Kew. Turge.

One twentieth-century Thursday, under a leaden sky, the balletomane Nan Kew was gadding about the boulevards of Pointy Town when she encountered the Swiss dramaturge Rolf Turge, accompanied by his deputy dramaturge Bob Dep.

Cue much mwah! mwah! kissing of both air and cheeks, immediately after which Nan Kew, balletomane that she was, began babbling excitedly about a new ballet she had seen only the other day, a work of contemporary urgency in which the Hungarian toxic sludge disaster was interpreted in the form of ungainly cavorting and the tooting of piccolos.

“I agree it is both urgent and contemporary,” Rolf Turge managed to interrupt after ten minutes or so, “But it lacks the even greater contemporaneity and hectic urgency with which a dramaturge, particularly a Swiss one, would imbue it.”

Bob Dep remained silent, for unlike many a deputy, he was not facetious.

“Even were I to concede that so unimprovable a ballet could be improved,” said Nan Kew, “Surely an indigenous Hungarian dramaturge would out-turge one from Switzerland, no?”

“Might I suggest,” said Rolf Turge, “That so ballet-bedizened is your balletomane brain that the grand heroics of Swiss dramaturgy fall outwith your pond of competence?”

Had they not been such fast pals, Nan Kew might have taken offence at this. As it was, she made a mental note to ponder, next time she could concentrate on something other than the ballet for a few minutes, Rolf Turge’s curious choice of the image of a pond to represent her area of knowledge and expertise.

Bob Dep, who was skilled in the telepathic arts, chuckled and butted in.

“Ponder ponds as you like, Nan Kew, but the guvnor’s usage merely reflects his, and my, current preoccupation, which is the pond plays of Maud Wasp, the waspish playwright.”

“Have any of them been adapted as ballets?” asked the balletomane, predictably.

“Not as such,” said Bob Dep. If examined, this could be seen as an enigmatic statement, but though he was telepathic, the deputy was as enigmatic as he was facetious, which is to say not at all.

Nan Kew was about to resume her seemingly endless blathering about the Hungarian toxic sludge disaster ballet, but before she could do so Swiss dramaturge Rolf Turge blurted out a dramatic expostulation.

“Look!” he cried, “A hole has been dug in the road, by some agency unknown to us, though we might surmise it to have been a fellow with a spade.”

He pointed, as only a Swiss dramaturge could, with an elegant beringed finger at the hole, and both Nan Kew and Bob Dep peered where he pointed.

The two gentlemen and the lady then contemplated the length of dug-up pipeline exposed by the digging. At that very moment, the astonishingly tall Renaissance man Peter Blegvad was passing by, and he executed a drawing of the scene, helping to make it vivid for us.


But not, perhaps, as vivid as we would like. The original drawing was fanatic with detail of Nan Kew, Rolf Turge, and Bob Dep, so much so that one might have mistaken it for a hyperrealist linocut by noted hyperrealist linocutter Rex Hyper. But when Peter Blegvad showed the finished drawing to the trio, they became strangely fractious, and insisted that he obscure their features. Reluctantly, he did so, as you can see.

Unbeknownst to Peter Blegvad, the balletomane and the dramaturge and the deputy dramaturge were each of them on the run from the Pointy Town police force, following a series of crimes against the performing arts. How one might commit such crimes is a mystery, as Mrs Robert Fripp might put it. Maud Wasp would put it more waspishly, were anyone to ask her opinion. But nobody did, for she lived in an ivory tower, with her pet wasp Martin, in an atmosphere of Jacobean tragedy.

Pointy Town Drinking Dens

One of the more unusual features of Pointy Town is that its sots and topers gather in beer palaces and gin gardens, rather than the more familiar vice versas. This idiosyncratic arrangement of drinking dens is thought to date back to the time of Robin Hod, the bricklaying outlaw dressed all in green, who stole from a ditch to give to a Boer. Who knew there were Boers in Pointy Town? It is possible that I have misheard or misunderstood the legend, wittered at me by a passing storyteller I met on a beaten track, and that Robin Hod fenced his stolen goods to a boor, or even a bore. There are plenty of both in Pointy Town, as you quickly learn if you spend any time in one of the beer palaces or gin gardens. What has always puzzled me, more than the possible colony of expat Boers in Pointy Town, is the nature of Robin Hod’s ditch theft. I mean, what could you come upon in the average ditch that would be worth stealing? Some mud? Brackish puddle water rife with tiny wriggling beings? A broken and rusty and abandoned pram or bicycle? Certainly not the latter, for the ditches of Pointy Town are famously free of such unsightly excrescences, swept clean, or clean-ish, as they are, once a week, on a rotation system, by the Pointy Town Ditch Maintenance Patrol. It is thought that Robin Hod recruited his so-called “merry men” from the ranks of disaffected or incapable Ditch Patrol has-beens. He tried to teach them bricklaying, but the lure of the beer palaces and gin gardens was too powerful. It was almost magnetic, if you can imagine such a thing.

Glad Tidings From Pointy Town

Glad tidings from Pointy Town, where there has been a massive increase in the number of applications to join the local chapter of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club. You will recall that a troop of Pointy Town Weldists, on an ill-starr’d charabanc outing, made an important archaeological discovery. If by chance you do not recall it, I can refer you back to an account of it through the magic of “het internet” hyperlink.

Incidentally, did you know that British Telecom once tried  – unsuccessfully – to claim copyright of the word hyperlink? That is true, though you ought not believe similar stories, such as Tesco laying claim to the phrase sausages on the cheap, The Grauniad trying for muddle-headed leftie blather, or both the BBC and ITV attempting to copyright maverick police officer with “issues”.

Anyway, it appears that the tale of the finding of the tomb of Anaxagrotax has drummed up an unprecedented amount of interest in the Tuesday Weld Fan Club, in spite of the fact that many younger Pointy Towners have absolutely no idea who Tuesday Weld is. Perhaps they think if they are allowed to join the club they will be taken on charabanc outings by sinister, spidery drivers, although my understanding is that there have been no excursions since the one reported here. In fact, there is some mystery regarding the precise activities of the Fan Club, for they have held no jamborees, jumble sales, Weldathons or film screenings for a very long time. Even their newsletter, Weld!, published every week on Tuesday, has ceased to appear in the newsagents’ kiosks of Pointy Town.

I did manage to track down the minutes of the most recent executive committee meeting, but it was difficult to wring any sense out of them. Take this, for example:

We lent our ears to a man standing on one leg, who puffed upon a flute and called us fools. When he did so, he stretched out the “oo” in “fools” so that it lasted several minutes. During the whole time he maintained his monopod posture. Eventually, he was asked by Weldist No. 472 how this imprecation related to Tuesday Weld. In reply, he gave another somewhat wheezy puff on his flute and stole softly away, like Jack-in-the-Green.

Is this evidence of some sort of esoteric hoo-hah going on in the preciously staid atmosphere of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club? Certainly the sheer numbers of new applicants suggest a coup or takeover. But what in heaven’s name could their agenda be? I shall keep a beady, if myopic, eye on these matters, and may send Mrs Gubbins to be an infiltrator among the infiltrators.

