A Man Of The Cloth

There was a man, he was a man of the cloth. I’ll repeat that. There was a man, he was a man of the cloth. Let that sink in.

When asked to identify himself, by a sentry say, the man would say “I am a man of the cloth”, and when he saw a flicker of doubt on the sentry’s face, a puckering of the brows, a purse of the lips, a narrowing of the eyes, he would say “Would you like to see my cloth?”, and he would take from his pocket a frayed and filthy rag, besmirched with remnants of food, soup stains and eggy smears and embedded crumbs, and he would hold it by two corners, between fingers and thumbs, to give the sentry the clearest possible view.

The sentry, perhaps cocking his rifle, would say something like “That is not a cloth, it is a frayed and filthy food-splattered rag”.

To which the man, the man of the cloth, would reply, “I did not say it was a cloth, I said it was the cloth”. He would say this with such conviction that the sentry would be jarred and disconcerted.

What do you mean, the cloth?” he would ask.

Is that not self-evident?” the man of the cloth would snap back without missing a beat, further discombobulating the sentry, who could do little but shake his head.

Sensing the sentry’s confusion, the man of the cloth would say, “Let me help you. I am a man of the cloth, and this is the cloth. You have now seen it, so I shall scrunch it up and replace it in my pocket, and I trust you will let me pass, unimpeded”.

Usually, this folderol would work like a dream, and the man of the cloth would be allowed to go on his way.

But there was an occasion when he met with a sentry of fearsome mettle, who would not be bamboozled. This particular sentry had long ago learned to give no quarter where attempted bamboozlement threatened. He still suffered from awful nightmares about his rookie days, and the incident with the ne’er-do-well bent on infamy, armed with a bottle of bleach and a dough cormorant, and the other incident, on his very next watch, with the other ne’er-do-well, fanatically committed to an enormity, carrying a lump of marzipan and a framed portrait of Nobby Stiles. This sentry was not to be bamboozled again, so he shot the man of the cloth.

He shot him in the ankle, hobbling him, and as the man of the cloth had not yet scrunched up the cloth and replaced it in his pocket, as he toppled to the ground and released the cloth from his grasp, between fingers and thumbs, it fluttered and was about to drop beside him, when a sudden gust of wind lifted it into the air and blew it away, o’er fields and filbert hedges, away, away, it was swept away and gone (see “Resignation” from A Character of a True Christian, Abiezer Coppe, 1680).

The man of the cloth ought to have resigned himself to his loss, but he did not. As soon as his ankle mended, he set out in search of the cloth. He carried with him, as succour, a cloth, which rapidly became frayed and filthy and food-splattered, but he was painfully aware that it was merely a cloth, not the cloth. He wandered the world, and wanders it still, o’er field and filbert hedge, o’er tor, fell, and hill.

Incey-Wincey Quartet

Should you need to placate a squalling infant, here – reposted from several years ago – is a handy quartet of incey-winceys.

Incey-wincey badger, scrubbling in the dirt
Puts some sticks together and builds himself a yurt
He’s a New Age badger, his name is Little Kurt
Careful now, his feelings are very easily hurt

Incey-wincey lobster, clacking in the sea
His brain’s completely alien to that of you and me
Incey-wincey lobster, much bigger than a bee
The lobster’s very strange, and is never ever twee

Incey-wincey goat-boy, creature of two realms
We can see you darting in between the elms
Half of you is human, the other half’s a goat
Incey-wincey goat-boy, drowning in a moat

Incey-wincey Stalin with his pockmarked face
Keeps all his medals in a big briefcase
Lurks in the Kremlin hatching plots and schemes
Incey-wincey Stalin haunts your childhood dreams

Ono Again

I would not wish readers to miss a comment posted by Max Décharné on Ms Ono’s birthday, so I have yanked it out and place it here for your edification:

Frank, inspired by your call to arms, I immediately wrote and staged a three-hour chirpy Cockney knees-up musical based upon the lives of our two multi-millionaire heroes, entitled “John & Yoko – I Should Coco,” in which the whole cast and audience bring the Grade 2-listed house down with a rousing final chorus of “Yes! Imagine We Have No Bananas, I Wonder If You Can?”



