Those Drowned Kittens

The other day I mentioned Biff Chomsky’s chart-topping album of sentimental ballads entitled Songs For Drowned Kittens.

By curious coincidence, yesterday I listened, for the first time in God knows how many years, to One Lonely Night. This is a “Cold War operetta” by The Massed Ranks Of The Proletariat, adapted from the novel by Mickey Spillane. The lyrics are by Ed Baxter. It was released as a severely-limited edition cassette tape in (I think) 1990.

Anyway, have a listen to Mike’s death-wish song and you will understand why I was struck by a spooky sense of connection to the past.

Horst Gack’s Familiar

Horst Gack’s eerie familiar, a homunculus perched on his shoulder which hissed at passers-by and bit those who came too close, has long been a source of fascination for a handful of nitwits with nothing better to fill their time. It is now the subject of a magisterial new biography, Die Homunculus-vertraut von Gack, the result of several hours of slapdash research by Teutonic potboilerist Shaka Kieselkopf, a second or possibly third cousin of our own dear Pebblehead.

From the book, we learn some startling facts – if, of course, we can read German. If we cannot, and absent a translation, we would be better advised to use it as a door-stop, or to hold down the corner of a tarpaulin in a gale.

One of the less startling things we learn is that the familiar was created using the standard Paracelsian recipe. Paracelsus (1493-1541), real name Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, made the first known homunculus from a bag of bones, skin fragments, sperm, and animal hair. He placed these ingredients in the ground, surrounded by horse manure, for forty days, after which the embryo sprang into being. Horst Gack would appear to have followed this precisely, with the addition of some lupins and half a choc-ice.

Interestingly, we discover that the homunculus was absolutely identical to its maker in all respects save its size. It was a miniature Horst Gack, down to its stylish Louis Brilliantine suit, trendy winkle-pickers, and fantastic bouffant, based, as was Horst Gack’s, on The Great Wave at Kanagawa by Hokusai. Its temperament, mien, and behaviour were also of a piece with Gack’s, particularly the hissing and biting.

The only thing the homunculus seemed unable to do was to conduct huge ensembles in recitals of godawful semi-improvised avant-garde racket, though not for want of trying. Kieselkopf tells an enchanting anecdote of the homunculus trying to teach various flies, midges, gnats, and bluebottles to play the theremin, piccolo, xylophone, and tuba, without success. The sessions were recorded, however, and I think the publishers ought to have included a CD of the surviving tape. It would have made for a more rounded portrait of Horst Gack’s familiar.

One question which the biography does not address is why the homunculus was forever perched on Horst Gack’s shoulder. It was a fully functioning tiny creature, and could quite easily have scampered off and made its own way in the world. Yet it preferred always to remain as if glued to its maker, hissing at him and biting him when there was nobody else in the vicinity to torment.

The missing voice in all this, of course, is that of Horst Gack himself, who apparently tried to block the book’s publication. The grounds cited in his legal case included a claim that the biography “lacked Gack” and was thus “dippy, ploppy, and poopy”. The finest legal minds in Germany are still considering the matter, which experts say may not be resolved until some time in the next century. In the meantime, an illegal pirated edition of the book is in circulation, and has sold upwards of eight copies.

It should be noted that I do not read German, and there may be wild and unforgivable inaccuracies in the foregoing.

Odd, Odd

Occasionally I like to make note here of mentions of Hooting Yard from elsewhere in Interwebshire. I see this as a boon to scholars in years to come, who will not have to look quite so hard for references when compiling the fat magnificent doorstoppers devoted to Mr Key with which bookshelves of the future will surely teem.

Anyway, here is the view of Rachael K. Jones:

Frank Key is an odd, odd author.

Bellowing Milksop

On the pier a milksop bellowed. He was shouting at the sea. Ordinarily, we do not think of bellowing as something milksops do. But this particular milksop was that rare creature, a bellowing milksop. He felt compelled to mince to the very end of every pier he came to, there to bellow at the terrible sea.

His bellowing was largely wordless and incoherent, like a performance piece by Yoko Ono, though every now and then a sliver of sense could be picked up by an alert listener. These fragments were noted down by his Boswell, with a propelling pencil in a notepad. The milksop’s Boswell, whose name, fortuitously, was Boswell, followed the milksop from pier to pier, lagging always several paces behind him. Boswell himself was no milksop. He had once been a wrestler of average repute.