Meanwhile, to keep you occupied while you await further developments, here is a cut out ‘n’ keep Tuesday Weld to print, ‘n’ cut out, ‘n’ keep upon your mantelpiece. Dust it often, and dust it well.


Pointy Town

Today’s Grauniad has an article asking if Brighton is the “hippest city in Britain”, whatever that might mean. (I have not provided a link to the piece, for I feel sure Hooting Yard readers have better things to do with their time.) I mention it only to note that a far more cogent question would be “Is Pointy Town The Pointiest Town In The Known Universe?” Unfortunately, this would not fill much space in a newspaper, as the answer is quite obviously “Yes, it is”. One could I suppose extrapolate upon the most pointy of the pointy attractions of Pointy Town, and perhaps one day soon I shall do so. But will the Grauniad publish it?

Werewolf Tax

It is a wonder that, in all the talk of the nation’s parlous financial state and of the need to reduce the deficit, none of the main – or indeed minor – political parties has suggested one particular way of raising revenue. It has been left to economics guru Bingley Swelling to call for a werewolf tax.

In a paper presented to the Pointy Town Pointyhead think-tank last week, Professor Swelling outlined, with bullet points, some of the benefits of such a tax. There were three bullet points in total, of gold and silver and bronze, and it should be said that they were not made, literally, by firing bullets from a Mannlicher-Carcano sniper’s rifle à la Oswald, but represented by puncturing three holes in the Professor’s cardboard worksheet using a heavy duty hole-punch from Hubermann’s stationery department. The rim of each hole was then coloured accordingly with lead-based gold and silver and bronze paints applied with a long-handled Pastewick brush, of weaselhair. Beside the holes, or points, upon his cardboard, Swelling inked some text, with a biro, before propping the worksheet on a tubular metal display stand, for easy viewing by the think-tankists gathered to hear his… I was going to say “lecture”, but that does not quite give the flavour of the Swelling approach.

Not actually a werewolf himself, the Professor nonetheless had the appearance of one. If his yellow, bloodshot eyes, lumbering gait, and shocking hairiness were not enough, his speaking voice was akin to a lupine howl, whether the moon was full or otherwise. This made it hard to grasp what he was saying, hence the pedagogical aid of the cardboard worksheet with its bullet points. Thereagain, it would take a mind of infinite subtlety to interpret the hacking and stabbing marks made by the Swelling biro. His handwriting was atrocious, though in fairness, given the size and shape of his appendages, perhaps one should prefer the term paw-writing. Thus the paramount importance of the holes themselves, and the colours of their painted rims.

Here are some notes I took on the occasion. I hasten to add that I am not a paid-up Pointy Town Pointyhead, but I know how to worm my way into such meetings through bluffery and mesmerism.

Gold. Werewolves often have enormous reserves of wealth in the form of precious stones hidden in caves. Sometimes these jewels are embedded in the heads of toads, the toads being kept in cages hung from the roofs of the caves. Source : The Hidden Wealth Of Werewolves by Dobson (out of print).

Silver. Impossible to understand the first thing about this bullet point, other than the assertion that at least twenty billion could be raised “at a stroke”. But twenty billion what?

Bronze. Swelling’s clincher. A one-off levy, set at a swingeing rate, on all werewolves waylaid when attempting to embark on ships sailing across the mighty oceans bound for the mythical “island o’ werewolves”. Source : The Mythical Island Where Werewolves Think They Come From by Dobson (out of print).”

Unlike the pointyheads, who were wild-eyed and nodding enthusiastically, I identified a number of problems with Professor Swelling’s thesis, not least his overreliance on out of print pamphlets by Dobson as intellectual ballast. Still, even I have to admit that there is much here to chew over, and chew over it I shall, just as a werewolf might gnaw one’s vitals having sunk its fangs into one’s throat, out on the moors, on a moonlit night.

Tiny, Lethal

Reading an item in yesterday’s Guardian about tiny lethal phantasmal poison frogs, I was reminded of Dobson’s pamphlet My Terrifying Encounter With A Tiny Lethal Phantasmal Poison Frog (out of print). It is by any measure one of his most exciting works, guaranteed to have one panting for breath and to cause beads of sweat to break out upon the brow. This is due to the pamphleteer deploying, as he so rarely did, his remarkable ability for building suspense. Alerted by the title, we are in a state of heightened expectation for the appearance of the minuscule killer, so tiny yet so toxic. But Dobson is in no hurry to come face to face with the lethal frog.

He begins by recounting, in exasperating detail, how, in preparing for a morning trudge along the towpath of the old canal, he discovered that the aglets on his Batavian Crimebusters’ boots had become rusted and brittle, the bootlaces fraying as a result. Reluctant to don a different pair of boots – for reasons he enumerates over five pages – Dobson describes his search, in drawers and cupboards and hideyholes, for a replacement pair of bootlaces. Throughout this “desperate fossicking”, as he calls it, Marigold Chew is staring out of the window at the incessant rainfall, picking out a tune on her celeste, composing in her head the words of the song that would later be known as The Ballad Of Incessant Rainfall.

In his monograph on Dobson’s various items of footwear, Aloysius Nestingbird asks why the pamphleteer did not simply remove the laces from one of his other pairs of boots and reuse them when it became obvious that he had no pristine bootlaces to hand. He answers his own question by delving into Dobson’s infamous pamphlet Every Lace Has Its Own Boot (out of print), the work which plumbed in excruciating detail the unfathomable depth of the pamphleteer’s neurosis in these matters. Those of us who have read our Nestingbird will have his commentary in the back of our minds as we follow Dobson crashing about the house on his futile search. Twenty pages in, we are no closer to our own encounter with the tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog, but the tension is becoming unbearable. At the point where Dobson describes tipping out onto the floor the contents of a battered cardboard box kept under the kitchen sink, we are ready to put the pamphlet aside and to put the kettle on for a calming cup of tea.

Next, we take a nap, and when we return to the pamphlet we find that is what Dobson did too. Giving up hope of finding new bootlaces for his Batavian Crimebusters’ boots, and leaving Marigold Chew plinking and musing and staring out of the window, the pamphleteer retires to his nap-hub. Now he cranks up the suspense by treating the reader to a detailed account of his period of unconsciousness, accompanied by masterly, if somewhat florid, descriptions of his pillows, his coverlet, and his mattress. Nestingbird has remarked that “no one has ever written about the nap as brilliantly as Dobson. The only wonder is that he never devoted an entire pamphlet to the subject.” This is uncharacteristically careless of Nestingbird, who has overlooked the mid-period pamphlet Fifty Pages Of Prose About Daytime Naps In Theory And Practice (out of print). It is an inexplicable lapse on the part of the greatest of Dobsonists, one I am minded to attribute to his habit, in later years, of mulch ‘n’ mop cloth bish bosh flossy flapping.

And so we are put on tenterhooks, still awaiting the terrifying encounter with the tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog, wondering if perhaps when Dobson wakes from his nap it will be to find the diminutive assassin perched within his bouffant. But no. He wakes, he grunts, he stumbles to his escritoire and begins scribbling. What we now come upon is not the fatal frog, but one of the central mysteries of Dobsonist scholarship. This is what the pamphleteer tells us:

I woke, I grunted, I stumbled to my escritoire, and thereupon scribbled ten pages of mighty prose, putting the finishing touches to my pamphlet Six More Lectures On Fruit.

