Lars And Maud

Lars and Maud went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
Lars fell down and clonked his crown and Maud came tumbling after.
They rolled and tumbled further down, tumbling pell mell,
‘Til they came bumping to a halt down in the dingly dell.
In the dell lurked the Grunty Man, who carried them off to his cave.
But fear not, tinies! For Lars was bold and Maud was very brave.
They shook their little fists and bawled and rent the sky asunder,
And made the Grunty Man commit a very foolish blunder.
He dropped them at the cave-mouth while he went to have a fight,
An illegal boxing match under the cover of the night.
The Grunty Man was pitted ‘gainst an awful, dreadful foe –
None other than Miss Peep, affectionately known as “Little Bo”.
She looked so pale and timorous, yet she packed a hefty punch,
And often bashed a dozen ogres before she had her lunch.
So when the Grunty Man stalked off to meet his Nemesis,
Lars and Maud ran off into the arms of Alger Hiss.
Yes, Alger Hiss, the communist spy from Washington DC!
Urbane and droll and stylish, dressed up to a T.
He took the tots to a meeting of his fellow-travelling Reds,
Where Stalinist propaganda turned their pointy little heads.
They went back to the cave and found the Grunty Man covered in gore.
Little Bo Peep had bashed him up, then bashed him up some more.
They recruited him to their cause, to overthrow the state.
Said Lars (or Maud) “We must act before it is too late!”
So Lars and Maud and the Grunty Man went back to the dingly dell,
And hid some microfilmed secrets at the bottom of the well.
But they were caught by Nixon, indefatigable in his zest
To place as many Reds as possible under house arrest.
He confined them to a house atop the hill they climbed for water,
A solid and a sturdy house well built from bricks and mortar,
Like the house of the three little pigs that withstood lupine huff and puff.
But Lars and Maud and the Grunty Man were Communists, sure enough.
So when the big bad wolf hove into view from o’er the hills,
They sang in praise of Stalin and then swallowed their cyanide pills.
And so the state was safe once more from Communist infiltration,
And Nixon was bathed in the praise of a relieved and grateful nation.
The Grunty Man and Lars and Maud were buried and forgot.
But Richard Milhous Nixon – he is not.

Originally posted in 2011.

A List Of Birds

Eleven years ago, I devoted an episode of Hooting Yard On The Air to reading out a list of 601 birds, plus an astronomer, a newsreader, 2 jazzmen, 5 film directors, and 34 stars of stage and screen. This recording – hugely significant both culturally and ornithologically – has now been made readily available, split into three parts by dint of YouTubeosity. I strongly advise you lot to listen to the whole thing, repeatedly, umpteen times a day, until you have it committed to memory. You will find it invaluable next time you are leaning insouciantly against a mantelpiece at a sophisticated cocktail party and there is a lull in the conversation.

Huzzah! For Lars Talc

What once was spineless has now acquired a spine. That old pamphlet Obsequies For Lars Talc, Struck By Lightning is newly available in an almost but not quite facsimile paperback edition. Only twenty-five copies of the original were printed – now every single one of you lot can buy as many copies as you like. Which I hope and pray you will. What with Christmas approaching, what better gift to give to those dearest to you, including that crumpled Jesuit hiding in the broom-cupboard?

Go to Lulu to place your order(s) right this minute. It’s the sensible thing to do.

The Consistency Of Porridge

When, recently, it was announced that the Nobel Prize for Literature had been awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro, I thought I ought to read one of his books. Leaning out of the window, I hailed a passing urchin and sent him scampering off to what passes for a lending library in my bailiwick. Now this young wastrel was either inattentive or hard of hearing, for when he returned, several hours later, he brought, not The Redundancy Of Courage but The Consistency Of Porridge, a book by the noted food writer Rex Foodwrite.

