Ulu Venv

Ulu Venv, the apothecary’s mute, O is he dead then? He is, he is ,dead and buried according to the tenets of the church of which he was a member, the Tremendously Fanatical Brotherhood Of Christ’s Bloody Wounds. The protocols of this sect require that the corpse of the deceased be pierced with no fewer than twenty knitting needles and stuffed into a burlap sack along with a lozenge of gutta percha and a sprinkling of talc, the sack fastened with safety pins and tossed down a well at midnight. Such was the end of Ulu Venv.

I was there. I witnessed his burial. I saw his corpse, raddled by scrofulous buboes, yet still recognisable as the Ulu Venv I had met on many occasions on my visits to the apothecary. I saw him pierced and stuffed into a sack, and I saw the sack fastened and tossed down a well. The well was one of my own. I have several wells on my property, none of them productive. I was happy, not to say desperate, to accept a fee from the Brotherhood for the use of one of my wells for the burial of their fellow.

What measure of man was he, Ulu Venv, this mute? I do not mean his physical measurements, which would be of no interest to anybody, and in any case would soon enough be redundant, as his mortal remains shrivelled and rotted within the sack of death. Take a tape measure to him a year hence and your readings would differ violently from any taken moments before he was stuffed into the sack. Violently! No, what I mean is the measure of him in moral terms.

Ulu Venv was mute and he was hapless. He had a great love of budgerigars, both as pets and snacks. Some budgerigars he coddled as pets for months on end before strangling them and roasting their still warm bodies on his little budgie-spit. Then he would transfer the roasted bird to a plate, tuck a napkin around his neck, and make quick work of it with a knife and fork, washing it down with a can of Squelcho! Afterwards he would belch and rinse his plate and cutlery under a spigot, and toss the empty Squelcho! can down a well. Sometimes this was one of my disused wells. I turned a blind eye, not difficult for me, as I am blind in one eye and have limited vision in the other, not unlike Charles Fort towards the end of his life, after all those hours spent in libraries poring over newspapers and scholarly journals. That is not the reason for my own occluded vision. I have never set foot in a library in my life. My own near blindness is an hereditary condition, for which I blame my father’s side of the family. It is said a distant forebear offended the King. In his anger the King cursed my ancestor, yea unto several generations.

Ulu Venv was not blind, but he was mute. The apothecary found this an exceedingly useful trait, for reasons I have not been able to ascertain. Nor have I attempted guesswork. What would be the point? Ulu Venv is dead now, at the bottom of one of my wells, and the apothecary has a new mute, a mute with a lantern jaw and a spiteful demeanour, O so unlike sweet tempered Ulu Venv!

There is a budgerigar perched on my windowsill. I feed it breadcrumbs, and pour a little puddle of Squelcho! into a dent for it to lap. I do this in memory of Ulu Venv, every morning. And though I cannot see them, I know that out there, across my fields, the Tremendously Fanatical Brotherhood Of Christ’s Bloody Wounds are gathered in a ring around one of my wells, and they are keening, keening, and will continue to keen until the cows come home. But the cows, now, are far, far away, and pointing in the wrong direction, and they may never come home again.

The Falls

“We shall pick up an existence by its frogs,” wrote [Charles] Fort in a memorable phrase; but he also told of falls of alkali, asbestos, ashes, axes;

of beef, birds, bitumen, blood, brick, and butter;

of carbonate of soda, charcoal, cinders, coal, coffee beans, and coke;

of fibres, fish, flesh, and flints;

of gelatin, grain, and greenstone;

of hay;

of ice, insects, and iron;

of larvae, leaves, and lizards;

of manna;

of nostoc;

of sands, seeds, silk, snakes, soot, spiderwebs, stones, and sulphur;

of turpentine, and turtles;

of water, and worms.

Damon Knight, Charles Fort : Prophet Of The Unexplained (Gollancz 1971)

Glub… Glub… Glub

I was exceedingly pleased to receive as a Christmas gift The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, a splendid scholarly edition of selected works by the troubled genius of Providence, Rhode Island. It is packed with informative footnotes, but one was missing, so I am taking the opportunity to provide it here as an addendum.

Among my favourite snippets of Lovecraft is this passage from The Thing On The Doorstep. My footnote is appended.

It began with a telephone call just before midnight. I was the only one up, and sleepily took down the receiver in the library. No one seemed to be on the wire, and I was about to hang up and go to bed when my ear caught a very faint suspicion of sound at the other end. Was someone trying under great difficulties to talk? As I listened I thought I heard a sort of half-liquid bubbling noise – “glub… glub… glub” – which had an odd suggestion of inarticulate, unintelligible word and syllable divisions. I called “Who is it?” But the only answer was “glub… glub… glub-glub.”

