Pebblehead’s Diary 19.1.92

The bestselling paperbackist Pebblehead’s diary for this day in 1992:

To the launch party for my new paperback potboiler Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! I took the title from Ronald Firbank’s 1916 novel Inclinations, and I am pleased to think that this may be the first time in the history of fiction that an entire chapter of an existing work has been quoted as the title of a new one. (It was Chapter XX, for anybody who wants to check.) My Mabel bears scant resemblance to Firbank’s. She was young and not a little ditzy, while mine is a crone. In fact, for a while I thought of giving the book the title Crone With A Sponge! until, about half way through, I encountered intractable technical potboiler difficulties and had to ditch the sponge entirely, eradicating all mention of it from the opening chapters. It is, I think, a better book as a result, certainly a better potboiler.

I attended the launch party incognito, got up as a baffled bus conductor down on his luck. My disguise was almost wholly successful, and not even my own mother recognised me. What on earth she was doing at the party is a surpassing mystery. I must have words with the warden of the Bewilderment Home. Though nobody actually knew me for who I am, one fathead mistook me for the lumbering psychopathic walrus-moustached serial killer Babinsky, and called the coppers. They arrived just as I was cramming cream crackers from the buffet into the pocket of my bus conductor’s jacket. Never overlook free cream crackers, by the way – follow that advice and you can sail through life more or less unhindered.

Not so this evening, alas, as the coppers, led by doughty Detective Captain Cargpan, whacked me on the head several times with a lead-weighted sap, removed the cream crackers from my pocket and put them back on the buffet table, and bundled me into the back of their van. I assumed I would be taken down to the station, but instead we drove out into the blasted and inhospitable winter countryside. At a godforsaken spinney, the van screeched to a halt and the coppers dragged me out and tied me to the trunk of a yew tree. The yew tree pointed up, it had a Gothic shape. My eyes lifted after it and found the moon. I noticed that fumy, spiritous mists inhabited this place, and there was a row of headstones.

“I have decided that the only way to stop you, Babinsky, is to engage in a spot of extra-judicial killing,” said Cargpan. Then, “Ned, get the axe and the shovel,” he added, to one of his henchmen.

“But I am not Babinsky!” I cried, “I am the bestselling paperbackist Pebblehead!”

“Prove it,” said Cargpan, darkly.

“My hands are tied to the trunk of this pointy yew tree so I cannot rummage in my pockets, but if you do so, in among the crumbs of cream crackers you will find my jotter, in which are jotted down notes for my next half dozen bestselling paperback potboilers,” I said.

Cargpan rummaged, and a look of wonderment lit up his countenance.

“Bloody hell, boys, this isn’t Babinsky, it’s Pebblehead!” he cried, and he immediately freed me from my bonds and sat me down on a camping stool and gave me a cup of tea from a flask.

“We are all big fans of yours,” he said, as his little band of coppers all nodded, “We’ve got every single one of your books down at the station. If we take you back there, will you sign them for us?”

“Of course I will,” I said, “If, afterwards, you will return me to the launch party for Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel!

“Better than that,” said Cargpan, “We will throw a party for you ourselves. I don’t know if you have ever been to a coppers’ party, Mr P., but we can guarantee you a splendid time.”

And so it turned out that I ended the evening absolutely stuffed with cream crackers, wearing a paper hat, and regaling a basement full of coppers with piquant anecdotes of the literary life. More to the point, I gathered invaluable material for my forthcoming bestselling paperback potboiler Tied To A Yew Tree By Coppers! (working title), which I should have finished by late tomorrow afternoon.

On The Abnormal Butcher

The Abnormal Butcher is the first in a series of potboilers bashed out by Pebblehead in a frenzied fortnight of potboiling. He wrote a complete novel each day for thirteen days and then, as he put it, “on the fourteenth day, I rested”. It is not the first time Pebblehead has blasphemously compared himself to the Almighty God, and it will not be the last.

The central character in the series is Ned Mossop, the so-called “gluten-intolerant private eye”. The matter of his gluten intolerance is not explored by Pebblehead, merely stated. This is not the only exasperating thing about the books. Were I to list the other exasperations it would come to many more than thirteen items so, time being short, instead I shall give a full list of all the titles in the series.

They are, in order of both composition and publication, The Abnormal Butcher, The Cow Detective, The Egg Freak, The Greasy Hinges, The Idiot Jar, The Knackered Latvian, The Mud-caked Nuns, The Oblivious Pipsqueak, The Queasy Ratcatcher, The Snodgrass Thermometer, The Uncanny Vase, The Wax Xylophone, and The Yobbo Zoo.

Although, as the central character, Ned Mossop is the only one to appear in all thirteen books, others crop up here and there, having walk-on parts or popping their heads above the parapet or being glimpsed in the distance getting up to some sort of mischief. Thus for example, in The Snodgrass Thermometer, when Ned Mossop and Caligula Snodgrass are engaged in a fight to the death on the edge of an Alpine crevasse, Pebblehead turns his attention, for several pages, to Sister Assumpta, one of the mud-caked nuns we met in the novel of that title. She is picking edelweiss a hundred yards away from the crevasse, on a slightly higher slope. As readers, all we care about is finding out who wins the impromptu boxing match between Mossop and Snodgrass. It is thus highly exasperating of Pebblehead to prattle on about a mud-caked nun to no apparent purpose. Why does he do it?

There are critics who claim that Pebblehead is brilliantly undermining the conventions of the detective fiction genre. Consider, for example, this excerpt from a review by Blossom Partridge, which appeared in Miss Blossom Partridge’s Weekly Digest:

In his new series of novels featuring the gluten-intolerant private eye Ned Mossop, Pebblehead brilliantly undermines the conventions of the detective fiction genre. For example, in The Queasy Ratcatcher, Mossop is engaged in a fight to the death with the queasy ratcatcher on the edge of an Alpine crevasse when Pebblehead magnificently turns his attention, for several pages, to a clump of edelweiss on a slightly higher slope a hundred yards away. The flowers are being examined, through some sort of optical scope contraption, by Arpad Bogojugis, the knackered Latvian we met in the novel of that title. As readers, all we are meant to care about is the outcome of the impromptu boxing match on the edge of the crevasse, a hundred yards away and on a slightly lower slope. By diverting our attention in this way, by frustrating our desires, Pebblehead exasperates us to such an extent that we fling the paperback across the room into the fireplace, or drop it into the bath, or rip it to shreds with our bare hands, or otherwise damage it severely enough to render it unreadable.

