Unexciting Book News

Back in February I announced the forthcoming book Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives. You lot have no doubt been panting with spittle-flecked anticipation ever since, impatiently awaiting the day when you can sashay into your nearest bookshop and buy dozens of copies for family, friends, and semiliterate hobbledehoys you encounter in the queue at the soup kitchen.

Alas! What with one thing and another, unbeknown to me, Constable have decided to postpone publication until September 2015. To ensure that your Christmas is not thereby ruined, I will try my best to issue a brand new Lulu paperback for the festive season. Watch this space.

On Wings Of Pod

A new Hooting Yard podcast is now available from ResonanceFM:

On Wings Of Song

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A Clerihew

A little belated, but here is a topical clerihew:

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Was a columnist of some renown
But it was a TV appearance, rather than something she wrote,
That prompted Michael Fabricant to want to punch her in the throat.

Summer Recess

In correspondence received the other day, one of my readers described the eerie Hooting Yard silence as a “summer recess”. This is a splendid way to think about what otherwise might be considered the alarming emptiness in my bonce. So a quasi-official summer recess it is, punctuated by the occasional brief spot of blather.

Meanwhile, you can go and read about Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich & Wynken, Blynken & Nod in The Dabbler, and you can hear the great Norm Sherman reading A Weekend With An Owl God on the latest Drabblecast. As Norm says, if you don’t love Frank Key, you don’t know what love is …

Pigs (And Plums)

I am indebted to Richard Carter for drawing to my attention this snapshot from the Tweeting account of Andrew Ray (@Some_landscapes). Mr Ray has been reading News from the English Countryside 1750-1850 compiled by Clifford Morsley:

Bqtq2IWIYAAv-NK

Perking Up

It is rare for an entire fortnight to pass in complete silence here at Hooting Yard, but that is what has happened. It is a sorry state of affairs and I cannot blame it entirely on the aforementioned loss of my mojo. Clearly what is needed is for me to PERK UP. To this end, I have been working my way through a self-help regime entitled PERKING UP. I will not go into the details of what this consists of, as I do not want you lot to be overcome with waves of nausea, spiritual despair, and the withers. Suffice to say that I went to the nearest grocery kiosk and obtained a supply of plums, and on my way home I walked widdershins around the kirk several times. More than that I had best not say, for the time being.

While my PERKING UP begins to take hold, there are a couple of small matters to bring to your attention. First is the dearth of memorable utterances thus far from the commentators at the foopball World Cup. I had hoped to bring you a torrent of inanities, but alas there is little to report. Perhaps worth noting was one pundit’s observation that “He’s a very talented foopballer – he knows where the goal is”. But really the tournament has been something of a disappointed to date, with nothing to match such past gems as “For a moment there, he looked like a baby gazelle who’d just plopped out of the womb”.

Second, I am delighted to draw to your attention this newly-released podcast from Resonance104.4FM. Originally broadcast over two years ago, but none the worse for that.

King Jasper’s Castle, Its Electrical Wiring System, Its Janitor, And Its Chatelaine

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Wellbeloved Gutters

Meet me at midday at Wellbeloved Gutters, and we can swap dogs and consider the drainage.

Did I want to exchange Rags for Scamp? It did not seem as if I had a choice in the matter. It was not that I had any affection for Rags, he was flea-ridden and sick and dishevelled, but he was my Rags. Lord knows I had little else to call my own, certainly nothing else living and wheezing.

I used to have my own cart, on wheels, but it toppled down a slope and fell to bits at the bottom. I was distracted for a mere moment, by a bittern, or was it a plover?, but a mere moment was enough for me to let go of the handle of the cart and for its subsequent ruination. Then I was a man without a cart. Shortly afterwards, I obtained Rags, by accident, outside a milk bar. The dog attached itself to me. It followed me home, if you can call the wooden pallet in the shelter of the viaduct home.

