Lilliputian Rabbits, Etc.

Henry Fuseli ate a diet of raw meat in order to obtain splendid dreams. Lamb spoke of “Lilliputian rabbits” when eating frog fricassee; and his sister Mary, wielding a knife, chased a little girl who was helping her in the kitchen and then stabbed her own mother through the heart; Hazlitt was perceptive about musculature and boxers; Wordsworth used a buttery knife to cut the pages of a first-edition Burke. Coleridge, his head shrouded in a fog, read poetry badly and moaned gloomily. The dreams of Jean Paul, the crow that loved the storm, reverberated across the Lake District… There were others who helped themselves to dreams. Robert Southey experimented with laughing gas. Ann Radcliffe sought out huge quantities of indigestible food to reinforce her terrible night visions. Mrs Leigh Hunt was proud to have produced an apocalyptic dream, which then appeared in a poem by Shelley. Coleridge, distracted by the scratching of his pen over the paper while transcribing his dream, forgot part of it. And Lamb complained about the derelict impoverishment of his dreams.

From Three Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy (2005). The lives of which she writes are of Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and Marcel Schwob.

Shifting Sands

Oh look, shifting sands! If you stand quite still, and shut your eyes, and wait for, say, five minutes before opening them, when you do you will find yourself in an utterly different terrain. When you were not looking, the sands shifted, and now all is strange and bewildering.

On the beach at Shifting, a lovely little seaside town in Hoonshire, it is common to see people standing stock still with their eyes shut. It is common, too, to see looks of disappointment, even devastation, cross their faces, when they open their eyes to find the beach unchanged from how it was five minutes before. This is because the sands at Shifting Sands are not shifting sands. They are what are known as inert sands, roughly speaking. What shifting occurs, occasioned by the wind and the tides, is slow and imperceptible.

What they do have at Shifting Sands are perilous pockets of quicksand. Beware! Best not even to think about those pockets, for if you do, you will sink into the quicksand of your thought, and you won’t have the power anymore.


From a reader’s letter in the current issue of Standpoint:

Whenever I am feeling a little low I call to mind a Sunday morning 30-odd years ago waiting in a queue in a shop in Riberac, Dordogne. The gentleman at the head of the queue, wearing shorts and sandals with long white socks, bellowed at the lady behind the counter: “Je suis Sir William van Straubenzee, ou est mon Sunday Telegraph?”

The Higher Mathematics

Dear Mr Key, writes Andy Martin, I recently read (or tried to read) a textbook on recent developments in mathematics. Its pages are littered with sentences and phrases which often sound as if they’ve been swiped from one of the earlier pamphlets by that chap [Norman Davies] who wrote Further Science.

Mr Martin then lists some of the inexplicable, yet curiously compelling, phrases he has digested, all quoted verbatim from the text:

…degeneracy on a manifold…

…lemmas on ordinary differential operators with parameters…

…sharp regularity estimates for the solution of the oblique derivative problem…

…instability modes in Benard systems…

…codimension-two bifurcations…

…the basic boundary value problems for operators with VMO coefficients…

…time dependent and time independent wave packet approaches to reactive scattering…

…laser excited wave packets in semiconductor heterostructures…

…Feshbach resonances and singular Hodge theory…

…elliptic complexes of pseudodifferential operators and to stratified media…

…singular interaction problems with distribution and hyperfunction data…

…polar materials without director symmetry…

…the mechanical fragility of smectic bookshelf structure…

…quantum dot heterostructures…

…eigenoscillations in diffraction theory…

…molecular integral evaluation…

…material tensors of ranks 2 to 7…

…multiconfigurational self-consistent fields and coupled clusters…

…orientational aspects in pair transfer and multichromophoric systems…

…the Stokes parameters in nonlinear media and self action polarisation phenomena…

…canonical quantization and stochastic wave functions…

…quantum states of bosonic systems…

…phase space distribution functions and the density operator…

As a lover of books, adds Mr Martin, I assume you, too, are profoundly concerned about the mechanical fragility of smectic bookshelf structure. Perhaps you’ve already noticed it. I know I have.