Exasperated, I smacked the urchin on the head, but I took the book anyway and sat down to read it. And what a revelation! Foodwrite gives a day-by-day account, in exhaustive detail, of the consistency of his breakfast porridge over a two-day period. His prose is at once Miltonic and Kafkaesque, Beckettian and Poeish, Bellowy and Ibargüengoitiaian. At times I was reminded of Pebblehead.

For many years I have been strictly an eggs ‘n’ bloaters man,” he writes, “But in the interests of tiptop literature of the highest quality, worthy of a Nobel Prize, I decided to eschew my usual breakfast for a couple of days and eat porridge instead. On the first day, it was thin, like gruel. On the second day, it was thick, like sludge.”

Over the succeeding 849 pages, the author proceeds to extrapolate from this pair of porridge consistencies a series of dazzling porridge-related extrapolations. Not the least of his insights is his contention that the consistency of porridge, at breakfast time, can serve as a dramatic bit of folderol in an award-winning motion picture starring a Welsh actor who is tortured by the realisation that his speaking voice is not, and never will be, as golden as that of his late compatriot Richard Burton. One only needs to hear the latter intone the words “Broadsword to Danny Boy” in Where Eagles Dare (Brian G Hutton, 1968) to know this, of course, but Rex Foodwrite goes on to provide a shot-by-shot analysis of the film, porridgeless as it is, which left this reader, at least, stunned.

When I recovered consciousness, The Consistency Of Porridge had fallen from my lap on to the floor, where it was being nibbled by mice. I never returned it to the lending library.

ADDENDUM : The Redundancy Of Courage is a novel by Timothy Mo, not Kazuo Ishiguro. This rather destroys the conceit of the above potsage [sic]. Oops.

Homage To Wallace Stevens

Conducting my regular Hooting Yard Prose Audit, I was dumbstruck to discover that only once have I written about fubbed pannicles, and that was five years ago. In lieu of anything new to say about this most important of topics, here is a timely repost.

In an appreciative review of the second, expanded edition of Harmonium (1931), R P Blackmur remarked that “the most striking if not the most important thing” about Stevens’s verse was its vocabulary, a heady confect including such rarities as “fubbed”, “girandoles”, “diaphanes”, “pannicles”, “carked”, “ructive”, “cantilene”, “fiscs”, and “princox”.

From Wallace Stevens : Metaphysical Claims Adjuster by Roger Kimball, collected in Experiments Against Reality (2000)

It was a dark and stormy night. Off the Kentish Knock, on the wild and churning waters, the HMS Whither Art? was being tossed about like so much flotsam. The ship’s captain, Captain Plunkett, was all too aware that it was here off the Kentish Knock on a similarly dark and stormy night in 1875 that the SS Deutschland had been wrecked, and five Franciscan nuns, including a peculiarly tall one, had suffered death by drowning. Captain Plunkett had no Franciscan nuns aboard his ship, unless there were stowaways of whose presence he was ignorant, but well he knew the HMS Whither Art? was in equal danger of wreckage on so dark and stormy a night. It would take all his mastery of the nautical arts to bring the ship and its crew safely through to dawn, and port.

Clinging to the wheel, he cried out for the first mate, First Mate Hoon. Weedy and neurasthenic yet impossibly valiant, Hoon came staggering on to the bridge. He was sopping wet, drenched by both the teeming rain and by sloshing seawater.

Hoon!” yelled the captain over the howling gale, “It has suddenly occurred to me that we may have stowaways aboard of whom I am ignorant, nuns, Franciscan nuns, hiding in the pannicles! Detail a detail of deckhands to search every last inch!”

Aye aye, captain!” yelled Hoon, “But I’ve just had a report over the ructive hooter from the princox that the pannicles are fubbed!”

