Wooden Cats


One of the few photographs ever taken of the Blister Lane Bypass. From The GEC Research Laboratories 1919-1984 by Sir Robert Clayton and Joan Algar (Peter Peregrinus, 1989). Many thanks to Linda Clare for bringing it to my attention.

Picnic Praxis

Oi!, writes Tim Thurn again, this time without even the small courtesy of addressing me by name, Not only do you neglect to issue warnings about bat-gods, but now you are making wild and unhinged assumptions about your readers, or at least about me. The other day you had the gall to “reassure” me regarding the bat-god Slosher by pointing out that he is only ever seen in the vicinity of marshes, “where he – [i.e., me] – is unlikely to practise his picnicking”. And what do you know of my picnicking proclivities, eh?

As it happens I often go a-picnicking at a particularly dreadful and eerie marsh, out beyond the Blister Lane Bypass and the Grimpen Mire mosh pit. Incidentally, if you ever feel compelled to disport and cavort with spastic exuberance, in mud, I wholeheartedly recommend this mosh pit. I am told by the OED that spastic may cause offence, but that is not my intention. I am using the word merely to indicate the kind of uncoordinated flailing about with which persons commonly comport themselves in mosh pits – at least, the persons and mosh pits of my acquaintance, of which there are oodles.

Just because I mentioned my picnic praxis of hoisting a placard and sounding a picnic-klaxon upon entering a field upon a picnic bent, that is not to say that a field is my exclusive choice of picnic spot. Far from it. There is an old “pop” number called something like Wherever I Lay My Hat, That’s My Home. Some years ago I wrote a frankly autobiographical version, retitled Wherever I Lay My Picnic Blanket, That’s My Picnic Spot. Over several verses I described some memorable past picnics in a variety of settings, including a field, the aforementioned dreadful and eerie marsh, a buttercup-splattered meadow, bosky hillsides, mountaintops, shores of lake and sea, haunts of coot and hern, multi-storey carparks, aerodrome hangars, the Blister Lane Bypass, the mosh pit at Grimpen Mire, Loopy Copse, the occasional pier and jetty, a bus shelter in Plovdiv, and the inside of my own head. That last one was a dream-picnic, ruined by a swarm of hornets.

I was so pleased with my song that I cobbled together a band to perform it and booked time in a recording studio. Interestingly, this was the first time my glockenspielist, Midge Ure, had ever set foot in a studio. At least I think he said his name was Midge Ure, though I may have misheard him. We pressed several hundred copies of the “waxing”, in coloured vinyl, and I still have most of them in a cardboard box under a spare picnic blanket in a cupboard.

Please let me know if you would like me to write a series of lengthy guest postages for you. I could cover all aspects of the infinitely intriguing world o’ picnics, in exhaustive detail. And I can promise you now there would be no mention of Slosher! (fingers crossed).

Yours picnicly, Tim Thurn

Fatso And Slosher

Hail to thee, O mighty Mr Key!, writes Tim Thurn, sarcastically, before lapsing into his usual embittered petulance, I’ve got a bone to pick with you. It is a good few years now since you revealed, without warning, the existence of the hideous bat-god Fatso, a god so hideous and batty and fat that I suffered from awful nightmares for weeks, nay, months. Eventually, with the help of several psychiatrists and a larder’s-worth of bottles of Dr Baxter’s Brain-Calming Syrup, I managed to get a grip on my life. Nowadays my sleep is relatively untroubled, except for those nights when I wake with a start and seem to see the hideous bat-god Fatso looming malevolently at the foot of my bed.

Imagine my horror, then, to read your postage the other day entitled The Smashed God and to learn that there is another bat-god, called Slosher. I don’t know what the opposite of blessing my little cotton socks is – I leave that for your readers to ponder – but that is what you have done, Mr Key. Maddeningly, you provided no description of the bat-god Slosher, save for telling us that he is a bat-god and his name is Slosher. In the absence of any other detail, my mind has been running riot, picturing a god even more hideous, more batty, and fatter than Fatso. Now they visit me nightly, Fatso and Slosher, or their ghostly apparitions, one on either side of the bed. I swear I can hear them squeaking. I have emptied the chemist’s shop of bottles of Dr Baxter’s Brain-Calming Syrup, and glugged the lot, but my brain is by no means calm.

