Film Review

Yesterday I went to see the new Walt Dinsey [sic] film Beauty And The Beast. (I know, I know. Don’t ask.) A more fitting title would have been Feisty Bookworm And The Prince With Bad Table Manners. Belle, the Beauty, as played by Emma Watson, is feisty, and a bookworm. The only other thing to note about her character is that she has a rather problematic relationship with her father’s horse, but we shall come to that.

The putative Beast (one Dan Stevens) is hardly bestial. I was expecting something like the Grunty Man, that awful figure of children’s nightmares. Other than being a bit hairy, sporting a pair of goaty horns, and growling occasionally, this so-called Beast seems perfectly civilised. He speaks in a mellifluous RADA-trained voice not unlike that of the late Alan Rickman, and has a well-stocked library. The extent of his bestiality seems to be that he slurps his soup straight from the bowl. Franz Kafka had worse table manners (his father used to hide behind the newspaper when dining with FK).

Now, about that horse. Its name is Philippe. The Feisty Bookworm arrives at the castle astride Philippe. We then see neither hide nor hair of the horse until, after an indeterminate period – days? weeks? months? – the Beast frees the Bookworm so she can rescue her father from imminent incarceration in a lunatic asylum. Suddenly, there is Philippe, fit as a fiddle, ready to gallop back to the village. Where has he been all this time? The Feisty Bookworm has expressed not a jot of concern for him, and we have seen no sign of a stable, nor even a trough. It is all very mysterious.

Hooting Yard Rating : Three stars for tiptop soup-slurping.

Sporting Glory

I often receive letters from readers crying plaintively “Mr Key! Mr Key! How can I become a tiptop sporting champion? If anyone can give me a top tip, it is you!”

Actually, it is not me you need to ask, but Hooting Yard’s tiptop sports correspondent Fatima Gilliblat. This is what she has to say:

The best way to become a tiptop sporting champion is to ensure you were born on 23 March. It was on this day of the year that champs such as Roger Bannister, Mo Farah, Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny, Steve Redgrave, and the bobsleighing Olympian Shelley Rudman dropped from their mothers’ wombs, as did the cricketer Mike Atherton and the pugilist Joe Calzaghe. If you were born on any other day, I am afraid that the road to sporting glory will be steep and pitiless and you will almost certainly fail.


I once saw the novelist Anthony Burgess settle down at a concert grand, put a reproduction of ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ on the music stand, and play the picture in a camp, but straight-faced, demonstration of synaesthesia. As ever with Burgess, you were not quite sure if he was taking the mick.

Stephen Bayley, reviewing books about colour in The Spectator.


Exemplary Slobbering Vignettes

I received an invitation to attend a swish sophisticated cocktail party, and decided to wear for the occasion my second-best bib and tucker.

On the evening itself, with the party in full swing, I was leaning insouciantly against a mantelpiece when I was approached by a fellow guest.

You are a grown man,” she said, “Why are you wearing a bib?”

I embarked upon a lengthy explanation of the phenomenon known as involuntary slobbering, citing certain vivid examples both from my own experience and from the historical records. I prattled for quite some time, holding my interlocutor spellbound, until one of my exemplary slobbering vignettes caused her to interrupt me.

Spiro Agnew?” she cried, so loudly that she caught the attention of guests on the far side of the room.

Indeed so,” I said, “And I will not qualify my assertion with that weasel-word allegedly.”

At this, she executed a startled little jump, and confessed to a terrible fear of weasels. I told her they only alarmed me when they went pop! up and down the City Road. More than once, I added, such weasel-popping had caused me to slobber involuntarily. I was pleased, momentarily, to have brought the conversation back to my chosen topic, but my new companion was now fixated upon weasels, and insisted I join her in a search-and-destroy mission in case any weasels had infiltrated the cocktail party.

With what,” I asked, “Shall we destroy any weasels we might hunt down?”

Well,” she said, “What is that?” and she pointed to my tucker.

