Blodgett Boils My Lady Kent’s Pudding

One man who knew a thing or two about boiling My Lady Kent’s pudding, apart from Sylvester Patridge, was Blodgett. Blodgett first came upon the recipe when he was under the culinary tutelage of the so-called Culinary King of Cuxhaven, Binsey Poplars. Poplars himself unearthed the pudding details during his researches in an archive of pudding recipes at the Texas Recipe Book Depository in Dallas, bang next door to the more famous – or infamous – Texas Schoolbook Depository, from a sixth floor window of which, on a November day in 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John Fitzgerald Kennedy with a mail-order Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. Some would add “allegedly” after that statement, but not me. I have read my Posner.

Nobody, so far as we know, ever shot anyone from a window of the Recipe Book Depository, not even Binsey Poplars, who, when he was not rummaging through old recipe books, could himself be impelled to acts of senseless violence. He once broke Blodgett’s legs, for example, quite deliberately, with blows from a tent peg mallet. Poplars called this mallet his Hammer of Pedagogy, which was something of a misnomer, as he also used it to crack eggs, to bash out dents in his pans, and to hammer tent pegs into campsite mud. He was fond of taking his students on camping trips to the outskirts of Cuxhaven, and having them forage or starve.

It was on one such escapade, when Blodgett was still on crutches, that teacher and student fell into a lengthy conversation about puddings. The Culinary King had only recently returned from his Texas trip, and his head was full of the recipes he had discovered in the pudding archive. The countryside around Cuxhaven was at the mercy of roaring winds that weekend, and Poplars and his students were huddled in their tents. It was not foraging weather. The pedagogue made a point of sharing his tent with any student whose bones he had broken in a fit of temper, and so it was Blodgett on this occasion who sprawled at his master’s feet. As far as puddings went, Blodgett knew almost as much as Binsey Poplars. He had immersed himself in the world of puddings since infancy, and it was this enthusiasm that had led him to sign up to the Culinary King’s Crash Course in the first place. For though Blodgett could tell you about thousands of different puddings, he had no idea how to make a single one of them.

In the tent, as gales howled and canvas flapped, Poplars and Blodgett talked about puddings for hours.

“Of course,” said Binsey Poplars pompously, “Sylvester Patridge claimed to know the correct boiling time for My Lady Kent’s pudding, but the man was a charlatan and a fool, and if you boiled it for the time he recommended you would end up with a pretty sorry excuse for a pudding”.

“Tell me more,” said Blodgett, all ears, because here was a pudding that, remarkably, he had never heard of. And as his tutor prattled on, Blodgett scraped shorthand notes on to one of his crutches with a sharpened twig.

Years later, far from Cuxhaven, restored in limb, and now a dab hand at cooking the puddings he had once merely salivated over, Blodgett stumbled upon his old crutch and deciphered the scrapings he had made upon it. He transcribed them into a notebook, embellished them, and published them as part of Blodgett’s Book Of Many Puddings, a copy of which, fittingly, was acquired by the trustees of the pudding archive at the Texas Recipe Book Depository on Elm Street in Dallas, just along from the overpass on the Stemmons Freeway.

A fantastic challenge for any maker of boiled puddings, he wrote, is the pudding named after My Lady Kent. Should it be steamed before boiling, or afterwards? Should it indeed be steamed at all, or should one just get on and boil it? What is the best type of pan in which to chuck the pudding ingredients prior to boiling? Does the pan matter? If the pan is dented, should one bash out the dents with the Hammer of Pedagogy beforehand? If one neglects to do so, will any indentations in the finished pudding caused by the dents add to its savour, or will they detract from it? Is there a place, in the contemporary world, for dented puddings, or should we be aiming for clean lines and smooth edges? Can a modern version of My Lady Kent’s pudding compete with the original? Should we allow indentations irrespective of their effect simply because, in all likelihood, given the rough and tumble of the times, My Lady Kent’s own pans would have been outrageously dented? Rare was the pan in those days that did not get bashed about and suffer because of that bashing. That may be one reason for the popularity of puddings, for there are cogent arguments claiming that the final shape of a pudding, particularly a boiled pudding, matters not a jot to the eater of the pudding. Are there any cases we can advert to where a pudding has been sent back from table with the complaint “I cannot eat this pudding. It is dented.”? Such reservations are likely with other things one might eat. A duck of the wrong shape, likewise a pig’s head or a pie full of misshapen blackbirds, will cause revulsion, for the eater may think, rightly, that they are being fobbed off with abominations of nature. But there is no such thing as the correct shape of a pudding, not even of My Lady Kent’s pudding. And yet to make one that is succulent and lip-smacking remains a challenge, and takes years of study, sometimes in a tent, on the outskirts of Cuxhaven, while canvas is buffeted and fierce winds blow.

It does not escape the reader’s notice that Blodgett fails to answer many of the questions he – or Binsey Poplars before him – raises, and nor does he provide a workable recipe for the pudding he so enthuses about. That is Blodgett all over, of course, infuriating and exasperating yet strangely adorable for all that.

Incidentally, it is said that the dressmaker Abraham Zapruder, who filmed the famous footage of the Kennedy assassination on his top-of-the-range Model 414 PD 8 mm Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series movie camera, was planning to spend the afternoon, following the passing of the presidential motorcade, in the Texas Recipe Book Depository, specifically to consult Blodgett’s book. Whether he was intending to boil My Lady Kent’s pudding, and was looking for helpful hints, we do not know, and now we never will, for history took a fateful turn on that sunny day in Dallas, and the dressmaker’s boiled pudding thoughts were wiped clean from his brain. But not from yours, or mine.

Inky Puck Stampings

In his later years, Blodgett amassed a collection of inky puck stampings, kept in an album bound in the starch-stiffened fleece of a lamb. The fleece was spotted with unexplained bloodstains which Blodgett made no attempt to remove. He could have used a patent bloodstain eradication spray goo as manufactured by Don Federico’s Royal And Ancient Portugese Spray And Paste Company, but he chose not to. Boffins in a lab were recently given the opportunity to scrape minuscule quantities of the blood off the binding. When they subjected it to tests, they were able positively to identify it as the blood of a fruitbat. Curious indeed, but no more curious than much else about Blodgett’s later years.

In his new television series The Pitiful Whimpering Of A Soul In Torment, celebrity historian Simon Sebag Stimmungbag examines in detail the final decade of Blodgett’s life, and unearths some starling facts. I’m sorry, that should read startling facts, although among them are a number of Blodgett-starling collisions. If it seems unlikely that a man could collide with a starling on repeated occasions, as per being struck by lightning, Stimmungbag has at his fingertips a mass of convincing evidence, including ornithological records, accident reports, and ticket stubs from showbiz bird displays.

He also gives us a remarkable account of the time Blodgett decamped to a loggia, neglected to keep a log of his stay there, and upon returning home spent some six weeks dementedly chopping logs with a very sharp axe, despite being over eighty years old. He then carted the entire supply of chopped-up logs back to the loggia, dumped them outside the door, and kept a log in his journal of their gradual depradation through theft and rot.