Elf-Help For Idiots

After writing dozens and dozens of books, self-help guru “Dr.” Bruce Terrific has had an epiphany.

It was always my aim to write more books than Tony Buzan,” he said in an interview with Buzantastic News magazine, “And having achieved that goal, I felt it was time to strike off in a new direction. It has also dawned on me that my self-help books serve only to increase the navel-gazing narcissism of readers who can’t see further than their own petty and squalid lives. Christ almighty, isn’t it high time people stopped helping themselves and instead helped others?

That’s why I am launching a new series of elf-help books. For too long, elves, fairies, and laughing gnomes have had to fend for themselves. Well, those days are over. From now on, my readers are going to be instructed in the best ways to devote themselves to the care and feeding of elves. Beat that, Tony Buzan!”

The first book in the series, Elf-Help For Idiots, explains how to darn an elf’s pointy hat when it becomes frayed.

Where Do You Go To, My Lovely?

Peter Sarstedt famously asked “Where do you go to, my lovely, when you’re alone in your bed?” The simple answer to this question is that his lovely is not going anywhere. She is in bed, quite possibly asleep. Why, then, would the singer – whose first wife was a dentist – pose the query in the first place?

We can posit several solutions to this conundrum, and it is well worth doing so, for reasons which ought to be obvious – and obvious not only to the spouses of dentists, but to the general population also.

One theory, propounded by veteran Sarstedtist Loopy Tinhat, is that the question mark ought to appear after “my lovely”, and that “when you’re alone in your bed” is a new, separate sentence, the beginning of a rumination quite distinct from the opening query. In this reading, Sarstedt is about to make certain observations regarding his lovely in her bed, but he is interrupted before he is able to complete the sentence. Tinhat suggests the singer spoke from the dentist’s chair, when his wife was about to perform a tooth extraction, and told him to “open wide” just as he uttered the word “bed”.

Tinhat’s theory won broad support among the my lovely community until it was comprehensively demolished by researcher Lars Welk. Using dental records, slowed-down tape recordings, and a fiercely forensic brain, Welk demonstrated beyond sensible argument that Tinhat had no idea what he was talking about.

More persuasive, perhaps, is the argument laid out over several coruscating paragraphs by Ned Cakeboy in a paper published in The Journal Of Dental Hygiene & Sarstedt Studies, Vol XXIV No. 11. Pointing out that, just as doctors get sick and require the ministrations of other doctors, so dentists call on other dentists to faff about with their teeth when necessary. He goes on to claim that the bed in which my lovely is alone is a hospital bed, on wheels or casters. She is about to undergo particularly complex dental treatment, and has been wheeled, in her bed, from her ward to a dental operating theatre. Peter Sarstedt, paying a visit to his dentist lovely born of uxoriousness, armed probably with a bouquet of flowers, arrives at the dental hospital to discover that she is not, as he supposed, in her ward. Where did she go to?, he wonders.

I said there were several possible solutions to account for the singer asking such a seemingly stupid question, and I have tackled two of them. That is quite enough for the time being. In any case, these matters become decidedly more baffling when we consider that Sarstedt’s second wife was not a dentist.

The Only Sound

The only sound to tear the night comes from the man upstairs. His bloated belching figure stomps. He may crash through the ceiling soon. If he does so, the sound will cease. He will be lying on his back, on my carpet, covered in a film of dust and powder and debris. I will cast upon him a look of reproach, and poke him with the pointy stick I keep to hand for circumstances such as these. He may grunt, if still alive, or not, if dead.

When I prod his neck, I will dislodge from around it a delicate silver chain to which is attached a medallion. It bears a depiction of a saint, identified by an inscription as Saint Agur. I will be tempted to kick the bloated belcher in the head, on account of his stupidity. Is he not aware that this so-called saint is but a figment of the marketing department of a French cheesemaking concern? Not for the first time, I will be driven crackers by the blithering ignorance of my neighbours. As Dylan observed, it’s a wonder that they still know how to breathe.