The puzzle is that no such pamphlet exists. Given the importance within the canon of the original Six Lectures On Fruit (out of print), it seems barely credible that Dobson could have completed a sequel only to destroy it so utterly that not a trace remains. As Nestingbird has demonstrated, though the pamphleteer wrote innumerable fragments and scraps and unfinished doo-dahs, whenever he considered a work complete he invariably published it, including the stuff that can only be described as bollocks. That is Nestingbird’s word, not mine. There is no other reference, anywhere, to this pamphlet, and in fact Marigold Chew, in a late interview, directly denied its existence. “Everything Dobson had to say about fruit,” she said, into a tape recorder, “is contained in the Six Lectures. The very idea that any further essays could have been wrung out of his brain is preposterous. He simply didn’t know enough about fruit.” As with all of Marigold Chew’s tape-recorded pronouncements, this has the ring of truth, and it is backed up by the remarks of the Pointy Town fruiterer Sigismundo Figorplumtree, who recalled that Dobson used to stand in front of his market stall fruit display scratching his head and wearing an entirely vacant expression for hours upon end on many a market day morning. As if that were not evidence enough, we have the famous incident when the pamphleteer took part in a charity fruit quiz on the radio and failed to answer a single question correctly.

My own theory about this perplexing mystery is that Dobson is deliberately pulling the wool over our eyes. By claiming to have written a pamphlet for which no credible evidence exists, he guesses, rightly, that our bafflement will be sufficient to make us forget all about the tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog, at least temporarily, so causing us greater terror and alarm when he reminds us about it a few pages later. It is an inspired display of narrative fireworks. Here is how he makes our hearts thump:

Having pocked the final full stop on my majestic fruit sequel, I decided to go a-trudging along the canal towpath in the incessant downpour after all. I determined to wear my Latvian Civic Cavalry boots instead of the Batavian Crimebusters’ boots, for the laces in the former were, I knew, in tip top condition. Earlier in the week I had run them through a pneumatic bootlace testing contraption hired from Hubermann’s. It was worth every penny, though when the time came to return the machine to that most gorgeous of department stores I admit I shed a few tears. As I trundled it along the lane atop my cart, I wondered if I would ever be able to afford to buy one of my own. Then all my bootlace problems would vanish in the ether! Perhaps, I thought, as I rounded the sordid duckpond, if I could write a pamphlet that would outsell a Pebblehead paperback, I might – oh, hang on, I am forgetting myself. You will want to know about my terrifying encounter with a tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog.

Aloysius Nestingbird rightly numbers this as among the top one hundred paragraphs ever committed to paper by the out of print pamphleteer. Yet even after this, Dobson continues to twist the knife. It seems the suspense could not be brought to a higher pitch, but it is. I have read the pamphlet a thousand times, studied it, subjected the text to the most abstruse critical scrutiny, and even discussed it with frightening Continental literary critics, all hornrimmed spectacles and atrocious beards and Gitanes and arrogant hand gestures, but still I cannot work out how he does it. No sooner has he reminded us of the tiny toxic Epipodobate with which he is destined to come terrifyingly face to face than he postpones the awful moment by spending dozens of pages wittering on about other types of poison dart frog, frogs in general, toads, green things, things with legs, tiny beings, poisonous beings, radiant beings, Ecuadorian and Andean life-forms, and – weirdly – the Flemish painter Dirk Bouts. Now we are unable to let the imminent encounter slip from our minds. There is no relief from the tension. (Dobson’s ability to shoehorn Bouts into his frog nightmare is sheer genius.) If the reader manages to get through all this without swooning or just dropping dead, it is a capital idea to toss the pamphlet aside and put the kettle back on, or, if there is a dog in the vicinity, to take it for a walk, and let it off its leash, when one reaches an expanse of greensward, and throw a stick for it to fetch, repeatedly, and then perhaps to head to a pond, and take from one’s pocket the paper bag of stale breadcrusts one has brought with one, and chuck the crusts one by one into the pond as nutriment for ducks, if there are ducks in the pond, or swans, if there are swans, and unleash the dog again and allow it to leap friskily into the pond for a swim, if the bye-laws permit the swimming of dogs in the pond, then on the way home pop in to the orphanage to distribute alms, and perhaps leave the dog there, to serve as the orphans’ pet, unless the orphanage is in a designated risk o’ rabies zone, in which case Skippy, or Praxis, or whatever the dog is called, will have to be returned to wherever it was one gathered it, from outside the post office perhaps, or the dog pound, and then as one skips lightly along the path towards one’s door, becalmed, becalmed, one will be both physically and mentally prepared to face the final hideous revelation of the Dobson pamphlet, the encounter, so long threatened, with the tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog of the title, so, once safely back in the parlour, thirst quenched by that nice cup of tea, one can fling oneself into one’s armchair, à la Nayland Smith in the Fu Manchu books of Sax Rohmer, and in hands no longer shaking with fear, pick up the pamphlet, and read…

And then, as I crept from the wreckage of the aeroplane onto an Andean slope, so incredibly high above sea level, out of the corner of my eye I saw something. It was tiny. It was lethal. It was phantasmal. It was poisonous. It was a tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog! I was transfixed with terror. My whole body stiffened, as if I were a piece of timber. The slopes of the Andes are steep, so immediately I began to roll downhill, just as a piece of timber would.. As I rolled, so the distance grew between me and the tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog, until I could no longer see it. By the time I came to rest at the foot of that Andean slope, I was no longer paralysed with fear. The tiny lethal phantasmal poison frog was far, far above me now, in the thin air, and it was so tiny I calculated that even hopping as frantically as it could, I would be long gone before it reached sea level. I stood up, in Ecuador, and walked away from the mountain, delivered from peril, sound of limb, numb of brain, writer of pamphlets.

One Thousand

Today there is cause for celebration. No, not the Muggletonian Great Holiday, that was last week. The reason for unbridled cheer is that what you are reading is the one thousandth postage at Hooting Yard since the site was rejigged at the beginning of 2007. (I cannot recall precisely how many postages appeared in the old format, to be found in the 2003-2006 Archive, but if memory serves it is something in the region of 950.) A milestone to be celebrated, then – but how?

