A letter arrives from Tim Thurn:
Hey there, Mr Key! : Every so often over the years you have made mention of a snack or breakfast item called “smokers’ poptarts”. I don’t smoke myself – it’s a filthy habit and you ought to be roundly ashamed of yourself – but I must confess that whenever I read about what I assume to be poptarts specifically designed for smokers I find myself salivating. It can be quite embarrassing, for I usually read Hooting Yard when travelling on public transport, and on more than one occasion I have been found drooling spittle over a fellow-passenger. I have been mistaken for an indigent, and beaten about the head with a rolled-up copy of The Daily Incandescent Bus Passenger.
Obviously my response to the words “smokers’ poptarts” is irrational, as if I were a Pavlovian dog. I have been led to delve into my family history to discover whether there is something nameless and awful lurking in my genetic heritage. Thus far I have gone back as far as the sixteenth century without finding anything pertinent, though obviously there were numerous smokers among my ancestors, for time was when seemingly everybody smoked, all the time. What a disgusting world it was!
Anyway, back to the present day, or to be more precise the recent past, the very recent past, actually the Thursday just gone. Although you have not mentioned smokers’ poptarts for quite a while, I have – as you may have guessed – become obsessed with them. Standing at the bus stop on Thursday morning, wobbling my head gently from side to side and up and down in a futile attempt to empty it of thoughts of you know what, I suddenly felt impelled, as if by some eldritch force, to cave into my longings and to damn well go and buy a packet of smokers’ poptarts and wolf them down, there and then.
Do you know what? I could not find a single shop, in the great metropolis of Pointy Town, that sold them! I tried bakeries, pastry shops, general grocers, supermarkets, hypermarkets, corner shops, charity shops, snackbars, picnic shops, and many another type of shop, and from each one I tottered out empty-handed and increasingly desperate. Also, I missed my bus.
I realise I am on the verge of doolallydom, if not already there, and that the proper response to that terrible morning would have been to plunge my head repeatedly into a bucket of icy water and then have a lie down in a darkened room for several days. A sensible man would have done that, but I am no longer a sensible man. That is why I am writing to you, imploring you, beseeching you, like a grubby mendicant sprawled at the feet of a potentate, to provide me with the recipe, so I can make my own smokers’ poptarts, in my own kitchen, and stuff them down my gob until I am sick. That, I think, Mr Key, is my one remaining hope on this earth.
Yours in extremis, Tim Thurn
Tim might find it helpful to track down a copy of Dobson’s pamphlet How To Make Your Own Packet Of Half A Dozen Smokers’ Poptarts For Tuppence-Ha’penny (out of print). It is many years now since I have seen a copy, but as I recall the pamphleteer gives a jaunty account of his own muckings about in the kitchen with stuff like flour and suet and duckpond water and rolling pins and greaseproof paper and the Lord knows what else.