Monkey In Ice

Slaloming from my chalet down to the post office, I stopped short when I saw, at the edge of a crevasse, a monkey encased in a block of ice. I am no expert on monkeys, and I was not sure what kind of monkey it was. It was between a quarter and a third of the size of an average human, if such a thing exists. I made a note with a propelling pencil in my jotting pad to remind me of the precise location, then carried on down to the post office at the foot of the mountain. I transacted my business – at this distance in time I cannot remember what it was – and made my way to the funicular railway station, stopping off to buy a pastry snack and a bag of plums.

I told the conductor that I wanted to alight before my usual, chalet level, stop. He raised one eyebrow and gave me a quizzical look, but dinted my ticket with his metal ticket dinter without further comment. The windows of the carriage were steamed up, so I could not see a thing outside. I lit my pipe, and we began to creak slowly upwards.

I got off when the conductor gave me the nod, and trudged over to the crevasse. In my absence, the block of ice had not thawed one iota. If anything it had frozen to even more adamantine solidity, not surprising given the foul weather. The sun had been obscured by clouds and mist and bad air for three or four days on the trot. I tapped my bemittened knuckle on the ice, but of course the monkey inside did not stir. How could it? It too was frozen solid.

My first thought had been to melt the ice in situ, releasing the monkey dangerously close to the crevasse. If, upon regaining consciousness, it bounded off in the direction of the gaping chasm and looked as if it might plunge to its death, I hoped to forestall such a calamity by tempting it with plums, or pastry. But while aboard the funicular railway, I had become peckish, extinguished my pipe, and eaten half the plums and the entire pastry. I had to rethink my plans. It would make far more sense to haul the block of ice up to my chalet, and to melt it there. This would have the advantage that I could immediately put the frozen monkey in a place of comfort – my sofa or my bed – so that when it eventually awoke it would be less likely to panic and plunge down a crevasse.

The problem now was how to transport the block of ice up the unforgiving mountainside. Monkeys, I knew, were banned from the funicular railway, and with good reason. I was barely strong enough to clamber uphill unencumbered, let alone shoving, Sisyphean fashion, a block of ice containing a monkey ahead of me. For one wild moment I envisioned a helicopter swooping down, rope dangling, to ferry my cargo to the chalet. But of course the mountain, and its hinterland for miles in every direction, were a no fly zone according to Directive No. 17. What I had always found puzzling, incidentally, was the impossibility of finding out what on earth Directives Nos. 1 to 16 were. Nobody seemed to know, or at least nobody was willing to tell.

Then I remembered that I had, in my cupboard in the chalet, a very lengthy length of sturdy chain. It should be possible to affix one end of this to the block of ice, and to devise a contraption which, with minimal effort from me, for example dainty movements of my little fingers, would drag the block of ice up to my chalet. Satisfied, I lit my pipe and waited for the funicular railway to resume my journey up and home.

While I waited I peered at the monkey inside the ice, or as much of it as I could see, which in truth was very little. Sometimes ice is crystal clear, but this block was somewhat more opaque. It gave the monkey a blurred quality, as if viewed by a catastrophically myopic person, or seen in a dream. I had often dreamed of such monkeys, blurry, ill-defined, and ominously still. It had never occurred to me to wonder what these dreams might “mean”, as if they could possibly mean anything! Stalin has always seemed to me a far better guide than Freud. That is why I have a hammer-and-sickle emblem nailed to the door of my chalet, to announce my stance to any visitors, thus averting the risk of futile conversations.

And the funicular railway carriage arrived on schedule and I clambered aboard and I smoked my pipe and ate the remainder of the plums and I alighted at my usual stop and I went home and I devised a contraption to drag the block of ice up the mountain slope and I fetched the chain from the cupboard and I fixed one end of it to the bracket on the contraption and gave it a hefty tug to ensure it was secure and I started to make my way slaloming back down the mountain paying out the chain behind me until I came to the block of ice with the monkey inside it and I wrapped the chain round and round the ice and gave it a hefty tug to ensure it was secure and I returned to the funicular railway stop to wait for the carriage to take me back uphill and then I began to feel peckish again and instead of going home I slalomed down to the village and bought another pastry and another bag of plums and I sat on a stone bench next to a statue of Stalin and scoffed the pastry and the plums and when I was replete I fell into a doze right there on the bench and I dreamed of a monkey, blurry, ill-defined, and ominously still.

I can hardly believe that fifty years have passed since that day.

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Accidental Pod

The second part of a tale from the last century …

Accidental Deaths Of Twelve Cartographers (Part Two)

podcast pic

The King Humbug

Don’t get fooled by “Dr.” Smartweed Pierce! (Click to enlarge and make legible.)

smartwood

My thanks to Poppy Nisbet.

