Captain Nitty’s Lung Collapses

One grim bright morning, Captain Nitty was walking along an imposing and expansive boulevard when one of his lungs collapsed.

“Oof!” he gasped, before crumpling in an untidy angular heap upon the paving slabs. As he fell, his captainy cap fell off his head, and, landing on its brim, rolled into the gutter, where it was worried by a stray dog.

The dog had strayed from its owner, who was known to Captain Nitty, though the dog was not. Captain Nitty had what is known as dog-blindness, in that he could never perceive any dog with any of his five senses. So, even had he had his wits about him, rather than being sprawled gasping on the pavement, he would not have been aware of the dog gnawing and pawing his cap.

Later, in a bed on a ward in the clinic to where he had been ferried by a rickety and inefficient ambulance, Captain Nitty asked the clinic chaplain, who was sitting at his bedside telling the seven last words from the cross on his rosary beads, where his cap was. The chaplain replied in Latin, a language with which Captain Nitty was unfamiliar. What he said was, “Do not interrupt me with questions about your cap when I am praying for the salvation of your immortal soul through the words of Christ in his last extremity”.

Meanwhile, the dog had carried the cap, in its mouth, away from the boulevard to a patch of gorse and scrub over by the viaduct. Here, it lost interest in the cap and deposited it in a puddle. Then it scampered off to frighten some tiny tots gathered around a spooky fathomless inky-black pond.

Captain Nitty made a miraculous recovery and that very same day, at around teatime, was back on his feet. He discharged himself from the clinic and went in search of his cap. Does it bring tears to your eyes, the thought of him, bare-headed and desperate, looking in all the wrong places, plagued by invisible dogs, day after grim bright day, fruitlessly, fruitlessly, fruitlessly? It should.

Word Of The Day : Pencil

Word of the day : Pencil.

Today we are going to consider, in all its ramifications and from every conceivable angle, the word pencil. Before we do so, however, imagine yourself steaming open my correspondence and, with the aid of a flaming torch in the darkness, reading the latest missive to plop onto the Key mat:

Dear Mr Key : Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Poppy Nisbet and I am the downstairs neighbour of your pesky serial Word of the Day correspondent Wlad Onanugu. Or, should I say, I was his downstairs neighbour. I am pleased to say that the upstairs flat is now empty, Mr Onanugu having been dragged away, very early this morning, by a whirling tangle of ruffians dressed in police uniforms. Next stop : Durance Vile, a barren rock far out at sea, from which no convict has ever escaped, and where there are no stationery supplies. You will not be hearing from Mr O. again. That will teach him to spit at one of my kittens in the hallway.

I have innumerable kittens, and I also have a great love of words, which is why your Word of the Day series has proved such a tonic. At one point I was so damnably cheerful that I even considered letting Mr Onanugu off the hook, and not making that call to my pals on the Legally Questionable Abduction Team. The spat-upon kitten gazed at me plaintively, however, and wiser counsels prevailed.

Anyway, to business! I am a very busy woman, so it is only today that I have found the time to enact the illustrative sentence you gave for the word parp. I clattered into a room full of tots, having first smeared my face with beetroot juice and boggled my eyes. I then parped my hooter. I am pleased to say it was a roaring (or should I say parping?) success.

When I can find time within my schedule I intend to act out all the words in your Word of the Day feature, whether or not you provide an illustrative sentence. For verbs this should pose no serious challenge. As for nouns, I have already resolved to make purchase of a mop and some glue and a pencil, and will take it from there.

I will not, however, be pestering you with daily letters keeping you abreast of my doings, as I am mindful that you only have limited space available for the Word of the Day, and I appreciate that you must become exasperated when that space is taken up, as it is today, by foolish wittering letters from your readers. I fear I have already prevented you from paying due attention to pencil, thus increasing the backlog of words which you still need to get to grips with if you are to maintain your dignity as a Word of the Dayist. By my reckoning, that includes toot, hooter, tots, boggle, clunk, glue, and nap..

Perhaps I can be of assistance by performing some sort of stage flummery utilising all those words at one fell swoop, and writing an account of it for you. Then you would be able to put each and every one of them behind you and “move on”, as the airheads say nowadays. First of all, though, I must feed my kittens, and wipe them free of any neighbours’ spittle.