There are other distinctively Blodgettesque glimpses: hen harrying, bricks on the brain, tormented scribblings on parchment regarding soup, starling collisions, misted glass obscuring a decisively important bus timetable, things chewed and spat out, intimations of mortality, imitations of Christ, intimacy with a mute milkmaid, delusional vampires, card games, ditch digging, reading aloud A Fiery Flying Roll by Abiezer Coppe to an audience of stunned potters, other potters encountered in hospital corridors, smashed-up lobster pots, a zest for crumpled things… the historian takes us through it all, at a pace sometimes gentle and at other times hectic, and occasionally incomprehensible unless one is already familiar with the material. That is Stimmungbag’s way, as viewers have come to expect from his previous documentaries on topics such as collisions in the sky and on starlings.

For most of us, though, whether or not we are students of Blodgett, it is the attention paid to the collection of inky puck stampings that is truly revelatory. Indeed, I had no idea that Blodgett maintained such a collection, nor that he kept it with such uncharacteristic care in a starch-stiffened lamb’s-fleece-bound album stained with the blood of a fruitbat. Again, one has to admire the way Stimmungbag marshals the evidence, a particularly difficult task when one considers how many similar collections were destroyed after the coup which brought the new regime into power. There will be younger viewers who have never known about inky puck stampings, let alone that people used to collect them. Of course, few were kept in albums as magnificent as Blodgett’s, it being far more common in those days to shove them haphazardly into cardboard pouches or discarded agricultural sacks. What shines most brightly in this excellent television series is the almost inhuman concentration with which Blodgett attended to his collection, peering at the stampings for at least three hours every day no matter what else was going on in his life or in the world at large. It is remarkable that on the day “Lovin’ You” by Minnie Riperton hit number two in the British singles chart, Blodgett spent at least nine hours not only peering at his inky puck stampings but rearranging them within his album, getting through an entire packet of stampings hinges, each one torn in half as was his usual habit. I think it says something about the man that he did not even collide with a starling that day. And it says something about Simon Sebag Stimmungbag that he has crafted such a long, blurry, black-and-white television documentary series with a deafeningly loud yet simultaneously muffled soundtrack to which one must listen with one’s ears pricked up and one’s mouth hanging open, drooling into a pewter pot held by one’s unpaid companion on the balcony of a sanatorium upon which the snow falls, and does not melt.

Uptown Top Ranking

Dobson was invited uptown, to the very top of uptown, in Pointy Town, to help adjudge a ranking event. The items to be ranked were rank: bags of filthy laundry, bowls of curdled milk slops, slices of rotting and contaminated offal, and the like. Quite why Dobson was thought to be an adequate judge of such things is a mystery. It is likely that he engineered his invitation as the one chance he had to go to the top of uptown Pointy Town, an exclusive resort peopled by fashionable chancers and a certain sort of plutocrat. It was the kind of place where cummerbunds were worn, and wristwatches glittered.

Dobson is unlikely to have worn either a cummerbund or a wristwatch, but, armed with his invitation, he boarded the “Bucephalus”, an engine on the funicular railway connecting the less pointy bits of Pointy Town to the magnificently pointier top of uptown. Gulls greeted him at the station, swooping and shrieking, as gulls do. Oh, those Pointy Town gulls! How one misses their clamour! They still prevailed in Dobson’s day, and he was mindful enough to execute a quick sketch of them in his notebook, since lost, alas.

Puffing up the vertical, the funicular railway was scented, in those days, with lavender and hibiscus, and we can imagine Dobson breathing in those fumes, artificial though they were, as he prepared himself for the unaccustomed role of ranking judge. These contests took place every five years, and those who entered their rank engrubbiments, be they laundry bags or bowls or slices, were a rivalsome crew. There was Taplow, of course, and Scruton and Cribcage and Hooter. Venables and Ricketts, too, and old crumpled Stainforth in his breeches. Not one of them was allowed anywhere near uptown save for when the ranking contest took place. The rest of the time they kept to their middens in some dank, though reasonably pointy, corner of Pointy Town. That was a part of town Dobson knew well, for he often strolled there, of a morning, on his way to see pigs.

But now both Dobson and the rank competitors with their rank bags and bowls and slices and whatnot were gathered in smart and flashy uptown, the very top of it, so pointy that in truth nowhere was pointier. Dobson looked at the scorecard he had been given by the referee, and chewed the end of his pencil. Then he walked slowly among the trestle tables on to which the items to be ranked had been chucked. He hoped he was carrying himself in a suitably authoritative manner, akin to a top judge at, say, a dog show. Dobson had never actually attended a dog show, but he had read a vivid eye-witness account of one in Vivid Eye-Witness Accounts magazine, to which he subscribed and, very occasionally, contributed. So his gait was firm as he toured the tables, and he did much frowning. Slumped and bedraggled on their uptown sofabeds, Taplow and Scruton and Cribcage and Hooter and Venables and Ricketts and old crumpled Stainforth watched and waited. They had no idea that the out of print pamphleteer ranking their rank items was completely baffled and did not have a clue what he was doing. Nevertheless, he began scribbling on his scorecard, boldly and decisively, and then he handed the card to the referee and went to lean against a big pointy plaster of Paris pointy thing, the kind you will only find at the top of uptown.

As was usual at these events, there was a lengthy delay before the referee announced the result. In the sweltering heat, the rank bags and bowls and slices grew ranker still. Netting was deployed to protect them from those fantastic uptown gulls. Dobson had been hoping to use this time for some sight-seeing, but was disappointed to learn from the referee that his duties included leaning against the plaster of Paris pointy thing, completely immobile, until the result was announced. One of Dobson’s most tiresome pamphlets is the one in which he moans on and on about the regular thwarting of his touristy inclinations. If he is to be believed, every time he had his heart set on sight-seeing, someone or something dashed his hopes, be they thunderstorms, defective bus timetables, enormous puddles, recalcitrant flocks of sheep, poleaxed cutty shredders, or, in this case, a jobsworth ranking referee. But Dobson was on unfamiliar ground, in the middle of an arena filled with fancypants Pointy Town uptowners with their cummerbunds and glittering wristwatches. It was a bit like a Spandau Ballet stadium gig, and if you have ever been to one of those you will understand why the pamphleteer was distressed.

And then, at long last, at twilight, the referee clacked his counters and announced the result. There was uproar, from both the crowd and, more violently, from the competitors. It was obvious to all that Dobson had absolutely no idea about the appropriate ranking of bags full of filthy laundry and bowls of curdled milk slops and slices of rotting and contaminated offal. He had, it appeared, simply filled out the scorecard at random, for all his judge-at-a-dog-show posturing.

He wrote a melodramatic piece about the subsequent kerfuffle for Vivid Eye-Witness Accounts magazine, but it was rejected by the editor and the manuscript is lost. All we know is that Dobson was chased out of uptown by Pointy Towners armed with pitchforks and bludgeons, and was never, ever invited back. He was a gloomy pamphleteer indeed for about a week after this sorry episode, but thereafter he perked up by devising a board game called Picnic For Detectives.

His ranking of the rank items was blotted from the record, and it took place again the following day, Blodgett having been jetted in specially to do a proper job of it. In first place, quite properly, was Taplow, who for the next five years wore his prizewinner’s goat-hair trousers with due pride.