I stumbled upon Borp shortly after Himmelfarb. It was my good fortune to have an emotional cushion. I had prayed for a pillow, but I got a cushion, so I could not complain. There was old black and white footage of Lasse Viren on the box. I thought I spotted Borp behind the box. This was not something I expected, and it caused those tremors I thought had gone forever, like the Gurglings.

There were Gurglings now, but they seemed to come from Borp. I was minded to take a closer look, but a little voice in my head urged caution. Lasse Viren continued to pound along the track, like a nonfiction Bobnit Tivol. I turned the sound down, the better to hear Borp. There were definite Gurglings.

Interrupted by a whistling kettle, I decamped to the kitchen. Well, I ought properly say kitchenette, if not kitchenettette. It was tiny. The kettle was correspondingly tiny too. But the whistle! It was so loud that it drowned out the Gurglings. This was a small mercy, and I was reluctant to remove the kettle from the hob. Had I tried to do so, it would in any case have been held fast by the hobgoblins.

I had been trying to eradicate these from my kitchenettette since before Himmelfarb. There was a spray, but it did little good. On the advice of Baines I fashioned a crucifix from stalks of rhubarb and suspended it from a rafter with a chain. Nobody told me Baines was a cretin.

I whirled about in the kitchenettette trying to work out what to do next. Outside, a crow landed on the lawn. Then another, and another. Soon there were so many crows I could no longer see the grass. I felt sure this had somehow been contrived by Borp, even if I had absolutely no idea how or why. I tried to concentrate my mind on Himmelfarb.

I summoned up what faint courage I had and returned to the parlour to peek behind the box. Lasse Viren had vanished from the box, to be replaced by Emil Zatopek, who was running in a different direction. He looked like a man wrestling with an octopus on a conveyor belt. I know that is not an original observation, but it had never seemed more true. I gawped and almost forgot about Borp. But then the sound of the Gurglings snapped me back to the present. What use were athletics to me now?

Then another question forced itself into my brain. Why were the crows on the lawn silent? Should they not have been cawing? That is two questions. It is no surprise that I dithered. I had dithered on Himmelfarb, had I not?, and look where my dithering got me. Beset by kitchenettette hobgoblins, and with only a useless spray and a rhubarb crucifix to counter them! Baines would be made to pay, in his cretins’ coinage.

I was ready to throw in the towel. That is of course a reference to the boxing ring. Lasse and Emil were strangers to it, it was a different kind of box they were on. Was Borp behind it? I had to know. But I also needed that towel, just in case. And I realised I had clean forgotten where the airing cupboard was. I slumped in a chair and picked up my album. It would have to serve as my emotional cushion for the time being. I opened the album at a random page, and I gazed, and gazed and gazed, for hours, until becalmed, at a photograph of Rasmus Tholstrup the cheesemaker, with his wife and infant son.


84 Today!

No doubt you will be busy today organising a street party, hanging out streams of bunting, distributing paper plates piled high with sausage rolls and slices of fairy cake, and arranging entertainments featuring high-pitched discordant screaming, the cutting off of clothes, and world peace. Yes! It’s Yoko Ono’s 84th birthday. Rejoice!


From The Past …

I posted this thirteen long years ago, in March 2004, but it still makes me laugh, so I thought I’d pop it in again:

Is nothing sacred? In this age of pointless but seemingly obsessive rebranding, news reaches us that Snow White’s diminutive pals, the seven dwarves, are to be given new names. From next Friday, apparently, they are to be known as Wretched, Spiteful, Incontinent, Wistful, Lippy, Rancorous & Preening.


Exterior, the gate of the Wasp Zoo.

Sentry At The Gate Of The Wasp Zoo : Halt! Who goes there?

Voice Offstage : I am Perkins, Bringer Of Mothballs.

Sentry At The Gate Of The Wasp Zoo : You may pass.

Enter Perkins, Bringer Of Mothballs. He is dressed in cardboard boxes save for his hat, which is made of birds.

Perkins, Bringer Of Mothballs : Have you heard the news from Chappaquiddick?

Sentry At The Gate Of The Wasp Zoo : Yes. Poor Mary Jo Kopechne.

