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)

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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…

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

Epigone

According to the art critic Cosmo Hoxtonwanker, “few things boost the ego of the great artist as much as the emergence, and failures, of their epigones, talentless imitators whose own work never cuts the mustard, but clearly owes everything to the example of the master. The opportunities for preening are legion.”

One might have hoped that the egos of the truly great would need no such puffing up, but Hoxtonwanker is surely right in this (as he rarely is in anything else). One thinks of the out of print pamphleteer Dobson, convinced at an early age that he would bestride the twentieth century like a colossus, but at the same time forever riven by doubts and insecurities. Marigold Chew has recalled how happy Dobson would be when some neophyte pamphleteer would blunder onto the scene, publishing a handful of hand-stitched copies of a tract with a title like Gosh, How I Wish I Was Dobson!, in prose that curdled as one read it. The bestselling paperbackist Pebblehead is reported to be equally gleeful when he sees the shelves stacked with pathetic imitations of his own tremendously thick glossy potboilers, so much so that he invites their authors round to his “chalet o’ prose” for cocktail parties, lording it over them and taunting them, often physically, by poking at them with a stick and dropping beetles into their drinks.

It is, of course, only the supreme talents, in any creative endeavour, who provoke the slavish and witless efforts of epigones. The rest of us must continue to plough our lonely furrows, keeping our spirits up as best we may, our egos fragile and subject to the vicissitudes of a world of pap.

Until now. For it is with possibly preposterous overexcitement that I can report the latest innovation from Blodgett Global Domination Cyber Enterprises GmbH. For the past couple of weeks, this brand new company, operating from an allotment shed near Sawdust Bridge, has been seeking ways to crush the likes of Google and Microsoft under its singularly decisive boot. Their first product is designed to appeal directly to persons of a creative bent who wish like hell they had an epigone, for just the kind of ego-boost Hoxtonwanker identifies.

The E-Pig One is a tiny robot pig that can be plugged in to your computer with a USB cable or a bit of fusewire knotted to a magnet. Once initialised, synched, and prinked, the circuit boards in the E-Pig One start buzzing away, creating copies of your most recent creative projects – whether they be novels or paintings or three-hour slabs of improv racket – and then cleverly draining all the spark out of them (if any). The resulting mess is then belched out on to the E-Pig One’s so-called “sty”. It has all the hallmarks of your own work, as it might have been imitated by a lesser being without access to the empyrean peaks of creative genius you inhabit. So you can bask and preen, while the E-Pig One whirrs to a standstill, charging up for its next task.

Such has been the industry buzz, Apple are apparently already working on an iPig. It won’t succeed. The beauty of the E-Pig One lies almost entirely in its spelling. That is what the punters will pay for.

