Swarfega Pitfalls

Many and various are the pitfalls one can face when using swarfega. You don’t need me to tell you that, but I’m going to anyway. I shall show you how to anticipate the common pitfalls, how to sidestep them with a certain elegance, and, where the pitfalls are gaping chasms that cannot be avoided, how to emerge from them more or less unscathed. As I say, you probably know all this already, but that won’t stop me from telling you, if I have time.

First, though, there is something else I needs must address. When I have given this talk on previous occasions, whether in village halls or in windswept marquees, there are always one or two people in the audience who think the subject of my talk is Swarfegapit Falls, a putative cataract of tumbling water akin to, say, Niagara or Victoria Falls.

Often I might be half-way through my talk, or even close to its end, when someone in the audience will pipe up with a complaint. These nitwits can become quite hot of head. One fellow insisted on brandishing at me a fat book called, I think, A Gazetteer Of The World’s Wettest Waterfalls, holding it open and jabbing his finger repeatedly at what he claimed was a colour plate of a mezzotint of Swarfegapit Falls. Another such ninny held aloft a marmalade jar, emptied of marmalade and now containing water, water which, he shouted, he had personally collected, perilously, from the seething roiling churning sloshing foot of Swarfegapit Falls.

I usually deal with these interruptions by calmly pointing out that there is no such waterfall, and politely suggesting that my hecklers pay closer attention to the typography in my publicity material. This rarely satisfies them. For example, the gazetteer-wielder leaped on to the stage and began thumping me with the gazetteer, and the marmalade jar man similarly leaped on to the stage, unscrewed the lid from the jar, and poured the contents over my head, quite ruining my majestic bouffant.

The point I am trying to make is that while there are pitfalls to be faced when using swarfega, equally, if not more so, there are pitfalls to be faced when simply talking about the pitfalls to be faced when using swarfega. These latter pitfalls can be more alarming. In all my years of using swarfega, for example, I cannot recall a single occasion when, having prised the lid off the tin and being ready to dip my hand into the squelchy cleansing agent, I have been set upon by a nincompoop either bashing me with a gazetteer or pouring a jar of water over my head. It is true that several times my majestic bouffant has been ruined in swarfega-related circumstances, but I must admit this has almost always been my own fault, by absent-mindedly preening my bouffant just moments after getting my hands covered in swarfega.

Given the number of times my talks are interrupted by people demanding their money back because I am not talking about a waterfall, whether or not they physically attack me, it has crossed my mind that perhaps there actually exists a tumbling cataract called Swarfegapit Falls somewhere in the wide world. I have thus employed a gaggle of unpaid interns to fan out across the globe in search of it. They regularly report back to me on their progress. To date, none has found convincing evidence of a waterfall so named. More worryingly, one by one, my keen and perky interns fall silent, so that I have had to engage a second set of interns to fan out across the globe to track down the original gaggle. The reports I receive from the second lot make for sobering reading. It appears that, in traipsing through far-flung places in search of Swarfegapit Falls, each of the pioneer group has fallen into a pit. So cavernous are these pits, near waterfalls, that none has ever emerged. They may even have fallen into bottomless pits, riddled with subterranean vipers, like the one at Shoeburyness. Such are the pitfalls of unpaid internship with a lecturer giving talks on the pitfalls faced when using swarfega.

They can’t say I didn’t warn them. “There may be pitfalls,” I announced, breezily, for I always like to make my announcements breezily. But even I had no idea how many perilous pits there were in the vicinity of waterfalls. It has come as something of a surprise. The next surprise I am waiting for is when, or if, one of my interns manages to avoid the pitfall of falling into a pit and reports back to me the startling news that, yes, the ninnies and nincompoops were right all along, and there is in fact a waterfall called Swarfegapit Falls.

Should that day come, I will have no option but to tear up the text of my lecture and start all over again. I will announce, breezily:

Many and various are the pitfalls one can face when using swarfega. You don’t need me to tell you that, so I won’t. Instead, I will tell you about the pitfalls one can face when searching the globe for that mighty tumbling cataract, Swarfegapit Falls.

The Sea (An Abandoned Ditty)

The sea, the sea, vast wet expanse! I sailed upon it with Captain Hans. Hans was German. He could not swim. He was stricken with a withered limb. An arm or a leg, I remember not. Memories make my brain grow hot. I live in the present, by the shore. I live outwith the rule of law. My only rules are those of the sea. Vast wet expanse! Come splish-splosh me!

Episode 141 Point 2

Yesterday’s episode of Hooting Yard On The Air. May contain plums. Listen here.

The Prolix Pirates

Shiver me timbers!

Shiver = quake with cold or fear.

Me = the being that is my self.

Timbers = planks of wood cut to shape from trees.