Here is a sample page from one of the notepads:

The pier at Imber, St Bibblybibdib’s Day, morning, weather balmy.

O vast wet sea!

Glebe of Havoc!

Neither hoity nor toity!

War is over if you want it!

Pontoppidan’s kraken!

Dexy’s midnight runner beans!

When the milksop’s bellowing had exhausted him, and he slouched panting on the pier, his Boswell tucked propelling pencil and notepad into his pocket, took the milksop in his arms, and carried him all the way back along the pier to the seaside boarding-house where, earlier, the pair had rented a pair of rooms. He deposited the milksop on his bed, then went to a nearby cafeteria to work up the latest slivers of sense into a grammatically impeccable letter to the editor of the local seaside newspaper. Few if any of these letters were ever published.

In the evenings, Boswell would listen to the foopball results on the wireless while the milksop traced, in a gazetteer, a footpath to the next pier. As darkness fell, lanterns were lit, and cucumber sandwiches were scoffed.

The milksop was usually too exhausted from his bellowing to make conversation with Boswell, but every now and then, if he swallowed a vitamin supplement, he might manage to ask Boswell to recount an anecdote from his wrestling days. Boswell was reluctant to do so – he was still plagued by nightmares involving half-nelsons and blind tags and dusty finishes – and he found excuses to demur. He would complain of a fictional sore throat, or point out of the window at strange swooping nocturnal birds, or even sometimes march out of the boarding-house and down to the beach to dig pointless holes in the sand, leaving the milksop alone, sprawled on his bed, weakly picking breadcrumbs from his chin and depositing them in a bedside breadcrumb tin. It had no lid.

So many piers, so much bellowing, so little sense. They were golden years, that now resemble lead.

Songs For Strangled Puppies

Songs For Strangled Puppies is a new album of sentimental ballads by tear-stained balladeer Biff Chomsky, a follow-up to his smash hit bestseller Songs For Drowned Kittens.

I am particularly proud of this new waxing” said Biff in an interview with top dead-puppy-and-kitten magazine The Daily Small Slaughtered Animals Digest, “Because the body count is slightly higher than on my previous album. That had only one or two kittens drowned per song, whereas on the new one, I sing several schmaltzy ballads in which upwards of a dozen puppies have the life squeezed out of them, in one case by the lumbering walrus-moustached serial killer Babinsky, turning his attention for once to the canine world.”

This is not the first time Babinsky has been celebrated in song, though earlier numbers have eschewed the tear-stained ballad approach. More often they have been hideous screechings and howlings composed by bearded grumpy avant garde German nitwits such as Horst Gack and Horst Gack’s familiar, a weird homunculus which perches on his shoulder and hisses at passers-by.

I was hoping to get Horst Gack’s homunculus to join me on a duet,” said Biff Chomsky, “But when I approached him, he bit me. I immediately had a tetanus jab, but it didn’t do much good. Ever since I have had a fever and an ague and fits and convulsions and to be honest I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get back in the studio to record my next album, Songs For Garrotted Baby Koala Bears.”

Each copy of the new album comes with a free tin pail in which weeping listeners can collect their tears.

Tippi The Crow

In my experience, it is not often you get a crow for Christmas. Indeed, until last month, I don’t think I had been given a crow on any festive occasion. Naturally, I was duly awestruck when, on Christmas Day just past, I unwrapped from its packaging a splendid crow. I named it Tippi (of course) and, rather belatedly, here is a snap:


I am hoping that in future Tippi will be making corvine contributions to Hooting Yard. However, given that it is a mute, plastic crow, these may be few and far between.

Plums And Swans

I went to the shops and bought a Carlsbad plum. I ate the plum and threw the stone at a swan. The plumstone hit the swan on its beak. I repeated this every day for a week. Then the next morning I woke up in bed to find seven swans on the pillow beside my head. They honked and pecked and I was undone, so I went to the shops for another plum. But the plumster saw my savaged condition and damned me to hellfire and perdition. “I’ll sell no further plums to thee” he said, and that was the end of plums and me. Now I choose to eat other fruit, and non-fruit-based snacks to boot. As for the swans, they’re still in my room, where they will stay ’til I go to my tomb.