The Blind Man As Poultry Inspector

Jorge Luis Borges’ tenure as a blind inspector of poultry, while brief, was not without precedent. We recall the case of Pimty, two decades earlier and far, far from Buenos Aires. It may be an exaggeration to dub him, as did Pebblehead in the title of his bestselling paperback biography, The Illustrious Pimty, but that there was a lustre about him cannot be denied, unless you want to start a punch-up. Pimty’s blindness was more Blunketty than Miltonic, he was the sort of man who enraged cows, when he trespassed in their fields, at weekends, carrying a picnic basket, under a thunderous sky, escaping the poultry market with its tin roofs and yelling merchants, his prison in the week, the inspector’s hut, the braille calendar hanging tattered from a nail and the nail rusted, pricking him if he wasn’t careful, blood on his fingers as his hands fumbled delving into a hen’s croup, prodding, inspecting, as he was paid to do, oh and more than generously, he got a fair whack, and he spent it on booze and floozies, they haunted the poultry market, like figures from an early Kirchner, gaudy, angular, themselves sozzled on bathtub gin, sometimes they clucked just like the hens, particularly in the early afternoon, poor Pimty fuddled but up to his duty, tape measure round his neck like a tailor shifting schmutter, god knows why, it wasn’t his job to measure the hens, nor their eggs, they joked he thought it was some kind of loose cravat, as if being blind he wouldn’t know, they should have learned from their failed tricks, those mischievous poulterers, shoving a ball of dough stuck with feathers on the inspector’s table, his rage was as terrible as the cows when he opened the gate of the field with one hand, holding tight to the picnic basket with the other, out in the mist, oblivious of it, but not of the cows that bore down on him, on Saturdays and Sundays when the poultry market was closed, shuttered, a deserted patch of concrete and cement, stray feathers scattered, neglected by the janitor’s broom, the janitor Pimty’s pal, some said his half-brother, deaf as a post where the inspector was blind, they made quite a pair even without the blood tie, always playing card games at lunchtime, rummy and spite and my lady’s bonnet and Croesus, no money ever changing hands, the table rickety, sawdust everywhere, the stove in the corner, rain on the roof, birds pecking grain from the floor, shadow in the hut door of the inspector of inspectors looming, come for the rent and a check up, Pimty defiant, spitting out his words, hair standing on end as if he’d seen a ghost, half these hens are sick, man, what do you expect me to do, have a tot of gin while you tally my ledgers, I have to go and have a word with a man about a Buff Orpington and a Dutch Hookbill, and off Pimty goes, weaving across the familiar yard, sniffing the air, a storm brewing, better put on his sou’wester, yellow as a duck in a nursery book, shiny cardboard pages, stiff, buckled here and there, as you’d expect, he remembered gazing and gazing, rapt, when still so tiny with eyes that worked, before the operation, the surgeon cutting the useless withered nerves and then the blur black, the new life, the hard study, the Poultry Inspection Board, such an easy examination, what’s this, what’s that, this is this sir and that is that sir and a badge for merit, he still wears it, polishes it and buffs it, daily, after breakfast, kippers or bloaters, Schoenberg cassette, Transfigured Night, day too, thinks Pimty, day too, transfigured and transformed, weekday poultry market and weekend picnic, when he gets out, humming as he approaches the gate in the field, beyond which angry cows await him, and he pacifies them, sweet nothings, try the same thing on the hens and there would be mayhem, that much he discovered, one awful Thursday, it was raining then too, and he slipped on straw or grease and gashed his leg, you won’t find a better tourniquet than a tape measure, believe you me, still there was much blood spilled before it was taut, Pimty’s gore, like a rare expensive wine, metallic bouquet, and something in it irresistible to ducks, dozens of them falling upon it like starvelings, splashing about in his blood, the inspector deafened by clucking, thinking I better find out exactly what it is that’s in my veins, I may be a miracle of medical science, who’d have thought, hens maddened by the blood-splattered ducks, shrieking tangles, add in the sirens from the emergency services and you have complete havoc, but Pimty back at the poultry market next morning, behind his table, sticking his fingers up a duck’s fundament, the sense of touch unerring, even through the rubber glove, bright yellow like the rainhat, like the ducks in the nursery book, so much yellow, it was Pierre Bonnard who said you can never have enough yellow, no more yellow for Pimty but the yellow in his brain, remembered yellow, bright enough when he strains the synapses, you can almost hear them ping and twang, if you listen carefully, and Pimty does, he’s all ears, that’s why he hears the enraged cows in the field even before they are enraged, before his thumb clicks open the gate, on picnic days, in sunshine or mist, or once, when his watch stopped, in the middle of the night, high wind, cattle in slumber, owls hooting, Pimty with his rug and hamper, jam sandwiches, fishpaste, cocoa, a drowned beetle in the flask, the janitor never joins him, Greb the janitor, he goes instead on organised picnics for the hard of hearing, to the grounds of castles and stately homes, not cow-strewn fields, always in daylight, light Pimty doesn’t see and hasn’t seen for years, though he senses it on his eternally closed lids, heat and cold, damp and haze, he no longer bothers with the sunglasses he used to sport, frames too heavy on the nose, he smashed them underfoot in a temper, drunk to hell at the time, swigging as he smashed, at the poultry market but off duty, on a Tuesday afternoon, with a floozie on his arm, giggling, egging him on, a bit batty if truth be told, or dotty, that’s the word, fond of the poultry, too fond maybe, in an unseemly way, kept trying to abduct a hen or a duck or a goose, take it home as a pet, oh go on Pimty nobody will miss it, I can call it Flopsy or Clytemnestra and make a pond for it in my bathtub, feed it grain or whatever it eats, I know a grain supplier, a man with a silo, oh pretty please, but for all he was drawn to grandiose debauch Pimty was as conscientious a poultry inspector as the market ever had, and he foiled her kidnaps, every one of them, using his lustre, really quite mysterious, but absolutely effective, going by results, the inspector of inspectors always had a good word for him, back at headquarters, that man Pimty is a bloody marvel, never a day goes by that his poultry inspections aren’t a masterclass in the art, even when he’s sozzled, there is a lustre about him that makes my jaw drop, Pimty never heard any of this, they never invited him to HQ, not even to the cocktail parties, a stuffy bunch, and him shall we say difficult, haphazard in certain settings, liable to break things, jugs, plates, toasters, he was a devil with toasters, rarely invited anywhere, hence the lonely picnics, Pimty in a field beneath the enormous sky, placating angry cows, sprawled on his rug, away from the poultry, maybe that was when he worked at his lustre, it was as if he emitted rays, no, a sheen, unearthly, when he chose to switch it on, which he certainly did when Pebblehead came calling, he’d heard rumours, bustled into the poultry market first thing Monday morning, in cape and spats, entourage of bodyguards, so where’s this blind inspector I’ve been hearing about, tell me dammit, I have a paperback to write, ah good day to you sir, gosh, Pebblehead dumbstruck, slumps in a chair, an assistant takes notes, Pimty all the while inspecting geese and hens and ducks, even a swan, mute, he doubles up on rubber gloves, uses some sort of beam, strange miniature torch, works its controls so so deftly, but the swan is dead, they prosecute the merchant, huge pile of legal papers, even bigger pile of braille for Pimty, big thick sheets, untold thousands of dots, he knows the whole thing backwards, fantastic witness, visits the swan killer in prison, dank cell, no smoking, repent, repent, but we can never have you back at the poultry market, you crossed a line and I drew that line, yes, and it’s indelible, like all my lines, wherever I draw them, he’s babbling, Pimty, making it up as he goes along, to strike the fear of god into the convict, before he’s shipped away, over the sea, to a penal colony, one specially built for bird-killers, rocky and remote, blasted by gales, screeching gulls, auks, guillemots, sky cold and grey and hopeless, place of penitence, prising barnacles from stone for food, all in Pimty’s mind, vengeful, eaten away with hatred, teeming visions, the hen in the brain, oh yes, lustrous, Pebblehead saw that, but he had no idea of Pimty in the round, the whole man, duck messiah, goose god. It is certainly worth reading the biography, soon to be a film, but much of what Pebblehead writes is nonsense. For one thing, Pimty looked absolutely nothing like Anthony Burgess.

