A Horse With No Name

I was riding through the desert on a horse with no name. This was asking for trouble, and sure enough, after passing plants and birds and rocks and things and sand and hills and rings we arrived at a Horse Registration Station. A cowpoke in a poncho bid us to stop, so I pulled on the reins and patted my horse on its horsey head.

“Before you go any further I must register your horse,” said the cowpoke.

“Register away!” I said, blithely I hoped. I had practised blitheness of speech at drama school, but only now did I understand the yawning gulf between strutting upon the stage and negotiating the real world of deserts and Horse Registration Stations manned by enponchoed cowpokes.

“First I will need the name of your horse,” he said.

“And what will you need second?” I asked, playing for time.

“Second I will need any aliases or pseudonyms by which your horse is known.”

I wondered what would happen if I cried “Yippee-ky-oh-ky-ay!” and dug my spurs into the horse’s horsey flanks and galloped away, leaving the cowpoke in a trail of dust.

“Don’t get any funny ideas about galloping off on an unregistered horse,” said the cowpoke, adding “You won’t get far” with an air of menace. I am unusually alert to threats of menace, by dint of hard experience, and I do not mean merely stage menace as met with in certain plays by certain dramatists. No. I mean real menace in the real world of plants and birds and rocks and things and sand and hills and rings.

For one wild moment I considered lying, plucking a name for my nameless horse from within the dark ignorant recesses of my cranial integuments. But the cowpoke again forestalled me. Was he a clairvoyant cowpoke?

“And don’t just make up a name,” he warned, “I will know if you are lying, and by the martyred sinews of Saint Blodwyst, you will not want to suffer the consequences of trying to pull the wool over my eyes.”

I did not doubt him. He spoke with the kind of effortless authority of a character I had once played, to no little acclaim, in a stage production of something or other by one of the Norwegian playwrights.

I had little option but to blurt out the truth.

“My horse has no name,” I blurted.

The cowpoke did not react immediately. Then he fixed me with a gaze that would have chilled the blood were we not broiling in the heat of the desert. He looked at me, and then he looked at the horse. He rummaged in his poncho. He hummed a snatch of light opera, Il Ingrazziatiniatoni-apoppiapippi, I think. Then he took from within his poncho a pebble, and with sudden and devastating accuracy threw it up into the sky and clonked a bird, which plummeted to earth stone dead at his feet.

“Each time a nameless horse tries to pass this Station,” he said, “A bird must die. So it is written. Learn that lesson well, stranger. Now turn around and do not return.”

“Where is it written?” I asked.

But the cowpoke had taken from within his poncho a shovel, and was busy burying the bird in the desert sand.

I turned my horse about, dug in my spurs, and we galloped away, back whence we had come, all the way across the desert, all the way back to the eastern seaboard and the theatre on the pier at Point Punctilio, where the tattered posters were still just about legible, the posters that advertised our critically-panned performance of The Tragedy of Trubshaw, about a lone rider, and his horse, a horse with no name.

Book Review

The estimable Richard Carter has reviewed Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives on Gruts. I commend it for your attention, not least because in its second half Mr Carter has wisely adopted Hooting Yard-approved book-reviewing practice. The correct approach was first used ten years ago in our review of Dennis Beerpint’s novel The Unspeakably Squalid Becrumplement Of Tadzio Gobbo, reproduced below:

“An immense mass of clotted nonsense”. That was the verdict of the magazine Teachers’ World upon the first publication of Ulysses by James Joyce, and I am tempted to say the same about this Beerpint book, and leave it at that. Astonishingly, however, this thousand-page tome has already been made a set book for schools, colleges, and orphanages throughout the land, which means that your tots, if you have any, or you, if you are a tot, will have to become familiar with it. When examination time comes round, everyone’s knowledge of Dennis Beerpint’s fictional farrago will be tested to the full. And so, public-spirited as ever, I am going to try to save you from wasting your precious time actually reading the damn thing, by telling you what you need to know.

Plot : Tadzio Gobbo is a princeling in a fictional Renaissance city state, clearly meant to remind us of the setting of a Jacobean drama such as The Courier’s Tragedy by Richard Wharfinger. As the novel opens, Gobbo is pristine, even, and uncreased. “If he were a piece of cardboard,” writes Beerpint, “he would not be of the corrugated kind.” Chapter by chapter we watch as the princeling becomes ever more becrumpled in a variety of unspeakably squalid ways, until at the end there is a deus ex machina and he is unfolded and ironed out.

