Monthly Archive for April, 2013

Interrogation

In a comment on Knitting & Catastrophe, someone calling themselves “Who are you?” gets very prickly and accuses me of all sorts of perfidy. I am assuming this must be Dr Jonathan Faiers himself, familiar as he is with the contents of Dr Faiers’ email inbox.

I wrote to him, you see, to alert him to the fact that the film Sightseers is a splendid example of knitting and catastrophe in the cinema. And I wrote because I think “knitting and catastrophe in the cinema” is a brilliant, brilliant theme, for which Dr Faiers should be applauded. Alas, he ignored that praise, preferring to become enraged by my comments about the deadly horror of academic prose – all those “interrogations” – and heaped insult and invective upon me. Which rather goes to prove my point – he is clearly capable of writing vivid prose, so why must he couch his lecture in such clogged-up blather?

Anyway, I mention this as an excuse to direct your attention to a comment by David Thompson, which neatly summarises everything that is wrong with academic art talk, specifically “interrogations” (and “explorations”):

A while ago, I suggested a drinking game involving random art press releases. Every time you spot the word ‘explores’ or ‘interrogates’ you take a swig of tequila. Oblivion would beckon very quickly indeed. These words are all but obligatory – it’s a way to signal phony intellectual heft – and given the context, they’re usually meaningless. The particulars of this alleged mental activity – all this exploring and interrogating – never seem to be stated clearly, and no conclusions ever seem to be reached or announced to the public. But that’s because these words aren’t meant to refer to reality. You’ll see they’re used pretty much randomly. They’re just there to let the credulous punter know that the artist is supposed to be clever and therefore deserving of attention and taxpayer subsidy.

Tar

He was out by the tar pits, as usual, thinking hard about tar, as usual. Tar occupied his thoughts when he went to the tar pits, but the rest of the time he could dismiss it, tar, from his head. He was a carrot-top, and he smelled of fresh-mown grass.

Tar is a product of the destructive distillation of organic substances. It is a highly complex material, varying in its composition according to the nature of the body from which it is distilled, different products, moreover, being obtained according to the temperature at which the process of distillation is carried on. As commercial products there are two principal classes of tar in use – wood tar, the product of the special distillation of several varieties of wood, and coal tar, which is primarily a by-product of the distillation of coal during the manufacture of gas for illuminating purposes.. These tars are intimately related to bitumen, asphalt, mineral pitch and petroleum.

He knew all this, and the more he thought about it, the more his head became tar-filled, almost up to the brim. It was a relief to lollop over to the pier and to board the waiting paddle-steamer, and to chug along the wide important river, all the way home. For a paddle-steamer snack, he had a blood orange in a paper bag.

He leaned on the rail, eating his snack and keeping an eye on the riverbank in hope of spotting an otter. When he was not at the tar pits, thinking about tar, much of his time was spent trying to devise a working otter-scanner. He envisioned some sort of contraption to be worn on his head, with a visor that could be lowered, with viewfinders attached, and a hand-held control panel, with lights and buzzers. Was there a riverbank creature more glorious than the otter? He thought not.

Yet the pull of the tar pits was irresistible. Sometimes, as soon as he disembarked at the pier close to home, he turned tail and reboarded the paddle-steamer and went straight back. Then he thought hard about wood tar. Wood tar, known also as Stockholm and as Archangel tar, is principally prepared in the great pine forests of central and northern Russia, Finland and Sweden. The material chiefly employed is the resinous stools and roots of the Scotch fir and the Siberian larch, with other less common fir-tree roots. A large amount of tar is also prepared from the roots of the swamp pine in North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, in the United States. In the distillation of wood a series of products, including gas, tar, pyroligneous acid, acetone, wood spirit and charcoal may be obtained, and any of these may be the primary object of the operation.

He had never been to any of those places, to Russia or Finland or Sweden, to North or South Carolina or Georgia or Alabama in the United States. He had never been anywhere really, save for along the wide important river from his home to the tar pits and back. But he had no Wanderlust. And he was a moral cretin.

A portion of fruit in a paper bag was his favourite snack. He did not care much which fruit. He used the same paper bag day in day out until it was tattered and torn and fell to bits. Then he asked the greengrocer for a fresh paper bag. The greengrocer was a huge beast of a man with a florid face and one withered arm, and he did not give out paper bags willy nilly. But he liked to hear tales of tar.

