Monthly Archive for November, 2012

Back In Blighty, The Worse For Wear

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You will be thrilled to learn that Mr Key has returned to Blighty after his frolics on foreign shores. But before popping open that celebratory can of Squelcho! and throwing your hat in the air, bear in mind that I am a sick and snuffle-headed man, much given over the past few days to lying prostrate with my hand held to my forehead, like Bulle Ogier in Celine And Julie Go Boating, whimpering.

I did manage to drag my bones to Resonance yesterday to declaim prose into a microphone for thirty minutes, and I cobbled together an anecdote about my holiday for The Dabbler. Other than that, prose has failed to pour out of me. Further dispatches from Hooting Yard soon, God willing. But for now, I am going to suck a Strepsil (honey and lemon).

The Sense Of An Ending

Bond+birds+book

Mark Steyn summarises fifty years’ of Bond film dénouements:

For half a century, the most boring bit in 007 has always been the final 20 minutes when Bond and the girl run around the hollowed-out volcano shooting hundreds of tinfoil-suited extras in golf carts while looking for the big red “Off” button that disconnects the space laser.

Not Gone Yet

Mr Key has not yet fled the country – I will be leaving at some ungodly hour tomorrow – so my hiatus announcement was a little premature. I thought I would feel bereft at neglecting important Hooting Yard business for a few days, but in fact I feel immensely relieved. A few days ago I mentioned the Quaker I knew who was cheered by having a complete absence of activity in his brainpans, and I now understand what he meant. But fear not, I will return to the fray upon my return to Blighty.

In the meantime, here is a letter that plopped into my inbox yesterday.

Dear Sir or Madam,

Liaocheng Dongying Hengtong Metal Manufacturing Co., Ltd here.

Glad to hear that you are on the market for Automatic chicken cage.

We are a professional producer of the complete sets of equipment for raising birds. At present, it is an enterprise which has the import-export license and exports a batch of comp-lete sets of automatic equipment for raising chickens.

These products gained good prestige among customers and they are not only used in great-scaled biological raising farms in domestic provinces, but also exported to Middle Asia, South and East regions, Australia, South America, Middle East areas, Africa mainland and so on in great lot.

We are willing to wholehearted with all the friends and customers to establish good relations of cooperation, realize a win-win benefits, and create a magnificent performance.

If any interest, feel free to contact me.

Best regards,

Senior Sales Manager,

Fatma

On Ganging Agley

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley” wrote Robert Burns. How right he was, in a very real sense, as they say on Thought For The Day. Certainly here at Hooting Yard a scheme is about to gang very agley indeed.

As you know, this year I set myself the task of bashing out roughly a thousand words a day. Here we are in mid-November and I have astonished myself by very nearly succeeding. Quite honestly, I thought the scheme would collapse in ignominy some time in January. And while it is true that I have occasionally, on days o’ emptiness-between-the-ears, posted pieces resurrected from the past, I have done so rarely. For the most part, 2012 has seen a teeming cascade of words, every single syllable worthy of your rapt attention.

So many words, indeed, that I was able to compile a fat 444-page paperback of pieces selected from the first half of the year. If you have not yet bought a copy of Brute Beauty And Valour And Act, Oh, Air, Pride, Plume, Here Buckle! then you bloody well ought to. You will want to have read it from cover to cover, and reread it, and made scholarly annotations in the margins, and rereread it, before a further volume, selected from the second half of the year, appears in, I hope, the spring of 2013.

What then, you may ask, has gang agley? Well, imminently, Mr Key will be leaving his Barrel of Reclusion for a short while to travel in foreign climes. I shall be gone for more than a week but less than a fortnight. During this time it will be simply impractical to splurge forth daily prose for your edification and moral instruction. Thus there will be a hiatus.

I considered two possible fixes. One was to write sufficient pieces in advance and schedule them for posting while I am away. I am afraid the extra effort was beyond my wit. The second was to schedule selected repostages from the archive to cover the period. But this seemed to me something of a cop-out. Better, I decided, to allow the scheme, in all its glory, to contain a fatal flaw.

So I will be back soon, and in the meantime there may appear bittybobs of bloggy blather, albeit of far fewer than a thousand words, so keep your eyes peeled.

