The Beak

One of Dobson’s more ambitious projects was The Complete Anatomy Of Birds, Described In Majestic Sweeping Prose In Several Hefty Volumes. Uncharacteristically, he kept this one under his hat, and did not discuss its progress with his inamorata Marigold Chew over breakfast.

“I am puzzled,” said Marigold one morning, smearing compacted gunk on to a wafer of dough, “Your usual practice is to babble incontinently to me over breakfast about whatever it is you are writing, yet for the past week or so you have either been silent or have spoken of quite other matters. Is everything hunky dory in the Dobson head?”

“’Hunky dory’ does not begin to describe it,” said Dobson, after swallowing, with some difficulty, a mouthful of runny egg ‘n’ cheese-straw bap, “I have embarked upon what may be my greatest achievement, the one I will be remembered for after I am gone. I have not spoken of it to you because I fear you will dissuade me from tackling a work of several hefty volumes, advising me instead to stick with mere pamphlets.”

“Well, you are a pamphleteer, Dobson,” said Marigold Chew, dallying with a stray pea on her plate, “But I have every confidence in your ability to write several hefty volumes, so long as you choose a subject you know something about. I might throw up my hands in horror, however, were you to be so delusional as to think you could write sensibly at length on a topic of which you are blitheringly ignorant.”

“Such as?” asked Dobson, who was ever loth to admit that there just might be one or two things in the universe that he knew nothing about.

“Birds,” said Marigold.

As she spoke, there was a thunderclap. Rain lashed against the windows, and the sky grew dark.

“As it happens,” said Dobson, “I am at work on chapter one of book one of The Complete Anatomy Of Birds, Described In Majestic Sweeping Prose In Several Hefty Volumes.”

Marigold Chew threw up her hands in horror, inadvertently upsetting a tumbler of unaerated potato juice.

“God help us,” she said.

“Volume One is entitled The Beak, and my plan is to devote at least four hundred pages to that fascinating topic,” said Dobson.

“May I ask,” said Marigold, “How much you have written thus far?”

“Just a couple of lines,” said Dobson, “I admit it is slow work. But I am kept busy with my research.”

“And those two lines are . . .?” asked Marigold.

All birds have beaks, I think,” quoted Dobson, “Commonly, they are located on the lower front part of a bird’s head.”

“Would it be fair to say,” continued Marigold Chew, mercilessly, “That you have turned to your research, whatever that might be, because you have exhausted your knowledge of the beaks of birds?”

But answer came there none, for Dobson, pretending to a sudden but delayed terror of the thunderclap, had scurried under the breakfast table, as if he were James Joyce during a thunderstorm in Scheveningen.

Later that day, he abandoned his bird book, and wrote instead that timeless classic among his pamphlets, How I Hid Under A Table During A Thunderstorm And Ruined My Trousers By Kneeling In A Puddle Of Unaerated Potato Juice, And What This Tells Us About The Human Spirit In Extremis (out of print).

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