The Consistency Of Porridge

When, recently, it was announced that the Nobel Prize for Literature had been awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro, I thought I ought to read one of his books. Leaning out of the window, I hailed a passing urchin and sent him scampering off to what passes for a lending library in my bailiwick. Now this young wastrel was either inattentive or hard of hearing, for when he returned, several hours later, he brought, not The Redundancy Of Courage but The Consistency Of Porridge, a book by the noted food writer Rex Foodwrite.

Exasperated, I smacked the urchin on the head, but I took the book anyway and sat down to read it. And what a revelation! Foodwrite gives a day-by-day account, in exhaustive detail, of the consistency of his breakfast porridge over a two-day period. His prose is at once Miltonic and Kafkaesque, Beckettian and Poeish, Bellowy and Ibargüengoitiaian. At times I was reminded of Pebblehead.

For many years I have been strictly an eggs ‘n’ bloaters man,” he writes, “But in the interests of tiptop literature of the highest quality, worthy of a Nobel Prize, I decided to eschew my usual breakfast for a couple of days and eat porridge instead. On the first day, it was thin, like gruel. On the second day, it was thick, like sludge.”

Over the succeeding 849 pages, the author proceeds to extrapolate from this pair of porridge consistencies a series of dazzling porridge-related extrapolations. Not the least of his insights is his contention that the consistency of porridge, at breakfast time, can serve as a dramatic bit of folderol in an award-winning motion picture starring a Welsh actor who is tortured by the realisation that his speaking voice is not, and never will be, as golden as that of his late compatriot Richard Burton. One only needs to hear the latter intone the words “Broadsword to Danny Boy” in Where Eagles Dare (Brian G Hutton, 1968) to know this, of course, but Rex Foodwrite goes on to provide a shot-by-shot analysis of the film, porridgeless as it is, which left this reader, at least, stunned.

When I recovered consciousness, The Consistency Of Porridge had fallen from my lap on to the floor, where it was being nibbled by mice. I never returned it to the lending library.

ADDENDUM : The Redundancy Of Courage is a novel by Timothy Mo, not Kazuo Ishiguro. This rather destroys the conceit of the above potsage [sic]. Oops.

Homage To Wallace Stevens

Conducting my regular Hooting Yard Prose Audit, I was dumbstruck to discover that only once have I written about fubbed pannicles, and that was five years ago. In lieu of anything new to say about this most important of topics, here is a timely repost.

In an appreciative review of the second, expanded edition of Harmonium (1931), R P Blackmur remarked that “the most striking if not the most important thing” about Stevens’s verse was its vocabulary, a heady confect including such rarities as “fubbed”, “girandoles”, “diaphanes”, “pannicles”, “carked”, “ructive”, “cantilene”, “fiscs”, and “princox”.

From Wallace Stevens : Metaphysical Claims Adjuster by Roger Kimball, collected in Experiments Against Reality (2000)

It was a dark and stormy night. Off the Kentish Knock, on the wild and churning waters, the HMS Whither Art? was being tossed about like so much flotsam. The ship’s captain, Captain Plunkett, was all too aware that it was here off the Kentish Knock on a similarly dark and stormy night in 1875 that the SS Deutschland had been wrecked, and five Franciscan nuns, including a peculiarly tall one, had suffered death by drowning. Captain Plunkett had no Franciscan nuns aboard his ship, unless there were stowaways of whose presence he was ignorant, but well he knew the HMS Whither Art? was in equal danger of wreckage on so dark and stormy a night. It would take all his mastery of the nautical arts to bring the ship and its crew safely through to dawn, and port.

Clinging to the wheel, he cried out for the first mate, First Mate Hoon. Weedy and neurasthenic yet impossibly valiant, Hoon came staggering on to the bridge. He was sopping wet, drenched by both the teeming rain and by sloshing seawater.

Hoon!” yelled the captain over the howling gale, “It has suddenly occurred to me that we may have stowaways aboard of whom I am ignorant, nuns, Franciscan nuns, hiding in the pannicles! Detail a detail of deckhands to search every last inch!”

Aye aye, captain!” yelled Hoon, “But I’ve just had a report over the ructive hooter from the princox that the pannicles are fubbed!”

