Pitt The Middling

We know of Pitt the Elder and Pitt the Younger, but what of Pitt the Middling? History has neglected him, presumably because he did not exist. But what if he had? What then?

We might write a thumping fat biography of the middling Pitt, middling in stature, middling in importance, fair to middling in his accomplishments. This biography we could make up from whole cloth or, if we preferred, we could cobble it together from snatches from the true biographies of the other Pitts, the Elder and the Younger, and, casting further afield, from the biographies of any number of not-Pitts, contemporaries, coevals, and peers. Judiciously constructed, such a book might tell us more, much more, about the world and the age of the Pitts than any existing biography of either one of them or of any of the many not-Pitts whose lives we would gut to tell of the Middling Pitt.

Our Pitt would be a sort of invisible man, one whose presence, however vivid, is nowhere attested in the available historical record. An invisible man and also a Frankenstein’s monster, into whom we breathe the spark of life. Vampire too, for never having really lived, he can never really die. He stalks the earth then, still, Pitt the Middling. If you glimpse his shadow, prancing down the street, tip your hat to him, toss him a coin. He deserves that much.

Uncle Tom’s Cabernet Sauvignon

My Uncle Tom was a wine snob. He was also a swine nob, “nob” of course being shorthand for “noble”. Uncle Tom’s cabin, where he spent the summer months, as also those of autumn, winter, and spring, was next to a pig sty, and he was a sort of Lord of the Pigs, similar in some ways to the Lord of the Flies, but with pigs rather than flies. Which is not to say there were no flies in his realm, for god knows they were legion. But whereas the pigs were devoted to Uncle Tom, and considered him their Lord and Saviour, the flies showed no such obeisance. Why would they?

Underneath Uncle Tom’s cabin was his wine cellar, bottle after bottle after bottle after bottle after bottle in serried horizontal ranks on his subterranean shelving racks. He was particularly fond of cabernet sauvignon, which had a couple of shelves all to itself. None of the pigs ever got to go down the iron spiral staircase into the cellar. Uncle Tom did not want any of his bottles accidentally smashed by a clumsy lumbering and perhaps terrified pig.

Uncle Tom was a great friend of the legendary Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin. They had formed a close bond one day in the 1950s. My uncle never betrayed any of Lev’s confidences, no matter how much I badgered him, and boy did I badger him! Whenever he felt my badgering became too much, he pushed me into the pig sty and locked the gate so I could not get out. You would think I would have learned my lesson, and ceased being such a pest about Lev Yashin, but that would be to impute a semblance of sense to me, as a child. But I had none, and there are those who say I still don’t.


Curiosity killed the cat. But a cat has nine lives, so one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, or even eight instances of overweening and perilous curiosity will not prove ultimately fatal. It is the ninth instance that a cat has to worry about. But it will not worry, because it is ineradicably stupid. And thus, when its curiosity is piqued, for the ninth time, by a stray strand of string or a minuscule insect creeping along the wainscot, the cat will not pause to consider that this time, ah!, this time, there will be no coming back from the death it dallies with. It is not that the cat is brave, reckless, valiant. It is stupid, and it cannot count.

You would do well, then, if you care for a cat, and wish to protect it from harm, to teach it elementary arithmetic. Place the cat on a stool, and arm yourself with a series of flashcards on which the digits from 1 to 9 are written in clear big bold black sanserif. You need not bother with zero. No cat’s brain could ever cope with that concept.

The instruction of cats can prove highly exasperating, so you are advised to take some sort of bottled calmative elixir before starting. Drum the digits, and their significance, into the cat’s bonce. Check its progress with regular tests. If it leaves the stool, for example to pursue a stray strand of wool or a minuscule insect on the wainscot or, worse, a birdie in the garden, haul it back, replace it on the stool, and give it a ticking off.

Be warned that there is every possibility you will die before the cat has grasped the essentials. But you will die happy in the knowledge that you preserved the cat from harm for as long as you could, and left your considerable fortune to it in your last will and testament, to ensure it wants for nothing in this mortal world.