That is my second-best tucker,” I said, “It goes with the bib.”

We can use it to smother any weasels we find!” she cried, and she took me by the hand, and led me away from the drawing room towards another part of the house where, she hinted, there might be weasels.

I never did get the chance to finish my exemplary slobbering vignette featuring the thirty-ninth vice president of the United States of America. But the weasel-frightened lady gave me her telephone number, so one evening soon I will call her, and tell her the rest of that tale, and several others, until the cows come home.

Whence Inspip Fled

Nobody knew whence Inspip fled. He was last seen at one end of Sawdust Bridge, but it was a fugitive sighting. It was not clear whether he was at the pointy end of the bridge or at the pointier end. Whichever end it was, one moment Inspip was there, and the next he was not, and nobody knew whence he fled.

In the days before his fleeing, it was said of Inspip that he was in the doldrums. But this was a mishearing. He was not in the doldrums, but on the doll drums. He was pounding out a hotcha boohoocha beat on a tiny drumkit usually played by a doll, its arms controlled, puppet-style, by strings manipulated by an adept. Inspip snatched the drums from the doll and popped them in his pocket and took them to his lair.

Nobody knew where Inspip’s lair lay. There were rumours that it was concealed in the shadows under the pointier end of Sawdust Bridge. Others had it anent the Blister Lane Bypass. After Inspip fled, the sheriff organised a posse to search for the lair. It proved fruitless, like the sheriff’s diet. “I once ate an apple,” said the sheriff, “Never again! Now I know how Eve felt.” He was a fallen man, the sheriff, unlike Inspip, who was not.

A trail of scattered talc led to a barge moored on the filthy canal, but this proved to be a red herring. (See Nashe’s Lenten Stuffe, Thomas Nashe, 1599.) Nonetheless, the barge was ransacked and turned upside down in the hunt for clues. They found a doll’s drumstick, a chicken bone. Was the chicken killed by Inspip before he fled? The posse fell upon an outlying barn. Hence the well-known song The Sheriff’s Posse In The Barn, with its hotcha boohoocha beat and emotionally wrenching lyrics and twangy guitar part.

In the end it turned out that Inspip fled where eagles dare, armed to the teeth and calling himself, by turns, Broadsword or Danny Boy. The name Inspip was erased, even from his metal tag. Such is the mystery of the patron saint of chicken-stranglers, there is not even a memorial plaque on Sawdust Bridge, either at the pointy end or at the pointier end.

Pillow Pamphlets

I have a terrible memory. I sometimes wonder if my inability to remember things might have something to do with the ruinous debauches of my Wilderness Years, but I suspect my forgetfulness preceded them, and that my memory was never much cop in the first place. I barely recall much of what I have written and posted here over the years. This morning, casting about in my puny brain for a topic, I thought “Aha! I know! I will write about Dobson discovering the Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon and deciding to write a Pillow Book of his own!”

I got as far as writing an opening line about Dobson and Marigold Chew sitting at breakfast one fabulously dreary morning in the early 1950s when a faint ping! within my bonce halted me. “I’ve already done this, haven’t I?” I said, to a nearby sock, for want of any other interlocutor. The sock did not reply, but a quick search confirmed that, yes, six years ago I wrote about this very thing. Maybe you lot had forgotten about it too. Here it is again:

Capacious and pulsating it may have been, but Dobson’s brain contained many, many pockets of ignorance. He was in his mid fifties, for example, when he first came upon the Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, a work of which he had no previous inkling. He did not read it, merely noting the title on the spine of a copy lodged on the bookshelf of his friend Ah-Fang Van Der Houygendorp, the Sino-Dutch artist and mountaineer.

Back at home later that day, he mentioned it to Marigold Chew.

Did you know that an eleventh century Japanese bint wrote an entire book about pillows?” he asked.

Yes, Dobson, of course,” said Marigold Chew, “I have borrowed it from the mobile library more than once, and read it from cover to cover.”

