Sops And Fillips

I have never been able to decide whether I prefer a sop or a fillip. To be given a sop can be immediately gratifying. But when you are able, at leisure, to consider what you really wanted, and then to be thunderstruck at the realisation you have been fobbed off with a sop, gratification can curdle swiftly into frustration, resentment, and, in certain circumstances, psychopathic violence. A fillip, on the other hand, can come out of nowhere, unbidden, and set you up for the day, or at least for a few minutes, until your innards are once again gnawed at by whatever gnaws at them. That differs from person to person.

The tonic effects, then, of both the sop and the fillip tend towards the ephemeral. One could argue that, notwithstanding, the fillip is preferable. This is because, when it wears off, and you are again plunged into remorseless misery, there is not the concomitant dejection you get with the wearing off the sop, viz. the knowledge that you have been fobbed off. You can’t be fobbed off with a fillip. That is not in the nature of fillips, though it is part and parcel of the sop.

We can perhaps grasp this more firmly by considering a concrete example. Here is Dobson, from his pamphlet What I Have To Say, In Toto, About Sops And Fillips (out of print):

It was a day in that blue month September, silent beneath the plum trees’ slender shade. A nice juicy Carlsbad plum, I thought, would be just the fillip I needed. It so happened that I was plunged in remorseless misery and my innards were being gnawed at by their intractable enemies, a legion of mental and emotional horrors it would take far too long to list. Yes, the more I thought about it, sprawled beneath the plum trees’ slender shade, the more I craved the fillip I would get from munching one of those plums.

I have never been the sprightliest of tree-climbers, but on that day in that blue month September it so happened that I was wearing my Bolivian Rain Forest Warden’s Tree-Climbing Boots. What a happy accident! I stood up, dusted the duff from my duffel coat, and prepared to clamber a little way up the trunk of the plum tree, just high enough to pluck a plum. It was a strangely tall plum tree, as were all its fellows in this orchard.

Just as I was about to begin my climb, I was disconcerted to see, striding towards me, aiming a shotgun, the orchardist. I knew he was the orchardist because of his proprietorial manner of striding across the loam, and the badge affixed to his duffel coat, over his heart.

“Oi!” he shouted, “Do not think for one minute you can climb and pluck a plum of mine from my plum tree!”

“Nothing was further from my mind,” I lied, “I am not the plum-eating type.”

He shoved the barrel of his shotgun into my belly.

“I’m pleased to hear it,” he said, “Often I find picnickers and other reprobates lurking in my orchard who think the munching of a nice juicy Carlsbad plum is just the fillip they need to wrench them, albeit temporarily, out of their misery and horrors.”

“Don’t you fret about me on that score,” I said, “I am as happy as a lark.”

This ornithological sally was a blatant fib, as my countenance was downcast and gloomy. It served, however, to bamboozle the orchardist. He hoisted the shotgun over his shoulder and mumbled something about the nesting habits of larks.

I thought it best to skedaddle out of the orchard and find somewhere else to slump on that day in that blue month September. As I trudged along the towpath of the old canal, past the cement works and the marmalade factory, I still craved the fillip of a plum to munch. Pausing to sit on a canalside bench placed there in honour of Robert Fripp, I took from the inside pocket of my duffel coat the Gazetteer of Fruiterers which, in those days, I always carried with me. If I could not steal a plum from an orchard, I could buy one from a fruiterer! I was young then, you see, and my brain was in proper working order.

Having ascertained that the nearest fruiterer was a short bus ride away, I made my way to the bus stop and waited for a bus. When the bus arrived, I boarded it. I sat down. The bus conductor took my fare. Peering out of the window at the sky, I became lost in thought about my imminent plum. I could almost taste it. What a fillip it would be!

Shortly afterwards I alighted from the bus at another bus stop and crossed the road to enter the fruiterers’. He was a curiously monkey-like man, though his manners were polished.

“How may I be of assistance to you on this day in that blue month September?” he asked.

“I would like to buy a nice juicy Carlsbad plum, please,” I said.

“I am afraid I sold my last plum, Carlsbad or no, just fifteen minutes ago to a communist German playwright,” he said, “So may I recommend instead a conference pear?”

There would be no fillip for me. Instead, I was being fobbed off with a sop!

Careful study of this passage will reward the reader with a dazzling insight into the fillip and the sop, and this in spite of the fact that Dobson does not tell us whether he accepted the fruiterer’s offer of a conference pear. It was long thought that he addressed this in his pamphlet The Blue September Of Conference Pears (out of print), but recent textual exegesis by hot-headed young Dobsonist Ted Cack demonstrates pretty damn conclusively that the September referred to in that pamphlet was after, not before, the Tet Offensive.

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