This And This

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.

Gravel Pod

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.

On The Raking Of Gravel

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Furrowed Brow

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

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.

Impish Demons

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.

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Bolsheviks & Lizard-People

Many thanks to David Thompson for bringing to our attention this letter from the correspondence columns of the Weekly Worker. What a relief to know that David Icke’s sensible insights have been taken on board by the Communist Party Alliance!

I never claimed that the future of humanity “may rest on the beneficence of extra-terrestrial reptiles.” I… referred to the reptilian control theory, which argues that for thousands of years humanity has been controlled by a reptilian race, using their mixed reptile-human genetic bloodlines, who have oppressed and exploited humans, while claiming descent from the ‘gods’ and the divine right to rule by bloodline. Ancient and modern society is obsessed with reptilian, serpent and dragon themes, possibly due to this heritage. Even the flag of Wales has a dragon on it.

Most people have closed minds, depending on the issues. Mention the possibility of aliens secretly manipulating humanity behind the scenes and the shutters come down.

Butter Before Guns

I wanted butter more than I wanted guns. I have always been partial to dairy products, cows’ milk and yoghurt for example, but my greed for butter had become all-consuming. I was mad for it and could think of little else. So one grim overcast morning I set out for the nearest dairy, knocked at the gate, and demanded butter. The dairyman, of great bulk and threatening mien, refused me butter and shooed me away as he might shoo away a gnat.

Broken in spirit, I lolloped into a tavern. A cad with a pencil moustache and a battered briefcase was propping up the bar. He asked what ailed me, and I explained.

“Let me give you a tip,” he said, “I know about these things. The best way for you to obtain butter from that dairyman is to threaten him with a gun. If you went back, and demanded butter, while aiming at the centre of his forehead a fully loaded Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, I think you’d find he would hand over as much butter as you want in a jiffy.”

This was a persuasive argument, but I told the cad that I had neither a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle nor any other type of gun.

“That’s where you’re in luck,” he replied, “For it just so happens that I am an international arms dealer and I can lay my hands on any type of gun you want at the drop of a hat. It will cost you, of course, but think about the butter!”

I was won over, and I scuttled home to fetch from under my bed the shoebox containing my worldly wealth. It was not a great sum, but I hoped it would be enough for a rifle. As I made my way back to the tavern, a little birdie – I think it way have been a peewit or a grebe – perched on my shoulder and chattered in my ear. What it said, had I been able to translate its twittering, was “Why don’t you give the money directly to the dairyman as payment for his butter?” But I was ignorant of the language of birds and I brushed it away without understanding.

The cad was still propping up the bar and he accepted my shoebox of cash after counting it carefully.

“Obviously,” he said, “As a gun runner I have to be cautious. Meet me under the viaduct at nightfall and I will give you a fully loaded Mannlicher-Carcano rifle.”

“But I want my butter before then!” I wailed, “That’s the whole point! I want butter before guns!”

The cad looked at me with some sympathy.

“Well,” he said, “Why not go back to the dairy and explain to the dairyman that if he doesn’t hand over his butter there and then you will come back after nightfall armed with a fully loaded Mannlicher-Carcano rifle and you will shoot him through the centre of his forehead, without mercy. That ought to buck his ideas up.”

“Good idea!” I said, and I scampered off to the dairy, happy and hopeful.

I knocked at the gate and explained myself to the dairyman. I expected him at once to be cowed, and to fetch butter for me. But instead, he took from his pocket a handgun and shot me, several times, in the legs and arms.

As I lay sprawled in the mud outside the dairy gate, waiting for an ambulance to come clanging, the peewit or grebe landed on my head and began chattering into my ear. Before I passed out, I resolved to learn the language of birds.

[Should you prefer guns before butter, go to 23 September 2012.]

Pietà Friday No. 3

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Hiking Pickle Revisited

A further nugget from the archives. One In A Series Of Hiking Pickles first appeared on this day eight years ago.

Dobson lived in the era before mobile phones, of course, so when he found himself imperilled in an isolated spot he had to harness every last scrap of ingenuity to summon help. You or I would simply make a call on our mobile – well, you would, but I wouldn’t, because I do not own a mobile phone and never shall, for they are an abomination unto me – but this was not an option for Dobson, so what did he do?

Let us take a closer look at the circumstances. It was a Tuesday in February. Football fans were grieving the loss of the Busby Babes in the Munich Air Disaster, Pope Pius XII had declared that Saint Clare was to be the patron saint of television, and little blind David Blunkett was just eleven years old. Meanwhile, Dobson got lost on an ill-advised hiking expedition and found himself exhausted, in a spinney, menaced by feral goats. The out of print pamphleteer had also managed to get himself hopelessly entangled in a thicket of thorny brambly creeping greenery rife with puffy spiders and venomous beetles. That’s the kind of spinney it was, at least twenty miles from the nearest village, and with no paths nor country lanes leading anywhere close to it. There was, it is true, a big pylon a couple of dozen yards away, but it was a lone pylon, unconnected to any kind of electrical grid or other wiring system, a pylon the purpose of which was unknown, and it was a pylon of rust, suggestive of abandonment and disuse.

