Sometimes, though rarely, Dobson’s heart would swell with a charitable impulse, and on one such occasion he hatched the plan of inventing a novelty sandwich paste, the profit from sales of which he would donate to his local otter sanctuary.
“I shall call it Otter Sanctuary Sandwich Paste,” he explained to Marigold Chew, “The better to fix in the minds of my customers the eventual destination of their pennies.”
“It is a capital idea, Dobson,” replied Marigold Chew, “But it has a fatal flaw.”
Dobson’s face soured.
“Oh? And what might that be?” he asked.
“We do not have a local otter sanctuary,” said Marigold Chew. And she tossed a pebble off the bridge across which they were ploughing, into the tumultuous river below.
Later, back at home, the out of print pamphleteer racked his brains for a way to salvage his scheme, for the charitable impulse was still throbbing. After a prolonged bout of pencil-sharpening, which he found conducive to concentrated thought, Dobson made a Eurekaish grunting noise and ran out into the garden, where Marigold Chew was busy with a pair of pruning shears.
“Who says the otter sanctuary need be a local one?” he cried, “I can divert the profits to a remote otter sanctuary!”
“All well and good,” said his inamorata, “But consider something else, Dobson. Is there not a danger that your potential customers, otter-lovers every man jack of them, might construe that a paste called Otter Sanctuary Sandwich Paste is actually made out of pulverised otters? Even if they are wrong, I suspect sales would suffer, simply due to the misunderstanding.”
Dobson retreated indoors and sharpened dozens more pencils. An hour later he was back in the garden.
“Each tub of Otter Sanctuary Sandwich Paste would bear a label, a bold and bright label, on which would be emblazoned the slogan ‘Does Not Contain Otters’. That would set the otter-lovers’ minds at rest, would it not?”
“It would,” said Marigold Chew, snipping a sprig from a shrub, “But what ingredients would your sandwich paste contain, if it is to be, as you suggested while we were ploughing across the bridge earlier, a novelty sandwich paste?”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Dobson, airily, “I will think of something.”
Dobson now had two immediate tasks to accomplish, which we can summarise for the slow-witted reader as follows.
1. To identify a remote otter sanctuary deserving of the out of print pamphleteer’s largesse.
2. To concoct a novelty sandwich paste the recipe for which must contain not a trace of otter nor of the by-products of otters.
To facilitate his thinking on these critical matters, Dobson would need to sharpen a goodly number of pencils. Yet every pencil in the house had been sharpened to its utmost pointiness, as a result of which the blades of the Dobson-Chew pencil sharpener were blunted, and needed either to be honed upon a whetstone or else replaced with new blades. Thus, in addition to the tasks enumerated above, the pamphleteer faced two further challenges, viz:
1. To obtain a fresh batch of pencils.
2(a). To have sharpened the existing blades of the pencil sharpener, or
2(b). To replace the blades with brand new ones, gleaming and lethal.
A moment’s thought was all Dobson needed to realise that he could accomplish both these aims by paying a visit to the stationery department at Hubermann’s. In spite of the fact that it was pouring buckets of rain, he donned his Belgian Railway Official’s boots, lacing them so tightly he was in danger of cutting off the blood supply below his ankles, and clattered out of the house into the downpour.
One thing it is important for the reader to understand about Dobson is that, in spite of his bookish erudition, he was a man profoundly ignorant of the natural world. His witlessness in ornithological matters is well-attested. But did you know that, if you were to line up for him, as at an identity parade, an otter and a stoat and a weasel and a vole and a shrew, Dobson would have a deal of difficulty telling you which was which? He had never paid proper attention to his small mammal lessons at school, and forever after in life was lumbered with bafflement about such creatures.
Knowing this, we can grasp an understanding of what happened next. Trudging along the towpath of the filthy old canal on his way to Hubermann’s in the rain, Dobson was set upon by a trio of savage and starving small mammals roused by the smell of his Belgian Railway Official’s boots. They had, you see, recently been smeared with a protective coat of some sort of dubbin-substitute by a wizened and scrofulous pedlar who came a-knocking at Dobson’s door hawking his wares. Whatever this substance was, and however well or ill it protected the boots, it was absolutely irresistible to certain small mammals. Thus it was that, in their frenzy about Dobson’s feet, his tiny attackers caused the pamphleteer to lose his balance, and he toppled over the edge of the towpath into the canal.
The rain had reduced to a drizzle by the time Dobson, sopping wet and with bits of canal-water vegetation sticking out of his bouffant, came crashing through the door and slumped in a chair. Marigold Chew gave him a quizzing look. He told her of his mishap.
“That remote otter sanctuary won’t get a penny from my sandwich paste!” shouted Dobson, “In fact, to be on the safe side I am not even going to make any sandwich paste! That will show them!”
“But was it a trio of otters that attacked your boots, or could it perhaps have been stoats or weasels or voles or shrews?” asked Marigold Chew.
Incapable of a sensible response, Dobson fell into a sulk.
A few miles away, on the outskirts of another town, a wizened and scrofulous pedlar hawking his wares knocked upon another door. In his punnet, he had jars and jars of paste for sale. Each was labelled, but the labels were hard to decipher. In one light, they read “Dubbin Substitute”, but then, seen from a different angle, “Novelty Sandwich Paste”. The pedlar was dressed all in green, and when he spoke, the timbre of his voice cast a spooky spell, as if he were a figure from a fairytale.