An Important Anniversary

Peter Blegvad, from “The Unborn Byron”:

Spread the word, tomorrow morn
A future poet shall be born.
From my mother I shall fall
Into the womb that holds us all.
My life shall be a meteor
Which generations shall adore.
For my unbuttoned liberty
The unborn will remember me.

Mr Key, from “The Tiny Newborn Mr Key”:

1959, this very morn
The tiny Mr Key was born
He was a full month premature
When he knocked his fist upon the door
Of the world beyond his mother’s womb
A tiny bright spark in the gloom
And soon the words poured out of him
They pour out still, with ceaseless vim.

Vestige Of Trouser

I once drew a picture of a vestige of trouser. As I recall, it was intended as one of a series of clues in a detective story which, I also recall, was never actually written. The plotting of a proper detective story always seemed to me outwith the range of whatever talents I possess. This is a pity, as I would like few things better than to write a cracking whodunnit, one that leaves the reader guessing until the very final paragraph, and, thereafter, gawping open-mouthed, with perhaps a trail of drool slowly descending from their lower lip, maintaining that stunned stillness for several minutes before regaining their wits. I can think of several books I have read, over the years, which have left me in such a state, and not all of them were whodunnits. Nor, if I tally them up in my poor memory, did any of them contain, anywhere within them, a vestige of trouser. After all, in fiction as in life, we usually encounter trousers whole, do we not? So I am sure I would remember a book with a vestige of trouser in it, just as I remember a pen-and-ink drawing I made, about thirty years ago, of such a thing. What I do not know is why that drawing has come bubbling to the surface of my brain today of all days. Perhaps, in some world or universe running parallel with this one, today is Vestige of Trouser Day, and faint signals from that world or universe have unaccountably pierced the fabric of my own world. But that smacks of science fiction, not detective fiction, and I always think it best to draw a veil over the conjectures of science fiction. When I say “draw a veil”, I do not mean draw a picture of a veil, as I once drew a picture of a vestige of trouser. I am using a different sense of the word “draw”. But you knew that, and did not need me to tell you, which makes me wonder why I am still prattling on, pointlessly, when I might be better occupied gawping, open-mouthed, stunned and still, with drool falling from my lips.

How I Thumped Certain Of My Tubs

In his posthumously published essay How I Wrote Certain Of My Books, Raymond Roussel explained the methods he used to compose the works which, he was confident, would guarantee him immortality, such that “my fame will outshine that of Victor Hugo or Napoleon”. It was perhaps with the same ambition in mind that the itinerant Bible-bashing tub-thumping fire-and- brimstone preacherman Napkin Linseed paraphrased the title for his memoir How I Thumped Certain Of My Tubs. Happily, it was published while he was still alive.

Linseed is an attractive figure, if one is attracted to rakishly thin black-clad figures of decidedly corvine countenance who discern the foul besmirchment of mortal sin everywhere they look. His personality comes across with striking force in his memoir, a book as fat as he was lean. In it, he describes in fascinating detail how he devised his tub-thumping method, though he has less to say about the bashing of Bibles. The book is highly recommended to any reader who wishes to embark upon their own tub-thumping practice, as Linseed gives chapter and verse on the procurement and preparation of tubs, the most effective ways to transport them – one slung on either side of a horse’s shanks – and, of course, various approaches to thumping guaranteed to both deafen and terrify one’s audience, if, of course, one manages to attract an audience. Often enough, this was the missing element in Linseed’s preaching tours. The memoir contains innumerable descriptions of the author standing in a rainswept field, thumping his tubs and bashing his Bibles and hurling damnable imprecations at nobody save for the occasional passing cow or goat. It is perhaps his most attractive feature that Linseed never allowed himself to be discouraged by the widespread lack of interest shown in his preaching. He simply kept on going, like a swordfish spearing the briny deep.

I use that somewhat ungainly analogy in homage to Napkin Linseed himself, who deploys it repeatedly in his memoir. In some instances it appears several times in a single paragraph, and in general the paragraphs themselves are fairly short and snappy – certainly shorter and snappier than in his only other published work, How I Bashed Certain Of My Bibles.

At time of writing, Napoleon’s fame probably outshines Victor Hugo’s, Hugo’s outshines Raymond Roussel’s, and Roussel’s outshines Napkin Linseed’s. But who is to say that, in a thousand years’ time, the order may not be reversed?

Minibus Pariah

Last night I dreamed I was a passenger in a minibus. I was accompanied by several old friends from years ago and by Quakers. For reasons never explicit, everybody in the minibus thoroughly disapproved of me. My sense of this was vivid and distressing, and I was very glad to wake from it.

I told Pansy Cradledew I had had a bad dream. “I was the subject of disapproval,” I said. She laughed. “When people say they have bad dreams you expect them to say ‘I was terrified’ or something similar. But no, you were merely subject to disapproval.” She found this highly amusing.