Wood tar is used in medicine under the name of Fix liquida. Its preparation unguentum picis liquidae is composed of wood tar and yellow beeswax. Externally tar is a valuable stimulating dressing in scaly skin diseases, such as psoriasis and chronic eczema. Internally wood tar is a popular remedy as an expectorant in subacute and chronic bronchitis. It is usually given as tar water, one part of wood tar being stirred into four parts of water and filtered. Given internally tar is likely to upset the digestion; taken in large quantities it causes pain and vomiting and dark urine, symptoms similar to carbolic acid poisoning.

That is what he told the greengrocer when applying for his most recent new paper bag. It was a hot Thursday in August and he had some bright ideas in his head about the otter-scanner. He bought a Carlsbad plum to go in his new paper bag and headed towards the pier. Ah! Sweet mystery of life! At last I’ve found thee. Ah! I know at last the secret of it all! All the longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning, the burning hopes, the joy and idle tears that fall. Tar and otters! Otters and tar!

The “tar” found in tar pits is not actually tar.

Verongelijktheid

There is a Dutch word . . . verongelijktheid, to be wronged, not by an individual so much as by the world at large. You often see it in the way the much-heralded national team plays soccer.

Proud of their superior skills, their multicultural makeup, the almost mocking manner of their free-flowing play, maddening the players of more prosaic teams, like Germany, the stars of Dutch soccer usually start their games with all the swagger of swinging Amsterdam. In their playful individualism, their progressive daringness, they know they are the best. And sometimes they are. But when things go against them and the plodding Germans, or the bloody-minded Italians, or the cussed English, go up a goal or two, the heads slump, the bickering starts, and the game is lost in a sour mood of verongelijktheid. Why did this have to happen to us? What did we do to deserve this? Aren’t we the best? Well, fuck you!

Ian Buruma, Murder In Amsterdam : The Death Of Theo Van Gogh And The Limits Of Tolerance (2006)

Me And My Bear

The heavy bear who goes with me, a manifold honey to smear his face, clumsy and lumbering here and there, I wish I could say what kind of bear he is. Others, no doubt, could tell you, but I am afraid I am a trembling bundle of ursine ignorance. I have no idea which pigeonhole to put this bear into.

What I do know is that I am wholly responsible for it. I know this because the bear came to me in a dream, and in dreams begin responsibilities. It was a vivid dream, perhaps because, shortly before resting my head on the pillow, I had tucked into an enormous sandwich in which many a pickle had been inserted, pickles of all kinds. I know more about pickles than I do about bears, but this is neither the time nor the place for pickle matters.

In my dream, I think it was the year 1909, and I felt as if I were in a motion picture theatre, the long arm of light crossing the darkness and spinning, my eyes fixed on the screen. It was a silent picture, as if an old Biograph one, in which the actors are dressed in ridiculously old-fashioned clothes, and one flash succeeds another with sudden jumps. The actors too seem to jump about and walk too fast. The shots themselves are full of dots and rays, as if it were raining when the pictures were photographed. The light is bad. It was that kind of film.

Suddenly, among all these jumping actors, lumbered into view the heavy bear, the central ton of every place, the hungry beating brutish one in love with candy, anger, and sleep. Our eyes met, and I felt – oh so vividly – that from now on, until one of us died, this bear was my responsibility. Which is all very well in the world of dreams, but gave me something of a start when I woke up and found the bear, all too heavy and solid and, good heavens!, real, slumped at the foot of my bed.

I squeaked in fear, but soon enough learned there was nothing to be frightened of. It is a very placid bear, all things considered, except for those times when it is dishevelling all and climbing buildings and kicking footballs and boxing its brother bears in the hate-filled city. But it has never laid a paw on me. Indeed, it seems to take great pains to be helpful, acting like a crazy factotum.

It has proved to be an interesting few weeks, getting used to having my every footstep dogged by a heavy bear. It has certainly caused a bit of a rumpus in social situations, and on public transport. It had never before occurred to me that bears were not welcome on buses. Given the behaviour of a number of human passengers, this seems a huge injustice. I have tried to explain to bus drivers that the bear is my responsibility, and goes with me everywhere, but they are not willing to listen. So we have done a heck of a lot of walking, me and my bear, up hill and down dale and along all those lanes that the buses ply.