What rankles is that you make passing mention of Slosher, in among all sorts of other, non-terrifying, gods, for all the world as if you were innocently listing the contents of your picnic hamper. I presume you have a picnic hamper. If not, I have a couple of spares, for I am – or was – a very keen picnickist. In a fit of wild generosity, I would almost be prepared to send you one of my extra hampers, empty of course, in spite of the chaos you have wrought in my brain. That is the kind of decent picnickist I am. Unlike you, I issue warnings. When I plan to enter a field to lay out my picnic blanket, I first alert any cows, sheep, grasshoppers, etcetera of my intentions by hoisting a placard and sounding a picnic-klaxon. That is what you ought to do, or the prose equivalent thereof, when you are about to tell us about yet another hideous bat-god, be it Fatso or Slosher or, Christ have mercy upon us, any others you have up your sleeve that you have not yet divulged to your fanatically devoted readers who treat every syllable scribbled by your pen as holy writ.

There. I have said my piece for the time being. Now I am going to go and stand, windswept, embittered, and petulant, upon a suspension bridge, gazing into the distance, into a sky I hope will be innocent of bats and bat-gods.

Yours ever, Tim Thurn

I would like to reassure Tim that the bat-god Slosher is only ever to be spotted in the vicinity of the drearier and more squelchy marshes, places where he is unlikely to practise his picnicking.

File Under D For De Quincey

Hats off to Greg Ross at the ever-intriguing Futility Closet for these selected entries from the index to the Collected Writings of Thomas De Quincey:

Aldermen not necessarily gluttons
Anecdotes, on eating peas with a knife
Bed, early retirement to, of the Ancients
Christenings, Royal, often hurried
Coffee, atrocious in England
Cookery, English, the rudest of barbarous devices
Devonshire men good-looking
Fleas in Greece
Greece, Ancient, its people a nation of swindlers
Horses, weeping
Johnson, Dr, at dinner, an indecent spectacle
Leibnitz, died partly from the fear of not being murdered
Lisbon earthquake and its effect on the religion of Germany
Muffins, eating, a cause of suicide
Music, English obtuseness to good
Pig-grunting, mimicry of
Rhinoceros, first sale of a
Servants, England the paradise of household
Solon, what did he do for Homer?
Spitting, art of
Talk, too much in the world
Toothache, that terrific curse
Waterton’s adventure with a crocodile
Women, can die grandly

NOTA BENE : You can read what De Quincey had to say about that muffins / suicide hoo-ha here.

Burn The Pig!


From The Expositor, or Many Mysteries Unravelled – including that of the Learned Pig (1805), available online at The Public Domain Review. My thanks to Richard Carter.

The Smashed God

[This piece was originally posted on 23 August 2005.]

Poopsy Clutterbuck is not a suitable name for a god. For that reason, it became a terrible blasphemy ever to speak the name of the God of Gaar aloud. Those who disobeyed the law were banished from Gaar forever. They were put into airtight pods and the pods were stuffed into the sidecars of gleaming motorcycles, and thence ferried far far away, though few knew where they were taken, only that weeks or months later the motorcycle would return to Gaar, at dead of night, and the now empty pod removed from the sidecar and taken to a secret place where the pods were steamed clean and fumigated. I am one of the few who know where the blasphemers were banished to, for I was one of the motorcyclists.

Oh my, I can hardly believe how long ago it was! I am decrepit now, decrepit and wizened, and I don’t think I have kick-started a motorcycle for forty or fifty years. I loved that job.

In those days we had many gods in Gaar, but only one was authentic, the one whose name could not be uttered. In addition, we had fifteen green-eyed weasel gods, a pair of plastic marchmont gods, the hideous centipede god of Tuesday evenings, Bosh the crumpled god, eighty squirrel gods, numberless gods with two or more heads, even one god with no head at all, and a god whose breath ignited stars. We had the bucket god and the athletics track god, the god of railway platforms and the gods of puddles. Some gods were ephemeral, tiny things, like your mayflies. Others were massive and solid and permanent. But only one god was real, the God with the upper case G, the one whose name could not be spoken.

Nowadays, those of us who rode the motorcycles in the sidecars of which blasphemers languished, muffled, in pods, are thought of as fanatics. I still get sidelong looks of contempt or loathing when I go to the post office or the greengrocery. I was spat at in the street as recently as six months ago. When I buy my fireworks, they are invariably tampered with, so that they sputter rather than sparkle. I can’t remember the last time one of my fireworks went whoooosh!

My favourite god was the gas god. It made a tremendous growling noise and it was usually sixty feet high, but sometimes smaller. Every now and then, because I was a motorcyclist, it would carry out its godlike doings in my back garden, and I would watch from the window, entranced. Our windows then were made of cellophane, and I would prick holes in my window with the point of a sharpened pencil, the better to appreciate the misty wafts of the gas god.