Characters : Tadzio Gobbo is a crude self-portrait of the author, sharing his weediness, neurasthenia, predilection for twee verse, and hypochondria. Many of his becrumplements are accompanied by the onset of an imagined disease, such as yaws, the bindings, ague, flux, black bile, bitter colic and the strangury. Beerpint attempts to play up a certain devil-may-care foppishness, but this is never convincing. In fact it is laughably inept.

There is a host of secondary characters, the most important being Lugubrio, the princeling’s mad, stiletto-wielding uncle. Beerpint is constantly harping on about his “frantic black eyebrows”, which soon becomes tiresome. Lugubrio’s sole motive for all his actions, from eating his breakfast to murdering a crippled beggar, is revenge, but what or whom he is avenging is never made clear to the reader.

Other characters in the novel are a mixture of fictional, legendary, and real historical figures. Among the latter are Anthony Burgess, Edward G Robinson, Emily Dickinson, L Ron Hubbard and Veronica Lake. Beerpint thinks he is being clever by setting some of the scenes in a so-called ‘Scientology tent’ on the banks of ‘Lake Veronica’, but the effect is simply witless, and the reader will struggle not to throw the book into the fireplace.

Imagery : As a poet, Beerpint has been praised for his imagery (although I cannot think why) and The Unspeakably Squalid Becrumplement Of Tadzio Gobbo is jam-packed with all his old favourites. Crows, cows, burnt toast, pencil-cases, weather systems, the blood-spotted handkerchief of a tuberculosis patient, chaffinches, hedgerows, the horn of plenty and the Garden of Gethsemane, mud, chutes, Mudchute, potato recipes and pastry fillings, starlings, pigs, more starlings, more pigs, a nightmarish albino hen and the Munich Air Disaster are all evoked at one time or another in imagistic ways, as the princeling become ever further becrumpled.

Does the book have heft? : Yes it does.

Structure : The book is divided into forty nine chapters, fairly uniform in length. Each chapter ends with a reminder, as if the reader needed one, that a further stage of unspeakably squalid becrumplement has taken place, except for the last chapter, to which I have already referred. Beerpint is clearly fond of the practice found in the picaresque novel of summarising the plot in his chapter headings. To take a random example, Chapter XXVI is titled: “In which the becrumpling of Tadzio Gobbo proceeds apace, as his mad uncle Lugubrio unleashes a swarm of killer bees into the sports arena during a wrestling contest, and a false eclipse of the sun leads to rioting and flux; together with some notes on the flocking of chaffinches and the nesting habits of starlings, an aside in which a missing punctuation mark spells doom for an apothecary, and the reappearance of Lugubrio’s lobster.”

Plagiarism or quotations : Certain passages in the book appear to have been copied verbatim from novels by Barbara Taylor Bradford, Elias Canetti, Dan Brown, and the sociopathic ex-jailbird Jeffrey Archer. Dennis Beerpint presumably considers this to be postmodernist irony, a dangerous medical condition best treated by having one’s brain sluiced out with a violent purgative.

Narrative sloppiness : Untold oodles of it. It is a sloppy, flabby and slapdash book from first to last. At its core is a burning jewel of flummery and poppycock.

Brow : Neither high, middle, nor low. Not even no-brow. This book’s brow is frantic and black (see above).

Bookcase location : Finding the right spot for this volume on your bookcase or bookshelf is likely to be fraught with difficulty. Dobson’s invaluable pamphlet on the shelving of books, which is sadly out of print, will not help you, even if you manage to track down a copy, for as the titanic pamphleteer readily admits, “There are certain books, especially those written by twee poets such as Dennis Beerpint, which resist proper shelving on even the most well-ordered of bookcases. Top left corner? No. Squeezed in among the drivel and tat on the bottom shelf? Hardly. Shoved behind the collected works of Edward Upward and quietly forgotten? Certainly not, because you will always remember that it is there, and its hidden presence will reproach you every time you go anywhere near the bookcase, and you will be as the lowest worm or beetle or that which creepeth on its belly in the foulest muck of the earth.” Maddeningly, Dobson goes no further, he leaves us in the lurch, he refuses to say what I think he means – set fire to the damn thing in your garden, just as Burgess biographer Roger Lewis was tempted to do with a rival Life of the absurd Mancunian polymath.