I am so tired at the end of each day that I have sworn off pickle sandwiches, but I still find it hard to sleep. This is because, breathing at my side, that heavy animal, that heavy bear who sleeps with me, howls in his sleep for a world of sugar. This despite the fact that I have made a complete change to my breakfast – or, as our Flemish pals call it, het ontbijt – diet. No more eggs and sausages and smokers’ poptarts for me! I have been buying enormous quantities of Sugar Puffs, dozens of cartons at a time. For those of you unfamiliar with British breakfast cereal brands, Sugar Puffs are made from sugar-coated wheat flavoured with honey, by the Quaker Oats company. My bear seems to like them, and in fact it has been feeding on Sugar Puffs for lunch and dinner and supper as well as breakfast. But it still howls in its sleep. And it is getting heavier.

I am stuck with my bear, and I am not complaining. But I noticed in the paper the other day that the local fleapit has a screening next week of an old Biograph motion picture called Actors In Ridiculously Old-Fashioned Clothes, Jumping About And Walking Too Fast In Dots And Rays, With A Bear! (Horst Gack, 1909). I wonder what will happen to my bear when it sees itself up on the screen. It came to me in a dream. Will it abandon me when it sees the dream? Will it take responsibility for itself, and find its own Sugar Puffs? I will let you know.

[With apologies to Delmore Schwartz.]

Yon Little Mound Of Heaped Up Earth

Fossicking in the archives to find the text of What’s On In Mustard Parva (see below), I noticed that the day before I had posted an extract from the magnificently-titled Withered Leaves From Memory’s Garland by Abigail Stanley Hanna (1857):

Next to Rosa Whittier sat Julia Balcolm, with saddened expression of countenance and large deep blue eyes that gazed upon you with a deeper expression of melancholy in their glances than is usual to the merry age of childhood, and elicited your sympathy ere you knew her history. Julia was a cripple. She was drawn to school by an older sister with rosy cheeks, bright flashing black eyes, and a sprightly animated countenance, and carried into the school-room in the arms of her teacher, or some of the older scholars. And so she came, year after year, mingling with the merry group. But where is she now? Yon little mound of heaped up earth covers her remains, and a narrow marble slab tells the place of her repose, and we can but hope she who was denied the privilege of walking on earth may now soar on angel’s wings. This dear child was obliged to crawl from place to place after her more favoured companions, dragging her useless perished limbs behind her. But He who careth for us knew what was best for her, and we cannot doubt His infinite wisdom.

Would that Edward Gorey were with us still, to illustrate this tear-stained yet uplifting tale!

Kimika Ying Writes In

A letter arrives from Kimika Ying:

Dear Mr. Key : I came across the following picture today which struck me as remarkably familiar, and words from one of your earlier writings came to mind:

Each Saturday morning, I don the diving helmet and cycle fourteen voots to a bucolic hamlet..”

You may well have seen this photo before, but while it was on my mind I wanted to take a moment to thank you for making the world a more surreal place. Listening to Hooting Yard is always a pleasure.

I had not seen the picture before, and nor did I recall the piece Ms Ying quoted – not surprisingly, as it is nine years old, appearing here in March 2004. Here are both the photograph (from this source) and my elderly tale, What’s On In Mustard Parva.

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My diving helmet is made of gleaming brass. I polish it once a week, on Friday afternoons. Each Saturday morning, I don the diving helmet and cycle fourteen voots to a bucolic hamlet called Mustard Parva.

(Curiously, there is no neighbouring village named Mustard Magna, although a rustic barnyard person I met while drinking a pot of gaar in the local gaar-pot drinking hut told me that there had once been such a place. In the year of his birth, this toothless derelict said, the sizeable cluster of wooden buildings known as Mustard Magna had been invaded by a sloth of bears, many hundreds of them, driven insane by ergot poisoning, each bear capable of destroying a humble peasant dwelling with a single thwack from its mighty paw. Two hours after the first bear lumbered across Sawdust Bridge, the village was completely obliterated. It is still shown on some maps.)

Jamming my bicycle into a kiosk on Mustard Parva’s Yoko Ono Boulevard, I join six or seven other diving helmet enthusiasts for our weekly meeting. Huddled together in the upstairs room of a building fast succumbing to dry rot, we discuss our diving helmets and take lamentably inaccurate minutes which are published regularly through the good offices of the Mustard Parva Thing, whose editor is none other than the blind cousin of Marigold Chew.

Source : The Belle of Amherst & Other Essays Written During An Unprecedented Pea-souper by Dobson (limited edition of three copies, unsigned, bound in tat, and coated with a foul-smelling medicament concocted by Dr Fang)

Cheap Laughs

sightseers-movie-1

I watched, and much enjoyed, Ben Wheatley’s 2012 film Sightseers. Imagine Keith and Candice Marie from Mike Leigh’s Nuts In May as serial killers on the rampage and that will give you some idea.

