A rare snap of the out of print pamphleteer, slumped over his escritoire in misery and despair. (Click to enlarge, click again to enlarge slightly more, print, put in a frame, and hang on a nail above your own escritoire.)
Two of the answers in today’s Guardian crossword were SPECKLE and SPLODGE. This put me in mind of Dobson’s pamphlet A Comparative Study Of Speckles And Splodges And Smudges (out of print). It is one of his most exasperating works. The exasperation lies, in the words of the critic Rappa Kohoutek, in the fact that
Dobson opens with the grand statement that “the speckle, the splodge, and the smudge are each of them wholly discrete and different phenomena, and to muddle them up is not merely ignorance, but dangerous ignorance. Wars have been fought, and men have died, for failure to distinguish between the three”. This is exasperating on two counts. First, in the eighty pages of microscopically tiny print that follow, the pamphleteer himself neglects to explain the difference between speckles and splodges and smudges. Second, nor does he provide a single example of the war and death he so melodramatically warns the reader of and I am going to let this sentence run on because I hate to end with a preposition even though to do so is completely defensible unless one is up against the most rigorous of pedants armed, as certain pedants are, with a hammer of correction.
It is perhaps worth noting here that Rappa Kohoutek bore several dents in his head, made by one such “hammer of correction” wielded by a particularly rigorous pedant whose path he used to cross occasionally. The critic liked to spend his mornings at a sophisticated pavement café sipping from a glass of bengkht. Along the pavement would come the pedant with his hammer, lashing out with what used to be called “gay abandon”.
The dents in his head did not effect Rappa Kohoutek’s critical acumen, however, and we must agree with his judgement about this particular Dobson pamphlet. In a sense, we have no option but to agree with him, and trust him, because we are never likely to read the work itself. As he points out, the text of the pamphlet is microscopically tiny, and he is not exaggerating. It is so tiny that the average reader would ruin their eyesight before getting to the end of the preface and acknowledgements. Rappa Kohoutek explains in an afterword to his own essay that he was able to read all eighty pages of text because his sense of vision was inexplicably enhanced by one of the blows to the head he received from the pedant’s hammer of correction. In a further afterword to a second printing of his essay, the critic relates how a subsequent blow from the same hammer restored his sight to its previous mild myopia:
And so I shall never again be able to read Dobson’s pamphlet on speckles and splodges and smudges. But quite frankly, why on earth would I want to? It is absolute drivel.
A hugely magnified copy of Dobson’s pamphlet has been made available by the Dobson Pamphlet Magnification Commission, but so tiny is the text that in spite of the hugeness of the magnification it is still pretty much illegible to any human eye.
Word of the day : Clunk.
I had hoped, today, to deal with the word clunk, as well as catching up with yesterday’s word, boggle, which as you recall had to be postponed while I addressed further matters regarding parp. Alas, I am diverted from my proper course by another letter from Wlad Onanugu. This time he writes:
Dear Mr Key, I was touched by your thoughtfulness in recommending to me further reading on the knotty problem of parp and toot and hooter and tots, et cetera. Indeed, I was so touched that I am afraid to say I let a few tears run down my cheeks. My weeping and snuffling soon ceased, however, when the significance of those parenthetical words “(out of print)” appended to the recommended title sank in. Sure enough, as I trudged around the bookselling kiosks of the dilapidated seaside resort where I live, I discovered that this Dobson pamphlet was completely unavailable. I was met with blank stares, looks of incredulity, a pitying pat on the head, and, by one particularly apoplectic bookseller, the threat of his slavering, sharp-fanged guard dog.
Eventually, at a jumble sale at the local self-esteem ‘n’ diversity awareness hub, my rummaging did unearth a pamphlet by Dobson. A glance at the Gestetnered cover, however, revealed that it was devoted to a wholly different topic. The title was Several Potentates Of The Ancient World With Collapsed Lungs & Their Concubines (out of print). I bought it anyway, for tuppence, and took it home hoping that perhaps the pamphleteer might have a passing word to say somewhere about the whole parp toot hooter tots business.
Arriving home, I snapped open a refreshing can of Squelcho!, plopped myself down in my armchair, and began to read. Shortly thereafter, I was weeping again, but this time from brain-jangling frustration. The pamphlet seemed to me the most utter poppycock, and try as I might I could wring no sense from it whatsoever. If this is a typical example of Dobson’s work, I am feeling quite relieved that I did not continue my search for the pamphlet you recommended. Please send me a postal order for tuppence as compensation.