Later, when we have calmed down over a nice cup of tea and some macaroons or Garibaldi biscuits, we regret our fit of temper and begin to wonder (a) what Arpad Bogojugis learned about the clump of edelweiss and (b) who won the impromptu boxing match. Try as we might, we can get neither scene out of our head. Finally, draining our dainty teacup and scoffing the last of the macaroons or Garibaldi biscuits, we put on our stout walking boots and our windcheater and we sally forth into the storm which is raging outside and go straight to the airport bookstall to buy a replacement copy of The Queasy Ratcatcher. And we note there is a special offer whereby we can purchase all thirteen volumes for the price of a baker’s dozen, so we snap them up, and pad out our shopping basket with a carton of teabags and a packet of either macaroons or Garibaldi biscuits, and we head home, in the teeth of a howling gale. Then we put the kettle on and look forward to reading the rest of Pebblehead’s utterly magnificent potboiler.

I have a great deal of time for Blossom Partridge, and I never miss an issue of her Weekly Digest, but in the case of Pebblehead I think she is wrong. What we are dealing with, I would argue, is simple narrative ineptitude. In fact, I have argued precisely this in an article I submitted to Miss Blossom Partridge’s Weekly Digest, in which I claim that success and blockbuster sales have gone to Pebblehead’s head, and that he sits there puffing on his pipe in his so-called “chalet o’ prose”, bashing out his potboilers at reckless speed, not caring one jot whether what he writes is even minimally coherent or, indeed, readable. He knows that anything he produces will sell in the millions. It has undone him.

POSTSCRIPT : Blossom Partridge has returned the piece I wrote for her Weekly Digest. Her accompanying letter reads as follows:

Dear Mr Key,

Much as I was riveted, really really riveted, by your Pebblehead piece, I am afraid I must reject it for publication because there is no space available in the Weekly Digest. The next several issues are given over wholly to my extended essay entitled Why I Have Had To Build A Large Storage Facility Adjacent To My Modest Nook In Order To Contain My Ever-Growing Collection Of Duplicate Copies Of Pebblehead Potboilers, Now Numbering In The Hundreds Of Thousands. I would add a polite note to express my sincere regret, but I am afraid I must dash as I have to head out in this terrible storm to the airport bookstall to purchase a few dozen further Pebblehead paperbacks.

Yours in haste,

Blossom Partridge (Miss)

On The Antipipsqueak

The publishing event of the year – unless Jeanette Winterson hurls another thunderbolt from the mountaintop – is the long-awaited appearance of Pebblehead’s latest blockbuster. The indefatigable potboilerist has been uncharacteristically tardy. It is thought that he spent at least six weeks on this new work, twelve times as long as it commonly takes him to bash out a fat bestselling paperback with a gaudy cover. But at last, tomorrow it will be here. I have even managed to nab myself an invitation to the launch party, where I hope to rub shoulders with the great man. Last time I came within spitting distance of him was at a sophisticated literary soirée. Well, not “at”, exactly, but outside, where I fawned in a doorway before being Tasered by the Pebblehead security contingent, every man jack of them as big as a grizzly bear, and as savage. Tomorrow night things will be different. I have a ticket. It is a counterfeit ticket, forged for me by a ne’er-do-well of unsurpassed forging skills, or so I am told. He has even managed to copy the magnetic strip on the swipecard with which one gains access to the subterranean bunker where the party guests will gather before being ferried, one by one, in specially adapted rubber bodybags with breathing holes, by pneumatic tube to the equally subterranean bunker serving as a holding pen in which guests will be vetted, and their tickets subjected to forensic anti-forgery testing. I am brimming with confidence that I will make it through. I’ll let you know.

But what of the book itself? Advance copies have not been made available, so I have not even seen its gaudy cover, let alone read the blockbusting contents. I did engage the services of a ne’er-do-well with unsurpassed thieving skills, hoping he could pilfer a copy from the printers, but so tight was the security that my thief is now chained in an oubliette nursing a splitting headache, a bruised noggin, the after-effects of a severe electric shock, and with his bootlaces tied together. Clearly his skills were not as unsurpassed as I had been led to believe by the ne’er-do-well fixer of unsurpassed fixing skills who put me in touch with him. It is a frustrating business, traffick with ne’er-do-wells, let me tell you. A dangerous business, too, though not nearly as dangerous as dealing with Pebblehead’s retinue, who would strike fear into the boldest and mightiest of souls.

Which brings me neatly to the subject of the as-yet-unseen book, for Pebblehead has written the first ever biography of Rudyard Boot, the so-called Antipipsqueak, as bold and mighty a soul as ever bestrode the streets of Pointy Town and its environs. It will be interesting to see what Pebblehead makes of this enigmatic figure. For all that he was a colossus and a titan, at least in the minds of Pointy Townites, very little is actually known about him. I have something of an advantage over the teeming millions of general readers here, for I have a family connection to Boot – or “Das” as he was known to all and sundry. An aunt of mine, before she married my uncle, walked out with Rudyard Boot. Most if not all of their walks were around the reservoir after which, like Rudyard Kipling, he was named. According to my aunt’s stories, the young Boot was no Antipipsqueak. Indeed, he was very much a pipsqueak, and a milquetoast pipsqueak at that.

“When I knew him, he wouldn’t say boo to a goose,” said my aunt on one of her tape-recordings, “Once when we were walking out together, around the reservoir, we were set upon by a pack of geese. I know ‘pack’ is the collective noun for wolves rather than geese, but as far as Boot was concerned the geese might as well have been wolves, even werewolves, even zombified werewolves, even zombified werewolves injected with a serum causing their murderous bloodlust to be magnified a thousandfold. At their approach, he squeaked, a milquetoast squeak, and ran away, leaving me to deal with them, which of course I did in a sensible matter-of-fact manner, being a goose-familiar kind of girl. Later that day I wrote a letter to him in which I chided him for his pipsqueak goose-frit milksoppery, and I broke off our engagement. I think, for him, receipt of my letter was a turning point.”

And what a turning point it was! Having lost the heart of my aunt, Boot determined to transform himself, body and soul, from a pipsqueak into its antithesis – the Antipipsqueak. The wonder is that he effected the transformation in the space of little more than a fortnight. Alas, it was already too late to win back my aunt who, walking around the reservoir by herself the next day, was swept off her feet by my Uncle Quentin, a world-famous and bad-tempered yet loveable scientist from Kirrin Island. The dashing of his romantic hopes simply spurred Boot on in his new persona as the Antipipsqueak. He became a sort of superhero avant le lettre, doing battle with ferocious wild animals, fire ants, swarms of killer bees, pit vipers, and with human foes too, among them ne’er-do-wells and malefactors and organised criminal gangs from the far Carpathians. And all the time he wore, over his heart, a locket containing a miniature portrait of my aunt. It was a drawing rather than a photograph, a cack-handed drawing done by a weak-brained patient in a lunatic asylum, and it looked more like Otto von Bismarck than it did my aunt, who bore no resemblance to the guns-before-butter man, none at all.