Speaking of the mobile library,” said Dobson, and he embarked on a long-winded and pettifogging digression upon the mobile library, which in that place at that time took the form of a cart pulled by an elegant yet tubercular drayhorse, the cart piled high with hardbacks covered in greaseproof paper jackets, the drayhorse chivvied on its way by an equally elegant and equally tubercular librarian-carter, a man of grim countenance and terrible personal habits who bore a distinct resemblance to the actor Karl Johnson, noted for his roles as elderly peasant Twister Turrill in Lark Rise To Candleford and as Wittgenstein in Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein. In fact, it may even have been Johnson himself, moonlighting as a mobile librarian to supplement his thespian earnings. Dobson posited this possibility, but doubted it was true, as we, too, must doubt it until all the evidence is in.

So implacable was the pamphleteer’s babbling that Marigold Chew was unable to get a word in edgeways, and was thus given no opportunity to point out to Dobson that the Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, like all pillow books, was not actually a book about pillows, but a collection of lists and aphorisms and observations and jottings and poems and opinions and anecdotes. Had he ceased prattling for but a moment, Dobson would have learned this, and not, when eventually he exhausted the topic of the mobile library and the greaseproof paper jackets and the drayhorse and the librarian-carter and the actor and the fictional peasant and the non-fictional philosopher, gone scurrying off to his escritoire to sit and scribble the following:

I have learned that a thousand years ago, a woman from the land of Yoko Ono wrote an entire book about pillows. Such is human progress that in the intervening millennium there must be much, much more to be said on the subject. Clearly I am the pamphleteer to take on this daunting task. I shall set to work on the Pillow Book of Dobson as soon as I have taken a nap. NB: The nap will of course be research for my Pillow Book, as I shall be resting my head upon a pillow while I nap, and present my findings as soon as I wake up.

As far as we know, the promised “findings” were never written down. So refreshed was Dobson by his nap that, upon waking, he immediately put on his Iberian duck hunter’s boots, grabbed an Alpenstock in his fist, and set out for a jaunty hike that took him past the electricity pylons and the abandoned swimming pool and the badger rescue station and the allotments. All the while he hiked, he concentrated his mind on pillows – a thousand years of pillows! His brain reeled as he struggled to comprehend the sheer amount of material he would have to marshal in the making of his Pillow Book. What advances mankind must have made in the field of pillows since the eleventh century! How many heads had rested on how many pillows in that time? How many dreams dreamt during pillow-assisted dozes and naps and even comas? Pausing for a breather outside the bolted and shuttered off licence, Dobson suddenly felt intimidated by the scale of the task before him. He watched the skies for swifts and sparrows and starlings and other birds beginning with S. He rattled the bolts on the off licence door. He chucked his Alpenstock into a ditch. And then he turned for home, resolved to write, not a Pillow Book, but a whole series of Pillow Pamphlets, each to tackle a single, manageable subsection of his vast unwieldy subject matter.

Marigold!” he announced, bustling through the door, “I have had a brainwave with regard to my working methods on the pillow project!”

I did not know you had embarked upon a pillow project, Dobson,” said Marigold Chew, “And what have you done with the Alpenstock?”

Oh, I chucked it into a ditch,” said Dobson, “I shall go and retrieve it later. But first I must write out the plan for my Pillow Pamphlets, updating a thousand years of pillow history since Sei Shōnagon wrote her book about pillows long long ago in far Japan!”

But so exhausted was the pamphleteer by his hiking and his brain activity that before sitting at his escritoire he took another nap. He thus set a pattern for what was to follow. Every time he determined to set to work on the Pillow Pamphlets, he convinced himself that further practical pillow research was necessary, and lay his head upon a pillow, and fell asleep.

The project was eventually abandoned when the pamphleteer’s attention was distracted by cataclysmic world events, and he turned his energies to writing his famous pamphlet On The Inadvisability Of Taking Daytime Naps During The Unfolding Of Cataclysmic World Events (out of print).