Ideally, you lot would cancel all other engagements, put your feet up, and spend the rest of the day rereading all one thousand postages, in chronological order, making notes in your jotter, pausing occasionally to stare out of the window as you mull over a particularly arresting item, and generally wallowing in the sheer Hooting Yardiness of it all. Always remember that a day devoted to Mr Key is never a wasted day. However, I am sensible enough to realise that most of you will have other things calling on your attention, such as feeding the hamster, waiting at the bus stop, smoking, genuflecting, pootling about, milking the cows, rummaging in the attic, taking your pills, repairing the fence down by the drainage ditch, tallying up the entries in your ledger, doing the dishes, spreading jam on bread, clutching at straws, embarking on a perilous journey downstream by kayak, grovelling in filth, putting the spuds on, intoning spells against the pestilence, mucking about, boiling your shirts, describing an arc parallel to the surface, dusting the mantelpiece, rekindling that lost love, chopping celery, going for gold, doing the odd bit of trepanning, squeezing out sponges, cutting up rough, vomiting, preening, polishing your shoon, checking the gutters, making hay while the sun shines, piling Ossa upon Pelion, folding your towels, voting with your feet, remembering a childhood idyll, splitting an atom, clocking in, lurking in the shrubbery, gathering your wits, burning an effigy, being Ringo Starr, toiling to no purpose, making whoopee, burgling the Watergate building, casting the runes, mesmerising a duck, emptying the bins, licking some stamps, darning a hole in your pippy bag, crunching numbers, thwacking a bluebottle, going rogue, distributing alms to paupers, looking shifty, holding out a glimmer of hope, pole-vaulting, caterwauling, playing pin-the-paper-to-the-cardboard, rinsing lettuce, closing the barn door, glorying in crime, sticking to the point, feeling off colour, pondering the ineffable, gargling, straining, wheedling, pining, flailing, and lying crumpled and woebegone and exhausted and hot-in-the-brain. You may have to do all of these or none, but in either case the chances are that you will be unable to devote your every waking hour to Hooting Yard, even though you yearn to do so. We shall have to come up with some other form of celebration.

It is at times like these a person’s thoughts turn to cake. It will have to be an enormous cake, to fit a thousand candles on to it. Think of all that burning wax!

I shall leave you with that thought, and press on. One could, of course, throw a party. Invite a thousand guests, and have each of them commit to memory, for party-piece recital, the text – or, as bespectacled postmodernist Jean-Pierre Obfusc would say, the discourse – of one Hooting Yard postage (including this one). The drawback to this otherwise fantastic scheme is that some postages run to thousands of words, whereas some, very occasionally, have been wholly pictorial, other than the title. Allocating all one thousand to the satisfaction of every single guest is a task fraught with difficulty, and is unlikely to be achieved without conflict and, indeed, fist-fights. Now, incidents of physical violence are not unknown among the readership. Even the surprisingly numerous Hooting Yard devotees of the Mennonite faith engage in punch-ups from time to time. Don’t even go there, as the airheads say. Taken all in all, I am not sure the party is such a good idea. Anyway, where would you fit so many people? They would not all fit into your chalet or hovel or well-appointed yet curiously pokey high-rise urban living pod, and rental fees for barns and disused aeroplane hangars have gone though the roof, according to what I have been reading in So You Want To Rent A Barn Or A Disused Aeroplane Hangar, Do You, Chum? magazine. (It’s interesting to note, by the way, that the late Harold Pinter was on the editorial advisory board of this threatening, sinister publication.)

Cake, burning wax, and party all proving prohibitive, what are we to do? Well, in extremis, one can always turn to Mrs Gubbins for some outré ideas. For once in her life, the octogenarian crone is not helping police with their inquiries, in spite of that dodgy business with the pile of mysteriously bleached bones and the trained vulture, and she is to be found snugly ensconced in an attic room at Haemoglobin Towers, furiously unravelling tea-cosies. Where once she did knit, now she unravels. By heck, there will be a glut in the used wool market by the time she is done! It is possible this is part of yet another criminal scheme, but if so it is one that is far too complicated for my puny and innocent brain. Best to ask no questions, and leave La Gubbins to her unravelling. I popped my head in to her sanctum, though, just to ask if she had any bright ideas for a Hooting Yard Thousandth Postage celebration. She looked up, fixed me with that unnerving gaze, like a blind person looking at a ghost, and pronounced the single word “Nobby”. Then she went back to her unravelling.

It was difficult to know what to make of this. The only Nobby that sprang to mind was Nobby Stiles, the popular Manchester United and England midfielder of the 1960s. His joyous capering on the pitch after England hoisted the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966 had captured the imagination of the press in those more seemly times, so perhaps that was what Mrs Gubbins was recommending – joyous capering on a field of grass. Or was she suggesting that I should enlist Nobby Stiles to help with planning a celebration? It seemed unlikely, though not of course impossible, that the retired footballer was a Hooting Yard fan, but even if he was, I did not know him, had never even collected his autograph when I was a tot, and had no idea how to get in touch with him. I entertained the thought that perhaps the crone had said “knobby”, with a K, meaning that which is characterised by having knobs, or the quality of knobbiness, such as, for example, a gnarled tree-trunk, or the backs of certain kinds of toad, but that seemed even more unfathomable. La Gubbins being the kind of woman she is, it is likely that her pronouncement was a sweeping one, containing all possible meanings of “(k)nobby”, with and without a K, plus additional meanings thus far unrevealed to the common timber of humanity. But I am afraid I had to dismiss, as wildly impractical, the idea of getting Nobby Stiles, and perhaps some other lesser-known Nobbys, to assist me in arranging a celebratory caper, of people and toads, round and round a tree in a field, much as it was appealing.

It was back to square one, and as we all know, deep in our hearts, the question always to be asked at square one is “What would Dobson do?” The beauty of the question is that if we are able to arrive at a half-way sensible answer, we know the guidance given will be infallible. Working out a valid Dobsonian response, however, is to blunder along a path strewn with nettles and serpents, unless of course one is satisfied with the generic answer “Write a pamphlet!”, which is, admittedly, correct ninety-nine times out of a hundred. Even in the present case, I can think of few methods of celebration more apposite than that every one of my readers should sit down at their nearest escritoire and pen a pamphlet. But think of the logistics. Someone would have to collate all the screeds, typeset them, print them, and distribute them to an uncaring world. I try my best to retain an attitude of breezy optimism, but I cannot see it happening. And I have not seen any vans driving past recently announcing, from the lettering on their sides, that they are in the business of Pamphleteering Solutions.

But “Write a pamphlet!” is not, invariably, the answer to the question “What would Dobson do?” Very, very occasionally, by deep analysis of the question, exercising the brainpans to their fullest extent and beyond, a different answer is revealed. To find out what this is we need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the complete Dobson canon, and to have pieced together as much biographical information on the out of print pamphleteer as we can, not excluding rumour, hearsay, tavern mutterings, and wild surmise. That is why I put the question to Aloysius Nestingbird, who knows more about Dobson than anyone else alive. As it happens, Nestingbird is only barely alive, following a calamitous bobsleigh accident. Quite what a frail ninety-two-year-old was doing plunging down the Caspar Badrutt Memorial Perilous Ice Declivity at the Pointy Town Antarcticorama is a question for the bigwigs at the Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing, who I understand have already empanelled a Board of Geriatric Investigation to be headed by the fiercely independent, because ignorant of bobsleigh matters in general, Ant, or it might be Dec, the taller of the pair, the one with the glassy eyes of death.

Anyway, I bluffed my way into the clinic where Nestingbird languishes, using the techniques prescribed by Blötzmann in his Methods Of Dissimulation To Be Employed When Entering Restricted Medical Facilities (Second Series), an invaluable work which I always carry with me, just in case. Nestingbird was almost invisible beneath a panoply of tubes and wires and monitors and bleepers and what have you, but I ripped them out of my way and put my mouth to his still-bloody, gored ear, and put to him, in a dulcet whisper, the question. I want to arrange a celebration of the thousandth Hooting Yard postage. What would Dobson do? Nestingbird groaned, and some sort of despicable fluid bubbled out between his bloody lips, but he managed to tell me the answer, albeit in a croak so weak I barely heard it. But hear it I did. He said “Nobby”.