Pointy Town Fashion Parade Revisited

My thanks to Ruth Bosch for drawing to my attention this snap from Paraphilia Magazine, which shows the Bird People at the Pointy Town Fashion Parade.

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On Parsnips And Kalashnikovs And Cows

Sometimes you just have to wake up and start tippy-tapping and see what happens. It’s all very well sitting staring into space, or out of the window, trying desperately to summon up a subject of interest, but that butters no parsnips. What an odd phrase that is. I mean, you know where you are with, say, worse things happen at sea. The truth of that is self-evident, as I have demonstrated, while at the same time proving the complete untruth of all goats cause mayhem. But what is the point of saying that something, some deed or action or intervention or whatever butters no parsnips? Very few actions do, so few that we could say the only deed that butters parsnips is the actual buttering of parsnips, that is, spreading butter on parsnips with a butter-knife. And there are not many circumstances in which we would want to do that. You can count them on the fingers of one hand, probably. Even that assumes you like parsnips, in preference to other root vegetables.

Irrespective of whether one likes them or not, the word “parsnip” itself is very pleasing. It has that snippy element. It would be interesting to know how our forebears, upon digging one out of the muck, progressed from designating it by an inarticulate grunt to a “parsnip”. I could look that up, but at the moment I do not feel impelled to do so. I have other things on my mind, of more pressing import.

Actually, that is not entirely true. It would be more accurate to say that I am conscious of an impending attack of vacancy-between-the-ears. I once knew a Quaker who announced, quite excitedly, that he was feeling absolutely wonderful because, for a period of about a fortnight, nothing much had been happening in his brain. For the onlie begetter of Hooting Yard, that would be a calamity rather than a cause for celebration. If nothing happened in my brain for two weeks, can you imagine the global meltdown? All around the world, devoted and indeed fanatical Hooting Yard readers would be up in arms, crazed and caterwauling, unable to cope with the silence that had descended upon their favourite website.

“Oh woe are we!” they would cry, possibly firing off Kalashnikovs into the sky in the manner of upset Middle Eastern persons, “Daily we check Hooting Yard but Mr Key posts nothing!”

I cannot let that happen, can I? I have responsibilities to my flock, possibly more onerous than had I been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. At least in that case I would have been given a curious pointy hat to wear on ceremonial occasions. Not one of my readers has thought to send me a pointy hat. But I do not complain. I simply press on, indefatigably, like a maniac.

Speaking of the firing of Kalashnikovs into the sky, you do realise that all those bullets have to come down somewhere, don’t you? They go up and up and up, but eventually, in accordance with the laws of science, they slow down, stop, and start to fall, at great speed. I once read an interesting magazine article about people who had been killed or maimed by such falling bullets, which can land remarkably far away from the upset Middle Eastern person who fired them into the air. You would think they would realise that what goes up must come down.

That saying, like worse things happen at sea, is true. But we cannot say what goes to must go fro. Some things do go fro after going to, like pendulums and metronomes and seaside holidaymakers. But it is entirely possible just to go to, and to stay to, without ever going fro. I need not furnish you with exempla, as I am sure you can come up with your own. That’s the thing, you see, I respect my readers’ intelligence. I don’t pelt you with a barrage of babble about matters you can easily work out for yourselves. You rely on me to tell you about things you wouldn’t otherwise know.

Admittedly, I can also use this non-pelting tactic to cover for my own areas of ignorance, which are profound and fathomless. Consider : it may be that I cannot for the life of me think of an example of going to without in turn going fro. By airily suggesting that the matter is so damnably obvious that I need not bother, I trick you into thinking I have a sheaf of exempla in a pocket file, which I could transcribe for you if I so wished.

“Gosh! Mr Key is so clever!” you say, putting down your Kalashnikov for a moment as your jaw drops in wonderment, “Truly let it be bruited from nation unto nation that there is nothing he does not know!”

