and waves crashed over it, and as the years passed it rusted and broke in pieces and one by one the pieces sank to the bottom of the sea, and became nooks for crabs and lobsters and other beings of the deep, and no trace was ever found of the Captain and the Corporal and the Cornet.

The Infant Moralist

Reader Kimika Ying has unearthed a treasure from the past.


Dear Mr. Key, she writes, I’ve found a book which put me in mind of Hooting Yard which I would like to pass along, “The Infant Moralist” by Lady Helena Carnegie and Mrs. Arthur Jacob, published in 1903. Public domain versions of the book, with a delightfully illustrated copy of the original, are located here

It contains some of the usual moral lessons on “The Consequences of Greed”, “Profanity”, “Envy”, “Courage”, etc. What caught my attention were the less commonly heard ones: “Insensate Mischief”, “Inevitable Retribution”, “Unsuitable Jesting”, and “Ill-Timed Levity”.

And this:


I needs must beg you, Caroline,

To cease your Chatter whilst I dine.

It deafens every Ear.

John Footman cannot hear my Words,

And I have asked him twice for Curds

And still he cannot hear.

If Caroline were with us today she would undoubtedly have a cell phone out at the dinner table as well. Anyway, all fine moral lessons and a good addition to any library. It also occurs to me that this book might be a superior replacement for the usual deadly dull workplace employee handbook.