I am sorry that Mr Onanugu found Dobson’s prose intractable. There is a possibility, however, that he may well have stumbled upon a copy of the notorious “rogue” edition of Several Potentates Of The Ancient World With Collapsed Lungs & Their Concubines. This was the one where the original text – a model of shining clarity and Dobsonian oomph – was translated into Hungarian, and from Hungarian into Tagalog, and from Tagalog into Dog Latin, before being translated back into English. It was the work of the mischievous literary prankster Hector Nuisance.
Tomorrow I hope to crack on with boggle, and clunk, and tomorrow’s word of the day, glue.
Word of the day : Boggle.
I am afraid that before we move on to boggle, we have unfinished business with yesterday’s word of the day, parp. Reader Wlad Onanugu writes :
Dear Wordmaestro, I am confused by your maunderings on the word parp. You say it is pretty much identical to toot, but then proceed, in your illustrative sentence, to refer to a hooter, rather than, as I might have expected, a tooter or parper. My mental chaos is compounded by the fact that you also make mention of tots, virtually the same word as toots, though entirely different in meaning. I looked forward to improving my word power with your new series. Instead I find myself quite dreadfully unhinged.
Mr Onanugu will find it helpful to consult Dobson’s pamphlet Parp. Toot, Hooter, Tooters, Parpers And Tots : A Complete Guide For The Bewildered (out of print). I have not read it myself, but am told it is almost, but not quite, “the greatest pamphlet ever written”.
I lollop. You lollop. He, she, or it lollops. We lollop. You lot lollop. They lollop.
This is the famous opening paragraph of Dobson’s unfinished, unpublished novel The Lollopers. It was one of his very few attempts at fiction, a register for which he was completely unsuited, as he recognised in his magisterial pamphlet A Magisterial Exegesis Of My Resounding Failure As A Novelist, With A Surfeit Of Adjectives And A Ham-fisted Watercolour Plate Of Ida Lupino (out of print). Dobson wrote:
What I wanted to do in The Lollopers was to drill down, down and down, as deeply as anybody could drill, into the very core of lolloping. I thought that if anybody was qualified for the task, it was me, for when I am not trudging or plodding or gadding or sashaying or stalking, I lollop. I have lolloped along canal tow-paths, seaside promenades, important metropolitan boulevards, rustic lanes, and many another haunt of the pedestrian. I have lolloped in all four seasons of the year, in light and dark, in blistering heat and bitter cold. Indeed, in my preliminary sketches for the novel, I planned an entire chapter in which my fictional hero, Dabson, a hugely successful pamphleteer, beloved by millions and the cynosure of millions more, is seen lolloping during a cold snap.
A secondary aim was to really chew my way through the connecting wire, if there is one, between lolloping and lopping. In the domain of trees, for example, lopping is an intrinsic part of pollarding. You cannot pollard, say, a willow, such as the pollarded willows by the canal just before the level crossing in Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945), without doing a bit of lopping. You might use a woodsman’s axe or a saw of some description, but whatever cutting tool you avail yourself of, lop you will. The question is, between the ramshackle shed from where you collect the axe or saw, and the willow you are set to pollard, and thus lop, is it imperative that you must lollop? Could you, in the throes of hysteria, skip, or even sprint? And if you did not lollop, how would this affect the quality of your lopping, and therefore, with piercingly acute logic, your pollarding? Actually, that appears to be three questions, not one, so the careful reader will spot – perhaps before I did – that I am becoming hopelessly entangled in the thickets of my own creative struggle. I am no longer even clear whether I am writing in the appropriate grammatical tense.
When one considers that lopping might also apply to the lopping off of limbs and – gosh! – whole heads by the armed and armoured henchmen of a particularly vindictive mediaeval baron, is it any surprise that my novel juddered to a halt after that magisterial opening paragraph? It is not.
In the pamphlet Dobson confesses that he shoved the manuscript of The Lollopers into a drawer where, later that year, around the time of Harold Wilson’s resignation as Prime Minister, it was eaten by voracious famished beetles.
“Remind me, Dobson,” said Marigold Chew one morning over breakfast, “Did you ever write that pamphlet you planned about the bandicoot?”
The out of print pamphleteer was fumbling with his fork, trying to spear on its tines one of the shrivelled boiled otter-heads swimming in a broth of gummy pap, with dockweed, in his breakfast bowl. So terrific was his concentration that he barely heard his inamorata, and she repeated the question after taking a swig of New! Breakfast Variety Squelcho! from her tumbler.
