Sappensopp Days

Kloppstock’s Jugband Crumpled Baize Tarboosh, the latest bestselling paperback by Pebblehead, is a wonderful evocation of those much lamented Sappensopp Days. “Tipping, tapping, flimflam… goose grease and lavender and a tin of polish for the porch… the light in the tunnels and the flap of the flaps in the flappery out by the byre… those endless bowls of piping hot porridge… such were the joys of the Sappensopp Days”, he writes, and if, like me, you are an unreconstructed Sappensoppist, it all comes flooding back.

There was an earlier book, of course, by Inspip, and I stand by my review when it first came out in hardback, where I wrote “This book is shoddy and inadequate and inadequate! It is thoroughly inadequate!” Inspip had the temerity to write what he called A Thorough And Adequate Account Of Those Sappensopp Days, despite being a secret Soppensappist. When I revealed this gruesome truth Inspip was discredited and his bones were thrown off a cliff into the churning ocean. Good riddance to him, say I.

Pebblehead, by contrast, has the measure of those Sappensopp Days. It seems he has listened to contemporary tape recordings of claimants and wardens and tosspots, and although his tone is often desperate, when it is not twittering, he nails it. By “it” I mean a very concrete sense of urbane jugband merriment. And the names you would expect are all here, though I cannot repeat any of them for legal reasons. I don’t want my bones to follow Inspip’s off that gaunt and mighty cliff.

The point about Pebblehead’s prose in his examination of Sappensoppism is that he chugs along, chug chug chug, in a way that is attractive to those who like their prose to have that kind of locomotive trundling rhythm. Pale poets may skip and prance, and paler poets may gambol ‘cross verdant sward, but generally such pale poetasters have a whiff of the Soppensapp about them. I do not make the charge lightly. I would say the same were I standing on the beach, at dusk, surrounded by gulls scavenging among the bleached bones of Inspip. There are worse ways to end one’s day. I have loafed and been bitter, sometimes, when recalling those Sappensopp Days, the gleaming lanterns, the flint hearts, the barbicans atop the tors. Some come to genuflect and some come to keen, and those are their ways, and I shall not gainsay them, or, if I do, I shall crunch across their own gravel, on my hands and knees, to prove my point. You will not hear such claims from the Inspips of this world, this spinning globe, this dispensation.

Inspip was at Innsmouth when his horrible book came out, and he was betrayed by a clairvoyant. That is often how these things turn out, how tangled skeins unravel. The clairvoyant was unbridled, certainly, and mouthy, but that made a welcome change. Guttural imprecations and gargling were her mode of speech, if speech it can be called, and as soon as he heard what was being said about him the wretched Inspip tried to flee. Typical, I may say, of those who observe the Soppensappist debaucheries, for debaucheries they are. His fleeing, or rather his failed fleeing, took him to places human beings ought better avoid, such as the wild hills and the fiercest sea fronts, the most dismal of outcrops and the tinniest of fairground arcades. Tinny it was and tacky and awash with tat, and there Inspip was cornered, there he was revealed as a pooper whose cronies vanished, pfft!, gone, leaving him alone in his poopery. He knew his book was but page after page of meretricious squamoogle, yet he pressed on, writing hundreds and hundreds of pages, like a Blunkett. I have said elsewhere that he never knew the first thing about the Sappensopp Days, not because attempts had not been made, in his childhood, to bash a few basic ideas into his curly-haired head, but because he wilfully let all that he did once know evaporate, like a type of milk in a tin. It is a mystery why he did so, why he allowed the Soppensappists to squish their boggling into him. He was packed so tight with it he might have burst.

The service Pebblehead does in his new book is fourfold, I think. He surprises us with little glimpses of his chugging. He is aware that his readers know more than he does about cows and birds and Stalinism and cashew nuts, for example, and he does not try to overreach himself. (He does overreach himself on the mad clanging of bells in mad bell-towers in a mad country, but he does so persuasively, and in spades.) Then there is his almost grating acknowledgement of those who allowed him to listen to the tape recordings. I confess I fought back tears, and the ducts still shed the odd drop now and then as I recollect how fantastic an achievement it was to risk his bones in circumstances where you or I would have hidden behind a nest of crates, panting, heart hammering thump-a-thump-a-thump-a-thump. And fourthly, critically, he knows his bales, and he says so, without apology, without rancour, without coming over all twee and mimsy, like an Inspip would have done, had he known a bale from a pile of pins and pencils or some other Soppensappist vulgarity.

What we are left with is something we can all be proud of, standing on a bridge, in blistering sunlight, watching the sparkling river below us flowing relentlessly to a destination we can never even imagine reaching, even if night crashes down around our ears a thousand times, a thousand thousand times, in this land it would be bonkers to disavow. It is on that bridge I stand. I do not think Pebblehead would recognise me now, and I know for certain that Inspip, if by some miracle his bones leapt up out of the deep and snapped themselves together into human form, and were enfleshed, and quick with life, even then Inspip would know me not, for I have read the book, and it is as if I were truly there, fluttering and bright, pitched past pitch of grandeur in those jugband Sappensopp Days.

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