Dobson went through a strange phase where he was consumed by a mania to have an article published in the Reader’s Digest. This obsession – mercifully temporary – is thought to have been occasioned by water on the brain, following an incident when the pamphleteer toppled off Sawdust Bridge and was submerged in the icy river for over six minutes. His toppling may have been due to the fact that he was, at the time, breaking in a secondhand pair of Tunisian Air Cadet boots, and was unsteady on his feet. Hoisted by a crane from the madly gushing water some miles downstream, Dobson was taken to a riverside crane-person’s hut and plonked in front of a radiator to dry off. There was a shelf stacked with untold copies of the Reader’s Digest in the hut, and the pamphleteer browsed through them as he sat engulfed in steam.
Later, back at home, Dobson set himself to write a piece typical of the magazine’s content. He was in such a flap that he dashed off not one, but four articles, each entitled I Am John’s Head. These are not versions or rewritings of a single essay, but four discrete pieces of prose, and they could not be more different from one another.
In one, John is a Jesuit priest, and his head is the size and shape of a potato. He lives in Shoeburyness, and is wrestling with doubts about his faith, which make his head throb. In the second piece, the head is no longer attached to the body of John – a different John in this case – but floating free, much like a hot air balloon, and subject to the same hazards and imperilments as a balloon, except of course that a head has a much tougher hide. The third piece treats John as a host upon which the head feeds as a parasite. By general assent, this is the most unnerving of the four essays, and there have been attempts to suppress it. In number four, John and his head barely rate a mention, as Dobson seems to get carried away with a prolonged and rancorous piece of invective about the ill-fitting Tunisian Air Cadet boots which caused his Sawdust Bridge mishap.
Dobson seems to have got something out of his system by writing what scholars now call “The Four I Am John’s Head Essays”. He never submitted any of them for publication in the Reader’s Digest, shoving them into an old cardboard box and forgetting about them. In an interview late in life, he was asked about the essays, and asked also why he had not written one called I Am Jane’s Head. Unfortunately, the questions were put to the pamphleteer during the notorious Pointy Town Pavilion interview, in which no sensible, or even half way sane, replies were given, the interviewer’s legs were broken, the pavilion burned to the ground, and a blithely oblivious Dobson sat there drooling into a tin cup and babbling on about President Nixon’s fondness for mashing potatoes as a relaxation technique*, one he was minded to ape. We have no evidence that he ever did so.
The I Am John’s Head essays are due to be published for the first time in a single volume, with notes and commentary by upstart young Dobsonist Ted Cack, when he is released from a Swiss prison.
* NOTE : This is true, of course, but I cannot recall where I read it, and would be grateful to any reader who can direct me to further information.
UPDATE : Here is a reference to the source of my Nixon / mashed potato information. I will try to find the exact quotation during the coming days.