Renaissance : noun, from the French for “rebirth”. If you stumble upon this word in the course of your reading, you need no longer scratch your head in dimwitted befuddlement. Its primary definition is a reference to the occasion, in early July in the Year of Our Lord MMXVIII, when the Hooting Yard website, having been kaput for some while, came blazing back to life (hence, rebirth) like a phoenix rising from the ashes. (If you want to know what a phoenix is, you will have to wait for the “P” section of the Hooting Yard Guide To Non-Existent Birds.)
Lonely, he made a companion of string and wood and tin, and sat her at his window, as if she were looking out. And whenever he returned from tiresome jaunts, she was there, framed in the window, to welcome him home.
But when he was at home, she had her back turned to him. She was facing the outside world, immobile, yet desperate to go frolicking dizzily into that world, where other things of string and wood and tin were surely to be found.
At the hotel, the bellhop had, implanted in his head, the brain of a cat. His own brain had been removed and sat in preserving jelly in a jar on a shelf in a cupboard in a lab. It was a locked lab, the only key to which was kept in the pocket of the mad crazed lunatic boffin who had carried out the brain-swap, during a thunderstorm on the previous Tuesday. This boffin habitually assumed the guise of a janitor, and performed janitorial duties the better to hoodwink his hoodwinkees, of whom there were several dotted about the site, from the parking attendant to the secretariat. The secretariat consisted of but a single secretary, into whose head the boffin planned to insert the brain of a badger, having first removed the secretary’s actual brain and placed it in preserving jelly in a jar on a shelf in another cupboard in the lab. He calculated that the use of two different cupboards would prevent him from muddling up the two different brains, the bellhop’s and the secretary’s.
Each cupboard was itself locked, as locked as the lab, and the boffin-janitor thus had three keys to cope with. To anybody unlettered in the art and science of locksmithery – that is to say, to as near as dammit every single person present upon our gaily rotating planet, alive or dead – the three keys appeared to be identical, or at least so similar one to another that they could not be told apart. Thus, affixed to each key by a looped length of cord cut from a bootlace was a small rectangle of cardboard. On each rectangle was written, in a biro shortly to be exhausted of its ink, in draughtsmanship staggering in its delicacy, as if learned and perfected in an earlier century when penmanship counted for something among the educated classes, and surely too beautiful for the usual effusions of the humble biro, an indication of the lock the attached key was designed to unlock.
The labelling of the keys was simple, and thus resistant to misunderstanding by anyone but a halfwit. “Lab”, “Cupboard with red door”, “Cupboard with yellow door”. The boffin-janitor could think of no circumstance that might cause him to muddle the keys, save for the unscheduled repainting of the cupboard doors, in different colours, over a bank holiday weekend, by contractors hired and brought in from some area beyond janitorial control. That such a thing could happen was so egregious that he tossed the idea aside, much as one might toss a tossable bittybob down a well, were one passing by a well, clutching a bittybob for which one had no use. There was a well in a field between the hotel and the lab. The boffin-janitor passed it on most working days, but had never tossed anything into it.
Nor had he drawn any water from it, for he could not. It was a dry well. It had been dry for some years, by dint of subterranean engineering works not unconnected to the construction of the car park anent the lab, and another, larger, more distressingly bleak car park that served the hotel. The works had been carried out, in their underground phase, by a team of what used to be called navvies, the brain of each of whom had been removed and in its place implanted the brain of a mole. All the removed brains had been stored in preserving jelly in jars on shelves in cupboards in the lab, but one night malfeasance had occurred, conducted by highly-organised ne’er-do-wells. It was on the morning after this enormity that the boffin-janitor went tootling into the nearest village to parlay with a locksmith.
In reporting these matters, it may be that I have got some of the details wrong. I was drifting off to sleep when my papa told me the tale, which he himself had heard from an old pal of his, a frequent guest in many an hotel, a travelling salesman who dealt in exotic rugs and carpets, whose name I seem to recall was G. I. Gurdjieff.
I can only wonder why the patients smile more for four sweets than for two. It isn’t the pleasure of the man’s company, or his self-sacrifice, that they appreciate. No, it’s the augmented toffees.
Malachi Whitaker, And So Did I (1939)
Pity me, O people of Switzerland. I am a Swiss soldier, and I languish in a Swiss dungeon, under sentence of death. My crime? I sang, in a public square, the milking-song Khue-Reyen. And thus I was condemned. I broke the law, and now I must pay the price.
For comfort, in my cold Swiss subterranean cell, I clutch to my cheek the Bib of St Bibblybibdib. There is a story to tell of how this sacred relic came into my possession. It is not a particularly arresting story, but I will tell it anyway, to pass the time before I am dragged from my dungeon to the gibbet, and hanged by the neck until I am justly dead.