Returning home via the funicular railway, I racked my brains to see if I could wring any sense from this. Put in my position, it appeared, Dobson would “do Nobby”, or, I suppose, “do a Nobby”, as if that made any difference. Neither was a phrase I had ever heard before, and nor had any of my fellow-passengers, whom I badgered about it, growing, I am ashamed to say, rather hysterical, to the point where I was bundled off the train as soon as it reached the base station and taken round the corner, past snow-covered shrubbery, and handed over to Detective Captain Cargpan and his toughs. It is lucky for me that Cargpan is a fanatical devotee of Hooting Yard, otherwise I feel certain I would have ended up back in the clinic, and in a much worse state than Aloysius Nestingbird. Instead, the doughty copper let me off with a mussing of my tremendous bouffant. He didn’t know what “doing Nobby” was, either.

I had the sinking feeling that if I sought advice from anybody else, from born-again beatnik poet Dennis Beerpint, for example, or from Old Farmer Frack, I would get the same response. When I eventually arrived home, I made a cup of tea and heated a couple of smokers’ poptarts. Perhaps the celebration would have to wait upon the two-thousandth postage. Or perhaps I should be grateful for my simple snack. I sat down at the table, slurped the tea and shovelled down the bitter poptarts. Was this, after all, “doing Nobby”?


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!

Being A True Account Of The Discovery Of The Tomb Of Anaxagrotax

Be it known that on the fourteenth day of the month of March in the year of picklings last, MR THUBB, the Hon. Secretary of the Pointy Town chapter of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club, hired a charabanc for the purposes of an excursion to outlying parts of the said town, there to picnic and exchange pictorial collector’s cards of Tuesday Weld, her contemporaries and her peers.

That the driver of the charabanc was a man of frightful countenance and evil reputation. That he was said to have phantom limbs, additional to his given limbs, and that though these could not be perceived by the human eye in ordinary daylight, they were nevertheless present, and said driver might be said to have the form of a gigantic spider were he ever seen whole.

That the cost of the hire of the charabanc and driver was met by subscription to the excursions and picnicking fund of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club, administered by the Hon. Treasurer MR BRIMSTONE. That MR THUBB and MR BRIMSTONE were at loggerheads by cause of imponderables and fathomless mysteries known to none but they and their wives and the late beadle, MR FLAIL, perished of an ague in the month of February past. That the relict of MR FLAIL was confined to a madhouse wherein she did knit, in a phrenzy, in all her hours of wakefulness.

That the charabanc driver, by name BINNS, having agreed a route to the picnicking spot with MR THUBB, did diverge his vehicle up into the hills, whence his intention was to deliver all the excursioning members of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club into the clutches of the Grunty Man, who dwelt in a lair in said hills. That BINNS was to gain no pecuniary advantage from this treachery, in that his sole purpose was mischief and malfeasance. That the babblings of the excursionists within the charabanc excited them to such degree that none took cognizance of the divergence.

That much frost and ice lay on the roads in that month of March for it was a bitter season. That there was no grit to be had nor wherewithal of Pointy Town civic gritting persons to spread it upon the roads if there had been, for they were in dispute with regard to their stipend and held banners in a throng outside the civic hall and had tubs which they thumped with main force. That notwithstanding his great merit as a driver of the charabanc, BINNS caused the vehicle to skid ski-skaw-skoo off the appointed way and go plunging into a ditch some four miles as the crow flies past the Bypass at Blister Lane. That had BINNS taken the route agreed with MR THUBB such accident would never have occurred.

That the gentlemen and ladies of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club conducted themselves with decency and aplomb. That those who had been hurled from the charabanc assisted those who remained within its twisted wreckage to make their escape. That they gathered in the ditch and sipped with due daintiness from flasks of soup piping hot. That the Hon. Correspondence Secretary, MRS GLEETY, distributed to all Dr Gillespie’s Famous And Trustworthy Brain Powders For The Alleviation Of Disorders Of The Nerves And Integuments. That tears of emotion were shed when it was seen that MR THUBB and MR BRIMSTONE were putting aside their differences in the face of calamity and were shaking hands with each other with manly forbearance.

That a considerable time elapsed before it was noted that the charabanc driver BINNS was not present with the others in the ditch. That said BINNS had taken to his heels at the first opportunity. That his fleeing gained much expedition from the fact that his visible heels were accompanied by any number of phantom heels. That the direction of BINNS’ fleeing was into the hills, where he threw himself upon the mercy of the Grunty Man with terrible bewailings that he had failed in his appointed task. That the Grunty Man was a stranger to mercy and grunted loud and awful grunts and dragged BINNS into the depths of his lair. That not hide nor hair of BINNS was ever seen again on this spinning earth.

That the composure of the members of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club was a magnificent thing and a pride unto Pointy Town. That when wounds were bandaged and shattered bones set with splints, they clambered forth each and every one from the ditch to make the journey home on foot. That night fell and they lost their way yet did not once screech in terror nor complain of chill. That they kept their spirits up by calling one to another the titles of feature films in which Tuesday Weld had appeared, to which another would respond by calling out the name of the character she had played in said feature film, so that MR BRIMSTONE might call Rally ‘Round The Flag, Boys! and MRS GLEETY call Comfort Goodpasture, or MR THUBB call The Private Lives Of Adam And Eve and the Hon. Picnics Secretary MRS BLEARS call in return Vangie Harper.

That such jollies were brought cruelly to a close when it happened in the darkness that MR THUBB collided with an enormous block of masonry and was knocked insensible. That MRS GLEETY had exhausted her supply of Dr Gillespie’s Powders but was able to revive MR THUBB with a draught of arquebusade-water from a canister within her handbag. That it was resolved to remain in the lee of the enormous block of masonry pending the break of dawn, for it provided some shelter from a wild wind which now was roaring. That to pass the time until dawn, the excursionists hummed tunes made famous by Dudley Moore and Pinchas Zukerman, respectively the second and third husbands of Tuesday Weld.

That when dawn came and examination was made of the masonry it was found to be covered in greatly mysterious inscriptions in an alphabet unknown to even the most erudite member of the Tuesday Weld Fan Club. That this was by common acclaim MR SHAMBEKO who was the author of many learned books, among them being a history of Pointy Town, a topographical description of the area around the Blister Lane Bypass, and a shot-by-shot analysis of the feature film I’ll Take Sweden, in which Tuesday Weld appeared as the character JoJo Holcomb. That in scraping clumps of mud from the masonry the better to view the inscriptions, it became apparent that much of the block remained submerged below the ground. That MRS GLEETY produced from her handbag a number of gardening trowels which she carried on the aborted excursion in case within the vicinity of the picnic spot had grown such plants as campions and hellebore and lupins for the digging up and transplanting to her garden behind the house on Turpentine Boulevard in Pointy Town. That those of the party not yet faint with exhaustion set to with a will a-trowelling away the mud to reveal as much of the enormous block of masonry as their efforts might allow.