The Language Of Fruit

There is something very odd going on in the orchard. At night, after sunset, there is a curious hubbub. It is the sound of talking fruit. Hanging from their branches, the orchard fruits chatter away in the darkness. Each has a characteristic tone. The apples are shrill, the pears engage in tirades, the persimmons mutter. All the fruits talk constantly and simultaneously, so it is extremely difficult to decipher a word any of them is saying, even if we understood their languages.

Are any of them listening to each other, or are they just babbling, incoherently, oblivious to their fellow fruits? Why do they wait to speak until nightfall? Why are the fallen fruits silent? Why does nobody come to gather the fallen fruits from the orchard floor? Why are they left to rot?

It is the most curious of orchards, over there beyond the railway track and the viaduct, surrounded by thick thorny hedges in which no bird will nest.

The Sick Fairy

According to David Attenborough on BBC Radio 4’s Tweet Of The Day this morning, the sound made by the storm petrel has been described as “like a fairy being sick”. Conversely, in Lands of Faerie, for example in Cottingley, where the fairies are made of paper, a fairy being sick is compared to a storm petrel.

One might find it hard to imagine a fairy, especially a paper one, vomiting. But the Land of Faerie is (mostly) invisible to (most of) us. It is a parallel world where, could we see it, much would be familiar to us, albeit skewed and distorted. So, yes, fairies are sometimes sick, just as we are sometimes sick. But what they vomit up is not the same as what we vomit up. Yes, fairies shop for groceries in supermarkets with an increasing number of self-service tills, but they buy different groceries, in supermarkets which dimly resemble our own, and the protocol for self-service tills is like something from the fourteenth century. Fairies travel on buses, but not on our buses. I could go on.

Do you want me to go on? Or would you rather I shut up, so you can put on a pair of stout walking boots, and hike out to the seaside, in hope of finding a colony of storm petrels, so you can make a tape recording of their cries, and, later, back home, play it while reading a bedtime story to your tinies, that much-loved story from your own childhood, the one about the oh so delightful fluttering paper fairy that caught a stomach bug and vomited up a mess of fairy pottage, into a fairy bucket, in a little fairy cottage in Cottingley, and they called for a doctor, and the doctor who came hurrying across the fields with his black bag was Dr Arthur Conan Doyle?

The Quick Brown Fox And The Lazy Dog

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The fox is being pursued by tally-ho-ing hunters on horseback. It is so quick a fox that it is soon out of sight, having scurried under a hedge and leaped over a ditch and away, away! But the lazy dog is now sure to be crushed under the hooves of galloping horses unless it moves out of their path. It is a dog equivalent of Pearl White, star of the silver screen, who sometimes found herself tied to railway lines as huge locomotives thundered implacably towards her. Except that no ropes tie the dog down, merely its own lassitude.

The awful sound of the approaching hooves wakes the lazy dog. It has been asleep, dreaming about whatever dogs dream about. It was quite oblivious to the quick brown fox which jumped over it at the beginning of our story. Now it opens one doggy eye and peers towards the source of the din which has awoken it. Shifting its fat bulk oh so slightly on the grass, it lifts one diffident paw in a gesture designed to halt the horses in their gallop. Think of a station master holding up a flag to halt a train.

If this were a transcript of an episode of a Pearl White serial, we would end here, leaving you in suspense. But, just as the cinematheque audience knows, deep down, that Pearl White will not actually be killed under the wheels of the thundering locomotive, so you know, deep down, don’t you?, that Mr Key would never gratuitously kill a dog. Even a lazy fictional dog.

So what happens is that, astonishingly, each individual horse spots the raised paw of the lazy dog on the lawn, and comes to a jarring stop, in spite of the tally-ho-ing promptings of its rider. Indeed, so sudden is the horses’ halting that some of the hunters are pitched forward and thrown from their mounts.

The lazy dog goes back to sleep. The toppled hunters rub their sprains and bruises. The horses make standard horsey noises and pad about, as horses do, when left to their own devices. Far, far away, the quick brown fox is still going like the clappers. It is heading towards a railway line.

