While shepherds watched their flocks at night on Pugton Hill the wind blew wild and there were shimmerings or ghostly gleams. One shepherd had a wristwatch and told the time to the other two. Down below Pugton Hill on the main arterial road huge container lorries thundered past on their way to the ferry. The shepherds smoked their pipes. The lorries too belched smoke for there were no laws in place to stop them so doing. Nor were there speed limits. Crashes and pile-ups and terrible accidents were common at that time in that place below Pugton Hill. When they heard or saw dimly in the black night a grievous traffic incident the shepherds laughed for their hearts were cold and void of human sympathy. They preferred the company of nocturnal sheep wide awake and terrified as sheep are for most of their time on earth and on Pugton Hill. So slowly the hands of the wristwatch tock off the minutes and the hours. The shepherds are waiting for a sign. There is no signage on the main arterial road save for an occasional arrow pointing towards the ferry. No sign points the way back for none of the huge speeding lorries ever comes back. They carry the contents of the country load by load to the ferry and never return past Pugton Hill atop which the shepherds smoke and laugh and are fiercely protective of their terrified sheep. Glory be for yes it is a kind of glory up there above the road as the wind blows wild in the night on Pugton Hill.
Mr Key has returned from his brief sojourn in New York, and is gathering his wits and resting his weary limbs. Meanwhile, here is a snap of a couple of New Yorkers I encountered (in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Coming soon – another New Yorker, the Knight of the Whisks (with whisks)!
Mr Key is off gallivanting in foreign parts, so there will be no postages here for a week or so. You may wish to fill the Hooting Yard-shaped hole in your noggin by traipsing through the archives, or perhaps by just gazing into the middle distance with a look of longing and desolation ravaging your countenance. Either way, I shall be back before you can say
Hezezezezezezezezezezezezezezeze cowar ho dze hoi
Higaigaigaigaigaigaigaigaigaigai, guaiagai coricor dzio dzio pi
which, according to the German naturalist Bechstein, is an accurate transcription of the song of the nightingale.
From the archives:
When push comes to shove, I invariably topple over. If I am standing on a precipice, or at the edge of a gaping pit, this can be life-threatening. Thus, whenever my plans for the day include roaming in the vicinity of a yawning chasm, I take precautions by wearing a sort of winch-and-pulley affair, one end of which is wound around my torso, under my vest, and the other end of which I hammer into a patch of firm ground using a great big iron mallet. I am careful to ensure that this end of my winch-and-pulley is stuck fast in the earth, for if there is any chance of it working itself loose, the entire activity would be pointless, for if, heaven forbid, I were to topple when shoved, my efforts would have been in vain, for the crumbling or squelchy soil would yield up my winch-and-pulley and I would surely topple as if I had never been attached to anything in the first place. That is such a terrible prospect that I make efforts to map out in advance the terrain in which I plan to wander, perhaps a week or so ahead. Of course, fugitive weather conditions can alter the state of the ground as shown on my charts, but risk and chance play a role in all human affairs, and there is no reason why my roamings should be exempt. When setting out on my map-making expeditions, I usually attach one end of the winch-and-pulley to some stable object like a horse-trough or a concrete sundial.
My benefactors have long sought to deter me from straying near pits, chasms and abandoned mineshafts, so I am afraid I have had to use subterfuge. As I wave to them from the garden gate, with the winch-and-pulley concealed behind a muffler, I say something like, “I am just going out to check the concrete sundial” or “My my, the day is so clement that I think I will stroll along a flat and featureless plain like the big field where Farmer Buzan used to grow his potatoes all those years ago”. Sometimes such announcements will be met with questions, which I am usually able to anticipate by peering at the furrowedness of my benefactors’ brows. At other times I may have to improvise a convincing response or deflect the queries by pointing at a starling, for example, or forcing a sudden spray of projectile vomiting. When push comes to shove, pointing at a starling is my preferred option.
It is twenty years now since I bashed in Farmer Buzan’s head with his own spade. I like to think that my benefactors trust me these days, but it seems not. Oh look, there’s a starling in that sycamore tree!
I am very grateful to Poppy Nisbet for drawing this to my attention. From this moment on, I shall be magnetizing all my food. I will let you know how things are going in a week or so.
There was an item on the Today programme on BBC Radio Four this morning about a new scientific study of penguins. I am afraid I was not paying due attention so cannot enlighten you. However, it did serve to remind me that, in the long ago, when I used to draw pictures, I once depicted, in the medium of pen and ink, a scientific experiment upon a penguin.
He went to an orchard with his chums
And they stole a punnet’s worth of plums
Then they scampered off to their hideaway
As the last light faded from the day
The sky grew dark, then darker, black
They transferred the plums into a sack
Then they tumbled out of their hideaway tent
And round the town in the night they went
Depositing plums from door to door
Mischief that was against the law
For in that town plums had been banned
As elsewhere in that plumless land
According to the king’s decree
(The king looked just like Dick Van Dyke)
Plums were a fruit he did not like
Why then, you ask, did he allow
The orchard’s trees, bough upon bough
To sprout so many Carlsbad plums?
Let us ask the little chums.
But oh! They’ve vanished in the night
Now they’re completely out of sight
O’er the hills and far away
As dawn breaks on a brand new day
And townsfolk find plums on their stoeps
They greet them with shrill cries and whoops
And hide them quick before King Claus
Comes on his rounds from house to house
If he finds a plum his wrath will wax
And cause umpteen heart attacks
So hide your plums well, folks of the town
Till human voices wake you, and you drown.
As I still seem to have a completely empty head, as far as prose is concerned, you lot can assuage your lack-of-Hooting-Yard misery with this. It is the second of Outa_Spaceman’s revisited and revised settings of the Great Hooting Yard Songbook, following on from this.
You never know quite when they will appear. Nor, for that matter, do I. These things are a profound mystery. But a new Hooting Yard podcast is suddenly and splendidly available from those lovely people at ResonanceFM.
Yes, yes, I know there has been an unseemly silence at Hooting Yard for a while. There are a number of reasons for this, the only one of interest to you lot being that I have received the page proofs for Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives, to be published (at last!) by Constable in September. This is my final opportunity to proofread the text of this classic reference work, so you can imagine your beloved Mr Key peering myopically at the pages, brow furrowed in concentration, trying not to dribble, and having to go and have a lie down in a darkened room every once in a while.
Meanwhile, for those of you suffering from Too Few Postages At Hooting Yard Mental Imbalance Syndrome, I ought, belatedly, to let you know that ResonanceFM is now uploading editions of the radio show on to its Mixcloud page almost as soon as they are broadcast. That link takes you to all the Resonance programs – this link is to the Hooting Yard shows currently online. (If it doesn’t work, just search for Hooting Yard from the main page.) That should keep you occupied for the time being.
Back soon, with unfurrowed brow.
An important question was posed this morning on BBC Radio Four’s Farming Today:
How do you find wheat?
I am afraid I was not paying close enough attention and so did not learn the answer. Readers may perhaps wish to give their own replies in the comments.
While my brainpans remain empty of words, no doubt temporarily, I must reassure you lot that I am still living and breathing, so here – courtesy of my informant Poppy Nisbet – is a fifteenth century German illustration from the Book of Revelation.