Dabbling In Etiquette

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This week in my cupboard at The Dabbler I offer some handy tips on etiquette. Those of you likely to encounter, over the weekend, black-hearted Prince Fulgencio and/or grunting farmyard pigs will find this advice particularly helpful. As far as I know I do not have an appointment with the prince, nor with any pigs, but I ought to check my day-book to make absolutely sure.

My day-book, by the way, has a yellow cover, like a fin de siècle symbolist publication, whereas the cover of my night-book is as black as the black, black heart of Prince Fulgencio. Indeed, the precise shade of black was created by replicating, to the nth degree, the blackness at the heart of the prince’s black heart, as depicted in the official mezzotints.

A dumb bear loomed over the shoulder of the mezzotintist as he worked, as dumb bears do in certain tales, ones you have probably forgotten, for you did not pay proper attention when sat at your mother’s knee as she read to you, about dumb bears and mezzotintists and the black, black heart of Prince Fulgencio, from those dog-eared storybooks, so many years ago. All the illustrations in the book had been torn out and used as makeshift wallpaper for the bomb shelter.

Oh! it was the loveliest of bomb shelters, lovely and subterranean, and before the wallpaper was pasted up the walls clanged when you rapped them with your tiny fists. Since then, worms have eaten their way through the walls, huge wriggling toxic albino worms like something from a nightmare. It is said by some that such worms gnawed their way into Prince Fulgencio’s black heart, while he yet lived, and that was what made him so terrible and terrifying a prince. But that did not stand up in court, nor in the star chamber.

I keep my night-book in my star chamber, and my day-book in the pantry. Oh! It is the loveliest of pantries, lovely and subterranean and filled with jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar after jar and a jelly jug for jugged jelly.

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How To Act Like A Sensible Person

Over in the right-hand column, below the pictures of the Hooting Yard book covers, there languishes a little orange button inscribed with the words “Make a donation”. Below this is another little chunk of text inviting you to subscribe, which basically means you automatically make a donation every month. Over the years, both the button and the text have tempted the occasional reader, and I am very grateful for their support. (They know who they are.)

Today I was reading David Thompson’s excellent blog and I felt impelled, after a smidgeon of judicious editing, to copy and paste a passage from a recent postage:

Patrons are reminded that this rickety barge is kept afloat, just about, by the kindness of strangers. If you’ve been remotely entertained over the years and would like to help this dubious endeavour remain buoyant a while longer, there’s an orange button below with which to monetise any love. Debit and credit cards are of course accepted. Think of it as a magazine subscription.

This is a very sensible piece of prose, and I urge you to act on it. Make a one-off donation by clicking the button below, or a regular monthly donation by heading over to that paragraph on the right.

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NOTA BENE : For the avoidance of any doubt, following the guidance above will of course result in donations to Hooting Yard. If, in addition, or instead, you wish to donate to David Thompson, go here.

Bird King

A letter plops onto the mat from a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous. “I work for an important national institution,” he writes, “and if the powers that be ever discover I am a fanatically devoted Hooting Yard reader, my career will go up in smoke.” I would have thought it would guarantee instant promotion to the very top of the tree, plus gongs and baubles, but I may have an imperfect grasp of these matters. Anyway, the letter from this shadowy figure is headed – rather worryingly – “Plagiarism”. Here is what he has to say:

Mr Key! I thought I should bring this rather important matter to your attention. Your secret is out.

While away on an extended family holiday recently. I read the 1986 novel It by Stephen King. I like to submerge myself in fantasy/horror guff while I am disconnected from my mainstream way of life. Anyway, I read a 1100 page Stephen King novel – why am I defending myself? That is not why I am here.

If I may interject for a moment, I too am puzzled why my correspondent feels the need to defend himself. I have read a few Stephen King books over the years. He is a superb storyteller, and I have nought but admiration for his industry and craft.

So, during the book, a young boy, who is keen on birdwatching, is affoisted (I think I may have made that word up) by the evil clown/spirit thing in a water tower. In order to defend himself, he must really ‘believe in himself’ or some such of the like that allows the story to move on in a semi-logical way.

“How does he do this?” you ask. I shall tell you:

1. He holds up his birdwatching book ‘like a shield’ (does not specify whether book is opened or closed)

2. He chants – and this is the point, Mr Key, so pay attention – “Robins! Gray egrets! Loons! Scarlet tanagers! Grackles! Hammerhead woodpeckers! Redheaded woodpeckers! Chickadees! Wrens!”

There! Did you see that? In the middle of a book which has sold millions! A list of birds! “Robins! Gray egrets! Loons! Scarlet tanagers! Grackles! Hammerhead woodpeckers! Redheaded woodpeckers! Chickadees! Wrens!”

So: tell me the truth. Is it plagiarism, or are you and Stephen King in actuality the same person? Or; hah!, no doubt you have some other high and mighty explanation!?