Thus the prolix pirate would shout “Quake with cold and fear the being that is myself planks of wood cut to shape from trees!”

But the prolix pirate was what is known, in the technical jargon, as an unlettered matelot, and so his prolixity was improvised, off the top of his head. His shipmate, the even more prolix pirate, was armed with a battered old copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. He would shout “Tremble, shake, quiver; esp. to tremble with cold or fear the objective case of the first person pronoun I reproducing the Old English accusative and dative wood used for the building of houses, ships, etc., or for the use of the carpenter, joiner, or other artisan; wood in general as a material; esp. after it has been suitably trimmed and squared into logs, or further adapted to constructive uses!”

You can follow the adventures of the prolix pirates every week in the children’s comic The Ipsy Dipsy Doo (Prolix Edition), available from all good dealers in newspapers and periodicals, esp. the owners of shops where these are sold; (now also) the shop itself, usually also selling tobacco, confectionery, etc.

Shooting At The Moon

From the ever-intriguing J F Ptak Science Books blog:


A Cautionary Tale

I bashed my bonce upon a shelf, dislodging from it a tiny elf. It toppled down on to the floor and scampered out through my front door. I followed it as best I could, all the way into a wood. The wood was mostly larch and lime, and the elf was bent on an awful crime. I watched as it picked a woodcutter’s pocket. As it ran away I tried to block it. Then I saw its face, the hideous elf. It looked uncannily like Will Self. I fainted away in shock and fright, and when I awoke it was deepest night. The woodcutter led me to a glade and gave me tea and marmalade. I spooned it straight out from the jar, then we got into the woodcutter’s car and drove around in the pitch dark, thinking it would be a lark. But it was not – for we came a-cropper, and were arrested by a copper. He took us to the local nick, where I began to feel quite sick. Locked in a cell, I bewailed my fate. Then the elf came in, fair oozing hate. He bashed me on my bonce again, and then he turned into a hen. Not any hen – one with no head. And then I woke up in my bed. It had all been a terrible dream occasioned by too much ice cream. So, tinies, make sure you behave yourselves, or you’ll be beset by hens and elves, by a headless hen, and a terrible elf who looks exactly like Will Self.

Episode 38

Further to this comment, yesterday’s broadcast of Hooting Yard On The Air – available here – was Episode 38. Pin back yer lug’oles and listen carefully. I would like to point out that no puppies were strangled in the making of this programme.

The Von Straubenzee Box Set

Lost trinket in ditch. Sky the colour of blubber. Elves darting from elm to elm. Time for pancakes. First, obtain a pan. Not the Great God Pan. He has other fish to fry. There are no fish in the ditch. It is a dry ditch, not a drainage ditch. Ah, drainage! The Great God Pan is wearing drainpipe trousers. It is his new look. He is standing next to a real drainpipe. The blubbery sky threatens rain. It will send water pouring down the drainpipe. Across the road, a clairvoyant is driving pigs to market.

The trinket is a pig-shaped trinket. It belonged to one of the elves. The selves of elves are unreadable. They keep their distance. They laugh in the face of death. They keep their chins up. One elf has warts on his shins. They require ointment. That’s right, oint.

You can oint elvish shins with all manner of goo. Come get your goo, elf! It will cost a pretty penny. Or in exchange for a trinket. Maps and atlases chocker with elms. Elves unseen, because unreported by mappers. Soup and bridles. Bridles and soup. Odd sound of egg on wafer. The Great God Pan is riding pillion.

Egg? Wafer? Morse code for both. What hath the Great God Pan wrought? Better drainage under blubber. It is no mean feat. Cox in boat with hacking cough. Given a lozenge. Given shrikes. Blue boat on Blubber Island Lake. Towelled down on Thursdays. To the sound of Petula Clark. Elves’ eggs. Oh such yolks as unseen for centuries past!

Dim, dim, dim. Boisterous blips. Devil take the blue tail fly. These are the words of Piffleboy.


Modern cinema is in a sorry state. Increasingly, it seems Hollywood is only interested in witless superhero franchises, so the same film is recycled time and time again, with ever diminishing returns. These are films for adolescents, not adults, and such basic elements as plot, character, and genuine drama are sacrificed in the interests of mere spectacle. Why bother with, say, snappy dialogue when the audience will be happy with an endless series of big noisy explosions?

Which makes it all the more puzzling that Hollywood has thus far neglected the one superhero who I would love to see depicted on the big screen. I am talking, of course, of Piffleboy. Piffleboy was the creation of maverick comic-book genius Lars Talc, and his adventures were recounted, between March and July 1974, in the pages of the now extremely rare Piffleboy! comic.

