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A PERIODICAL FOXY COMPENDIUM ISSUE NO. FIVE — 17 JUNE 2010
F ROM T HE S NOUT We are now a quarter of the way through Cocky’s urban odyssey and the faint tremor of dread we felt at the end of Fit the First has now reverberated off some rocky crust deep in the bowels of the earth and returned to us as a full-blown quake. They are back. First Corvin, a ghastly black shark-fin flicking back and forth through a sea of gore. And then his brother Randall, the diabolical architect of things we don’t yet know or understand. This reappearance feels uncomfortably significant. So we are standing at a shiny black signpost that has one arm and two hands, both of which point in the same direction. But when we look ahead at where the hands point we see nothing but thick fog. We know there is a road ahead and we know it will be treacherous. But we don’t know how. And, if you’re like me, you don’t want to know how. A looming vagueness is a pleasurable pain. I’m not in the business of predicting what the bones of this beastly fable will look like as Parker peels back the skin and, with the precision and maniacal glee of a pilled-up pathologist, slices out the flesh. I’ll let his cadaverous demonstration take its course. I will, however, draw your attention to an undercurrent of the ballad. This undercurrent spent the first few fits as an infant trickle and has now grown into a youthful gush. A gush that needs acknowledging. Parker is, like me, a heavy metal veteran. He laps up metal in many of its different forms: thrash, drone, power, speed, death, black, stoner, doom. He listens to it as he ghost-writes Cocky’s memoir. Its pull has been there implicitly in the work from its beginning. Take just one album that has been spinning constantly on the Parker deck, the majestically loud and dark debut by doom-sludge duo Eagle Twin. The Unkindness of Crows recasts the animal poetry of Ted Hughes against a backdrop of dour, savage riffing and attenuated, guttural moans. As soon as we hear it, we mark out Eagle Twin as a vital Parker muse. Ex-Iceburn maestro, Gentry Densley, is the
primitive ringmaster here. With groaning gargles from his bearded maw he tells us of the beasts and paints their likenesses with granite slabs from his guitar. These dense strata of verse and tone inspire Parker and give his lungs the wind to breathe such vivid life into his Cocky cast.
The Author: Ha! The Editor: On the other hand, you don’t own a dog. And yet I see Otto as this immaculately dressed, fearsome hard nut. Like an East End bad boy in the Dave Courtney mould.
A looming vagueness is a pleasurable pain
Now, as the autumn of this episodic process becomes winter, the debt to metal becomes explicit. Fit the Fifth is called Rat Salad. Not only does this describe the rodent mash on which the fit converges; it is also the name of an instrumental on Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. The track is dark and jaunty like the rat and when the drums go solo it feels like a fury of furry bludgeoning. With this brief wink at Ozzy’s boys, Parker seems to be saying that riffs and rolls, while not his stock in trade, are a nice little earner on the side. Now the shiny steel has been exposed. Hereafter it will stay on show. Expect more metal in The Sniffer. And if that’s not your cup of tea or aftershave, it will be.
The Author: Hmm. Maybe. Otto is posh, though. The Editor: That’s true. Anyway, there seems to be this cano-feline discrepancy between life and art. Any thoughts on where it might have come from? Why do you think you killed off Edward? The Author: Well, I definitely don’t want to see my cat eaten by rodents. I love my cat. It was actually Josh’s idea to do away with Edward. The Editor: Wow. OK. So Josh doesn’t like your cat, then? The Author: Right. He’s not into cats at all. He’s never had one in his life, I don’t think. He’s very much a dog man. Anyway, I was talking through some ideas and I kept going on about how I envisaged French Edward’s owner calling for him. And Josh said: “Something about that makes me think that Edward is dead. The plaintive, loving
O VER A P INT The author of The Ballad of Cocky the Fox and the editor of The Sniffer are known to enjoy a chinwag over a pint. In each edition, The Sniffer eavesdrops on their beery blathering and presents a randomly chosen chunk of it to the readership. The Editor: I know you own a cat… The Author: Yes. Kenmore the cat. The Editor: Right. Kenmore the cat. And yet you portrayed French Edward as a bit of an annoying ponce. At least, that’s how I saw it. And you killed him off so soon after introducing him.
call. Meanwhile, his lifeless body is just lying somewhere.” There was this odd sparkle in his eyes as he said it. And then he chuckled. The Editor: What a sick bastard. The Author: Yeah. [The Author and The Editor both take long, winsome sips of their pints.] T HE I NFOXICATOR
I plumped for a Young’s Special and a London Pride. They remain, all these years later, at the very top of my shopping list.