That thus was discovery made of the ancient tomb of Anaxagrotax. That MR SHAMBEKO thereafter wrote an account of the discovery and embarked upon an extensive lecture tour of many countries. That MR SHAMBEKO never failed to acknowledge the inadvertent part played by the evil spidery charabanc driver BINNS. That it remains unknown who or what Anaxagrotax was or in what era he lived if ever he lived at all. That his tomb now gleaming is surrounded by a fence to deter souvenir hunters, and that propped against the tomb, in a plain wooden frame coated with protection against the elements is a publicity photograph of Tuesday Weld, taken circa 1963 during production of the feature film Soldier In The Rain, in which she appeared as the character Bobby Jo Pepperdine. That it is apt that a soldier stands guard in a sentry box beside the tomb of Anaxagrotax, and that it is raining, and that there is no roof upon the box, so the rain falls directly upon the soldier, whose badge declares his name as Private Pepperdine.

Sick Amid The Blossoms

“O Dobson thou art sick! Thou art sick amid the blossoms! O what shall we do? What shall we do? Let thy pamphlets be our guide!”

This was the little recitation made, oh so plaintively, by a band of hiking orphans who stumbled upon a sick and feverish Dobson in a blossom-bestrewn field one morning in 1956. Orphan hikes were a short-lived social phenomenon of the decade, one which is almost forgotten today. Inspired by the Swiss film masterpiece The Hiking Orphans, children all across the land gathered into groups and went marching off o’er hill and dale, munching toffee apples and consulting extensively detailed maps. So popular did the hikes become that many of the tots taking part were not actually orphans at all. Some became dab hands at forging death certificates, others suffocated mama and papa in their beds, or poisoned their breakfast cereal.

Dobson became a sort of patron saint of the orphan hikers following publication of his pamphlet My Parents Are Dead, But Christ!, I Adore Hiking (out of print). Because of the blasphemous abuse of the Lord’s name in the title, the pamphlet was swiftly banned and the print run pulped, but such was the demand from hiking tinies that illegal Gestetnered copies were soon circulating, often secreted in the folds of the extensively detailed maps the orphans carried in waterproof pouches strung from lanyards around their scrawny necks.

These maps were themselves a marvel, more extensively detailed than any other maps ever made. It was said that the most extensively detailed of them showed the precise alignment of chaffinches perched on the branches of an aspen you would pass if you bore left at the hedge in which a rusted farm implement had been shoved and abandoned.

Unusually, Dobson’s pamphlet included an illustration of the great man, a linocut by the hyperrealist linocutter Rex Hyper which showed the pamphleteer’s visage in breathtaking hyperrealism. So familiar was his face to the more indefatigable orphan hikers, who pored over it whenever they sat down on a log to rest, that when a band of them came upon the sick and feverish figure sprawled amid the blossoms, they instantly recognised him as Dobson. Hence their plaintive recitation. Let us parse it.

“O Dobson thou art sick!”

The orphans are making it plain that they recognise the crumpled invalid for who he is, and they recognise, too, that unlike the blossoms amid which he languishes, he is far from blooming. We might criticise them for not being more specific in their diagnosis of his ague, but ought to remember that they are mere tots, and orphaned tots at that, except for the one called Vincenzo, who is a fraudulent orphan, having used his pocket money to purchase a counterfeit newspaper cutting claiming his ma and pa perished in an avalanche.

“Thou art sick amid the blossoms!”

By repeating their declaration of the pamphleteer’s medical condition, the orphans reinforce its seriousness. This is no fugitive swoon nor spasm, they are saying, nor is Dobson lying there with his limbs splayed out because he has simply tripped upon a clump. And having driven home the point, they go on to place it in a geographical location – “amid the blossoms”. If an air ambulance is coptering in the vicinity, equipped with fantastic sound detection technology calibrated to pick up piping orphan voices, they have pitched their recitation superbly. But of course, in 1956 such air ambulances were rare, and rarer still those with fantastic sound detection technology calibrated to pick up piping orphan voices. And the chances of one hovering in range of the blossom-bestrewn field in which Dobson lies crumpled are so remote as to be not worth a fig. Tiny they may be, but the orphans know this, and thus the despair of the next line.

“O what shall we do?”

We may be brave and doughty hikers, they say, we may be free from our often repressed and oppressive parents, God rest their souls, except for Vincenzo’s, obviously, yet we are still but fragile and vulnerable tinies, and faced with this dramatic medical emergency we are beflummoxed and in some cases about to burst into tears.

“What shall we do?”

The repetition here is a pleasing echo of the repetition of “thou art sick” in the opening lines. It also commands our attention. The orphan hikers are not larking about. They are confronting, probably for the first time in their lives, a mortal dilemma. Toughened as they are by their hikes, well able to ford streams and negotiate bramble patches and vault dry stone walls and run screaming from flocks of savage angry swans, they are not so tough that they can cope with the sight of a sick and feverish pamphleteer amid the blossoms. Well, Vincenzo can, because he is, let’s say, an interesting little chap. The way in which his voice drops out of the recitation for this pair of lines lends an added harmonic jouissance, if one is listening with due care.

“Let thy pamphlets be our guide!”

Vincenzo’s voice returns for this triumphant ending. There is renewed hope. Medically ignorant and lacking such kit as bandages and tablets and proprietary nerve tonics, the orphans have one invaluable resource – the stricken pamphleteer’s own pamphlets! For all of them, their imaginations sparked by Dobson’s illegal pamphlet on hiking, have each acquired their own little collection of his works, which they carry with them wherever they hike. They realise that by taking all their Dobson pamphlets out of their pouches and combing through the texts, they are bound to alight upon a passage absolutely pertinent to the situation. As the pamphleteer himself continues to groan amid the blossoms, the orphans end their recitation on this note of optimism.

So there we have the words in context. What is curious is that, for as long as the orphan hiking fad continued thereafter, roughly until the winter of 1958, the recitation became a sort of generic chant, along the lines of the seven dwarves’ * “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go”. Having been cured and then recuperated in a clinic a few yards away from the blossom-bestrewn field, Dobson was as hale and sprightly as ever, a fortnight after the orphans stumbled upon him, and yet they carried on chanting their recitation as they hiked hither and yon, from the outskirts of Pointy Town to the Terrifying Grim Black Mountainous Horror Of Gaar, and even further afield, to places beyond imagining. And as our little band crossed paths with other hiking orphans, their chant was picked up, until all across the land, from Blister Lane to the Big Wet Sea, every hiking orphan knew the words by heart, and chanted and hummed and howled them as they hiked.

* NOTE : See here for important seven dwarves information.

Big Damp Castle

According to the Gazetteer Of The Bailiwicks Of Pointy Town, Big Damp Castle is “a singularly fine example of an enormous foetid fortification covered in mould”. As its name would suggest, the castle is both big and damp. It has always been damp, ever since it was built hundreds of years ago slap bang next to the marshes. The baron who built it was convinced that, were he to be attacked, it was from the marshes that his foe would emerge. He was assured of this by his prognosticating woo-hoo wizardy man, who had seen the marshy foe in his dreams and in his dark glass and in his pictogram cards and in the entrails of his slaughtered poultry. Like most barons in those far-off times, the builder of Big Damp Castle had implicit faith in the woo-hoo spouted by the man in the pointy hat, who was always at his side.