Yours terrifically, Poppy Nisbet

I am most grateful to Ms Nisbet, and shall await her report. In recognition of her efforts, I have decided that tomorrow’s Word of the Day will be nisbet.

Smokers’ Poptarts

A letter arrives from Tim Thurn:

Hey there, Mr Key! : Every so often over the years you have made mention of a snack or breakfast item called “smokers’ poptarts”. I don’t smoke myself – it’s a filthy habit and you ought to be roundly ashamed of yourself – but I must confess that whenever I read about what I assume to be poptarts specifically designed for smokers I find myself salivating. It can be quite embarrassing, for I usually read Hooting Yard when travelling on public transport, and on more than one occasion I have been found drooling spittle over a fellow-passenger. I have been mistaken for an indigent, and beaten about the head with a rolled-up copy of The Daily Incandescent Bus Passenger.

Obviously my response to the words “smokers’ poptarts” is irrational, as if I were a Pavlovian dog. I have been led to delve into my family history to discover whether there is something nameless and awful lurking in my genetic heritage. Thus far I have gone back as far as the sixteenth century without finding anything pertinent, though obviously there were numerous smokers among my ancestors, for time was when seemingly everybody smoked, all the time. What a disgusting world it was!

Anyway, back to the present day, or to be more precise the recent past, the very recent past, actually the Thursday just gone. Although you have not mentioned smokers’ poptarts for quite a while, I have – as you may have guessed – become obsessed with them. Standing at the bus stop on Thursday morning, wobbling my head gently from side to side and up and down in a futile attempt to empty it of thoughts of you know what, I suddenly felt impelled, as if by some eldritch force, to cave into my longings and to damn well go and buy a packet of smokers’ poptarts and wolf them down, there and then.

Do you know what? I could not find a single shop, in the great metropolis of Pointy Town, that sold them! I tried bakeries, pastry shops, general grocers, supermarkets, hypermarkets, corner shops, charity shops, snackbars, picnic shops, and many another type of shop, and from each one I tottered out empty-handed and increasingly desperate. Also, I missed my bus.

I realise I am on the verge of doolallydom, if not already there, and that the proper response to that terrible morning would have been to plunge my head repeatedly into a bucket of icy water and then have a lie down in a darkened room for several days. A sensible man would have done that, but I am no longer a sensible man. That is why I am writing to you, imploring you, beseeching you, like a grubby mendicant sprawled at the feet of a potentate, to provide me with the recipe, so I can make my own smokers’ poptarts, in my own kitchen, and stuff them down my gob until I am sick. That, I think, Mr Key, is my one remaining hope on this earth.

Yours in extremis, Tim Thurn

Tim might find it helpful to track down a copy of Dobson’s pamphlet How To Make Your Own Packet Of Half A Dozen Smokers’ Poptarts For Tuppence-Ha’penny (out of print). It is many years now since I have seen a copy, but as I recall the pamphleteer gives a jaunty account of his own muckings about in the kitchen with stuff like flour and suet and duckpond water and rolling pins and greaseproof paper and the Lord knows what else.

The Shoveller Of Widdecombe Ditch (Trad.)

Shoveller, shoveller, what do you shovel?
I shovel the muck outside my hovel.
Shoveller, shoveller, lay down your spade,
Let us go tiptoe thro’ a verdant glade.
Not on your nelly, for shovel I must
The muck and the filth and the pebbles and dust,
I must shovel it all into Widdecombe Ditch
And cover it o’er with tar and pitch.

Shoveller, shoveller, come skip with me
Round about the linden tree
We’ll skip in circles ’til we drop
Then go to the kiosk for a drink of pop.
Away with you, temptress! Siren! Witch!
I only drink water from Widdecombe Ditch.
It’s black and brackish and tastes quite foul.

Damn you, shoveller! [She turns into an owl.]

