I would like to pin a medal on the person who first realised that the blog format was a perfect way to republish notable diaries of the dead. Now we can read Samuel Pepys, Gilbert White, and George Orwell, among many others, day by day, often with annotations. I know it is entirely possible to do this with a paper edition, but the experience is not quite the same. Somehow, reading a long ago diary as a contemporary blog gives it new life. (Incidentally, in a related move, an admirable maniac is currently posting Moby-Dick; or, The Whale line by line, hour by hour, on Twitter.)
One dead diary yet to appear online is the journal of Dobson, the out of print pamphleteer who bestrode the twentieth century like a colossus. As one of the most indefatigable Dobsonists of the day, I have often been approached by people asking if I will undertake such a project. Sometimes these pleas come in the form of polite emails, sometimes as mad screeds scrivened in blood over dozens of tatty pages, and once I was set upon by men wielding cudgels as I sat upon a picnic rug at a Mendips picnic spot eating a picnic. No sooner had I popped a sausagette into my mouth than a group of Dobson-fixated fanatics hove into view from atop a Mendip hill and bore down upon me, screaming their heads off and demanding that I transcribe the Journals and post them on a dedicated website on a daily basis. In view of such continued entreaties, let me explain why I have neglected to do so.
On the face of it, the pamphleteerâ€™s mostly unpublished journal would be a magnificent addition to the interweb. When you consider the seething mass of clotted twaddle that does appear online, the absence of Dobson seems somehow insane. And just how hard would it be for me, or for anybody, to type up a few lines of Dobsonia every day and to share them with the world? However, as I said to the cudgel-wielding nutcases at my Mendips picnic spot, as they rained blows upon my thankfully well-cushioned balaclava, things are not as simple as that.
The great attraction of the dead-diary-as-blog is what I could dub calendrical integrity. So, what X scribbled in his diary on
Dobson, you see, used neither the Julian nor the Gregorian calendar, but one of his own devising. This in itself would not be problematic were the calendar itself not ludicrous, absurd, and senseless. Even the pointyheads at the Pointy Town School Of Dobson Studies Dobson Calendar Study Group have thus far been defeated in their exhausting efforts to elucidate it. Indeed, the leader of the Study Group, a ferociously intelligent bluestocking with a brain the size of several planets, has been seen wandering the hills around Pointy Town, drooling and mumbling, glassy-eyed and chewing on sticks, and will soon be carted off to a House of Befuddlement far away. Those of her team who remain working at their benches, deploying their slide rules and astrolabes and weird tungsten algebraic rolling pins, are fast losing their wits.
It is worth looking at Dobsonâ€™s calendar very briefly, to see what has driven these pour souls to the brink of mental ruin. To begin with, the Dobson â€œyearâ€ is divided either into fifteen or sixteen months, and those months have a variable number of weeks, from three to twenty, and the weeks themselves may be of seven, seventeen, or forty days. The names of the months and weeks and days follow no identifiable pattern, and one wag has even suggested that Dobson was making the whole thing up at whim. For example, in the â€œyearâ€ he insisted was 1967, in the month of Topple, there were three weeks, named Barn Owl Biscuits, Potting Shed and Ray Milland. The latter was a week of seven days, Lamont, Pepinster, Hopton, Baxter, Preen, Flap, and Tentacle. Quite how one is meant to correlate this farrago of drivel to the standard calendar is a mystery, which, I suppose, was Dobsonâ€™s point. It would appear that he did not want later readers to know on which particular day he clumped along the canal towpath in his ill-fitting Ivory Coast Postal Service boots on his way to an ice cream kiosk, stopping along the way to pluck a petunia for his buttonhole, nor did he wish history to know the exact date on which he inadvertently dropped a handful of pebbles on to the head of the infant Sarah Palin during that mysterious day trip to Alaska he wrote about in his pamphlet My Mysterious Day Trip To Alaska And What I Did With A Handful Of Pebbles While I Was There (out of print).
One looks in vain, in the journals, for mention of any newsworthy events which may help us identify specific dates. In any case, such a find would be of limited use, as the journalâ€™s millions of words were scrawled by Dobson with a blunt pencil on the backs of cardboard sheets torn savagely from cartons of Kelloggâ€™s cornflakes. These sheets were stuffed higgledy-piggledy into filthy greaseproof paper bags and the bags themselves tossed into a series of sheds and outbuildings. The idea that it is possible ever to arrange the extant sheets into any kind of coherent order is preposterous.
An intriguing addendum to the whole sorry business recently came to light. In a tape-recorded interview with a reporter from the Bodgerâ€™s Spinney Pest & Bugle given shortly before her death, Marigold Chew denied emphatically that Dobson had ever kept a journal. Every word he ever wrote, she insisted, was destined for his pamphlets. If that is indeed the case, who wrote the oodles and oodles of words on those torn cereal packets in those teeming thousands of bags that are stored now in a temperature-controlled sanctum in the lead-lined cellar of a monstrous building in the very heart of Pointy Town?