I called it home, for a month or two, before fate swept me up and plopped me in a hotel. Rags had to stay outside, on a patch of ground near the car park. I fashioned a kennel for him out of bits of hardboard and nails. The patch was in the lee of one of the hotel’s huge forbidding windowless back walls. I know nothing of architecture, but it struck me as an unusually designed building. The innards were somewhere between palatial and gaudy. What a trick fate played to plop me there!

I tried to imagine Scamp – big, bounding, brisk, panting Scamp – sitting half-in, half-out of the kennel, eating from Rags’s bowl, in the shadow of the hotel. I tried and failed. So I went down to the lobby and asked for some notepaper and scribbled a reply.

I will meet you at midday at Wellbeloved Gutters. I am happy to consider the drainage. But a dog-swap is out of the question, for the time being.

I pressed a coin into the mitt of an urchin and sent him off to deliver my message. Then I obtained some bones and jelly and went out the back to feed Rags. His chain had been smashed to pieces, as if by a maniac’s axe. Untethered, Rags had fled. I returned to the lobby, slumped in an armchair next to a palm tree, and bunched my fists.

Later, torrential rain fell on Wellbeloved Gutters. The rain drained away as rapidly as it fell, for they are highly efficient gutters, probably the most efficient gutters in Pointy Town.

The Importance Of Scroggins

The importance of Scroggins lies in its custody. Not one cupboard, but two, are necessary, each fitted with a heavy padlock. The keys should differ from each other in minute yet decisive particulars and be kept secreted at the bottom of the garden, hanging from the branches of a pugton tree, disguised with tinsel or birdlime so that they appear to be organic growths upon the tree. The tree itself ought to be fenced off with railings, railings with spikes, spikes!, sharpened spikes. Only then can Scroggins be said to be held securely. If you wish to allow visiting times, make them at dead of night, in mist or fog, with full documentation. Have a dog, too, one that howls. Ignore the distant beating of drums. Drums are the playthings of toddlers.

Cup

Dabbler-3logo (1)

Over at The Dabbler you can read my exclusive World Cup 2014 preview, which is uncannily similar to my Euro 2012 Foopball Tournament preview of a couple of years back. I am hoping to bring you the best of the commentators’ startling insights (“How long is it since Ronaldo was marked by an anagram of himself?”) in the coming weeks.

The Amis Cat

This is probably the most accurate observation of a cat in world literature:

Victor was a blue-point Siamese, a neutered tom-cat now in the third year of his age. He entered, as usual, in vague semi-flight, as from something that was probably not a menace, but which it was as well to be on the safe side about. Becoming aware of me, he approached, again as usual, with an air of uncertainty not so much about who I was as about what I was, and of keeping a very open mind on the range of possible answers. Was I potassium nitrate, or next October twelvemonth, or Christianity, or a chess problem – perhaps involving a variation on the Falkbeer counter-gambit? When he reached me, he gave up the problem and toppled on to my feet like an elephant pierced by a bullet in some vital spot. Victor was, among other things, the reason why no dogs were allowed at the Green Man. The effort of categorizing them might have proved too much for him.

from The Green Man by Kingsley Amis (1969)

On The Podcasts Of Polar Bears

And about bloody time, too!, I hear you cry. Multifarious technical gubbins in the bowels of ResonanceFM have been bashed into shape by the trusty – if frustrated – podcast maestro, so here we are, with a new long overdue episode…

On The Livers Of Polar Bears

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Mislaid Mojo

I have often said, in recent years, that I do not believe in the concept of “writer’s block”. I think it is used as a fiddlefaddle excuse by the idle and the indigent, or perhaps by those who prefer swanning about and gallivanting to the Johnsonian drudgery of sitting at a keyboard and bashing the stuff out.

And while it is true, I think, that one does just have to sit there and tippy-tap until the cows come home, I am now prepared to admit that it is entirely possible to do so while filling the pages with twaddle. This is what has happened to me of late. The results of my writing routine have been such godawful piffle that you lot should think yourselves fortunate that I have declined to post any of them here.

