Dobson’s Blotter

Dobson was very fond of his blotter. Whenever he wrote about it, which was more often than considered normal for a grown man, his prose attains a pitch of purple enthusiasm modern readers can find uncomfortable, not to say distressing. It has been said that the pamphleteer even had a pet name for his blotter, as if it were an animate being, like a puppy or a hamster, but nobody claims to know what it was. Citation needed, as they say on the Wikipedia. There has been some debate, of crushing tedium, as to whether Dobson’s attachment was to the blotter itself or to the sheets of blotting paper he inserted under its four leatherette corner flaps. He made something of a ritual of this, changing his blotting paper every Thursday afternoon at about four o clock, just before he had a cup of tea and a plate of bloaters. He seems to have inserted a fresh sheet irrespective of the state of the one to be discarded. As often as not, his blotting paper remained pristine, as he almost always wrote in pencil. The used sheets he kept in a cardboard box shoved underneath the sink in an outbuilding. Each time he filled the box, he secreted it somewhere, like a squirrel, and went to Hubermann’s Department Store to get a new cardboard box. To date, nobody has ever discovered where he hid all those boxes of slightly-used blotting paper. It is one of the enduring mysteries beloved of Dobsonists.

The blotter itself was unexceptionable, as blotters go. It was a flat leatherette rectangle with corner flaps under which the four corners of a sheet of blotting paper were tucked. Several witnesses have noted that, contrary to what one might expect, the blotter was not always in place on the pamphleteer’s escritoire. Sometimes he left it leaning, upright, against the wainscot. At other times he put it in a bag and carried it around with him for no apparent purpose. It was not unknown for him to eat his bloaters off it, or to use it as a bird table. Dobson was fantastically ignorant of the diet of birds, though, and would place his blotter on top of an upright stick in the garden and then scatter hard toffee marbles upon it. Such confectionery was avoided by any little birds alighting on the blotter bird table, for rare is the bird which can digest hard toffee. They would also risk breaking their little beaks on it, for Dobson’s preferred toffee marbles, which he bought in paper bags from a pedlar, were the hardest known to humankind, and he gave them an extra bake in his oven, for hours at a time, to make them harder still.

In a new, as yet unpublished book, Pamplog and Gloveages tell the story of how Dobson’s blotter was stolen and later recovered. Melodramatically, the pamphleteer once described this as “the worst week of my life”. On a rambunctious Wednesday, when the zodiac was in a meaningless alignment, the pamphleteer decided he needed to stiffen the back of his blotter to restore its rigidity. He filled a pail with starch and carefully lowered the blotter into it, and then he strode off full of vim to Blister Lane Lido for water polo practice. Dobson was a keen if inept player of that most thrilling of aquatic team sports, and he wrote a number of pamphlets about it, the best of which is probably A New And Improved Method Of Drying Your Puck With A Towel (out of print). In standard water polo, of course, pucks are not used, but the Blister Lane Academicals was no ordinary water polo team. Nor was this an ordinary practice, on this fateful Wednesday, for the coach wanted the team to try out a new tactic which involved distracting their opponents by imitating the calls of loons and shoveller ducks and grackles. By the time he returned home, Dobson was hoarse and exhausted. He went straight to the room in which he had left his blotter steeped in a pail of starch and was distraught to find it gone. The pail itself had been knocked over, and the starch had soaked into the floorboards.

Here is how Pamplog and Gloveages describe what happened next:

Dobson cried out. Dobson sobbed. Dobson crashed about the house. Dobson called Detective Captain Cargpan. Dobson told Detective Captain Cargpan that his blotter had been stolen. Dobson sat in a chair and waited for Detective Captain Cargpan to arrive. Dobson drank a tumbler of milk from a goat. See Dobson sit. See Dobson drink.

This sort of thing becomes tiresome after a few dozen pages, but I admire the authors’ attention to detail. Apparently they won a medal for an earlier book about the Watergate Hearings. What we learn in this new work is that the thief was a contemptible scoundrel with a pencil moustache, the look of a startled rabbit, a fixation upon blotters, a cheap pair of gloves, a corrective boot, a skewed sense of morals, a weak chin, a hacking cough, a sordid past, the wit of a drainpipe, a collapsing lung, a dubious parentage, odd socks, an odder cravat, bats in his belfry, shares in the Bradford and Bingley Building Society, corks on his uppers, plums in his pockets, catastrophic measle scars, rent arrears, vinegar in his ears and sausages on the brain. Detective Captain Cargpan tracked him down four days after the theft of Dobson’s blotter, hiding out in a House of Miscreants hard by the banks of Lake Foofy.

Dobson’s first words, when one of Detective Captain Cargpan’s henchmen returned the blotter to him at a rendezvous in a dismal canteen, were “Thank you so much for retrieving my natty blotter!” Studious Dobsonists will recognise that as the title of a dirge the pamphleteer composed for the Second International Anthony Burgess Festival Of Uncompromising Dirges, in Ṻlm, where it won fifteenth prize.

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