The Infoxicator is a tribute to our foxy protagonist’s occasional tendency to get off his tits on aftershave and glue. In each installment, a Cocky-related drink or pub is put under the alcoscope with the result that you are gradually furnished with a complete compendium of boozy dos and don’ts, as filtered through a vulpine sieve. In this instance, you are beckoned into the corner of a dark speakeasy by a bearded hunchback with a severe squint, and invited to consider a foreboding imperial stout called Raven’s Eye.
I wish there were a reliable correlation between the attractiveness of a label on a bottle of beer and the quality of the beer therein. When I first made the switch from cold, fizzy urine (Foster’s, Kronenbourg, Carling) to proper beer (ale, porter, stout), it was because I had moved into a rural area where to order a pint of lager in a pub was tantamount to loudly insulting the barman’s dead grandmother. So I immediately learned to turn my attention away from the black, plastic dribble-taps of piss and towards the curvaceous, frothy flavour-pumps. Similarly, in supermarkets I began to walk past the stacks of special-offer Dutch hooligan fizz and made straight for the shelves of individual dark brown bottles of ale without having any idea what I was looking for. And I hit the jackpot straightaway. Based on their London-ness and their noble labelling,
But as I spread my bibational wings over the years, I soon realized that a label tells you bugger all about what you might end up with once you crack open a bottle. Take Hobgoblin, Fiddler’s Elbow or any of the other Wychwood Brewery beers. Appearance: stupid! They don’t look like bottles of serious beer; they look like Terry Pratchett books. And, yet, what a delightful array of nectars the Wychwood brewmaster serves up. Conversely, have a gander at Bombardier. Bold, solid colours, an elegant typeface and some stirringly English imagery. Quite the cock-tease for a patriotic alehead. But the gear inside? Crikey. What an affront to my tastebuds; the poor little sods nearly drowned in a tarry mess of unidentifiable chemicals and dirty dishwater. So what does the preceding biographical booze cruise have to do with Raven’s Eye? It explains why I so desperately wanted to like this California-brewed imperial stout: the label is fucking fantastic. There he is, the
dark and angry red-eyed monster, not staring at you but aware of you. And his tribe has been overseeing that mountain for decades, or so the calligraphic font would have us believe. A few glugs of this stuff, we hope, will transport us into a world of gothic portent and horrifying cosmic revelation. Reacting so effusively, I was almost tempted to write how lovely the stuff tasted without even opening the bottle. And then I glossed over my chequered beer history. I remembered all the times I’d been burned. A lovely label, yes, but what about the wallop inside?
chocolate. I thought back to a fairly recent encounter with Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. Stick your nose in for a sniff and you get punched with a fistful of chocolate, coffee and malt. And then the final damnation: . That’s not a typographical error. That’s a deliberate inch of blank space. It’s the easiest way to convey how insipid and nothingy the Raven’s Eye tasted. Take a pinch of cocoa powder and sprinkle it into a pint of club soda. Have a glug. Now we’re all in the same boat. On a more positive note, there was a weighty kick lurking behind the initial void that warmed the chest. But it’s an imperial stout, not a brandy. It should be flying the imperial flag of strong flavour, first and foremost, not warming up a pneumonic old fart in a London gentlemen’s club. In summary, then, the Raven’s Eye should be avoided. It offers nothing to the nose or the tongue. And it looks like the result of squirting dish soap into the turd-water of a blocked and twice-flushed bog. But it does work well as an empty bottle. So don’t bother drinking it. Just buy one, pour out the contents and then keep the bottle on a shelf in your study. It will look great next to that Poe first edition.
