The New Look

For a number of reasons, it has proved necessary to faff about with the technical gubbins lurking behind the Hooting Yard website, hence this new look. My – and your – thanks are due to the boffin who worked tirelessly to ensure the whole thing is still here on the internet. He has now gone away to a foreign land for a well-deserved break.

Inevitably, there will be a few teething problems. I noted, for example, that the index to the Archives, making them accessible by date and topic under the tab above, has vanished. I know that most of you lot spend virtually all your waking hours reading, rereading, and rerereading the ten years’ worth of potsages [sic] gathered here, so until we fix that, upon the boffin’s return, I suggest you make use of the Search box to rummage around.

Please let me know of any other blips, bloops, or catastrophic horrors you may spot, and we shall endeavour to put things straight.

Antipodean Chicken-Dyeing

You will be pleased to learn that Mr Key has returned from his sojourn on foreign shores, refreshed, revivified, and ready to shower you once again with sweeping paragraphs of majestic prose. I am not going to tell you much, if anything, about my jaunt, but I think it is worth noting that I met, on my travels, a man called Dave, from Australia who, when young, used to dye chickens different colours. It was not entirely clear to me whether he did this as a form of gainful employment, or for his own entertainment. It might even have been art. I mention this because it occurred to me that an Antipodean chicken-dyer could prove a useful recurring character in the various doings recounted here at Hooting Yard. We shall see.

Oh, one more thing. I was startled to discover that Dave was unable to name the four members of The Seekers. I have long believed – with good reason – that it is the mark of any civilised person, and certainly of any civilised Antipodean, that they can rattle off those names without even having to think, much as one might list John, Paul, George, and Ringo (not forgetting Yoko, of course), or Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, or Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. I have no doubt that every single one of my readers will be as baffled as I was by Dave’s inability in this regard. Perhaps a lethal chemical constituent of the dyes used on those chickens long ago bedizened his brainpans.

Fort Himmelfarb

A reader writes:

Dear Mr Key, I am pleased to hear you are heading abroad for a well-earned break. I would be most interested to know what you are taking with you as holiday reading.

Though I am leaving very early tomorrow morning, I have not finished packing. However, a couple of items have already found their way into my suitcase: the current issue of Fortean Times, and a new collection of essays by Gertrude Himmelfarb.




Just as I locate my mislaid mojo, and return to tippy-tapping, I’m afraid I must announce a brief hooting hiatus (hootatus?). I will be away in foreign climes, dressed like Fitzcarraldo, for about a week and a half. You can spend that time exploring the archive, and I will resume regular posting upon my return.

Bloated Janitor

There was a bloated janitor, and all his friends were dead.
Echoes of their voices bounced round inside his head.
He was terribly stressed.
And so, to blot out the echoes of the past, he fled
To Chris and Tim and Lindsay, to Dagmar, John and Fred
Who played Unrest.

(With a nod to The Plain People of England.)

The Nylon Duke

Behold the Nylon Duke. He is fashioned entirely from nylon, every last bit of him, yea, even unto his cartilages. He is a nylon wonder of the world.

The Nylon Duke is pulled along, flat on his back, on a cart, by a great grey drayhorse with its bright and battering sandal, from village to village. At each stop along the way, in villages leafy or otherwise, he is hoisted upright by a system of winches and pulleys. The villagers gather and gasp and gawp at the sight of the Nylon Duke. They bring offerings of potatoes and similar root vegetables, piled high on the cart before being transferred into sacks by the Nylon Duke’s attendants. These attendants are not made of nylon.

Elsewhere, there is a Nylon Duchess, and there may be a Nylon Dauphin, and there are even rumours of a Nylon Dunce. But in this land there are not enough great grey drayhorses to pull them on carts around villages. A Dearth Of Drayhorses is an oft-reprinted tract which goes some way to explaining this situation.

Consider the Nylon Duke in the round, in all his pomp and finery and nylonosity. Would you begrudge him your potatoes? Think hard before you answer, for fig eider remprent, scou binder ad fig, as it is written, as it is engraved, as it is tattooed upon the foreheads of the attendants.

The Nylon Duke’s given name is Bob.


I have previously expressed my intolerance of phrases such as “going forward”, “robust and transparent”, and, heaven help us, “diverse ‘n’ vibrant”. Another horror I have thus far overlooked is “nailed”, as in “he’s really nailed it there”. For the avoidance of doubt, there is only one thing that can be nailed, and that is Christ to the cross. If you are a barbaric heathen and have no idea what I am talking about, see below.


Crucifixion by Horace Pippin, 1943

Lost Books, Real And Imagined

I am currently reading – or peering at, with my iffy eyes – The Book Of Lost Books by Stuart Kelly (2005). Among other things I have learned is that we have lost a work by the ancient polymath Callimachus (c.320 – c.340 BCE) entitled On The Changes Of The Names Of Fish. I, for one, would love to read it, and I suspect it inspired a dream I had, where I came upon a copy of On The Stiffness Or Otherwise Of Bolts Of Cloth by Rotting Engineering Equipment Jr.