Captain Plunkett took one hand off the wheel, curled it into a sort of perch, turned it towards his head, and bent forward, resting his mouth and chin on his hand, striking an attitude almost identical to Rodin’s Thinker. He was thinking. He was thinking how it could have happened, on his watch, that the pannicles had been fubbed. He was thinking how it had come about that he had not heard the princox’s message over the ructive hooter. He was thinking that he had completely forgotten the name of the princox. And he was thinking that, if there were any stowaway Franciscan nuns hiding in the pannicles of the HMS Whither Art?, then they would surely have been carked by the fubbing. When he had finished thinking, he lifted his head, put his hand back to the wheel, and cried aloud again to Hoon.

Hoon! Scrub that last command to detail a detail of deckhands!”

Aye aye, captain! I have obliterated it from my brain so rapidly and thoroughly that already I have forgotten to what the word ‘it’ refers!”

The wind continued to howl and rage, the rain to teem, the sea to slosh, and the storm to toss the ship upon the waters.

Hoon!” cried the captain, “What is the princox’s name?”

I know him only as Alan,” shouted the first mate, “As in Ladd or Whicker or Freeman, known as Fluff.”

The princox is called Fluff?” cried Captain Plunkett.

Aye, captain, by those of the crew who are radio enthusiasts.”

Detail Fluff to man the diaphanes, Hoon!”

Aye aye, captain!”.

And Hoon left the bridge, staggering below decks in search of the princox. The storm did not abate. The captain struggled manfully with the wheel. His head was now empty of thought. He was engaged in an elemental battle, man versus sea, or man versus storm, or better, perhaps, man versus stormy sea.

Meanwhile, on one of the decks, poop or orlop, one of the girandoles had been torn loose from its cantilene and was clattering about perilously. First Mate Hoon, making his slow unsteady way to the princox’s nest, saw what had happened and realised he had to make an instant decision. There was no time to think. He could not afford to curl one hand into a sort of perch, turn it towards his head, and bend forward, resting his mouth and chin on his hand, striking an attitude almost identical to Rodin’s Thinker. He staggered back to the bridge.

Captain Plunkett!” he screamed, “One of the girandoles has been torn loose from its cantilene and is clattering about perilously on the poop or orlop deck!”

Where is Fluff the princox?” cried the captain.

Still in his nest I expect,” yelled Hoon, “For when I saw that one of the girandoles had been torn loose from its cantilene and was clattering about perilously on the poop or orlop deck, I made an instant decision to tell you about it as soon as I possibly could!”

You should have used the ructive hooter!” cried Captain Plunkett.

Believe me, captain, I would have done had you heard the ructive hooter message regarding the fubbed pannicles. But you did not, and I dared not risk that a second ructive hooter message would go unheard by you!”

That shows good seamanship, Hoon,” cried the captain, “Let me pin a golden star to your cap.”

Thank you, captain. I appreciate such recognition, it compensates for the lack of pay and the worm-riddled biscuits.”

And all of a sudden there was a lull in the storm, and the captain and the first mate looked up at the stars in the sky. For a few precious moments, the HMS Whither Art? was safe upon the sea. And down below in the pannicles, the sudden calm prompted five stowaway Franciscan nuns of whose presence Captain Plunkett was ignorant, one peculiarly tall, to pop their heads out from the rickety fiscs wherein they were hiding, and to sing a hymn of thanks to Almighty God, that He had delivered them from the fubbing.

