Yesterday, as I was bumbling about town, I was waylaid by a wild-eyed chap who dragged me down an alleyway, trapped me between some bins and a wall, and demanded of me that I answer his question.

“And what might your question be?” I asked.

“Well,” he replied, in a shaky and somewhat unhinged voice, “In the midst of the crunch de la credit and the Armageddon brought on by the collapse of the global banking system, is there anything – anything at all – we can grasp at, as at a straw, from the out of print outpourings of the pamphleteer Dobson?”

Now this was not an unreasonable question, and it is one I had been steeling myself to answer at some point, as each day brings news of further ruination and collapse, particularly in Iceland, the least populous and second smallest of the Nordic countries, a volcanically and geologically active island on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Many fjords punctuate its extensive coastline, and there are many geysers. Its native beasts include the Icelandic sheep, Icelandic cattle, Icelandic chicken, Icelandic goat and the sturdy Icelandic horse. Polar bears occasionally visit the island, travelling on icebergs from Greenland. Birds, especially sea birds, are a very important part of Iceland‘s animal life. Puffins, skuas, and kittiwakes nest on its sea cliffs. Yet in spite of such interesting features, nothing, it seems, can stop the destruction of Iceland’s banking system.

I managed to persuade my wild-eyed assailant to unhand me, and suggested that we could talk more productively away from the noisome pong of the bins. He agreed, and we decamped to a churchyard rife with sycamore and larch and laburnum, in the shade of which we leaned against a couple of tombstones, each to his own tombstone, and I was about to begin my reply when my waylayer declared that he had a great thirst upon him and that he intended to scamper hotfoot to a nearby grocer’s to obtain refreshments. He would, he said, be back in a jiffy, and off he went.

I was pleased to be given an interval in which to collect my thoughts. I had been ransacking my brain for nuggets, indeed for jewels, to scatter into the plainer mulch of my reply. We can use all sorts of metaphors to help us picture the mind, and I am fond of the one that fancies it as an attic crammed with packing cases and trunks and cardboard boxes. We haul ourselves up a ladder into the attic and pick our way by torchlight among the crates, opening this one and that as we go, and sometimes we find what we are searching for and sometimes we hit upon the unexpected. Blather blather. I have, as you know, an extensive knowledge of Dobson and his works, but in order to answer the question I had been asked I would have to prise open some of the most securely nailed-down packing cases of all, in the furthest corners of my cerebral attic. I had a vague memory that the pamphleteer had had much to say about the German Dax, and if I could recall where he said it and in what context I felt sure it would lead me to remember, with blinding clarity, all sorts of other Dobsonisms regarding not just the Teutonic stock market but other stock markets, and by extension other financial gubbins, no doubt including the banking system, and then I would have a thorough and sparklingly intelligent response to declaim unto my alleyway abductor. Dax, Dax, Dax… I kept repeating the word in my head, hoping to stumble upon the mental cardboard box I sought, but before I did so my waylayer returned, armed with a couple of cartons of Squelcho!, one of which he tossed to me in a casual, loose-limbed fashion, as if we had been friends from childhood. I thanked him.

“Think nothing of it,” he replied, “The cost of a carton of Squelcho! is a small price to pay for what you are about to tell me. As the value of stocks plummets around the world, a man can have no surer guide than Dobson. Given your encyclopaedic knowledge of that titanic pamphleteer, those of us who have only a glancing acquaintance with him can come to you and be given the balm and succour we so desperately need. So you need not thank me for a mere carton of Squelcho! In fact I have a mind to fetch you something to eat as well as to drink. Wait here while I get you some crinkle-cut oven chips in a cardboard cone!”

And off he went again. I redoubled my fuming mental activity, which I am afraid consisted of simply repeating “Dax, Dax, Dax” over and over again. This time I said it aloud, and became aware of a rustling in a clump of graveyard shrubbery. “Dax, Dax, Dax” I babbled, and out of the foliage bounded an enormous hound. I think it was a mastiff. Whatever it was, it sprang at me and sank its gleaming fangs into my cravat. It was going for the flesh of my neck, of course, but I wear densely woven cravats designed by the cravattist Elspeth Banshee, and even the most savage of pooches would have trouble getting its fangs clean through one of her creations. The weight of the dog knocked me over, however, and as I fell I banged my head on the tombstone upon which I was leaning. Before I lost consciousness, I was aware of a dreadlocked scapegrace emerging from the shrubbery in pursuit of the mutt. I remember thinking that the laws of nature demand that lanky stringy-bearded white Rastas keep their dogs on the ends of lengths of string, and that I had thus been felled by an anomaly.

I came to thinking I was covered in blood, but it was just the spillage from my carton of Squelcho! To one side of me stood the indigent with his unleashed hound, to the other my earlier assailant clutching a cardboard cone of crinkle-cut oven chips. I sat up.

“Let me get this straight,” I said. Turning to the bedraggled wretch, I asked him to confirm that his dog was called Dax and that this had occasioned its flying leap at me. He nodded. “And you,” I said, turning to the other, “Have brought me a cardboard cone of oven chips which have yet to see the innards of an oven and thus remain frozen and will doubtless take quite some time to thaw out in the crisp autumn chill of this October morning. Correct?” And he nodded too.

Sometimes I wonder why it is that as I wander this fair city the only people I come into contact with are the feckless and the desperate and the seedy and the sick and the stupid. I rubbed the back of my head where it had taken a tombstone clonk, pulled my Elspeth Banshee cravat into a particularly fetching cravatoisement around my neck, stood up, plopped my drained Squelcho! carton into a municipal waste bin, and strode away out of the churchyard, whistling magnificently, witnessing civilisation crashing around me, and as happy as a pig in a mudbath.

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