Category Archives: Hooting Yard

Hooting Yard

Hooting Yard: On Knowing your Shovellers

Let us imagine you are sitting at home, in an armchair, with your feet up, listening to Scriabin on the radio perhaps, or reading Martin Amis’s very sensible new novel Lionel Asbo : State Of England, or simply gazing vacantly into space, like a dimwit or a simpleton, though you need not actually be a dimwit or a simpleton, merely dozing, half-asleep, at the border of the Land of Nod. Then imagine that your poppet rushes into the room, from the front garden, crying “Dennis! Dennis! Come and see!”

Whatever you have been doing, or not doing, you sit bolt upright and ask “What is it?”

“Come and see the shoveller!” cries your poppet.


This episode of Hooting Yard was first broadcast on the 21st June 2012.

Hooting Yard: Aphinar

To the Director

Dear Sir

I have come to enquire if I have anything left on account with you. I wish to change today my booking on this ship whose name I don’t even know, but anyway it must be the ship from Aphinar. There are shipping lines going all over the place, but helpless and unhappy as I am, I can’t find a single one – the first dog you meet in the street will tell you this. Send me the prices of the ship from Aphinar to Suez. I am completely paralysed, so I wish to embark in good time. Please let me know when I should be carried aboard…

Thus Arthur Rimbaud’s last recorded words, dictated in a delirium to his sister Isabelle from his Marseille hospital bed on the eve of his death on 10 November 1891. As Charles Nicholl notes in Somebody Else : Arthur Rimbaud In Africa 188-1891 (1997)


Hooting Yard: Accidental Deaths Of Twelve Cartographers: Part Two

Another thrilling of Accidental Deaths Of Twelve Cartographers.

The previous section can be found here.

Hooting Yard: Accidental Deaths Of Twelve Cartographers: Part One

The parents of the great cartographer Ken Buttercase were employed by a small railway in a remote country. They lived in a wooden hut which served as a signal-box. A threadbare curtain of rep divided the hut into two halves. In one half, the Buttercases ate and slept and baked and washed; the other half contained the signalling controls and was also used to store an ever-changing collection of broken locomotive machinery. Once a day, at noon or thereabouts, a cart would trundle to the door of the hut; two railway workers would deliver some broken bits and pieces and take others away. Mr or Mrs Buttercase would sign one chit for the deliveries, another chit for the pieces removed, and help the two officials – one of whom was tubercular – to load and offload the invariably rusty pieces of metal.


Their duties left them little time to devote to their only child. Let us examine these duties in some detail. The railway itself was not busy – the one train passed the hut four times a day; heading north at 4 a.m. and 4 p.m., and heading south at 10 a.m. and 10.15 p.m. Before its passing, the signals had to be set; the cranks, winches, levers, pulleys, knobs, fulcra, and transistor motors all had to be adjusted with frightening precision. In order for this to be done, the broken locomotive-parts had to be shoved out of the way, into the other half of the hut. They could not be kept outside, exposed to the elements, as the company regulations forbade such a practice. Nor could they be stored permanently on the other side of the rep curtain, as not only was this – as we have seen – the family’s living quarters, it also served as the work-room devoted to carrying out the many other tasks they had to perform, which we shall examine in due course. Once all the broken stuff had been moved out of the way, the signalling equipment could be set. Readjustment, back to the original coordinates, took place once the train had passed, after which the day’s conglomeration of broken bits and pieces could be shifted back to the other half of the hut.

Hooting Yard: On Wings of Song

I am angry, I am ill, and I’m as ugly as sin. My irritability keeps me alive and kicking.

That was me, sitting bolt upright in bed upon waking at dawn, singing my little heart out, like a chaffinch or a linnet. I sang A Song From Under The Floorboards by Magazine. Now, regular listeners to my radio show on Resonance104.4FM, Hooting Yard On The Air, will be well aware that I cannot sing for toffee. Recite prose, yes. Sing, no. But while I would never dream of assailing the ears of an unsuspecting public by singing – or attempting to sing – on the airwaves, there is no reason why I should not do so in the privacy of my own home.

Hooting Yard: King Jasper’s Castle, Its Electrical Wiring System, Its Janitor, And Its Chatelaine

The plot of King Jasper’s Castle, Etcetera is so convoluted that I am not going to attempt to summarise it here. What you need to know is that the setting is a castle, belonging to King Jasper, situated on a bleak promontory overlooking a bleaker sea. The castle’s electrical wiring system is as complicated as the plot of the play, if not more so. Its maintenance and seemingly endless tweaking and repair is the responsibility of the janitor, who is employed by the castle’s chatelaine. Neither the janitor nor the chatelaine has a given name, though whether this is an oversight on Pickles’ part, or an oh so clever literary device, is moot. Arguments have been thrashed out on both sides. There are other Pickles plays with nameless characters, some where characters swap their names around between acts, and several where, though every character has a name, those names are unpronounceable in any human tongue, or indeed in bestial grunts, howls, or birdsong. Not for nothing is Pickles labelled a “difficult” playwright, just as he was called a “difficult” child by those paid to watch over him in his infancy.