Perkins, Bringer Of Mothballs : This is a very bijou wasp zoo.

Sentry At The Gate Of The Wasp Zoo : It is. But now I have no further words, and nor do you, for there is a fatal flaw in this little drama, viz. its incoherence. Now we must simply stand here on stage, silently, for several hours, until such time as your hat-birds fly, fly away.

Perkins, Bringer Of Mothballs : But they are not living birds. They are stone dead and taxidermised.

Sentry At The Gate Of The Wasp Zoo : Did you not hear what I said? Hush ye! Hush ye!

Several hours pass, until the audience bursts into thunderous applause.

Twitsum Twatsum

Hurrah! I am clearly not alone in my loathing of Twitter. It seems to me thoroughly corrosive, of both journalism and public debate more broadly. But we cannot now uninvent it, so a way must be found to turn people away from it, and steer them towards a more elevated form of social network communication.

Three cheers, then, for Twitsum Twatsum, a new platform launched yesterday. This allows users to couch their every banal waking thought in the form of lengthy disquisitions in Latin, peppered with classical quotations and abstruse scholarly bagatelles. The minimum length of a so-called “Tweetum” is ten thousand words, and if a user attempts to insert one of those wretched “emoticon” horrors, the software is designed to cause their device (phone, tablet, etc.) to explode with a loud bang!, shattering it to smithereens.

I feel sure that millions around the world, who are currently destroying what is left of our civilisation by their endless Twittering, will embrace this splendid new service. I have already posted my first Tweetum, a crushingly tedious comment on what I had for breakfast made uncrushingly untedious by dint of its inordinate length, finely-wrought Latin prose, and quotations from Catullus.

Empty Your Wallets!

May I remind you that this week is fundraising week at Resonance 104.4FM? The finest radio station in the known universe, and indeed in several parallel universes, urgently needs at least part of the contents of your bank account, plus any loose change you have scattered about your hovel. If you wish to continue listening to Hooting Yard On The Air, and plenty of other tremendous programmes, then please give generously.

Go to the Resonance fundraiser page for more details, or head directly to the donation zone. You know you will feel a warm glow in your collywobbles when you have done so.

Imagine A Loopy Prig

Chief among the Loopy Prigs of Shelmerdox was one whose head had dimensions similar to those of a large plum, and its hue too, its hue or tint if you will, a splenetic fellow of milk-stained necktie and eggy brow, whatever that might be, slumped in his hammock at all hours save for when he was off on a jaunt armed with a blunderbuss and the head of wrung-necked chicken dangling from a lanyard about which, foolishly, he had written a song, Oh Lanyard Fair!, to the tune of Carry On Wayward Son by Kansas, nothing to do, apparently, with the Carry On film series starring such screen luminaries as Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtrey, the latter a resident of Deal, near Sandwich, in Kent, where the Chief Loopy Prig of Shelmerdox had been known to picnic, on occasion, and exhibit his gift for snatching wasps in mid-buzz, reaching to grab them in his fist, with its strange musculature, before plopping them into an empty marmalade jar and screwing the lid down tight, the better to transport them to the Wasp Zoo at Tantarabim Bamforth, a place with the only known conjunction of bim and bam in its name if the gazetteers of that land were to be believed, and why would they not be?

I put this question, in its entirety, from that opening “Chief” to the closing “be”, to both Condoleezza Rice and Ringo Starr. Neither has seen fit to reply, yet, which causes me some grief, though not enough grief to provoke weeping, yet. The weeping will come, I am sure of it, perhaps by next Thursday, if I have still not heard from Rice or Starr, in which case I will be minded to take the Alger Hiss Option. It is unclear to me of what this option consists, but I will strive to find out by visiting my local librar, abutting the market square, with its enormous cement horse trough now a bed of flowers, pinks and posies and lupins and hollyhocks, and nary a horse in sight, any more, since the triumph of the motor car.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. For example, only the other day I met, in a shabby cafeteria, a dreamer, who once played the drums for Freddie’s pop group, and he told me that he had been dreaming about the Chief Loopy Prig of Shelmerdox, except that for him it was more nightmare than dream, for the wasp had escaped from the marmalade jar – how? – and stung him on his eggy brow – that mysterious phrase again! – thus waking him from his troubled sleep, waking him into a world where there was no sting, no wasp, nor even a Loopy Prig of Shelmerdox. Thus baffled, the dreamy drummer arose from his bed, and threw away his crutches, and walked!