This was not the first time Dobson had been in a hiking pickle, and it would not be the last. Indeed, late in life he had enough material to furnish a pamphlet entitled An Anthology Of Disastrous Hiking Mishaps Cobbled Together From A Lifetime Of Ill-Starred Rustic Pursuits (out of print). What was significant about this particular pickle was the manner in which Dobson succeeded in extricating himself from it.

This was the period during which he had joined an experimental knitting circle, and as luck would have it he had in his noddy bag that day his latest project. It was an interpretation, in wool, of The Wreck Of The Deutschland by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Dobson realised that, when fully unravelled, the yarn would stretch for miles. He sat down in the brambles, lit his pipe, took the scrunched-up woollen masterpiece out of his noddy bag, and unravelled, unravelled, unravelled. Two hours later he was still unravelling. The sun was setting by the time he was done, but Dobson had no fear of the night, for he was sanguine.

Frequently Asked Question : Why didn’t the pamphleteer use his portable metal tapping machine to call for help?

Answer : He was unable to use his portable metal tapping machine because there was no ground-level pneumatic hub within reach.

The wool fully unravelled, Dobson tapped out his pipe on a stone and beckoned to one of the feral Toggenbergs. The goats were still gathered in a gang on the edge of the spinney, and it is a mystery why they had not attacked the bramble-trapped pamphleteer. In the Anthology, Dobson suggested that a combination of acrid pipe smoke, unravelled wool, and his sanguine nature had deterred the goats, but it seems that for once he was being modest. Almost certainly, the decisive factor was Dobson’s eerie ability to mesmerise goats, especially Toggenbergs. It is a skill which has not been much remarked upon, possibly because Dobson himself made light of it, and – curiously – never devoted a pamphlet to it. But he had been practising goat mesmerisation since he was a babe in arms, and now his expertise paid off. Beckoning a Toggenberg, as I said, Dobson tied one end of the length of wool around one of its Satanic horns, then whispered goat-language into its ear. We do not know what he said, but presumably it was something like “Scamper away, goat, in a straight line, and do not stop until you reach a village”.

It was not a village that the goat scampered to, however. Three hours after being entranced, it came to a wire fence, chewed its way through, and, in so doing, set off a hideous caterwauling alarm system. The night was filled with noise, and the Toggenberg was caught in the white glare of a Kleig light. Within seconds, it was surrounded by a clomping troop of visored commandos armed with Simon & Garfunkel rifles. Inadvertently, the mesmerised capricorn had stumbled into a top secret military intelligence compound. A commando with a captain’s badge bundled the goat onto a bauxite cradle chained to a winch, while a second commando, this one with a cadet’s badge, untied the wool from its horn.

Miles away, Dobson was smoking his pipe and lackadaisically paying out the wool, hand over hand. Suddenly, he felt it jerk, and held on tight. And then he was yanked free of the thorny brambly creeping greenery rife with puffy spiders and venomous beetles and dragged across a wasteland of fields and gravel pits and sumps and countryside filth until he fetched up at the feet of the commandos who reeled him in, just as midnight struck.

That is how Dobson got out of a hiking pickle, only to find himself in a very alarming dilemma indeed, slap bang in the middle of a military intelligence compound that was top secret for very good reasons – reasons which, even at a distance of fifty years, I am far too terrified to divulge. He was placed in a holding cell with the feral goat and interrogated at length. The wool was returned to him and he asked for, and was given, a pair of knitting needles. Between interrogations he was able to re-knit The Wreck Of The Deutschland, although much of his woollen reimagining of the lines about the Tall Nun was gnawed into scritty by the Toggenberg. By the time the commandos released the pamphleteer, having scrambled his brainpans so thoroughly that he remembered nothing after the spinney, Richard Milhous Nixon had published his book Six Crises, Pluto and Neptune were in alignment for the first time in 403 years, and little blind David Blunkett was no longer so little.

Dobson returned home even more sanguine than before the hiking pickle. As for the feral goat, it stayed with the commandos. They adopted it as a pet, and called it Flopsy.

82 Today!

The world’s leading exponent of avant garde oriental shadow puppetry celebrates her birthday today. Let’s all send her some money!

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Key Twit

As most of you lot know, I do not engage with Twitter. (The Hooting Yard Twitfeed is an automated bit of gubbins that updates whenever I post something here.). It has been brought to my attention, however, that last week I was all over Twitter like a rash – if being retwitted over fifty times is, as I am assured, a rash. The cause of the hoo-hah was the attention given to a letter I had published in The Spectator which is, I hope, self-explanatory.

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Become Immortal!

With two days remaining before bidding closes, I must remind you of this year’s Hooting Yard auction item for the Resonance104.4FM fundraiser. The highest bidder will be immortalised forever by having their name (or that of a loved one) incorporated into the title of an out of print pamphlet by Dobson. And not only that! They will also be invited to attend the Resonance studio for the live broadcast of the show when Mr Key reads the as yet unwritten story on air, and to go and have a cup of tea with him afterwards.