Given the personal connection, I had occasionally thought about writing a biography of Rudyard Boot myself. Knowing of my interest, my aunt bequeathed to me her Boot-related memorabilia, including several hundred hours’ worth of tape recordings, piles upon piles of tear-stained scribblings, a photo album, scrapbooks containing Boot’s bus- train-, library-, and fairground-tickets, and, most prized of all, the medicine balls which it is believed he flung around in a gymnasium in those two weeks when he turned himself from a pipsqueak into the Antipipsqueak. Armed with such a mass of material, I was obviously in a position to write the definitive biography. I ought to have guessed that Pebblehead would engage the services, through a ne’er-do-well, of hired thugs. There were seventeen of them, and after loading my Boot archive in to an articulated lorry and speeding away to their rendezvous with Pebblehead, four stayed behind, bundled me into the boot of a car, and drove me to the reservoir. They tied me to a block of cement and chucked me in. They must have thought I was a milquetoast pipsqueak. How wrong they were. I freed myself and bobbed to the surface. Then, soaking wet, I sprinted to the gymnasium and began to fling medicine balls around. And tomorrow, Tasers notwithstanding, I shall come face to face with Pebblehead.

On Soviet Hen Coops

Soviet Hen Coops is the latest bestseller by blockbuster paperbackist Pebblehead, a sweeping and magisterial cross-cultural history of poultry under Communism. On the face of it, this seems an unlikely subject for a book which has been flying off the shelves of airport bookstalls and has, in the past week alone, earned Pebblehead more money in royalties than J K Rowling has had hot dinners. But then, in the hands of the potboilerist, the most unpromising material is handled with such mastery and aplomb that, in places, it reads like the most nerve-wrenching and nail-biting and heart attack-inducing of thrillers.

So I am told, in any case, as I have not yet read it myself. A while ago, I set myself the task of reading the entire Pebblehead canon, to date, in chronological order, and I do not wish to cheat. Thus far I have reached the autumn of 1972 (Swarthy Fiends In Dungeons Grim) and have a couple of hundred titles to get through before I catch up with the latest tome. Thus I have relied on a specially-empanelled panel of readers to report to me their responses to Soviet Hen Coops. In choosing the panel, I was careful to exclude those with expert knowledge either of Soviet Communism or of hens, for Pebblehead is nothing if not a populist, and it is the general reader, and indeed the barely literate halfwit, for whom the bulk of his output is intended.

Initial reactions were overwhelmingly positive, with the panel giving the book an overall rating of “Fantastic!”. Converted into numerals, this worked out as 10 out of 10, though a couple of panel members were keen to go up to 11. As a sample of a detailed critique, I have plucked this from the pile of written reports:

Having never read a Pebblehead book before, or indeed any books at all, I was absolutely riveted to my armchair. Knowing nothing of Russia and its satellite states in the years between 1917 and 1992, the whole Communism thing was new to me, as was the stuff about poultry, for I have never been near a hen coop in my life, suffering as I do from an allergy to bird feathers. At times it was like reading an adventure story, or as I imagine it might be to read an adventure story. I had to grip the arms of my armchair and cling on by my fingertips, because I got so excited I thought I might topple out of it and fall on the floor. And because  I was holding on so tight to the armchair I could not at the same time hold the book, so I had to have a sort of makeshift lectern erected in front of me, to rest the book upon, and I had to employ an unpaid intern from a nearby orphanage to turn the pages for me. And turn the pages they did, for this book is a real page turner! If I have one criticism, it is that Pebblehead does not tell us anything whatsoever about the state of hens and hen coops in the immediate pre-Soviet era, so we cannot place the state and circumstances and milieu of the Communist hen in any context.

I should interrupt the critique here to let slip some inside knowledge. I have it on good authority that Pebblehead is currently hard at work, in his so-called chalet o’ prose, on a prequel tentatively entitled Tsarist Hen Coops. Clearly, he did not wish to duplicate his material.

One chapter I found particularly thrilling was that which deals, in spellbinding detail, with the sudden and complete transformation of Cheka hen coops into OGPU hen coops on the sixth of February 1922. The footnote which lists other notable events to happen on the sixth of February, including, in 1958, the Munich Air Disaster, is the best footnote I have ever read. It is true I have only read half a dozen footnotes in toto, the ones in this book, but of those six this one is by far the best.

Another passage which had me gulping for air and requiring urgent medical attention was the part about the creation of Potemkin hen coops designed to pull the wool over the eyes of useful poultry idiots, the hen equivalents of Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Reports went back to West European and American hens about the idyllic lives of their Soviet sisters, leading to unrest and kerfuffle in a number of farmyards. I would have liked to learn more about Soviet eggs, but

I am going to interrupt here again, to point out that Pebblehead’s next scheduled blockbuster, when he has finished writing Tsarist Hen Coops, will almost certainly be a fat doorstopper entitled Eggs In The Soviet Union.

Actually, I think we have had quite enough of that readers’ report. I think it is clear from her enthusiasm that yet again Pebblehead has pulled out all the stops and produced a rollicking rollercoaster of a narrative. I just wish I knew how he does it. Day in, day out, he sits there in his Alpine fastness, pipe clenched between his jaws, pounding the keys of that battered Fabiocapello typewriter, which long ago, in 1977, lost its J and K keys and as a result forced on him a complete rethink of his prose style.

Please note that Soviet Hen Coops is entirely devoted to hen coops in the Soviet Union, and nowhere concerns itself with the card game Soviet Hen Coop. My spies tell me that Pebblehead will turn his attention to this exciting pastime once he has bashed out Tsarist Hen Coops and Eggs In The Soviet Union and one or two other books he has in the pipeline. It will certainly be a title to look forward to, not least because Pebblehead himself has been called the king of Soviet Hen Coop players, regularly winning tournaments and having his name engraved over and over and over again on several golden and pewter trophies which he keeps lined up on the mantelpiece in his chalet o’ prose, and dusts with a rag on the rare occasions he can tear himself away from his typewriter.

The Dabbler (Actual Size)

Dabbler-3logo (1)

Critically important advice, in my cupboard at The Dabbler, on correct apprehension of the dimensions of sea beasties. I claim no credit, as the piece is basically a paraphrase of Pebblehead, from one of his innumerable bestselling paperbacks.