Captain Plunkett took one hand off the wheel, curled it into a sort of perch, turned it towards his head, and bent forward, resting his mouth and chin on his hand, striking an attitude almost identical to Rodin’s Thinker. He was thinking. He was thinking how it could have happened, on his watch, that the pannicles had been fubbed. He was thinking how it had come about that he had not heard the princox’s message over the ructive hooter. He was thinking that he had completely forgotten the name of the princox. And he was thinking that, if there were any stowaway Franciscan nuns hiding in the pannicles of the HMS Whither Art?, then they would surely have been carked by the fubbing. When he had finished thinking, he lifted his head, put his hand back to the wheel, and cried aloud again to Hoon.

Hoon! Scrub that last command to detail a detail of deckhands!”

Aye aye, captain! I have obliterated it from my brain so rapidly and thoroughly that already I have forgotten to what the word ‘it’ refers!”

The wind continued to howl and rage, the rain to teem, the sea to slosh, and the storm to toss the ship upon the waters.

Hoon!” cried the captain, “What is the princox’s name?”

I know him only as Alan,” shouted the first mate, “As in Ladd or Whicker or Freeman, known as Fluff.”

The princox is called Fluff?” cried Captain Plunkett.

Aye, captain, by those of the crew who are radio enthusiasts.”

Detail Fluff to man the diaphanes, Hoon!”

Aye aye, captain!”.

And Hoon left the bridge, staggering below decks in search of the princox. The storm did not abate. The captain struggled manfully with the wheel. His head was now empty of thought. He was engaged in an elemental battle, man versus sea, or man versus storm, or better, perhaps, man versus stormy sea.

Meanwhile, on one of the decks, poop or orlop, one of the girandoles had been torn loose from its cantilene and was clattering about perilously. First Mate Hoon, making his slow unsteady way to the princox’s nest, saw what had happened and realised he had to make an instant decision. There was no time to think. He could not afford to curl one hand into a sort of perch, turn it towards his head, and bend forward, resting his mouth and chin on his hand, striking an attitude almost identical to Rodin’s Thinker. He staggered back to the bridge.

Captain Plunkett!” he screamed, “One of the girandoles has been torn loose from its cantilene and is clattering about perilously on the poop or orlop deck!”

Where is Fluff the princox?” cried the captain.

Still in his nest I expect,” yelled Hoon, “For when I saw that one of the girandoles had been torn loose from its cantilene and was clattering about perilously on the poop or orlop deck, I made an instant decision to tell you about it as soon as I possibly could!”

You should have used the ructive hooter!” cried Captain Plunkett.

Believe me, captain, I would have done had you heard the ructive hooter message regarding the fubbed pannicles. But you did not, and I dared not risk that a second ructive hooter message would go unheard by you!”

That shows good seamanship, Hoon,” cried the captain, “Let me pin a golden star to your cap.”

Thank you, captain. I appreciate such recognition, it compensates for the lack of pay and the worm-riddled biscuits.”

And all of a sudden there was a lull in the storm, and the captain and the first mate looked up at the stars in the sky. For a few precious moments, the HMS Whither Art? was safe upon the sea. And down below in the pannicles, the sudden calm prompted five stowaway Franciscan nuns of whose presence Captain Plunkett was ignorant, one peculiarly tall, to pop their heads out from the rickety fiscs wherein they were hiding, and to sing a hymn of thanks to Almighty God, that He had delivered them from the fubbing.