Dobson threw in the towel, put down his fork, and reached for a stick of celery-style impacted vegetable matter. Waving it in a show of flamboyance, he announced “I will never write another word about birds!”
This exchange took place during the closing stages of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, so with hindsight we are able to note that Dobson’s statement was ludicrously inaccurate.
“I do adore your non sequiturs, Dobson,” said Marigold Chew, “But do tell, I am agog to know about the bandicoot pamphlet.”
His mouth full of curiously tasteless vegetable matter, Dobson gazed at his inamorata as if she had taken leave of her senses. His table manners being impeccable, he did not attempt an immediate reply. Marigold waited upon his munching. She herself was a dab hand with the fork and the otter-heads and had finished her breakfast some minutes ago.
“Your remark regarding non sequiturs seems to me a non sequitur in and of itself,” said Dobson, eventually, then, his voice rising, shouted “Be that as it may, when I say I shall never again write a single word on the subject of birds, I mean it! And now I am going to go out in the rain to no apparent purpose.”
“I can think of a purpose, Dobson,” said Marigold Chew, “While you are out in this apocalyptic downpour perhaps you could stop by the kiosk in the shadow of the viaduct and pick up a copy of The Daily Digest Of The Doings Of Small To Medium-Sized Terrestrial Marsupial Omnivores for me?”
As he struggled to don his Eritrean Unofficial Goat Wizard’s boots, with their exceedingly complicated lacing protocol, the pamphleteer said “You don’t normally take that publication. Is there any reason for the sudden interest?”
“I think there might be something in it that I want to show you, Dobson,” she said, an enigmatic smile on her lips.
Stamping his feet to finally lodge them firmly into his boots, Dobson took his hat and coat and crashed out of the door into the rain. He wondered why on earth Marigold thought he might be interested in small to medium-sized terrestrial marsupial omnivores, when his head was filled with unrelated matters, including Hungarian football ace Ferenc Puskas, plinky-plonky piano music, weird sausages, asteroid belts, and plums.
“And one thing I am most definitely not interested in,” he shouted at a swan as he passed the pond, “Is birds, any birds, all birds, and that includes you, swan!, and your pals the teal and mergansers and buffleheads and coots and bandicoots!”
Later, sopping wet, Dobson arrived home with a copy of The Daily Digest Of The Doings Of Small To Medium-Sized Terrestrial Marsupial Omnivores which the kioskist had very thoughtfully plopped into a waterproof bag for him, at a small extra charge.
“Here is your magazine,” he said, tossing it on to the table as a puddle formed around his feet.
Marigold Chew took it from the bag, leafed through it, and alighted on a short and interesting article, illustrated with several black and white snapshots taken by tiptop marsupial snapper Rex Supial, on the subject of the bandicoot.
“When you have a moment, Dobson,” she said, “You might want to take a look at this. I shall make a pot of tea.”
And shortly afterwards, the out of print pamphleteer learned, to his horror, that everything he had intended to say about bandicoots in his projected pamphlet, hundreds of pages of scribbled notes and jottings and ill-turned sentences of foolish conjecture, was as dust, was as dust and ashes. All of it, every word, was arrant nonsense! The bandicoot was not a type of coot! It was not even a type of bird!
Dobson slumped in his chair and held his head in his hands. The cup of tea went cold.
If you wish to listen to Mr Key reading out the titles of all 168 out of print pamphlets by Dobson – and you do!, you do! – then all you have to do is point the pointy thing on your computer screen here, sit back, wring out your ears, and wallow for half an hour in the sheer glorious foolishness of it all.
Pamphlet cover design by Daniel Tomasch
For the past several years, reader Mike Jennings has spent his time very usefully compiling a reliable list of the works of Dobson. Once a year, at around this time, he updates the list to include those pamphlets to which reference has been made in these pages during the previous twelvemonth. And bang on time, here he is with an additional eight titles. Each has appended to it one of those damnably clever Blötzmann numbers. Please note that, unless otherwise stated, these titles are out of print.
You can find links to earlier lists here.
