Dentist’s Potting Shed

I have had a few letters from readers asking me to explain the rules of the board game Dentist’s Potting Shed, which was mentioned in the piece Blodgett And Trubshaw. Now, I hate to disappoint, but I simply can’t be bothered to write pages and pages about what is, after all, a spectacularly dull game. Believe me when I tell you that if I started trying to explain to the beginner how to play Dentist’s Potting Shed, we would be here all day, and probably tomorrow too, and even then we would have got little further than the first chubbgut. I would of course have to try to explain the meaning of a chubbgut itself, and that is only one of numberless terms a player has to understand before the dice are even thrown. So I am afraid that on this occasion I am going to ignore my imploring readers. If you want to play Dentist’s Potting Shed, go and buy a set and read up on the rules yourself.

You might want to wait until next year, however, when a special edition is being released. On the sixth of February 2008, Hubermann’s will have in stock the Dentist’s Potting Shed Commemorative Edition Marking The Fiftieth Anniversary Of The Munich Air Disaster. This special set will include small plastic figurines of Duncan Edwards, Geoff Bent, Liam Whelan and the other “Busby Babes” who perished as a result of the crash. The figurines are not an integral part of the board game, so I think the idea is that you can display them on your mantelpiece, if you have a mantelpiece, or elsewhere, such as on a shelf, if you do not have a mantelpiece, and arrange them so that they appear to be watching the game of Dentist’s Potting Shed you will then proceed to play with your pals. Some may think it eerie to be watched over by footballers’ ghosts, in which case the figurines can be left to languish in the little thrum dimity bag provided.

Given the complexity and tedium of the game, it is hard to account for its popularity. Last year at Bodger’s Spinney, an international tournament attracted competitors from as far away as the Port of Tongs, and tickets to watch the final sold out within seconds. The tickets themselves have become collectors’ items, and I have to say they are very beautiful, as tickets go, cardboard and beige and cut just so. I have managed to amass six so far, at unholy cost, one from a beekeeping acquaintance, one abandoned in a nest of thorns, one sold to me by a ragamuffin, one stuck to a decoy duck in a pond, one I suspect to be a forgery and one I found being used as a bookmark in a secondhand copy of Dobson’s pamphlet What Planet Does Jeanette Winterson Live On? I did not go to the Dentist’s Potting Shed tournament myself, partly because as I have made clear I find the game unremittingly boring, but partly because I am terrified of ever going near Bodger’s Spinney again. It is almost three years to the day that last I lumbered towards the spinney, and still I shudder every time I recall the gigantic hobgoblins that jumped down from the trees and pursued me all the way back to Blister Lane. They were not only gigantic but crumpled and toothless and stained with vinegar and covered in arrowroot biscuit crumbs and sweat. Should you ever find yourself being chased away from a spinney or a copse by hobgoblins, pray it is not the ones who chased me on that grim November day.

Although I did not go to the tournament, I read every single press report I could find. I was less interested in the board game than in the possibility that the hobgoblins would disrupt things, scattering the dice and counters and cards and terrifying the players. But no matter how thoroughly I scoured the papers I discovered nothing hobgoblin-related. I could only assume that they had clambered back up into the trees and remained hidden in leafage, allowing the Dentist’s Potting Shed tournament to play itself out in the wind and the rain. I was perplexed by this until I read, the following spring, a lengthy article in the Bulletin Of Bodger’s Spinney Hobgoblin Behavioural Studies, written by an academic panjandrum, which explained everything in prose so crisp it took my breath away. If you want to read it too, look out for the issue of the Bulletin with a picture of Celine Dion on the cover.

I mentioned that I obtained one of my six tickets by buying it from a ragamuffin. What, you might think, was a ragamuffin doing in possession of such a prized piece of beautifully cut beige cardboard? I was certainly tempted to assume that the nipper had pickpocketed it. He was tiny and bony and as skinny as a pipe-cleaner, and it was easy to imagine him skittering, uncatchable, through busy city streets, dipping and snatching. Was I committing a crime by paying the ragamuffin for stolen goods? I did not like to think of myself as a fence, and I remained troubled until, a week after the exchange had taken place, I tracked him to the travelling circus of which he was an unlikely veteran. I learned that, from the age of just five months, he had been known as Howler Monkey Boy, and that his daredevil acrobatics, performed without a safety harness, were famed throughout the circus world. Ragamuffin he may have been, but he was no thief. He explained to me that one of his colleagues, a moustachioed nincompoop known as The Human Pencil Sharpener, was a besotted devotee of Dentist’s Potting Shed, had attended the tournament when the circus was encamped nearby in Scroonhoonpooge, and had given the ticket to the ragamuffin as a birthday present. Satisfied by this tale, relieved that I was not a fence, I stayed around to watch that evening’s circus performance. It was bloody fantastic, especially Howler Monkey Boy himself, at whose antics I gasped. I even got to have one of my own pencils sharpened by The Human Pencil Sharpener, whose teeth-marks can still be seen upon it, for I have not written with it since, instead keeping it in a little tin display crate on my mantelpiece, for I have a mantelpiece. If, next year, I succumb to the fad and buy the special edition of Dentist’s Potting Shed, I may have to move the tin crate to make room for the Busby Babes figurines. That will be a quandary, but I shall deal with it as best I can. What I might do is obtain a wooden panel and nail it up as a sort of mantelpiece extension. It would not look pretty, but it would create more display space, and who knows what further baubles and gewgaws I will want to add as the years pass?

And the years will pass, of course, and I am glad of that, for as each year passes I hope and pray that the memory of the Bodger’s Spinney hobgoblins pursuing me across the fields will one day begin to fade, and that there will come a time when I might sleep through the night without waking in terror, shuddering and screaming and scaring the wits out of my cat, Jeoffry. For I will consider my cat Jeoffry.

One thought on “Dentist’s Potting Shed

  1. The idea of a great, toothless, crumb besprinkled hobgoblin disrupting an international gaming competition in Bodger’s Spinney put me in mind of Grendel’s depredations on the Danish hall, Heorot, in the tale Beowulf. Perhaps the 8th century monk who penned this ancient tale was re-telling some ancient folk memory of a primitive scandinavian gaming competition of huge pagan ritualistic signifance disrupted by a similar hideous homunculus.

    What would Ray Winstone and Angelina Jolie think of that?

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