Episode N

Here is yesterday’s episode of Hooting Yard On The Air, which features Mr Key reading sweeping paragraphs of majestic prose. The show is approaching its thirteenth anniversary, in April, and I rather regret that it never occurred to me (nor to anybody at Resonance) to give each episode a number. It would be pleasant to be able to say “This is Hooting Yard On The Air, Episode 666”, or whatever number we have reached. I suppose there might be a frighteningly fanatical listener out there somewhere who has kept such a tally – if so, I hope they would get in touch and enlighten us all.

Thumping An Owl

The other day I was woken from a much-needed nap by a screech. I identified it, instantly, as the screech of a screech owl, for I am ever alert to occurrences of an ornithological kidney. I peered out of the window and spotted the owl, perched on a picket fence. I pranced outside, went straight towards the owl, bunched my fist, and thumped it in what I supposed was its solar plexus. The owl toppled from the fence, looking mightily disconcerted. As soon as it hit the ground, it righted itself, unfurled its wings, and flew away. I watched until it had vanished in the blue empyrean, which in truth was grey and overcast rather than blue, but empyrean nonetheless, and then I returned indoors to resume my nap.

The next day I answered a knock at the door to be confronted by a gangly beanpole wearing some sort of peaked cap with glittering metal insignia pinned to it.

Interrogative : would you be Mr Key?” he said.

C’est moi!” I replied, foolishly, for I was in foolish spirits.

Interrogative,” he said, again, “Yesterday, did you thump an owl, knocking it from its perch?”

I did,” I said, “It was a screech owl and its screech woke me from a much-needed nap.”

Interrogative,” he said yet again, and this time I interrupted him.

Why do you keep saying ‘interrogative’?”

Don’t get snippy with me, Mr Key, just answer my questions. Interrogative : are you aware that the thumping of owls is in contravention of the municipal bye-laws regarding conduct towards and/or in the presence of owls?”

What?” I said, so he repeated himself, so I did too, and he was about to rerepeat himself when I flicked at his face a morsel of smokers’ poptart I happened to be holding and told him to go away. This was a mistake. He bunched his fist and thumped me in the solar plexus.

When I was able to breathe again, he helped me inside, and we sat facing each other at the breakfast table.

A word of advice,” he said, “It is never a good idea to try to stymie the activities of a senior officer of the Civic Owl Squad going about his lawful business. As you have learned. Now let there be no more nonsense from you. I am invested with powers more draconian, more merciless, than you could imagine in your wildest and most sweat-drenched, pillow-gnawing nightmares.”

Erk-gah” was all I could say, for I was still winded.

Now. You have admitted to thumping an owl. I have it down on my pocket cassette recorder. Your nap is of no concern to us, by the way. By ‘us’ I mean myself and the screech owl you thumped. Though not present, I can assure you that it can hear every word you say, for screech owls are blessed with a tremendously good sense of hearing. I offer that tip in case you were minded to say something disobliging about the owl when you recover the power of speech. It will be listening carefully to everything you say for several months, until, that is, you have made complete restitution for your thumping.”

Reugh?” I gasped.

Precisely,” he said, “Restitution. Every day, for the next several months, you will fill this sack” – at which he whacked a large burlap sack upon the table – “with insects, reptiles, small mammals such as bats and mice and small birds such as wrens and hummingbirds. You will deliver the sack, filled to the brim – to the brim! – every morning at six a.m. on the dot to your neighbourhood Civic Owl Squad drop-in centre. Woe betide you if you fail to comply.”

I wondered for a moment of what that woe might consist, but decided it was better for my nervous equilibrium not to ask.

Thank you for your cooperation,” said the gangly beanpole, “I will see myself out. And I am sure you don’t mind me helping myself to one of your smokers’ poptarts.”

I did mind – but what could I do?

The next day, after filling the sack to the brim with insects, reptiles, small mammals such as bats and mice and small birds such as wrens and hummingbirds, and delivering it to the drop-in centre, I returned home exhausted and took a much-needed nap. I was woken by a howl. I identified it, instantly, as the howl of a howler monkey, for I am ever alert to occurrences of a simian kidney.

That Pot Or Vase I Think

That pot or vase I think.

