Following the mothballing of The Dabbler, my sister Rita has launched a new home for her Dispatches From The Former New World. Make sure you keep a close eye on it. Bear in mind that Mr Key would not be the scribbler you know and adore were it not for the influence, from a very early age, of this woman – last spotted here wearing a mortar board outside Brighton Pavilion.
In the United States, during the 1950s, people often found Communists hiding under their beds. That this was a common phenomenon is clear from the historical record. There are numerous contemporary accounts, of which the following is a typical example. It comes from a letter written to his local newspaper by a solid citizen in one of the Midwestern states.
One day last week, just after turning in for the night and settling down to sleep, I became aware of a rustling noise under my bed. I was far too tired to get up, so, taking my torch from the bedside table, I leaned right over and, with my head upside down, shone the torch under the bed. I was startled to see, lying on the floor, an urbane and stylishly-dressed man who had about him something of the air of an important State Department diplomat. He was faffing about with bits of microfilm.
“Who the hell are you and what are you doing hiding under my bed?” I cried.
“Oh, good evening,” he replied, in the cultured voice of an East Coast Mandarin, “I’m so sorry to disturb you. Allow me to introduce myself. Hiss, Alger Hiss. This is a fine piece of carpet, by the way, very comfortable.”
While he was saying this, he was hurriedly stuffing the bits of microfilm into the pockets of his expensive jacket to conceal them.
“I’m pleased you like my carpet,” I said, “But you haven’t explained what you are doing under my bed.”
Alger Hiss ignored my question and took from an inside pocket of his expensive jacket a pamphlet, which he thrust at me.
“I wonder if I might interest you in this pamphlet,” he said, “It gives a Marxist-Leninist perspective on the current crisis and is well worth reading, should you wish to remove the imperialist blinkers from your eyes.”
“I’m not one for bookish learning,” I said.
“Well, it’s a pamphlet rather than a book. Perhaps you could leave it on your bedside table and pick it up later.”
“Perhaps,” I said, but at that point Alger Hiss unleashed upon me a strange bright-eyed gaze of fiendish Communist hypnotic power, and I promptly fell into a deep, deep, and troubled sleep. When I woke up, he was gone, and there was no sign he had ever been there, save for the pamphlet on the bedside table, which I handed over to my local FBI agent for analysis.
Although we have many similar accounts, what has been lacking to date is counter testimony from Communists themselves, explaining what they hoped to achieve by hiding under beds. All the more welcome, then, is a new book by the pseudonymous “Agent X”. It is entitled Why I Spent Much Of The 1950s Hiding Under The Beds Of Solid Citizens, and is a rollicking good read, or at least it would be were it not padded out with lengthy passages of indigestible Marxist dialectic and incoherent socio-economic blathering. I have extracted the key passage so you do not need to read the whole thing.
I received instructions from Yuri, my Moscow handler, that I was to be a “sleeper”. Unfortunately, the microfilm bearing his message was damaged by pigeons, and it was not entirely clear to me how I was to proceed. Sleeping seemed to be the gist of it, however, and my faith in the Party was unshakeable, so I did not question how useful this would be in fomenting the great proletarian revolution and bringing the hated capitalist United States to its knees. Instead, I found a darkened room with a bed in it and lay me down to sleep.
But something was not right, and I soon realised what it was. The bourgeois comforts of mattresses and pillows and blankets were a terrible distraction, classic techniques of the degenerate system to lull me into false consciousness – or, in this case, false unconsciousness. I eschewed them, and lay down instead in the dark, on the floor, under the bed. Soon enough, word got out among my fellow spies, and we were all at it. Happy days!
Some of these “sleepers” were so fanatical, and so devoted to the cause, that a quarter of a century after the fall of the Soviet empire there are still thought to be several Communists hiding under beds in the American Midwest. Solid citizens, be on your guard!
John Hargrave, founder of the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, wrote an article in 1925 entitled “A Short Exposition of the Philosophical Basis of the Kibbo Kift”. It includes a passage where Hargrave insists on the “unity of the unique units of the Universe”:
teapots, chairs, mud, electric light bulbs, fingernails, hammers, steam engines, mountains, hats, shoes, needles, tram tickets, lilies, telephones, tents, dynamos, walking sticks, cow dung, churches, iron foundries, neckties, cats, human beings, steel plates, bricks and mortar, glass, sealing-wax, trees, thoughts, tables, music, flowers and flower-pots, clouds, gutter-gratings, books, food, buttons, machine guns, beads, rain, clocks, boots, ferro-concrete, eggs, sunlight, coal, stars, solar systems, slugs, pictures, maggots, wheel bolts, smells, darkness and light, collar-studs, speech, seeds, birds, bootlaces, insects, skeletons, pepper-corns, babies, Space, Time, Matter, all religions, all Spirits, all Matter(s) … all, all, are actually the ONE GREAT POWER.
