On The Blötzmann Manoeuvres

Ever mindful of the need to trim the wicks of his tallow candles, Dobson employed for the purpose a tiny pair of shears which he deployed using the so-called Blötzmann Manoeuvres.

I took against electricity from an early age, he wrote, lying shamelessly, and often found myself in a quandary because untrimmed wicks set my teeth on edge. For a long time I thought the remedy for this was to imbue my teeth with greater strength, foolish young pup that I was. I crunched nuts morning, noon, and night, nuts of many different kinds. I had no favourites in the nut world, although of course the harder the nut, and the greater the effort needed to crunch it into a digestible pap, the hardier my teeth became, and the better they could withstand being set on edge by the appearance of untrimmed wicks on the tallow candles I used to illuminate my habitat.

By his own account, a temporary nut shortage forced Dobson to readdress the problem, but official statistics give the lie to this. Indeed, at the point where the pamphleteer adopted the Blötzmann Manoeuvres, there was a nut glut in the land. According to Pocock & Gabbitas, the squirrel population had been decimated by unexpected lupine savagery, leaving millions of nuts unhidden. If there was no lack of nuts, what made Dobson nail his colours to Blötzmann’s mast? It is significant that at this time, unlike later, Dobson’s colours were cherry and dun, and that a new Blötzmann mast had been erected atop Pilgarlic Hill, not far from the pig farmer’s hut where Dobson had regular sunrise gleanings. The siting of the mast, illegal then as now, was a stroke of genius by the Blötzmannist Erno Von Straubenzee, who had smuggled himself into the country aboard a packet steamer some months earlier.

Intriguingly, no sooner had Von Straubenzee disembarked from the boat, the Googie Withers, than its captain scuppered it, set it ablaze, and promptly vanished. Some say he still haunts the warehouses down at the harbour, rattling an old tin cup and begging for alms from the rough tough sailors thereabouts. Other stories have the one time packet steamer captain retired to the countryside keeping bees, like Sherlock Holmes. All that is known for certain is that a single charred plank dredged from the quayside was all that survived of the Googie Withers, and it was incorporated into a wooden altarpiece in St Bibblybibdib’s church, where it can be seen today, if you buy a ticket from the sexton, a monkey-faced man who sits in a little canvas kiosk in the churchyard each Thursday afternoon, awaiting redemption.

From the lych-gate of St Bibblybibdib’s, looking westward, on a clear day one can see the top of the Blötzmann mast, with its cherry and dun pennants. Turning to the east, the prospect is of fields rippling with wheat and rhubarb and hollyhocks and stinkwort, punctuated by ha-has and the occasional scarecrow. No wild jabbering pigs are to be seen, for they were eradicated by the same unexpected lupine savagery which did for the squirrels during the nut glut, just at the time Dobson falsely claimed a nut shortage led to his adoption of the Blötzmann Manoeuvres as his favoured way of trimming the tallow candle wicks the untrimmedness of which set his teeth on edge so.

But why did Dobson forever deny his association with Erno Von Straubenzee? Decades later, when it was put to the pamphleteer that he and the untidy Blötzmannite had been fast friends, often cooped up together for days on end in the pig farmer’s hut on the hill, scheming and plotting and cackling and letting sawdust trail through their fingers, reading the runes, Dobson blushed as he protested that the name Von Straubenzee meant nothing to him. He came up with improbable tales to account for his whereabouts on certain days when it was suspected the Blötzmann mast had been activated. And he was never able to explain how he had learned to trim his wicks so deftly with the tiny shears essential to the Blötzmann Manoeuvres. The one time he mentions the shears in a pamphlet, he is curiously abrupt.

In Ten Short Essays On Chopping And Cutting And Hacking (out of print), he gives full vent to his thoughts on scissors and scimitars and pastry-cutters, for example, devoting over twenty pages to the latter alone. There is detail here aplenty for the student who wishes to learn from scratch how to cut up bits of pastry in hundreds of different ways. Yet not only is there not a separate essay about the tiny shears, they are only mentioned in a footnote, and in such small type that only the most assiduous of readers is likely to be bothered with it. I freely admit that I have not read it myself, and rely entirely upon the account of the footnote given in the latest issue of Marginalia Dobsonia, the scholarly journal edited by Aloysius Nestingird.

Now here’s the thing. Parish records seem to show that Nestingbird is directly related to Erno Von Straubenzee, may indeed be his grandson. If true, it would explain a lot, although I am not entirely sure what precisely is explained, and Nestingbird has never replied to any of my letters. Last week I fired off a sort of questionnaire to him, demanding what they call full and frank answers to over a dozen accusations. I wanted to know if he had copies of the construction plans for the Blötzmann mast, or for any similar mast, if he ever worshipped at the wooden altar in St Bibblybibdib’s and, if he did, what god he worshipped there, and did he worship standing up, sitting, kneeling, or sprawled prostrate on the cold stone floor. I pumped him for an answer to the important question of whether he knew the name of the captain of the packet steamer Googie Withers, and what had become of that mysterious old sea dog. I threw in a sneaky query about the accounting procedures of his scholarly journal, convinced as I am that the profits are being salted away to fund the salt mines from which far-flung members of the Nestingird clan draw their dubious salaries. I asked all this and more, but of course got nothing in return, not even the threats I have become used to from the badly-dressed buffoon. I know for a fact that it is Nestingbird, or one of his cronies, who has sullied my reputation with the electricity people, and with the gas people too, and that both utilities have cut off supplies to my seaside cabin, and that is why I, like Dobson before me, now rely upon candlelight, and well-trimmed wicks. To date, I have not had to resort to the Blötzmann Manoeuvres, for wicks not neatly trimmed have yet to set my teeth on edge. If they do, with much bluster I shall begin to crunch nuts, and Nestingbird will be laughing on the other side of his pasty face. I will crunch nuts, and cackle, and be righteous and roopty-toot.

[This piece previously appeared on 25 March 2007.]

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