I am quite happy for readers to gain this impression, but it is very wide of the mark. If I listed all my ignorances we would be here until the cows come home. That is another odd phrase, suggesting either that cows never come home or, if they do, their arrival is a long long time in the future. There is within it a hint that cows might go to but not fro. I suppose occasionally a cow might not come home at all, if it is out in a faraway field, chewing the cud and gazing stupidly at nothing, when all of a sudden it is felled by a Kalashnikov bullet plummeting out of a clear blue sky directly on to its big cow head. Poor cow. But it is a quick death, unlike that of the lobster in the early story by Samuel Beckett.

Perhaps tomorrow I should work on a revised version of the tale. “Belacqua And The Cow”, perhaps, or “Belacqua And The Parsnips”. But I will have to reread the original first, if I have the time, what with one thing and another, in this vale of tears.

Louise Brooks With An Owl On Her Head

Had she not died ten years ago, yesterday would have been the 105th birthday of Louise Brooks. To celebrate, the splendid Bestiary posted a photograph of her with an owl on her head.

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At least I think it’s an owl. Outa_Spaceman, to whom I am once again indebted for alerting me to the snap, thinks it is either an owl or a hawk of some kind.

On Mountains And Suitcases

There was a review in today’s Grauniad of a concert by a popstrel called Emeli Sandé, which included the following observation…

Excuse me a moment while I interrupt myself. A splendid feature of The Listener, which I extolled the other day, was that it did not concern itself with popular culture, or if it did, only very rarely. (I think in its latter days John Peel wrote an occasional column, but that was about as “pop” as it got, i.e., not very far.) The same was of course true of the broadsheet newspapers, until about twenty years ago. They did not deign to notice the existence of pop pap, and would certainly never have sent a reviewer to the 1970s equivalent of an Emeli Sandé concert. Now, I am not Peter Hitchens. I did not stop listening to pop and rock music at the age of 22, and I retain a keen interest in certain corners of popular culture. But I cannot help thinking that it was a more edifying age when coverage of young persons’ music was left to the young persons’ music press, and did not invade every cranny of the media. If, when I was a teenperson, you had told me that the NME’s Charles Shaar Murray would one day write for the Daily Telegraph, my jaw would have dropped. As, I suspect, would Charles Shaar Murray’s.

Anyway, back to that review. It reports that

Although Sandé’s lyrics can be refreshingly daft . . . many of them endlessly string together cliches and platitudes. Mountains are moved or climbed and lovers pack suitcases – although, to her credit, she has so far managed to avoid crying in the rain.

Reading this, it occurred to me to wonder if something similar could be said about Dobson, the titanic out of print pamphleteer of the twentieth century. If we swap “Dobson” for “Sandé”, and “pamphlets” for “lyrics”, can we say, with even a hint of accuracy,

Although Dobson’s pamphlets can be refreshingly daft . . . many of them endlessly string together cliches and platitudes. Mountains are moved or climbed and lovers pack suitcases – although, to his credit, he has so far managed to avoid crying in the rain.

(followed, to be grammatically correct, by) ? Well, can we?

That first phrase is almost unarguable. We might question how “refreshing” the daftness is, but of the daftness itself there can be no doubt. In his definitive categorisation of the pamphlets, the greatest of all Dobsonists, Aloysius Nestingbird, divided the canon into Daft, Valiant, Coruscating, Sensible, Shoddy, Hysterical, Majestic, Ornithological, Searing, and Illegible. “Daft” is by far the largest group, by a long chalk. And even if we wish to cavil with the scholar, we have Dobson’s own judgement. In Things To Shove Through A Funnel Into A Jar (out of print), he wrote, in an aside,

Some say many, if not most, of my pamphlets are daft. They may well be right. Who am I to argue? But just because I do not argue, and indeed largely accept the view, that does not mean it does not cause me untold grief. Only the other day, for example, as I trudged along the towpath of the filthy old canal on my way to the newsagent’s, I recalled that James Cake, in a review of one of my pamphlets, described it as ‘”irredeemably daft”, and my heart burst with misery and I began to sob. So copious were my tears that my vision was occluded. I was so overcome with dejection that I had to sprawl on a canalside bench until the weeping subsided. It was pouring with rain.