Over the years, many readers have written to ask if there is any truth in the rumour that, long before Frost/Nixon, there was a project entitled Frost/Pebblehead, or even Pebblehead/Nixon, which had to be abandoned due to pelf and priggishness and panic and other things beginning with P. Many readers have asked, and none has been answered, for I chuck all such enquiries into a waste chute, down which they fall, rolling and tumbling, until they reach the fires of hell, where they burn to a crisp. Some things are better left uninvestigated, unresearched, unsaid.

Retired Blacksmiths!

Oh glorious Mr Key! writes Tim Thurn – is he being obsequious or sarcastic? It’s hard to tell – It was fascinating to read about the retired blacksmiths Bim, Bam, and Nat yesterday, and I was wondering if you had any further information about them.

Well, I don’t, Tim, but I know a man who does, as they say. For no less a blockbusterist than Pebblehead has recently published a thumping great triple biography, entitled Retired Blacksmiths! The True Story Of Bim And Bam And Nat, and a cracking good read it is. In fact, it was my source for that business about the goblin colour coding, a full account of which appears in Chapter XXXVIII, and then again, almost word for word, in Chapter XCIV. One could be forgiven for thinking that Pebblehead completely forgot what he had written earlier. It would not be the first time. Whole swathes of his potted history of jugged hare recipes, Jugged!, are repeated more than once in the book, having already appeared in earlier volumes in the Pebblehead oeuvre, one a history of jugs and the other an encyclopaedia of hares. This is why he is dismissed as a hack.

Hack or no, you or I would sell our grandmother’s bones to achieve his sales figures. Retired Blacksmiths! has only been in the shops for a week, and has already sold more copies than there are visible stars in the sky. And deservedly so, for in spite of the fact that his prose is repetitive and slapdash and descends at times into mawkishness, Pebblehead wrings from his subjects a tale well worth the telling.

We learn, for example, about the lives of the threesome before their retirement. There is Bim, at the random grim forge, fettling for a great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal! And there is Bam, also at a random grim forge, also fettling. And Nat, too, at the next forge along the lane, and he too fettling, as the sun beats down on a rustic scene redolent of Lark Rise To Candleford. Pebblehead gives us so much detail about random grim forges and the fettling of bright and battering sandals for great grey drayhorses that the reader could, with confidence, given an anvil and a few tools, set up their own smithy’s. I did, before I had even finished reading the book. Clang clang clang, that was the sound clanging from my chalet, as sparks flew and a line of great grey drayhorses formed outside, awaiting their bright and battering sandals. My neighbours were a great help, filling nosebags with hay for the horses, combing their manes, and brushing their fetlocks with horse-brushes. So busy was I fettling and smithying that I did not have any time to finish reading Pebblehead’s book, though my place is marked. I marked it, not with a standard bookmark, of flimsy cardboard, but with a great iron slab, beaten flat upon my anvil, bright and battering.

So I have not yet read beyond the point where, newly retired, Bim and Bam and Nat are co-opted onto the World Council of Goblins and set to work on their colour coding scheme. A scan of the contents page, however, suggests that there are thrills and spills aplenty still to come, including Bim’s involvement in the Profumo affair, Bam taking a dip in the Bosphorus, and Nat choking on a mouthful of genetically-modified spinach. When I have finished fettling all those great grey drayhorses lined up along the lane, waiting patiently, patiently, I shall return to the book, and tell you what more I learn about the three retired blacksmiths, their doings, their dreams, their pangs, and their dotage.

The Ruffian Biffo, His Book

“In the dying hours of the year, in a foul and ill-lit alleyway, a raddled roué, staggering out of a den of vice, was set upon by a ruffian. The ruffian biffed the roué upon the bonce, and kicked him on the shins, just above his spats, and thumped him in the stomach, and the roué crumpled to the ground, winded and helpless in the noisome filth. Then the ruffian stamped his big black boot upon the roué’s biffed bonce, and spat upon his person, and stalked off down the alleyway into the night. And soon thereafter came the pealing of bells, ringing in the new year, and from a clump of dark trees in the park, the hooting of an owl.”

Thus begins Pebblehead’s paperback potboiler The Ruffian Biffo, His Book, surely the most relentlessly violent novel ever published. Its four hundred pages consist of little more than descriptions of the ruffian Biffo biffing and kicking and punching and thumping a series of victims, from the raddled roué staggering from a den of vice to a preening fop on a roister doister, a dandy in the doorway of a bordello, a macaroni on horseback and a pantalooned magnifico on his way to un ballo en maschera.

Interspersed with these almost identical scenes, Pebblehead makes a few half-witted attempts to probe the interior life of his ruffianly protagonist. Biffo, we are told, is variously “a card-carrying communist”, “devoted to his dear old mum”, and “a wizard at the loom”. To be fair, there is one lengthy and anomalous passage (pp. 103-149) where Biffo weaves a blanket for his mother, a blanket emblazoned with a hammer-and-sickle and a daringly avant-garde portrait of Stalin.

In an interview, Pebblehead did not claim, as one might have expected him to, that this scene – beautifully written and astonishing in its detail of blanket-weaving and communist ideology – is the “heart of the novel”. In fact he was quite shameless in his insistence that Biffo’s biffings and kickings and punchings and thumpings are what the book is “about”, adding that he only threw in the other material because he had a head cold and drank too many beakers of Lemsip.

It is difficult to know what to make of the book, but like all Pebblehead’s paperback potboilers, it is a bestseller. Apparently, he plans to follow it up with a spin-off about the raddled roué, following his debauches in the weeks leading up to the fateful encounter with Biffo. “I am hoping,” announced the writer from his chalet o’ prose, “That the next book will prove to be the most relentlessly debauched novel ever published. After that I shall move on to a mawkish and vapid heist ‘n’ espionage romantic science fiction teenage detective blockbuster, with vampires.”

The Soutane-Attired Nemesis Of Sea Monsters

Father Ninian Tonguelash, the Jesuit priest and self-styled “Soutane-Attired Nemesis of Sea Monsters” who appeared in my dream yesterday, was, I would have you know, a real historical figure. He is often thought to be fictional, probably because the only reliable biography we have of him, by Pebblehead père, was published in the form of a series of short episodes between the covers of pulp magazines such as Mildly Alarming Stories!, Yarns That Might Raise Your Blood Pressure Just A Tad, and Vaguely Disquieting Tales. That the various scattered pieces were never brought together as a proper book is one of literature’s, indeed life’s, great tragedies, and the blame must lie squarely with Pebblehead père himself. For all his learning and wisdom and panache as a biographer, he was a very bewildering person. Even just walking down the street, he left a swathe of boggle-eyed bewilderment in his wake, and the captains of ships were ever reluctant to have him aboard their pleasure steamers.