Set in a generic American metropolis, the stories tell of a young mild-mannered milksop who is passionately devoted to his button collection. Yet he has a secret life as a crime-fighter, righting wrongs, taking out the hoodlums, and keeping the city streets safe. He does this by using his superpower, with which he was imbued following a bizarre chemical reaction caused by some of the buttons in his collection being dropped in a puddle.

Piffleboy’s superpower is an ability to spout absolute piffle, extempore and at length, which drives those listening crackers, leaving them confused and befuddled, like decapitated chickens. In a typical adventure, Piffleboy will be sitting at home with his buttons when he receives an alert on his Pifflephone, telling him that ne’er-do-wells are bent on villainy somewhere in the city. Immediately, Piffleboy minces to the scene, and starts babbling utter piffle. The evil miscreants are soon reduced to a state of discombobulation, whereupon the coppers arrive and drag them, unprotesting, off to prison.

Each episode ends with the captain of detectives saying “Gee, thanks Piffleboy! If it weren’t for you we’d never have rounded up these hoods and made the city safe again!” to which Piffleboy replies “Glad to be of service, captain. Now I must get back to my buttons”.

Devoted fans of Piffleboy memorise long passages of his most piffling piffle and meet at conventions where they recite it to each other in loud yet curiously weedy voices.

Lars Talc was taught by the noted hyperrealist artist Rex Hyper, and not the least of the charms of the Piffleboy! comics are his hyperrealist illustrations, one of which is reproduced below. This shows Piffleboy in the immediate aftermath of the famous episode in which he foils the criminal schemes of bootlegger Slugger McGrew and his gang by wittering piffle at them for several hours until the tardy cops eventually show up.


Those Drowned Kittens

The other day I mentioned Biff Chomsky’s chart-topping album of sentimental ballads entitled Songs For Drowned Kittens.

By curious coincidence, yesterday I listened, for the first time in God knows how many years, to One Lonely Night. This is a “Cold War operetta” by The Massed Ranks Of The Proletariat, adapted from the novel by Mickey Spillane. The lyrics are by Ed Baxter. It was released as a severely-limited edition cassette tape in (I think) 1990.

Anyway, have a listen to Mike’s death-wish song and you will understand why I was struck by a spooky sense of connection to the past.

Horst Gack’s Familiar

Horst Gack’s eerie familiar, a homunculus perched on his shoulder which hissed at passers-by and bit those who came too close, has long been a source of fascination for a handful of nitwits with nothing better to fill their time. It is now the subject of a magisterial new biography, Die Homunculus-vertraut von Gack, the result of several hours of slapdash research by Teutonic potboilerist Shaka Kieselkopf, a second or possibly third cousin of our own dear Pebblehead.

From the book, we learn some startling facts – if, of course, we can read German. If we cannot, and absent a translation, we would be better advised to use it as a door-stop, or to hold down the corner of a tarpaulin in a gale.

One of the less startling things we learn is that the familiar was created using the standard Paracelsian recipe. Paracelsus (1493-1541), real name Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, made the first known homunculus from a bag of bones, skin fragments, sperm, and animal hair. He placed these ingredients in the ground, surrounded by horse manure, for forty days, after which the embryo sprang into being. Horst Gack would appear to have followed this precisely, with the addition of some lupins and half a choc-ice.

Interestingly, we discover that the homunculus was absolutely identical to its maker in all respects save its size. It was a miniature Horst Gack, down to its stylish Louis Brilliantine suit, trendy winkle-pickers, and fantastic bouffant, based, as was Horst Gack’s, on The Great Wave at Kanagawa by Hokusai. Its temperament, mien, and behaviour were also of a piece with Gack’s, particularly the hissing and biting.

The only thing the homunculus seemed unable to do was to conduct huge ensembles in recitals of godawful semi-improvised avant-garde racket, though not for want of trying. Kieselkopf tells an enchanting anecdote of the homunculus trying to teach various flies, midges, gnats, and bluebottles to play the theremin, piccolo, xylophone, and tuba, without success. The sessions were recorded, however, and I think the publishers ought to have included a CD of the surviving tape. It would have made for a more rounded portrait of Horst Gack’s familiar.

One question which the biography does not address is why the homunculus was forever perched on Horst Gack’s shoulder. It was a fully functioning tiny creature, and could quite easily have scampered off and made its own way in the world. Yet it preferred always to remain as if glued to its maker, hissing at him and biting him when there was nobody else in the vicinity to torment.

The missing voice in all this, of course, is that of Horst Gack himself, who apparently tried to block the book’s publication. The grounds cited in his legal case included a claim that the biography “lacked Gack” and was thus “dippy, ploppy, and poopy”. The finest legal minds in Germany are still considering the matter, which experts say may not be resolved until some time in the next century. In the meantime, an illegal pirated edition of the book is in circulation, and has sold upwards of eight copies.