This is an interesting passage, in that it plainly shows the pamphleteer crying in the rain. It is not, then, something he has “managed to avoid”. But what about mountains being moved, mountains being climbed, and lovers packing suitcases? Can we find instances of these, dotted here and there, in the collected works? As Barack Obama used to say, so mystifyingly, “Yes we can!” Indeed, we can find so many instances that, extracted from their sources and cobbled together into a separate text, the passages would form a huge fat book rather than a mere pamphlet.

Dobson is forever prattling on about mountains, in spite of the fact that as far as we know he never actually climbed one, nor indeed lived anywhere near one. And he certainly never moved one, though if pamphlets such as A Few Tips On Mountain-Moving, With Shovel And Bucket (out of print) are to be believed, it was something he busied himself with every Thursday afternoon during the 1960s. We must be grateful, again, to Aloysius Nestingbird, who demonstrates conclusively that Dobson was either hallucinating or lying.

As for lovers and their packed suitcases, the pamphleteer does not seem as preoccupied with them as he is with mountains, but one must not overlook his curious pamphlet A Searing, Coruscating Analysis Of Paul Simon’s Song “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”, With Particular Attention Paid To 50 Different Techniques Of Suitcase-Packing, Each Illustrated With Instructive Diagrams With Pointy Arrows And Diagonal Lines (out of print). The pamphlet is curious in that it is one of the few occasions when Dobson turned his attention to popular culture. The story goes that he was sitting on a canalside bench, weeping – this was a different bench/weeping incident to the one alluded to above – when he was joined by a passer-by, a hairy young man who took pity on the aged pamphleteer and gave him a somewhat grubby napkin with which to wipe away his tears. They fell into conversation, during which the young man babbled excitedly about rock and pop music, of which Dobson knew nothing. He was intrigued, however, and accepted the young man’s gift of a cassette tape containing the Paul Simon song, to which he then listened when he got home.

Diligent research has recently revealed that the young man was present-day Daily Telegraph music writer Charles Shaar Murray. Murray has always denied meeting Dobson, and shudders at the mention of his name. Mind you, the same could be said for lots of people. Do not forget that the pamphleteer was a very “difficult” man.

Things You Should Know About Birds, No. 49

cassowary-bird

You wouldn’t want to find yourself alone on a bridge with a cassowary, for example, on account of his penchant for ripping out your stomach with his big toe.

from “Pie Pellicane” by Howard Jacobson, collected in Whatever It Is, I Don’t Like It (2011)

Pointy Town Fashion Parade

Thanks to Outa_Spaceman for drawing to my attention this snapshot from the Pointy Town Fashion Parade.

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Original source here.

On Crutched Friars

The other day I was walking through the City of London and as I turned on to Crutched Friars I almost collided with a friar on crutches.

“Oi! Watch where you’re going!” he shouted.

“I do beg your pardon,” I said, for I am always polite to friars, “I’m afraid I was, as so often, lost in a dreamy haze of preoccupation.”

The friar steadied himself on his crutches and fixed me with a piercing gaze, as if he were preparing to excavate my soul.

“With what were you preoccupied?” he asked. His tone was abrupt.

“Oh, nothing significant,” I said, “Current affairs, you know, turmoil at the BBC, ash dieback, the ongoing saga of Abu Qatada.”

“You have your finger on the pulse,” he said, “I know nothing of those things. As a member of the Order of the Fratres Cruciferi my mind is pointed towards the ineffable.”

“Away from the grubby world?” I asked, but he was already hoisting himself off down the street. Having nothing better to do, I turned about and followed him. There was something in that gaze that had dislodged my brain from its mundane concerns. Not being on crutches myself, I swiftly caught up with him.

“May I accompany you as you make your tottering progress along Crutched Friars?” I asked.

He spat on a flagstone in a very unfriarly way and grunted.

“I would like to know less about current affairs and more about the ineffable,” I said.

“I can tell you nothing of the ineffable that you do not already know, in the innermost core of your being,” he said, “You might be more interested to know why I am on crutches.”

We turned left on to Lloyd’s Avenue.

“Well I didn’t want to pry,” I said.

He cackled.

“Why do people always say they are reluctant to pry into the affairs of crutched friars?” he said, and without waiting for an answer, carried on. “They pry when they ought to pray. Do you pray?”