This is quoted in Annebella Pollen’s book The Kindred Of The Kibbo Kift, which you will recall I recommended during the run of the 2015 Hooting Yard Advent Calendar. If you need any further persuasion to obtain a copy, please note that it has recently been acclaimed as “the most beautiful book in Switzerland”.
For this recipe, I read, you will require a bag of frozen crinkle-cut oven chips, six cans of Squelcho!, a turnip, a parsnip, a punnet of Carlsbad plums, and the head of a pre-slaughtered pig.
So I went to the shops and bought a bag of frozen crinkle-cut oven chips, six cans of Squelcho!, a turnip, a parsnip, and a punnet of Carlsbad plums. Obtaining the head of a pre-slaughtered pig proved more difficult. Not one among the parade of shops I frequented had any such thing in stock. The butcher’s, which was my best hope, had its shutters down, and a scribbled sign posted on the shutters announcing closure due to rampant infectious disease, though it did not specify whether this referred to the butcher himself or to his supply of meat.
Sitting on a municipal bench, eating one of the Carlsbad plums, I wondered if I might make a vegetarian version of the dish, using a pig’s head fashioned from marzipan. But my skills as a sculptor or moulder have atrophied since the heady days of my youth at the Institute For Sculpting And Moulding, and I was not convinced my efforts with marzipan would yield anything that looked remotely akin to the head of a pig, By the time I had eaten a second Carlsbad plum, it was clear to me that I would have to go in search of a pre-slaughtered pig and remove its head.
It is surprisingly difficult, in this day and age, to find a dead pig in a small town. I wandered into the countryside, keeping my eyes peeled, peering into bogs and ditches. This proving fruitless, I made my way to the top of a bluff, from where I could see for miles around. The climb was onerous, and when I reached the summit I was thirsty, so I opened one of the cans of Squelcho! and downed it in a single glug.
Gazing out across the countryside, I shouted “Dead pig! Dead pig! Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
I hoped, by this means, to coax into view a peasant, pushing a wheelbarrow in which rested a pre-slaughtered pig. Such a sight is not uncommon in the countryside, or so I am given to understand from my reading of various bucolic texts. In the pauses between my repeated shoutings, I fell to wondering – if an urban person could be urbane, was there an equivalent countryside quality, in which a rustic person could be rustice? I had no opportunity to find out, for after an hour or so atop the bluff, not a single peasant had appeared.
The day was hot, and I noticed that my bag of frozen crinkle-cut oven ships was almost entirely thawed. I was also conscious that I had depleted my stocks of both Carlsbad plums and Squelcho! Unless I returned home in haste, I would end up consuming all the non-pig’s head ingredients for the recipe, and my day would be wasted.
I skittered down from the bluff, like a gambolling lamb, and headed back through the fields of muck towards town. All the while I was racking my brains trying to think of an acceptable substitute for the pre-slaughtered pig’s head. What did I have in my cupboard? Pink wafer biscuits? Peas? A bowl of fayooz? A jar of pickles? Several contaminated cocktail sausages? Blubber? Somehow none of these seemed quite right, nor even remotely suitable. If I was to vary the recipe, then the least I could do was to use something’s head.
By now I was nearing town, so I looked around me with fresh eyes. All I had to do was to spot a living creature, seize it, slaughter it, remove its head, and pop the head into my pippy bag along with the bag of now unfrozen crinkle-cut oven chips, the turnip, the parsnip, and what was left of the cans of Squelcho! and the Carlsbad plums – both further depleted on account of peckishness and thirst during my long countryside trudge.
There were plenty of creepy-crawlies to be seen, but their tiny, tiny heads were hardly fit for purpose. Just as I was losing hope, I came upon a pond, at the edge of which a toad was flopping about. With a cry of inhuman savagery, I fell upon it, seized it, and strangled it. Then I bit off the head, spat it out, wrapped it in a sheet of greaseproof paper I happened to have in my pippy bag, and carried it home. I would not be able to follow the recipe with one hundred percent accuracy, but I felt confident that I could knock together a toothsome supper.