Marketing ploy : Each copy of The Unspeakably Squalid Becrumplement Of Tadzio Gobbo comes with a free gift, viz. a paper bag of badger food. For that reason alone, I recommend that you buy a copy at once.

Fotherington-Thomas & Gangsta Rap


My more astute readers will be aware that I have, for many years, immersed myself in the world of gangsta rap. Indeed, only the other day Ice-T popped round for a cup of (non-iced) tea and we had a long and frank discussion about all sorts of gangsta rappy topics. I am of course completely au fait with the argot, so much so that even Ice himself had difficulty understanding me.

I mention this as a preamble to my news that I have been commissioned by an academic press to edit a book of essays exploring the crucial influence, in the development of gangsta rap, of fotherington-tomas. I think we all know that the St Custard’s pupil who is uterly wet and a sissy is the presiding spirit of gangsta rap, the role model whose example Ice-T and all the other rappers, whose names escape me for the moment, strive to emulate.

Submissions for the book are welcome, and please bear in mind that you will be forgiven if your essay contains any uncouth words.

The Braying Of Donkeys

My childhood hero, Foofy The Clown, had a very special talent. He was able to translate the braying of donkeys. That is, when Foofy overheard the braying of a donkey, he could – at the drop of a hat – render it into intelligible human speech, and sometimes, it has to be said, into unintelligible human speech. Well, let us be honest, more often than not into unintelligible human speech. In fact, the more I think about it, casting my mind back across all those shattered years to my childhood, I find it hard to recall a single instance of Foofy making anything other than unintelligible blatherings whenever he claimed to be translating the braying of donkeys. I am racking my brains and searching my memory banks with a powerful torch, or even a Klieg light, but to no avail.

It is possible that I misremember exactly what Foofy the Clown was doing when he was burbling and grunting, spittle drooling from his red-painted lips. Or were they painted blue? In any case, it may be that he never announced that he was translating the brays of donkeys. I could be mixing him up with a different hero of my childhood. And in all honesty I do not remember ever seeing Foofy in the company of a donkey. I used to see donkeys on the beach at Squalor-on-Sea, and at a farmyard, whereas I only ever saw Foofy The Clown when I was taken to the circus, and I was only taken to the circus once, because my mother was allergic to trapeze artists and sawdust. Her skin came out in blotches and she suffered from debilitating brain spasms.

I think, then, that it must have been my father, home from war in the tropics, who took me to the circus that time. I do remember, vividly, that he abandoned me there, in the vicinity of bears. My father was forgetful, rather than malicious. I think he had witnessed things in the tropics that unhinged him. The bears were in a cage, so I was not in immediate peril. It was only when Foofy The Clown came skittering along, garish and motley, and grinned at me horribly while rattling a bunch of bear-cage keys in my face, that I piddled in my pants from terror.

And I ran. I ran and ran, away from the circus until I reached the farmyard, and the donkeys. And the donkeys brayed, and I was safe from harm.

Dobson, Preoccupied

“You seem preoccupied, Dobson,” said Marigold Chew to the out of print pamphleteer one morning over breakfast. It was a thunderous day of thunder and thunderclaps and the couple were tucking into boiled suet ‘n’ marzipan à la Metternich, a dish extolled in a footnote in Dobson’s pamphlet Breakfast Favourites Of The Austrian Empire Foreign Ministry 1809-1821 (out of print).

Dobson did not reply, for he was preoccupied.

The following morning, over breakfast, Marigold Chew became so perturbed at Dobson’s seeming residence in la-la land that she resorted to the Dusty Springfield method to snap him out of it. Named after the 1960s popstrel’s hobby, this involved the systematic smashing of crockery by throwing plates and dishes one by one with great, indeed hysterical, force against the wall. Several smithereens lay scattered on the floor before Dobson was of a sudden unpreoccupied.

“Ah, good morning, my buttercup of unparalleled gorgeousness,” said Dobson, through a mouthful of steamed shredded hyacinth stalks in syrup.

“You have been terribly preoccupied, Dobson,” said Marigold Chew, “Whatever is going on in that brain of yours?”

“I am inwardly tussling,” said Dobson, “With my latest pamphlet, to which I have given the working title Andy Martin, The Tyrannical Leader Of UNIT, And Why He Is The Most Fantastic Person In The Visible Universe”.

“I have no doubt your inner tussle will prove as productive as ever,” said Marigold Chew, “But may I make one small point, a point which I suggest is germane to your tussle and preoccupation?”

“And what would that be, oh daffodil of my dreams?” said Dobson.

