Sunday, 23 May 2010


Yeah, that’s probably a made-up word, on account of how I just made it up, and yeah it’s probably bad practice to mix Latin and Greek word bits, but hey, it’s good enough for television. Before you ask, no, it’s not a fear of the island of Capri, the Ford Capri car, or the Capri Sun fruit-based drink. It’s not even a fear of the films of Frank Capra, though I swear if one more person tells me how great It’s A Wonderful Life is…

Capriphobia means a fear of goats, OK? Coz I say it does.

Apologies right now if I get distracted halfway through this (like you could tell), but I’m currently sat at one of the office hot-desks, right in the middle of the floor, which are kind of like the stocks in the village green, or the flogging post in the centre of the parade ground. This means that I’m not only isolated and spiritually drained, but also within hearing distance of a woman with a voice that I can only describe as Sybil Fawlty meets Custard from Roobarb And. Grating? Nasal? Monotonous? Very much so. Like a mosquito buzzing around your bedroom at night, except this mosquito has chosen to drone on about their bleedin’ holiday in Cuba ad infinitum. In many ways it’s a rare talent to be able to make a Havana travelogue both dull and irritating, but she’s managed it. Well done to her.

Back to the matter at hand, or hoof as the case may be.

Last Sunday, my brother and I drove over to the ancestral seat to help clear out twenty years’ worth of books and toys from the appropriately named toy-cupboard – a small cell-like affair in the eves of the roof, furnished with wooden shelves, a bare lightbulb worthy of Callan, dust, cobwebs, dead wasps, unidentifiable tree seeds, and the corpse of a small bird I once found while secreting certain personal documents under the floorboards. And toys. And lots of books:

• Mr Men books (the originals – none of your Little Miss Bulimic or Mr Nosey Goes To The Zoo spin-off nonsense here),
• Rupert books (from the era when sinister bear-napping gipsy types regularly cropped up, clad in Ottoman Turk vestments and foreignised by the judicious application of diagonal lines across the face),
• Dr Who Annuals (including the splendid ‘Rogue Planet’ comic strip from Dalek Annual 1978, and yes, I do realise the story was originally printed in TV Century 21, tch),
• How And Why Wonder Books (but really only the ones about dinosaurs, reptiles and prehistoric mammals – ah, the megatherium and his big licky tongue…),
• and Ladybird books.

Stay with me, we’re getting to the goaty bit now.

As soon as my brother waved the Ladybird book of The Three Billy Goats Gruff at me, I was splished by a ripple of nostalgia. Have a look at the cover:

No, not that modern revisionist pap – this one:

I had nightmares about three goat-things for years after we got that book. Almost every night. Three hairy horny creatures with evil slotty eyes, coming from where the garages were and up the back garden path. Single file they came, slipping up to the kitchen door like Lo-Pan sliding across his throne room, or more likely given my age, the simplistic animation of Mary, Mungo And Midge:
(skip to 4:00 for some classic Mungomation)

I mean, Christ on a freaking bike, will you look at those horny satanic mothers on the cover? I think it’s the middle one that’s the worst – look at the malevolent, capering grin on that ginger devil. Ladybird books bring you Baphomet Knows Where You Live. No wonder I was terrified. I blame (after a few minutes’ adroit Googling) the illustrator Robert Lumley. He’s also responsible for the picture on the last page of The Little Red Hen And The Grains Of Wheat, where, as my brother pointed out, an eerily realistic chicken is depicted menacingly waving a breadknife in one scraggy claw – no wonder the pig, the cat and the rat leave her to it:

If you’re wondering what the vandalism on the text page is all about, that’s the result of a very young me rewriting the end of the story. For some reason, I took great offence at the little red hen hoarding the bread to herself, so I cunningly edited that last page of text, subtly matching the typeface and literary style of the original ending. I think what had upset me was that the pig at least had a legitimate reason for not being able to help the hen with her wheaty quest earlier on in the story, as she was clearly depicted busily feeding her piglets (unlike the rat and the cat, who really were just feckless gadabouts). Even at that early age, I recognised the plight of the single working mother.

And that wasn’t the end of the revelations last week. I also came across a an old cereal packet full of Letraset transfers, which for those of you not of the original Pipkins / Tomorrow People generation, were the PS3’s of their day, oh yes. The one that jumped out at me, over and above the many dinosaur, Spider-Man and Star Wars masterpieces that we had lovingly rubbed onto poorly painted card backgrounds, was one featuring a sperm whale attacking a longboat on the high seas. It was bloody savage, I can tell you, that black bulgy headed monster surging up out of the waves, with the little harpoon guys about to be squished (or worse yet, eaten) mere feet away. Surely this, combined with the terror of being dragged into that room in the Natural History Museum, and a certain novelty aquarium at Blackgang Chine, is the source of my great and abiding fear of whales? And no wonder – I wish I could post up a shot of the picture in question to show you, but I don’t have it with me to scan in, and try as I might, Googling Letraset Whale Attack is getting me nowhere. Maybe If I try Sperm Attack

Maybe Not.

We will move swiftly past the unpleasant character of Raggety from the Rupert annuals, save to mention that he too was a source of some disquiet in my childhood:

Can’t imagine why.

Well, I’ve just looked for capriphobia on Google. It doesn’t exist. Nor does caprinaphobia or anything similar. I may have got in there first. Result.

There is a cypriphobia, but as you will see, that’s a fear of something quite different. Or perhaps not, if you’re the sort who associates goats with prostitution. Hey, I’m not going to judge you…


Katherine said...

Not the fear of Capri pants then?

I had that version of the book - none of the messing about pandering that youngsters get nowadays...

jade.ent said...

That Ladybird book cover of the three-headed goat demon has rekindled my urge to write the Dennis Wheatley RPG.

Maisie said...

Apparenlty someone called Flockhart beat you to it with capriphobia in April last year, but Chocolate Ocelot is the first entry on Google. Go you!

Anonymous said...

Blimey, Raggety, not disturbing at all in the slightest, no not at all.

Anonymous said...

Raggety's cute!