The Tarleton Sentence

So baffled were the police by the teeming ramifications of the Inspip case that they had no idea what to do, until a dejected inspector threw in the towel and suggested, reluctantly, that they call in Tarleton, the amateur’s amateur, in hope that he might hack a clearing through their mental forest, to which Tarleton’s response, upon receipt of the coppers’ telegram, was to instruct his helpmeet, the dwarf Crepusco, to pay them a visit and pull one of his faces at them, to which Crepusco’s response was “Are you sure?”, said in a trembling voice, for he was all too aware that when he pulled one of his faces the effect on those who saw it was akin to something from a story by H P Lovecraft, reducing the witness to a horror-stricken gibbering wreck, fit only to be chained up in an asylum for the incurably insane for the rest of their days, but Tarleton insisted, telling Crepusco to pull face number forty-three, expressive of fathomless and bitter contempt, so the dwarf toddled off along the lane towards the police station, and on his way encountered, as chance would have it, one of the teeming ramifications of the Inspip case, in that, not too far along the way, he tripped and toppled into the bottomless viper-pit of Shoeburyness, and was mightily surprised, after falling just a few feet, to land with a crunch upon a false bottom in the viper-pit, a platform installed by unknown hand, possibly but not definitively Inspip’s, the crunchy nature of his landing caused by the bescatterment, upon the platform, of eggshells in great abundance, with no sign whatsoever of the eggs’ innards, the albumen and yellow yolk and whatever else an egg expert might descry inside an egg, there were just the shells, upon which Crepusco landed, crunchily, before sitting up and rubbing his bonce and wondering why he had not continued to fall, forever and ever, as ought surely to have been his fate, the viper-pit of Shoeburyness, like that of Gaar, and several others, being notorious for being bottomless, according to the guidebooks and gazetteers available from the souvenir kiosk located at one end of a sort of modern-day ley line, along which magnets ceased to function and clumps of vetch and bindweed withered, at the other end of which stood, surrounded by an imposing fence fitted with floodlights, the police station, wherein the frazzled coppers were still awaiting a response from Tarleton, the amateur’s amateur, and busying themselves meanwhile by rummaging, for the umperumpteenth time, through their miles of filing cabinets in which every last scrap of information regarding the Inspip case was kept, from that very first report of an eye-witness, a preternaturally alert passer-by, who had tested negative for hallucinogens, thrice, and who had brought, breathlessly, panting, panting, to the coppers’ attention the curious circumstance that in Scroonhoonpooge Model Village, the aviary, behind the milk factory, was life-size, and filled with real birds, such that they would appear enormous and monstrous to the tiny little figures populating the model village, and their caws and chirps and chirrups and trills deafeningly loud, and that this anomaly was just the kind of thing Inspip would clap his hands with glee over, though try as they might not a single officer could say with any certainty, hand on heart, that Inspip had form in the area, nor indeed that he even knew where the Scroonhoonpooge Model Village was, given that all reported sightings of him for the past two decades placed him elsewhere, and he had been banned from consulting maps and atlases for even longer than that, ever since the Botched Shadow Puppetry case, when he was, albeit briefly, in cahoots, or “up to his eyeballs” as Detective Captain Cargpan put it, with Babinsky, the lumbering walrus-moustached psychopathic serial killer, an alliance that was mercifully short-lived, thanks to Cargpan, the very same Cargpan who, now, rummaging in one of the filing cabinets, chanced upon a tattered black-and-white snapshot of an unidentified acrobat performing an unidentified feat of acrobatics which would have seemed physically impossible were it not for the photographic evidence, and on a whim, or accident, the detective captain looked at the snapshot from a geometrically unlikely angle, and saw suddenly what nobody else had seen before, himself included, which was that, in her poise and turpsiletto, the acrobat seemed to be personating the exact lineaments of the stick-figure in the corner of an emblem on the flag of a secret society the doings, or misdoings, of which had ravaged several important colonial outposts and not a few unimportant ones at the tail end of the war, one of the wars, and which had long been thought consigned to the dustbin of history but which, Cargpan now realised, with a Lovecraftian shudder, could indeed still be active, and engaged in nefarious shenanigans, here and now, and particularly in the model village at Scroonhoonpooge, and he grabbed a butcher’s pencil and began scribbling frenziedly in his coppers’ jotting pad, and then he rummaged in some of the other filing cabinets, and tore some of his hair out, until he jumped up on to a desk in the middle of the situation room, gaining the immediate and rapt attention of all the other coppers, to whom he cried, ear-piercingly, “Where are the eggs? Where are the eggs?”, and they all knew at once he was referring to the various birds’ eggs laid by the anomalously life-size birds in the aviary of the model village, and, gosh, this is exciting, at that very moment Crepusco the dwarf, who had managed to clamber out of the temporarily non-bottomless viper-pit of Shoeburyness, came blundering into the room, dozens of bits of eggshell clinging to his clothing, and he was about to pull his fathomless and bitter contempt face, number forty-three, when a sixth sense stopped him, seeing the blazing eyes of Detective Captain Cargpan and all the other coppers gazing at him with an unmistakeable gleam of dawning understanding and clarity, as when pennies drop from heaven, every time it rains, and the clouds burst and it was raining now, as it always rains on the feast day of St Bibblybibdib, for yes!, this all happened on St Bibblybibdib’s Day, which is why it is significant, and why I have told you about it, for had it happened on any other day in the calendar year it would hardly be worth mentioning, and it would have remained one of those untold stories of Tarleton, the amateur’s amateur, untold and unknown, never collected in any of the many volumes devoted to his doings, all of which, like the pamphlets of the pamphleteer Dobson, are out of print.