“Well, as you and I and your optometrist know only too well, Dobson, you are severely myopic. Thus, for you, the visible universe does not stretch very far. Indeed, it stops just a few inches away from the front of your head. I do not see Andy Martin, tyrannical leader of UNIT, in the vicinity, and I feel sure I would spot him were he within a few inches of, or indeed sitting at, my breakfast table.”

“I am going to go and chuck pebbles at swans,” said Dobson, getting up from his chair and putting on his Swabian Bus Ticket Collector’s boots and crashing out of the door into the downpour which, as on the day before, was accompanied by thunderous thunder and thunderclaps. Marigold Chew had raised a sticky problem about his pamphlet, one he did not wish to discuss, indeed could not discuss. Hence his sudden departure, leaving his breakfast unfinished.

Unfortunately, so sudden was his departure that Dobson neglected to put on his specs. Unable to see more than a few inches ahead, he blundered towards where he thought the duckpond was, only to take a wrong turn and find himself hopelessly lost in a patch of bracken and rustic filth. He found himself, too, once more preoccupied, but this time on a wholly different subject. Why, he wondered, was the duckpond, populated as it was mostly by swans, called the duckpond rather than the swanpond? It was true that ducks were occasionally to be found dabbling upon it, but any such ducks tended to scarper pretty quickly when ganged up on by the savage and violent, yet indubitably elegant, swans.

“I wonder,” said Dobson to himself, aloud, in the mist of his own myopia, “Whether I ought to abandon the Andy Martin, tyrannical leader of UNIT, business for the time being and instead turn my propelling pencil to the question of duckpond nomenclature?”

And there was then a terrifically thunderous and thundery thunderclap, which Dobson chose to interpret as the Gods replying to his question in the affirmative. Turning in the direction he thought would take him home, he wrapped his Stalinist scarf tighter round his neck and squelched through the muck. But alas!, the pamphleteer’s sense of direction was as pitiful as his eyesight, and several weeks passed before he found his way home, by which time he had completely forgotten about duckponds and swanponds.

“What is the subject of the pamphlet you are working on?” asked Marigold Chew over breakfast on the morning after Dobson’s return.

“It is called Fortune-Telling By Interpreting The Patterns Created By Crockery Smithereens Smashed According To The Dusty Springfield Method,” said Dobson, “And I expect to be able to dot the final i and cross the final t this very afternoon.”

And he did, though the pamphlet itself is currently out of print.

Lug That Pail

The other day we looked at the practice of lugging a pail for many many miles o’er the fields. I ought to have said o’er the fields and hills. Lugging a pail up and down hills is, of course, more strenuous that lugging it over comparatively flat fields, but one should not shy away from such exertion. It is character-building, if exhausting.

The hills were not the only thing I failed to mention earlier. I did not say with what the pail was filled, although I was careful to note that it was filled, via a tap, from a vat, implying that the contents of the pail was liquid in form. I also neglected to say anything whatsoever about where the pail was being lugged to, across those fields (and, as of today, hills). Obviously, were you the lugger of the pail, you would want to know where you were going, and to be able to identify your destination so that you knew you had reached it, when you reached it.

My failure to mention these significant matters is in some ways akin to a piece of prose that begins, and proceeds, without any clear idea of its eventual ending. The danger there is that the passage of prose might just peter out, fruitlessly and pointlessly, thus frustrating the reader and laying the writer open to charges of rigmarole and fol-de-rol. Some writers would not bat an eyelid to be so accused, but some would, and they might even weep or quake, or weep and quake. If you have ever seen a weeping and quaking writer you will know what an awful spectacle it presents, one you will want to banish from your mind as quickly as possible.

We need not bother our heads about the frustrated reader, however, because they are two a penny. Readers become frustrated all the time, by all sorts of infelicities and annoyances and crimes committed by writers. But the frustrated reader is always in a position to toss aside, contemptuously, the frustrating reading matter, and to read something else, or not to read anything at all, for a while. Let us shed no tears, then, for the reader, who can pick and choose among literally millions of things to read, or probably billions, the lucky pups.

In our analogy the reader is lugging a pail o’er the fields and hills without any clear idea where they are going. Well, quite frankly, who gives a damn where they are going? They have picked up the pail and they are lugging it, with all their strength, panting and perspiring, close to collapse, but pressing on, ever on, with no end in sight, because that is how it is, in the world of belles-lettres pail lugging, daddy-o.