Broadsword Calling Danny Boy

Broadsword calling Danny Boy . . . Broadsword calling Danny Boy . . . But from Danny Boy comes no word, for he has become muddle-headed, and sped off in a bonny boat over the sea to Skye. One must not be equally muddle-headed, and confuse that Skye with the blue, blue Tyrolean sky beneath which, dressed all in white, the better to camouflage himself, Broadsword perches on an Alpine mountain declivity, calling, calling, hopelessly, into his radio transmitter.

The mountain slopes are thick with Nazis. The pipes, the pipes are calling. The Nazis, too, now, are muddle-headed, and they follow the dulcet tooting of the pipes, like children following the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Broadsword is safe from the Nazis for the time being. He packs up his radio transmitter and hoists it on his back and carries it down, down, to a janitorial shed near the railway tracks. Above, in the blue, blue sky, an eagle swoops. The eagle is neither Broadsword nor Danny Boy. It is an eagle with no name, just as in America, far from the Tyrol, there is a horse with no name, just as, here, coming into the janitorial shed, to join Broadsword, is the Man with No Name.

Later there will be much gunfire.

Slow Dog

There is a song by Tanya Donelly’s group Belly called “Slow Dog”. I do not think I had ever appreciated how slow a dog could be until yesterday, when I saw, walking along the pavement, an exceedingly slow dog, attached to a leash one end of which was held firmly by the dog’s owner, who was walking at an equally, and arrestingly, slow pace. In fact the pair of them were so slow that at first glance I thought they were immobile, posing on the pavement in a tableau vivant, as if to illustrate the subject “Person With Dog”. On further inspection, however, it became clear that they were both walking along, but imperceptibly, imperceptibly.

I am not familiar with all the different breeds of dog in the world but in this instance I am prepared to go out on a limb and state, clearly and decisively, that the dog was a mastiff.

I passed them by and went about my business, a series of errands which took me, in turn, to a tobacconist, an ironmongery, and a post office. Coming out of the post office, I saw something across the road which defied description. Nevertheless, fresh from my triumph at identifying a mastiff, among innumerable dog types, I am going to attempt to describe it. It was indescribably nondescript. That being so, I paid it no further attention, turned on my heel, and made my way home.

When I passed the slow dog and its master, they had progressed perhaps an inch or two along the pavement.

Home, I decided to listen to the Belly record. Tanya Donelly sings that her slow dog has “see-through skin, the kind of skin you can see through”. This was not the case with the slow mastiff I saw, so she must have been singing about a different dog entirely. It would be interesting to know which one was the slower.


Clench your fist in such a way that, when held up against a beam of light and casting its shadow upon the wall, it resembles, in silhouette, a stately, plump person. Why, as I live and breathe, ’tis Buck Mulligan!

This is the first step to master should you be determined to interpret James Joyce’s Ulysses through the medium of shadow puppetry. Further instructions to follow.

ADDENDUM : You hardly need reminding that Joyce himself always pronounced the title of his book Oo-liss-iss.

Hot Zinc

I used to know a man whose name, unusually, was Hot Zinc. His character was equally rum. He muttered much in Dutch, while twisting twigs into dollies. Angular and emaciated, they were frightening dollies, quite unsuitable for the tiny tots who form the standard dolly demographic.

The airbag in his car was of a wholly new type. It was devised by his cousin. He had dozens of cousins, and the name of the airbag designer was Ulf Drib, which is an anagram of bird flu. Ulf was a fat fellow who looked as if several of his airbags had exploded within him. In May 1968 he threw a pebble at a policeman in Paris. Youthful folly! Now he was fat and comfortable and bourgeois and able to manipulate air in wondrous ways.

It was good thing he did, for Hot Zinc was a terrible driver. He ploughed into a gaggle of swans beside a canal. The prototype new airbag saved his life. The swans’, not.


I was interested to note that the 2013 Man Booker International Prize was awarded to Lydia Davis. She is a writer who specialises in very, very short stories – so short they make Mr Key’s own effusions seem like mighty epics. Could it be that the hermetic and blinkered literary world is at last opening up to the odd and the unfamiliar?

