A PERIODICAL FOXY COMPENDIUM ISSUE NO. SEVEN — 15 JULY 2010
F ROM T HE S NOUT You have just begun to read a very special Sniffer. We enjoy a break in our voyage down the wide and winding urban river of Cockular exegesis and sail up a narrow, picturesque tributary, where we can moor our craft and take a spot of afternoon tea. In this edition, imagery and illustration are the everything. Some of the usual serials have stood to the side. In their place we have pictures aplenty and a lengthy pint-based chat with Kristin Parker, the illustrator of Cocky and his cadre. The Cocky Companion and a smidgeon of fit-focused foxxerel remain but, beyond that, we throw out The Text and espouse The Image. 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 potty extract knocks the knackered Fit the Seventh arse over tip with a gym shoe as it walks along the pavement and then whacks it in the cobblers with a gym shoe. P AVEMENT The difference between the American “pavement” and the British “pavement” is the reason why so many American visitors to Britain, getting behind the wheels of their rental SUVs and trying to drive on the pavement, find themselves mowing down scores of pedestrians. For the pavement covering the sizeable suburban spread of this quaint island is not the roadway; it is the sidewalk. If you are American, and worried that you might end up on the criminal end of an automobilic massacre, it might help you to remember the phrase “pavement pizza”. This is a roughly round splat of envegetabled vomit delivered to the ground by a pub- stumbler (strictly after 11pm). Think of the pizza, think of the drunk. You’ll quickly conjure up the scene of his stumbling and save yourself 15 years in the slammer. G YM S HOE The only people in Britain who refer to trainers as “gym shoes” are teach-
ers over the age of 50. These stalwarts of the profession began plying their pedagogic craft in an era when nobody would have considered wearing such a common abomination outside the walls of the school gymnasium. And for many teachers of that era, gym shoes served a dual purpose. Yes, they enclosed the feet of Sir’s young sprung-floor scamperers. But the gym shoe, when widowed and abandoned in a musty changing room, could be recovered by a particularly sadistic fucker and kept on standby as a weapon for blistering the backsides of little boys. I will never forget Harold. With his name emblazoned upon his sole, he hung on a nail by the classroom door, awaiting orders from Mr. Easterfield, the evil alcoholic Latin master who liked Extra Strong Mints, farting and transgenerational violence. Even now, thirty years later, my neurons flush with the teary-eyed sting of Harold’s ministry.
swipe at your rival’s conker and he swipes at yours. You swing and bash away until one of the tough nuggets splinters into pieces. And then the winner inherits whatever “score” the loser’s conker has accumulated. But what seems like a fair contest that honours human dexterity and horticultural resilience becomes an exercise in diabolism when you note the “stampsies” rule, in which any conker that slips out of a player’s hand can be stamped on by spectators, and the “entropy” rule, in which the school sociopath who sets fire to ants using a magnifying class walks up to you, punches you in the face and steals your nutty pride and joy. K NACKEREDNESS Let’s build up towards the attractively consonant-heavy “knackeredness” in stages. What is a “knacker”? Simply put, it’s a bollock. But it has also come to refer to a horse (or human) who is past his prime (and who may or may not resemble a testicle). If you are a racehorse trainer and send one of your aging stallions to the knacker’s yard, the outcome for this equine unfortunate will be a retirement spent giving children rides around urban farms or contributing to the chemical composition of glue. What, then, does “knackered” mean? If you, as horse, human or otherwise, are knackered, you’ve over-exerted yourself and now need a lie- down. But don’t take a knacker at face value. A complaint of “I can’t! I’m knackered!” is often the cry of a lazy bastard. And so to “knackeredness”. Where “tiredness”, in its bisyllabic simplicity, is a run-of-the-mill rump steak served in a roadside diner, “knackeredness”, with its alliterative knock and high letter-to-syllable ratio, is a filet mignon gracing the table of a Parisian brasserie. A RSE O VER T IP “Arse over tip” is the more puritanical cousin of “arse over tit”.