The Tarleton Sentence

So baffled were the police by the teeming ramifications of the Inspip case that they had no idea what to do, until a dejected inspector threw in the towel and suggested, reluctantly, that they call in Tarleton, the amateur’s amateur, in hope that he might hack a clearing through their mental forest, to which Tarleton’s response, upon receipt of the coppers’ telegram, was to instruct his helpmeet, the dwarf Crepusco, to pay them a visit and pull one of his faces at them, to which Crepusco’s response was “Are you sure?”, said in a trembling voice, for he was all too aware that when he pulled one of his faces the effect on those who saw it was akin to something from a story by H P Lovecraft, reducing the witness to a horror-stricken gibbering wreck, fit only to be chained up in an asylum for the incurably insane for the rest of their days, but Tarleton insisted, telling Crepusco to pull face number forty-three, expressive of fathomless and bitter contempt, so the dwarf toddled off along the lane towards the police station, and on his way encountered, as chance would have it, one of the teeming ramifications of the Inspip case, in that, not too far along the way, he tripped and toppled into the bottomless viper-pit of Shoeburyness, and was mightily surprised, after falling just a few feet, to land with a crunch upon a false bottom in the viper-pit, a platform installed by unknown hand, possibly but not definitively Inspip’s, the crunchy nature of his landing caused by the bescatterment, upon the platform, of eggshells in great abundance, with no sign whatsoever of the eggs’ innards, the albumen and yellow yolk and whatever else an egg expert might descry inside an egg, there were just the shells, upon which Crepusco landed, crunchily, before sitting up and rubbing his bonce and wondering why he had not continued to fall, forever and ever, as ought surely to have been his fate, the viper-pit of Shoeburyness, like that of Gaar, and several others, being notorious for being bottomless, according to the guidebooks and gazetteers available from the souvenir kiosk located at one end of a sort of modern-day ley line, along which magnets ceased to function and clumps of vetch and bindweed withered, at the other end of which stood, surrounded by an imposing fence fitted with floodlights, the police station, wherein the frazzled coppers were still awaiting a response from Tarleton, the amateur’s amateur, and busying themselves meanwhile by rummaging, for the umperumpteenth time, through their miles of filing cabinets in which every last scrap of information regarding the Inspip case was kept, from that very first report of an eye-witness, a preternaturally alert passer-by, who had tested negative for hallucinogens, thrice, and who had brought, breathlessly, panting, panting, to the coppers’ attention the curious circumstance that in Scroonhoonpooge Model Village, the aviary, behind the milk factory, was life-size, and filled with real birds, such that they would appear enormous and monstrous to the tiny little figures populating the model village, and their caws and chirps and chirrups and trills deafeningly loud, and that this anomaly was just the kind of thing Inspip would clap his hands with glee over, though try as they might not a single officer could say with any certainty, hand on heart, that Inspip had form in the area, nor indeed that he even knew where the Scroonhoonpooge Model Village was, given that all reported sightings of him for the past two decades placed him elsewhere, and he had been banned from consulting maps and atlases for even longer than that, ever since the Botched Shadow Puppetry case, when he was, albeit briefly, in cahoots, or “up to his eyeballs” as Detective Captain Cargpan put it, with Babinsky, the lumbering walrus-moustached psychopathic serial killer, an alliance that was mercifully short-lived, thanks to Cargpan, the very same Cargpan who, now, rummaging in one of the filing cabinets, chanced upon a tattered black-and-white snapshot of an unidentified acrobat performing an unidentified feat of acrobatics which would have seemed physically impossible were it not for the photographic evidence, and on a whim, or accident, the detective captain looked at the snapshot from a geometrically unlikely angle, and saw suddenly what nobody else had seen before, himself included, which was that, in her poise and turpsiletto, the acrobat seemed to be personating the exact lineaments of the stick-figure in the corner of an emblem on the flag of a secret society the doings, or misdoings, of which had ravaged several important colonial outposts and not a few unimportant ones at the tail end of the war, one of the wars, and which had long been thought consigned to the dustbin of history but which, Cargpan now realised, with a Lovecraftian shudder, could indeed still be active, and engaged in nefarious shenanigans, here and now, and particularly in the model village at Scroonhoonpooge, and he grabbed a butcher’s pencil and began scribbling frenziedly in his coppers’ jotting pad, and then he rummaged in some of the other filing cabinets, and tore some of his hair out, until he jumped up on to a desk in the middle of the situation room, gaining the immediate and rapt attention of all the other coppers, to whom he cried, ear-piercingly, “Where are the eggs? Where are the eggs?”, and they all knew at once he was referring to the various birds’ eggs laid by the anomalously life-size birds in the aviary of the model village, and, gosh, this is exciting, at that very moment Crepusco the dwarf, who had managed to clamber out of the temporarily non-bottomless viper-pit of Shoeburyness, came blundering into the room, dozens of bits of eggshell clinging to his clothing, and he was about to pull his fathomless and bitter contempt face, number forty-three, when a sixth sense stopped him, seeing the blazing eyes of Detective Captain Cargpan and all the other coppers gazing at him with an unmistakeable gleam of dawning understanding and clarity, as when pennies drop from heaven, every time it rains, and the clouds burst and it was raining now, as it always rains on the feast day of St Bibblybibdib, for yes!, this all happened on St Bibblybibdib’s Day, which is why it is significant, and why I have told you about it, for had it happened on any other day in the calendar year it would hardly be worth mentioning, and it would have remained one of those untold stories of Tarleton, the amateur’s amateur, untold and unknown, never collected in any of the many volumes devoted to his doings, all of which, like the pamphlets of the pamphleteer Dobson, are out of print.