Brian Awareness Week

Yesterday I told you lot it is International Brain Awareness Week. I neglected to mention that it is also International Brian Awareness Week. This is the time of year when we make sure we are aware that the full name of Cornelius Cardew, the firebrand Marxist-Leninist composer and author of Stockhausen Serves Imperialism, who once threw Yoko Ono out of his house, was Brian Cornelius Cardew. Why did he drop the Brian? It seems a far more “proletarian” name than Cornelius, so one would have thought he would embrace it. As Wilcox – a non-Brian – noted, “it’th a mythtery”.


Brain Awareness Week

As you lot probably already know, today is the first day of International Brain Awareness Week. But not at Hooting Yard! No, here we decided instead to celebrate International Lobster Brain Awareness Week. Who gives tuppence for the paltry human brain when we could be raising our awareness of the majestic brain of the lobster? It is an organ that, as one noteworthy lobster enthusiast claimed, is quite possibly the pinnacle of God’s creation.

The first thing you ought to know about the lobster brain is that it is roughly the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen, or Biro. Imagine that! There are several other things you will wish to know, but we have a whole week ahead, so be patient.

If there is anything in particular you are keen to be made aware of, with regard to the brains of lobsters, please add your questions in the Comments. We have a team of lobster experts standing by, ready to answer them.

Nota Bene : Please feel free to frame your questions in the language of lobsters.

Episode One

Prick up your ears and click here and you can listen to the first episode of Hooting Yard In The Electro-Magnetic Field, a brand new show from ResonanceFM.

As I write, boffins in a top secret research laboratory buried somewhere beneath the Swiss Alps are trying to calculate just how this show can be differentiated from the much-loved Hooting Yard On The Air. Initial measurements would seem to indicate the answer is “not at all”.

Eye Jab Day

This afternoon I shall be undergoing what seems like the umpteenth injection of a needle directly into my eyeball. It occurs to me that at some point I ought to write an account of what goes on at Tuesday Injection Club, introducing you lot to some of the characters I encounter, the doctors, nurses, and ancillary staff and the other patients. I can also attempt to answer some of the burning questions that are raised, such as why do I never get offered a cup of tea? and who is that mad woman who marches to and fro brandishing a clipboard but never actually speaks to anyone?

I shall be interested to discover if, this week, I experience the Black Spot. Sometimes, after an injection, I have a Black Spot in my eye for a day or two, and sometimes not. The first time this happened it was mightily disconcerting. Now I treat it with airy familiarity, and imagine it as something that might have inspired a tale by J Sheridan Le Fanu.

My more devoted readers will no doubt be asking but Mr Key can you actually see any better? to which the answer is, no, not yet, I am still perceiving the world through a blur of hazy mist or a haze of misty blur.

Onwards to jab time!

Large Door

So glorious, the Large Door. Behind it, one prince in one palace. A cage bird in a birdcage. Ruffled feathers and one cardboard box on its side. Clever men with enormous brains next to an armoire. Salutes made hilarious by puppetry. There are pianos and machine guns.

There is one prince. There is a chatelaine with a wooden leg. There is a cage bird in a birdcage. There is blood on the rug. There is a cake in the pantry. There are candles on the cake. A clever man with an enormous brain has put a cardboard box over his head.

Electricity has been installed. Jasper in overalls. Millet strewn under the birdcage. Echoes of chivalry or typhoid. Weeping widow in widow’s weeds behind an arras weeping. Also wooden leg. Wood from banister railings. Interior railings be damned! Breadcrumbs in the millet.

Intricate wiring courtesy of Jasper. Chatelaine’s oxygen pump. A vase of genetically modified lupins. Such tiny lupins. Such a hysterical prince. One prince without a cardboard box. The throwing of fits. The tidiest annexe. The marmaladeless larder.

Grief embroidered on a pin cushion. Tallow candles guttered. A worm in the birthday cake. Slime and cobwebs near the clever men at the armoire. The result of the Honved cup tie. Smoke from the attic. Hippies encamped in the grounds in tents in perpetuity. Elsewhere harpies.