Fumes and vapours and gases rose from the marshes and seeped into the very fabric of the castle, and it was covered in mould by the time the baron held a grand opening party to which he invited all the local peasantry. Many of them died of agues and maladies contracted in the foul damp atmosphere of the castle. The baron and his woo-hoo wizard seemed immune, and suffered no ill effects, though they spent much of their time creeping around the crenellations, on the lookout for the foe who would emerge from the marshes.

How different it is today. The marshes have been drained, and the land is now home to the Fictional Athlete Bobnit Tivol Memorial Running Track And Pole-Vaulting Pit & Pavilion. Every weekend, picnickers gather here in the rain to commune with the ghosts of the fictional athlete and his all-too-real coach and mentor, Old Halob. And above their picnics loom the filthy mould-covered towering walls of Big Damp Castle, big and damp and singularly fine.

The picnickers would run screaming for their lives, if they but knew that the marshy foe seen by the woo-hoo wizardy man all those centuries ago was still there, just out of sight, biding its time, awaiting the necessary conjunction of stars and vapours and drizzle to come howling and slashing into the picnic dimension. Whoever wrote the Gazetteer remains silent on that score. I wonder why.

I Am John’s Head

Dobson went through a strange phase where he was consumed by a mania to have an article published in the Reader’s Digest. This obsession – mercifully temporary – is thought to have been occasioned by water on the brain, following an incident when the pamphleteer toppled off Sawdust Bridge and was submerged in the icy river for over six minutes. His toppling may have been due to the fact that he was, at the time, breaking in a secondhand pair of Tunisian Air Cadet boots, and was unsteady on his feet. Hoisted by a crane from the madly gushing water some miles downstream, Dobson was taken to a riverside crane-person’s hut and plonked in front of a radiator to dry off. There was a shelf stacked with untold copies of the Reader’s Digest in the hut, and the pamphleteer browsed through them as he sat engulfed in steam.

Later, back at home, Dobson set himself to write a piece typical of the magazine’s content. He was in such a flap that he dashed off not one, but four articles, each entitled I Am John’s Head. These are not versions or rewritings of a single essay, but four discrete pieces of prose, and they could not be more different from one another.

In one, John is a Jesuit priest, and his head is the size and shape of a potato. He lives in Shoeburyness, and is wrestling with doubts about his faith, which make his head throb. In the second piece, the head is no longer attached to the body of John – a different John in this case – but floating free, much like a hot air balloon, and subject to the same hazards and imperilments as a balloon, except of course that a head has a much tougher hide. The third piece treats John as a host upon which the head feeds as a parasite. By general assent, this is the most unnerving of the four essays, and there have been attempts to suppress it. In number four, John and his head barely rate a mention, as Dobson seems to get carried away with a prolonged and rancorous piece of invective about the ill-fitting Tunisian Air Cadet boots which caused his Sawdust Bridge mishap.

Dobson seems to have got something out of his system by writing what scholars now call “The Four I Am John’s Head Essays”. He never submitted any of them for publication in the Reader’s Digest, shoving them into an old cardboard box and forgetting about them. In an interview late in life, he was asked about the essays, and asked also why he had not written one called I Am Jane’s Head. Unfortunately, the questions were put to the pamphleteer during the notorious Pointy Town Pavilion interview, in which no sensible, or even half way sane, replies were given, the interviewer’s legs were broken, the pavilion burned to the ground, and a blithely oblivious Dobson sat there drooling into a tin cup and babbling on about President Nixon’s fondness for mashing potatoes as a relaxation technique*, one he was minded to ape. We have no evidence that he ever did so.

The I Am John’s Head essays are due to be published for the first time in a single volume, with notes and commentary by upstart young Dobsonist Ted Cack, when he is released from a Swiss prison.

* NOTE : This is true, of course, but I cannot recall where I read it, and would be grateful to any reader who can direct me to further information.

UPDATE : Here is a reference to the source of my Nixon / mashed potato information. I will try to find the exact quotation during the coming days.

Replica Eden

Cardboard Adam stands hand in hand with cardboard Eve in front of a cardboard tree around which is twined a serpent of plasticine. Plasticine, too, are the fruits which hang from the cardboard branches of the tree. In truth, cardboard Adam and cardboard Eve are not so much holding hands as sharing a single hand between them, for they have been cut from a single sheet of cardboard. Cardboard Adam’s other hand is a plain cardboard hand, but to cardboard Eve’s other hand is stuck a glob of plasticine. It is not perfectly spherical, for a chunk has been taken from it. The suggestion is that cardboard Eve has bitten the chunk out of the plasticine fruit. Tiny glittering beads are sunk in the head of the plasticine serpent, and they give the impression that they are gazing at Eve’s cardboard hand.

There is a little motor attached by wires to the balsa wood panel upon which cardboard Adam and cardboard Eve are posed. Depressing a knob on the motor switches it on and causes the panel, and thus the cardboard figures, to tremble. Their trembling is redolent of the terror they experience when the Lord informs them of their Fall.

Over on the draining board, a third cardboard figure is lying flat. It has been daubed with a blotch of crimson paint, and punctured with a toothpick. This is cardboard Abel. Cardboard Cain has been chucked into a patch of filth out in the gutter, representing the Land of Nod.

It took me two years to make my replica Eden, or Eden and Nod. It was time well spent. I am now going to use my leftover cardboard and plasticine to make a model of Pointy Town pier, including the bats and the goats and the crocus.

Seed Studies

In Notes Pursuant To The Unravelling Of The Pamphleteer’s Plum Plan, we saw how Dobson believed he could learn about seeds by peering at them. Other than suggesting “entire afternoons” as the length of time for a seed peering session, much that we would wish to know remains unsaid. I suppose we can assume that Dobson planned to peer at the seeds of a plum tree, but if he is right that prolonged peering is in itself educational, one could, presumably, peer at any seed, or seeds. The pamphleteer refers to “seeds” in the plural, but does not specify how many. And one is left uncertain whether, for example, he envisages peering at a single, different seed on different afternoons, or at the same array of unnumbered seeds each time. Nor are we told whether he would use a powerful microscope. It would also have been helpful if Dobson could have given some clue as to the type of surface on which his observed seed or seeds would be deployed.

I mention all these points because it seemed to me dubious in the extreme that one would learn very much about seeds, or about anything else for that matter, simply by peering at them. And yet who was I to doubt Dobson, unarguably the most important pamphleteer of the twentieth century, albeit an out of print one? I resolved to put this peering business to the test. Given the lack of detail in Dobson’s account, I had to improvise somewhat.

I decided to buy a packet of birdseed, partly in homage to the famous “phantom Dobson” pamphlet, and partly because, at the end of my experiment, I would have something to scatter on the serried bird tables of Pointy Town, about which more later.

I removed a single seed from the packet, and placed it carefully on a piece of beige cloth laid flat on the tabletop. I chose beige as it is the most neutral of colours. Then I pulled up a chair and sat down, and plonked my elbows on the table and rested my chin in my hands. Not having a microscope, powerful or otherwise, I had to rely on my myopic eyes, peering at the seed through my spectacles. It was morning, rather than afternoon, but that meant I had a longer period of daylight to do my peering.