“Not often,” I admitted, “Though I have been known to raise my eyes to the heavens at times of emotional anguish.”

We were now on Fenchurch Street.

“I can see,” he said, “By looking at your legs that you have not suffered the emotional anguish of losing the use of your lower limbs and being forced to haul yourself along Fenchurch Street on crutches.”

“Well actually I did lose the use of my lower limbs for several weeks when I was seven years old,” I said, “And felt great emotional anguish, commensurate with my youthfulness at the time.”

“Ah, but did you hobble encrutched through the city?” He saw from my face that the answer was no. “No, you lay abed in the comfort of home, no doubt, fetched warm milk and biscuits by your mama.”

“Indeed so,” I said, “May I ask, then, why you do not lie abed in your friary, fetched warm milk and biscuits by your friary equivalent of a mama?”

“Because a crutched friar cannot rest when he has urgent business to attend!” he shouted.

We were now on Lombard Street.

“You cannot pray, so pry!” he went on, “Pry to find out why I am on crutches and why I am heading west and now very slightly north-west through the city!”

To be honest, I didn’t much care. I still wanted to hear about the ineffable. But it seemed rude not to ask, as he kept going on about his crutches, so I asked.

“Would you believe me,” he said in reply, “If I told you our friary has fallen victim to heathen voodoo interlopers?”

“I would if you furnished me with more detail,” I said.

“They came one wild and windy night,” he said, “And they were cleverly designed as crutched friars. They said they came from one of our houses in Belgium or Bohemia, I forget which, somewhere beginning with B. We gave them porridge to eat and bales of straw on which to rest. All seemed hunky dory, or as hunky dory as it ever gets in the friary. But soon enough odd things started to happen, odd and unseemly things. Things involving the ritual sacrifice of chickens, for example.”

“Gosh!” I said.

We passed on to Mansion House Street.

“There was an eerie shenanigans with the blood of ducks, too, and pins in dollies, eyeless, horrible dollies. Brother Whitlow’s head swelled to the size of a medicine ball. Brother Sandwich raved like a madman. Brother Nitty turned into a serpent. And I lost the use of my lower limbs.”

“It was voodoo?” I asked.

“That is my guess. And as a crutched friar I intend to fight fire with fire. Though I feel their heathen spell upon me. I hope it is not too late.”

“But surely you are safe from them, and their awful magic, here in the sun-dappled city streets?” I asked.

“Ha!” he cried, “Would that it were so! Their power is hideous and terrible. It is not only I who fear their damnable tricks. You have chosen to walk beside me, so you too, at any instant, could fall victim to their voodoo!”

And as he spoke, we both turned into Poultry.

crutched friars to poultry

On Why I Should Be The Next Director General Of The BBC

Having let the Archbishopric of Canterbury slip through my fingers, I am not going to make the same mistake with the other big job now unexpectedly on offer. George Entwistle’s resignation after just fifty-four days at the helm means the post of BBC Director General is vacant. As Leonard Cohen put it, “I’m your man”.

The present BBC is a huge and bloated organisation, preposterously so when we consider what it does. The clue is in the name: British Broadcasting Corporation. It broadcasts programmes on the telly and the radio. That’s all. So let us gain some perspective. It is not governing a country or fighting a war or sending a mission to Mars. (Someone on the Today programme this morning did refer to the imminent “Star Trek world of the 2020s”, but that is a topic for a separate postage.)

I have no idea what all those hopeless hapless BBC-lifer nonentities in the seemingly numberless tiers of management actually do, and nor, I suspect, in their heart of hearts, do they. I would immediately dispense with the lot of them. Do you know how ResonanceFM is run? There is a benevolent dictator, assisted by one person who knows how all the technical gubbins works and one person who makes sure they have enough programmes to fill the schedule. And that’s it. The BBC could easily be run on the same lines, perhaps doubling up on the numbers of assistants to reflect that there is a TV arm as well as a radio one.

Now let us look in more detail at each of those.