Platitudes of sausage and gristle. One eye of one prince in one palace. Milk, lumber, string. Delirium of Jasper besotted. Bluebottle splattered on the wainscot dead. Funereal violins. Jug on the mantelpiece. Warped perspective of cardboard box and birdcage.

Saturday tennis. One lupin wilted and turned to stone. There is a freak thunderstorm. A bat was seen. One bat in one sky in one hour. Muffled gunfire o’er the hills and far away. Jasper running with scissors. The chatelaine’s leg hankering for its balcony.

Terrible giddiness of one prince. Enter the clairvoyant pig. Ten tin drums and a tuba. Vinegar blush of cloth-eared gran. A clever man hangs a Hazchem banner from the ceiling. Startling vulgarity of the firstborn. Dix Pap, Cray Lars. The bluebottle was a doll.

Drastic measures of Jasper in extremis. One prince chucks one golliwog from one window. Pity and guff. Heresies enumerated by the chatelaine in sight of the cage bird in the birdcage. Soup before marmalade. Fenland memento mori.

This could continue interminably.

Large door.

The Latin Mass

I am old enough to remember – albeit dimly – the Latin Mass. For younger readers, and non-Catholics, I should explain that until the mid-1960s, throughout the Catholic church, Mass was conducted exclusively in Latin. The priest would deliver the liturgy in Latin, and the congregation, when required to voice responses, would do likewise. The change to the use of the vernacular came about when Pope John XXIII instituted various liberalising reforms. There remain a few recalcitrant diehards – notable among them being the father of Mad Max star Melvin Gibson – who cling to the Latin Mass, although I understand this is much disapproved of by the Vatican, and may even be illegal.

On the council estate where I grew up, there were many Catholics but no Catholic church. To save us from having to trudge a fair distance to St Bede’s, the parish church, an arrangement had been made that a pub on the estate would host our Sunday Mass. Thus every week we would troop into the Moby Dick on Whalebone Lane. We used the main bar area of the pub, with chairs temporarily aligned in rows, though I cannot recall what served as an altar. I do remember that towels were draped over all the beer pumps at the bar. After Mass, a goodly proportion of the congregation, and probably the priest too, would remain in the pub waiting for opening time. My parents were not drinkers, though, so we were herded home.


Around the same time as the introduction of the Mass in English, the service itself was moved to a new community centre on the estate. Thus passed a particular, and in retrospect profound, part of my childhood.

I stopped attending Mass when, as a nincompoop teenager, I turned my back on the faith. Then, and for many years afterwards, if I thought about the Latin Mass at all, it was as a prime example of the stupidity of religion. How preposterous, for people to gather together to listen and respond to what for most of them (and certainly for the infant me) was a babble of incomprehensible gibberish!

It is only recently that I have realised the significance of this early experience. One must bear in mind that for the vast majority of people, there was nothing remotely swinging about the 1960s. Particularly on my council estate, it was a dull, pinched, grey (or beige) time yet to emerge from the austerity of the immediate post-war years. We had no television, telephone, refrigerator, central heating, or other home comforts. Life was uneventful and devoid of any but the most paltry excitements. (I now look back with nostalgia for the peace and tranquility.)

There was thus something quite magical and passing strange about those Sunday mornings. We gathered in the gloom of the pub, while a man dressed – improbably – in often colourfully embroidered raiment stood, with his back to us (as the priests did in those days), intoning a litany of words, and always exactly the same words, which we did not understand, and bore no relation to anything we heard elsewhere, in any circumstances. Indeed there was nothing about it that had anything whatsoever to do with the world we inhabited the rest of the time. It was baffling and bizarre, but, by dint of weekly repetition, comfortingly familiar. And it was deeply, deeply serious.

It has now dawned on me, at long last, that, in my own faltering yet determined way, I have been trying to recreate this numinous childhood experience by babbling, once a week, in Hooting Yard On The Air on ResonanceFM.