The Raid On Entebbe

The Raid On Entebbe (disambiguation).

The Raid On Entebbe can refer to :

a hostage-rescue mission carried out by commandos of the Israeli Defence Force at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on 4 July 1976;

a 1977 film dramatisation of the incident starring Peter Finch (whose surname is also the common term for medium-sized passerine birds in the family Fringillidae);

the given name of a pet hamster kept by the potboiling paperbackist Pebblehead.

Pebblehead was once asked in an interview why he had named his hamster The Raid On Entebbe. This is what he said by way of reply:

I don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t got a pet hamster. I grant you, there is a small cage over there, fitted with a wheel for a small mammal to run around on like a mad thing, and lined with excelsior, or wood wool, for the comfort of such a small mammal, and, yes, there is a strong hamstery odour in the vicinity of the cage. But I challenge you to show me an actual hamster.”

Thus challenged, the journalist interviewing Pebblehead pointed to what looked undoubtedly like a hamster, nestling in the corner of the cage, almost covered in excelsior, and fast asleep.

Blimey!” said Pebblehead, “Where did that come from?”

A press statement was later issued on Pebblehead’s behalf by a crack team of brain-doctors.

For some time now, Pebblehead has been suffering from what the medical profession terms intermittent hamster-blindness. The condition is debilitating and incurable, although the symptoms can be alleviated with a combination of intravenous drugs, eye drops, and frenzied activity, for example, bashing out potboilers on a typewriter at the rate of several novels a week. Incidentally, all of us have previously served as commandos in the Israeli Defence Force, so if you know of any hostages who need to be rescued from African airfields, do drop us a line.”

Pebblehead’s latest potboiler, Invisible Hamster Mayhem!, is now available from all good petshops.

The Janitor And His Pail

It’s the Weekend o’ Janitors here at Hooting Yard. Yesterday we had that guff about the janitor and his mop, from 2014. Today we have related guff, also from that year, about the janitor and his pail.

The relationship between a janitor and his pail is a matter well worth our attention. Some janitors will call their pail a bucket, but it is much of a muchness. It may well be that, for the pernickety, a pail and a bucket are not quite the same thing, but we are not pernickety, at least not today. Today we are having one of our non-pernickety days. Good heavens, we did not even time the boiling of our breakfast egg to the second, as we do on our pernickety days. No, today, we plopped the egg into the pan and set the burners roaring beneath it and we wandered away, picked up the post from the doormat, kicked the wainscot, kicked it again, God knows why, chucked the post into the wastepaper basket – it was all flyers, flyers – put the kettle on, extracted from our majestic bouffant a small beetle which had taken up residence, Peason-like, and placed it on the windowsill, opened the window, adjusted the position of the vase of hollyhock cuttings, turning them towards the light, though Lord knows there was little enough light, so early was the hour, and pottered and puttered in other dithery ways before returning to the kitchen to set the burners unroaring beneath the pan, without checking the time on our wristwatch, rather judging that a sufficiency had passed for the egg in the pan to be toothsome when shelled.

On a pernickety day, on the other hand, we would not leave our post, by the cooker, but count the minutes and the seconds, gazing from wristwatch to pan and back again, and as the second hand on the watch tocked to its appointed spot we would immediately lift the pan from the roaring burners, extinguish them, hoist the egg from the seething waters and transfer it to its egg-cup – a souvenir egg-cup from an ill-starred seaside resort – sure in the knowledge that it had been boiled for a very specific and particular length of time as recommended in Blötzmann’s Manual of Egg-Boiling (second edition, lilac series). Thus the variation between our pernickety and our non-pernickety days, a variation designed to crack us from the bonds of rut.

