I lollop. You lollop. He, she, or it lollops. We lollop. You lot lollop. They lollop.
This is the famous opening paragraph of Dobson’s unfinished, unpublished novel The Lollopers. It was one of his very few attempts at fiction, a register for which he was completely unsuited, as he recognised in his magisterial pamphlet A Magisterial Exegesis Of My Resounding Failure As A Novelist, With A Surfeit Of Adjectives And A Ham-fisted Watercolour Plate Of Ida Lupino (out of print). Dobson wrote:
What I wanted to do in The Lollopers was to drill down, down and down, as deeply as anybody could drill, into the very core of lolloping. I thought that if anybody was qualified for the task, it was me, for when I am not trudging or plodding or gadding or sashaying or stalking, I lollop. I have lolloped along canal tow-paths, seaside promenades, important metropolitan boulevards, rustic lanes, and many another haunt of the pedestrian. I have lolloped in all four seasons of the year, in light and dark, in blistering heat and bitter cold. Indeed, in my preliminary sketches for the novel, I planned an entire chapter in which my fictional hero, Dabson, a hugely successful pamphleteer, beloved by millions and the cynosure of millions more, is seen lolloping during a cold snap.
A secondary aim was to really chew my way through the connecting wire, if there is one, between lolloping and lopping. In the domain of trees, for example, lopping is an intrinsic part of pollarding. You cannot pollard, say, a willow, such as the pollarded willows by the canal just before the level crossing in Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945), without doing a bit of lopping. You might use a woodsman’s axe or a saw of some description, but whatever cutting tool you avail yourself of, lop you will. The question is, between the ramshackle shed from where you collect the axe or saw, and the willow you are set to pollard, and thus lop, is it imperative that you must lollop? Could you, in the throes of hysteria, skip, or even sprint? And if you did not lollop, how would this affect the quality of your lopping, and therefore, with piercingly acute logic, your pollarding? Actually, that appears to be three questions, not one, so the careful reader will spot – perhaps before I did – that I am becoming hopelessly entangled in the thickets of my own creative struggle. I am no longer even clear whether I am writing in the appropriate grammatical tense.
When one considers that lopping might also apply to the lopping off of limbs and – gosh! – whole heads by the armed and armoured henchmen of a particularly vindictive mediaeval baron, is it any surprise that my novel juddered to a halt after that magisterial opening paragraph? It is not.
In the pamphlet Dobson confesses that he shoved the manuscript of The Lollopers into a drawer where, later that year, around the time of Harold Wilson’s resignation as Prime Minister, it was eaten by voracious famished beetles.