NOTE : In the early 1990s, “Glub … glub … glub” was the recorded answerphone message of Ed Baxter, benevolent despot of ResonanceFM.

A Gift

Although it is not compulsory (yet) for devoted readers to shower Mr Key with gifts, it is certainly advisable. I was very pleased to find this lapel accoutrement in my Christmas sock, and would encourage all of you to spend the best part of 2015 considering carefully how you might demonstrate your fealty next time Yuletide comes around.


A Memorable Cracker Year

‘Twas in the year 1983 I spent Christmas in Manchester with the ex-Mrs Key’s sister and her husband, a Mexican anthropologist with a particular interest in textiles. We were all young and achingly right-on in a very 1980s way, which is why we thought very carefully before buying our Christmas crackers. Not for us the crass commercialism of the masses with their false consciousness and weird tendency to vote for the hated Thatcher. No, we would make the purchase of crackers a political gesture. We bought them from CND.

Oh how we failed to laugh around the Christmas dinner table as we pulled our ideologically sound crackers. Out fell the expected paper hat and printed slip – and on the latter, there was not a terrible and groanworthy joke, but a sobering fact about nuclear weapons and the inevitable worldwide holocaust they would cause. We donned our paper hats and read out these visions of mass destruction, smug in our righteousness. Then we ate and drank our fill and had precisely the same kind of Christmas as the lumpenproletariat we so despised.

Whither Art?

Whither art? It’s a question I often ask myself, usually when tucking into a plate of smokers’ poptarts or other breakfast-based snack food. I like to get art out of the way early on in the day, freeing up my time for higher things. I do not practise art myself, but it is a subject of abiding interest to me. Whither art?, I ask, wondering where it will go.

To answer that question, one must of course be familiar with where art has been. One follows its trajectory, from the earliest cave paintings to the latest talentless derivative didactic Marxist video installation bollocks, and one tries to push the line further along, to see whence it leads. Every morning, at breakfast.

Sometimes, alas, those smokers’ poptarts are just too damned delicious, and the brain that ought to be cogitating upon the future of art is instead benumbed in a lovely haze of gustatory bliss. At such times, all thoughts of art fly away, like unto a flock of starlings, and instead I ponder the sheer genius of modern breakfast snack food manufacturing processes.

But the next morning, after a day devoted to the higher things, things such as prayer and beekeeping and shove ha’penny, I return to that burning question, whither art?, as a dog returns to its vomit, and I wrestle with it, at least until breakfast is digested.

Very occasionally, when for example I have a stomach upset, I do not ask whither art?, but instead declaim, in a booming tone, wither, art! I curse art and I envision a glorious new world where art curdles and shrivels until at last it is gone, all of it, forever. But of course we know full well, all that truly withers is Googie (1917 – 2011).

Christmas Dinner

Brit (of The Dabbler) wrote to ask me if, as one of the world’s leading ornithologists, I would be tucking into a bird-packed Christmas dinner next week. Specifically, he wondered if I might be tempted by Grimod de La Reynière’s 1807 concoction, the rôti sans pareil. This is a bustard stuffed with a turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a pheasant stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a duck stuffed with a guinea fowl stuffed with a teal stuffed with a woodcock stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a plover stuffed with a lapwing stuffed with a quail stuffed with a thrush stuffed with a lark stuffed with an ortolan bunting stuffed with a garden warbler stuffed with an olive. The puckish gastronome did not actually recommend washing this down with a brimming tumbler of fresh warm starling’s blood, but that would be appropriate.

This year, however, in an act of right-on cultural outreach to our non-Christian Middle Eastern chums, I think I will go for whole stuffed camel – the recipe for which you can see here (scroll down to the end if you wish to avoid some blather about Dobson and Marigold Chew and Charles Montagu Doughty).

The Cadet And The Angel

Puny, neurasthenic Cadet Vig was on sentry duty outside Fort Hoity (4 points) when an angel of the Lord appeared unto him (12 points). Cadet Vig trembled in terror (2 points).

The angel of the Lord appeared to be perplexed. It opened its ring-binder, and looked carefully at the weedy cadet, and then at its paperwork, and then at Cadet Vig again, and then back to its paperwork, and its brow furrowed. For the purposes of its earthly visitation, the angel had made use of a hole-punch and inserted all its papers into the ring-binder. Normally, when shimmering in its celestial halls, the angel had each individual sheet affixed to a wall with drawing-pins, the mass of papers spread out for visual oomph, as is the practice with serial killers in television dramas (6 points).