Television. I don’t know if you have read a tabloid newspaper recently. I have, and I can tell you that a terrifying percentage of the content is related directly to television. If you removed the TV-related stuff from the average tabloid you would be left with a few flimsy pages. I think what this shows is that television has had a lethal and degrading effect on the culture of the masses. Truly we live in an age of pap. So my first instinct would be to shut down the television service entirely. That, however, is probably an impossible dream, even for as dictatorial a Director General as I intend to be. What would be feasible, however, is to scrap all the current programming and show only Key-approved content. Call it elitism, if you will, but I know I know best, and I am sure after a short while everyone else will agree.

Thus, for example, if you had a choice between hour upon hour of Celebrity Antique Cookery Car Jungle Challenge or a season of classic Googie Withers films, which would you prefer? Not that you will be given the choice under my dominion. It will be Googie all the way, every day! And when we have exhausted the Googie canon we will show all of Jacques Rivette’s films, and then Guy Maddin’s, on rotation. There are of course other approved film persons other than Googie and Jacques and Guy, and they will get their slots.

But oi!, I hear you cry, that is cinema, not television. Television is a separate and distinct medium in its own right. To which I reply, maybe so, but there needs to be a moratorium while we bash some sense back into the heads of the masses. After, say, ten years of my limited schedule, it might be possible to reintroduce certain made-for-television programmes, chiefly Scandinavian police dramas and a show dedicated entirely to Dr Alan Statham from Green Wing.

Radio. I mentioned ResonanceFM above, and it seems to me the best thing to do is simply to adjust the current BBC wavelengths so they broadcast Resonance instead. This would do wonders for the nation’s morale. As I would be in charge, there would of course be a channel dedicated wholly to Hooting Yard On The Air. There are already hundreds of hours’ worth of me babbling into a microphone available as podcasts, so these could be put on an ever-repeating loop.

I would, however, retain two programmes from the current BBC schedules, the shipping forecast and Farming Today. For the latter, the existing roster of presenters would be ditched (ha ha!) and replaced by some proper peasants.

Other Activities. BBC persons witter on at length about a multi-platform approach. Basically, all this means is making the TV and radio programmes available on computers and laptops and iFaffs and other digital devices. All you need is a computer-literate teenperson to sort that out.

My finest achievement, however, would be to resurrect The Listener. Younger readers may be unaware that from 1929 to 1991 the BBC published the best weekly periodical I have ever read. It was an intelligent general interest magazine of the kind now absent from our newsagents’ shelves. (Both The Spectator and The New Statesman have a political axe to grind; The Listener didn’t.) As a teenperson, I used to read it every week from cover to cover, and learned more from it than from any other single source. I knew the rot had set in when it was closed down two decades ago, a decision I can still not forgive.

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It is clear from the above that I am the best possible Director General the BBC could possibly have. I await “Lord” Patten’s call (assuming he is still in post at the BBC Trust when you read this. If not, I’ll take his job too, and I won’t need ennobling.)

Flanders Fields

Flanders-Fields-Poppies

On The Sea

Let us conduct an experiment. I would like you to make a mental list of, say, three or four of the most awful things you can possibly imagine. Do not stint, do not shy away from the power of your mind to summon horrors. For our purposes, your mental flights should be vivid enough for you to feel, physically, in your innards, terror or disgust or nausea or panic or whatever else is appropriate to the hideous visions swimming before you.

Done? Now I will show you how I can offer succour and solace and wipe away your terror or disgust or nausea or panic in an instant. All I need say is: worse things happen at sea. See? At once, however awful your imaginings, you are comforted by the thought that they could be much, much worse, because worse things happen at sea. This must be true, for it is a saw or a saying, it has gained currency by containing at least a germ of truth. That is how a phrase becomes a saying. People repeat it because they recognise a deep truth within it. Oft repeated, it becomes common, familiar to all. So nobody would repeat the phrase worse things happen at sea if it were not true, if, however awful a thing one might imagine, yet something even more awful would happen at sea.

We can easily demonstrate this by comparing it with a different combination of words, a phrase that is never repeated, has not become a saw or saying. All goats cause mayhem, for instance. It is simply said, a doddle to memorise, and in its syntactic structure identical to many a well-known saying. We can imagine it in the mouth of a countryside character speaking in a generic BBC peasant accent. Yet it is not said, because it is not true. Some goats cause mayhem, in particular circumstances, but many more goats do not. So all goats cause mayhem is not a saying. Worse things happen at sea is.

