We've had another hiatus here at Hooting Yard. The chief reason for this is that I agreed to take part in an experiment and have spent the last two months living as an otter. Only yesterday did Professor Tadaaki pull up at the riverbank in his big yellow rusty jeep to tell me that I had misheard his instructions and wasted valuable research time splashing about to no apparent purpose.
I towelled myself dry and traipsed home in a bit of a temper, because the good Prof did not see fit to tell me what it was that I had misheard. Was I meant to have been living as a hatter? As a nutter? Who knows? Anyway, I am home now, and have already started scribbling prose to provide my loyal readers with entertainment, instruction, and a diversion from autumn thoughts of knitwear and shove-ha'penny. Now read on…
Look at this man coming up the path, the waterlogged path. They call him the district line dentist. He has dentistry in his blood. He has blood on his shoes. Blood on his shoes, talc in his hair, and as he walks along the waterlogged path he is shouting and shouting and shouting. The blood on his shoes is still wet and warm from the slaughtering he has been engaged in, up in the hills, where the district line never goes. It is not the blood of humans. There are no humans in those hills, only cardboard figures, and hardboard figures, and balsa wood figures, and an enormous colony of very, very frightening birds, like savage and pitiless birds from an ancient myth, except that these birds are real, fat with feathers, and absolutely terrifying. You may have seen their like on the sides of buses in Pointy Town, for it was images of similar birds that were used in that ill-conceived advertising campaign for a brand new type of fizzy and frothing detergent pill which, it was claimed, would put more pep into your pots and pans. We know that banging pots and pans is a traditional method of scarifying birds, but it would not work with these birds, the ones that perch on the cardboard and hardboard and balsa wood figures in the hills from which the man they call the district line dentist has just descended, with blood on his shoes and a song in his heart. That is why he is shouting. He has a song in his heart but he cannot sing. His song is about the sad final days of Edgar Allan Poe, and the chorus replicates that neurasthenic writer's dying words…. “Reynolds! Reynolds! Reynolds!” That is what the district line dentist is shouting as he clumps along the path in his blood-soaked shoes. He clumps with a limp, for his legs are of uneven length, only just, but decisively so. He was not born that way. When he was a cherubic bonny baby both his legs were measured, and they were found by several independent authorities to be identical in length. Something happened to him between then and now to mar his symmetry, something he has always blamed on the ferocious birds up in the hills. That is why he is such a bitter man and a bird hater.
He hated birds, but he was fond of moles. He had a little toy mole made of cambric and string, a puppet you could call it, which sat on a china plate on the dresser in the parlour of the boarding house by the seaside where he lived. Seeing a mole on a plate, many people chided the district line dentist that it looked as if he wanted the mole for his dinner, albeit that it was only a cambric and string toy. The presence of a knife and fork alongside the plate served only to emphasise this misapprehension, but that was part of his plan, or I should say part of one of his many plans. Dentistry was in his blood, but he no longer practised that trade, for he was an old, old man, retired to a seaside boarding house, a boarding house named after Ray Milland, the film star who memorably appeared in The Man With X-Ray Eyes. The gardens of the boarding house were riotous with foxgloves, and as you may know, foxgloves are poisonous to moles. At least, that is the case in the land of which I speak, it may or may not be the case elsewhere in the boundless universe. But of course the foxgloves which bloomed in the Ray Milland boarding house gardens were not harmful to the district line dentist's mole, for it was but a toy, a plaything, sat on its plate on the dresser. The cutlery aligned next to the plate was of exquisite workmanship, of the finest metal, manufactured, according to legend, by gnomes, thoughthe tales told of these gnomes were full of holes, and every version was different. Sometimes the gnomes were said to live under a big bright mountain far away, and sometimes they were said to spend their lives jetting from one paradise island to another, making their knives and forks and spoons during stopovers in airport snack bars. In truth, nothing can have been more mundane than the actual making of the cutlery, and gnomes played no part in it. Every last teaspoon and sugar tong was made in a great grim factory, guarded by beagles, plonked in a field at the end of the district line, Hallelujah Field, where no grass grew, only weeds and tares.
