Crushed And Squashed

For many years, Dobson worked intermittently at a taxonomy of crushed things and squashed things. He kept two notebooks, one with a blue cover, on which SQUASHED was written in big black bold capitals, and one with a yellow cover, on to which he stuck a Dymo-Tape® strip punched out with the word CRUSHED. Asked once by a bespectacled devotee if there was any significance in the blue and yellow colouring of the notebook covers, Dobson’s reply was drowned out by the screeching of a flock of linnets. Ornithologically alert readers will say “Oi! Hang on! Linnets don’t screech”, and they would of course be correct, but the linnets in question were rare screeching linnets, a flock of which Dobson had corralled in an annexe to the room in which he granted an interview to the bespectacled devotee, in Winnipeg, or a suburb thereof. It is important to be precise about these things.

Had the rare screeching linnets not screeched, the bespectacled devotee would nevertheless have been disappointed by Dobson’s reply, for the colour coding of his crushed and squashed taxonomy notebooks was the sort of thing the pamphleteer preferred to keep under his hat. I can reveal, however, that when he bought the notebooks, Dobson was under the spell of the colour symbolism theories of Faffington.

Herne Bay, Herne Hill, and Hoon were the places Faffington trod, though which one was the site of his breakthrough discovery is not known. But in neither the Hernes nor Hoon does he have any commemorative plaque, probably because his theories have been utterly discredited. If Faffington is remembered at all, aside from Dobson’s short-lived championing of him, it is as a deluded monomaniac. He insisted on publishing his magnum opus in a stodgy German translation, thinking that this would give it more heft with beetle-browed intellectuals. Having no German, Dobson had the ludicrously dense and lengthy text Englished for him by a distressed polyglot he met on a sandbank. The polyglot was grubbing for worms, while Dobson had got lost on his way to the post office.

Dobson had something of a knack for finding himself on sandbanks, in tar pits, or stranded in drainage ditches, without ever knowing quite how he got there. Marigold Chew had suggested that he get himself a pair of shoes with a compass concealed in the heel, such as were once worn by venturesome tinies, but the pamphleteer was far too fond of his padded Bulgarian Security Police hiking boots to contemplate a change of footwear. In any case, it was one of Dobson’s physical peculiarities that he emitted violent magnetic discharges, so that compasses in his vicinity went wildly spinning. By all accounts, Faffington too was subject to anomalous magnetic phenomena, although it is mere myth that the popular cartoon character Magnet Boy! The Boy Magnet was based on him.

During the period of his infatuation with the muddle-headed colour symbolist, Dobson considered writing a potted biography of Faffington, but found facts hard to come by. After a fortnight of tough and grizzled research, all he could say for certain was that Faffington had an extremely large head. Hatters were known to have baulked at his approach, and more than one practising phrenologist had been driven to fits and vapours when attending to him. That much gave Dobson about half a page of material, not nearly enough for a pamphlet, however potted it might be. He scrunched up the page on which he had jotted his notes and tossed it into a canal, an act of wanton littering which earned him withering looks from the lock keeper for the next twenty years.

The lock keeper, by coincidence, was the brother of the distressed polyglot Dobson encountered on that sandbank. In infancy, they had been briefly famous as a variety theatre act known as The Diminutive Cavorting Brothers. The future lock keeper cavorted sideways, and he who would a polyglot be cavorted up and down. They earned a small fortune before the elder one was six years old, but every penny was frittered away by their ne’er-do-well parents, a pair of rascals who came to a deservedly sticky end. Polyglot and lock keeper drifted apart in their teenage years, and were completely estranged by the time Dobson employed the one and disgruntled the other.

Had Dobson carried out a bit more research on the subject of his abandoned potted biography, he would have learned that Faffington also had a sibling from whom he was estranged. His sister was by turns a flapper, a bluestocking, an aviatrix, and the president of a small republic rich in bauxite and tin, and she was potrayed on film by both Mabel Normand and Constance Binney.

Dobson was watching the hoofing of a horse in a blacksmith’s yard one Wednesday morning, when an anvil toppled from its temporary hoist, weakened by rainwater, and fell into the mud, crushing an encampment of goldenback beetles. It was this incident which led to his interest in crushed things and squashed things, the project to create a proper taxonomy of which remained incomplete at his death.

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