My Dazzling, Brief Career As A Post-Punk Performance Poet

The year is 1982, the scene is the Jacquard Club in Norwich. On the bill for the evening’s entertainment are Serious Drinking, a band composed of middle class university graduates who do a reasonably convincing job of pretending to be working class oiks. Their songs are mostly about beer and foopball. Their EP Love On The Terraces is a collector’s item these days. Also taking to the stage is a post-punk performance poet. Incapable of memorising his verses, he has them scribbled on pieces of paper which, as he finishes reading each one, he scrunches up in his fist and chucks into the audience. Nobody knows – indeed nobody cares – that this will be his one and only performance as a poet, and he will not reappear on stage until the new century has dawned. He shouts (among other things):

I spent ten days in a shed
The shed was made of wood
I smoked a pack of Number 6
And drank a bottle of stout
I didn’t eat a fucking crumb
After a while my legs went numb
Then I went and had my bath
Now I’m so clean it almost hurts

That youthful performer was Frank Key The Poet. I am not sure what brought that memory flooding back.

ADDENDUM : I recall only one other piece I shouted at the crowd that night, and only the opening three lines come back to me:

He pushed a boy scout into a lake
Went to a snackbar and stole some cake
He’s a snackbar hooligan!

All the verses followed the same pattern, a rhyming couplet followed by the one-line “chorus”, after each bellowing of which I urged the audience to shout “Yeah!” or “Oi!”, which I am pleased to say they did, with a certain mocking enthusiasm.

Word Of The Day : Mop

Word of the day : Mop.

Mop is the technical term for the stuff that grows on top of a Beatle, hence moptop, as in the illustrative phrase “four loveable moptops who conquered the world”. There are other meanings of mop, both as noun and verb, but you know what?, I think I have already told you about them, out of turn, when I was meant to be telling you about the word glue, as well as boggle and clunk, none of which words I was able to give proper attention to because of a flurry of correspondence from pesky reader Wlad Onanugu. See previous Word Of The Day entries to relive the full horror.

Speaking of Mr Onanugu, he has sent me yet another letter. It arrived while I was writing the above paragraph. Here is what he has to say for himself:

Dear Mr Key : Why are you telling us about mop when you said you were going to tell us instead about nap? Also, if I am keeping proper track of things, were you not meant to be telling us about pencil? I have a few further questions for you regarding parp – as well as toot and hooter and tots – but I need to marshal my thoughts very carefully before putting pencil to cardboard torn from a packet of breakfast cereal.

I confess myself utterly befuddled by Mr Onanugu’s ability to know what I am writing about before I have posted it here at Hooting Yard. The awful, terrifying thought occurs to me that he might be some sort of phantasmal being whose only existence is inside my skull, an emanation of the brain brought on by god knows what.

At times like these it can be helpful to slosh out the ears by listening to a few Beatles hits. By the way, if you are not clear what a Beatle is, you will find several references to them elsewhere on Het Internet. One word of warning : if your source of Beatle lore is the pronouncements on the subject by the late Kenneth Williams, please note that “that Beatle who married an Asiatic woman” was not, as Williams has it, Ringo Starr.

Wild Is The Wind

Like the leaf clings to the tree, oh! my darling cling to me, for we are like creatures of the wind, and wild is the wind! Wild is the wind! Wild it is! As wild as the wind in The Wind starring Lillian Gish. This wild wind howls across the desolate tarputa, so you must cling to me, my darling, and I must cling to these railings, and our clingings, yours to me and mine to the railings, will prevent us being blown away, like specks of dust in the wild wind.

I cling to the railings surrounding the huge cement hollyhock that is the only landmark for miles and miles across the desolate tarputa. It is the work of the noted cement hollyhockist Sidney Hock, though the railings are municipal. When unveiled, so many moons ago, it was painted, all green and pink and crimson, with emulsion, but the relentless wild wind has stripped it of its paint and now it is a bare cement hollyhock towering on the tarputa, a handy landmark where such as we can arrange our assignations. For we are like creatures of the wind.

Sidney Hock placed other cement hollyhocks in other locations, but this one is his masterpiece. That is why it is protected by railings. They are stout and strong, the railings, the better to withstand the wild wind. I cling to them now, as you cling to me, as the wind roars. We cannot hear each other speak, but what use is speech?