For all its pleasures, there was, however, one small lapse which I point out because I think it is symptomatic of a broader issue. There is a scene in which Chris (Steve Oram), the male lead, says “He’s not a human being. He’s a Daily Mail reader.” The line guarantees a cheap laugh from the audience, but it’s all wrong, because the character being referred to fits much more neatly the stereotype of a Guardian reader. But it is precisely Guardian readers who are likely to form the audience for the film.

“He’s not a human being. He’s a Guardian reader” is actually funnier, as well as being more fitting. But the Guardianistas would then have to laugh at themselves, something they’re not very good at. Taking a swipe at the Daily Mail, on the other hand, is easy. No thought required. It is similar to the depressing sight of Russell Brand assuming he can win an argument with Peter Hitchens merely by saying Hitchens writes for the Mail. Cue boos from the herd.

While we are on the subject of comedy, Douglas Murray has a good point to make about The Book Of Mormon. Easy enough to elicit laughs at the expense of a preposterous sect, but it is not as if Mormonism is in any way a feature of the cultural landscape in this country. As he says,

One reviewer called The Book of Mormon “decadent” and I know what he meant. It does seem the epitome of a corrupted culture that you have to import alien ideas to laugh at because you are too terrified to lampoon the alien ideas in your own midst. You could get someone to write The Book of Muhammad. I would happily write it myself. But we would not find a theatre, and even if we did the theatre would not find an insurer, so the show would not go on.

Oh, incidentally, Sightseers may be the knitting and catastrophe film par excellence.

The Wooden Pod

The Wooden Lake

Plaid Cymru broadcasting

Leper Messiah

There is a fictional character named, somewhat foolishly, “Ziggy Stardust”, the creation of a one-time student of mime named David Bowie. Among the attributes of Mr Stardust, we are told that he is “like a leper messiah”. I wondered if there was a real, non-fictional leper messiah Mr Bowie had in mind, or, given that he uses the indefinite rather than the definite article, whether there might actually be several such messiahs, languishing in leper colonies across the globe. One way to find out would be to make a tour of leper colonies, where they still exist, in countries including India, China, Romania, Egypt, Nepal, Somalia, Liberia, Vietnam, and Japan.

Before planning such an arduous itinerary, I did some background reading on Mr Bowie, and I discovered that he had often expressed an interest in the last-named of those nations, Japan. Somewhere he spoke of being “under Japanese influence” and elsewhere of “pictures of Jap girls in synthesis”. I also learned that he had once been buried up to his neck when pretending to be an inmate of a Second World War Japanese prisoner of war camp. These clues were enough for me to dismiss any thought of travelling to India, China, Romania, Egypt, Nepal, Somalia, Liberia, or Vietnam, and to focus all my attention on the land of the rising sun. It seemed fairly clear that, if there were indeed one or more leper messiahs, they were almost certainly to be found in a Japanese leper colony.

mcml2

Impatient to proceed with my quest, I jumped into a Japanese car and told the driver to take me to the airport. Instead, he drove me to a forest in the Japanese car, and left a hole in the back of my head, hiding in the foliage and peat. It was wet and I was losing my body heat. Mr Bowie spoke of his honour being at stake when he was under Japanese influence, but for me it was more a case of injured pride, or nearly. And to make matters worse, I was nowhere near Japan, nowhere near even the airport. What price now my important research into Japanese leper messiahs?

Anyway, stumbling through the foliage, I came upon some picnickers. Along with their hamper and rug and folding chairs and cans of wasp repellant, they had a cassette deck. It was playing poptones. I cocked an ear and listened carefully, hoping it might be one of Mr Bowie’s songs about Mr Stardust, but alas it was not.

“Good afternoon,” I said to the picnickers, or rather shouted, to make myself heard above the din of poptones, “This is something of a long shot, but I don’t suppose you all hail from a nearby leper colony?”

“Actually, we do,” said one, munching on a sausage. I was both pleased and surprised to note that he was of decidedly oriental appearance. Indeed, in spite of the rain, he was wearing a kimono.

“May I join your picnic?” I asked, “I am famished.”

“Wait a moment,” he said, “We shall have to ask permission.”

“From whom?” I asked.

He pointed towards a tent which had been erected some yards away to the east.

“Our Almighty Lord and Master dwells within that tent,” he said, “We must seek his guidance in all things, including whether you may join us in our picnicking.” He swallowed another chunk of sausage.