This episode was recorded on the 12th April 2012. A complete transcript of this episode can be found on Frank Key’s Hooting Yard website. Frank’s new eBook By Aerostat to Hooting Yard is now available for purchase.

Hooting Yard: On the Livers of Polar Bears

Dobson was no stranger to controversy, but rarely did he create so tumultuous a brouhaha as was caused by his pamphlet Hints And Tips For Intrepid Explorers In The Polar Wastes (out of print). Dobson himself had of course never been anywhere near either the Arctic or the Antarctic, and one of the many puzzles he left behind for the unwary biographer is the question of why he ever thought he was qualified to address the subject. He was only too ready to admit to his ignorance of certain matters, made plain in pamphlets such as My Blithering Ignorance Of Vast Swathes Of Ornithology and When It Comes To Ice Hockey, I Have No Idea What I Am Talking About, both of which are tragically out of print.


Yet he felt able to compile a list of hints and tips for polar exploration, and ensured that Marigold Chew ran off more copies on the Gestetner machine in the potting shed than she did of almost any other pamphlet he ever wrote. Indeed, a number of their breakfasts were ruined during a period in the 1950s when the pamphleteer insisted that his inamorata gobble down her kedgeree in double quick time so she could hurry off to the shed to crank out another dozen copies. Oddly, he does seem to have actually had some success in selling them, though this may have been due to the breathtakingly gorgeous mezzotint of a polar bear, by the noted mezzotintist Rex Tint, which was used on the cover. There was a sort of polar bear fad at the time, occasioned by the popular radio serial The Adventures Of Martin The Polar Bear, starring Cicely Courtneidge and Jack Hulbert. The historian and cultural commentator Bevis Sebag has suggested, compellingly, that most of the people who bought Dobson’s pamphlet tore off the cover, placed the mezzotint in a frame and hung it on the wall of their parlour, and chucked the pamphlet itself into the bin.

This episode was recorded on the 5th April 2012. A complete transcript of this episode can be found on Frank Key’s Hooting Yard website. Frank’s new eBook By Aerostat to Hooting Yard is now available for purchase.

Hooting Yard: On The Bad Vicarage

It was late on a winter’s evening when I turned on to the lane leading to the Bad Vicarage. There was ice in the puddles and the thorn bushes glittered in the moonlight. On the other side of a filbert hedge a peasant person was worrying the ground with an agricultural tool.

“Good evening, peasant!” I called, “Can you tell me who is vicar nowadays in the Bad Vicarage?”

It was twenty years since I had been in these parts. I doubted that the Bad Vicar of the olden days was still in residence, but I wanted to make sure.


This episode was recorded on the 23rd March 2012. A complete transcript of this episode can be found on Frank Key’s Hooting Yard website. Frank’s new eBook By Aerostat to Hooting Yard is now available for purchase.

Hooting Yard: On Fate

It came as something of a shock when I learned that my fate was written in the stars. I had no idea that every last particular of my life, from cradle to grave, was foretold in the barely visible movements, thousands and millions of miles away, of fiery burning rocks scattered across the sky. As soon as I learned this, I was avid to know what lay in store for me. Only then did I realise that I could not read the stars, so I went to consult a stargazer.

He ushered me in to his observatory, high on a promontory, and tapped a spindly finger on the end of his telescope. He bade me peer through it, and I saw manifold stars, impossibly distant, burning bright in the night sky.

“Gosh!” I said, “How lovely they are. Yet to me, senseless, devoid of meaning.”



This episode was recorded on the 15th March 2012. A complete transcript of this episode can be found on Frank Key’s Hooting Yard website. Frank’s new eBook By Aerostat to Hooting Yard is now available for purchase.

On The Plains of Gath

And the Lord came unto the plains of Gath. And he was footsore, having walked for many days without rest. And he sat him down upon one of the tussocks which grow upon the plains of Gath. Then there came a widow woman driving before her a goat. And the goat was thin and bony and of Satanic mien. And the Lord said unto the widow woman:


“Woman! I am your Lord and I am footsore having walked for many days without rest. I have great thirst. Succour me with milk from your goat. This I command.”

This episode was recorded on the 8th March 2012. A complete transcript of this episode can be found on Frank Key’s Hooting Yard website. Frank’s new eBook By Aerostat to Hooting Yard is now available for purchase.