Angels Of Huts

A couple of days ago, we looked at angles of hats, and today we turn our attention to angels of huts. One of the least rewarding periods of Blodgett’s life was when he had a job managing a collection of huts, each of which had its resident angel. These were battered and dilapidated rustic huts, rather than more well-appointed beach huts, or chalets, the type of hut Blodgett understood them to be when he accepted the post. Imagine his distress when the train taking him to his new office delivered him not to a sandy stretch of coastline but to a filthy countryside backwater ankle-deep in muck.  This was particularly galling because at the time he was being followed about by a film crew working on a documentary called Blodgett On The Beach. The film had been commissioned by an ambitious but airheaded young git from Channel Bilge, and once it became clear that Blodgett was not going anywhere near the seaside, the airhead cancelled the project and sent his crew to cover a dramatic reconstruction of the credit crunch instead.

So it was a solitary Blodgett who was deposited from the train at a deserted railway station in the middle of nowhere. He fumbled in his pocket for the hand-scrawled map his masters had given him and set off on his squelchy way to a distant barn, in a corner of which a desk with an anglepoise lamp and a pencil sharpener and a vase of spurge had been provided as his operational base. Just as the United Nations has its special rapporteurs, and Olympic teams have their chefs de mission, Blodgett’s job title was French and sounded important, and he was, at least at this point in his life, naȉve enough to swell with pride as, approaching the barn, he paused to pin his badge on his lapel. To their credit, his employers had no truck with such execrations as the contemporary laminated name-badge, and Blodgett’s badge was brass and heraldic and lively with beaked and taloned and winged beasts of myth and with Latin inscriptions. Blodgett had neither French nor Latin, so he had no idea of the meaning of either his job title or of the motto upon his badge. What he did have were unparalleled map-reading skills, and he was soon installed at his desk in the corner of the barn, having improvised a crate as a chair, and plugged the anglepoise lamp into a generator.

The many huts for which Blodgett had responsibility were scattered all over the place, in no discernible pattern. This rapidly became apparent to him when he stuck pins into a map tacked up on the barn wall, each pin representing one of the huts. Blodgett did this, with much enthusiasm, as preparation for what he foresaw as regular rounds of visits to his huts and to their resident angels. So great was the distance he would have to travel that he wondered if he could afford to rent a horse or a jalopy. He was counting out his coinage on the desk, just hours after his arrival, when he was interrupted by a visitor, who brought news that blasted Blodgett’s plans and left him sobbing.

“How now?” shouted the newcomer as he burst into the barn, “You must be Blodgett! I am Simon Sebag Costanza and this is my theme tune!” He pulled a portable parpophone from his pocket, depressed a knob, and a short burst of Hindemith’s Concert Music For String And Brass Instruments, Op. 50 (1930) roared at deafening volume and made the barn shake. It also made Blodgett shake, so much so that he lost his footing and toppled to the floor, where he remained hidden from his visitor’s view as Costanza continued, having redepressed the knob and popped the parpophone back into his pocket. “There is much you will need to know as the new manager of the many scattered huts with their resident angels, and I am here to tell you what’s what, even though you are crumpled on the floor behind your desk. It is all the same to me if you stay there throughout your tenure, so long as you keep up with your paperwork. I will be out and about on my visits to the huts, for I am the Milk Man. No, no, not the sort of milkman you may think, pootling around the lanes in an electric float delivering bottles of milk, as happened in days of yore. A pox on such ninnies! No, I am the Milk Man who calls upon the angels of the huts and monitors their intake of angel milk! There are recording angels and fumigating angels, there are angels of mercy, moon angels and archangels, but what all angels have in common is that they are reliant upon angel milk for their sprightliness and spark. Thus it falls to me to keep a proper check on the angels of our huts, lest they fall prey to ennui and Weltschmerz through neglecting their milk diet. Your job, meanwhile, is to sit at your desk, or crumpled on the floor behind it, and, by the light of the anglepoise lamp, to enter my daily dictated reports into a ledger. We measure milk by the pint here, Blodgett, so you will need no knowledge of fractions. But you must tally up the daily pintage and do much other tiresome and exhausting drudgery, and never once set foot outside the barn, not even to contemplate the cows in the fields or to chuck breadcrumbs on to the duckpond, for at any time of day or night I, the Milk Man, may come a-calling with my reports, and you must be at your post, diligent and miserable, for such is the way we do things in these parts and if ever you forget that you will be at the mercy of the cacodaemons, Blodgett, the cacodaemons with their curdled milk and their unspeakable yoghurts.”

With a second blast of his theme tune from the parpophone, Simon Sebag Costanza, the Milk Man, swept out of the barn. From behind the desk came the sound of sobbing, as Blodgett realised the full horror of his situation. He was stuck there for years, for years and years, at a desk in the corner of the barn, in the middle of nowhere, when all he had ever wanted was to stride purposefully from hut to hut, huts he was in charge of, preferably at the seaside.


I have been thinking a lot recently about hoistings. Well, when I say recently, I mean this afternoon, and when I say hoistings I mean more particularly Dobson’s hoisting and Blodgett’s hoistings. The pamphleteer, as is well known, was once hoist by his own petard, an incident which is the subject of an illuminating essay by Aloysius Nestingbird. Blodgett, on the other hand, was repeatedly hoist by a variety of petards, none of which he could call his own. This says much, I think, about the difference between Dobson and Blodgett, not just in terms of hoistings and petards but in all sorts of other ways. If only I could be as illuminating as Nestingbird! But alas, you will have to be content with something which, if it can be said to illumine at all, is the prose equivalent of a sputtering Toc H lamp hanging on a hook in an immensity of darkness, compared to the incandescence which Nestingbird sheds whenever he puts pen to paper.

Indeed, I am so cowed by the sheer damned splendour of Nestingbird’s essay that I have considered abandoning this puny attempt to address those hoistings myself. And abandon it I would, as decisively as a decisive sea captain maroons a mutineer on an arid sea-girt rock, were it not that Nestingbird concerns himself solely with Dobson’s hoisting by his own petard, and has not a word to say about Blodgett. So it may be that, in spite of the weediness of my own scribblings, they can yet fill a gap in the record.

Or, to be more precise, gaps, for as I have said, in Blodgett’s case we are dealing with repeated and innumerable hoistings. The puzzle, of course, is that each and every one of these hoistings was upon someone, or something, else’s petard, and the question that cries to heaven for an answer is: how did Blodgett manage to get himself into so many scrapes, and each scrape so similar? One would have thought that, after being hoist upon the petard of an undertaker’s mute at an impressionable age, he might have learned something. At the very least, he might have learned to avoid undertakers’ mutes with petards. But it was not so. Barely a fortnight after that first hoisting, we find the young Blodgett once again hanging around in the vicinity of a funeral parlour, idly tugging at his incipient goatee, and dressed flamboyantly in cerise and dandelion yellow. He is lurking, inasmuch as one can lurk in cerise and dandelion yellow, in a fetid alleyway at the back of the funeral parlour, a parlour owned by an old family firm of funeral directors founded by Ferenc Fafflefoff in the eighteen-fifties. And it was upon the petard of a Fafflefoffian mute that Blodgett was hoist at two o’ clock on that September afternoon, an afternoon of squalls and drizzle and abnormal bird phenomena. Not until three-fifteen did he manage to clamber from the petard and descend to the pavement, a picture of befuddlement and the laughing-stock of a gang of Fafflefoff employees, mute and otherwise, who had gathered to witness his hoisting.