C ONKER One of the first playground lessons a young prep-school lad learns is that war, capitalism and unfairness are locked forever in a lusty ménage à trois. He learns this through his experiences playing the game of conkers. In conkers, you begin with a horse-chestnut (“conker”) that you believe will be able to smash rival horse-chestnuts to smithereens. You skewer a hole in this brown, shiny fellow and thread through some string. You then take your prized nut into battle. You
But, for all their philosophical differences, both these arsey relatives see eye to eye and do a decent job of conveying the state of silly buggerhood that tripping over your shoelaces might bestow upon you. Yes, you could trip over your shoelaces and fall head over heels. But that sounds prudish, elegant and, for comic purposes, plain wrong. To many readers, falling head over heels invokes allconsuming love and meadowland tumbles instead of slapstick and pratfalls. Did “arse over tit” arrive first, only to have its tit punctured and deflated into a mere tip? Or did some doughty oath-utterer decide that tip should grow pendulously and
nutty, I would be wise to watch out for a temper tantrum and a glass in the face. But if, instead, you tell me that the same gentleman is “potty”, it probably means that he argues with himself and tries to pay for his drinks with buttons. C OBBLERS In the twee and generically European parlance of fairy tales, cobblers mended shoes. In the dismissive pub-talk of Jack-the-Ripper London, cobblers became pluralised bullshit. How did we get from shoemakers to shit-talkers? Via the linguistic mangle that is Cockney rhyming slang. A cobbler would have used an awl to poke holes in the leather of his trade. A Cockney chap, looking for a way of referring to his “balls” without raising eyebrows or hackles, once dropped “cobbler’s awls” into conversation: “Oof. These trousers ain’t half tight around me cobbler’s awls.” Eventually, tired of this mouthful, he shortened it to “cobblers”: “I was behaving like a right tit, so he kicked me in the cobblers.” And before long, with “balls” sitting at one end of the well-worn path to “bullshit” via “bollocks”, “cobblers” came to stand for nonsense, balderdash and poppycock: “What a load of old cobblers!” (When I retire as editor of The Sniffer, I hope to follow in the steps of the mythical royal shoemaker who advertised his shop with a big sign that said “Cobblers To The Queen”.)
majestically into a tit? We may never know. P OTTY An English speaker who hears tell of “potty” will quickly hop to thoughts of poo and pee. Mashed-up ravers and pumped-up runners drop poos in portapotties. Toilet-trained toddlers take tinkles in plastic potties. But to British mouths and ears, “potty” does double service. As a noun, it props up a human undercarriage and temporarily stores the waste products that issue thence. As an adjective, however, it means “nutty”. Why would you use “potty” instead of “nutty”? “Nutty” enjoys a sheen of menace. If you lean over to me in the pub and whisper that the bloke standing over there is well
O VER A P INT W ITH M RS . P ARKER In keeping with the pictorial focus of this edition of The Sniffer, a few days ago the Editor tilted his elbow and wagged his chin with Mrs Parker, the illustratrix of The Ballad of Cocky the Fox. A liberal transcription of their boozy babble is presented here.
The Editor: So can you talk about how the Cocky drawing process works? Do you get a draft ahead of time to work from? The Illustratrix: At first I did. James had three installments prepared so I had time to read and think. As we move along, and as the production schedule has increased, I receive an installment the day before it’s due. And then I start scrawling. I had a vision of taking time to make oversized fox paintings on the wall; I imagined Cocky and friends as being huge. That’s how I used to work in the old days. But timing and physical space completely changed my work methods. I guess they dictate the style, in a way. The Editor: I really like the miniatures that accompany the novel. They remind me of the illustrations that Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz”) produced in collaboration with Dickens. And what I especially love is that I can imagine a collection of them in small oval frames on my bog wall at home. (I speak of the British bog, not the Irish one.) The Illustratrix: I like that idea a lot!