I note that the book my correspondent quotes from was published in 1986, the same year as the inaugural Malice Aforethought Press pamphlet which unleashed Mr Key’s prose into a panting and expectant world. Clearly, then, Mr King was employing some kind of eldritch mind transference powers to “tap into” the Key cranium, rifling through it not only for its present contents but for material it would contain in the future. So let us say, rather, some kind of eldritch time-travel mind transference powers – precisely the kind of gubbins we find in Mr King’s books. I rest my case, though I would add that I have a distinct memory of taking a snooze in the year 1986 during which I had that uncanny feeling one sometimes gets that my brain was being rummaged through, past, present, and future, by a freakishly tall recovering alcoholic American bestselling writer.

Wasps And Squirrels

Hooting Yard’s anagrammatist-in-residence, R., has alerted me to a non-anagrammatical matter of some importance. Winchester woman finds 3ft wasp nest on bed, says a report on the BBC news page. As R. remarks, it is “disappointing that it’s the extent of the nest, rather than the magnitude of a particular wasp, to which this headline refers”. I have read and reread the story, in the faint hope that R. misunderstood it and that there really is – or was – a 3ft wasp at large in Hampshire. It would make a terrific short story, wouldn’t it? As Mrs Gubbins awoke one morning from uneasy dreams she found herself transformed in her bed into a gigantic wasp. Or has somebody already written something similar?

Elsewhere at the BBC, I heard – in the woozy world between sleep and wakefulness – something about squirrels with leprosy. This was a report on Farming Today on Radio 4, a show I have come to think of as Girly Farming Club. The BBC seems forever to be wringing its hands at the under-representation of women, but Farming Today is produced and presented by an exclusively female team. Regrettably, however, not one of them sounds remotely like a proper peasant.

Where Are The Snows Of Yesteryear?

Until yesterday, the snows of yesteryear were being kept in bins in a remote and refrigerated storage facility. Due to a security alert, however, the bins were moved during the night. A fleet of trucks ferried the snow, in the bins, to a secret location. The trucks were refrigerated as, too, we must assume, is the secret location. Because it is secret, I cannot tell you where it is. I don’t even know myself. But what this means is that we cannot answer the question, where are the snows of yesteryear?

Obviously we can answer that they are in a secret, refrigerated, location, but that is hardly satisfactory. The more persistent reporters from the winter weather phenomena press are unlikely to return to their igloo offices only to face the wrath of their white-bearded, icicle-strewn editors. No, they will think up ever more cunning ways to phrase their questions, hoping to trip up the snow authorities.

The snows of yesteryear, where are they?, they might ask, or Yesteryear, the snows of, whatever happened to them? Sooner or later a dimwit on the panel will blurt out the precise coordinates of the secret location, and frenzy will ensue.

Snow frenzy is akin to snow fury, and we are reminded of the bestselling paperback Like A Woman Scorn’d by Ella Snowfury. It was in fact by Pebblehead, writing under a pseudonym. There is a rogue edition purporting to be by Ella Thnowfury, copies of which have fetched sums as high as 15 New Pence on eBay.

Où sont les neiges d’antan?

Where are the snows of yesteryear?
They have been shovelled into a refrigerated container and ferried to a remote storage facility, also refrigerated, where they are kept in specially-designed “snow bins”.

How can I gain access to the storage facility?
With difficulty. As stated, it is remote.

Assuming for the moment that I have at my disposal a tremendous form of transport that could zoom me to the remotest parts of the earth in a matter of minutes, in which direction should I point it before depressing the big knob with “Go!” etched upon it?
You do not actually have such a form of transport, do you?

Well, no, but let’s just say that I did.
Your direction of travel would depend upon where you are starting from.

I am in Pointy Town.
There is plenty of snow in Pointy Town. Each winter it settles on the pointiest bits of town and remains there, cold and white and frozen, until the chirruping of little birdies in the springtime. Why in heaven’s name would you need access to the snow bins in the remote storage facility?

Whim.
Whim?

If whim is not a good enough reason, then let us say I have been appointed by the burghers of Pointy Town to compare our own snow with the snows of yesteryear, and to make my report accordingly.
These burghers, are they in their right minds?

That is a moot point. I know one of them suffered a bash on the bonce with a snow-shovel last winter and has not been quite the same since. He jabbers and drools and drools and jabbers, turn and turn about.
And was it this particular burgher who commissioned you to examine the snows of yesteryear?

Yes, it was.
Did you not stop to consider that any comparison you made between the snow currently enveloping Pointy Town and the snows of yesteryear would be futile?

They josh that my middle name is Futility.
So you are the go-to guy for fool’s errands?

I live in a Paradise of Fools.
I thought you said you lived in Pointy Town? Are you trying to pull the wool over my eye?