I heard these words, given as the answer to a question, but I did not hear the question due to the tremendous racket of a German improvising oompah marching band which appeared from around the corner just as the question was posed. At least, I assume a question was put and drowned out by the din. Otherwise “that pot or vase I think” makes little or no sense.

In any case, I looked wildly around to see what pot or vase was being spoken of. Granted, it was none of my business, I had merely eavesdropped upon somebody else’s conversation, but my interest is always piqued by pottery. Well, not always. Sometimes I yawn in the presence of ceramics, a yawn so wide and prolonged that I begin to drool. Fortunately I always carry an embroidered napkin with which to mop any unseemly dribbling from my chin.

The embroidery on my napkins – that’s right, napkins plural, for I have quite a collection – was stitched by a crone in a godawful hamlet hidden somewhere in the Blue Forgotten Hills. I cannot recall the circumstances in which I stumbled upon her noisome hut, other than that I was on an organised walking tour at the time. The tour was arranged by an agency specialising in walking tours of hilly areas, places with lots of humps and bumps to be negotiated.

This agency had its head office situated, inappropriately, on a very flat and level high street in a market town. Immediately in front of its doorway, no more than two or three paces as accomplished by average human adult leg-length, was a cement horse trough. When I visited the agency, a horse was gobbling water from the trough. It was a startlingly elegant horse. I patted its fetlocks, or what I supposed were its fetlocks, though I ought to confess that my knowledge of equine anatomy is skimpy. I paid little attention when we were taught this topic by Dr Gabbitas in the village schoolroom all those years ago.

Dr Gabbitas claimed to be an expert on the subject of horses, as well as astronomy, Latin, pig Latin, pudding recipes, the higher mathematics, polar geography, the flight patterns of uncommon birds, shove-ha’penny, dust, and many another topic. He was a curiously bloated figure, who looked as if he had been dragged from the sea after drowning several months ago. But the village where I grew up was nowhere near the sea. I did not see it until I was the age of Christ at his crucifixon.

I was stunned. There I stood, on my thirty-third birthday, upon the beach at Imber, gazing at that vast wet sloshing expanse. It would be no exaggeration to say that the sight of it befuddled my brain, so much so that I quickly retreated to the dilapidated seaside boarding-house where I had taken a room, and I shut myself in that room, and remained there for weeks.

There was, on the windowsill of that room, a pot or vase I think, holding a splurge of lupins, freshly cut when I arrived, and slowly shrivelling and dying, as the days passed, as all of us do, as the years pass.

Being Celia

Drink to me only with thine eyes” sang Ben Jonson to Celia. I am not Celia – she is long dead, as is O rare Ben Jonson – but I thought I’d give it a go. Usually, of course, we drink with our mouths, but I am particularly well placed to drink with my eyes. Regular readers will know that I have been undergoing a series of injections of a needle directly into my eyeballs. My reasoning is that, consequent upon this treatment, I have several holes in each eye through which I might imbibe liquid.

For my first attempt at “being Celia”, as it were, I propped up on the mantelpiece a picture of Ben Jonson. This was a mezzotint tinted by the noted mezzotintist Rex Tint. I would try to keep my eyes fixed upon this as I drank. I then opened a can of Squelcho! and poured the contents into a tumbler. Transferring this to my eyes was not as simple as I had imagined. I found I had to tilt my head back, until I was gazing at the ceiling, rather than at Ben Jonson. I solved this problem by putting down the tumbler, taking the mezzotint from the mantelpiece, and affixing it to the ceiling with a couple of blobs of a proprietary brand of rubber cement I then picked up the tumbler again, tilted my head back, gazed adoringly at the mezzotint countenance of Ben Jonson, and poured a modicum of Squelcho! first into one eye, then the other.

To my dismay, not a drop of liquid entered either eye. It just ran down my face, so that I resembled the startlingly angular woman in that Picasso picture, though not quite so angular, nor so girly, of course.

Drying my face with a nearby tea-towel, I determined upon a different approach. I jettisoned the tumbler, removed Ben Jonson from the ceiling, and replaced him on the mantelpiece. I then opened a second can of Squelcho! and decocted part of the contents into a perfume bottle atomiser air bulb invention. I reasoned that spraying the Squelcho! at my eyes would provide greater force than namby-pamby pouring, and the liquid would be impelled through the holes. Gazing once more at O rare Ben Jonson, I duly scrunched the air bulb in my manly fist. Alas, this proved no more effective than pouring. The Squelcho! just ran down my face, the same as before. I tossed the perfume bottle atomiser air bulb invention under the sink, mopped my face with the tea-towel, and hit upon a third approach.