I would like to think that I have mislaid my mojo, rather than lost it entirely. The dilemma I face is whether to go searching for it, or simply to wait for it to come crawling back, like a surly dog. Speaking of dogs, here is a dog:

dog

From The Archives

This piece first appeared on Thursday 19 March 2009.

Dixon went to Dock Green. It was a small patch of grass, hardly a lawn, at the edge of the dock. The dock itself was one where huge steamers came into port from faraway lands, carrying all sorts of exotic cargo. The cargo was mostly packed into wooden crates, which were winched from ship to dock by dockhands. When it was lunchtime, the dockhands sprawled on the green, the small patch of grass, and prised the lids off their Tupperwares and unscrewed the lids from their flasks. They ate their bloater paste sandwiches and drank their tea and while they chewed and swilled they talked to each other about the cargo they had winched ashore that morning. The wooden crates usually had lettering stencilled on their sides and tops describing what the crates contained. One might read FRUIT GUMS, another GIRAFFE BRAINS.
Leaning on a fence, smoking his pipe, Dixon listened carefully to the chitchat of the dockhands. He used to be a policeman. Now he was a spy. His mission was to find out what cargo had been winched ashore that morning and report back to his spymasters. His spymasters were shadowy figures who sat behind a big desk in an unlit room in a skyscraper in town. The room was unlit so that Dixon was unable to see them with any clarity and thus recognise them and thus be able to identify them at a later date if ever questioned.
Dixon could have just blundered around the dock and read the stencilled lettering on all the crates but he preferred to listen to the chitchat of the dockhands because he could not read. He used to be able to, when he was a policeman, but he had lost the ability. One day, one September day to be precise, he had been chasing a miscreant and lost his footing in a gutter and banged his head, and after banging his head he forgot everything he had ever known, even his own name, and where he lived, and how old he was, and what he did for a living, and how to read. In short, he was an amnesiac.
One of the spymasters came to the clinic where Dixon had been put. To disguise his identity, the spymaster wore a mask and modified his voice with an electronic device. He offered Dixon a job at Dock Green. This day I am telling you about was Dixon’s first day. While he was leaning against the fence smoking his pipe and listening to the dockhands, he forgot all about the unlit room in the skyscraper and the shadowy spymasters who had sent him on his mission. He became very interested in the fruit gums and giraffe brains and the winching mechanism and he walked on to the ship to take a closer look.
Dixon was still on the ship when it steamed out of port on its way to a far distant land to collect more cargo. One day, out in the middle of one of those big oceans that make up so much of the planet’s surface, he received a bash on the head from a violent sailor. Then Dixon remembered everything. He remembered he was a policeman, so he tried to arrest the violent sailor for bashing him on the head. But the law of the land holds no sway at sea, and the ship’s captain locked him up in a cabin until they made landfall.
The first land they came to was a tiny rock. The captain and the violent sailor took Dixon by the arms and legs and shoved him off the ship on to the rock. It was almost barren, encrusted with barnacles and other shelly denizens of the sea and rocks, but there was a small patch of grass. Dixon dubbed it Dock Green and fashioned a flag from his cravat and found a stick for a flagpole and planted his flag in the grass. And he devised a fishing rod and a bow and arrows and a desalination unit, for he was a resourceful policeman, and he ruled over his little kingdom, where there was never a whiff of crime, for many, many years.Â
NOTE : Younger readers, and those unfamiliar with British television of decades past, may like to know that an inaccurate adaptation of this story was the basis for a long running series.

dixonofdockgreen

Dixon went to Dock Green. It was a small patch of grass, hardly a lawn, at the edge of the dock. The dock itself was one where huge steamers came into port from faraway lands, carrying all sorts of exotic cargo. The cargo was mostly packed into wooden crates, which were winched from ship to dock by dockhands. When it was lunchtime, the dockhands sprawled on the green, the small patch of grass, and prised the lids off their Tupperwares and unscrewed the lids from their flasks. They ate their bloater paste sandwiches and drank their tea and while they chewed and swilled they talked to each other about the cargo they had winched ashore that morning. The wooden crates usually had lettering stencilled on their sides and tops describing what the crates contained. One might read FRUIT GUMS, another GIRAFFE BRAINS.