Alas, I did not consider that the toad I pre-slaughtered might be one of those toads that is highly toxic, But so it was. As I write these words, I am shaking violently, sweating, vomiting, and my own head has swelled to twice its usual size. I fear that what I tucked in to, an hour ago, after an exciting time at the chopping board, will prove to be my Last Supper.
Sad news. The Dabbler has been mothballed for an indefinite period – as explained here. I have been contributing to it pretty much every week for five and a half years. Those of you with more leisure time than sense may wish to consult the full archive of Key’s Cupboard. It merely remains for me to thank the redoubtable Brit and the other Dabblers for their support over half a decade. And do not forget that Dabbler Editions published the comprehensive e-anthology By Aerostat To Hooting Yard, edited and introduced by Roland Clare. If you do not yet have a copy, go and buy one immediately, or you will be set upon in awful nightmares by the Grunty Man.
One of the incidental pleasures of reading the long-forgotten memoirs of obscure figures from our island history is to stumble upon fleeting mentions of that gruesome ogre of children’s nightmares, the Grunty Man. All of us, I think, can recall the shiver that ran down our spine when we sat at mama’s knee and she read to us tales of the fearsome Grunty Man, lurking in his cave and occasionally emerging into the light to grunt and grunt and lay waste the earth and grunt some more. Now we are grown we can look back with fondness on this loathsome fantastical creature, safe in the knowledge that he never really existed … or did he?
The other day, I was reading the long-forgotten memoirs of an obscure figure in our island history, the expatriate Hollander Joost Van Dongelbraacke. It is an unfathomably dull book, or I should say books, for Van Dongelbraacke managed to eke seven fat closely-printed volumes from what was, by any measure, a fairly uneventful life. I love this stuff and could read it until the cows come home. I was about half-way through volume three when, to my delight and consternation, I came upon this passage:
At luncheon that day I ate a goodly amount of My Lady Kent’s Pudding, but it had not been sufficiently boiled, or perhaps it had been boiled for too long, for shortly after digesting my third bowl-ful I suffered the most terrible mortification of the bowels and had to be carried from my place by the servants and deposited on an an ottoman in the smoking room where I moaned weakly and cursed heaven. Thereafter, to make recompense, when I was able to move I repaired to my private chapel and offered orisons to the Almighty that he might spare me from the horrors inflicted by skittish cooks.
I then determined to berate said cook, and had her summoned from the pantry, only to be told she was not to be found there. I strongly suspected her of being involved in unseemly canoodling with Mr Snippage, the gardener, and so I pulled on my out of doors boots and went striding through the grounds, past the filbert hedges and towards the ha-ha, where Snippage had his hut. While I was walking thus, waving my stick, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the Grunty Man, darting between the elms.
When I reached the hut I banged my fist on the door, hoping to disturb the gardener and the cook. But there was no response, and when I opened the door to peer inside, I found the hut was empty. My mood was now tempestuous, so on my way back to the house I berated one of the estate peasants who was pushing a wheelbarrow full of dead toads from one pond to another. Shouting my head off did me the world of good.
Back in the house, I settled in the library and spent a profitable hour reading a collection of sermons by Parson Freakpit. Outside the sky was louring and there were hints of English drizzle. I closed the book and thought longingly of the canals of my homeland. These thoughts were interrupted by a servant who came to inform me that the cook and Mr Snippage had been seen boarding the mail coach heading for the coast. I cursed heaven once again, kicked the servant all the way along the corridor, and, feeling a renewed mortification of the bowels, shut myself in the Thunder Box until it was time for supper.
For supper that day I ate a goodly amount of My Lady Kent’s Pudding.
Who now remembers Camber Rilnt?
In the long ago, when I was a teenperson, Camber Rilnt was, if not quite my hero, certainly a totemic figure, one I held in awe. I pored over his name with something akin to reverence. Today, on a whim, I tapped “Camber Rilnt” into Google, and it yielded absolutely no results whatsoever. There are millions, probably billions of pages on the world wide interweb, but if Google is to be believed, Camber Rilnt appears on none of them. He has vanished down the plughole of history.
Ah! But I did find him, not once but twice, hiding in plain sight, in a manner not traceable by Google’s algorithms, but present nevertheless. Camber Rilnt lives on!
As for you lot, devoted Hooting Yardists all, do you remember Camber Rilnt? Can you track him down on the web, perhaps in places I missed? Feel free to plunge into the Comments Bath to let me know.