I peered at the seed for nine hours. The following day, I placed a handful of seeds on to the beige cloth and peered at them for five hours. The next day, I took another single seed from the packet, laid it on a sheet of expensive creamy notepaper, and peered at it for eleven hours. I continued seed peering every day for two weeks, neglecting all other concerns, and varying the number of seeds and the surface upon which they rested. One day I removed my spectacles, to get a blurry perspective. When I wasn’t peering at seeds, I made notes, not on the expensive creamy notepaper, which I save for letters to dowagers and contessas, but in a notebook I bought especially, on the cover of which I pasted a label reading “Seed Studies”.

So was Dobson right? By the weird and eerie Gods that stalk the land of Gaar, of course he was! When all my peering was done, and I went a-scattering the birdseed on the serried bird tables of Pointy Town, my brain was fat with seed-lore. I have a hard task ahead of me, but I aim to marshal the notes in my Seed Studies notebook into a coherent text, to be issued later this year, or perhaps next, as The Hooting Yard Ṻbertome Of Seeds. I suspect it will make every other book about seeds ever published fit only for the dustbin. And all thanks to Dobson, to whom, of course, the Ṻbertome will be dedicated.

The Branch Line Less Travelled

Every now and then I receive letters from readers asking me to give some account of the geography of Hooting Yard and its hinterland. I have a standard reply to such requests, which is to say that through diligent study of the writings you could draw a map yourself. It would involve very close reading, being on the alert for clues and pointers, but all the information any half-competent cartographer needs is present in the texts.

Today, I am going to make things a little easier for aspiring mappers by saying a few words about the train journey from Hooting Yard to that ill-starred fishing village O’Houlihan’s Wharf. Last week it would have been fairly pointless to do so, but the exciting news is that the branch line, long fallen into desuetude, is running again. Using the proceeds from a winning raffle ticket (number 666, beige) a team of volunteers has reopened the line as a cross between a “countryside heritage family leisure facility” and a “cutting-edge arts praxis installation”. I have taken those two phrases from their brochure, a shabby piece of work duplicated on a Gestetner machine, designed perhaps to look like one of Dobson’s out of print pamphlets. Someone has gone to the trouble of hand-colouring all the covers, though, which shows the fanatical devotion of these enthusiasts.


I am not one of these nutters myself, but I know the journey as well as I know the first three books of Paradise Lost, so take my hand, encased in a butcher’s mitten, and I shall lead you along the way.


Our thrilling railway excursion begins, naturally enough, at Hooting Yard. What was once a gigantic terminus alive with hubbub is now a ruin which serves mostly as a roost for sparrows. However, the volunteers have recreated a very convincing facsimile of one of the original platforms, and it is from here that the decrepit steam engine creaks into gear.


It is, of course, the Civic Platform. It had been hoped to place a commemorative copy of the Central Lever at one end, but Hazel Blears put the kibosh on that with a series of threatening letters. Diminutive and bumptious she may be, but she – or her officials – can certainly write poisonous prose. The branch line volunteer who opens the post has been admitted to a clinic for neurasthenics and has taken to wandering the grounds in a daze, like Ronald Colman at the beginning of Random Harvest, without the military uniform, of course, but with the pencil moustache. Anyway, off we go!


The first stop, some five hours down the line on a good day, is Blister Lane. When I say “on a good day”, I mean on a day when the train does not sputter to a halt about twenty yards out of Hooting Yard because the track is blocked by cows. This can happen distressingly often, for the fields hereabouts are teeming with cows, thousands of cows, and though they may be content to stand still staring at nothing, the likelihood is that mad Old Farmer Frack will come bellowing and waving his stick and drive them back and forth across the railway line for his own, no doubt profound, purposes. He is not a farmer who can be bribed, so if he is doing his thing with the cows, the train just has to wait.


From Blister Lane we head on to Hoon. There are many who contend that Hoon is a place of myth, like Atlantis or Lemuria. Even if they are right – and remember, there is no definitive evidence either way – that is no reason Hoon cannot have its own railway station. The station itself shimmers, as if in mist, even on a clear day, and eerie sounds echo about its turrets and crenellations, for the station building is both turreted and crenellated, if blurry. It is not advisable to disembark from the train at Hoon.


Nor is it a good idea to alight at the next stop, the Horrible Cave, unless you are an emboldened spelunker. Actually, there is a reasonable chance you may be so, for last time we did a readership survey it turned out that almost three-quarters of Hooting Yard readers have survived terrifying imperilment in caves, though not of course in the Horrible Cave itself. And it has to be said that the Horrible Cave is so horrible that it makes every other cave in any given subterranean system seem like a Prudence Foxglove Sunday School. The branch line volunteers refused to place any health and safety notices at the stations, even here, so you will have to keep your wits about you and use that unfashionable tool, common sense. But if you are a regular reader of Hooting Yard, you will of course have plenty of that.


And so we steam on, still creaking, to the Macabre Village. Please note that this is not the Macabre Yet Goofy Village you may have read about in the works of Jean-Claude Unanugu, nor the same writer’s Goofy But Macabre Village. Those are fictional. This is just a macabre village, with no goofiness to be found, however hard you might search. If you jump off the train here, try not to go too close to any of the buildings, and take a torch with you, the more powerful the better. In fact, take a torch and a bag of pebbles. You can throw the pebbles at anything macabre that looms out of the shadows intent upon attacking you.


Anybody with any sense will have stayed on the train, and be rewarded by arriving some hours later at The Ponds. This used to be a popular destination for picnicking parties, particularly the pond known as Stagnant Inky-Black Fathomless Spooky Pond, where generations of tinies cavorted and capered. Some of them even made it home alive.


From The Ponds it is a short hop to Pang Hill, where the famous Orphanage graveyard is well worth a visit. Take a cotton napkin to mop up your tears. Various mawkish pamphlets are available from the graveyard gift shop, including some insufferably dreary collections of verse by Dennis Beerpint, penned (as he would say) before his reinvention as a twenty-first century beatnik. On that point, it appears that our cherished poetaster has disavowed his earlier work. He issued some kind of manifesto the other day declaring that he intends to rewrite each and every one of his pre-beatnik poems in the beatnik style. Whether or not that is something to look forward to I am not sure. It might be a good idea to snap up as many of his twee verses as you can while you are at Pang Hill, if you can cease sobbing and do a Winslety gather.


The next stop is Pointy Town. The station is, of course, magnificent, and very pointy. Indeed, it is thought to be the pointiest railway station on the planet. Before reopening the branch line, the volunteers made a special effort to eradicate any blunt bits on the station concourse, using a sort of antisandpaper, supplies of which they found untouched in a basement storeroom of Hubermann’s, the gorgeous department store.


And so, finally, to the benighted fishing village itself, O’Houlihan’s Wharf. For obvious reasons, the timetables are less than accurate, but you should arrive within two or three weeks of setting out from Hooting Yard. You will be exhausted, and your head will be enveloped in steam, but you will I hope experience a Lovecraftian shudder as you step on to the platform, with the sudden, hideous realisation that there is no way back, and you must spend the rest of your days trudging up and down the rotting jetty, befouled seawater sloshing against your boots, and squalls blowing in from the west.

NOTE : Signage by OSM, to whom many thanks. The picture of the train on the cover of the brochure is from Agence Eureka.