Politically Incorrect Hedge Sparrows

This was commended to my attention (by R.). Now it is commended to your attention (by me).

Oh, and elsewhere Douglas Murray notes the new thought-crime of “nun-dismissal”.

Dabbling On The Brocken

I am seriously concerned at the stupidity of so-called “scientists”, joined by a writer on philosophy, going to the Harz Miountains to make a goat stand in a ring at midnight to see if, when a Latin incantation was recited, the animal would turn into a young man. – Hannen Swaffer, 1932

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Back in January, I promised to tell you more about “the ridiculous Brocken affair” involving ghost-hunter Harry Price, a goat, a maiden “pure in heart”, and The Bloksberg Tryst. If you hie over to The Dabbler, you will find a full account.

Pietà Friday No. 1

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Buttercup

Quite often, a farmer will choose to give one of his cows the name Buttercup. This is lost on the cow itself, which is too stupid to understand the concept of names for things. When a cow gazes upon the world it is as if through a dense mental fog. We can go some way to replicating this, even with our much mightier brain power. For instance, I once spent a morning – a misty morning – standing in a field, chewing on a mouthful of uprooted grass, staring straight ahead, and emptying my mind of all and any stimulus, using a technique I learned from a witch doctor. It was a salutary experience, and afterwards I felt I had a much greater understanding of the interior world of a cow. I continued the experiment by asking people to call me Buttercup, to see if I would respond when my name was spoken aloud. I did not so respond, on that day or on any day thereafter. If somebody called out, in my hearing, “Oi! Mr Key!”, my ears would prick up and I would look around for whomsoever had called my name, and, when I spotted them, raise an eyebrow and answer “Yes, what is it you want, my good fellow?” or, as it may be, “my good woman?”, or even “young urchin?” But I found that when somebody yelled “Buttercup! Buttercup!” my immediate reaction was to assume I had fallen among florists.

It can be quite unnerving to fall among florists, particularly when there is a gang of them. They tend to hold, in their clenched fists, bunches of buttercups or daffodils or god alone knows how many different types of flowers, and they will thrust them under your nose while holding out the open palm of their free hand in expectation of coinage. The idea is that you give them money and in return they present you with the bunch of buttercups, or whatever. But when there is a whole sussuration of florists surrounding you, each importuning you, it is no easy matter to pick one out of the crowd and to buy his sprig in preference to any other sprig, and it is unlikely you are carrying enough cash to be able to afford all the blooms thrust at you. Whenever I fall among florists in this manner, I remember the lessons I learned from the witch doctor, and I assume the mien of a cow. Usually, but not always, the florists will disperse.

If the florists do not disperse, the best idea is to snap out of your cow-trance and to shake a stick at them, the more wildly the better, accompanying the wild shaking of the stick with blood-curdling screams. Production of such screams can also be taught to you by any witch doctor worth their salt.

If you intend to eat a dish of buttercups, either raw or cooked, do not garnish them with salt. If, on the other hand, you have it in mind to eat a cow called Buttercup, a sprinkle of salt does not go amiss, and will make the meat more palatable. For vegetarians, a cow made out of marzipan is an acceptable substitute, but here again, as with the buttercups, it should be innocent of a salt seasoning.

Never eat buttercups in the presence of a florist.

Snakewizard And The Toofles

Long, long ago, my friend Phil and I decided to make our fortunes in the music business. Lacking the ability to sing or to play an instrument, we determined to be managers. We envisaged ourselves as a pair of Svengalis, with a stable of artists who would conquer the charts, allowing us to retire to Bransonian tropical islands before our thirtieth birthdays.

How could things possibly go wrong?, we thought, considering the first bands on our roster. There was Snakewizard, a generic heavy metal band of no great originality – but then, originality is the last thing the punters want in a heavy metal group. We would help them along with song lyrics, but otherwise leave them to practise their deafening din and grow their hair.

The important thing was to have a broad range of artists, covering different markets. Snakewizard took care of the heavy metal fans, and our second group – The Toofles – appealed to a wholly different audience. The Toofles were essentially a novelty band for pre-teens, not unlike The Wombles. Their songs had no artistic merit whatsoever but, we thought, would be wildly popular with the tinies.