161. Are There Any Moles In Outer Space? No, There Are Not!
162. On Not Toppling Into Any Of The Many Canals Of Amsterdam
163. How I Hid Under A Table During A Thunderstorm And Ruined My Trousers By Kneeling In A Puddle Of Unaerated Potato Juice, And What This Tells Us About The Human Spirit In Extremis
164. Several Observations On Kathy Kirby, Composed In A Cipher So Baffling That Centuries May Pass Before Anybody Will Be Able To Wring Any Sense From It
165. A Tally Of All The Breakfasts I Have Tucked Into Over The Past Sixteen Years
166. Stringing A Few Words Together To No Apparent Purpose
167. The Blue September Of Conference Pears
168. What I Have To Say, In Toto, About Sops And Fillips
Between now and Christmas, we are celebrating ten years of the Hooting Yard website by reposting an item from each calendar year. Today, The Bilgewater Elegies, a thrilling episode from the annals of Dobson, which first appeared on Tuesday 26 July 2005.
Like the Arctic tern, which is neither from the Arctic, nor a tern, Dobson’s famous Bilgewater Elegies are emphatically not elegies about bilgewater. I’m sorry, I have begun that all wrong. The Arctic tern is from the Arctic, and it is a tern. I was thinking of some other bird of misleading nomenclature, or perhaps not a bird, but an animal, at any rate, which is not what its name indicates. I will try to remember what it was I was thinking of. The central point remains true, however, that the Bilgewater Elegies are not elegies and not about bilgewater, except in passing.
Dobson wrote these magnificent pieces in a wintry month or two while living in a far distant land whence he had gone to escape having to pay his gas bill. Keen students of Dobson’s life know that gas in many forms seems to take on a quite bewildering importance. In one biography, for example, there are three times as many index entries for “gas” as there are for “pamphlets”. Marsh gas, in particular, permeates much of Dobson’s middle years, almost as if it were what he was breathing instead of oxygen. Perhaps it was.
The out-of-print pamphleteer had a deep and abiding reluctance to pay for gas, and often considered living somewhere powered entirely by electricity, or by the wind or the sun, or indeed existing without being dependent upon any source of energy whatsoever. But, as Marigold Chew has noted, rail as Dobson might, he was drawn inexorably to the blue, blue flames of burning gas, a man mesmerised.
I was thinking about guinea pigs, of course, which are not from Guinea and are not pigs. Why I confused them with birds, particularly Arctic terns, is beyond me.
That winter season, then, determined to outwit those who provided him with gas, Dobson decamped to that far distant country, mountainous and cold, remote yet populous, a land of which he knew nothing except the design of its flag. On arrival he discovered that even this minimal knowledge was redundant, as there had been a revolution. The old flag had been ditched, and a new one – pink, black, green – flew from flagpoles wherever he looked. Between the seaport and the chalet where he was to live for two months, Dobson counted at least seven hundred flags.
In the chalet, Dobson closed the traditional butcher’s drapes and placed his canister of calor gas in a cubby hole. Gnawing on a nut, for he was forever nut-gnawing, he considered his surroundings. It was a small chalet, with no hidden chambers, false walls, or concreted-over ancient wells. Dobson was perplexed at the absurd number of metal coat-hangers in the master wardrobe, and the equally numerous drawing-pins in the drawer atop the cubby hole. The cubby hole itself was just the right size for his canister. He was looking forward to burning the portable gas as the evening drew in, but it was still morning, so he curbed his impatience by exploring the outcrop on which the chalet perched. Knowing nothing of geology, and caring less, this took Dobson about five minutes, or about the time it took him to gnaw one of his brazil nuts to nothing. Later in life, of course, Dobson wrote a number of pamphlets on geological topics, as an exercise. Curiously, he never wrote about brazil nuts.
Temporarily out of reach of his gas-creditors, Dobson decided to spend his first afternoon in the chalet on the outcrop in that faraway flag-mad land writing. But he was by turns listless and restless, and irritated that his new domain failed to inspire him. By four o’ clock, having scratched a mere dozen words in his notepad, then torn out the page and set fire to it, he went for a walk. Turning his back on the outcrop, he headed downhill, towards the nearest village, through which his taxi had taken him that morning. He had paid it no attention, for his eyes had been shut, as they often were in taxis. Dobson used such rides for reverie rather than observation.