Writer-In-Residence

The people of Pointy Town were once asked, in a referendum, if they wanted William S Burroughs as their writer-in-residence. Sensibly, they rejected him, arguing en masse that he was a gun-toting drug-addled nincompoop who took himself far too seriously and was, in turn, taken far too seriously by the kind of people who don’t actually read many books. That cut-up business may have won him some fashionable fans, but it’s just pictures of Jap girls in synthesis, innit? No, the Pointy Towners prefer their prose sequential and sparky, which is why they picked Pebblehead. But the bestselling paperbackist turned them down, for he was loth to live in Pointy Town, and residence therein was obviously a sine qua non for the position. There was a half-hearted plot to abduct Pebblehead from his “chalet o’ prose” high in the Swiss Alps and forcibly remove him to Pointy Town, but it fell apart by dint of timidity and awe.

The people then called for the appointment of Christopher Smart, author of Jubilate Agno. That great poem had recently become popular in Pointy Town as a method of organising civic behaviour. A line or two would be chosen at random each day, much in the manner of bibliomancy, but rather than foretelling the future the chosen text was, as far as possible, “acted out” by all literate Pointy Towners, and used as a sort of guide to their public conduct in the streets and boulevards. It had to be gently pointed out to them that Smart was long dead, and that while, at a pinch, it may have been possible to exhume whatever remained of him and have it reinterred in L’Etoile Du Pointy Town Cemetery, there could be no expectation of any new writing being done.

Pointy Town being a town without art, the panel next made the curious suggestion that the writer-in-residence post be offered to art critic Cosmo Hoxtonwanker. The thinking was that he might be able to identify this or that which could be considered as art, or could become art if viewed through artistic lenses. This idea was dismissed as foolhardy even faster than the rejection of Burroughs.

The next name out of the hat, as it were, though there was not actually a physical hat as such, was that of Jeanette Winterson. Although it was thought by many that she was far too important a writer to be persuaded to bother herself with a dismal provincial backwater like Pointy Town, initial inquiries proved positive. The people were divided, but a slim majority found in her favour, and the panel had gone so far as to evict all the guests from the Grand Hotel on the seafront so the even grander novelist could be installed there and have the building and its lovely gardens all to herself. Alas, negotiations fell through when the great author said she would refuse to write with the Pointy Pencil Of Pointy Town, considering it to be a phallocentric symbol.

At this point, quite unexpectedly, William S Burroughs, having heard the rumours, turned up in the town. He lurked on pathways like a ghoul of dreadful countenance, injecting himself with heroin and clearly lapping up being the cynosure of a certain cast of impressionable teenperson devoted to the “edgy”. His presence grew so tiresome that eventually he was pelted with pebbles and laughed at until he left town.

Still, though, Pointy Town was without a writer-in-residence. Even twee versifier Dennis Beerpint could not be persuaded to take on the job. And so the plan was quietly dropped… on the very day that, hoving into view on the horizon, huge and terrible and drooling, the Grunty Man approached! Could he wield the Pointy Pencil in his great clumsy fist? Inside that lumpen head, were there actually any thoughts that could be put down on paper, or even any thoughts at all? Was there in all Pointy Town a barn big enough to contain him in comfort?

Read on next week in Episode Two, in which the Grunty Man wrests editorship of the Pointy Town Clarion & Big Thumping Iron Hammer from milquetoast fop Gervase Weed!