I was a believer, yes, but never a zealot. I got my job as a motorcyclist because my mother had been one, because I was unafraid of the weather, and because I prayed that it would be so. Some of my prayers involved animal sacrifice, the evisceration of poultry on a stone altar, for example, but more often than not I would be found squatting in an alleyway singing snatches of Nimrod with not a hen in sight, dead or alive. I have always wondered which of my prayers were answered, for answered they were, on that joyous day when I was bundled out of bed and taken to motorcycle training school. I do recall sprawling in the muck in front of a statue of the beetle-browed god of the railway sidings and the pewter chicken, as a way of saying thank you. But I was young then.

I am all bent out of shape now. A breakfast bowl of tomato soup is scant solace when all the gods have gone away. And to think that every god-jack of them disappeared over the course of a single weekend. As dawn broke on Saturday, the very air of Gaar was teeming with them. Slosher the bat god, the god of toffee apples, twenty little postage stamp-sized pneumatic gods, the clingfilm sausage god, a whole slew of gods decked out in kagouls, windcheaters and funny little pointed hats, all those magnificent deities, all devoted to Gaar and in turn worshipped by all the good people of Gaar. By Sunday night they were all gone. The upper case G God of Gaar whose name can never be spoken was the last to go. It was smashed to pieces at midnight in the town square, by some kind of elemental destructive cataclysm. No human agency could have wrought such ruin. I sip my cold tomato soup and mourn my gods still.

And now only I know to what crumbling seaside town we took the blasphemers, and I will never tell a soul.

Gay Limp Thief

[Thanks once again to R. Previous episodes in this exciting series are gathered here.]

So this tangle of thieves broke into the Phosphorescent Family Compound one night. They stole, from one larder, a bag of phosphorus, and, from another larder another, bigger, bag of phosphorus. Then they softly and suddenly vanished away, like Snarks.

In the morning, upon discovering the robbery, Old Pappy Phosph called the coppers. With inhuman speed, Detective Captain Cargpan was on the scene, sniffing about and writing things with a pencil in his notepad.

“Don’t you worry, Old Pappy,” he said, “I’ll have these ne’er-do-wells bang to rights and being roughed up in the police station basement by my boys by midnight, or my name isn’t Detective Captain Cargpan and I’m not sniffing about and writing things with a pencil in my notepad.”

Old Pappy Phosph put the kettle on for a cup of phosphorescent tea.

The telephone rang at one minute past midnight.

“Detective Captain Cargpan here. That noise you can hear in the background is my boys roughing up the thieves who stole your bags of phosphorus last night. I’m pleased to report we’ve caught them. Well, all but one of them, and he happens to be the one who knows where they stashed their loot. So the case is not yet closed. But don’t you worry, Old Pappy, with a bit more roughing up and some bone-breaking and skull-bashing and pincers and hammers and electric drills I think we’ll find our man, and, more importantly, your bags of phosphorus, possibly before I’ve finished speaking.

“The interesting thing about this tangle of thieves is that they might have been cobbled together by the casting director of a BBC drama production. They are achingly diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, even social class. It’s quite an eye-opener, and has certainly raised my consciousness and  my inclusivity awareness.

“More unusually, perhaps, the thieves run a gamut of body types, not from fat to thin or tall to short, as you might expect, but in terms of skeletal rigidity. At one end there is a bloke whose bones – the ones not yet broken by my boys – are almost fused together, so he is completely stiff from head to toe, while at the other end is a fellow with bones like jelly, he is absolutely floppy.

“In case you were wondering, the one who got away when we raided their den under the viaduct near the wasp sanctuary is gay and limp, so keep your eyes peeled in case you see somebody of that description.”

As he spoke, Old Pappy Phosph saw, climbing up the perimeter fence of the compound, the gay limp thief, come to return the stolen bags of phosphorus.

Ten minutes later, pinned to the wall of the kitchen, pierced like St Sebastian, so held in place awaiting the arrival of Detective Captain Cargpan, the gay limp thief confessed all to Old Pappy Phosph. He explained that his conscience was stricken and he regretted what he had done, and so he intended to return the stolen bags of phosphorus to their larders in hope of forgiveness.

“I don’t believe in forgiveness,” said Old Pappy Phosph, driving home another phosphorescent pin to more securely affix the thief to the wall.

“Ouch!” said the thief, not for the first time that night.