To where did he walk?

To Tantarabim Bamforth.

And what did he do there?

He rattled a tin.

What was in the tin?

Two buttons.

From whence had the buttons come?

The buttons had once been the eyes of a rag doll, a ventriloquist’s dummy, now blind, languishing in a crate in a storage facility in Deal, near Sandwich, in Kent. Imagine that.

Gastronome And Dramaturge

A gastronome and a dramaturge were out a-walking one day when they became engulfed in an eerie purple mist. Though they knew it not, it was the sort of mist beloved of writers of phantasmal stories. In these tales, those exposed to the mephitic vapours emerge somehow changed. See, for example, the film The Incredible Shrinking Man, or, lethally, The Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel.

What happened in the present case was that the pair eventually stumbled out of the mist transformed into a gastroturge and a dramanome. At first they were unaware of the change the mist had wrought. They walked on, o’er the flint-strewn fields, until they reached the clump of pollarded willows by the canal just before the level crossing, where they shook hands and parted, promising to meet each other at the same spot the next day to go a-walking again.

It would be worth devoting a paragraph to that handshake, had I the words to describe it, or to convey its immense significance. What it was not was the kind of coded handshake performed by members of secret societies to signal to each other their shared affiliation. Rather, it was to all intents and purposes a perfectly normal and unremarkable handshake. Had you witnessed it, if, say, you were a peewit perched on the pollarded stub of a branch of one of those willows, you would very likely notice nothing unusual, and fly away, bored. Can birds be bored? That is a query for another occasion, when we are concerned with ornithological psychology rather than with gastroturgy and dramanomery, our current preoccupations.

We will continue into a second paragraph with the handshake, for we are not done with it yet. There is a verse by Dennis Beerpint where the poet writes, famously, In vegetation and in awe / They made a handshake last for hours. This was not that sort of handshake. It lasted for only a few moments, like the average handshake. It involved no special grasp, nor funny business. The right hands of the gastroturge and the dramanome, the ones they shook, were as near as dammit matched in size and in finger-numbers, in neither case being deformed in any way nor outwith the standard lineaments of the adult human hand. Look at the diagrams in Di Boffo’s Gallery Of Standardised Anatomical Limb Appendages, Book IV, and you will see etchings that could be drawn from posings by the gastroturge and the dramanome in person, had they been alive at the time of publication.

Which is by way of saying, as we embark on a third paragraph devoted to the subject, that there really was nothing remarkable about the handshake at all, save for the fact that it was remarkable. The difficulty is in articulating, in plain words, what was so remarkable about it. And believe me, it was, oh! it certainly was! The peewit – or the putative peewit – may well have flown away, bored, but we should not rely on a bored bird to tell us about the fathomless intricacies of human interaction, particularly when that bored bird is merely a notional bird invented as a conceit. It need not even be a peewit. It could equally well be a starling or a chaffinch.

But let us not labour the point, babbling into yet another handshake-fixated paragraph. We know the handshake was of immense significance. We know we have not the words to explain why. It may be a solace to recognise that the fictional peewit, or starling, or chaffinch, is in an even worse position, having no words at all, not even inadequate words, but merely tweetings and chirrups and similar birdy witterings at its disposal. Also, birds’ brains are tiny, much smaller than the brains of the gastroturge and the dramanome. And those brains, albeit both bigger than a bird’s, were about to succumb to unimaginable mental chaos.

Let us not forget that they entered the eerie purple mist as a gastronome and a dramaturge. Yet when they emerged, they had been transformed, in some inexplicable manner, into a gastroturge and a dramanome. As they shook hands by the clump of pollarded willows by the canal just before the level crossing, and parted, taking their divergent paths home, neither was aware of what had befallen them. Only slowly, as the day wore on, and their brains struggled to comprehend the cataclysmic changes, did the gastroturge and the dramanome begin to exhibit erratic patterns of behaviour. At first these were barely perceptible. But by the next morning, both of them had gone completely doolally.