The cement hollyhockist was himself a mute, by dint of some unfathomable hysteric blot upon his brain. From the age of ten, after a picnic, not a word was heard from his mouth. He had a great feeling for the tarputa, for its desolation, for the wild wind that roars across it, flattening everything except the enormous cement hollyhock which looms above us as we cling. Here we can conduct our assignations safe from the prim and priggish villagers in their broad-brimmed hats and black frock-coats. We shall not skulk in alleyways and shadow. Out here on the tarputa, in the howling wind, we cling, me to the railings and you to me, like the leaf clings to the tree.


A couple of nights ago I had a dream in which the protagonist was Lucas Sudja. I had – and have – absolutely no idea who Mr Sudja is, or was, and so, with my finger pressed firmly on the 21st century vacuum o’ vapidity – sorry, I mean zeitgeist – I took to Facecloth to find out.


I was amused by those replies where my respondents shared their own dreams, but more pertinent to this post was Marina Organ’s question whether I had Googled Lucas Sudja, and my reply. It was only when the question was put to me that I thought about the possibility of GoogleNod – a vast archive cataloguing all that is contained, not in the “real” world, but in the world of dreams.

The content of GoogleNod would of course be utterly different to the stuff we find on its parent search engine. Utterly different, but somehow, tangentially, familiar. Lucas Sudja would be there, along with the tribunal of Henry Cow-baiting Irish Maoists, indie band The Fresco Runes, Dave Brock’s handmade wardrobe, and a myriad of other shimmering phantasms from the Land of Nod.

GoogleNod would simply collect the material, certainly make no attempt to “interpret” it. That fool’s errand can be left to the man Vladimir Nabokov called “the Viennese quack” and his increasingly preposterous acolytes. It matters not what Lucas Sudja portends. What matters – if any of it matters at all – is that he now exists, however faint and fugitive, because I dreamed him.

Further Astonishment

In my post yesterday on Christina the Astonishing, I said that I would be doing further research. In the Comments, Mary O’Grady helpfully led me to the entry on this orphaned Belgian peasant in Butler’s Lives Of The Saints, and I have also been consulting any number of Catholic websites. Those of you who do not have time to devote to such devotional devotion, and would prefer the simpler option of watching a brief video, are referred to Busted Halo (“an online magazine for spiritual seekers”) where you can watch an episode of my new favourite show, Father Steve’s Spooky Saints. Dig that crazy Catholic animation, daddy-o!


Saint Christina the Astonishing sitting in a tree to escape the stench of sin

Word Of The Day : Glue

Word of the day : Glue.

Today I want to look at the word glue. I also want to take the opportunity to mop up the two earlier words of the day I have not yet had a chance to examine, boggle and clunk. Mop, incidentally, is a fine word in itself, so let us pencil that in for tomorrow. And while we are about it, let us pencil in pencil for the day after tomorrow.

In the meantime, I have received yet another letter from Wlad Onanugu. I presume it is another bit of wittering about parp. I cannot say for sure, because – with iron in my soul – I have thus far made a titanic effort not to open it, and thus have not yet read it. Perhaps I never will. I might shove it, unopened, into my wastepaper basket, from whence it will be tipped along with all sorts of other papery detritus, into a great roaring furnace, when I have located such a furnace.

I ought to make it clear that it is not my habit to treat all correspondence from readers so shamefully. Usually, I pore over your letters, rereading them a couple of times, until I have winkled from them every last drop of whatever it is they contain – wisdom, wit, top tips, a scattering of breadcrumbs – and then I chew the end of my pencil before scribbling a response. If you take the trouble to write, I ought to take the trouble to reply. So I have terrible misgivings about Mr Onanugu’s latest missive. But quite honestly, if I have to bang on about parp yet again, this series is never going to get anywhere.

After I wrote that paragraph, my terrible misgivings got the better of me, and I decided after all to open, and read, Mr Onanugu’s letter. If it turned out to be all about parp again – and toot and hooter and tots – then so be it. I would frame a response which, I hoped, would dissuade my pesky correspondent from ever putting pencil to paper again for so long as he lived.

As I reached across my desk for the letter, however, I knocked over an opened can of Squelcho!, from which I had taken only a single dainty glug, with the result that I ended up with a puddle of fizzy luminous highly-coloured chemically-enhanced liquid on the floor. I was not entirely sure how high its acidic content was, but I feared it might start eating through the floorboards, like the blood of the alien in Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979). So at once I fetched a mop to mop it up. See what a great word mop is? It is both a noun and a verb. One mops with a mop. And I won’t even begin to talk about Beatle-hair!