Marigold Chew once put her hand to a story about Dobson’s walk that day. It was called The Village That Lacked Basic Sanitation, and she refused ever to allow it to be published. All we know for certain is that Dobson returned to the chalet that evening astride a massive, ungainly horse, of chestnut complexion, called Tim. He seems to have been convinced that mice were scurrying uncontrollably about the chalet, and that they would be frightened away by the sight of a big horse. In truth, there were no mice. Dobson had fallen victim to delusional visions because of the high altitude. Nevertheless, the presence of Tim, snorting and stamping his hooves, becalmed the pamphleteer, and the next morning he dragged a wooden table and chair outside the front of the chalet and sat down to compose the Bilgewater Elegies.
Here is a list of buckets of bilgewater I have seen, he wrote, the famous opening words of what was to be his own favourite among his countless pamphlets. He spent whole days in the crisp open air, scribbling away, occasionally filling Tim’s nosebag with horse-food. In the evenings he sat in the chalet staring at the blue glow of burning calor gas. His nights were untroubled by nightmares. Every few days a panting cadet from the insanitary village would deliver a metal tapping machine message from Marigold Chew, keeping Dobson abreast of events at home.
Dobson wrote the final words of the Elegies on a bright day in October. On the same day, there was a counterrevolution in that cold distant country. The pink and black and green flags were torn down and stamped into the muck, swiftly replaced by red and blue and yellow flags. The panting cadet delivered Marigold’s latest message, his cap askew and bloodstains on his sleeves. The look in his eyes told Dobson it was time to flee. He made the cadet promise to look after Tim the massive horse, packed up his things, and headed off for the seaport on foot. The gas canister was empty, and his work was done.
Don’t forget that you can make a donation to the Hooting Yard Fund For Distressed Out Of Print Pamphleteers. Doris X. of Cuxhaven says: “I made a donation and doing so warmed the cockles of my heart!”
I have never been able to decide whether I prefer a sop or a fillip. To be given a sop can be immediately gratifying. But when you are able, at leisure, to consider what you really wanted, and then to be thunderstruck at the realisation you have been fobbed off with a sop, gratification can curdle swiftly into frustration, resentment, and, in certain circumstances, psychopathic violence. A fillip, on the other hand, can come out of nowhere, unbidden, and set you up for the day, or at least for a few minutes, until your innards are once again gnawed at by whatever gnaws at them. That differs from person to person.
The tonic effects, then, of both the sop and the fillip tend towards the ephemeral. One could argue that, notwithstanding, the fillip is preferable. This is because, when it wears off, and you are again plunged into remorseless misery, there is not the concomitant dejection you get with the wearing off the sop, viz. the knowledge that you have been fobbed off. You can’t be fobbed off with a fillip. That is not in the nature of fillips, though it is part and parcel of the sop.
We can perhaps grasp this more firmly by considering a concrete example. Here is Dobson, from his pamphlet What I Have To Say, In Toto, About Sops And Fillips (out of print):
It was a day in that blue month September, silent beneath the plum trees’ slender shade. A nice juicy Carlsbad plum, I thought, would be just the fillip I needed. It so happened that I was plunged in remorseless misery and my innards were being gnawed at by their intractable enemies, a legion of mental and emotional horrors it would take far too long to list. Yes, the more I thought about it, sprawled beneath the plum trees’ slender shade, the more I craved the fillip I would get from munching one of those plums.
I have never been the sprightliest of tree-climbers, but on that day in that blue month September it so happened that I was wearing my Bolivian Rain Forest Warden’s Tree-Climbing Boots. What a happy accident! I stood up, dusted the duff from my duffel coat, and prepared to clamber a little way up the trunk of the plum tree, just high enough to pluck a plum. It was a strangely tall plum tree, as were all its fellows in this orchard.
Just as I was about to begin my climb, I was disconcerted to see, striding towards me, aiming a shotgun, the orchardist. I knew he was the orchardist because of his proprietorial manner of striding across the loam, and the badge affixed to his duffel coat, over his heart.
“Oi!” he shouted, “Do not think for one minute you can climb and pluck a plum of mine from my plum tree!”
“Nothing was further from my mind,” I lied, “I am not the plum-eating type.”
He shoved the barrel of his shotgun into my belly.
“I’m pleased to hear it,” he said, “Often I find picnickers and other reprobates lurking in my orchard who think the munching of a nice juicy Carlsbad plum is just the fillip they need to wrench them, albeit temporarily, out of their misery and horrors.”
“Don’t you fret about me on that score,” I said, “I am as happy as a lark.”
This ornithological sally was a blatant fib, as my countenance was downcast and gloomy. It served, however, to bamboozle the orchardist. He hoisted the shotgun over his shoulder and mumbled something about the nesting habits of larks.