By midday, less than twenty four hours since they had been engulfed in the eerie purple mist, both the gastroturge and the dramanome were under lock and key, confined in neighbouring secure wards in a Bewilderment Home. And there they would remain, for years to come, until boffins could work out a method of switching turge to nome, and nome to turge, without having to wrench their heads off their necks, or commit some similar, almost certainly fatal, procedure.

Meanwhile, the pair sat peering out of their windows at a peewit perched on the pollarded stub of a willow. Birds have no hands to shake, in greeting or in parting. Take note of that fact. It may prove useful to you, in the coming days.

Tiptop Toofles

Tiptop pop group the Tiptop Toofles have released a new single which is steaming towards the top of the charts. “My Monkey Has An Ague” is a sprightly yet forlorn ballad telling of the lead singer’s pet monkey, Alan, being hospitalised in a monkey hospital after contracting an ague. It is an odd sort of monkey hospital. The lyrics make explicit that it is closely based on the hospital in a Carry On film, so there are name-checks for Kenneth Williams as a doctor, Hattie Jacques as Matron, and Charles Hawtrey as a weedy patient, languishing in the bed next to the monkey’s. So vivid is the picture painted by the words, though, that we accept it and trust to its verisimilitude, even though, if we give it a moment’s sober thought, it is piffle.

As with all Tiptop Toofles tracks, it’s a toe-tapper, while at the same time being emotionally devastating. For those who have not yet heard it, I will not spoil the song by giving away its ending. All I will say is that, in the final verse, the scene changes from the monkey hospital to a monkey graveyard.

The B side of the single is more smoochy than toe-tappy. “Apparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto” features the sampled voices of both Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtrey – though not Kenneth Williams – and is scored, unusually for the Tiptop Toofles, or indeed for any other pop group, for Wurlitzer organ, piccolo, and Brazil nuts. At eleven and a half minutes, it is by far the longest track the group has ever released, and it is fair to say that it outstays its welcome by a good ten minutes or so. This has not deterred top pop critic Ted Popcrit from hailing it as “the smoochiest B side ever committed to wax cylinder recording technology that I have heard since yesterday afternoon”. Maddeningly, but characteristically, Ted does not divulge what he was listening to yesterday afternoon, so I rang him up to ask.

Hello?” I said, “Is that Ted Popcrit?”

But in reply all I heard was a Lovecraftian bubbling sound of “Glub …. glub … glub”. I surmised that Ted must be listening to the Tiptop Toofles’ previous chart-topper, the sprightly yet forlorn smoochy toe-tapper “Disgusting Seaside Resort”. Pop fans will know that this smash hit features the sampled voices of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, and that tremendous chorus “the pollarded willows by the canal just before the level crossing”, so startling because it has nothing whatsoever to do with seaside resorts.

If you would like to join the Tiptop Toofles Fan Club, you are strongly advised to consult a qualified medical practitioner, or a man of the cloth, whichever suits your pocket.

Nomenclature News

The mother of a famous cellist was absolutely obsessed with a children’s toy, so much so that, when she gave birth to the future maestro, she decided to name him after it. This was later reported in the magazine Nomenclature Of Cellists Incorporating Tots’ Playthings Plus Palindromes under the headline Yo Yo Ma’s Ma’s Yo Yo.

Swarfega Pratfalls

Q – Dear Mr Key, I read with great interest your piece on swarfega pitfalls. I myself have often experienced swarfega pratfalls. I think it would be very helpful for your readers if you could provide a clear, comprehensive, and slightly hysterical explanatory string of paragraphs on the differences between pitfalls and pratfalls. Should you require my assistance in this matter, I am available for interview at the corner table in Old Ma Popsicle’s Tea Shoppe every day between the crack of dawn and the engulfing shroud of pitch black starless night.

A – My correspondent is deluded in thinking there is such a thing as a swarfega pratfall. He or she is obviously confusing the phrase with Swarfegaprat Falls, a mighty cataract of tumbling water which can be found on the outskirts of Pointy Town. (Turn left by the cement statue of Hattie Jacques and keep going until you hear the roar and slosh of a mighty cataract of tumbling water.)