Bewildering, too, is his treatment of the life of Father Tonguelash, quite apart from its being broken up into bits and published in magazines designed for a readership of the semi-literate and the timid and the nerve-bejangled. Although what research has been done seems to confirm that Pebblehead père‘s accounts are historically accurate, indeed devastatingly so, each episode as written is almost identical. The general schema is as follows:

1. Father Ninian Tonguelash has just finished saying Mass when an urchin sprints panting into the vestry to announce that a sea monster has been sighted. Either a ship or a boat or a coastal hamlet is imperilled.

2. Without stopping to ask any questions – even something as basic as in which direction he should speed – Father Tonguelash grabs a harpoon and a crucifix and charges out into the wild and windy shoreland. It is invariably wild and windy.

3. After a little while of harum scarum scampering, the priest stops, as Christ stopped at Eboli, and, all windswept and resolute, takes from his pocket a volume of poems by his friend and colleague Father Gerard Manley Hopkins. He opens the book at random and declaims a poem, shouting into the wind. Declaiming done, he returns the book to his pocket, makes the sign of the cross, and scampers onward. The panting urchin who brought the message of sea monster peril has now had time to catch up with the priest, and sticks close to his heels.

4. Father Ninian arrives at the scene of imperilment and confronts the sea monster. He is absolutely fearless. “I am attired in the soutane of a Jesuit, and I am your Nemesis!” he cries. At this point the sea monster usually makes a gurgling sound we are led to interpret as a plea for God’s ineffable mercy. But Father Ninian shows none. He hands the crucifix to the panting urchin, telling the lad to brandish it at the sea monster. Then he launches the harpoon, with unerring accuracy, felling the sea monster instantly.

5. It is an interesting point that all of the sea monsters harpooned by the Jesuit were of the kind that, when struck, shrivel up and vanish in a puff of cloudy gaseous green vapour.

6. Father Tonguelash reels in his harpoon, pats the panting urchin on the head, retrieves his crucifix, and acknowledges the grovelling gratitude of those whose imperilment he has quashed, be they the crew of a ship or a boat or the peasant inhabitants of a coastal hamlet.

7. As the priest wends his way back to his vestry, Pebblehead père does three things. He makes note, based upon what sources he never reveals, of all the types of birds in the sky and perched upon branches which the Jesuit, were he looking, would see upon his journey. He makes some attempt, not always successfully, to elucidate various sea monster references hidden in the text of the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem declaimed by Father Tonguelash earlier in the episode. Lastly, and characteristically, he ends each piece with a flourish of distinctively bewildering prose.

As a tot, Pebblehead fils, the bestselling paperbackist, was taught this “seven-point plan of literary composition”, as his père dubbed it. Careful readers will still find traces of the technique in some of the potboilers that pour out of the “chalet o’ prose” day after day. Consider, for example, even so recent a blockbuster as The Jesuit And The Sea Serpent which follows the pattern almost exactly, despite being over a thousand pages fat, with a gold-embossed cover making it suitable for airport book kiosks.

Dobson In Dreamland

According to Hargrave Jennings, in Curious Things Of The Outside World : Last Fire (1861), “There are moments in the history of the busiest man when his life seems a masquerade. There are periods in the story of the most engrossed and most worldly-minded man, when this strong fear will come, like a cloud, over him; when this conviction will start, athwart his horizon, like a flash from out a cloud. He will look up to the sunshine, some day, and in the midst of the business-clatter by which he may be surrounded, a man will, in a moment’s glance, seem to see the whole jostle of human interests and city bustle, or any stir, as so much empty show. Like the sick person, he will sometimes raise his head, and out of the midst of his distractions, and out of the grasp which that thing, ‘business’, always has of him, he will ask himself the question, What does all this mean? Is the whole world awake, and am I asleep and dreaming a dream? Or is it that the whole world is the dream, and that I, in this single moment, have alone awakened?”

That great twentieth-century pamphleteer, Dobson, woke up in this state of mind every single morning of his adult life. And that was not the end of his confusion, for Dobson was a great one for naps, he took a nap daily, very often more than one, plural naps, as it were, and each time he woke from his naps he likewise asked himself the questions posed by Hargrave Jennings, as he had already done on the morning of the day, when first he awoke.

“Do you have the slightest idea,” asked Marigold Chew, one blustery blizzardy Monday in the late 1950s, “How tiresome it is to have you lumbering about the place like a dippy person, asking the kinds of questions most sensible people stop posing when they outgrow their years of teendom?”

Dobson’s reply to this perfectly reasonable query was most annoying.

“Are you really speaking, Marigold, or am I just imagining this conversation within the wispy mysterious mists of mystery?”

Marigold Chew was holding a handful of pebbles, and proceeded to throw one at the pamphleteer. No, that’s not right. Marigold Chew was holding a Pebblehead paperback, and it was this she threw across the room. The book was Pebblehead’s latest bestselling potboiler, The Interpretation Of Breams, a guide to foretelling the future using a combination of fish and recordings of lute music. Luckily, the book missed Dobson’s head by an inch.

“I am going to go about my business in the real, palpable world, Dobson,” announced Marigold Chew, “If you choose to waft about the place in a moonstruck daze, that is up to you. But it won’t get any pamphlets written!” and she swept out of the house into the blizzard, bent upon her real and palpable business, whatever it might have been that day.

Dobson picked up the Pebblehead paperback from the floor and leafed through it, distractedly. He read a few lines here and there, and decided to go out to the fishmonger’s and the record shop. But he got no further than the chair on which he sat to don and to lace up his Canadian Snowplough Mechanic’s boots, for, yet enmired in his dreamy daze, he wondered if the chair, the laces, the boots were but figments. “Figments” made him think of figs, and then of Fig Newtons, a type of biscuit of which, at this period, he was inordinately fond, and, with his right foot encased in a boot the laces of which were not yet tied and his left foot merely ensocked, he rose from the chair and made for the cupboard wherein the biscuits, and similar snack items, were stored. When he stood, he was, in boot and sock, necessarily lopsided, and this being so, Dobson lost what balance he had, and toppled, bashing his bonce on the wainscot.

He was unconscious for some minutes, during which time he really did dream, of the glove of Ib and of his weak Bomba, whatever that might mean.

And of course, when he woke, sprawled on the floor, the pamphleteer’s swimming brain was yet again prompted to ask the Hargrave Jennings questions. Round and round we go, in an endless cycle, akin to the orbit of the planets around the sun.