Binder’s first piano concerto had no piano part and was not a concerto. There was a piano in the second piano concerto but it was out of tune. The third piano concerto was deafening. The fourth gave Binder the heebie jeebies. Binder’s fifth, or the sixth as it is usually called, was performed in a submarine. Let us draw a veil over the sixth, by which I mean the sixth proper, rather than the fifth, with which it is often confused, performed as it is in a submarine. The seventh is that rare thing, a godawful din. Binder’s eighth, ninth, and tenth piano concertos are audible only to dogs. The eleventh features an electronically modified cat. No animals were harmed in the composition of the twelfth, but the score for the thirteenth piano concerto calls for the ritual slaughter of several otters. The fourteenth is pithy. The fifteenth is punchy. The sixteenth was dedicated to Stalin. The seventeenth is a carbon copy of the ninth. Piano Concerto No. 18 is so vivid it makes grown men weep and grown women have an attack of the vapours. The nineteenth has the charm of a sausage. The twentieth, the brilliant twentieth, is rudderless. Rudders, snapped off boats, are repeatedly and relentlessly bashed on the keyboard during the twenty-first. The twenty-second is popular in prisons. The twenty-third is full of grace. The twenty-fourth was used in a toothpaste advert. The twenty-fifth was written atop an important, stationary mountain. The twenty-sixth is fishy. Binder’s twenty-seventh is his longest piano concerto, a full performance lasting several years. The twenty-eighth consists of a single note, of the performer’s choosing, plinked twice and plonked once. The twenty-ninth is lost. The thirtieth is hidden. The thirty-first tugs at the heart-strings. The manuscript of the thirty-second is rolled up and stuffed into a jam jar, and there is still jam in the jar. The thirty-third is all that the thirty-second is not. The thirty-fourth gallops along like a horse. The thirty-fifth slithers like a worm. Binder said of the thirty-sixth piano concerto “de gustibus non est disputandum”. Raindrops kept falling on Binder’s head while he was writing the thirty-seventh. The thirty-eighth is a biography of Christopher Plummer imagined as a piano concerto. The thirty-ninth steers its way through choppy waters towards an island where brutes disport themselves in wild abandon before sinking into the sea.
Flipping Heck is a small village equidistant between Pointy Town and its twin town, Pointytwin Town. Pointy Town is pointier, oh so much pointier, than Pointytwin Town, which is itself pointier than most comparable towns, and certainly oodles more pointy than Flipping Heck, which is not pointy at all.
The pointiness of Pointy Town and, to a lesser yet significant extent, of Pointytwin Town, are topics often remarked upon in the tavern at Flipping Heck. In fact, the Flipping Heck taverneers rarely talk of anything else, unless it be their gutters and drains and sewers and subterranean catacombs and ossuaries and tunnels, when, that is, they talk of anything at all, for much of the time in the tavern they do not speak at all, but cup their tankards in their big hairy villagers’ hands, gazing morosely into the fug.
Within the tavern the fug is thick, but it is even thicker outside. It is very difficult to see where you are going in Flipping Heck. Quite apart from the thick fug, there are no signposts, nor do the lanes have names, and nor do the hovels have numbers. There is a postman, but his comings and goings are shrouded in mystery, and nobody will swear on a bible that they have ever seen him.
There is one bible in Flipping Heck, and it is kept chained to a lectern in the village church, St Bibblybibdib’s. The vicar is from overseas, far far away overseas, and speaks in his own strange guttural tongue, or rather shouts, oh how he shouts, his Sunday morning sermons can be heard for miles around. It is said you can just about hear them from the western outskirts of Pointy Town and the eastern outskirts of Pointytwin Town, if the air is still and you prick up your ears.
The air, though, is rarely still, for tremendous and terrifying winds howl across the flat expanse of marshland between Pointy Town and Flipping Heck and between Flipping Heck and Pointytwin Town. It is the sort of marshland in which a fertile imagination will summon into being sprites and ghouls and, occasionally, escaped convicts It is said that the lumbering walrus-moustached psychopath Babinsky lurks somewhere in the marshes, sharpening his axe and biding his time until one night he will lumber into Flipping Heck and slaughter the first-born. It is the thought of such a calamity that hangs in the air unspoken in the village tavern along with the fug.
The now dead vicar who preceded the present incumbent of St Bibblybibdib’s led a campaign to make Flipping Heck more pointy, if not quite as pointy as Pointytwin Town, certainly far less pointy than Pointy Town, but pointy nevertheless. There is very little evidence of his efforts, save for his tombstone in St Bibblybibdib’s churchyard, which is a little bit pointy when viewed from a certain angle in a certain light during certain phases of the moon.