Do you mean eyes?
No, eye. I am Cyclopean.

A Cyclopean janitor of snow bins?
Yes.

Ah, I read about you in The Cyclopean Janitor of Snow Bins, a bestselling blockbuster paperback by Pebblehead!
In which, I have to say, I was wholly misrepresented, so much so that I have taken legal action with a view to having the entire run of several million copies pulped.

If you succeed, what will you do with all that pulp?
I will shovel it into an unrefrigerated container and ferry it to a remote storage facility, also unrefrigerated, and keep it in specially-designed “pulp bins”.

Would that be the same remote storage facility where you keep the snows of yesteryear?
No, the one is refrigerated and the other not.

So you would need to be in two places at once to perform your janitorial duties?
No, I would employ a Cyclopean pulp bin janitor.

If I pluck out one of mine eyes, could I have the job?
There is a waiting list of applicants.

How could I shove myself to the front of that list?
With sharp elbows.

Consider them sharpened!
Welcome aboard.

Thoughts On A Characteristically English August Bank Holiday

The rain it raineth in my brain
And outside too, upon the mud
I wonder will it ever drain
Or drown all life in a great flood
My sons are Japheth, Ham, and Shem
They’ve not one brolly between them
Before nightfall, when it grows dark
We had better board my ark
And take the animals two by two
We’ll have ourselves a floating zoo
Oh look! There is an aerostat
Hovering o’er Mount Ararat
Time’s out of joint, I got befuddled
I’m not Noah, I’m Key, empuddled
The rain it raineth in my brain
The rain it raineth, come rain or rain

Which Out Of Print Dobson Pamphlet Are You?

This potsage [sic] has been removed because:

(a) The Dobson estate slapped me with a cease-and-desist order

(b) There are far too many out of print Dobson pamphlets to choose from

(c) I haven’t got the faintest idea how to replicate the format of those immensely irritating quizzes that have spread across Het Internet like an ague

(d) All of the above

(e) None of the above

Forbidden!

The Yazidi, a primarily Kurdish religious minority, have been much in the news recently, threatened with death by the rampaging nutcases of IS, or Isis. You can read about their current travails elsewhere. I want here simply to mention the somehow endearing fact – reported by the BBC’s Paul Wood – that in the Yazidi faith it is forbidden to eat lettuce.

Sick Birds

Keen-eyed reader Poppy Nisbet brought to my attention this Victorian trade card. I would be extremely grateful to anybody who could give me a complete and intellectually rigorous explanation of what in the name of heaven is going on in this picture.

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3003

It escaped my attention the other day, but the piece Fatso And Slosher was the three-thousandth potsage [sic] at Hooting Yard. Or rather, it was the three-thousandth potsage in what I still think of as “new format” Hooting Yard, beginning in January 2007 and replacing the old format used from 2003 to 2006. This, then, is potsage 3003.

John Ruskin liked to number the paragraphs in some of his books – notably the mad autobiography Praeterita – and I ache, slightly, that I did not take the decision to number the potsages here way back when. (The same can be said of the Resonance104.4FM radio shows, of which there are now untold oodles.) Of course, I could delve into the innards of the archive and edit each and every potsage to give it its assigned Blötzmann Number, but I do not have the patience to do so, and the benefits would be negligible, other than to satisfy a numerical fancy.

Q – Should numerical fancies be satisfied, all else being equal?

A – There is no definitive answer to this question. On the one hand, Blötzmann applied numbers to absolutely everything, fanatically, even when there was only one of them, like some of the exhibits in Sir Thomas Browne’s Museum Clausum. On the other hand, Dobson never numbered anything, allegedly because he never learned to count. It was said of the out of print pamphleteer that “[he] did not even know how many feet he had, which is why so many spare boots were found in his closet”.

Had I bothered to number the potsages, an exciting activity might have been devised, let us call it Hooting Yard Sortilege. By plucking a tile from a pippy bag containing three thousand tiny bakelite tiles numbered from one to three thousand, the plucker would be led to a specific potsage, contemplation of which would provide guidance to the supplicant. What I would suggest is that those of you who wish their lives to be directed and governed by Hooting Yard – which I imagine is every single one of you – should print a paper copy of the entire archive, carry out snippage with scissors to separate the potsages, and number them accordingly. Then make a pile of them and do the pippy bag / bakelite tile business.

While you lot are doing that, I shall proceed onwards towards the four-thousandth potsage, with the wind at my heels, and a look of beatific stupidity on my face.

Wooden Cats

gecko-and-geckette

One of the few photographs ever taken of the Blister Lane Bypass. From The GEC Research Laboratories 1919-1984 by Sir Robert Clayton and Joan Algar (Peter Peregrinus, 1989). Many thanks to Linda Clare for bringing it to my attention.