Within minutes of beginning my research into the poultry yards of archdukes, I struck gold. I suppose I should not have been surprised to learn that it was a topic to which Dobson had turned his attention, in his pamphlet The Poultry Yards Of The Grand Archdukes (out of print). Alackaday!, as Hadrian Beverland would put it, I then struck base metal, for it turns out that this is one of the rarest of the rare of Dobson pamphlets, and I could not get my hands on a copy try as I might, not that I tried very hard, having other things on my mind, such as Pantsil’s performance in the World Cup, guff, pomposity, and potato crisps. Of which, more later, if it please your Lordship.
Now the unobtainability of a pamphlet would deal a knockout blow to a weedy, milksop researcher, but I am made of sterner stuff. I gulped down a beaker of Squelcho! and, at dead of night, I stole out to the weird woods of Woohoohoodiwoo and sought out the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman. I found her crouching in a patch of nettles, moving her withered arms in some incomprehensible but no doubt eldritch fashion, and muttering gibberish. Good old Woohoohoodiwoo Woman!, I thought, she never lets you down. Not, at least, if you remember to bring her a gift, as I did. I greeted her and handed over a rather smudged back number of the Reader’s Digest. I had no idea to what weird and spooky use she would put it, but it is better not to ask. She gave the magazine a couple of gummy bites to make sure it was genuine, and then asked me, in her weird woohoohoodiwoo voice, what I wanted. I cleared my throat.
“Are you familiar with the out of print pamphleteer Dobson?” I asked her. When I spoke aloud the great man’s name, an owl hooted and a wolf howled. The Woohoohoodiwoo Woman’s head moved slightly, in what might have been a nod. It was either that or a magical spasm. I pressed on.
“There is an unobtainable pamphlet by Dobson which I feel impelled to read, oh Woman of Woohoohoodiwoo,” I continued, “And I was wondering if, through your tremendously strange powers, you might be able to commune with transient shimmerings of ectoplasmic doo-dah and somehow have transmitted to you the full text of this pamphlet, entitled The Poultry Yards Of The Grand Archdukes, and declaim it to me, here in the weird woods in moonlight, while I scribble down what you say in my notepad with my propelling pencil.” I patted my pocket to indicate that I had come prepared with these essential items.
The Woohoohoodiwoo Woman did some business with a toad and a newt and a hacksaw and some parsley and the bleached and boiled skull of a starling and a handful of breadcrumbs, and there was a mighty flash of eerie incandescence across the sky and a boom as of thunder and then she began to writhe in hideous jarring contortions as the night air grew chill as the grave. Then she began to babble, and I started scribbling.
When we were done, I patted the Weird Woman on her weird head, promised her further back copies of the Reader’s Digest or Carp Talk!, her other favourite periodical, and headed for home clutching the precious recovered text. I had a long day’s work ahead of me, transcribing the scribble in my notepad using my iWoo, a fantastic new device from Apple specifically designed for the transcription of unearthly hallucinatory babblings into tough sensible prose. I chuckled to myself, wondering what Dobson would have made of our twenty-first century technology. Somehow I could not imagine the great man Twittering or Facebooking or posting videos on YouTube, though there is of course that tantalising paragraph in his pamphlet Tantalising Paragraphs About The World O’ The Future (out of print) where he seems to be hinting at some kind of hand-held apparatus called an iRuskin. I must look it up and parlay my observations into a postage here one of these days.
As soon as I got home, just after dawn, I switched on or, as they say nowadays, powered up my iWoo, and left it to bleep and hum while I fixed a solid breakfast. This involved more eggs than you can shake a stick at, which is a goodly number of eggs, I can tell you. This is my own breakfast recipe, called Hitchcock’s Nightmare, or, alternatively, Orwell’s Glut. All of my many and various breakfast recipes are named after writers, painters, and film directors, and I hope one day to cobble them together into a compendium. But a more urgent task was at hand. What, I wondered, had Dobson had to say about the poultry yards of the grand archdukes in that rare, o rare!, pamphlet?
The iWoo hissed and juddered like some living organism as it tackled the bonkers babbling of the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman, but before sunset I had a print-out. It ran to forty pages of densely-set text, cleverly imitating the authentic look of a Gestetnered pamphlet direct from Marigold Chew’s shed. I was too exhausted to read it then and there, so I shoved it into a drawer and went to bed.