There is a moral to this story, and it is plain and simple. Don’t mess with Detective Captain Cargpan or with Old Pappy Phosph. Both of them will have your guts for garters.

Mavis, Miles, & Cab

Miles Davis dials Mavis
To blow his trumpet in her ear
Mavis slams the phone down
And sheds a bitter tear
She’s a little old woman who lives in a shoe
And she’s feeling kind of blue.

Cab Calloway calls a cab for her
And drives her to the future
Now she’s no longer Mavis
Instead she’s Minnie the Moocher

She mooches and she smooches
Does fandangos in the aisles
Goodbye to that confounded shoe
{And thank the Lord!)
‘She didn’t take that call from Miles

Cat Radio Quiz

What is this cat listening to on the radio? There will be a prize for the first correct answer received.



Here at Hooting Yard we hate and despise A. A. Milne and all his works. Dorothy Parker had it right when, in her “Constant Reader” column in the New Yorker, she wrote,

And it is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.

Nevertheless, I am delighted to learn that the “Pooh” part of the name Winnie-the-Pooh was originally attached to a swan, Pooh being the name Milne’s son Christopher Robin gave to a swan he befriended in Angmering in Suffolk. If I did not have more important things to do with my time, I might go through the entire awful canon and rewrite the stories, making Winnie-the-Pooh a savage and violent swan instead of an allegedly cute bear. Volume I : Winnie-the-Pooh Attacks Tim Henman And Breaks His Arm.

A Brisk Splosh

It was time, I decided, for a brisk splosh, so I went to find a puddle. The deeper the puddle, the sploshier the splosh, as Curbingham reminds us. What you do not want to do, however, is to mistake, for a deep puddle, an unusually small yet unexpectedly deep pond, or mere, or cwm, or, great heavens to Betsy!, a waterlogged bottomless viper pit. For that reason it is wise to arm yourself, before setting out, or somewhere along the way, with a stick. The stick ought to be stout and of a certain length, such that, when one end of the stick is placed on the ground, and the stick held vertically, the other end is no higher than the top of your head. Then, when you probe the puddle with the stick, you will be able to judge its depth in relation to your own height. The basic idea is that you do not find yourself making a brisk splosh in a body of water so deep that the top of your head will vanish below the surface, till human voices wake you, and you drown. That is not a splosh – it is tomfoolery, and perilously so.

On the day I am telling you about, I neglected to heed my own advice, and I did not have a stick about my person when I arrived at what I took to be an apt puddle. It was in the middle of a bosky lane stretching from Loopy Copse to the godforsaken piggery at Mustard Parva. I judged it to be a recent puddle, taking into account the meteorological conditions and the time of day, which, looking at my wristwatch, I had as 7.45 a.m.. This was erroneous. Unbeknown to me, my watch was running fast, and the true time was more likely somewhere between twenty to thirty minutes earlier.

Taken all in all, my having the wrong time was of no relevance vis-à-vis the depth of the puddle, but it was, I think, symptomatic of my jumbleheadedness that morning. There was also my failure to obtain a stick, as noted, and the fact that I had had only one sausage rather than the usual two for my breakfast, which played havoc with my innards, including the brain. I am a creature of habit.

This is not the place to indulge in a rant about the café, which had so mismanaged its affairs that it was exhausted of sausages at 7.00 a.m. by my watch, or roughly 6.35 a.m. in brute reality. Or, contrarily, perhaps this is the very place to cast anathemas upon Mr Boggis and his helpmeets at the café Where else am I to give vent to my exasperation? When I was told there was only a single sausage left on the premises, so early in the day, I suggested to Mr Boggis that he might send one of the helpmeets to replenish the supplies. Where, he asked me, did I think it possible to get hold of dozens of sausages at such an early hour? This had me stumped, for I know nothing of the wholesale sausage business, as why should I? Unable to frame a coherent response, I babbled invective and tore my paper napkin to shreds. Mr Boggis disappeared into the kitchen. When, shortly afterwards, he returned with the last sausage on a plate, I announced that “going forward”, as is the phrase nowadays, I would be taking my breakfast elsewhere. He reminded me that Tuck In With Mr Boggis was the only café for miles upon miles in any direction, and certainly the only one within walking distance of my hovel. I think, he said provocatively, you will find a rather gruesome cafeteria at Sawdust Bridge station, far far away at the other end of the branch line, should you wish to make a lengthy and expensive railway journey before breakfast every morning. For the second time in as many minutes I was stumped. I decided to eat my sausage in silence, and it was while doing so that it occurred to me the best way to shake off my feelings of distress, dejection, and incandescent rage was to go for a brisk splosh.