There were a half-dozen of us, six Swiss soldiers, camped on a hill above a Swiss village. Our orders were to await the dawn and then to charge, screaming, down to the village and to lay it waste. Doing so, we were told, would bring us one step closer to victory over our foe.
And so we charged, and so we screamed, and so we laid waste. And among the buildings to which we laid waste was the village church. And in the sacristy of this church was kept, in a bejewelled casket, the Bib of St Bibblybibdib.
Was it the real Bib, or was it one of the dozens, even hundreds, of counterfeit bibs thought to be held in parishes throughout the cantons of Switzerland? We did not know. We were rough tough Swiss soldiers, not men of God. That is why, in deciding which of us should carry off the Bib as his war prize, we cleared the surface of the altar in the village church of its holy bric-a-brac, and played a game of cards upon it. We played My Lady’s Pudding under knock-out rules, and I was the last Swiss soldier standing.
And so I was given first dibs on St Bibblybibdib’s bib.
I will carry it with me to the place of Swiss execution, if they will let me. Whether they do or do not, at this hour of my death, pity me, people of Switzerland.
“The term ‘nostalgia’ was in fact dreamt up in 1688 by a doctor called Johannes Hofer who was treating young Swiss mercenaries suffering from a strange set of symptoms. They wouldn’t eat, couldn’t summon the will to live and sometimes became dangerously ill with no apparent physical cause. They had fainting fits, high fevers and indigestion. After talking to the young men, Hofer realised they were simply ill for want of home. When he sent them back to the mountains, they invariably recovered.
“Even earlier, Swiss soldiers were said to be so susceptible to nostalgia when they heard a particular Swiss milking song, ‘Khue-Reyen’, that its playing was punishable by death.”
Mary Wakefield in The Speccie
Sick at heart and improperly trousered, the vicar galumphed across the fields towards the viaduct. Not for nothing was he known as the vicar of the viaduct. Air wafted about his head, tiny little flying insects perched ephemerally in his hair. He had his sermon all prepared, committed to memory, for the service of the blessing of the crutches. The sun blazed down. Brave Helios!
You Will Fail, Laurence is the title of a book which appeared to me in my dreams last night. It was a children’s book, written in very short, staccato sentences, and lavishly illustrated with detailed, brightly-coloured drawings – in spite of the fact that Laurence spent much of his time enveloped in what my dream insisted on calling “fog-storms”.
An additional curiosity was that I was looking at a facsimile of the book online, and the dream suggested that the book itself did not exist, this digital version being a hoax perpetrated by japesters for reasons which must remain unutterably mysterious.
In this week’s episode of Hooting Yard On The Air, Mr Key reads three FK stories, Pansy Cradledew tells us of several shorter, potted, brief, brief lives, and Johnny Seven weighs in with an anecdote on film acting. Listen, be astonished, and then take a well-earned nap!
“Tea, like death, is a great leveller.”
Malachi Whitaker, And So Did I (1939)
I am the squeamish vagabond
I swoon when I see blood
And I see blood aplenty
As I trudge through slime and mud
As I roam from copse to spinney
I see corpses widely strewn
Of slaughtered tramps and vagrants
I fear I’ll join them soon
For I’m pursued by a violent foe
A fiend from the bottomless pond
I tremble and piddle in my pants
I’m the squeamish vagabond
When the panel met for the final time, to sign off on their deliberations of the previous six sessions, it was brought to their attention that they had completely forgotten to name one of the fruits.
“I have here a punnet of this fruit,” said the second secretary, “It has somehow escaped the panel’s attention heretofore.”
There was a hubbub of consternation, which is a very different thing to other hubbubs, such as the hubbub of outrage or the hubbub of rapidly-donned camouflage jackets. Hubbubs of all kidneys, however, diminish eventually, and when this one did, one among the panel who happened to be wearing an unnecessary camouflage jacket, said:
“Let us take a close look at that punnet.”
“Would it not be better to look closely at the unnamed fruit contained in the punnet, rather than at the punnet itself?”
These words were spoken by a panel member who had been conspicuously silent ever since the first session, when he had pulled out of the bag, metaphorically, the word “clementine”, to denote the clementine, one of which he then pulled out of a paper bag, literally.
Sage heads nodding in agreement, the panel members gave their undivided attention to the items of fruit in the punnet. After some while, one asked his fellows:
“Have we already made use of the word ‘grape’?”
“We have. But you are clearly thinking this fruit requires a one-syllable name.”
“On what grounds?”
“Oh, just look at it! Look at them! In their punnet! I am sorry to sound so exasperated, but only a dolt or a halfwit would dub that fruit with a multisyllabic name. It cries out for something simple, and short, and blunt.”
The passion of this outburst convinced the other panel members of its general truth. Passion need not always denote truth, of course. More often it can lead to all sorts of human error, particularly when it crosses the line into hysteria. Consider the example of massed Corbynistas with their placrads.