“You are puny, neurasthenic, and outside a fort,” said the angel, “It says here you should be stately, plump, and inside a martello tower.”

Cadet Vig did not know what to say in response, so he merely quaked (2 points).

“Well, never mind.” said the angel, slamming shut the ring-binder, “What fort is this?”

“Fort Hoity,” said Cadet Vig, truthfully.

The angel reopened its ring-binder (1 point), rummaged through the papers, found the entry for Cadet Vig, and said, “According to my records you are meant on this day at this hour to be on sentry duty at Fort Toity” (8 points).

Cadet Vig was on the point of swooning. His legs turned to jelly as he realised that, yet again, he had misread the duty roster. Captain Nitty would be furious (10 points)! The milksop cadet had an awful vision of months stretching ahead doing potato-peeling punishment. How long, he wondered, would it take him to cross the eerie marshes to Fort Toity? Could he get there before Captain Nitty discovered his mistake? He had a sudden bright idea.

“Is it in your power,” he asked the angel of the Lord, “To transport me instantaneously to the sentry post outside Fort Toity, far away across the eerie marshes, so I will not get into one of my pickles with Captain Nitty?”

The angel once again consulted the contents of its ring-binder (6 points).

“Yes,” it said, eventually, “That is well within my power. But I am minded, instead, on this starry starry night, to shower you, Cadet Vig, with teeming thousands, nay millions, of points, more points than any cadet under Captain Nitty’s command has ever been awarded.”

Now Cadet Vig did swoon, He crumpled to the ground, next to the sentry box outside Fort Hoity. As he lay there, robbed of consciousness, innumerable golden shining points rained down upon him. And when he woke, the angel of the Lord had vanished, and stars glittered across the boundless firmament, and here, clanking towards him in full armour, came Captain Nitty, his face purple with rage, his eyes like burning coals (2 points), and Cadet Vig, for the first time in his puny life, was not afraid. He cocked his blunderbuss and took aim at Captain Nitty. He had millions of points!

This story has accumulated a total of 53 points, if I have tallied them correctly.


Lomg-term Hooting Yard aficionados may recall that in the closing years of the last century I produced four or five calendars. Each of these had a specific theme, thus the 1992 Hooting Yard Calendar was entitled Accidental Deaths Of Twelve Cartographers, while its 1993 successor commemorated The Golden Days of the Bodger’s Spinney Variety Theatre. In 1994 I thought to illustrate a fictional work of fiction (Fangs In The Mist – a phrase stolen from J. P. Donleavy) and, in casting about within my bonce for a suitable name for the fictional author, I lit upon Chlorine Winslow. “Chlorine”, it seemed to me, sounded like it might well have been a popular girl’s name in Victorian times, and I recall that I chuckled immoderately to myself having decided upon it.

Now, years later, I discover this:

Mrs [Leonora] Piper had become a medium in 1883. The thing had happened in the usual way – by contagion. She had been suffering from a tumour and had gone to visit a medium who gave medical consultations, but who also specialized in developing latent mediumship in others. At her first sitting Mrs Piper felt very agitated and thought she was going to faint. On the next occasion, the medium put his hands on her forehead. Once more she was on the point of losing consciousness. She saw a flood of light, unrecognisable faces, and a hand which fluttered before her own face. She then passed out. When she came to, although she could remember nothing, she was told that a young Indian girl named.,incredibly, Chlorine, had manifested through her and had given a remarkable proof of survival after death.

From The Spiritualists : The Passion For The Occult In The Nineteenth And Twentieth Centuries by Ruth Brandon (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1983).

184 Today!


On the occasion of her 184th birthday, I am reminded of my long-abandoned project of concocting an entirely new corpus of works by Emily Dickinson, through the simple procedure of jumbling up lines from her poems more or less at random. Perhaps reviving this scheme will keep me occupied during my (imminent) dotage. Here is a sample:

Because I could not stop for Death
Its little Ether Hood
Between my Curtain and the Wall
Had power to mangle me

A Map Of Pointy Town

Over the past few weeks I have been following an intriguing flurry of correspondence in the readers’ letters section of Bestial Grunting magazine. It began back in October – the “yellow month” – with a query from a certain Mr. P. X. Pyx, who wrote “I have been trying to obtain a map of Pointy Town, without success. Can any of your readers point me in the right direction?”