Later I was able to reflect that things could be much worse. I learned that Auberon Waugh’s maternal grandfather was told by a foolish friend that a guaranteed cure for blindness was to have all of one’s teeth removed. He arranged for this to be done, contracted blood poisoning as a result, and died at the age of 43.

Eleven Years Ago

Precisely eleven years ago today, on 24 January 2004, the Daily Mail reported that the Queen was due to have a knee operation, and that David Blunkett was accused of encouraging young persons to take drugs. Meanwhile, here at Hooting Yard, I posted a tale entitled The Phial Of Broth, or: The End Of C. W. Spraingue:

Few people alive today remember the highly entertaining music hall act Guesbaldo Sopwith & His Amazing Tea Strainers. Sopwith – real name Cedric William Spraingue – was born in the Damp Building at Hooting Yard in 18–, and though his parents dragged him off a-circusing before he could even walk, he always recalled his birthplace with affection. At the turn of the century, when his popularity was at its height, Sopwith returned to Hooting Yard for the first time since infancy, to put on a Christmas Show for the bewildered and the fraught.

The show was of course a tremendous success, and so thrilled were the burlap-shanked mayoral officers of the town that they threw an impromptu banquet for Sopwith. A tent was erected over the ice-rink, the rink itself covered in tough cork matting, and trestle-tables were carried in piled high with such delicacies as were available in Hooting Yard at that time.

Sopwith was ushered to a seat at the top table, and a hush descended on the tent as the first course was brought in by the Hooting Yard Duckpond-Cleaner, whose name was Cackbag. This geriatric half-wit carried a capacious tureen containing gallons upon gallons of an iridescent broth, flavoured with pap, rime and bonemeal, and reportedly thoroughly indigestible.

Cackbag slopped a ladleful of the broth into Sopwith’s rusty bowl, and the majestic entertainer was about to spoon some of the piping hot liquid into his mouth, when of a sudden the tent was filled with cataclasm and pandaemonium.

“Cedric William Spraingue!” The words rang out, re-echoing round the canvas walls. “Tundists have come for you! We will take you now!”

Poor Sopwith, ashen, trembling and incontinent, could do little else but to obey the bidding of the unseen Tundists. As bolts of purple light spurted around the tent, and mesmerising noises deafened the townsfolk, he crawled to the entrance flap, a piteous figure on his hands and knees. As soon as he was through the flap, the uproar ceased, the tent interior calmed, the air grew still. Clamour and rack were no more: but Cedric William Spraingue, alias Guesbaldo Sopwith, was gone. Like so many others, he had been taken by the Tundists.Who knows why, or to what end? Like all who fell foul of Tundism, he was ne’er seen on earth again.

His tea strainers, amazing though they may have been, were disposed of through a public auction on the first anniversary of his vanishment. All his other personal effects were sold off, burned, cast into canals, or donated to educational institutions for tiny ones. All, that is, except for one item.

The banquet was abandoned after the Tundists had fallen upon the tent. Small urchins were plucked from the gutters to clear everything away, and were given the uneaten food as a reward. One such urchin, who earlier that day had been held entranced by the Amazing Tea Strainers act, was so upset by the disappearance of Sopwith that he carried the bowl of unslurped broth away with him under his sordid tunic, as a trophy.

He kept it at home in his infected hut until it began to moulder and stink out even this most noisome of hovels, whereupon he took it to an apothecary who very carefully encased what was left of the broth in a glass phial, the very phial which is today found underneath the water-pipes in the janitor’s cupboard next to the boiler room in the basement of the Museum at Hooting Yard, where it can be viewed by appointment only.

The Importance Of The Gannet

According to a six-DVD set on the subject of British Birds made by the ornithologist Paul Doherty, the gannet is “the most pointy bird to be found in Britain”.

I am indebted to Andy Martin for bringing this critically important information to my attention. Mr Martin adds: “I wish to pass a motion that the gannet be adopted as the official emblem of Pointy Town, to appear on any heraldic designs, flags, and stationery”. I think we can consider that carried, nem. con.


The gannet : exceedingly pointy

The Pips

A letter arrives from Sophonisba Gullsbeak:

Dear Mr Key, I am writing to ask for your help. I have been commissioned by an important publishing house to compile A Dictionary Of Fruit-Related Popular Music Nomenclature. It has all been going swimmingly, but at the letter P I have reached an impasse. It has proved beyond my considerable wit to discover from what type of fruit the legendary Pips who accompanied soul singer Gladys Knight were eked. It goes without saying that readers of my dictionary will expect chapter and verse on this one, and the book would prove a sorry specimen indeed if it did not include this crucially important information. Given the astounding depth and breadth of your erudition in oh! so many spheres, it occurred to me that you could well be in possession of the pip-facts, daddy-o, as the young persons might say. I would be immensely grateful if you could tell me, by return of post, the answer to my query, with references if possible. Yours pleadingly, Sophonisba Gullsbeak (Miss).