The belcher from upstairs splayed on my carpet may or may not be breathing. But the sound of his stomping, mercifully done with, will now be replaced by the roaring of an idiot wind. Wild is the wind, and I hear the sound of mandolins. Can a man get no peace nor quiet in this damnable urbis? I will retreat to my kitchen for Phensic and marmalade. Somewhere I have a packet of twenty No. 6, but no light. I will rifle through the pockets of the bloated git on my carpet. I will give him a kicking as I do so.

But he is not there. He did not, after all, crash through the ceiling. The stomping of his bloated belching figure remains the only sound. Until, at last, day breaks, and it is joined by twittering birdsong, and the clink and clank of the milkman on his morning rounds.

Milkman, milkman, bring me curds and whey!

No – there is nothing for you today.

No milk, no whey, no curds nor cream.

Go crash through the ceiling of your dream.

References : S. Engel, B. Dylan. N. Washington, P. Strohmeyer-Gartside

A General Air Of Decrepitude

Yesterday’s episode of Hooting Yard On The Air (aka A General Air Of Decrepitude) was a packed show. Mr Key read the stories A Dream, At Night, and An Old Manuscript, and he was joined for a performance of the one-act play Overheard In A Supermarket by Miss Blossom Partridge, aka Pansy Cradledew, who also read The Coronation and joined Mr Key for a recital of In Gath. In addition, there was a brief discussion of Scritti Politti, an old French saying, and new verse by Dennis Beerpint.

Recommended Reading

I sprawled in the mosque and thought about Allah.
Did he, I wonder, ever visit Valhalla?
Would the Vikings have allowed him to enter
And make it an Islamic Cultural Centre?
Or would they have smote him with axe and bludgeon
Violent in their Nordic dudgeon?
There is only one true God.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Ken Dodd.


I was not at all certain whether I had any advocates, I could not find out anything definite about it, every face was unfriendly, most people who came toward me and whom I kept meeting in the corridors looked like fat old women; they had huge blue-and-white striped aprons covering their entire bodies, kept stroking their stomachs and swaying awkwardly to and fro. I had been told that at least three advocates would be assigned to represent me, but if so, where were they? And could the case proceed without them?

I wondered if I had somehow come to the wrong building. Perhaps this was not the law courts, but some other branch of some other institution of some other regime in some other country on some other continent. After all, there was a blank period of several hours, between my waking up on my pallet of straw in the barn annexe and my arrival here, several hours of which I could remember nothing save for the plaintive cry of a curlew, and a smashed saucer on the linoleum.

Dizzy in the head, I sat down on a bench and lit my pipe. People continued to mince and waddle along the corridor, seemingly with purpose. None of them spared me a glance. None of them announced themselves as my advocate. Perhaps I was in the right building but on the wrong floor? I had noticed, as I entered from the street, that the building was impossibly tall. The top of it was invisible, engulfed by clouds.

Puffing on my pipe ought to have calmed my nerves, but, like poor Neddie in Brand Upon The Brain! (Guy Maddin, 2006), I was a bundle of tics. The case – if it were ever heard and judged upon – could spell my ruin. I had been accused of plagiarism by the publishers of the weekly children’s comic The Hammer Of Christ. Among the most popular strips in that penny woeful was that recounting the adventures of Buster and Radbod. I was deemed to have stolen these characters when I began to issue my own weekly children’s comic, Buster And Radbod. It was true that, in all particulars, my Buster was identical to the original Buster, my Radbod to the original Radbod, and that some – well, all – of the adventures I related in my comic differed not a jot from adventures pursued by Buster and Radbod in The Hammer Of Christ. But apart from those wildly improbable coincidences – and is it not a feature of coincidences that they are wild and improbable? – there really was no comparison. The paper-size and pagination of the comics was different, my drawings were somewhat cack-handed, and the sale price of my publication was four times the price of the dreadful rag I was accused of copying.