In the next issue there were several replies, but most of them were facetious. They suggested plenty of directions in which Mr. Pyx might point himself, but the respondents were just having a spot of fun. The only sensible letter came from someone who described themselves (in an unpublished addendum) as an Official Pointy Town Tour Guide. It is worth mentioning here that such a position does not exist, as the only known tour guides in Pointy Town are resolutely unofficial, and proud of being so. But let that pass. This (unnamed) correspondent made the not unreasonable point that Mr. Pyx needed to divulge his own location before anybody could hope to have a clue in which direction he should be pointed in order to face either Pointy Town itself or a kiosk where he might make purchase of a map thereof. The editrix of Bestial Grunting awarded this letter five stars, and rightly so.

The following week, a letter appeared undersigned “Mrs. P. X. Pyx, grieving relict of Mr. P. X. Pyx”. Alongside the printed, typeset version of the letter, a photograph of the original was reproduced, showing the smudges occasioned during its composition by Mrs. Pyx’s fallen tears, the better for readers to appreciate her grief. The widow explained that her late husband had dutifully followed the sundry pieces of advice given by the facetious letter-writers in the previous issue, but that in pointing himself in dozens of different directions at great speed, he had become dizzy in the head, and toppled over, and fallen into a pit of vipers he happened to be standing next to at the time. Mrs. Pyx added the plea that she herself now sought advice on obtaining a map of Pointy Town, as it was her dearest wish that her husband be buried clutching said map in his cold dead white hands, as soon as the authorities had devised a method of safely extricating his corpse from the viper pit. She did not divulge her location. Her letter was not awarded any stars by the editrix.

By the time the next issue of the magazine appeared, it was November, the “month of chrysanthemums”. Much of the letters page was taken up with protests that Mrs. Pyx had not been given any stars. Several readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions unless this injustice was corrected. The editrix devoted a full page elsewhere in the issue to a carefully-argued piece explaining her decision. Stars, she wrote, were not awarded lightly, and she was damned if she was going to cave in to the demands of her more petulant readers who misunderstood the protocols. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the letters editor plucking a star from the night sky, preliminary to affixing it to the print-ready page.

Eagle-eyed readers would have noticed, buried beneath all the letters of protest, a further letter from the soi-disant Official Pointy Town Tour Guide. He wrote that he was due to meet a mysterious “contact”, at a crossroads at midnight, who dangled before him the possibility that he – the “contact” – might identify a kiosk where a map of Pointy Town could be obtained, though only for rental, rather than purchase outright.

I missed the next issue of Bestial Grunting by dint of [illegible].

God alone knows what happened, but in the fortnight since I’d bought a copy, the magazine had changed utterly. It was now called New Bestial Grunting, the editrix had become the editrix-in-chief, the letters editor had been demoted to office janitor, and the readers’ letters page had vanished. In its place was a sheet of burnt and blackened paper giving off a distinct whiff of sulphur. When I tried to return the magazine to the newsagent, thinking it might just be a faulty copy, I found his kiosk shuttered and boarded up, and daubed with the sign of the cross.

Could all this be connected in some way to the dead Mr. Pyx and the quick Mrs. Pyx and their desire to obtain a map of Pointy Town? I had to concede the possibility. I determined, at once, standing in a puddle next to the abandoned kiosk, to pay Mrs. Pyx a visit and interrogate her, under Klieg lights if necessary. But then I realised that neither she nor her late husband had ever revealed their whereabouts. Like Pointy Town itself, she was unmapp’d, and I was lost.

star_yellow_small This article was awarded one star – Mavis Handbasin, Editrix-in-Chief

Shutters And Brilliantine

In days of yore, when I was young, I tried my hand at verse rather than prose. This was not a good idea. I do not have a poet’s sensibility, although I am not entirely sure what that means. I recall with fondness a handful of the verses I wrote. There was one in particular, in which I alleged that I was sitting in a room with massive shutters and had brilliantine in my hair, that nudges at my memory. Thirty years or more have passed since I wrote it. If I recall correctly, I was sitting in a room with massive shutters, and I did have brilliantine in my hair. But of course my recollections are all askew. I barely recall last week, let alone the early years of the Thatcher administration. It may be that the debaucheries of my Wilderness Years frazzled certain circuitry in my bonce. That would account for my imperfect memory.