I am afraid to say that I haven’t got a clue. Dobson, the titanic pamphleteer of the twentieth century, compiled a similar Dictionary Of Fruit- And Nut-Related Jazz And Blues Nomenclature (out of print), but the soul music of Gladys Knight And The Pips fell outwith his frame of reference. All I can suggest is that perhaps you obtain high-definition photographic enlargements of the pips of every fruit-with-pips you can think of, and then compare these with photographs of the Pips. It is possible you might be able to note certain striking resemblances. Of course, it is equally possible you might not.

By the way, I cannot help wondering if you, like your namesake Sophonisba Peale, daughter of the American painter, soldier, scientist, inventor, politician, and naturalist Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) have three brothers named Raphael, Rembrandt, and Rubens. Do let me know.

Duggleby, Duggleby

Duggleby, Duggleby, scrim and scraw,
Fait accompli, monkey’s paw.
Wicker basket, cloister, hearth,
The benefits of an electric bath.
Duggleby’s lantern, Duggleby’s tent,
Who knows where Van Hooften went?
Lumbar puncture, lumber yard,
Janissary, janitor, sentry, guard,
Cuxhaven diphthongs and candy floss,
This paint’s matt, that paint’s gloss.
One must not forget emulsion
Nor attraction and repulsion.
Magnets! Magnets! Hopes and fears
And a pair of gardening shears.
He is still wet behind the ears
This rag will mop up all his tears.
Duggleby went to Banbury Cross
But he didn’t give a toss.
Crocus, marigold, fuchsia, egg.
Two-nil down in the second leg.
This paint’s blue, that paint’s pink.
Duggleby collapsed on the skating rink.
Van Hooften planned an imperial spree,
Mumbled threats, scrim and scree.
Is there a doctor in the house?
The grunt, the groan, the pang, the grouse,
The mordant herons on the bank
Oh the chains, the chains they clank.
Liposuction, fol de rol,
Cutting capers, eyeless doll.
Creeping past the graveyard tombs,
Distant gunfire, distant booms.
Squelchy pig boy, guttersnipe,
Linctus, soup, Gepetto’s pipe.
He has a jug but I have none.
Ah – he flew too near the sun.
That is why his jug is cracked.
Now we are ready for the final act.
Duggleby darned the curtains well.
Lilac scattered on tortoiseshell.
Notwithstanding Cav and Pag
He kept them in his pippy bag.
Duggleby, Duggleby, move along,
That’s the end of the Duggleby song.

The Stealthy Chump

I am very much looking forward to the new 26-part television drama The Stealthy Chump, which begins next week. Previews have not been available, but a few details have been leaked to the press. Very few, actually – the title, the number of episodes, and the basic premise. I have told you the first two, so let me now move on, wings unfurled, to the third.

The Stealthy Chump centres around a chump who is stealthy. Each week, the chump tries to use his talent for stealthiness in some way, for example creeping unseen through a cemetery after dark, or lurking next to a pillar box on an important thoroughfare, or taking part in a jewel heist. But, as the series title indicates, while he is indubitably stealthy, he is also a chump. Being a chump, each week he manages to sabotage his own stealthiness by making the sort of idiotic decision only a dyed in the wool chump would make. So, when creeping unseen through a cemetery after dark he carries with him a box of fireworks which, through cackhandedness with a box of matches, he manages to ignite all at once, thus drawing attention to himself with lots of sparkly whizzes and bangs. When lurking next to a pillar box on an important thoroughfare, he wears a hat with a giant propeller on it, and the wind picks up and spins the propeller blades around and the stealthy chump finds himself hovering a few feet off the ground, making passers-by gawp. When taking part in a jewel heist, he carries a box of fireworks and wears his propeller-hat at the same time, with predictable results.

I hope I have not given the impression that The Stealthy Chump is a comedy. On the contrary, by all accounts it is the sort of drama invariably described as “gritty”. What this means is that it is set in the north of England where the rainfall is incessant, several characters scowl and swear a lot, and nobody ever smiles – not even the stealthy chump himself.

I suggested above that the title character was dyed in the wool, and this is literally the case. Each week, the stealthy chump wears an item of knitwear, and the dye that has been used to colour the wool has also coloured the stealthy chump from head to toe. As all his knitwear is dyed in brash and gaudy blues and pinks and yellows, the fact that his head is the same colour means he finds it even more difficult to be inconspicuous and stealthy, and is thus even more of a chump.

The Stealthy Chump was filmed entirely on location in a municipal car park. No animals were harmed in the making of the series, except for some ants and beetles and other creepy-crawlies, and an unfortunate trumpeter swan that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.


The writing was on the wall for Minnie Menetekelupharsin.

This is the opening line of a piece called Belshazzar’s Feast. So far it is the only line I have written, as I am not sure it has anywhere to go. I am posting it here in case anybody wishes to use it as a gag at an Old Testament standup comedy night.