Marigold Chew was still out and about, so Dobson was alone in his daze. Now wide awake, but still unable to gain a foothold in the real, palpable world, he mooched about the house as a person might blunder about in a thick fog, what they used to call a “pea-souper” because of the supposed similarity of the cloudy density of the air to the consistency of soup made from peas, not to be confused with pease pudding, which is, as its name suggests, a pudding, not a soup. Dobson was thinking neither of soup, nor of the Fig Newtons, which he had utterly forgotten. He was doing things such as tapping the walls with his fingertips, peering carefully at curtains, opening and then closing doors, or in some cases leaving them ajar, as he tried to grasp what was real and what was not. Stumbling past an airing cupboard into the bathroom, he was astonished, in a bleary way, to come face to face with a monster of the deep, wallowing in the tub. It was bloated, lascivious, coarse, and repulsive, rather like Gertrude Atherton’s vision of Oscar Wilde, except that it had fins and hideous trailing tendrils, like those of a jellyfish. One such tendril now lashed out and struck Dobson across the face, leaving, not just a vivid crimson stripe, but droplets of an unbelievably aggressive toxin which seeped in seconds through his pores and began ravaging his innards. The pamphleteer toppled once again to the floor, this time of his bathroom rather than of his kitchen, still wearing one boot, but now he was convulsed by fits, as if he were Voltaire’s officer with pinks in his chamber alluded to in another passage from Hargrave Jennings’ very sensible book, and, like the officer, Dobson lost his senses.

In the tub, the sea monster now began to gurgle, and to splash about. Suddenly, through the bathroom window crashed Father Ninian Tonguelash, the Jesuit priest and self-styled “Soutane-Attired Nemesis Of Sea Monsters”, clutching in one gloved hand a harpoon and in the other a crucifix. Then…


Then… I awoke, and I realised that all I have just written was a dream. Of course it was! Dobson did not become the titanic pamphleteer he was by faffing about the place all muddleheaded. When he woke up, every day of his adult life, he knew exactly where he was, and if perchance there was a smidgen of doubt in the matter, he would in any case plunge his head into a bucket of icy water, just to be on the safe side. How foolish of me to confuse the hallucinations of my sleeping, pea-sized brain with the iron truth!

Chalet O’ Prose

Pebblehead, that titan of the potboiler, has always kept secret the precise whereabouts of his legendary “chalet o’ prose”, wherein he taps out the billions of words of his bestselling paperbacks. On a recent hiking holiday, however, the noted daubist Rex Daub stumbled upon the location, and was able to execute a rapid daub in his portable hikers’ daubum.


The chalet o’ prose itself remains half hidden behind a verdant slope. In the foreground, we see postie struggling up the lane heaving a sack full of fan mail. You will note that he is not wearing a postie’s uniform. That is because, in this mountainous region, wherever it is, all the posties are amateurs, a tradition harking back to the days of King Vud. This lame and pocky monarch took against professionalised posties in uniform from an early age, after a tantrum. It was an opinion from which he never wavered, and his first act upon his coronation was to grant crown licences for postal delivery to a gaggle of peasant amateurs. The existing uniformed posties were shipped off to a remote and barnacle-encrusted atoll.

Also in the picture we see Pebblehead’s famous “seven cows”, munching grass on the verdant slope. The paperbackist has written movingly of these cows, or of six of them at least, and rather more dispassionately about the seventh, in a series of cow-related potboilers. Clockwise in the picture, starting from the largest cow, we see Spinach, Toffee Apple, Miliband, Chlorophyll, Banana Brain, Graticule and Gaston Le Mesmer, all of them familiar to readers of the series, but not, until now, visually, caught brilliantly as they are by Rex Daub’s daubing.

Beyond the chalet o’ prose, the roof of which we see, blue, blue, there is some other stuff in the background, but Rex Daub may have invented this just to finish off his daub. It is a tendency he has, when in a hurry, as he often is, whether or not on a hiking holiday. For further particulars see A Pedestrian Memoir Of Hiking Holidays Accompanied By Noted Daubist Rex Daub by Dobson (out of print).

The Man Who Ate His Own Head

The Man Who Ate His Own Head is the new paperback potboiler by Pebblehead, the latest in his series of novellas featuring “Being Of The Future” David Blunkett. The fictional superperson ought not, of course, be confused with the Labour politician of the same name, though some people do get them mixed up. Much the same collision of political fact and speculative fiction occurs in Norman Spinrad’s “agonizing science fiction adventure novel” of 1967, Agent Of Chaos, in which, to quote the back cover blurb, “The scene [is] Dome One, Mars. The terrible dictatorship ruling the planet was the Brotherhood of Assassins, and Boris Johnson, head of the Democratic League was plotting to overthrow the Hegemony and to restore democratic rule. The Hegemony, that mysterious group that controls the entire solar system, was now threatening to control the entire human race and render Man extinct! The entire galaxy in chaos; now bloodshed, then infinity…?” (You can read more about fictive Boris Johnson here.)

spinrad - agent of chaos-w

In The Man Who Ate His Own Head, the Being Of The Future sits down at some sort of futuristic dinner table, picks up his futuristic knife and futuristic fork, and tucks in to a futuristic meal piled on his futuristic plate. It is unclear what is so futuristic about the meal, as it consists of peas and gravy and jugged hare and cauliflower and cream crackers. Be that as it may, a robot valet appears at Blunkett’s side and, through some form of futuristic mind control, persuades him to eat his own head. This he accomplishes, though not without difficulty, and Pebblehead is very sketchy about the precise sequence of events.

I will not give away the ending. Suffice it to say that the paperbackist unleashes some of his finest narrative pyrotechnics, and we are introduced, at the last, to the Being Of The Future’s futuristic guide dog, Skippy, with the clear indication that this thousand-eyed zinc, tin, titanium, bakelite, and leather hound, stuffed with excelsior, will feature in the sequel, due out next week. Even as I write, Pebblehead is tapping away in his chalet o’ prose, brow furrowed, pipe clenched in his infected teeth.

A Lucky Find

Burrowing through the dust-caked and tottering piles in Old Pa Dustcake’s secondhand bookshop the other day, I was delighted to light upon a copy of Pebblehead’s absurdly precocious autobiography I, Pebblehead! Published when he was still wet behind the ears, it was his first bestselling paperback. The fact that he was completely unknown to the world when he wrote it, and had lived so short and uneventful a life up to that point, makes its astounding success all the more bewildering. The prose is callow, clunky, and at times incoherent, the narrative devoid of incident save for the famous hydroelectric power station picnic explosion disaster and its aftermath, to which an entire, lengthy chapter is devoted. Yet the presses kept rolling as more and more copies had to be printed to satisfy the public’s seemingly hysterical demand. One observer calculated that more copies were sold than there are stars in the heavens. That being so, one might think it would be an easy title to track down, in shops such as Old Pa Dustcake’s, even so many years after publication. But one hardly ever sees a copy for sale. One explanation, which I find quite convincing, is that a flaw in the binding caused the majority of the books to fall apart when touched by human skin. Luckily, when I was rummaging in the shop, I was wearing my sinister black mittens, simply to strike a pose, you understand.