In spite of this, and of my protestations of innocence, I had been summoned to the court to face the full wrath of the law. But how could I marshal a defence without my promised advocates? Slumped on the bench, it dawned on me that my predicament was not dissimilar to a situation faced by Buster and Radbod in one of their adventures, which had appeared in The Hammer Of Christ Vol. XLIV No. 8 and, coincidentally, in Buster And Radbod Vol. I No. 1.

What happened was that the frolicsome duo were summoned to the law court, an impossibly tall building, the top of which vanished in the clouds. They had to answer a charge brought against them, the essence of which was that they were false replicas, or doppelgangers, of the purported real Buster and real Radbod. It is a stupendously exciting and suspenseful story, as the pair roam the corridors on the many many floors of the building, knowing that at any moment they may come face to face with … themselves! Particularly enthralling – and psychologically complex for a children’s comic strip – is Buster and Radbod’s growing realisation that they may not be real, may be simply fictional two-dimensional simulacra. Complexity piles on paradox because, of course, neither Buster nor Radbod is real – they are comic strip characters. But so are the so-called real Buster and Radbod they will encounter, at some point in the story in the building in a corridor on a floor.

Somehow these reflections made my own situation less fraught. I tapped out my pipe, rose from the bench, and went in search of my advocates. It seemed to me now that I would be able to spot them easily among the teeming throng. They would look identical to me! All three of them! I hunted them along all the corridors on the floor, and then I tried the other corridors on the other floors, one by one. But before I found my advocates, I noticed a curious thing about the many steep and crowded staircases in this building. As long as you don’t stop climbing, the stairs won’t end, under your climbing feet they will go on growing upwards.

The first sentence, and the last, were translated from the German by Tania and James Stern. Everything in between was not.


Gus was pipped at the post. It was one of those huffington posts, recently erected at strategic points across the land, by diktat. They were named in honour of Puissance Huffington, the tiny orphan child who, by some inexplicable chain of accidents, now reigns over our realm. Nobody expected frail little Puissance to rule with an iron fist, but she does, and then some!

Like so many citizens, Gus had assumed that Puissance would be a benign queenlet. It was perhaps this naivete which led to his undoing, when he entered a contest in the weekly children’s comic The Terrible Wrath Of Christ Our Saviour. Readers were asked to supply a caption for a drawing which showed an innocent farmyard scene, typical of our country. Mischievous Gus wrote something disobliging about a hen, unaware that every single caption submitted to the comic would be scrutinised, personally, by Puissance Huffington. She could not read, of course, so pressed into service a man of letters who loitered somewhere in the bowels of the palace. When this sickly one-legged fellow read to Puissance the words written by Gus, she was outraged.

I am very fond of hens,” she is reported to have said, “And I will not have disobliging things said of them, no siree!”

And she told the man of letters to aim his crutches in the direction of the Palace Git, conveying instructions to have Gus arrested. And so within hours of writing his unwise words, Gus found himself chained to one of the huffington posts in one of the less salubrious parts of the country, populated for the most part by ne’er-do-wells, halfwits, and Corbynistas. Eagerly, they pelted Gus with pips, as Puissance Huffington decreed.

In retrospect, we can appreciate just how fortunate Gus was to have committed his crime in the early days of the reign of Puissance. For her power made the little orphan child ever more vindictive and cruel, and it was not long before she declared that miscreants should be pelted, not with pips, but with plumstones.

A Dream Of Godden

Ah, the manifold complexities of the human brain! In my dreams, as I slept last night, there was a starring role for Rumer Godden. Quite what she was up to became unclear the moment I awoke, and now I remember nothing at all, save that she had a very important part to play in whatever was going on in my sleeping head.

But why? I have never read any of her books. I had to remind myself, with a tiny bit of morning research, that she was the author of (among much else) Black Narcissus. I know almost nothing about her. Yet here she was, unsummoned, at the forefront of my unconscious mind.

At least I did not bash her about with a wooden chair, as once – in dreams – I bashed Roy Kinnear …