The Raid On Entebbe

The Raid On Entebbe (disambiguation).

The Raid On Entebbe can refer to :

a hostage-rescue mission carried out by commandos of the Israeli Defence Force at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on 4 July 1976;

a 1977 film dramatisation of the incident starring Peter Finch (whose surname is also the common term for medium-sized passerine birds in the family Fringillidae);

the given name of a pet hamster kept by the potboiling paperbackist Pebblehead.

Pebblehead was once asked in an interview why he had named his hamster The Raid On Entebbe. This is what he said by way of reply:

I don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t got a pet hamster. I grant you, there is a small cage over there, fitted with a wheel for a small mammal to run around on like a mad thing, and lined with excelsior, or wood wool, for the comfort of such a small mammal, and, yes, there is a strong hamstery odour in the vicinity of the cage. But I challenge you to show me an actual hamster.”

Thus challenged, the journalist interviewing Pebblehead pointed to what looked undoubtedly like a hamster, nestling in the corner of the cage, almost covered in excelsior, and fast asleep.

Blimey!” said Pebblehead, “Where did that come from?”

A press statement was later issued on Pebblehead’s behalf by a crack team of brain-doctors.

For some time now, Pebblehead has been suffering from what the medical profession terms intermittent hamster-blindness. The condition is debilitating and incurable, although the symptoms can be alleviated with a combination of intravenous drugs, eye drops, and frenzied activity, for example, bashing out potboilers on a typewriter at the rate of several novels a week. Incidentally, all of us have previously served as commandos in the Israeli Defence Force, so if you know of any hostages who need to be rescued from African airfields, do drop us a line.”

Pebblehead’s latest potboiler, Invisible Hamster Mayhem!, is now available from all good petshops.

The Janitor And His Pail

It’s the Weekend o’ Janitors here at Hooting Yard. Yesterday we had that guff about the janitor and his mop, from 2014. Today we have related guff, also from that year, about the janitor and his pail.

The relationship between a janitor and his pail is a matter well worth our attention. Some janitors will call their pail a bucket, but it is much of a muchness. It may well be that, for the pernickety, a pail and a bucket are not quite the same thing, but we are not pernickety, at least not today. Today we are having one of our non-pernickety days. Good heavens, we did not even time the boiling of our breakfast egg to the second, as we do on our pernickety days. No, today, we plopped the egg into the pan and set the burners roaring beneath it and we wandered away, picked up the post from the doormat, kicked the wainscot, kicked it again, God knows why, chucked the post into the wastepaper basket – it was all flyers, flyers – put the kettle on, extracted from our majestic bouffant a small beetle which had taken up residence, Peason-like, and placed it on the windowsill, opened the window, adjusted the position of the vase of hollyhock cuttings, turning them towards the light, though Lord knows there was little enough light, so early was the hour, and pottered and puttered in other dithery ways before returning to the kitchen to set the burners unroaring beneath the pan, without checking the time on our wristwatch, rather judging that a sufficiency had passed for the egg in the pan to be toothsome when shelled.