Oh still my beating heart! Could it be that I had somehow located the leper messiah, picnicking in the British countryside?

“May I come into the tent with you?” I asked.

“I am afraid not,” said the Japanese picnic leper, “But you may wait at the tent flap.”

So I did, and quite against protocol I took the opportunity to peek inside. And I was astounded by what I saw. The leper messiah was not Japanese after all! There, in the gloom of the tent, I saw, dressed in scarlet and grey, sitting beside a telly, with his tiny hands on his tummy, chuckling away, a leprous, laughing gnome!

An Appointment With Doctor Fang

After they scooped out most of my vital innards, the surgeons replaced them, bish bosh, with artificial substitutes made from an amalgam of rubber and wire and tin and concrete. Then they sealed up the slicings they had made earlier, lifted me from the operating table and placed me into some sort of translucent jelly pod. There was a blinding flash of light, and the next thing I knew I was back in bed, in my pyjamas, in my chalet. I unbuttoned my pyjama jacket, expecting to see scars, but I was completely unmarked.

Now, from that account you might think I am describing the experience of being abducted by aliens. We know how fond they are of carrying out intrusive surgery for their own, inexplicable, purposes. Forgive me if I gave the wrong impression.

What actually happened was that I woke up, in my pyjamas, in my bed, in my chalet, and I felt distinctly peaky. Usually when I am peaky I swallow a glug of Dr Baxter’s Invigorating Syrup, but on this particular morning my peakiness was beyond the pale. One glug, then another, did nothing to alleviate it, and so I thought it best to consult my doctor. As it happens, his surgery is perched rather higher on the mountain slope than is my chalet, so by the time I staggered into the waiting room I was peakier still. I was so peaky it beggared belief.

When, eventually, I was ushered in to see Dr Fang, he took one look at me and gawped.

“Good heavens!” he cried, “Seldom have I encountered so peaky a patient! You may be mere minutes from death! Watch, now, as I prod my metal tapping machine and summon a hot air balloon to ferry you immediately to my exciting new research clinic, even higher up the mountain slope! There, my unpaid interns will carry out innovative and as yet untested procedures to obliterate all traces of peakiness and have you back on your feet in no time!”

Moments later, the door crashed open and a gaggle of said unpaid interns, all white coats and stethoscopes and burning enthusiasm, dragged me out and into the basket of their hot air balloon. At this point my peakiness reached a new pitch, and I lost consciousness. You know the rest.

The point is, do I feel any better? It is difficult to judge. Admittedly, I have not yet attempted to rise from my bed, in part because my new artificial innards seem to weigh considerably more than those they replaced, which I last saw tossed into a wastepaper bin in the clinic. Perhaps the extra weight I now carry is Dr Fang’s ruse to build up my strength. But I am also rather alarmed at the terrific rate at which my rubber and wire and tin and concrete heart is pounding. I seem to have acquired the metabolic rate of a squirrel. That may be a good thing, of course. I will be more alert, though constant quivering may prove socially ruinous.

Dr Fang has promised to pay me a chalet visit tomorrow, during which he will check my progress. I might also find out if there is any truth in the rumour that his experimental surgery is in fact part of a dastardly plan to breed a race of half-men, half-robotic automata, with whom he intends to conquer the world. I think I saw on his bookshelf a ringbinder on the spine of which was written Plan For Global Dominion Through The Agency Of Robot Squirrel People. I think I had best ask him if I could borrow it.

Now I think I will eat some nuts for supper.

The Maori Factotum

Close to the ruins of Eynsford Castle, Philip [Heseltine / Peter Warlock] shared the small main-street cottage with his composer friend, E. J. Moeran, together with a collection of cats and a Maori housekeeper-cum-factotum, Hal Collins (Te Akau) (d. 1929). Collins had previously been a barman at a London drinking club. [Cecil] Gray gave this intriguing description of him:

“In contra-distinction to this more or less floating population of cats and women, a permanent member of the establishment was a strange character called Hal Collins . . . whose Maori grandmother had been a cannibal and used, within his memory, to lament the passing of the good old days when she could feast upon her kind. Besides being a graphic artist of considerable talent, particularly in woodcut, he was one of those people who, without ever having learned a note of music or received a lesson in piano playing, have an inborn technical dexterity and a quite remarkable gift for improvisation. He used to compose systematically, also, but without being able to write it down; I remember him once playing to me a whole act of an opera he had conceived on the subject of Tristram Shandy . . . He subsisted chiefly on stout, of which he consumed gargantuan quantities, and when elated would perform Maori war dances with quite terrifying realism. On spirits, however, he would run completely amok, in true native fashion, and on one occasion almost succeeded in massacring the entire household.”