What does all that have to do with janitors and pails or, if you prefer, janitors and buckets? Little or nothing, like the littleness of the light as we tuck into our early morning boiled egg, like the nothingness at the core of our all too mortal soul.

The Janitor And His Mop

Few relationships are as close, and as intense, as that between a janitor and his mop. He may sense an attachment to his bunch of keys and his pail and his dog, but he cherishes his mop more than anything.

I have spent several years interviewing janitors, and invariably they volunteer the information that their mop is their most treasured possession. They will say this, loudly and with vehemence, even when their dog is sitting obediently at their feet, gazing up at them in adoration. I am sure there is a monograph to be written, one day, upon janitors and their dogs, but I shall leave that joy to another scribbler. It is not that I am averse to dogs, well, I am, but it is not my aversion that dissuades me from writing about them. Were a janitor to spout effusive folderol on the subject of his dog, during one of my interviews, I would note it down accordingly and include it in my finished piece. I do not provide verbatim transcripts, preferring instead to give the reader an impressionistic or expressionistic or borderline hysterical portrait of the janitor through gorgeous words. Not all of these words will have been spoken by the janitor, nor by me, but they seem to hover in the aether in the janitor’s vicinity. That is what I try, as best I am able, to communicate.

It remains a remarkable fact that the thousands of janitors I have interviewed over the years have expressed boundless love for their mops. Often they are moved to tears, or, contrarily, to gales of unbridled glee, or sometimes both, turn and turn about. It is an emotionally wrenching experience, for them to be interviewed, and also for me, as the interviewer, broaching the topic of the mop and not knowing whether I will need to provide a napkin for them to dab at their tear-stained cheeks, or a similar napkin for myself to wipe off the flecks of spittle sprayed over me by janitors in the extremes of happiness. It occasionally happens that the dog, if it is frisky, will try to catch the napkin, either of the napkins, in its jaws, and scamper away with it, as if it were a bone. They are mysterious creatures, dogs, and often quite stupid. The mop, being inanimate, is much more predictable, and much less bother.

For reasons I have not yet been able to fathom, no publisher has expressed an interest in my book of janitorial interviews. It thus remains in manuscript, hand-written, with a butcher’s pencil, in a series of exercise books, some lined, some unlined. For the past several months I have had these books stored in a cupboard on the ground floor of a large building in a central location, near a bank, into the vaults of which I wish to transfer them for greater security, when I can afford the fee to do so. In the meantime, the cupboard is kept locked and watched over by a janitor, one of the few I have not taken time to interview. He prowls the corridors, rattling his bunch of keys, deploying his beloved mop, and followed everywhere by his dog. Insert apt Latin phrase to conclude this piece with a freight of significance.

Originally posted in 2014.

Dobson Goes Doolally

Dear Dr Fang, wrote Marigold Chew, I am writing to you, as the most eminent brain-quack I can think of, to ask for your help. Dobson has gone doolally. Yesterday he was as right as rain – a curious phrase, I grant you, but let us not dwell upon it – sitting at his escritoire scribbling away, then trudging along the towpath of the filthy old canal in the pouring rain, chucking pebbles at swans.

He remained reassuringly Dobson-like at breakfast this morning, tucking into a bowl of boil-in-the-bag koala bear brains ‘n’ mashed plums and blathering inconsequential poltrooneries, just as he always does. It was only when he drained the last dregs from his tumbler of post-breakfast Squelcho! that I noticed something amiss.

Instead of putting on his Uruguayan Notary Public’s boots and crashing out of the door into the teeming downpour, as I expected him to do, he stayed sitting at the breakfast table, a thin smile playing about his lips, a fat beetle scuttling through his bouffant, a blob of marmalade on his cravat.

Look! Can you see it, O my cherished bundle of utter loveliness?” he said, pointing at a corner of the room.

I could see nothing, save for some dust.