There are storms in teacups and barn-storms, but it is a very particular sort of storm that engages our attention now. Henry Cow recorded a piece entitled Bittern Storm Over Ulm, the title taken from a passage in one of Charles Fort's compendia of anomalous phenomena, and likewise, we are dealing with a storm of birds. For up in the hills where the district line never goes, a surge of magnetism convulsed the colony of terrifying birds, and they filled the sky, screeching and shrieking, maddened beyond measure. Hearing the racket, the dentist clumped to a halt on the waterlogged path. His shoes were steeped in the blood of slaughtered birds, but for each one he had killed, dozens more had appeared, flapping in from who knows where, gathering in the hills, perched and brooding and awaiting the burst of magnetic energy sending them into a storm in the sky. But this was Pointy Town, not Ulm, and these were no bitterns. And the waterlogged path that came down from the hills led, in its meandering way, to a cluster of huts on the beach, huts that once belonged to boat builders, Noah figures whose beards were stiff with the salt of the sea, long gone now, the boats they built shattered and broken, wooden fragments scattered across the sands, eaten by worms, as those who built the broken boats were themselves devoured as they lay in their tombs in the pretty churchyard of Saint Bibblydibdib's, hard by the beach, and popular with poets. Sand worms and earthworms, and the work they do, have been ignored by the graveyard poets of Pointy Town, and for that they should be ashamed. The district line dentist was heading for the huts where once boats had beenbuilt, for there he believed he would find sanctuary from the vengeful birds. Pelange and Froumier are among those who have written authoritatively about ritual appeasement of bird gods, and while I am not suggesting for one moment that there is a divinity lurking in the breasts of those screeching horrors in the sky over the hills - the sky now black with their swooping, flapping savagery, incidentally - yet we would do well to recall, in particular, Pelange's nostrum regarding protecting shrouds. But of course, that popinjay writer knew nothing of birds driven bonkers by eerie magnetic forces which we still do not fully understand. Luckily for him, the district line dentist did.
It was no accident that the church by the beach was consecrated to Saint Bibblydibdib, for he was the patron saint of something or other resonant of marine life. He is one of those saints for whom there is no convincing evidence of his actual existence, and it may be that he was simply a phantom shimmering in vapours from the brains of seaside mystics. Buried in the churchyard was one such mystic, a wise woman known as the Woohoowoodiwoo Woman. Legend in those parts held that she it was who had fallen foul of the birds in the hills, and had pelted the old boat builders with potatoes until they ceased to build boats, and that she had done so because she lived in mortal fear not only of the birds but of the sea. Hideous aquatic beings haunted her nightmares, from which she would awake crying “Woohoowoodiwoo!”, hence the name by which she was known. Intriguingly, on 22nd November 1963, the day of the Kennedy Assassination, she awoke screaming “Reynolds! Reynolds! Reynolds!”, like Edgar Allan Poe on his deathbed, but we do not know why, and nor did she ever divulge her dream, even to the district line dentist, who did her bridge canal work, and praised the enamel of her molars, and was her confidante and, some said, her inamorata, all those years ago, before the frightening birds haunted the hills, and while boats were still built in the cluster of huts on Pointy Town beach, the huts clustered between two coastal features called impagu and sacketysack. She was invariably dressed, even festooned, in those days, in a maroon shawl, the Woohoowoodiwoo Woman. Maroon, too, was the colour of the plumage of the most frightening of the frightening birds. Did the shawl act as her protective shroud, a la Pelange? The district line dentist suffered from Daltonism, or colour blindness, and he knew not what maroon was, nor how it differed from blue. As we know, maroon and blue are the two ‘foundation’ colours in the Blotzmann Register.