on. And I find that I fixate on an image in my mind before I’ve even done any actual reading. His storytelling – his sharing of the idea – implants a little dreamlet. The Editor: Interesting. And James and I were recently discussing the suggestiveness of the images. That’s something I love about them. The ambiguity of pose and expression. Is Cocky taking a shit or readying himself for a fight? Or both? The Illustratrix: Thank you! Yes, I want the viewer to fill in the blanks. James’s prose is so rich that an illustration couldn’t hope to compete with what he sparks off in the reader’s imagination. The Editor: Right. I see your drawings as the diamond jewelry on the beautiful bride. The Illustratrix: That’s a nice analogy. My boss, who is an artist and former art teacher, took a look at some of them and said “there’s just enough information”. And I really held on to that. The Editor: That’s a good bit of feedback to hear. Aim successfully achieved. The Illustratrix: Yes. When the book is eventually complete, I envisage responding to the story with a set of more “finished” illustrations. Something Arthur Rackhamish, perhaps. But in the meantime, the images are meant as little addenda. The Editor: And as part of your process, do you ask James for any comments and does he offer you any? The Illustratrix: Yes. James wants something very specific. And at first this was difficult because I hadn’t picked up a pen in ten years. I was very nervous and didn’t yet have my hand. I tried be “formal” somehow but it was insane and time-consuming. James had seen my work and knew what he liked, and he just told me to play, to loosen up. He wanted my kooky line drawings. So, yes. He
The Editor: So when you read the Cocky text, are you consciously looking out for things? Or do you try to wipe the canvas of your mind clean? The Illustratrix: A few days before each fit, James will share a little of what’s going
tells me when he thinks things work or don’t. And, likewise, I give him feedback about the writing, usually after the fact because of deadline pressures. We have these fantastic chats. The Editor: What I’d give for a transcript of one of those chats. Maybe you’d consider contributing to a future Over A Pint marital special. The Illustratrix: That’s a great idea! We’ll have a talk and tape it. The Editor: Excellent. Let’s move to the past now. You mentioned that you used to paint on a much larger scale. Can you talk a bit about how your life as an artist began and when/why it stopped for a while? The Illustratrix: I’ve been a doodler all my life and when I got to college I dabbled a bit there too. I used to cover walls with paper and make oversized portraits of people in oil and pastels. But printmaking and illustration was, I guess, my strength. In fact, I once had a tutorial with Leonard Baskin who worked with Ted Hughes. Meeting him was nerve-wracking. But when I showed him my work, he took me on. He was an amazing mentor. The Editor: What splendid preparation for your work on Cocky. So did you major in fine art? The Illustratrix: No, as it happens. I majored in anthropology. Art was just a sideline. But my senior project did involve making art. I created contemporary masks based on styles similar to those used by tribes on the Pacific Northwest coast. Eventually, though, I had to decide: Did I want to be an artist or an anthropologist? I ended up choosing anthropology and archaeology. And I found that I was really good at supporting other artists. So I stopped making art seriously at that point, although I continued to doodle, make flyers for bands, illustrate for
magazines and that kind of thing. Just for fun. The Editor: As we down these last dregs of our drinks, I have a couple more quick questions to throw at you. Firstly, apart from Cocky, who is your favourite character in the Ballad and why? The Illustratrix: It has to be Corvin. I just love the illustrative potential of ravens. Probably because of the Baskin and Hughes crow series. The Editor: There’s no doubt about it, ravens are fucking cool. And why Corvin rather than Randall?
The Illustratrix: A lot of these characters have been swirling around in James’s head for years and I met Corvin way back in the day as soon as he was born. So I feel beholden to him. The Editor: Corvin has a cooler name, in my opinion. Randall was the name of a creepy old history teacher I used to have who would scrape out his earwax with a biro and then eat it. And I can’t shake the association. OK. One last question. Have you ever met any of the species that feature in the Ballad out in the wild? The Illustratrix: Not exactly. When we visit England, I get to see the fields that inspired the story originally. We follow the
rabbit warrens in the field buggy and listen out for shotguns. And sometimes a man shows up during supper time with a huge rifle and asks permission to shoot the geese. The Editor: Permission to shoot the geese? I love it. And thinking of the latest fit, have you seen any badger action? (Which sounds like sexual slang for something or other. “I badgered him right up the squirrel.”) The Illustratrix: Heh. No badgers but I keep drawing them. The Editor: Right then. One last question. I once asked James this and he refused to answer it. You, as his wife, muse and emotional auditor, may care not to refuse. How similar are Cocky the Fox and James the Man? The Illustratrix: Ha! I love them both dearly. And they both have a great affection for slathering aftershave on themselves. The Editor: Splendid. The Illustratrix: I see Cocky as an extension of his creator. Cocky comes straight out of James’s head and on to the page. So in the same way as you might be able to conclude something about an illustrator from an illustration, so you might be able to conclude something about James from his depiction of Cocky. The Editor: That’s a suitably intriguing response on which to end. Thank you, Mrs. Parker, for this pleasurable natter. There will be more of this in the near future. T HE W ITCH I N T HE D ITCH I dine tonight with the witch in the ditch at her place beneath the copse, where the badger will pause and test his claws and the sad frog feelingly flops. I do not like the witch in the ditch. Her eyes are drowned and white. She garnishes her ugliness with frogspawn, foam and fright. Her breath is bog, her mind!s a log, and down between her thighs she drags the pearly babies like bubbles that cannot rise.
T HE G ALLERY
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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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