Slobbering Dauphin

In a piece marking the death, at 85, of General Alexander Haig, Christopher Hitchens described the fifty-ninth US Secretary of State as a “slobbering dauphin”. This phrase will be more familiar to Hooting Yard readers as the one commonly used to refer to Prince Fulgencio’s sickly, pipsqueak son and heir, whose official title was His Luminous Magnificence The Princeling Balthazar Clovis Agamemnon De Pig De Pig Of Oogah And Sluice In The Islands Of Widdecombe Sound. That was what it said on his badge. But everybody, including Prince Fulgencio himself, called him the slobbering dauphin, when they were talking about him or, indeed, talking to him.

A typical exchange might go as follows:

Prince Fulgencio : Good grief! Ever since we arrived here at Fort Hoity where I am to review my trooplets and cut a princely dash, you, slobbering dauphin, have been slobbering away and quite taking the shine off my regal jib.

The Princeling : Slobber slobber slobber.

Prince Fulgencio : There, you are at it again! Yes, slobbering dauphin, I am slapping my forehead hard, for you leave me at my wits’ end. Perhaps it is your forehead I ought to be slapping, if I did not think doing so would make you slobber all the more!

The Princeling : Slobber slobber slobber.

Prince Fulgencio : There is only one thing for it! While I remain here at Fort Hoity I must have you out of my sight, so you must go to Fort Toity, a mile or two yonder across the glinka, and stay put. You may take a little groupuscule of henchpersons with you. Now hie thee hence, slobbering dauphin!

Thus is explained the otherwise puzzling fact that the spindly and sickly and slobbering dauphin found himself, that long hot summer, in sole command of Fort Toity. Freed from the repressive influence of his loathsome Papa, the Princeling’s slobberings grew fewer, and on some days he barely slobbered at all. Though there was, at Fort Toity as at Fort Hoity, a full complement of domestic staff, he spent much of his time in the first few days buffing the crenellations with a rag, until they glistened. When this activity exhausted his weedy constitution, the Princeling sprawled pallid and wan upon cushions, on a balcony, gazing for hours at the desolate glinka, with its few scattered clumps of lightning-blasted shrubbery and, dotted here and there, yawning pits of doom into which would topple, from time to time, such small blind stupid furry creatures as had strayed from their nestings and burrows in search of food. The sun was immense, and golden.

In his paperback potted biography of the Princeling, Pebblehead is at pains to point out that the slobbering dauphin’s balcony cushions were uncomfortable, and thus that his lolling upon them for untold hours was a kind of penitence. But penitence for what? Pebblehead does not say, at least not explicitly. At the time of the Fort Toity summer, the Princeling was but a pipsqueak youth, and had not the years behind him to have drummed up the kind of catalogue of crimes other writers have imputed to him, confusing him perhaps with his black-hearted father, or even perhaps with the deranged killer Babinsky, to whom, in later life, when he had grown an impressive walrus moustache, the Princeling bore more than a passing resemblance. Indeed, it became a tactic of Babinsky’s, whenever the coppers were closing in on him, to slobber, the better to outwit them. Certainly we have not one whit of evidence that the slobbering dauphin was involved in the series of outrages that took place in and around the glinka in the months before he was installed at Fort Toity. In any case, even had he harboured a desire to wipe out great swathes of peasantry, how likely is it that he would have crept about from place to place poisoning wells, when all he need do, as Princeling, was to drop a word in his father’s ear? Prince Fulgencio was always looking for any excuse to issue a ukase to his henchpersons and to have them clattering about the place on their fine ferocious horses bringing death and ruination in their wake. That was the kind of Prince he was, those the kind of henchpersons.

It is possible that Pebblehead mistranslated the ancient documents, getting “uncomfortable cushions” where he ought to have had “gorgeous embroidered pillows stuffed with duck down and a new kind of foam material soft as marshmallow”. The Princeling’s own jottings give no sense that he was consumed by guilt and the desire for uncomfortable cushion penitence, though they are difficult to read, because his slobbering was always at its most slobbery when he was writing, even during that blazing Fort Toity summer, when he slobbered less in general.

There was an amusing fashion, for a brief period in the latter half of the last century, for wealthy beat music combos to decamp to chateaux, there to engage in the dual activities of high debauch and the waxing of their latest disc. As we know full well, there is nothing new under the sun, that immense and golden orb that beat down, once, upon the desolate glinka and upon the balcony where the slobbering dauphin sprawled upon his cushions. And one blazing noon, his brain grown hot, the Princeling had a sudden thought, and clapped his hands to summon a henchperson.

The Princeling : Today I am able to stop slobbering long enough to speak coherently, Arpad. [For the henchperson’s name was Arpad.] My brain is hot, and I have a sudden thought. I want you to go bustling about the villages on the edges of the glinka and round up some musicians. Players on the sackbut and shawm and pipe and drum and what have you. Bring them to me, at once!

Arpad : It will be enacted, O slobbering dauphin.

Arpad the henchperson was a frighteningly efficient fellow, and no sooner had he been given his orders than he was off, on a cart drawn by several horses borrowed from Prince Fulgencio’s magnificent horsery at Fort Hoity. As Pebblehead pointed out, for all his evil ways, Prince Fulgencio had done much to eradicate sickness among his steeds, and the Fort Hoity horsery proudly proclaimed itself to be free of glanders, headshaking, lethal white syndrome, mud fever, contagious equine metritis, rainscald, strangles, quiltor, hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia, choke, grass sickness, recurrent airway obstruction, cerebellar abiotrophy, lavender foal syndrome, pythiosis, poll evil, and many another common horse disease. So healthy and vigorous were the horses pulling his cart that Arpad made the rounds of the villages in a single afternoon, and returned to Fort Toity at dusk with various sackbuttists and shawmists and pipers and drummers, to the unbridled delight of the Princeling, who cut some capers and slobbered, and rewarded Arpad with a personal picnic basket.