There is one flaw in the design of my experiment. In summoning to mind three or four of the most awful things you could possibly imagine, one or more of them might have been maritime. A shipwreck, for example, or a boy stood on a burning deck, or the emergence from the depths of the many-tentacled gigantic slime-covered monster known as the Kraken. In these cases, for me to say worse things happen at sea would offer no succour nor solace whatsoever. I am, in my terrible imaginings, already at sea, you clot!, you would cry, and justifiably so. Next time I conduct the experiment I will rephrase the premise. I would like you to make a mental list of, say, three or four of the most awful things you can possibly imagine happening on land, perhaps. Though the more astute among the class might guess where I am going with that one.

There is a pleasing universality to the idea that, whatever horror you may imagine or, if you are unlucky, actually experience, you can take solace from the fact that worse things happen at sea. By universality I mean that it is true in all cases. This ought not surprise us when we consider how mind-numbingly vast the sea is. It covers seven-tenths of our pretty globe. We speak sometimes of the seven seas, but in truth there is only one, vast, as I have said, and salty, and wet. Here and there, jutting out from it are land-masses, big and small, from continents to eyots, but they are insignificant in comparison to the sea. It is only to be expected that worse things than you can possibly imagine occur in the vast salty wet briny deep.

The last time I conducted this experiment was to a class of tots at a school community self-esteem ‘n’ diversity-awareness hub to which I had been invited to distribute prizes. Before handing out the gewgaws, I had the tots give vent to their wildest and most horrible imaginings. Hysteria ensued and a paramedic from a nearby clinic had to be rushed to the hall to inject the more frantic tinies. This annoyed me, as I had hoped to bring a sense of calm and the peace that passeth all understanding simply by telling them that worse things happen at sea. Unfortunately, before I had the chance to do so, one precocious tot shot his hand up, begging to say something.

“Yes, yes, what is it?” I shouted in the exasperated voice I tend to assume with precocious tots.

“One of the three or four awful things I have been imagining in my mind’s eye is the Grunty Man. I don’t care what you say, he is equally if not more terrifying than the Kraken.”

“Nonsense!” I rapped back, “The Kraken is a many-tentacled and gigantic and slime-covered monster which comes oozing up from the briny deep and lays waste anything it can lash out at with its many tentacles and it is so huge it can swallow great container ships whole!”

“Yes, I know,” said the infuriating tot, “But the Grunty Man is huge and horrible and hairy and comes forth from his cave or lair and lays waste everything in his path and his roaring is so loud that birds fall dead from the sky.”

“Yes,” said a second tot, without putting his hand up, “And what about the lumbering walrus-moustached psychopathic serial killer Babinsky? I have been imagining him as one of my three or four awful things, and I am so petrified that I have piddled in my pants. And I am known as the bravest, most courageous tot in the community self-esteem ‘n’ diversity-awareness hub and I am captane of everything and winer of the mrs joyful prize for rafia work.”

“Now look here -” I snapped, but such was the hubbub, the screaming, the hysterics, the gnashing of teeth, the rending of garments, the piddling in the pants, that I was drowned out.

Worse things happen at sea,” I bellowed, unheard. And for the very first time, I wondered if the saw or saying really was true. The scene before me was more awful than anything else I have ever experienced, and we were far inland, very far indeed from the vast wet salty sea.

On Why I Should Have Been The Next Archbishop Of Canterbury

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In choosing Justin Welby as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the Church of England has made a grievous mistake. Mea culpa. I blame myself. I ought to have made it clear that I was available to take up the post. I don’t doubt that the appointments commission worked on the assumption that Hooting Yard kept me far too busy. Thus by hiding my light under a bushel, I kept myself out of the running. Welby it is, rather than Mr Key.

Some readers may be under the impression that I was, in any case, not qualified to take command of the see of Canterbury. It is true that I am not now, nor ever have been, a member of the Anglican church. Nor have I taken holy orders and served as a priest or vicar in any Christian denomination. Nor am I a regular churchgoer. But I would argue that these objections are mere fiddle-faddle. I was clearly the best candidate for the job. My fatal error was not to make clear that I actually was a candidate. In the circumstances, they can be forgiven for overlooking me. I shall not send thunderbolts crashing about their ears in vengeance. Not just yet, anyway.