“It is a shame,” said Arpad, the senior member of the panel, “That we have already registered ‘passion fruit’ as a fruit name.”
“On that point,” said his immediate table-neighbour, “Can anybody explain why, in some cases, we have used the word ‘fruit’ as part of the fruit name? I am thinking of the passion fruit and the kiwi fruit, which you will recall we named at Thursday’s session. Why are we labouring the word ‘fruit’ when it is blindingly obvious that the thing denoted is a fruit?”
Before anybody could answer this reasonable query, there was an interruption from the radio transmitter. The lovely strains of Xavier Cugat And His Orchestra gave way to a gravely-voiced newsflash. There had been a bittern storm over Ulm. Cugat resumed.
“How about ulm?” piped up Binns, “A punnet of ulms?”
“It is tempting,” said Arpad, “But I have two objections. First, the fruit may thereby become too closely associated with the city in Baden-Württemberg where this bittern storm has just occurred. Second, I think we are all agreed that most fruit-names benefit from beginning with consonants. Not all, but most.”
The panel then worked through the alphabet, appending consonants to “ulm”. After a vote, they agreed unanimously on “pulm”. When the second secretary came to write the new fruit-name in the register, he was momentarily distracted by the cry of a bittern, booming from the marshes anent the manse, and he accidentally transposed the middle letters of the word.
And hence the plum.
Lupe Node, the carrier, O is he dead then? My fruit-bowl all emptied. He carried my fruit, Lupe Node, in his manly muscular hands, plums in punnets and hawberries in hopkins. The sun battered him, as he sashayed from orchard to pier, to my kiosk, this man o’ fruit, Jesuitical in his furrow-browed beanstalk bitterness. A man of few words, and those the names of fruits, names he made up, embroidered, spat out like plum-stones, chewed like nettles, O Lupe Node, forsaken by a God whose mercurial recklessness – those divine spasms! – came twitching in rags and schmutter. Pips haunted him, Lupe Node, lodged in his pocket-crannies, scattered in his locks, curly black and slathered in lac. Do not taunt him now, in his grave, on his uppers, worm-lunch, bird-roost. They named a pond for him. No fish thrive inwith it. And yet in memory of Lupe Node I take my paper bag of baggings there each March morning sodden by rain and stamped by yearning. Crumbs fall. Necks sag. Galoshes splosh.
Ornithology, when pursued recklessly, breaks bones. This aperçu first appeared in Dobson’s pamphlet Oh! One Merry March Morning I Climbed A Tree The Better To Investigate, At Close Quarters, The Nest Of A Wren And, Losing My Footing, I Plunged To Earth, Landing Awkwardly And In So Doing Broke My Collarbone, Subsequently, In Making My Report To The Triage Nurse, I Blamed The Wren, I Blamed The Wren! (out of print).
Of late, there has been something of a kerfuffle in Dobsonist circles occasioned by the publication of a new monograph on the pamphlet. Upstart young Scandinavian critic Knud Pantryboy argues, in his essay, that there is not a jot of truth in the pamphleteer’s hysterical prose. Controversially, he suggests that Dobson was making a stab at writing a piece of fiction.
Dobson never climbed a tree in his life, writes the hot-headed Dane, and he would certainly have been unable to distinguish the nest of a wren from that of any other of the approximately ten thousand, four hundred and four types of birds, many of them extinct, which grace, or have graced, the blue skies of the ever-rotating globe we call the Earth.
Pantryboy also makes the point that no evidence exists to suggest Dobson’s collarbone was ever broken. He dismisses as “obviously fraudulent” the pencil sketches, purportedly based on X-rays, which appeared in the compendium Pencil Sketches Based On X-Rays Of The Bones Of Several Twentieth-Century Writers compiled by the quack medical illustrator Tosh Quackpencil. The half-dozen sketches of Dobson’s collarbone each show signs of traumatic shattering, but Pantryboy argues, persuasively, that the pictures were executed during a thunderstorm.
Why, though, would Dobson have risked his reputation by inventing this tale? While admitting that he does not know the answer to this question, Knud Pantryboy suggests that the narrative is a veiled reference to a singular episode in the pamphleteer’s childhood.
The “tree” is a picnic blanket. The “wren’s nest” is a sausage-on-a-stick. The “plunge to earth” is a fit of hiccups. The “collarbone” is another sausage on another stick. The “triage nurse” is International Woman of Mystery Primrose Dent. I rest my case.
It is undoubtedly true that La Dent used to appear, uninvited, at innumerable picnic spots throughout what Lumsden called “that brittle, squalid decade”. True, too, that it was both brittle and squalid. And equally true that Lumsden himself had his posthumous bones sketched, from X-rays, by Tosh Quackpencil. Nor should we ever forget that wrens, when gathered in huge numbers, can be extremely dangerous. Ornithology, when pursued recklessly, does indeed break bones.