Clearly the spray was too weedy. What I needed to do was to force a jet of Squelcho! through a hosepipe at high velocity. This would surely force the liquid through the several pin-prick holes in my eyes.

Reader, it did not. I spent hours designing and constructing a contraption comprising a length of rubber hosepipe, a large plastic canister, an electric motor, some valves and nozzles, and umpteen cans of Squelcho! All I got for my troubles was a terrific headache, awful pain in my eyes, and vision temporarily impaired even more than usual.

Having had a long lie down in a darkened room, I made one last desperate attempt to drink Sqelcho! to Ben Jonson only with mine eyes. This time, I simply filled a large bucket with the contents of yet more cans of the remarkably fizzy fizzy drink and plunged my head into it. I shoved corks into my ears, held my nose between thumb and forefinger, and kept my mouth shut. Eventually I had to remove my head from the bucket and slump on the floor panting for breath, or I would have died. It was with disblief that I realised I had not managed to ingest a single drop of Squelcho! through mine eyes.

I mentioned all this to the consultant at my next appointment at the eye hospital. She gave me a funny look, the import of which I could not quite decipher, and said:

Mr Key, let me try to explain something to you. It is really a very simple matter, such that a small child should have no difficulty grasping it. When we plunge a needle directly into one of your eyeballs during your regular appointments here, the needle is astonishingly thin, and the resultant hole in your eyeball is microscopically tiny, so tiny it is even tinier than Tinie Tempah. It is such a tiny hole that it closes up and seals completely within a very short time after the injection, almost certainly before you have even left the hospital grounds. I am afraid there is no chance whatsoever of you drinking to Ben Jonson only with thine eyes.”

This gave me pause for thought, and I became dejected.

But my dejection did not last long. As I pranced, half-blind, out of the hospital, it came to me in a flash that being Celia did not mean I had to be Ben Jonson’s Celia. I could be another Celia entirely. I could be Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter! I bent down, plucked a piece of grit from the ground, and shoved it into my eye. Then I sashayed off to the railway station, went into the tea room, and waited for someone to come up to me saying “Can I help you? Please let me look, I happen to be a doctor.”

Further Plums

Yesterday’s Hooting Yard On The Air on Resonance104.4FM contained further plum-based radiophonic frolics. Listen carefully. I expect there will be yet more of this next week, until I have exhausted plums and turn my attention to another fruit, or even a completely non-fruit-related topic.

And don’t forget that the lines are still open for our 2016 Christmas Appeal, and will remain open untll 24 December.

Groovy Janitor

Once upon a time there was a groovy janitor. That is about all there is to say about him. He was groovy, and he was a janitor. Or, he was a janitor, and he was groovy. These two statements are not identical. We must be alert to nuance. Do we give more or less weight to his janitordom or to his grooviness? Much as we might wish to grant them equal importance, we know in our heart of hearts that to do so is blind idiocy. Oh come on, admit it. You are leaning, even if only slightly, in terms of your level of interest in this majestic piece of prose, towards the janitoriness or the groove.

As a janitor, the groovy janitor was often to be found in a corridor, with a mop and a pail, rattling a bunch of keys, or perhaps bearing down upon a fixture or fitting armed with a hammer or a screwdriver or a wrench. As a person of groove, the groovy janitor, while so engaged, would often be snapping his fingers to the latest sounds from some of our top beat groups, a long but not exhaustive list of which has been compiled by Bernard Levin. Shall we refamiliarise ourselves with the roll call?