I thought it best to skedaddle out of the orchard and find somewhere else to slump on that day in that blue month September. As I trudged along the towpath of the old canal, past the cement works and the marmalade factory, I still craved the fillip of a plum to munch. Pausing to sit on a canalside bench placed there in honour of Robert Fripp, I took from the inside pocket of my duffel coat the Gazetteer of Fruiterers which, in those days, I always carried with me. If I could not steal a plum from an orchard, I could buy one from a fruiterer! I was young then, you see, and my brain was in proper working order.
Having ascertained that the nearest fruiterer was a short bus ride away, I made my way to the bus stop and waited for a bus. When the bus arrived, I boarded it. I sat down. The bus conductor took my fare. Peering out of the window at the sky, I became lost in thought about my imminent plum. I could almost taste it. What a fillip it would be!
Shortly afterwards I alighted from the bus at another bus stop and crossed the road to enter the fruiterers’. He was a curiously monkey-like man, though his manners were polished.
“How may I be of assistance to you on this day in that blue month September?” he asked.
“I would like to buy a nice juicy Carlsbad plum, please,” I said.
“I am afraid I sold my last plum, Carlsbad or no, just fifteen minutes ago to a communist German playwright,” he said, “So may I recommend instead a conference pear?”
There would be no fillip for me. Instead, I was being fobbed off with a sop!
Careful study of this passage will reward the reader with a dazzling insight into the fillip and the sop, and this in spite of the fact that Dobson does not tell us whether he accepted the fruiterer’s offer of a conference pear. It was long thought that he addressed this in his pamphlet The Blue September Of Conference Pears (out of print), but recent textual exegesis by hot-headed young Dobsonist Ted Cack demonstrates pretty damn conclusively that the September referred to in that pamphlet was after, not before, the Tet Offensive.
News comes in that the entire western half of the United States has been shut down due to the presence in Los Angeles of a plague-infected squirrel. Something along those lines, anyway. While I do a spot of fact-checking to ensure I haven’t exaggerated the threat, it seems apposite to repost this piece from nine long years ago.
Dobson was afraid of squirrels. Here’s why. It was a damp and ruinous Thursday and he had not had any breakfast. He slapped his hand on the table and shouted “I must have marmalade! I must have some marmalade!” There was nobody to hear his complaint except for an ant which was making its way across the floor of his hovel, and the ant didn’t care, being an insect. Dobson had not even noticed the ant, in any case. He leapt out of his chair, put on his big reindeer-hide anorak brought back from one of his Arctic expeditions, and trudged outside, muttering now instead of shouting.
Have I ever told you there were several important trees on the path outside Dobson’s door? There was a sycamore and a yew, a larch and a pine. Dobson was fond of trees, usually, although he was unable to tell the difference between them. Gone were the days when he would festoon his hair with fallen leaves and twigs, inviting ridicule from the local whippersnappers. Dobson in the days of which I write had adopted a sober mien, indeed a gloomy one.
“Dobson, Dobson, don’t look so dismayed,” his acquaintances would say, to which the out of print pamphleteer’s response was to look heavenward, as if in great pain, adopting the air of an early Christian martyr, one lined up for some particularly bloodthirsty persecution. Dobson often skimmed through the pages of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to pick up tips. But I digress.
On this damp marmaladeless morning, Dobson walked past the sycamore, the yew, the larch and the pine, onward past a repulsive ditch, past the post office and the pig huts and the vipers’ nest and the glue factory, up the lane towards the Big Unexplained Building On The Hill. The wind howled. It always did. Back in the hovel, the ant had vanished into a crevice in the wainscot, just as Dobson arrived at the gates of the Building. These gates were enormous and forbidding and strange and rusty and locked and bolted and unnecessary, for there was a wooden door set in the base and brickish wall which skirted the building, and it was only a few feet away to the left of the gates, or to the right, I cannot remember precisely, I have never been there myself, I am only reporting this as it was told to me by Marigold Chew on the day after Dobson’s death, after she had had her bath, and was sipping tea from an inelegant tin mug in the shabby parlour of a horrible hotel hard by the banks of the River Wretched in Sibodnedwabshire.