It is my little man, my homunculus. He has been following me about, in his satin and tat, in his frock coat and bippety-boppety hat. He whispers words I can never quite hear.”

I asked Dobson what on earth he was talking about. He continued to prattle.

Even were I able to hear him, I am not sure I would be able to understand his whisperings. Not only is he a foreign little man, from remote and distant parts not shown on any map, but he always whispers with his mouth full. He is forever stuffing his gob with smokers’ poptarts, of which he seems to have an endless supply. Have you noticed any packets missing from the larder, O my buttercup?”

You mean the pantry, Dobson,” I said, “No, I have noticed no such thing.”

Larder, pantry, pantry, larder,” he went on, excitably, “Sofa, cushions, chaise longue, pouffé. Lay me place and bake me pie, I’m starving for me gravy. Leave my shoes and door unlocked, I might just slip away. If I slip away, perhaps I can escape my little man. But it’s likely he will follow me. God knows, I haven’t been able to shake him off these past seventeen years.”

It was at this point that I asked Dobson if he had taken leave of his senses. But he ignored the question.

He came seventeen years ago, and to this day he has shown no intention of going away,” he said, “Sometimes he moves his arms as if they were the propellers on a seaplane, the Gnome Omega-powered Fabre Hydravion, for example. I have to place extra paperweights on my escritoire when he does this in close proximity to it, to prevent my papers being blown away. Are you sure you can’t see him?”

I assured Dobson that I could not.

I think the propelling of his arms is an attempt to dry his hands,” he continued, “His palms are horribly moist. Indeed, for such a tiny man he is surprisingly moist in every particular. Yet whenever he follows me into the bathroom, he shuns the towels. They seem to frighten him, as nothing else does. Imagine that, being frightened of towels! Tea-towels, too, especially those of a souvenir variety, bearing depictions of important buildings and tourist attractions. Once he vomited all over the tea-towel we bought in the gift shop at St Bibblybibdib’s Cathedral. When I tried to launder it he snatched it away from me and tore it into strips and fed it to his chaffinch.”

What chaffinch?” I could not help but ask.

There, perched on his shoulder, tiny but weirdly luminous. It is the only chaffinch I know that glows in the dark. Or eats linen. Or monkeys. It ate the little man’s little monkey, which he kept at the end of a length of string, during the Tet Offensive. It ate the string too. It is quite a chaffinch!”

By now I was convinced that Dobson had gone doolally. Thinking a violent bash on the head might bring him to his senses, I went to fetch a hammer. When I returned, there was no sign of him, and the front door was ajar. I looked in the shoe cupboard, but all of his many many many boots were lined up neatly along the bootesquade. Had Dobson done the unthinkable, and left the house in his socks?

Indeed he had. Towards midday, also known as noon, when the hands of the clock both point upwards in an uncompromising vertical, I received a call from the seaside police. Dobson was sat on a pier, bootless, cradling in his arms the limp body of a strangled eel, and staring out to sea. His socks were wet, his cravat was awry, and there were traces of choc ice around his mouth. A ring of lumpenproles had gathered to taunt him. I rushed out and jumped aboard a charabanc heading for the seaside.

The police had removed Dobson from the pier and installed him in a cubby within the seagull sanctuary. I had to use all my powers of persuasion to get past the armed security guards. I found Dobson sprawled on a bunk looking bewildered.

Wincklemann is gone!” he cried.

Wincklemann?” I asked.

My little man, my homunculus,” he said, “He followed me at a trot all the way to the seaside, and while I was at the kiosk on the pier buying several choc ices he lost his footing and fell from the pier into the sea, the sea, the terrible vast wet sea. I fear he drowned therein, my little man.”

It occurred to me that if Wincklemann were as tiny a man as Dobson claimed him to be, it was likely that he was so light in weight that he would bippety-bop, like his hat, upon the water, rather than sink. Then it further occurred to me that Dobson had gone doolally, and that this purported homunculus was nothing but a figment of his fuming brain. I was still carrying the hammer, so I gave Dobson a smart crack on the head with it, hoping to restore his reason.

Alas! The hammer blow had quite the opposite effect. While rubbing his bonce, Dobson gazed into the corner of the seagull sanctuary cubby and let out a joyful yell.