The fatal flaw in our scheme, and the reason that the Bransonian islands remained forever out of reach, was that neither Snakewizard nor The Toofles ever existed outside our pulsating greedy brains. They were only ever figments of our imagination … where they remain lodged, now grown old and grey, and without a back catalogue – or indeed any catalogue at all – to fall back on.

They are still two of my favourite groups.

Bonkers Maisie

Dear Bonkers Maisie, thou art so fair.
Blind beetles scuttle through your hair,
That unwashed tangle atop your head
Wherein’s your brain, poisoned by lead.

You breathed in oh so many fumes
And now the gleam of madness looms
Behind your eyes, or rather eye,
As you muck out the filthy pig sty.

‘Twas a pig took out the eye that’s missing
When we were in the pig sty kissing
An idyll I shall ne’er forget.
The day was windy, cold, and wet.

But all days are, in this rustic hell.
Oh Bonkers Maisie, my countryside belle!
They locked you up in the potting shed.
Poisoned by lead, poisoned by lead.

Pseudonymous Inaccuracy

When James Newell Osterberg Jr was a tiny infant, he was fed on a diet of mashed up pap made from eggs. It was the piquant memory of these slops that informed his later decision, when embarking upon a career as a musical performer, to adopt the pseudonym Eggy Pap. A typographic error – or rather two typographic errors – rendered the name differently on the label of his first vinyl waxing. Deploying one of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies avant la lettre, Osterberg determined to “honour [his] error as a hidden intention”, and retained the inaccurate pseudonym throughout his subsequent career.

A Pair Of Crabs

From the porthole of your bathyscaphe, you see a pair of crabs scuttling across the floor of a silent sea. They are discussing the poetry of T S Eliot. It may be thought that critical analysis of modernist verse requires higher cognitive functions than those possessed by crabs, whose brains are tiny. Indeed, they are about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen. But you might be surprised. The difficulty, for you, is one of translation. Crabs have fairly rudimentary communication skills, but they do communicate with each other, and sometimes the subject of those communications might be The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. But you would not know this, behind the reinforced glass of your bathyscaphe porthole. You would just see a pair of scuttling crabs and have no idea what was going on in their strange little heads. What you would need is some sort of manual, clearly-written, to enable you to decipher the signals being passed from crab to crab. At time of writing, no such manual exists.

But there you are, at the bottom of the silent sea, with a perfect view. Perhaps fate has decreed that you are the person to write that manual, to learn to communicate with crabs in their own language! It will probably take months, if not years, of study, and of course you do not have that much time, because before long your oxygen supply will be exhausted and you will have to return to the surface of the silent sea and return the bathyscaphe to the chandler from whom you hired it. So before surfacing, it will be a good idea to point your camera at the pair of crabs and film their discussion of T S Eliot for several minutes. You will then be able to study the film, oh so brow-furrowingly, in the comfort of your permanently-oxygenated seaside redoubt.

We shall all look forward to the publisher’s announcement of A Clearly-Written Manual Of Rudimentary Crab Communication, including several chapters of crab-exegesis of the poetry of T S Eliot, translated into human.

An Elocution Lesson

When I was first invited to present a show on ResonanceFM, way back in 2004, my immediate enthusiasm was tempered by a certain anxiety. I was fretful that perhaps I did not have a “radio voice”, and that, as soon as I was stuck in front of a microphone, I would screech like a screech-owl. Listeners would lunge towards the off-button, desperate to stop the hideous caterwauling and lapse into blessed silence. So before accepting the offer, I took myself off to an elocutionist.

Miss Blossom Christsblood’s establishment was on the top floor of a tall and ramshackle and quite possibly condemned building in an insalubrious part of town. It did not enjoy a lift, and by the time I had lugged myself up the stairs I was breathless and panting. Before she even said hello, Miss Blossom was intent on exacting payment from me, in cash, for my first lesson. I emptied my pockets of coinage, which she immediately squirrelled away in what looked like a battered tobacco tin.