Over the next several years, Blodgett was to be hoist on the petards of Dutchmen, tugboat captains, spinettists, mezzotintists, old cloth of gold dustup pan-pot men, squirrel stranglers, shove ha’penny maestros, indentured and goitred peasants, shifty knaves, chunky pockers, Marina Warner readers, fudgers, beanpoles, harum scarum tidewater mappers, dishcloth makers, farmyard freaks and sundry other petardists. Time and again, the hapless Blodgett made the same mistakes, fell into the same traps, blundered into the same emblunderments. The only person who seemed to see anything odd about this was Blodgett’s mother, a ghostly white speck of a woman, who by turns remonstrated with him, sobbed, laughed, hid away from him in crannies, prodded his head with surgical implements, sent him into the mountains, and tried to marry him off to a foreign contessa. Blodgett himself just continued with his hoistings, on an almost daily basis.

Things levelled off eventually, with no more than one or two hoistings a year, particularly after his mother’s death. Blodgett did not attend her funeral, which was organised by the Fafflefoffs, with many ribbons and a horse, but without an undertaker’s mute. Tim, the Mute of the Day, was due to lead the procession through the hopeless rain-soaked streets of Blodgett’s mother’s horrible home town, but an hour before the coffin was shoved on to the funeral cart he was hoist, not by his own petard, but by Blodgett’s. As far as we know, this is the only evidence we have that Blodgett had a petard of his own, and it remains an inexplicable mystery why he was never hoist upon it himself. Such are the perplexities of the human comedy.

Abominable, Sulphurous & Futile : A Footnote

By coincidence, the title of an earlier post, Abominable, Sulphurous & Futile, is the exact wording used by Blodgett whenever he is asked his opinion of ducks. Blodgett hates ducks. Scoter or shoveller, merganser or teal, he loathes them all. It is important to point out that this is not a phobia, an irrational fear, but rather a conscious, reasoned hatred, though the reasoning itself is flawed, as is Blodgett’s reasoning in pretty much every area of life save for matters of railway timetabling. Even then, his tendency to measure the speed of trains in nautical knots has led to all sorts of problems, but that is a topic for another time. I have already set aside this coming October for some thorough research into Blodgett and the railways.

Blodgett himself has always insisted that he hates ducks because ducks hate him. The evidence for this appears to be that, as a small child, he was attacked by a massed gaggle of red-crested pochards at the edge of a pond into which he was innocently tossing pebbles. Let us examine that claim in some detail.

We need, I think, to ask some hard questions. Where was this pond? Was it truly a pond, rather than, say, a puddle or a cwm or a tarn or a mere or a lake or even the edge of a mighty and unknown sea? As for the pebbles, were they indeed pebbles or were they dangerously large rocks with very sharp edges that could slice through the neck of a passing pochard or smew? By his own account, Blodgett was a mere tot when this incident took place, so how had he learned to distinguish between different types of duck? What sort of pedagogy would teach infants to identify teal before they learned to read and write and count and tell the time and tie their shoelaces? In a duck-strewn domain, of course, such methods may make sense, but from what we know of the land where Blodgett was raised we can safely say that its duck population was average and unremarkable. The same is true of its ponds and pond-like bodies of water, tallies of which were, and still are, kept by pond-counting persons employed by the local potentate. Make no mistake, pond-counting used to be an honourable profession, one to which any citizen possessed of good eyesight, sturdy limbs, and possession of a notched stick could aspire. Blodgett’s own mother trained as a pond-counter, but a promising career was curtailed when she choked on a pip and came down with Van Bronckhorst’s Syndrome.

Getting back to those pebbles for a moment, what is the truth of Blodgett’s claim that he was tossing them into the pond innocently? One does not need to believe in the doctrine of Original Sin to be aware that oftentimes tiny children carry out acts of the most grievous moral turpitude. And though we may have difficulty grasping exactly what goes on in the brains of a gaggle of pochards, it is surely not beyond our wit to consider that, for a duck, the tossing of pebbles into a pond could be seen as an act of brute destruction. The psychology of ducks may not be a subject on the curriculum of the standard infant community hub, but if the tinies are taught to tell the difference between a smew and a merganser, might they not also be given a grounding in the hopes and fears, the joys and terrors, of these aquatic birds?

Thus we need also to ask what sort of education the young Blodgett was given if we are to ascertain the truth of his claims. Are we to assume it was skewed in favour of the study of ducks? And if so, what would account for such an idiosyncratic approach? We all know that there are pedagogues with manias, obsessions, and tunnel vision. The deranged tutor is a staple of a certain type of fiction. One thinks, for example of the sinister schoolmaster Weems in the 1907 potboiler The Sinister Schoolmaster Weems by Peverel Greasebox, or the frankly batty provost of the cathedral school in Archibald Glubb’s long-running serial for the Dotty Capers For Boys comic. Did the tot Blodgett fall into the clutches of such a nutcase, or could it be that his own childhood memories were filtered through his readings of Greasebox and Glubb, if indeed he ever did read them? If he spent so much time learning about ducks, when could he have learned to read in the first place?

By asking such questions, we begin to pick away at Blodgett’s tale, casting doubt on it. And do I need to explain why to do so is of such vital importance? The man is a scoundrel and a rogue, not in a likeable gap-toothed and moustachioed Terry-Thomas manner, but in a way far more damaging to our national fabric. Remember that Blodgett has tried his utmost to appear on flags and postage stamps and even on coinage. He would have us believe he is a model of probity. He likes to be seen on horseback at parades, wearing a helmet with feathers. The airbags in certain makes of car bear his imprimatur, and most recently he has had no fewer than five different soups named after him. These power-crazed shenanigans have to be curbed, for if Blodgett ever gets a toehold on power I fear for the future of our country’s ducks. He is a spiteful man. Already it seems we are in danger of losing our bees. Let us make sure we keep our ducks.

This piece originally appeared in A Counterblast To Blodgettism, a Gestetnered pamphlet sold for tuppence at some point in the last century.

Blodgett’s Schloss

Blodgett decided he wanted to live in a Schloss, so he did the sensible thing and went to an estate agent who specialised in Schlosses, or Schlossen.

“What I’m looking for,” he demanded in his demanding way, “Is somewhere bleak and forbidding and inaccessible except by a vertiginous and unreliable funitel or gondola lift. If you have seen the film Where Eagles Dare, directed by Brian G Hutton and released in 1968, you will have a good idea of what I am talking about, O estate agent.”

“That is not a film I have seen,” replied the estate agent, an impossibly youthful and pimply person who was terrified of Blodgett for reasons he was as yet only dimly aware of. “I am not much of a cinemagoer at all,” he continued, “For I prefer to spend my leisure hours at the circus.”

Blodgett had strong views on circuses, but so intent was he on viewing at least a couple of Schlossen with a view to purchasing one of them that he decided not to berate the estate agent just yet.

“A pox upon circuses!” was all he said, and then asked the pimply person if there were any suitable Schlossen on his books, at which point he was handed a big fat leather-bound Schlossen brochure and invited to thumb through it, which he did, for about fifteen minutes, occasionally making strange explosive noises and thumping his fist on the estate agent’s desk.