Wincklemann! You have escaped from the clutches of the wild wet sea! Where once you were moist, you are now soaked to the skin. Were you not fearful of towels I would dab you dry. But I am so happy to see you. What is that you are whispering to me in your foreign guttural tongue?”

Of course, there was nothing in the corner except for some dust and a stray seagull feather. After signing some papers, and feeding cream crackers to an injured seagull, I was allowed to bring Dobson home. It is now early evening, and he has insisted on setting a third place at the dinner table, and carefully portioning out a helping of jellied hare ‘n’ jugged eels ‘n’ jagged shards of frozen celery for his invisible little man. I am at my wits’ end, Dr Fang, or at the end of my tether, whichever end is likely to snap first, and I need your help. Please come at once.

*

Dear Mrs Wincklemann, wrote Dr Fang, At your request, I have conducted an examination of the brain, for which my fee is forty-five panes, ten soilings, and sixpins. Please pay in cash by midnight, or I will confiscate the brain and place it in a jar in my cupboard o’ brains, cackling as I do so.

It is my considered opinion that you are suffering from a common malady, viz. indulging a phantasy that you are a personal friend and confidante of the twentieth century’s titanic, if out of print, pamphleteer. In your case, there is an intriguing level of displacement, where you imagine it is not you, but your husband, who is bosom pals with Dobson. Incidentally, your husband is indeed an extremely tiny little man who could easily be mistaken for a homunculus. Perhaps that is what caused the illusory vapours in your brain.

As I say, it is not unusual for insignificant riffraff such as yourself to attach themselves to illustrious figures such as Dobson. I know of another patient who spent many years convinced she was on intimate terms with octogenarian Francophile pop songstress Petula Clark. If you take the pills I have given you, six per day for seventeen years, your symptoms will surely alleviate. I also recommend close reading of Dobson’s pamphlet At No Time Did I Ever Cradle In My Arms The Limp Body Of A Strangled Eel Upon A Pier While Taunted By Lumpenproles, And I Have Signed A Legal Affidavit To This Effect; And Other Essays, Together With A Spirit Photograph Of Petula Clark Holding Hands With A Homunculus (out of print).

Dobson In A Mosh Pit

I think,” said Dobson, at breakfast one foul and rain-sodden Tuesday morning, “It is time we had our own mosh pit.”

Marigold Chew raised an eyebrow.

Do you actually know what a mosh pit is?” she asked.

Not exactly,” replied the twentieth century’s greatest out of print pamphleteer, “But I suspect it would be a good use of that part of the garden overhung by laburnum and sycamore and larch. You know that patch o’er which hangs leafage so dense that it is forever in shadow, and is home to brambles and nettles and dockweed. I cannot even remember the last time I sat or stood in it nor even walked through it, nor can I recall ever seeing you doing so, O cherished one. It is unused ground, and no ground ought to be unused on this earth, according to some authorities.”

Which authorities might they be, Dobson?” asked Marigold Chew.

I think there is a maxim to that effect in the Maxims of Bombastus Dogend, or I could be thinking of Listerine Optrex, also a great one for maxims. I can check later.”

So let me get this straight,” said Marigold Chew, marshalling with her fork the last few caraway seeds on her breakfast plate, “You intend to dig a pit in a shady arbour in the garden, and dub it a mosh pit, without any clear understanding – without any understanding at all – of what a mosh pit is?”

I shall look it up in a thick and exhaustive reference book,” said Dobson, mad with cornflakes.

So you will be going to the mobile library?” said Marigold Chew.

That is my plan,” said the pamphleteer, and he got up from the table and proceeded to don his Andalusian Sewage Inspector’s boots.

Today is Tuesday,” said Marigold Chew, “So the mobile library is in quite a different, and distant, bailiwick.”

And you think I am going to let that stop me?” shouted Dobson melodramatically as he crashed out of the door into the downpour.

Untold hours later, Dobson came crashing back through the door, sopping wet, with a gleam in his eye and a thin, pained smile playing about his lips, as if he were Ronald Colman shooting a scene for Random Harvest (Mervyn LeRoy, 1942).

Well, Dobson, what news?” asked Marigold Chew.