I was given to understand that my lesson would begin when I stopped panting, which I duly did several minutes later. During this time, Miss Blossom paid no attention to me whatsoever, but busied herself with her birds, innumerable birds housed in innumerable birdcages hanging from innumerable rafters. I am no ornithologist, but I think at least one of them was a screech-owl.

Eventually my lesson began.

“When speaking aloud,” announced Miss Blossom, in a screech, “The most important thing is the formation of the vole sounds.”

It was at this point I decided to cut my losses and leave. Over a decade has passed since that unfortunate episode. In that time, I have continued to present Hooting Yard On The Air every week, with the occasional lacuna, and I do not think that at any time I have found it necessary to imitate the sound of a vole, nor a beaver, nor a shrew, nor even an otter.

American Snipe

Clint Eastwood’s new film American Snipe has broken box-office records in its first week on release. It is quite an achievement for the octogenarian director, the more so, perhaps, given its ornithological theme. American Snipe tells the true story of a snipe with a record number of kills. The film follows the bird as it flies around, swooping down to catch and gobble up crane flies, horse flies, deer flies, beetles, dragonflies, crickets, grasshoppers, ants, mayflies, butterflies, caddis flies and moths. No explicit moral judgements are made, though at one point an ornithologist, observing the slaughter, remarks “They’re just insects”.

The film has provoked controversy in the United States, winning plaudits from right-wingers while those on the liberal left have condemned it for painting a picture of unalloyed avian savagery, instead of showing nature as twee and cuddly.

The role of the American snipe is played by an award-winning snipe with a particularly long slender pointy bill.

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Film Still

A rare film still from the even rarer documentary film Tiny Enid – Plucky Tot, never, so far as we know, ever screened, anywhere, ever, and almost certainly lost.

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Friday No. 5

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An Important Anniversary

Peter Blegvad, from “The Unborn Byron”:

Spread the word, tomorrow morn
A future poet shall be born.
From my mother I shall fall
Into the womb that holds us all.
My life shall be a meteor
Which generations shall adore.
For my unbuttoned liberty
The unborn will remember me.

Mr Key, from “The Tiny Newborn Mr Key”:

1959, this very morn
The tiny Mr Key was born
He was a full month premature
When he knocked his fist upon the door
Of the world beyond his mother’s womb
A tiny bright spark in the gloom
And soon the words poured out of him
They pour out still, with ceaseless vim.

Vestige Of Trouser

I once drew a picture of a vestige of trouser. As I recall, it was intended as one of a series of clues in a detective story which, I also recall, was never actually written. The plotting of a proper detective story always seemed to me outwith the range of whatever talents I possess. This is a pity, as I would like few things better than to write a cracking whodunnit, one that leaves the reader guessing until the very final paragraph, and, thereafter, gawping open-mouthed, with perhaps a trail of drool slowly descending from their lower lip, maintaining that stunned stillness for several minutes before regaining their wits. I can think of several books I have read, over the years, which have left me in such a state, and not all of them were whodunnits. Nor, if I tally them up in my poor memory, did any of them contain, anywhere within them, a vestige of trouser. After all, in fiction as in life, we usually encounter trousers whole, do we not? So I am sure I would remember a book with a vestige of trouser in it, just as I remember a pen-and-ink drawing I made, about thirty years ago, of such a thing. What I do not know is why that drawing has come bubbling to the surface of my brain today of all days. Perhaps, in some world or universe running parallel with this one, today is Vestige of Trouser Day, and faint signals from that world or universe have unaccountably pierced the fabric of my own world. But that smacks of science fiction, not detective fiction, and I always think it best to draw a veil over the conjectures of science fiction. When I say “draw a veil”, I do not mean draw a picture of a veil, as I once drew a picture of a vestige of trouser. I am using a different sense of the word “draw”. But you knew that, and did not need me to tell you, which makes me wonder why I am still prattling on, pointlessly, when I might be better occupied gawping, open-mouthed, stunned and still, with drool falling from my lips.

Cake And Sash

Hard to credit that half a century has passed since I was initiated into the Fellowship of the Cake and the Sash, but here is the photographic evidence.

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