Outside, birds landed on the branch of a tree and began to squawk and sing.

The pimpled youth was growing increasingly nervous of Blodgett, so he reached into his drawer for a can of pepper-spray. He had only used it once, to disable a ruffian bent on criminality, on a Wednesday morning. Now it was Wednesday morning again and he was faced with this bad-tempered giant of a man in a Homburg hat and unseasonal galoshes who was perhaps using Schloss-purchase as a blind for some evil deed, though what that deed might be the estate agent did not yet know.

In truth, Blodgett was perfectly serious in his intention to buy a Schloss, although he had not worked out how in the name of heaven he was going to pay for it. That was why he wanted it to be bleak and forbidding and inaccessible except by a vertiginous and unreliable funitel or gondola lift, for then, once inside, for a viewing, he would simply stay put and pull up his ramparts, and defend himself against any bailiffs or law officers by pelting them with burning rags. It was not that he did not intend to pay the full Schloss-purchase price eventually, for at heart he was an honest man, but he wanted to be in his Schloss while devising a money-making scheme which would allow him to pay for it. Meanwhile, as he gazed at the pages of the Schloss-brochure with greedy eyes, he continued to thump his fist on the desk, because that is the sort of man he was.

Outside, the tree on the branches of which little birds squawked and sang was being chopped down by an inept municipal tree-chopping man. Not only was he chopping down the wrong tree, but the direction of his chopping meant that when it fell it fell slap bang into the Schloss-specialist estate agency. And it fell, smashing the glass frontage, at precisely the moment that the pimply youth, unnerved by yet another thump of Blodgett’s fist upon his desk, pointed the pepper-spray at Blodgett’s face and sprayed him. At which point, also, one of the thicker branches of the tree, falling, landed with a mighty bash upon the youth’s head, braining him into a daze.

The birds had flown away to the branches of another tree, and were squawking and singing still.

Thus it was that Blodgett ended up at a clinic to have the pepper-spray rinsed out of his eyes, while the estate agent lay in a bed elsewhere in the same clinic having his brain examined. It is hardly surprising, then, that Blodgett failed to buy a bleak and forbidding Schloss, one inaccessible except by a vertiginous and unreliable funitel or gondola lift, on that Wednesday morning loud with birdsong and squawk.

Diktats By Blodgett

Blodgett went to the library one day and borrowed Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. He took it home, read it at one sitting, and was never the same man again. He identified so closely with the character of Mister Kurtz that he hit upon the conviction that he actually was Kurtz. Reincarnation is a foolish idea at the best of times, and to imagine oneself to be a fictional maniac reborn is doubly foolish, but that was Blodgett for you.

Over the following day he put his affairs in order, having resolved to set out for his very own heart of darkness. Lacking the means to travel to somewhere remote, he trudged across the cow-strewn fields until he reached the village of Much Snuffling, where he barged into the tavern and installed himself at an empty table in the snug. From here, he issued diktats, beginning with the announcement that he was a charismatic demigod to be worshipped by the Much Snufflingites. They rapidly fell into line, impressed by Blodgett’s booming voice, great hairy fists, velveteen cummerbund, and the headdress of glittering beads and bones and teeth and feathers he adopted.

At first, his diktats were surprisingly sensible, relating as they did to such matters as animal husbandry, crop rotation, rural post office opening hours, and other mundanities of countryside subsistence. How Blodgett knew about these things in the first place is an ineffable mystery. One is tempted to think he had a concealed laptop and was sneakily looking things up on the wikipeasantry website, but later, when it was all over, he was injected with a newfangled truth serum and passed muster when denying such subterfuge. Perhaps, as he claimed, it was simply that he was imbued with the spirit of his fictional alter ego, a multitalented polymath, rather like the late Anthony Burgess. Incidentally, I have always wondered if it is true that, when casting Apocalypse Now, his film adaptation of Conrad’s novella, Francis Ford Coppola’s first choice to play Kurtz was Burgess rather than Marlon Brando.

Anyway, as is the way with these things, Blodgett’s initial common sense soon gave way to demented megalomania, and his diktats became ever more ludicrous. He took to commanding not merely the sulking peasants of Much Snuffling but the sun and the moon and the planets. Celestial bodies tend not to adjust themselves in obedience to the ravings of a wild-eyed loon sat in the corner of the pub, and their lofty indifference first baffled Blodgett and then enraged him. So thunderous did his mood become that the Much Snufflingites held a secret meeting one night when Blodgett had taken to the hills to shout at the sky. With great presence of mind, they sent for heroic infant Tiny Enid, who arrived the very next day and booted Blodgett all the way back across the cow-strewn fields to his hovel.

He spent a day muttering to himself, and then returned Heart Of Darkness to the library, dutifully paid his fine for it being overdue, and chose another book. Next week, you shall learn what a pickle he got himself into after reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and convincing himself he was the reincarnation, not of Mister Kurtz, but of Hester Prynne.

Blodgett And Trubshaw

Blodgett had a certain militaristic cast to his character, so when he was given command of a pocket battleship it was understandable that he got slightly carried away. He fretted and fussed over his epaulettes and other trimmings of his uniform to a somewhat embarrassing degree, so much so that he neglected more critical aspects of his duty such as keeping a proper log. Thus it is that we do not have a reliable record of his one and only voyage.

This was a time of gunboat diplomacy, and Blodgett’s mission was to anchor his ship in a faraway bay, train his guns on the coast, and to threaten to blow the township there to smithereens unless certain conditions were met. All very straightforward, or it would have been had the ship not had for its navigator a man who had lost his wits. This fellow’s name was Trubshaw, and it is a wonder that he still had the confidence of the Admiralty, for he had been bonkers for years. Instead of steering the ship towards the faraway bay, Trubshaw pored over his charts and barked instructions through a pneumatic funnel that led to the ship becoming encased in pack ice thousands of nautical miles away from its proper destination. There was no township upon which to train the guns, leaving Blodgett at a loss what to do, other than to preen his epaulettes and other trimmings with a little brush.

Trubshaw, meanwhile, was following his own demented star. He took to pacing up and down the poop deck shouting at the sky. Icicles formed on the brim of his navigator’s cap, but he seemed impervious to the cold. Not so the rest of the crew, huddled below decks wrapped in blankets and keeping their spirits up by playing board games and eating sausages. Blodgett kept to his cabin, using his log as a pad for doodling. He had lost radio contact with the Admiralty weeks ago. There was nothing for it but to sit the winter out and wait for the ice to melt.

At this point, I expect the majority of readers will be avid for further details of the board games and the sausages, and I will not disappoint. However, before dealing with those crucial topics, perhaps it is wise to say a few more words about Trubshaw. His insanity was not in doubt, but what has never been established is whether he deliberately stranded the ship in Antarctic waters, or whether within the vaporous murk of his mad brain he honestly believed the ship was heading for that faraway bay. There may be a clue in the words he was shouting at the sky while pacing the poop deck, and by chance we do have a record, albeit fragmentary, of what they were, or some of them at least. By chance an airship packed to the gills with the very latest magnetic cylinder recording technology passed overhead one day, and some of Trubshaw’s shouting was picked up by its monitors and etched onto a cylinder, preserved forever. If you get a special coupon for entry to the sound recordings rooms of the Museum At-Or-Near-Ack-On-The-Vug, you can listen to this bewildering caterwaul. Dobson once planned a pamphlet on Blodgett’s voyage, and transcribed part of Trubshaw’s tirade, but abandoned the essay in favour of his justly famous Bilgewater Elegies. Thanks to Dobson, though, we can reprint the shouting, and gain an eerie insight into the crackbrained navigator pacing the poop deck of that ice-girt pocket battleship so many, many years ago.