The moon is a silver disc in the sky. Such is the fug in Flipping Heck it is barely visible to the villagers, merely a blur of milky light far, far above their heads. But they rarely look up. Their thoughts, such as they are, are directed down, to their gutters and drains and sewers and subterranean catacombs and ossuaries and tunnels. Once it was possible to reach both Pointy Town and Pointytwin Town through the tunnels, but for more than a century now they have been blocked. Rumour has it that, when he is not lurking in the marshes, Babinsky prowls the tunnels, dragging his blood-drenched axe behind him, singing his horrible song.
Once upon a time there was a little Italian boy made out of wood. He wore a pointy hat, also wooden. In this age of grand illusion, he walked into my life out of my dreams, and forced his way into my scheme of things. This was somewhat unnerving, for it is not an everyday occurrence to find oneself in thrall to a wooden boy. But enthralled I was, to the point where the tables were turned and I tried to fit in with his scheme of things.
In order to do so, I felt I needed to gain a better understanding of what it was like to be made of wood. So I drove to the forest in a Japanese car. I parked at the edge, by a pond, and then I walked deep into the forest and stood there, pretending to be a tree, a pine or an elm. At first I was fidgety, but as the hours passed I found it easier to stand perfectly still, as if I were wooden. I swayed slightly in the breeze.
The little Italian boy made of wood had not followed me to the forest, for he could not drive. I wondered what he was up to, back in my chalet, perched on the edge of a glacier. It was a wooden chalet, so it suited him well, better, in fact, than it suited me. I felt so at home in the forest. Oh I so wanted to sprout leaves and buds!
Several months passed before I was forced to admit that I could not fit in to his scheme of things and that I was not, nor ever would be. made out of wood. I trudged back through the forest towards the pond where I had parked the Japanese car. It had been stolen. I sat on a tuffet next to the pond and I pondered. Pondering by a pond, not made of wood. The sky was immense and immensely blue.
It was a small mercy that I did not know the little wooden Italian boy was a delinquent rascal, and had burned down my chalet the instant I screeched away in my Japanese car. And yet the world keeps turning. That, after all, is in the scheme of things, whether one is wooden or – let us be plain – not wooden, not wooden at all, neither pine nor elm nor any of the other types of wood. They all burn.
The Paradox of Tarleton’s Pebble is a famous, or infamous, conundrum. It was first posed, not by Tarleton himself, but by his valet, the dwarf Crepusco. Legend has it that Crepusco crept into the room where Tarleton was hosting a swish and sophisticated cocktail party attended by various mountaineers, polar explorers, flappers, Jesuits, toad-headed robbers, Quakers, conjurers, reprobates, gas meter readers, spud-faced nippers, fanatics, greaseproof paper salesmen, composers, dentists, tuppenny-ha’penny tosspots, Grand Guignol performers, Chappaquiddick experts, foopball refs, tugboat captains, hedgers and ditchers, gondoliers, minstrels, troubadours, astronauts, emboldened milquetoasts, rhubarbarians, eel-men, dabblers, plotters, coppers, tanners, coopers, fletchers, tailors, tinkers, Oppidans, floozies, weathermen, mavens, bus conductors, out-of-town Pointy Towners, painters, pimps, and potters. Yes, potters. Several potters, indeed more potters than you could shake a stick at, were you minded to do so. Not for the first time, Tarleton had got the precise balance of his swish sophisticated cocktail party guest-list a little askew.
Things were nevertheless going with a swing, in spite of the potter imbalance, when in crept Crepusco. He silenced the hubbub in his usual manner, by holding aloft the gold-painted head of an antique Italianate monkey doll, through which he ventriloquised. Then, in his horrible voice, raucous as a crow, he posed the conundrum which became known as the Paradox of Tarleton’s Pebble.
The effect was instantaneous. The puzzle dizzied the brains of all those present, including Tarleton himself. It dizzied their brains and it also dizzied their bodies, so that the room became a scene of chaos, the guests reeling about, staggering, flailing, vomiting, and groaning.
Well satisfied, Crepusco crept out and returned to his pantry. He replaced the head of the monkey doll on its shrine, fixed himself a snack, and sat in his rocking chair, rocking, creaking, back and forth, through the long winter evening, on the night before the Munich Air Disaster.