I don’t know Lydia Davis’s work, other than a small selection of stories which appeared in the print edition of the Guardian at the weekend. But I am heartened by her success. It may prompt publishers to be just a tad more adventurous and – who knows? – I might not be told (as I have been, more than once) that I have “absolutely no commercial potential whatsoever”.

To that end, and also as a way of emerging from the influenza-racked hiatus that I know has had you lot mired in Hooting Yard-less misery for the past week or so, I thought I might have a bash at a few shorter-than-usual stories over the next few days. Clearly last year’s thousand-words-per-day scheme, interesting as it was (at least for me), did not quite capture the zeitgeist. All those hundreds of essays were far too long. Cut!

Whimpers From My Bed Of Woe

While I languish in my sickbed glugging Lemsip and generally feeling woebegone, there are a couple of items I ought to bring to your attention.

The first (courtesy of Jonathan Calder) is this startling headline from Kent Online. I suspect this is one of those occasions when real life collides with a paperback potboiler by Pebblehead.

The second is to inform you of a couple of books the existence of which I have recently learned. Recently and belatedly, given that both were published almost three hundred years ago. I am going to have to learn Dutch in order to read them:

Jacobus Hondius, Black Register Of A Thousand Sins (1724)

Anon,, The Finger Of God, or Holland And Zeeland In Great Need From This Hitherto Unheard Plague Of Worms (1731?)

I ought to illustrate this postage with images of badgers and worms and sin, but instead I am going to fall into an uneasy and fevered sleep.

A New Musical


You can learn many things by watching the Eurovision Song Contest. I noted some of them the other day at The Dabbler, but here I wish to confess that it was only when watching Eurovision that I learned to pronounce Malmö correctly. I had always thought that the final ö rhymed with dough. Now I know that it is more accurately a sort of er or uh sound.

This new knowledge led me, by ways I will not bother to explain, to devise a plan for an exciting piece of musical theatre. Now, I have not studied the life and times of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi with any great diligence, nor indeed with any diligence at all. What I know of the late tyrant was picked up from news reports – print and broadcast – over the years. So I have no idea whether he ever paid a visit to Sweden. If he did not, it does not matter, for my musical can be wholly fictional.

The basic premise of my all-singing all-dancing show is that Gaddafi, on a visit to Sweden’s southern capital, is presented by the good burghers of Malmö with an offering of myrrh. I realise this has connotations of the baby Jesus being presented with myrrh – plus gold and frankincense – by the three Kings of Orion-Tar, and that as a result my show might be accused of blasphemy. Well, bring it on!, as they say. We are all aware that blasphemy is a splendid way to drum up publicity. And Christian blasphemy is nice and safe, and wins plaudits for being “edgy” from the Guardian, unlike blasphemy against Islam, which gets you blown up or beheaded and accused of being racist by the Guardian.

The main – the only – reason I have devised this show, however, is as a pretext for the title Muammar’s Malmö Myrrh. That has a pleasing ring, does it not? The great thing about it is that, however clearly and resoundingly you try to enunciate the words, you still sound like a toothless inarticulate wretch.

The Red Button


I am delighted to announce a fantastic innovation here at Hooting Yard, the Hooting Yard Red Button. It has been developed by a dotcom startup run by twelve-year-olds. Here’s how it works:

While reading the latest effusion pouring out of Mr Key’s head, press the Hooting Yard Red Button to reveal a selection of options to enrich your Hooting Yard experience. Among them:

● Automatic translation into Dothraki.

● Exciting new colour schemes.

● Background music by Scriabin, Cornelius Cardew, or Xavier Cugat.

● A virtual fug of fumes from virtual acrid Serbian pipe tobacco.

● Water on the knee.

● Invasion of big lumbering magnetic robots from outer space.

NOTE : This is the “omega” version of the technology, and may not work properly on your computer, handheld device, iMonkey, or pneumatic parpophone.