“Wheat! Bulgar wheat!” begins the Dobson transcription, “Wheat and gravel and sand and grit! Powdered paste! Paste in puddles! Gravel and sand a-criminy! Pitch and tar and globules of black, black, blackened goo! Cracking pods squelching underfoot! Pods of ooze and glue! Pitted black olives in a jar, pitted and black like a black pit! Cracked bulgar wheat and cracking sand! Black pudding! Vinegar down your throat! Malt and muck underfoot in vast paste puddles of goo!”

It is difficult to know precisely what to make of this, except to conclude that Trubshaw was completely off his head and that, charts and barked instructions to the crew notwithstanding, navigation was not uppermost in his mind. That being so, we can get on to the more diverting business of the board games and the sausages, as promised.

The ship’s cook was a follower of the dietary theories of Canspic Ougat, and that being the case there was little if any animal flesh in his sausages. One might, when munching, occasionally sink one’s teeth into a fragment of pig or goat or starling, but only a tiny fragment, often so tiny as to go unnoticed. The cook made his sausages from an Ougat-approved compaction of mashed up turnips and marshland reeds and grasses, leavened with some sort of secret curd. They came in two sizes, jumbo and cocktail, although the latter were not served on cocktail sticks due to Ougat’s stern prohibition of sausage-piercing. Holes, even the very wee ones made by the average cocktail stick, were anathema to the dietician, for reasons propounded in the preface to his magisterial Codex Sausageiana. Even if you are not particularly interested in sausages, this book is a fantastic read, and I cannot recommend it too enthusiastically. I try to read a few paragraphs every day, much as some people dip daily into the Bible, or into Prudence Foxglove’s Winsome Thoughts For The Dull-Witted. Much of the ship’s cargo hold was occupied by the cook’s crates of sausage ingredients, and he was forever puffing and blustering about his galley, kneading the turnip and marshland reeds and grasses and secret curd and occasional bits of pig and goat and starling into the sausages in which he took such pride, inspecting every single one with a powerful microscope to ensure that it was free of even the most minuscule hole. And of course, the crew gobbled them down greedily at mealtimes, both jumbo and cocktail varieties, for they had nothing else to eat. That’s quite enough about sausages.

Blodgett had made it a condition of his command of the pocket battleship that it be stocked with lots and lots of board games. And so three entire cupboards below the orlop deck were stacked with them, from family favourites such as Plutocrat!, Dentist’s Potting Shed and To The Finland Station to more obscure games like Treat The Dropsy With Leeches, Butcher’s Shop Railings, and Fictional Athlete Bobnit Tivol Cement Running Track Challenge Cup Heat Four. On the rare occasions he popped his head into the cabin where the crew huddled together for warmth through that freezing polar winter, Blodgett was always pleased to see that they were kept fully occupied by one board game or another. The gang of sailcloth patchers took particular pleasure in Patch That Sail!, a fast and furious yet at times slow-moving game involving equal measures of cunning and luck. The board itself represented a piece of sailcloth, and indeed was made of sailcloth, and the players took it in turns, by throwing dice and moving their counters, to patch up the various rips and rents in the cloth with needle and thread. Meanwhile, over in one corner of the cabin, Blodgett was sure to find the crows’ nest men playing a sprightly game of Groaning Widow, a contest so fiendishly complicated that only the superior brainpans of the crows’ nest men had a chance of understanding it. Other, less bright sailors would watch, gawping, for hours, as counters flew around the board, spinners were spun, card-packs consulted, and little plasticine models of characters from The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann were put in place, knocked over, taken to pieces, remodelled, repainted, and had the heads pulled off them and substituted with special bonus tokens. Only a fresh pan of sausages from the galley would interrupt the crows’ nest men’s concentration, when they would sulkily take a break to feed, having taken snapshots of the board from several different angles to prevent cheating.

And so the winter wore on, until one day the ice melted away and the pocket battleship sailed home. Trubshaw had abandoned ship by this time, stomping off across the ice floes in curiously subdued fashion, no longer shouting at the sky, his face barely visible behind the thick row of icicles dangling from the brim of his cap, stooping occasionally to pluck some kind of primitive edible life form from the cold, cold sea with his fur-bemittened fist. Blodgett watched from the prow of the battleship as his navigator vanished into the white nothingness. Weeks later, they began the return voyage, guided by the stars, which one of the crows’ nest men knew how to read.

Blodgett was of course hauled before an Admiralty Star Chamber to account for himself. Why had he failed to sail to the faraway bay for a spot of gung ho gunboat diplomacy? He burbled and babbled and preened his epaulettes and other trimmings, but at no point did he ever mention Trubshaw. He had even expunged the navigator’s name from the list of crew pinned up on a post at the entrance to the Star Chamber, and inevitably there was no reference to Trubshaw in Blodgett’s hopelessly inadequate captain’s log. Which, I suppose, begs the question: did Trubshaw ever actually exist? Or was he a wraith or phantom, or even a ghoul, of the kind known to haunt ships of the line as they ply the oceans, sailing round and round and round, into the maelstrom?

Bashing Biscuit Tins

If you were fortunate enough to be hanging around with Blodgett on a Thursday morning in the middling years of the last century, you would as likely as not have been witness to a display of rare skill. For it was Blodgett’s endearing habit in those days, on Thursday mornings, to bash out various national anthems, using his fists, and sometimes sticks, on the base of an upturned biscuit tin. He would have eaten all the biscuits for his breakfast, of course. Blodgett had learned by heart the national anthem of almost every state and statelet on the planet, reduced each one to its rhythmic core, and bashed them out on biscuit tins. He would do this at home, or by the edge of a pond, or halfway up a hillside. In truth, it mattered not where he was, for he had fallen into a routine. Thursday meant biscuits for breakfast, then bashing out anthems. So energetically did he thump and bash that by the end of his recital the biscuit tin would be a dented and effectively destroyed thing. Apparently he passed the ruined tins on to Jasper Poxhaven, the sinister scrap metal dealer whose yard was a few doors away from Blodgett’s chalet.

Blodgett was not fussy about his biscuits, and would gobble down whatever the tin contained. The biscuit shop was conveniently located between his chalet and Poxhaven’s yard, so you can see that fortune favoured the accomplishment of his designs. He might take his tin to the pond, or to the hillside, if the weather was balmy, but if it rained, or there were tempests and cataclysms, he would hurry back indoors. I am not sure if he kept a dog at this time, but if he did it was probably the deaf dog of which we know he became fond, its lack of hearing rendering it oblivious to the frantic bashing of the biscuit tins. It would be useful to gain some clarity about this, because it raises the possibility that Blodgett may have bought a tin of dog biscuits from time to time, and given them to the dog rather than bolting them down himself, which would have been a boon at such times as he suffered from stomach cramps. Certainly there is evidence that the biscuit shop sold dog biscuits as well as biscuits for human beings. It also sold hard tack biscuits for the many jolly jack tars and matelots who congregated at the quayside, babbling incoherent maritime gibberish while gutting fish in a desultory fashion.