Resurrection (And Chant)

Crikey! I think that must be the longest period of eerie silence at Hooting Yard since records began fourteen years ago. Much has happened in the interim. Well … not that much. There has been ongoing eye trouble (not yet resolved), regular shows on Resonance – available on Mixcloud – where I have been looking at past investigations of plums and swans and Captain Nitty, and a brief trip to Scotland. Oh, and I was asked to name a trawler.

To ease you back in to what they call the Hooting Yard Experience, I bring you the work of Charles Anthony. I have no idea who Mr Anthony is, but he is clearly a very sensible man. Please take a minute to marvel at this and this.

Film Review

Yesterday I went to see the new Walt Dinsey [sic] film Beauty And The Beast. (I know, I know. Don’t ask.) A more fitting title would have been Feisty Bookworm And The Prince With Bad Table Manners. Belle, the Beauty, as played by Emma Watson, is feisty, and a bookworm. The only other thing to note about her character is that she has a rather problematic relationship with her father’s horse, but we shall come to that.

The putative Beast (one Dan Stevens) is hardly bestial. I was expecting something like the Grunty Man, that awful figure of children’s nightmares. Other than being a bit hairy, sporting a pair of goaty horns, and growling occasionally, this so-called Beast seems perfectly civilised. He speaks in a mellifluous RADA-trained voice not unlike that of the late Alan Rickman, and has a well-stocked library. The extent of his bestiality seems to be that he slurps his soup straight from the bowl. Franz Kafka had worse table manners (his father used to hide behind the newspaper when dining with FK).

Now, about that horse. Its name is Philippe. The Feisty Bookworm arrives at the castle astride Philippe. We then see neither hide nor hair of the horse until, after an indeterminate period – days? weeks? months? – the Beast frees the Bookworm so she can rescue her father from imminent incarceration in a lunatic asylum. Suddenly, there is Philippe, fit as a fiddle, ready to gallop back to the village. Where has he been all this time? The Feisty Bookworm has expressed not a jot of concern for him, and we have seen no sign of a stable, nor even a trough. It is all very mysterious.

Hooting Yard Rating : Three stars for tiptop soup-slurping.

Sporting Glory

I often receive letters from readers crying plaintively “Mr Key! Mr Key! How can I become a tiptop sporting champion? If anyone can give me a top tip, it is you!”

Actually, it is not me you need to ask, but Hooting Yard’s tiptop sports correspondent Fatima Gilliblat. This is what she has to say:

The best way to become a tiptop sporting champion is to ensure you were born on 23 March. It was on this day of the year that champs such as Roger Bannister, Mo Farah, Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny, Steve Redgrave, and the bobsleighing Olympian Shelley Rudman dropped from their mothers’ wombs, as did the cricketer Mike Atherton and the pugilist Joe Calzaghe. If you were born on any other day, I am afraid that the road to sporting glory will be steep and pitiless and you will almost certainly fail.


I once saw the novelist Anthony Burgess settle down at a concert grand, put a reproduction of ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ on the music stand, and play the picture in a camp, but straight-faced, demonstration of synaesthesia. As ever with Burgess, you were not quite sure if he was taking the mick.

Stephen Bayley, reviewing books about colour in The Spectator.


Exemplary Slobbering Vignettes

I received an invitation to attend a swish sophisticated cocktail party, and decided to wear for the occasion my second-best bib and tucker.

On the evening itself, with the party in full swing, I was leaning insouciantly against a mantelpiece when I was approached by a fellow guest.

You are a grown man,” she said, “Why are you wearing a bib?”

I embarked upon a lengthy explanation of the phenomenon known as involuntary slobbering, citing certain vivid examples both from my own experience and from the historical records. I prattled for quite some time, holding my interlocutor spellbound, until one of my exemplary slobbering vignettes caused her to interrupt me.

Spiro Agnew?” she cried, so loudly that she caught the attention of guests on the far side of the room.

Indeed so,” I said, “And I will not qualify my assertion with that weasel-word allegedly.”

At this, she executed a startled little jump, and confessed to a terrible fear of weasels. I told her they only alarmed me when they went pop! up and down the City Road. More than once, I added, such weasel-popping had caused me to slobber involuntarily. I was pleased, momentarily, to have brought the conversation back to my chosen topic, but my new companion was now fixated upon weasels, and insisted I join her in a search-and-destroy mission in case any weasels had infiltrated the cocktail party.

With what,” I asked, “Shall we destroy any weasels we might hunt down?”

Well,” she said, “What is that?” and she pointed to my tucker.

That is my second-best tucker,” I said, “It goes with the bib.”

We can use it to smother any weasels we find!” she cried, and she took me by the hand, and led me away from the drawing room towards another part of the house where, she hinted, there might be weasels.

I never did get the chance to finish my exemplary slobbering vignette featuring the thirty-ninth vice president of the United States of America. But the weasel-frightened lady gave me her telephone number, so one evening soon I will call her, and tell her the rest of that tale, and several others, until the cows come home.