Which brings us neatly back to the scene on the bosky lane. There I was, stickless, anent a puddle. I was confident it was a suitable sploshing puddle, and not something in which I might drown. Burned into my brain is a map of the several bottomless viper pits dotted hither and thither between Loopy Copse and the godforsaken piggery at Mustard Parva, and by getting my bearings from a study of the time and the sun and the trees and the compass stored in the heel of my boot I was able to ascertain that the puddle could not possibly be one of the bottomless viper pits, filled to the brim with rainwater. It was safe to splosh.

Curbingham has given us the most comprehensive list of the benefits of a brisk splosh in a puddle. I long ago committed his list to memory, and I rehearsed it now, as a chaffinch or something similar started chirruping in a nearby tree. When, eventually, I was completely “in the zone”, I leapt into the puddle. But it was not a puddle! I landed on something solid, with a clang, and sprained my ankle. Sprawled in the lane, weeping with the sudden spasm of pain, I noticed, for the first time, a small metal plaque embedded in the earth a few inches away. Engraved upon it were the words Transgressive Rustic Fixture : Trompe L’oeil Puddle VII by Cosmo Hoxtonwanker. I had been undone by art!

What I had thought to be a puddle was in fact a construction of glass and metal and light-reflecting booster technology, commissioned by the municipality, for which they had paid a preposterous amount of money. I learned as much from Mr Boggis, to whose café I limped back after binding my ankle with a filthy rag I found discarded in a real puddle a few yards down the lane. Mr Boggis, it turned out, was not only the proprietor of a newly sausageless café, but an alderman on the parish council and an aficionado of transgressive rustic fixture artworks. It was he who had hoo ha hee hop hig hub haw hee hoo ha . . . dammit. This is what art does to me. It sprains my ankle and turns my brain to jelly. What I need is a brisk splosh in a puddle. And a second sausage.


Dabbler-3logo (1)

This week in my cupboard at The Dabbler I revisit my explanation of the true meaning of the words ACRONYM and ACROSTIC. There has been a very slight bit of rewriting, the sort of thing that, in years to come, when I am long dead and gone, may keep scholars occupied, or indeed fighting with one another, as they fret and worry and chew their pencils over the difference between the original and the revised versions. To lay a trap for those future scholars, let me just note here that the Dabbler text includes the word filthy, which is absent from the original Hooting Yard text. This might be connected to the recent appearance on these pages of the filthy magpie. Or it might not. Of such arcana, pamphlets can be written – and will be! – by scribblers with nothing better to do.

Fish, Coppers, And Wasps

I missed this story in the papers. Today I learned that

A man sought by police investigating the theft of a fish tank from a furniture shop in Leeds hid in a bush and was attacked by a swarm of wasps.

Dobson At His Escritoire

A rare snap of the out of print pamphleteer, slumped over his escritoire in misery and despair. (Click to enlarge, click again to enlarge slightly more, print, put in a frame, and hang on a nail above your own escritoire.)


Earworm Challenge

Diligent readers who commit to memory everything that I have ever written (that is, most of you) will recall that somewhere or other I bemoaned the fact that my brainpans are assailed by a persistent earworm. It is my fate to suffer, rattling around inside my bonce, day in day out, the strains of Merry Xmas (War Is Over) by Mr Lennon and Ms Ono, augmented by a choir of tinies. Why this is so, I cannot say. All I can assume is that I must have done something awful in a previous life and the gods have seen fit to torment me in a particularly cruel way.

Now, perhaps, there is a gleam of hope. For the past week or so, the Yuletide caterwaulings of the Beatle and the woman Cornelius Cardew threw out of his house have been replaced. But my new earworm is, it has to be said, somewhat challenging. I am now beset by Henry Cow’s Living In The Heart Of The Beast, which takes over a quarter of an hour to work its way through my poor cranium. This is indubitably more welcome, but I do ask myself why I can’t have a snappy snippet of pop music, which is what an earworm ought to be.

Incidentally, for those of you who care about such things, Living In The Heart Of The Beast was written (by Tim Hodgkinson) during the period of collaboration between Henry Cow and Slapp Happy. The music was given to Peter Blegvad, who was instructed to supply lyrics. He came up with something about chickens. “This won’t do at all.” pronounced Hodgkinson, who proceeded to write his own words, of a more Marxist-Leninist bent. Shortly afterwards, Blegvad was dismissed from the merged group for “flippancy”.