I have said that sometimes Blodgett bashed his biscuit tins with his fists and that sometimes he deployed a pair of sticks. Had you asked him about this, he would have explained that the different timbres of fists and sticks were each appropriate for certain national anthems. Indeed, one of his little mottos at the time was “European fists, South American sticks!”, which he always shouted with great enthusiasm. That leaves unclear the preferred thumping implement for the anthems of other continents, but Blodgett was the first to admit that he was not yet fully au fait with all the anthems in the world, just most of them. This may have been a specious claim, but who in that wretched seaport knew enough to challenge him? Certainly not Poxhaven, whose knowledge of music was confined to his eerie renditions of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie The Moocher”, drunkenly wailed under the moonlight as he staggered out of The Cow & Pins.

It was only on Thursdays that Blodgett ate biscuits for breakfast. The rest of the week he strained to suck a glutinous purple goo through a straw. He had been assured by a quack that it was a miracle goo, a panacea for all known ailments, corporeal and cerebral, that by ingesting it he would in all likelihood cheat Death itself. To be sure, the quack himself looked to be at least two hundred years old and still went tobogganing every winter. That is what he told Blodgett, in any case. It is a pity that we do not know the recipe for the goo, for we could mix up a supply and subject it to lab tests, with our wiser heads. All we know with any certainty is that Blodgett once described the taste of the goo as approximating to that of the straw through which he sucked it. In the years of which I write, such a straw would most likely have been made from cardboard.

Of course, neither Blodgett nor anyone else became immortal by sucking goo through a straw, but long before his death he had abandoned his Thursday morning biscuit tin bashing. Why? It would be an exaggeration to say, as Ford Madox Ford does at the beginning of The Good Soldier, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard”, but I’ll admit that when I heard all about it I sniffled into the napkin I happened to be holding. Jasper Poxhaven had, it turned out, been hoarding all those battered and dented biscuit tins rather than flattening them his big pulverising machine and selling the tin to a tin buyer, as one might have expected him to do. But I told you he was sinister. Now he built the huge collection of biscuit tins into a tower, out at the front of his yard, for no other reason than a deluded sense of self-importance. He hoisted a flag, embroidered with his likeness, atop the tin tower, and took to perching up there, in all weathers, like some ascetic of the ancient world, except that rather than contemplating the ineffable he hurled imprecations and spittle upon the citizenry below. He was bonkers as well as sinister. But the biscuit tins, remember, were bent and battered, and the tower was unsafe. And one day a gale swept in from the west, and the tower toppled, and it toppled at the precise moment that Mrs Purgative, the proprietress of the biscuit shop, was pulling up her shutters, and she was buried under the biscuit tins and the flagpole and the flag and Poxhaven himself, who somehow survived. Mrs Purgative did not, and soon her shop was taken over by a potato magnate, and no more biscuits were sold in the town from that day to this.

As Blodgett was to reflect, when writing his memoirs many years later, potatoes come in sacks rather than in tins, and you cannot bash out the national anthems of the world on burlap, with fists or sticks or anything else. And so he ceased his Thursday morning biscuit-scoffing, and his rhythmic thumping of biscuit tins, and on those days too he sucked glutinous purple goo through a straw for breakfast, but it did not save him.

The Numan Question

A generation ago, the aeroplane pilot and sage Numan asked “Are friends electric?” It was pertinent then, and is perhaps more so now. Over the years, many thinkers have grappled with Numan’s question, but it is fair to say that none has been able to give a satisfactory answer. Much publicity was generated when Pilbrow published his big fat Symposium on the problem. The garlanded laureate of pseudo-sci fi hermeneutic psychobabble persuaded over a hundred movers, shakers, and hysterics to respond to the poser put by Numan, and then toured the radio and television studios giving inaccurate summaries of their replies. Few who saw it will forget the Newsnight appearance when Pilbrow’s pretensions were comprehensively demolished by weatherman Daniel Corbett, who strode across the set from his meteorological map and literally tore a copy of the Symposium to shreds before Pilbrow’s – and Jeremy Paxman’s – eyes. It was a cheaply-produced paperback edition of the book, with weakly-glued binding, but Corbett’s feat was no less impressive for that.

Since that watershed, there have been other, muted responses to Numan, appearing for the most part tucked away in little-read specialist journals or inserted at the tail-end of lectures delivered in draughty, half-empty civic halls in the depths of winter. The question remains cogent. The responses have, almost invariably, shirked its implicit challenge.

Until now. For last week, Blodgett commandeered space in all the major newspapers to announce his answer. “Are friends electric? No!” it read, in big bold letters, and then, in smaller type, continued “Not my friends, at any rate. My friends are made of gas.”

Blodgett went on to describe the small band of his pals who appear to him in the form of clouds of luminous, and sometimes volatile, gas. Anticipating the charge that he is subject to hallucinations, he refutes it with aplomb. Blodgett’s gas friends shimmer around him, he says, ethereal, mercurial, and insubstantial, but boon companions still. He gives the example of his friend Abu Qatooba, a friend composed of particularly volatile gas, an Islamic fundamentalist gas-form forever railing against the iniquities of pretty much everything he disagrees with and threatening to behead sinners and apostates and infidels. Blodgett is himself an infidel, of course, and this has led some critics to claim that he is making up all this stuff about a gang of friends made out of gas who hover around him. He is keen to dispel the impression that his chums are ghosts or wraiths. “They are as real as you or I,” he writes, “Completely human, with human virtues and vices. But they are formed of gas clouds. Abu Qatooba and I disagree on many points, but I count him as my friend because I admire his striking beard, also of course made out of gas, and his amusing tendency to fly off the handle at tiny provocations.”

Blodgett gives fewer details of his other gas-pals, although he finds room to mention Daisy Blunkett, a blind widow-woman with a gas guide dog, and Anhopetep, an ancient Egyptian gas pharaoh. He explains that when they are not by his side, his friends flit from place to place, sometimes together in a gang and sometimes apart, and try to strike up friendships with others. They have met with little success in doing so, and Blodgett puts the blame firmly at Numan’s door.

“Intentionally or not, Numan planted the idea in people’s heads that in future their friends would be electric,” he writes, “Thus today’s citizens are less open to the idea that they may have friends made out of gas. This is a great pity. I have found companionship and joy with my little band of gas pals. They have much to offer in the hurly burly of contemporary life, and I urge each and every one of you to put out the hand of friendship to members of the gas community. Next time you are waiting at the bus stop and notice a cloud of luminous gas approaching you, take that bold step. Shed your Numanoid prejudices and greet that gas-cloud as a compadre. You can make a difference.”

Blodgett has been hoping to appear on Newsnight to further his cause, but the producers are somewhat wary after the Pilbrow incident, and have no plans to invite him on to the programme.

