Frank Key's Hooting Yard and the Tradition of Grand English Nonsense
If you are a fan of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, or even Lewis Carroll,
you will no doubt have experienced some of the toe-curling pleasure which the unexpected use of language can engender.
And I would bet a wooden-wheeled wagon-load of Steem that the best living storyteller working today is a man you've never heard of.
And his name is Frank Key.
Mr. Key has been sharing his "Hooting Yard on the Air" podcast via Resonance 104.4FM in London for 14 years now. It really is indescribable.
Key conjures a world that is surreal and anachronistic, populated by out-of-print pamphleteers and bad vicars and many, many birds. He revels in abstruse detail, going off on tangents where he'll read out a list of farm implements, or the 40 thieves in the tale of Ali Baba, or birds again.
In his stories, an aside can quickly become the focus of the narration, leaving the listener (or reader) with the feeling that they're being whipped around a roller-coaster at a rate of five miles an hour. He begins the clip above with some "notes on jellyfish," for instance, and veers off from there.
And that's the magical thing about it. His wandering eye takes the time to focus on the most wondrous minutia, historical, antiquarian, biological, geometrical, and otherwise, and suddenly the listener remembers that there is a lot in this dusty old world to pore over and wonder at. We might not be able to take it all in, but if we give ourselves permission to slow down, we might be able to take just a little in, and a lot of it.
That's why his word-play reminds me of Alice going through the rabbit hole, or Arthur Dent catapaulting into space after a disagreement with his council over zoning changes. You never know where the smallest detail is going to take you. But if anything, Key has taken their sense of play and adventure, and really given it a firm shove along the canal-side tow-path.
Mr. Key's writing is available at the Hooting Yard Website. You can also buy his books there. With titles like Befuddled by Cormorants, The Funny Mountain, and Unspeakable Desolation Pouring Down From The Stars, you know you're in for something strange.
Here's a passage about out-of-print pamphleteer Dobson, who was attempting to produce stories at the time for Modern Snipe Magazine.
It is tempting here to veer off into a digression about Dobson and hats, a topic of endless fascination to some of us. But I fear things would get out of hand, particularly if I began to babble on about Dobson's Homburg, itself a single hat that evokes a world of allusions and references, from James Mason to Procol Harum. Better that we address such matters at another time, and content ourselves now with the image of the pamphleteer trudging home along the towpath of the canal, a gleaming blue helmet atop his cranium, and the brain inside that cranium throbbing with an inchoate tangle of cerebral gibberish, at the dim centre of which lurked the signal fact that Dobson knew nothing whatsoever about snipe.
I think Key really identifies with his creation, Dobson.
Hooting Yard really has to be heard to be appreciated - at least at first .
Key sounds like an affable old uncle, blathering on after a few too many drinks at the holidays, yet before you know it all the kids have gathered round to listen to him, and then the parents shut up and sit down too.
The accent is a big part of it. He just seems to love saying words, and somehow that love carries through and makes them sound delicious. I really wish they could capture his voice for my GPS.
I took his podcast on a run with me the other day and had to take frequent breaks for laughter. Lord knows what the passing traffic thought about the man in running shoes chortling to himself at the side of the road. While his older broadcasts have started to appear on Youtube (Four views!? I knew you'd never heard of him!) his most recent work is available for streaming on Mixcloud, and there is an archive available at Resonance FM with lots of episodes available for download.
 The reason I said "at least at first" in the heading above is that, once you've listened to several hours of his podcasts (and listeners have been known to binge on his archives for periods lasting weeks, fortnights, and entire seasons) you will discover that the little voice in your head that renders text into audible internal narration has been replaced with Key's voice, and from that point on, everything you read and maybe even everything you think will un-spool through your consciousness as an episode of Hooting Yard.
That'll be a transformative experience, let me tell you.
I have no connection to Frank Key beyond being a huge fan from the other side of the Atlantic.
I do think his work would be a great fit for Steemit. I'd love to give him some up-votes in appreciation (in addition to buying his books). Despite the low view-counts on Youtube, he must be doing something right to maintain the longest running program on Resonance FM.
Maybe I'll see if I can leave some comments on his web-site with promises of digital riches, to see if we can entice him into sharing the occasional story here.