Dobson knew all about the wooden door, so why did he tarry by the strange rusty gates? Was he confused, was his mind a jumble due to lack of marmalade? Or did he have a tryst? We do not know. We do know that Dobson stood at those gates on that damp Thursday, peering intently through them, for a full quarter of an hour before turning around and heading off to Old Jack Blothead’s Foodstuffs Tent, where he bought a jar of marmalade and some pastry and a pot of some kind of edible paste which Old Jack Blothead had left unlabelled. The year was 1952. Dobson and the vendor of foodstuffs had their usual argument about the pamphleteer’s promissory note, a page torn from his notebook on which he had scrawled words to the effect that sooner or later he would do right by Old Jack Blothead, and if he did not then may the heavens smite him and may all his days be leavened with woe. It was advantageous for Dobson that Blothead was a man of great charity and puny intellect, and after a few minutes he left the tent through its great grimy flaps, armed with his jar and pot and a paper bag for the pastry. They would not fit in the single pocket of his anorak, so he carried them in his ungloved, unmittened hands.
What pangs led Dobson back to the strange enormous rusty gates of the Big Unexplained Building On The Hill? There was a fallen log, a log fallen from a trembling poplar, slap bang next to the gates, and Dobson sat on it and ate the pastry, and he stayed sitting there despite the fact that it began to rain heavily. He didn’t even bother to pull up the hood of his anorak, although that may be because it was rife with holes made by starving moths and his head would have got wet anyway. Wet, but surely not as wet as it did get, as he sat on the poplar log in the downpour eating pastry with his pot of paste and marmalade jar beside him outside the forbidding and strange and rusty and locked and bolted gates of the Big Unexplained Building On The Hill on that Thursday morning in 1952 when he first became terrified of squirrels.
“Why,” I asked Marigold Chew as she sipped her tea in the shabby hotel parlour, “Why did Dobson become so fearful of squirrels on that particular day?” She glanced at me briefly, and I was disconcerted by the weird look in her eyes. “Those bushy tails….” she began, then fell silent, turning to stare out of the window. I followed her gaze, and saw the gravedigger walking across the lawn, toting his spade jauntily over his shoulder. “Those bushy, bushy tails…” Marigold Chew repeated. She drank the rest of her tea, put the mug down on the floor by her feet, and stood up. “I must go and have a few words with the gravedigger,” she said, and swept out of the room as breezily as a bereaved woman on crutches can sweep breezily from a hotel parlour on the day after the death of her one true friend on this magnificent and baffling planet.
An exceedingly rare snap of august Dobsonist Aloysius Nestingbird trying to locate a particular title among the crammed shelves of the out of print pamphleteer’s teeming archive.
Or possibly the old Cincinnati Library.
I put some sphagnum in a pot.
I boiled it ’til it was hot.
I spooned it out onto a plate.
And then I sat me down to wait.
I waited ’til the moss was cold.
I did precisely as I’d been told
In a book of recipes for sphagnum meals,
Dining Well On Moss And Eels.
Rather, a pamphlet, not a book.
By Dobson, who claimed to be a cook
In the prefatory piece
He’d written to these recipes.
This poem, by F X Urg, is the sole reference in all world literature to Dobson’s semi-mythical recipe book. The titanic pamphleteer of the twentieth century always denied having written it, and not even the most indefatigable of Dobsonists has been able to find any trace of it, in either printed or manuscript form.
It would thus be simple to dismiss the poem as one of F X Urg’s lurid phantasies, were it not that Dobson is on the record as having eaten both sphagnum moss and eels for breakfast on innumerable occasions. In his pamphlet A Tally Of All The Breakfasts I Have Tucked Into Over The Past Sixteen Years (out of print), Dobson regularly mentions sphagnum and eels, sometimes in combination, as in this extract:
15 June 1954. Breakfast today was eels stuffed with boiled and shredded sphagnum, washed down with dandelion and burdock spiked with runny egg.
It is quite plausible, then, that the out of print pamphleteer might at some point have turned his hand to such a recipe book. But if he did, why did he so vehemently deny it? And his denials were certainly vehement. A hot empurpled face, spitting, screeching, and the jabbing of his fists at his interlocutor were common responses whenever Dobson was asked about the existence of the book. Russell Hartyplus, for one, wisely steered clear of the topic when he interviewed Dobson for an episode of his TV series Interviews With Pamphleteers, contenting himself with questions about hot air balloons, moles, and gas giants, the subjects of Dobson’s three most recent pamphlets, all now out of print.
An answer to the puzzle possibly lies in ferreting out further information about the lurid phantasist F X Urg. This could prove problematic, however, as the poem reproduced above is the only known trace of him in all world literature.