Another snippet from Peter Warlock : The Life Of Philip Heseltine by Barry Smith (1994)

Warlock On Yeats And Berlioz

[W. B. Yeats' reluctance to have his poetry set to music] was born of his horror at being invited by a certain composer to hear a setting of his Lake Isle Of Innisfree – a poem which voices a solitary man’s desire for still greater solitude – sung by a choir of a thousand Boy Scouts.

Peter Warlock, ‘Mr Yeats And A Musical Censorship’, Musical Times, February 1922

When Berlioz was found wandering about the mountains, note-book in hand, sketching his Overture to King Lear, he was arrested as a spy, and his protests that he was not making notes in a secret cipher were received with ridicule by the police. “It is well known”, they said, “that music cannot be composed without a pianoforte.” Berlioz we know could not play the pianoforte. But his case provides no rule and the fact remains that a great deal of music, especially at the present time, is either extemporized at the keyboard or else built up of fragments discovered, more or less fortuitously at the pianoforte and afterwards unskillfully glued together.

Peter Warlock, ‘A Note On The Mind’s Ear’, Musical Times, February 1922

Both quotations appear in Peter Warlock : The Life Of Philip Heseltine by Barry Smith (1994)

Pointy Town Egg Dream

Last night I dreamt I went to Pointy Town again. I went by way of the Blister Lane Bypass, where important roadworks were taking place. In spite of the fact that I have never in my life been within twenty feet of a pneumatic drill, I took it into my head that I wished, with all my heart, to take part in the roadworks. I hopped off my bus – a number 666 – dodged through the many container lorries thundering along the road in both directions, and, anent a muddy trench, grabbed hold of an unattended machine tool. With sure and steady thumb, I depressed the knob that spurred the machine to life, and proceeded to gouge out crumbly slabs of geological significance from the bottom of the trench. This being a dream, I was able to continue my deft roadworks until I reached the burning core at the centre of the earth. I stilled my machine, and dug through the final layers of rock fragments with my bare hands, and there I discovered an egg.

“This is the egg of the world,” I said, “I wonder what will hatch from it?”

With the egg nestled in a pocket of my Tyrolean jacket, I clambered back up to the earth’s surface. Oddly, instead of finding myself at the Blister Lane Bypass, I was in Pointy Town itself, near the viaduct, outside the Old Collapsing Abandoned Swimming Pool. The door was ajar, and I pushed it open without the least trace of fear and stepped inside. As I did so, I heard the egg in my pocket crack.

In the empty pool, with its distorting acoustics, a jug band, as if awaiting my arrival, struck up a jug band arrangement of “Mother Goose” by Jethro Tull. Was it a goose egg I had in my pocket? I fumbled in my pocket to hoist out the cracking egg. Something nipped my fingers, and I quickly pulled out my hand, eggless. Blood was flowing, far more copiously than one would expect from the tiny bite I had received. I waved my hand and my blood splattered the jug band. They played on, undisturbed.

That is the thing about dreams, they make no sense. They have no significance. I am not even sure what a jug band is. I have never engaged in rogue roadworks. I have never been to Pointy Town.

Warlock’s Retort

The composer Peter Warlock (1894-1930) – real name Philip Heseltine – was declared unfit for military service during the First World War on account of general neurasthenia and “an inability to micturate when mentally excited, and especially in the presence of other people, with the consequence that he has had occasional prolonged retention”, according to a Harley Street doctor’s report.

As a seemingly fit young man swanning about London, he was subjected to insults from “officious patriots”. His common retort to such persons was to declaim one of his favourite quotations, from Samuel Butler’s poem Psalm Of Montreal:

O brother-in-law to Mr. Spurgeon’s haberdasher,
Who seasonest also the skins of Canadian owls,
Thou callest trousers ‘pants,’ whereas I call them ‘trousers’,
Therefore thou art in hell-fire, and may the Lord pity thee!

peter_warlock

Eerie Old Barn

Eerie old barn, wherein I lay sprawled,
The farm that it stands on, what is it called?
It goes by the name of Scroonhoonpooge Farmyard.
There, you see, that was not so hard.
But other questions we might raise
In these squalid, sordid days
In this eerie barn of woe
Have answers we will never know.