On a pernickety day, on the other hand, we would not leave our post, by the cooker, but count the minutes and the seconds, gazing from wristwatch to pan and back again, and as the second hand on the watch tocked to its appointed spot we would immediately lift the pan from the roaring burners, extinguish them, hoist the egg from the seething waters and transfer it to its egg-cup – a souvenir egg-cup from an ill-starred seaside resort – sure in the knowledge that it had been boiled for a very specific and particular length of time as recommended in Blötzmann’s Manual of Egg-Boiling (second edition, lilac series). Thus the variation between our pernickety and our non-pernickety days, a variation designed to crack us from the bonds of rut.

What does all that have to do with janitors and pails or, if you prefer, janitors and buckets? Little or nothing, like the littleness of the light as we tuck into our early morning boiled egg, like the nothingness at the core of our all too mortal soul.

The Janitor And His Mop

Few relationships are as close, and as intense, as that between a janitor and his mop. He may sense an attachment to his bunch of keys and his pail and his dog, but he cherishes his mop more than anything.

I have spent several years interviewing janitors, and invariably they volunteer the information that their mop is their most treasured possession. They will say this, loudly and with vehemence, even when their dog is sitting obediently at their feet, gazing up at them in adoration. I am sure there is a monograph to be written, one day, upon janitors and their dogs, but I shall leave that joy to another scribbler. It is not that I am averse to dogs, well, I am, but it is not my aversion that dissuades me from writing about them. Were a janitor to spout effusive folderol on the subject of his dog, during one of my interviews, I would note it down accordingly and include it in my finished piece. I do not provide verbatim transcripts, preferring instead to give the reader an impressionistic or expressionistic or borderline hysterical portrait of the janitor through gorgeous words. Not all of these words will have been spoken by the janitor, nor by me, but they seem to hover in the aether in the janitor’s vicinity. That is what I try, as best I am able, to communicate.

It remains a remarkable fact that the thousands of janitors I have interviewed over the years have expressed boundless love for their mops. Often they are moved to tears, or, contrarily, to gales of unbridled glee, or sometimes both, turn and turn about. It is an emotionally wrenching experience, for them to be interviewed, and also for me, as the interviewer, broaching the topic of the mop and not knowing whether I will need to provide a napkin for them to dab at their tear-stained cheeks, or a similar napkin for myself to wipe off the flecks of spittle sprayed over me by janitors in the extremes of happiness. It occasionally happens that the dog, if it is frisky, will try to catch the napkin, either of the napkins, in its jaws, and scamper away with it, as if it were a bone. They are mysterious creatures, dogs, and often quite stupid. The mop, being inanimate, is much more predictable, and much less bother.

For reasons I have not yet been able to fathom, no publisher has expressed an interest in my book of janitorial interviews. It thus remains in manuscript, hand-written, with a butcher’s pencil, in a series of exercise books, some lined, some unlined. For the past several months I have had these books stored in a cupboard on the ground floor of a large building in a central location, near a bank, into the vaults of which I wish to transfer them for greater security, when I can afford the fee to do so. In the meantime, the cupboard is kept locked and watched over by a janitor, one of the few I have not taken time to interview. He prowls the corridors, rattling his bunch of keys, deploying his beloved mop, and followed everywhere by his dog. Insert apt Latin phrase to conclude this piece with a freight of significance.

Originally posted in 2014.

The Size Of God

Reviewing a new book about God in The Spectator, Alexander Waugh notes

the ancient Jewish Hekhalot gives precise measurements of the space between God’s thighs and his neck, revealing that from head to toe he is 1,298 billion km tall.

(That’s 806½ billion miles, for those of us who still use sensible measurements.)