Leaning on a fence, smoking his pipe, Dixon listened carefully to the chitchat of the dockhands. He used to be a policeman. Now he was a spy. His mission was to find out what cargo had been winched ashore that morning and report back to his spymasters. His spymasters were shadowy figures who sat behind a big desk in an unlit room in a skyscraper in town. The room was unlit so that Dixon was unable to see them with any clarity and thus recognise them and thus be able to identify them at a later date if ever questioned.

Dixon could have just blundered around the dock and read the stencilled lettering on all the crates but he preferred to listen to the chitchat of the dockhands because he could not read. He used to be able to, when he was a policeman, but he had lost the ability. One day, one September day to be precise, he had been chasing a miscreant and lost his footing in a gutter and banged his head, and after banging his head he forgot everything he had ever known, even his own name, and where he lived, and how old he was, and what he did for a living, and how to read. In short, he was an amnesiac.

One of the spymasters came to the clinic where Dixon had been put. To disguise his identity, the spymaster wore a mask and modified his voice with an electronic device. He offered Dixon a job at Dock Green. This day I am telling you about was Dixon’s first day. While he was leaning against the fence smoking his pipe and listening to the dockhands, he forgot all about the unlit room in the skyscraper and the shadowy spymasters who had sent him on his mission. He became very interested in the fruit gums and giraffe brains and the winching mechanism and he walked on to the ship to take a closer look.

Dixon was still on the ship when it steamed out of port on its way to a far distant land to collect more cargo. One day, out in the middle of one of those big oceans that make up so much of the planet’s surface, he received a bash on the head from a violent sailor. Then Dixon remembered everything. He remembered he was a policeman, so he tried to arrest the violent sailor for bashing him on the head. But the law of the land holds no sway at sea, and the ship’s captain locked him up in a cabin until they made landfall.

The first land they came to was a tiny rock. The captain and the violent sailor took Dixon by the arms and legs and shoved him off the ship on to the rock. It was almost barren, encrusted with barnacles and other shelly denizens of the sea and rocks, but there was a small patch of grass. Dixon dubbed it Dock Green and fashioned a flag from his cravat and found a stick for a flagpole and planted his flag in the grass. And he devised a fishing rod and a bow and arrows and a desalination unit, for he was a resourceful policeman, and he ruled over his little kingdom, where there was never a whiff of crime, for many, many years.

NOTE : Younger readers, and those unfamiliar with British television of decades past, may like to know that an inaccurate adaptation of this story was the basis for a long running television series.

Black Cat

Shortly after the death of Constant Lambert in 1951, during a concert performance of his Eight Poems By Li Po, a black cat appeared on the stage, sat patiently during the music, then walked off, and was never seen again.

The Pier

To a great many people, and I am here to say that I am one of them, a seaside resort cannot stake a great claim on interest or affection unless it has a pier. More perhaps than speeches or proclamations, the one fact that convinced many Englishmen in 1940 that the nation was really up against it was when detachments of Royal Engineers at every resort and with precision blew great gaps in our beloved piers so that they could not be used as landing stages by the Germans then threatening seaborne invasion.

This affection for the pier can be doubtless proved to have psycholgical implications, particularly to any Freudians left in the audience. That rigid object penetrating the loved or hostile ocean from the anchorage of the land – well, as long as you know how to spell phallus you can barely go wrong.

Anthony Hern, The Seaside Holiday : The History of the English Seaside Resort (Cresset 1967)