At Long Last, An Answer To The Blodgett Duffel Bag Query

A week or two after the inaugural parade for the Hooting Yard website, as long ago as December 2003, I received a plea in the post from a concerned reader. Dear Frank, my anonymous correspondent wrote, I have heard it said that Blodgett always maintained an alphabetical contents in his duffel bag. Is this true, and if so, can you give an example, drawn from a typical Blodgett day?

I have not ignored this question, but coming up with an answer has taken a lot of research, sometimes perilous. If you have undertaken perilous research, on any topic, you will know how it can make you a bit wobbly on your pins. Anyway, I did finally manage to find out what Blodgett kept in his rucksack on a typical day, and now that I am less wobbly on my pins, I can at last respond to that long-ago question.

Yes, Blodgett did always maintain an alphabetical contents in his duffel bag. The twenty-sixth of March 1965 was, for Blodgett, a pretty unremarkable day – neither muckling nor mickling, as Fisher would say. Here is a comprehensive list of the contents of his duffel bag on that day:

Aniseed. Blötzmann diagrams. Cake. Dust. Ectoplasm. Flippers. Grease. Hinges. Incunabula. Jam doughnuts. Kaolin. Linctus. Marmalade. Nothingness. Orpiment. Prunes. Queen Esmerelda’s Toilet Water. Ransom money. Sandpaper. Turps. Ullage. Vinegar. Wax. X-Ray Spectacles. Yeast. Zinc blobs.

The Central Lever

“The days of pulling the central lever are behind us” – Hazel Blears, quoted in The Guardian, 23 February 2007

Readers of a certain age will remember the levers. There was a row of them, colour-coded, black and pink and orange and cerise and yellow and golden and dun and red and lavender and green and mauve and coffee and blue and wheat and white. They had to be pulled in a precise order, of course, which changed from hour to hour. It was not well-paid work, being a lever pulling person, but it was dignified and responsible and important work, and those who pulled the levers were accorded due respect. And none gained as much respect as the puller of the central lever, the only one which changed colour, or rather was wrapped in burlap sheaths of different colours, hour by hour, and sometimes minute by minute, by dint of a scheme so abstruse, so utterly bewildering, that those responsible for it rarely lasted more than a couple of months in the job before they had to be retired off to a seaside resort. Pebblehead’s bestselling paperback They Selected The Burlap Sheaths For The Central Lever : True Stories Of Heroic Colour-Coding is a useful, if failed, attempt to demystify the whole shenanigans in words of one syllable.

It is sometimes hard to comprehend just how important the levers were. Nowadays, we are able to live happy and fulfilling lives without them, without the relentless pulling of them… or so it seems. I have my doubts. It is not mere nostalgia that makes me hanker for the days when the pulling of the levers, and particularly the pulling of the central lever, was uppermost in people’s minds, drawing us together, binding us, giving us a sense of common purpose.

Blodgett always remembered his time as the puller of the central lever as the happiest period of his life. His enemies said – still say! – that he only did the job for the free toffee apples, and normally one would agree. I have had stern words to say about Blodgettian gluttony myself, but for once I think his motives were pure. After an apprenticeship on the golden and pink levers, he stepped up to the central lever pulling position on St Gertrude’s Day in 1952, and none who saw it will ever forget the beam of fantastic glee on his pockmarked and greasy face as he stood there, on his plinth, as the duty cadet swapped a blue for a slightly different shade of blue dyed burlap sheath on the central lever. The flock of trained nightingales on the railings burst into joyous song. Fiery stars flamed in the sky. Blodgett waited for the parp of a cornet which would be his signal to pull the central lever for the first time. Just thinking about it makes me want to weep, so please forgive my snufflings, as I forgive those who snuffle before me.

Who would have thought that Blodgett would be the last person ever to pull the central lever? He did so for many, many years of course, with gusto and vim, to the applause of those who were, very occasionally, allowed past the railings to watch. But came the day that the pulling of the levers, the black and pink and orange and cerise and yellow and golden and dun and red and lavender and green and mauve and coffee and blue and wheat and white ones, as well as the central lever, became somehow irrelevant to our town, mocked even, seen as an antiquated and idiotic ritual. And Blodgett and the others were paid off with a crate of toffee apples and given free cabins in the hills, and the levers rusted, the burlap sheaths were left to rot, the nightingale trainer was taken to a quarry and shot by the new regime, and one day gigantic bellowing engines came and flattened the square where the levers and the railings had stood for a hundred years, and it was all gone.

After-comers cannot guess the beauty been. An evaporated milk factory was built on the spot, indecently fast, and I watch children cycle round and round it, and I shout at them, and wave my bludgeon, and they cycle round and round and round.

Cow Byre Tsar

Old Russia had only one tsar at a time, but now of course we have many of them, each with their own speciality, like patron saints. Traffic tsars, drugs tsars, respect tsars… every week some bug-eyed government wonk creates yet another tsardom. Such power!

Apparently, Blodgett used to be a tsar, for a few weeks. It was a gorgeous summer afternoon, and he was putting the finishing touches to his sleek gas-powered überpod when one of those bug-eyed government wonks came prancing up the path, out of nowhere. Blodgett put down his rag on a pile of other rags, dipped his hairy hands into a tub of swarfega, and wiped them on one of the other rags from the pile, or perhaps on the one he had just dropped. He adjusted his lorgnette with exquisite daintiness and looked the wonk over, as if he were examining a beetle. Blodgett had history with wonks, as they say, and he was prepared for anything.

“You are Blodgett?” asked the wonk, in a wonky monotone.

Blodgett was tempted to curl his lip, but he was still wearing a protective cotton dimity thing over his nose and mouth, so instead he nodded his assent.

“We need to appoint a cow byre tsar,” announced the wonk, without preamble, “And your name has been put forward. There is a modest stipend and an armband. Congratulations.”

If the wonk said anything else, his words were wasted, for he was drowned out by the sudden appearance of swooping corncrakes. Blodgett ushered him into his hut and put the kettle on.

“What does the job involve?” he asked, his booming voice only slightly muffled by the dimity thing.

“Oh, you know, just go and hang around cow byres being sort of tsary,” replied the wonk.

What Blodgett was not told was that he was expected to send in daily reports, including the Latin names of the cows in each byre he fell upon, looming in his fierce Blodgettian way in the shadows. An added difficulty was that all the cows he visited seemed to twinkle, like stars in the heavens. His first report was sent back to him, his lovely handwriting virtually obliterated by comments and corrections scribbled with an impossibly thick black magic marker pen. Blodgett wept that night, huge convulsive sobs wracking his frame as he crouched next to the überpod. His second and third reports fared no better, so he stopped sending them. And nothing happened. Each morning, as dawn broke, he would don his cow byre tsar armband and stride out towards yet another cow byre of twinkling cows, and loom, tsarily, for hours upon end, before returning home to his soup and his fireside. No word came from the wonk, for the wonk wed his sweetheart and fled to a city of curious puddles and gigantic towers of granite, and he never again thought much about cows, twinkling or otherwise. And after a few weeks, nor did Blodgett. He put his cow byre tsar armband on his pile of rags, and soon it was smeared with swarfega, just another Blodgett rag.

Postscript. Six months later, Blodgett’s hut was crushed by a stampede of twinkling cows. He was out at the time.