Some [beat groups] were almost as famous, and successful, as the Beatles; some were known only to the most devoted aficionados. But all added to the atmosphere of the decade, and the isle was full of noises as never before, coming from, among others, the Rolling Stones, the Bee Gees, the Monkees, the Doors, the Cream, the Mothers of Invention, the Seekers, the Who, the Small Faces, the Pretty Things, the Animals, the Pink Floyd, the Scaffold, the Grateful Dead, the Tremoloes, the Family, the Supremes, the Holding Company, the Four Tops, the Led Zeppelin, the Shadows, the Exploding Galaxy, the Editors, the Fugs, the Gods, the Kinks, the Hermits, the Paper Dolls, the Breakaways, the Greaseband, the Casuals, the Amen Corner, the Big Sound, the Flirtations, the Herd, the Marbles, the Status Quo, the New York Public Library, the Hollies, the Foundations, the Electric Havens, the Four Seasons, the Bachelors, the Seychelles, the Love Affair, the Fifth Dimension, the Three Dog Night, the Equals, the Vagabonds, the Marmalade, the Mindbenders, the Moody Blues, the Mirettes, the Tuesday’s Children, the Plastic Penny, the Procol Harum, the Troggs, the Fruit Machine, the Union Gap, the 1910 Fruitgum Co., the Beach Boys, the Fairport Convention, the Vanity Fair, the Harmony Grass, the Aces, the Young Tradition, the Nice, the Dubliners, the Tinkers, the Fleetwood Mac, the Incredible String Band, the Web, the Little Free Rock, the Blodwyn Pig, the Liverpool Scene, the Spooky Tooth, the Third Ear, the High Tide, the Mamas and Papas, the Carnations, the Pacemakers, the From Genesis to Revelation, the O’Hara Express, the Pentangle, the Chickenshack, the Blind Faith, the Fourmost, the Searchers, the Four Pennies, the Bar-Kays, the Unit Four Plus Two, the Hedgehoppers Anonymous, the Applejacks, the Box Tops, the Edison Lighthouse, the Blood, Sweat and Tears, the Vibrations, and the Rada Krishna Temple.

From this we can adduce that our groovy janitor was being groovy, and a janitor, in the 1960s. But that was half a century ago! He is fifty years older now, creaking, wrinkle-rutted, near bald and toothless, gasping weakly from a bed in a Mercy Home. It is no longer accurate to describe him as a janitor, for he has carried out no janitorial duties for twenty years at least. We can call him an ex-janitor, or a retired janitor. And what of his grooviness? Is he still groovy? Let us ask the superintendent of the Mercy Home, Mrs Pantoofle.

The retired janitor lying sprawled in his iron cot in Hopeless Ward? You are asking me if he is groovy? Define your terms, please.”

We set out for her the chief characteristics of grooviness, in alphabetical order, supported by illustrative diagrams we have tucked in our pocket for just such an eventuality.

I see,” says Mrs Pantoofle, though as she is wearing a pair of very stylish mirror sunglasses we cannot be sure of the truth of this remark.

I would say,” she continues, “Taking everything into account, that the ex-janitor has indeed retained his grooviness. Only the other morning, as one of the skivvies attended to his bedpan, she noted that he was babbling incoherently in his weak and reedy voice. With great presence of mind, she made a tape of his gibbering on the Mercy Home cassette recorder. We played it back during the staff meeting at lunchtime, while eating fruit. At first the tape yielded nothing intelligible, but when we pricked up our ears and concentrated very hard, we realised the retired janitor was reciting “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg. What could be groovier than that? It fried my wig, daddy-o!”

The moral of this story is that, while janitordom may fade away and vanish, grooviness prevails. Let that be a lesson to you.

Note To Self

Yesterday I mentioned, in passing, Will Self. This is never a good idea. I am reminded, however, that I really need to stamp my big black boot down and make something very clear. First, back in 2009, we had the question posed “Is Frank Key Will Self?” And now, just the other day, this:


While I am flattered by Mr Bugs’ complimentary remarks, I am equally appalled to find myself compared in any way with the preposterous figure of Self. Perhaps the most laughable thing is the idea that he is some kind of edgy intellectual maverick. From his many appearances in the Grauniad and on the BBC, I think it is clear that he is in possession of the Middle-Class Student Wanker’s starter pack marked ‘This is what you think’. All his opinions are predictable and orthodox. If there is such a thing as the “metropolitan liberal elite”, he is a card-carrying member. For example, he believes that everyone who voted for Brexit is probably a racist. Such simplistic twaddle will always get you applause and whooping from a Question Time audience, a fairly reliable indicator of vacuous dimwittery.

I fear, however, that I will forever be linked with the wretched Self, given that his one useful contribution to the world was giving Mr Key a light for his cigarette in the midst of a downpour in south London.