Anyway, I was so exhausted after my mopping (with a mop!) that I had to go and take a nap. Which means that I will have to set aside boggle and clunk and glue for another day. On a more positive note, it could be argued that I have already composed an illustrative sentence for tomorrow’s word of the day, mop. Perhaps I can substitute nap for mop, tomorrow. Wait and see.


I was intrigued by this snippet in the diary column of the Guardian. Yesterday, we were told, was

the feast day of Christina the Astonishing, a 12th century Belgian saint who could fly and occasionally lived in holes, ovens, and ponds while preaching.

Clearly I am going to have to do further research, and when I have, I will let you lot know what I have discovered.

Word Of The Day : Clunk

Word of the day : Clunk.

I had hoped, today, to deal with the word clunk, as well as catching up with yesterday’s word, boggle, which as you recall had to be postponed while I addressed further matters regarding parp. Alas, I am diverted from my proper course by another letter from Wlad Onanugu. This time he writes:

Dear Mr Key, I was touched by your thoughtfulness in recommending to me further reading on the knotty problem of parp and toot and hooter and tots, et cetera. Indeed, I was so touched that I am afraid to say I let a few tears run down my cheeks. My weeping and snuffling soon ceased, however, when the significance of those parenthetical words “(out of print)” appended to the recommended title sank in. Sure enough, as I trudged around the bookselling kiosks of the dilapidated seaside resort where I live, I discovered that this Dobson pamphlet was completely unavailable. I was met with blank stares, looks of incredulity, a pitying pat on the head, and, by one particularly apoplectic bookseller, the threat of his slavering, sharp-fanged guard dog.

Eventually, at a jumble sale at the local self-esteem ‘n’ diversity awareness hub, my rummaging did unearth a pamphlet by Dobson. A glance at the Gestetnered cover, however, revealed that it was devoted to a wholly different topic. The title was Several Potentates Of The Ancient World With Collapsed Lungs & Their Concubines (out of print). I bought it anyway, for tuppence, and took it home hoping that perhaps the pamphleteer might have a passing word to say somewhere about the whole parp toot hooter tots business.

Arriving home, I snapped open a refreshing can of Squelcho!, plopped myself down in my armchair, and began to read. Shortly thereafter, I was weeping again, but this time from brain-jangling frustration. The pamphlet seemed to me the most utter poppycock, and try as I might I could wring no sense from it whatsoever. If this is a typical example of Dobson’s work, I am feeling quite relieved that I did not continue my search for the pamphlet you recommended. Please send me a postal order for tuppence as compensation.

I am sorry that Mr Onanugu found Dobson’s prose intractable. There is a possibility, however, that he may well have stumbled upon a copy of the notorious “rogue” edition of Several Potentates Of The Ancient World With Collapsed Lungs & Their Concubines. This was the one where the original text – a model of shining clarity and Dobsonian oomph – was translated into Hungarian, and from Hungarian into Tagalog, and from Tagalog into Dog Latin, before being translated back into English. It was the work of the mischievous literary prankster Hector Nuisance.

Tomorrow I hope to crack on with boggle, and clunk, and tomorrow’s word of the day, glue.

Word Of The Day : Boggle

Word of the day : Boggle.

I am afraid that before we move on to boggle, we have unfinished business with yesterday’s word of the day, parp. Reader Wlad Onanugu writes :

Dear Wordmaestro, I am confused by your maunderings on the word parp. You say it is pretty much identical to toot, but then proceed, in your illustrative sentence, to refer to a hooter, rather than, as I might have expected, a tooter or parper. My mental chaos is compounded by the fact that you also make mention of tots, virtually the same word as toots, though entirely different in meaning. I looked forward to improving my word power with your new series. Instead I find myself quite dreadfully unhinged.

Mr Onanugu will find it helpful to consult Dobson’s pamphlet Parp. Toot, Hooter, Tooters, Parpers And Tots : A Complete Guide For The Bewildered (out of print). I have not read it myself, but am told it is almost, but not quite, “the greatest pamphlet ever written”.