F OX F ACT I poured half the Raven’s Eye into a glass and took a look. Barely any head, but that’s what you come to expect with bottled imperial stouts. Just a low-profile crown of bubbles. But hang on a moment. Why in Arthur Guinness’s name do the bubbles look green? Did this glass have Fairy Liquid in it before the pour? Ominous, but not in a cool, evocative, ravenish way. Next up, I stuck my giant nozzle down into the glass and took a lungful. The second warning sign: nothing. I took another sniff and got the barest trace of If you happen to overhear a conversation in which one of the speakers utters the phrase “Fox and Sac”, you might be inclined to assume he is talking about an English pub whose name celebrates the wonderful resilience of the vulpine testicular apparatus. But you would probably be wrong in this assumption. The Fox and the Sac (or the Meskwaki and the Sauk as they are more properly known) are two distinct tribes of Native Americans who were lumped together by the United States government in the 1830s, uprooted from their land and then
dumped on a reservation in the middle of nowhere (Kansas). T HE C OCKY C OMPANION Each edition of The Sniffer features an extract from The Cocky Companion, a Rosetta Stone for decoding the less obvious elements of Cocky's London vernacular. This extract washes out the foul mouth of Fit the Fifth with soap and leaves a scum of sleep, shit, tear-ups and traffic around the rim of the bathroom sink. B LOODY H ELL Just as there are conjectures in mathematics that elude proof by even the sharpest Cambridge minds, so there are phenomena in linguistics that defy, and will continue to defy, explanation by even the most talented of polyglots. To wit: Why does it sound so wrong when an American utters the profoundly British ejaculation “bloody hell”? Is it that the American renders the “oo” too roundly and the “d” without a scintilla of sibilance? Perhaps. So distressing to the English ear is this insipid American facsimile, that many Britons have fled the burning Troy of “bloody hell” and settled in the embryonic Rome of “shitting hell”. T EAR -U P Hyphens are everything. In this case, the humbly horizontal connector tells us that we’re dealing with fighting and not crying (although the fighting might lead to crying if it involves the testicles). Should you ever find yourself in a tear-up, don’t stand around wondering when the tearing happens and what gets torn. Just kick your fellow tearer in the bollocks. S OD I T There are no two syllables that better capture the laissez-faire defeatism and resignation of an island nation of
post-imperialist discontents than “sod it”. “Germany vs Argentina in the final? Sod it. I’m going fishing.” “She’s not interested? Sod it. Give us another Stella, Gary.” “Nuclear catastrophe? Sod it. Got any peanuts?” C ACK When an American gentleman announces to an English gentleman over the telephone that he is wearing “khaki pants”, the English gentleman stifles a guffaw. For he has heard “cacky” and he has taken “pants” to mean “underpants”. “Ha! Not only has this American oddball gone and shat himself, but he’s actually telling me about it!”
N ORTH C IRCULAR The best description of the North Circular, that miserable semicircle of solid traffic that was strangling London when the M25 was still a sketch on the back of a town planner’s envelope, is actually a wordless description. It’s a piece of music by the East London electronic experimenter, Squarepusher. Called simply “North Circular”, this sixminute agglomeration of beats, bleeps and analog farts is monotonous, claustropho-
bic, unsettling and occasionally scary. Most appropriately, it lasts three times as long as it should. K IP On Boxing Day of 1965, Ronnie and Reggie Kray sit down opposite Eddie and Charlie Richardson in the upstairs function room of a Soho boozer for the 5th Annual East London vs South London Gentleman Gangster Scrabble Competition. During the third game, Ronnie whispers to Reggie, receives a nod in response, and then lays down the word KIP on a triple-word square. The word doesn’t yet exist and Ronnie knows this. As he places the tiles on the board, he stares straight into the Richardsons’ faces and awaits the inevitable. “KIP? What the fuck does KIP mean? Are you taking fucking liberties?” Ronnie doesn’t blink. A moment or two of silence. “It means…” Another pause. His eyes dart around and let the cat out of the bag. “It means… sleep.” On the other side of the table, brows furrow and lips curl. “Fuck off it does.” Charlie Richardson flings the board up in the air and, under a hailstorm of plastic letters, it all kicks off. A brawling mess of brother bosses and their sidekicks. The ruckus rumbles down the pub stairs and out into the street. There is blood and shouting and fleeing. But eventually, Greek Street settles down again and the hiding bystanders rear their heads. Before the night is out, London begins commemorating this electrifying brainsand-brawn showdown by replacing all talk of “sleep” with that of “kip”. G ET F OXED In the last Get Foxed, you were invited to separate four Cocky characters who had become fused in the following carnal tangle: A WREN ASTRADDLE LION RUMP
Having thrown a bucket of cold water on this writhing mess, you can now make out four distinct and drenched beastlinesses:
EDWARD MINSTREL NORA PAUL In the latest installment of Get Foxed, we are perched above a table upon which Randall and Corvin, the thuggish raven brothers, are playing that game so beloved of illiterate gangsters, Scrabble. So far, all the words laid down happen to be entries that have featured in The Cocky Companion. It is now Corvin’s turn and he is keen to put down a real ripsnorter. The board and Corvin’s rack are shown below. What’s the maximum score he can achieve in this turn? Note: All words should be listed in the official Scrabble Tournament Word List (TWL).