During the night I had that dream about the Kibbo Kift again.
The next morning, after a breakfast I call a Claude Chabrol Special, I sat down to read. I was careful to bear in mind that what I was reading was not Dobson as such, but Dobson as filtered through the eerie inexplicable powers of the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman, a different text entirely. Nonetheless, it was the nearest I could get to the pamphleteer’s own words.
Dobson, or the WooDobson, began by listing the grand archdukes whose poultry yards he had studied. It was an incredibly long and tedious list, packed with Ludwigs and Viggos and Hohenhohens and Gothengeists and Ulrics and Umbertos. Here and there, a few biographical or historical details were scattered about, but nothing about poultry yards nor, indeed, disgusting rabbits. Next came one of those Dobsonian digressions, sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating. This one was firmly in the latter camp, being an extended meditation upon stars and yeast, neither of which topics the pamphleteer seemed to have a clue about. By the time he had finished wittering, I was halfway through the recovered pamphlet, and still waiting to learn about its ostensible subject matter. I began to wonder if the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman had played a joke on me. Had she really been in contact with ectoplasmic beings from a realm beyond our puny understanding, or was she just raving? I wanted to trust her, not least because I had paid good money for that back number of the Reader’s Digest from Old Ma Purgative’s Anti-Communist Secondhand Periodicals Shoppe.
But of course I need not have worried. After some closing flimflam about boiled yeast, the WooDobson at last got to the matter in hand. Here was the sentence that made me sit bolt upright:
It is patently obvious to anyone who has studied these things that all grand archdukes, maintaining poultry yards upon their estates around which disgusting rabbits prowled, did so because of a fanatical devotion to the cause of Unreason.
He goes on to explain. Unfortunately, this is where the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman’s channels of communication with the mysterious realms seem to have broken down a tad.
I say “patently obvious” because it is both patent and obvious. Consider the Ancien Regime. Consider it again. Imagine yourself strutting about the corridors of the archducal palace. Is your path blocked by hens? It is! Why are the hens not in their coop in the poultry yard? Hear them clucking. If you could translate their clucking into human speech, specifically High Germanic speech, as spoken by quite a number of grand archdukes, what do you think they would be saying? “Eek! Eek! We are in fear of the disgusting rabbits who skulk about the perimeter of our yard!” You might argue that rabbits are one of the last animals on earth whose method of propelling themselves hither and thither could be described as “skulking”. You might argue that, but do you want to be seen arguing with hens, in your palace corridor, by one of your footmen or valets? “Ho ho ho”, they would sneer, your minions, later, downstairs in their pantry, “The old fool was arguing with hens. Who ever heard of such a thing?” Thereafter they would treat you with contempt and even come to question your Archdukedom. The lettered ones among them might start reading insurrectionist pamphlets produced by beardy German revolutionaries. Better by far never to argue with hens in the corridor, no matter how panic-stricken they appear. Gather them up, one by one, and put them right back in their coop, in the poultry yard. Send a rider to dash on horseback to the Landgrave, in his distant fastness, to alert him to the presence of disgusting rabbits. His forces may sweep in, within days or weeks, or not at all, for you can never second guess the Landgrave. He has his own hens, in his own poultry yard, where he argues with them all day long, for much interbreeding in his noble line has made him soft in the head. See him dribble. See him drool. See him argue frantically with this hen and that hen, hauling himself around the poultry yard on the crutches which support his withered legs. The legs of his hens are withered too, as are the legs of the disgusting rabbits who surround his castle, yes, he has his own disgusting rabbits to contend with, as do all Landgraves and Margraves and Grand Archdukes in the Ancien Regime, you would do well to learn that and to cease your whining. Strut your corridors as you may, for one day all will crumble, the footmen and valets will break out of the pantry and run amuck, and there will be traffic between the terrified hens and the disgusting rabbits, oh, odious, odious, but now you have glimpsed what is to come you must be a fierce and ruthless Grand Archduke, in all your finery, though it fray to tatters..
I will leave it to the experts to judge if this is the authentic voice of Dobson, or the witless prattle of the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman. Either way, it takes us some way towards a better understanding of the Hens of Unreason, and that is all we set out to do, in our modest way, on this summer’s day.