It should be noted that I do not read German, and there may be wild and unforgivable inaccuracies in the foregoing.

Odd, Odd

Occasionally I like to make note here of mentions of Hooting Yard from elsewhere in Interwebshire. I see this as a boon to scholars in years to come, who will not have to look quite so hard for references when compiling the fat magnificent doorstoppers devoted to Mr Key with which bookshelves of the future will surely teem.

Anyway, here is the view of Rachael K. Jones:

Frank Key is an odd, odd author.

Bellowing Milksop

On the pier a milksop bellowed. He was shouting at the sea. Ordinarily, we do not think of bellowing as something milksops do. But this particular milksop was that rare creature, a bellowing milksop. He felt compelled to mince to the very end of every pier he came to, there to bellow at the terrible sea.

His bellowing was largely wordless and incoherent, like a performance piece by Yoko Ono, though every now and then a sliver of sense could be picked up by an alert listener. These fragments were noted down by his Boswell, with a propelling pencil in a notepad. The milksop’s Boswell, whose name, fortuitously, was Boswell, followed the milksop from pier to pier, lagging always several paces behind him. Boswell himself was no milksop. He had once been a wrestler of average repute.

Here is a sample page from one of the notepads:

The pier at Imber, St Bibblybibdib’s Day, morning, weather balmy.

O vast wet sea!

Glebe of Havoc!

Neither hoity nor toity!

War is over if you want it!

Pontoppidan’s kraken!

Dexy’s midnight runner beans!

When the milksop’s bellowing had exhausted him, and he slouched panting on the pier, his Boswell tucked propelling pencil and notepad into his pocket, took the milksop in his arms, and carried him all the way back along the pier to the seaside boarding-house where, earlier, the pair had rented a pair of rooms. He deposited the milksop on his bed, then went to a nearby cafeteria to work up the latest slivers of sense into a grammatically impeccable letter to the editor of the local seaside newspaper. Few if any of these letters were ever published.

In the evenings, Boswell would listen to the foopball results on the wireless while the milksop traced, in a gazetteer, a footpath to the next pier. As darkness fell, lanterns were lit, and cucumber sandwiches were scoffed.

The milksop was usually too exhausted from his bellowing to make conversation with Boswell, but every now and then, if he swallowed a vitamin supplement, he might manage to ask Boswell to recount an anecdote from his wrestling days. Boswell was reluctant to do so – he was still plagued by nightmares involving half-nelsons and blind tags and dusty finishes – and he found excuses to demur. He would complain of a fictional sore throat, or point out of the window at strange swooping nocturnal birds, or even sometimes march out of the boarding-house and down to the beach to dig pointless holes in the sand, leaving the milksop alone, sprawled on his bed, weakly picking breadcrumbs from his chin and depositing them in a bedside breadcrumb tin. It had no lid.

So many piers, so much bellowing, so little sense. They were golden years, that now resemble lead.

Songs For Strangled Puppies

Songs For Strangled Puppies is a new album of sentimental ballads by tear-stained balladeer Biff Chomsky, a follow-up to his smash hit bestseller Songs For Drowned Kittens.

I am particularly proud of this new waxing” said Biff in an interview with top dead-puppy-and-kitten magazine The Daily Small Slaughtered Animals Digest, “Because the body count is slightly higher than on my previous album. That had only one or two kittens drowned per song, whereas on the new one, I sing several schmaltzy ballads in which upwards of a dozen puppies have the life squeezed out of them, in one case by the lumbering walrus-moustached serial killer Babinsky, turning his attention for once to the canine world.”

This is not the first time Babinsky has been celebrated in song, though earlier numbers have eschewed the tear-stained ballad approach. More often they have been hideous screechings and howlings composed by bearded grumpy avant garde German nitwits such as Horst Gack and Horst Gack’s familiar, a weird homunculus which perches on his shoulder and hisses at passers-by.

I was hoping to get Horst Gack’s homunculus to join me on a duet,” said Biff Chomsky, “But when I approached him, he bit me. I immediately had a tetanus jab, but it didn’t do much good. Ever since I have had a fever and an ague and fits and convulsions and to be honest I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get back in the studio to record my next album, Songs For Garrotted Baby Koala Bears.”

Each copy of the new album comes with a free tin pail in which weeping listeners can collect their tears.

Tippi The Crow

In my experience, it is not often you get a crow for Christmas. Indeed, until last month, I don’t think I had been given a crow on any festive occasion. Naturally, I was duly awestruck when, on Christmas Day just past, I unwrapped from its packaging a splendid crow. I named it Tippi (of course) and, rather belatedly, here is a snap:


I am hoping that in future Tippi will be making corvine contributions to Hooting Yard. However, given that it is a mute, plastic crow, these may be few and far between.