Again, the only prize is a cup of your own smugness. The answers will be published in the next edition of The Sniffer. And now I bid you Get Foxed. B ALLAD O F A H ARD F OX
*** Dear Mr. Hung-Jones, Like Parker, the author of The Ballad of Cocky the Fox, I frequently find myself in a ramshackle little rowing boat trying to plough my way through the choppy seas of the Atlantic; I have adopted many American customs and I retain many English ones. This admixture regularly leads to cultural conflict. Crosswords are a perfect example. Take the American crossword, as published by The New York Times. Scores of interconnections; dark and light squares grouped together in large chunks; short, definitional clues. Try as I might, I just can’t develop a taste for these straightforward exercises in clerical triviality. It is the British crossword. as espoused by The Times and The Guardian, that has always been and always will be my cruciverbal cuppa. Fewer interconnections; a more variegated layout; cryptic clues that stretch the brain on many different planes; and a fine espionage pedigree that includes the Bletchley Park codebreakers and Ian Fleming’s original incarnation of James Bond.
(adapted from Ballad Of A Hard Man by Scott Gorham, performed by Thin Lizzy)
I've been mixed up, cut up So sit down and shut up 'Cause I'm a hard fox I was hung up, strung out But I can't take no more junk Even if you can No rocker, doctor, Show stealin' teeny bopper Gonna get a thing from him No fat, black Back scratchin' pussy cat Gonna get her claws on him If you been held back, put down Thrown out, hung up Strung out, picked on Ripped off, kicked out Spit on, set up, ripped off Locked up, sent down Maybe you're as hard as I am ‘Cause I’m a hard fox.
T O T HE S NOUT Sir, I always start at the end of The Sniffer, with Get Foxed, before reading the rest. You are a master of puzzles — one might even say, following Herman Hesse, that you're a Magister Ludi. I'm hoping that you will eventually give us a crossword. Too much to ask for? Yours faithfully, Al Hung-Jones
So I’m in a bit of a spot. I understand that there’s a thirst for a Cocky crossword. But what should I do about it? I can’t bring myself to publish an American example for fear of diluting the distinct Britishness of The Sniffer. And yet a British example would be too unfamiliar to the American puzzling palate. After a long chew on my pencil, I came up with a compromise. In this issue of The Sniffer, I have decided to celebrate that great uniter of nations and leveller of class hierarchies, Scrabble (see Get Foxed). In tandem, I have asked my alter ego, the Magister Ludi, to begin introducing elements of the British cryptic crossword to the HiLobrow.com readership. When I deem this exposure to be sufficient, I will publish a British cryptic in The Sniffer. I hope you find this to be a satisfactory plan. Yours sincerely, The Editor
*** If there are questions you would like to ask or remarks you would like to make, you can do so by emailing the editor of The Sniffer (email@example.com).
T HE S NIFFER
& WRITER Patrick Cates
P UBLISHERS Matthew Battles & Joshua Glenn of HiLobrow.com I LLUSTRATION Kristin Parker W ITH THANKS TO Generous backers of Cocky the Fox & Kickstarter.com please direct all enquiries to sniffer@ hilobrow.com
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