The raining of righteous, holy thunderbolts upon the heads of the people would have been one of my chief activities as archbishop. I think I am correct in saying that appointment to the post confers upon the incumbent the ability to do so. That most, if not indeed all, recent archbishops have refrained from casting thunderbolts is a matter of sore regret. It is one of the reasons the Church of England is considered wishy-washy. Well, that would not have been a term anybody would have dared use had I been installed at Lambeth Palace!

After donning the pointy mitre and golden robes, my first act would have been to declaim my sermon on the plains of Gath. I would have had the congregation kneeling and trembling and terror-struck, which in my view is the only proper response. There would be none of that queasy smiling and shaking of hands and hugging. No pap from me about “gentle Jesus”. No, it would be fire and brimstone, fear and penitence. All the so-called “issues” which get the present church entangled in endless hand-wringing blather – women bishops, gay vicars, blah blah – would be forgotten, because the Anglican communion, worldwide, would be marching to a different drum, a drum pounded, relentlessly and violently, by Mr Key. I would call on sinners to repent, and if there was the merest whiff of shilly-shallying, I would boom that stuff about the plains of Gath into their ears, over and over again, until they damned well did repent. With knobs on.

Obviously, once a week I would take time off from my episcopal duties to pop into the Resonance studios to broadcast Hooting Yard On The Air. The staff would just have to get used to bowing their heads at my approach, no, not just bowing, prostrating themselves on their bellies upon my arrival, in fear and trembling. I would wave my sceptre threateningly, and cast holy thunderbolts crashing about the studio. I think we are going to have to wait a long time for Justin Welby to do likewise. I hear he has never even appeared on Resonance. And now he is the Archbishop of Canterbury! No wonder this country is going to hell in a handcart.

Under my rule – sadly now but a figment – all those handcarts would have been turned about and heading for heaven. The heaven in question would be a peculiarly Hooting Yard kind of heaven. I would sit there, enthroned, casting thunderbolts and sending forth bolts of lightning from my fingertips. Serried ranks of seraphim and cherubim and ophanim and dominions and virtues and powers and principalities and archangels and angels would surround me, chanting ethereal chants, strumming on harps, and engaging in a variety of other angelic activities. Meanwhile, the great mass of Anglicans, plus of course all those poor benighted peoples across the earth of other faiths and none, would be gathered together poring over the collected works of Dobson, miraculously back in print!, pointing out flocks of birds in the sky, and picnicking upon sausages and smokers’ poptarts and cans of special heavenly Squelcho!.

Unrepentant sinners, meanwhile, those who remained impervious to the power of my booming sermon on the plains of Gath, would be consigned to the fiery pit. It is a pit too awful to contemplate, fiery and sulphurous and pitch black, a pit surrounded by vast walls of iron and lead, so thick, so high, that the signal from the Resonance radio mast cannot pierce them. Next time you are tempted to sin, think of that. Think of an eternity of spiritual agony where you are condemned to a pit where you can never ever hope to listen to Hooting Yard On The Air, or indeed to any of the many enticing programmes on Resonance. You will tread the path of righteousness, will you not?, to avoid such a terrible fate.

Still, I would not wish it to be thought that I am munching sour grapes. I am even minded to wish Justin Welby well. And, as I say, I have only myself to blame. As soon as beardy Rowan Williams announced he was stepping down, I ought to have presented myself at Lambeth Palace, engarbed in golden robes and a pointy mitre, and simply taken over. I could have locked the beardy one in a janitor’s cupboard and proclaimed that I was now in charge. It was an opportunity missed, and one I shall regret for the rest of my life. But I will not regret it as much as the Anglican communion. Those teeming millions of worshippers have no idea what they’re missing.

Perhaps I should return instead to the faith of my fathers. The Pope is an aged fellow, and he will have to be replaced sooner or later. I should make myself ready to assume command of the Roman Catholic church instead. Watch this space.