So happy was the Princeling that his slobbering became uncontrollable, and he had to write down his instructions for the musicians, with Arpad at his side mopping the slobber into a cup so it did not drip upon the vellum. Although the original is lost, Pebblehead was able to reconstruct the Princeling’s scribble using the technique known as “boggle-eyed hallucinatory scribble reconstruction”, sitting in a darkened room kept at a constant chill, and with beetles scurrying across the floor. The bestselling paperbackist actually wrote two entirely different versions, because he was enjoying himself so much, but only one is suitable for family reading. According to Pebblehead, this is what the slobbering dauphin wrote:

While I was buffing the crenellations with a rag, and more so when I was just lying sprawled on cushions on the balcony gazing upon the desolation of the glinka, all the while I have been hearing noises in my head. Noises, I say? No, music, the music of the spheres, or at least between my ears. Now, I charge you raggle-taggle band of players to make this music known to the world outside my head, so others, including Arpad here, and the other henchpersons, and my father’s majestic horses, and the domestic staff, and all who dwell in Fort Toity, and beyond, beyond the glinka, in the villages from whence you came, and elsewhere, may hear it. For it is music destined to be immortal. It will outlast me, as it will outlast my terrible reproachful father, Prince Fulgencio, as it will outlast even you, who play it. For I command also Arpad, with or without the help of his fellow henchpersons, to devise, from polished magnetic pebbles and pointy bits of tin and interlocking wheels and belts made from the stretchy sinewy guts of badgers and the like, an engine to entrap and then to recreate this music, over and over again, so you need no longer play it and may begone from Fort Toity and return to your villages. So, begin to play upon your sackbuts and shawms and pipes and drums, and I will direct and guide you by gesticulation of my arms and legs and movements of my brow, and by slobbering.

The music thus created, by fits and starts and with much agon, sounded remarkably like the genre we know today as “smooth death metal”. Before summer’s end, it was blasted by Arpad’s engine across the glinka, from dawn to dusk, occasionally jaunty, sometimes pounding, but mostly just smooth and deathly and metallic, just as the slobbering dauphin heard it inside his head.

But the summer ended, as summers will, and one morning Prince Fulgencio came to Fort Toity, roaring his head off, on horseback, flanked by a trooplet of brutish henchpersons.

Prince Fulgencio : Well, slobbering dauphin, I have shut up Fort Hoity for the bleaker months, and am set upon a long and arduous journey to Castle Blunkett, there to hole up for the winter tormenting the peasantry and eradicating disease among the horses and guide dogs. I wish you to accompany me, for so vast is the castle that you can have your own wing to slobber in, slobber as you will.

The Princeling :  Slobber slobber slobber.

Then came a wind such as swept across the glinka on autumnal mornings, a bitter wind. Arpad helped the weedy Princeling up on to a horse, and off he rode, slobbering onto the horse’s magnificent shining mane, riding into the wind.

Boogie Woogie

One of the most common difficulties facing newcomers to the teachings of Trebizondo Culpeper is the complete absence, anywhere, of boogie, coupled with the almost terrifying prevalence, throughout, of woogie.

In his magisterial if incoherent Syncretic Glossary Of The “Way” Of Trebizondo Culpeper, J K Pox devotes some three hundred pages to what he calls “the boogie-woogie conundrum”. One can argue that there is no conundrum, but that doesn’t stop Pox harping on about it. As ever, he is flamboyant, and one must admire his refusal to define his terms, as if in doing so the magic, if magic it is, would leach out of them.

“When thunder claps and wolves howl,” he writes, “When the sedge is wither’d on the lake, and gigantic mutant crustaceans come a-clattering on to the sandbanks, then, then! my sweet dear ones, is when we are most tempted to admit into our souls some sort of boogie. Squash the very thought underfoot, as one might a fig during a fig-glut. No, there is not and never has been and never will be boogie, if we follow the Way with eyes bright and brows clean. There is only woogie, blessed, blossoming and blanketing, at once tough as nails and chewy as the king and queen of toffees. So we are taught by Trebizondo Culpeper and so we have embroidered upon our pullovers. Link arms and sing, as snow falls and tinkly things tinkle. Sing!”

Pox does not go on to say what song it is his readers and students should be singing. To do so may have been psychologically impossible for him, for as we know he was, when young, expelled from the Conservatoire before his studies had properly begun, following the incident described in pages 45 to 64 of Pebblehead’s bestselling paperback The Gummed-Up Tuba And The Worm-Eaten Spinet.

Pebblehead Goes To Porlock

Some years ago, I wrote about Dobson’s foolish theory that the person from Porlock who fatally interrupted the composition of Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge was, in fact, some kind of pod person from a parallel Porlock beyond the stars. I noted at the time that Dobson had never seen fit to devote a pamphlet to this twaddle, leaving us in some doubt as to the nature of this pod person, and in utter ignorance about the Porlock from whence it came.

Most people who have studied the matter conclude that the person in Dobson’s theory was a flesh-eating space zombie hatched from a pod, the pod itself brought to the vicinity of the Exmoor cottage in which Coleridge was staying by a primitive interplanetary cargo ship, intentionally or otherwise. But if this were so, and one such pod person came bashing upon the cottage door, how did the poet survive such an encounter? Survive it he did, of course, going on to live a long(ish) and fantastically talkative life thereafter.

Other questions surround the matter of Porlock, whether – in the theory – the pod-packed cargo ship crash-landed in the Somerset village of that name, or whether there is, somewhere in the mighty universe, a planet Porlock where are bred pod persons.

The latest writer to turn his attention to this fascinating business is Pebblehead, whose brand new bestselling paperback is entitled Person From Porlock! Note the missing Pod prefix. Pebblehead’s book is a first-person narrative, as if recounted by the “person on business from Porlock” himself, beginning a week before he strides o’er the loam to the cottage where Coleridge is ensconced, and ending, years and years later, as he faces death in a Victorian Porlock workhouse, his business, and his wits, having failed. In a tremendously exciting passage, Pebblehead has the raving and babbling person from Porlock imagining, on his deathbed, an encounter with his pod-doppelgänger who, it transpires, has been skulking about in his wake, like the familiar in the story by J Sheridan Le Fanu, ever since the fateful day in 1797 when he rapped upon Coleridge’s cottage door.

Several readers have pointed out the efforts Pebblehead takes to emphasise that this part of his narrative is, in his own words, “the hysterical drivel of a brainsick maniac”, and taken this to be a barb aimed at Dobson. Could it be that the paperbackist is limbering up for his long-rumoured unauthorised biography of the out of print pamphleteer, a work in progress which, it is said, will topple Dobson from his plinth in the pantheon of pamphleteers? No word comes from Pebblehead’s “chalet o’ prose”, only the sound of the indefatigable hammering of his fat fingers upon his battered and bloody keyboard.

Person From Porlock! by Pebblehead is published by Hefty Airport Bookstall Paperbacks Ltd, and is available from all good airport bookstalls.