Yet I know there were a few occasions when I slathered my hair in brilliantine, though I am no longer clear why I did so. One such occasion was New Year’s Day 1980, which I spent in a holiday cottage on the south coast owned by the parents of a friend of mine. This friend was a big-brained intellectual with an alarmingly high-pitched voice who went on to become a successful television producer of mindless tat. Even at that young age, he did not have enough hair on his head to slather it with brilliantine. He was prematurely bald. But I was not, and I had brilliantine in my hair.

Were there massive shutters in that holiday cottage? I do not remember any, but then I have never had much of a mind for architecture. This is a failing, akin to my failure as a poet, but I lose no sleep over it. I do not dream of a parallel world in which I roam through buildings spouting expert knowledge of them in rhyming couplets. Perhaps I would be a better person if I did. But I doubt it.

It has suddenly occurred to me that I posted that poem at Hooting Yard ten years ago. I mistakenly attributed it, then, to Dobson,

There were massive shutters in that room, and I had never left it. Ah, I had brilliantine in my hair. There were roses, there were lockets, I was lacking something, so unnerved – but for my hatred shedve seen it, even eaten it, got it on her eyelash, crushed it, broken it, eked it out of someone’s purse or loved it, lusted after it. So here’s my signifier – you can read it, you can keep it. You’re so fucking thick you don’t even know what to do with it. Well … eyebrows, hair, my pastels, then breakfast and a lover. Oh come on, you must be guessing. Or maybe you’re just so fetching. I’m done with fleshing out my lying. My hair is in a tangle and I haven’t paid the rent. But I had brilliantine in my hair, and yours were better shutters. Damn it, I couldn’t even see your rubbish, but I had brilliantine in my hair.

What is all that about, apart from shutters and brilliantine? It sounds peevish to me. I note that, ten years ago, typing it out, I typed it as prose rather than verse. It makes little or no difference. Either way, it is a fragment of the past, of a different time, when I stood on a south coast beach on New Year’s Day and posed for a photograph, black and white, remembered but lost, with brilliantine in my hair.

A Letter From New England

A letter arrives from Christopher Lamere in New England. (I note, incidentally, that Mr Lamere’s name is an anagram of H[is] R[oyal] H[ighness] Elastic Emperor, though this may not be significant.)

Dear Mr. Key

I want you to know that you are my favorite writer. This may seem like a vast honor for a no-name, penniless, friendless failure of a 25 year old to bestow, but it is God’s truth. The imagery which you conjure gives me chills. The truths you tell with your stories fascinate and disturb me, especially because I often initially read your tales as flights of fancy instead of actual true events. As a resident of New England, your descriptions of far away ye Olde England are unnerving portraits of a distant land which my home tries to imitate.

Imagine my surprise then, while wandering through some not very dense woods which as an American I would never call a spinney, I found myself at the edge of a wooden lake. At first, I was convinced that the plank upon plank of maple wood was merely the foundation for some as yet unconstructed building, but when I pressed my ear to the varnished surface, I heard that interminable sloshing of some hidden beast. I was shocked to find that your story of the wooden lake was not a mere fantasy, but an ominous story of hidden portent.

It’s the most frustrating thing in the world, since it seems like a conspiracy which I was excluded from. Even with words whispered between my close friends, when I broach the subject of vast lake monsters, or even the mere idea of lakes hidden by wood, their whole demeanor changes. It’s as if they’ve never heard of a lake, or monsters, or wood, or even nails. While I have not been ejected from my town as of yet, people tend to narrow their eyes and hiss “outsider” when I come around. What should I do? I don’t own a hammer, and there is no duckpond in my town.

Yours in fear,

Christopher Lamere

Have no fear, Mr Lamere! I have given much thought to what you should do in order to avoid otherwise inevitable gruesome consequences. First, make a magnetic tape-recording of the hissing sounds made by your townsfolk. Under cover of darkness, subject the tape to certain blasphemous manipulations, then use rusty blood-caked garden shears to cut it and form it into a loop, such that, when played, it will repeat after approximately thirteen seconds. Take it to the precise centre of the wooden lake and play it through an enormous loudspeaker or electric hooter at deafening volume. Have to hand a supply of pebbles which you can hurl at any townsfolk who approach, intent on silencing you. As the godawful hiss resounds across the wooden lake and into the dense woods, execute a tableau vivant of a historical or mythological theme – Judith with the head of Holofernes would be apt, or perhaps President Nixon holding his arms aloft just before boarding the helicopter on the White House lawn that ferried him to retirement. From time to time, increase the volume of the hissing tape loop. Before several days have passed, your lack of a hammer and a duckpond will count for nothing. And, as I so often say when dispensing advice, irrespective of the nature of that advice, remember to wear gloves.