As I write, the top bid is £50, a paltry sum when you consider the prize on offer. And do remember that every penny raised goes straight into the pockets of ResonanceFM, from where it will be disbursed in manifold ways to ensure the continued existence, and improvement, of the world’s finest radio station.

There are many other items still to bid for, so do please check on all of them here.

Soup Anniversary

Today, unbelievably, we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Hooting Yard Soup Committee. That is to say, it is precisely ten years ago today that this piece, entitled Soup Committee, first appeared at Hooting Yard:

Dobson rarely sought collaborators in his pamphleteering work, preferring to plough his furrow alone. Occasionally, however, his schemes were so ambitious that it was necessary to call in help. One such plan led to the formation of what became known as the Soup Committee.

Dobson woke up one wintry morning with an idea in his head. This was not uncommon, but usually his ideas could be – and were – dashed off in a brief pamphlet. Not so the gigantic multi-volume work he pictured in his mind, a compendium of every known soup recipe ever conceived, throughout human history, from the dawn of time to today’s date, across all cultures and civilisations. Even Dobson realised that he could not accomplish so mighty a project single-handed, so he asked Marigold Chew to draw up a list of likely contributors. The Soup Committee was her idea. Reasoning that if she invited people to take part in a Dobson plan they would probably decline, and thus shatter the pamphleteer’s already shattered nerves, she used her usual hardline tactics. The letter she sent out to over eight hundred unsuspecting souls is preserved in the Dobson Archive.

Dear Soup Person, it read, This is to inform you that you have been empanelled on to the Soup Committee. Your empanelment is effective from today’s date and remains in force until such time as you die. The full implications of your membership of the Committee will follow by separate post, but you had better start gathering soup recipes right now. Yours decisively, Marigold Chew, pp Dobson.

The pamphleteer himself decided to begin by garnering soup recipes from the Old and New Testaments, and set about rereading his Bible with pencil and notepad in hand. He was distraught, at the end of this exercise, to discover that the word “soup” appears nowhere in the Authorised Version, or King James Bible, which was the edition he swore by. He went back to the beginning and realised that “pottage” was possibly a synonym for “soup”, although it might also mean what we know as “stew”. Undeterred, Dobson was able to fill a couple of pages of his notepad.

In Genesis 25, for example, we have, 29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint, 30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom, and 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright. This is elsewhere translated as And Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, of course, a resounding phrase we would all do well to remember.

Moving on to the second book of Kings, chapter four, after having soup for lunch, Dobson read 38 And Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land; and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him: and he said unto his servant, Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets, 39 And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered thereof wild gourds his lap full, and came and shred them into the pot of pottage: for they knew them not, and finally 40 So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came to pass, as they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out, and said, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot. And they could not eat thereof.

Towards the end of the Old Testament, Dobson found one last mention of soup, or stew, in Haggai 2: 12 If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No.

Seven verses, but presumably only three different soups, the most interesting to Dobson being the one in Kings which has “death in the pot”. What was this poisonous potion? We know that Dobson was a vain, even arrogant pamphleteer, but he did have some small shred of humility. He recognised that if his great work on soup was to be definitive, every single recipe would have to be authorised by an expert. Marigold Chew sent a second letter to the members of the Committee.

Dear Empanelled Soup Committee Person, she wrote, As a matter of urgency, further detail is required on the wild gourds which were shredded into the pottage mentioned in 2 Kings 4:39, as well as the ingredients already in the pot, which, as you know, contained death. Send your reply by courier. Yours tenaciously, Marigold Chew, pp Dobson.

Not a single one of the recipients ever replied. Dobson himself soon lost interest in soup recipes, filed his notes away, and embarked that very same winter on a series of pamphlets about sodium, postage stamps, the manufacture of church bells, loosely-fitting cardigans, gutta percha price fluctuations and Plovdiv. One by one, over the years, the Soup Committee members died out. It is thought that only three of them are still alive, one in Bastwick, one in Cleves, and one, now 104 years old, fit as a fiddle, plying a ferry across an inlet at an unidentified seaside resort battered by gales, battered by storms, battered by gales, battered.

Bonkers Maisie Revisited

When I posted Bonkers Maisie here a couple of weeks ago, Pansy Cradledew said “I’d like to hear that set to music by Outa_Spaceman”. And lo! it has now been set to music and performed by Mr Spaceman. You can listen to his fine rendition here.

Next up, I would like to hear a large-scale Orchestral Variations On A Theme Of Bonkers Maisie By Outa_Spaceman, and perhaps an ear-splitting choral version, but I suppose that is too much to ask.

Pietà Friday (On Saturday) No.2

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I ought to have posted a Pietà yesterday, but events of the past few days have led me to leave Hooting Yard untended. First there was an eye test involving blurring-effect droppages, then a three-hour marathon radio broadcast as part of the ResonanceFM fundraiser week, and certain other matters which I may go into at a later date. Onwards and upwards!