Dobson took his pipe from his pocket, crammed into it a thub of Rotting Orchard Fruit ‘n’ Conkers Pipe Tobacco from his other pocket, lit up and puffed, and said:

I had a deal of difficulty finding the thick and exhaustive reference book I sought. Actually, before that I had a deal of difficulty finding the mobile library itself. There is a new mobile librarian, of wild and untrammelled mien, with an unruly beard, whose grasp of the schedule is weak. He had driven the pantechnicon to quite an unsuitable bailiwick, near cliffs, where the native peasants, having never seen the mobile library before, stood in a ring around it, holding aloft their pitchforks and sticks tipped with tarry burning rags, gawping. I think they may have had it in mind to sacrifice the mobile librarian on a pyre.”

Gosh!” said Marigold Chew.

Be that as it may,” continued Dobson, “I barged my way through the seething peasant throng and climbed into the pantechnicon. The wild unruly beardy person was engaged in some sort of haphazard reshelving exercise, oblivious to the peasants outside. The mobile library holdings, including several thick and exhaustive reference books, one of which was critical to my research, lay scattered about higgledy-piggledy. Oh! I was sorely vexed. But I found what I wanted eventually, under a pile of paperback potboilers by Pebblehead. And – “

You have created a puddle on the floor, Dobson,” interrupted Marigold Chew, “So soaked you are from rainfall. Finish your pipe and mop up the puddle and then you can continue your tale over a nice piping hot cup of ersatz cocoa substitute.”

And it was during the subsequent conversation that the out of print pamphleteer revealed to his poppet that he had indeed discovered the nature of a mosh pit.

Apparently,” he said, “A mosh pit is an area where gaggles of frenzied teenpersons hurl themselves about in an uncoordinated and rambunctious manner to a soundtrack of improbably loud and thumping and often discordant electrified racket played from an adjacent stage or platform by persons not dissimilar to the denizens of the mosh pit.”

Yes, I know,” said Marigold Chew, “I could have told you that this morning over breakfast. I assume that now you know what a mosh pit is you no longer want one in your own back garden.”

Quite the contrary, my sweet!” shouted Dobson with unnerving zest, “I am all the more determined to dig one! Hand me that spade!”

And though it was now dark, and the rain was pouring down more heavily than ever, Dobson was soon enough out in the garden, under the dripping leafage of laburnum and sycamore and larch, digging a pit. Positing that he had taken leave of his senses, Marigold Chew retired to her boudoir to listen to Xavier Cugat And His Orchestra on the wireless.

At some point in the small hours of the morning, Dobson came back indoors. He was covered in mud, as if he had been toiling in the trenches of Flanders fields during the Great War, the cause of the shellshock suffered by Smithy, alias Charles Rainier, the character played by Ronald Colman in Random Harvest (Mervyn LeRoy, 1942). Marigold Chew was fast asleep, but she was woken by a repetitive dull thumping noise, as of bone cushioned by flesh bashing against wood, over and over again. She went downstairs to find Dobson slumped at the kitchenette table, repeatedly thumping his forehead against its polished wooden surface.

Whatever is the matter, Dobson?” she asked.

Dobson looked up.

The mosh pit is dug, my dear! It needs but a complement of frenzied teenpersons to be deposited within it. That is my quandary, that the reason for my despair.”

Please explain Dobson, you have me utterly befuddled. Though it be the middle of the night I am going to put the kettle on for a nice piping hot cup of powdered milk slops enriched with filbert nut flavouring. Pray continue.”

Well,” said Dobson, “It was only when I had finished digging the mosh pit, and clambered out of it, and stood back to admire my work in the brilliant illumination of Kleig lights, that I realised the fatal flaw at the heart of my design.”

Which is?” asked Marigold Chew.

We have not space in the garden sufficient to erect a stage or platform next to the mosh pit,” moaned Dobson, “Thus nowhere to assemble a grouplet of persons to provide the necessary soundtrack of improbably loud and thumping and often discordant electrified racket to which frenzied teenpersons so minded will mosh.”

Look on the bright side,” said Marigold Chew, “We may not have our own mosh pit, but now we have an all-purpose pit. There is a myriad of usages to which it could be put. I can think of several immediately, but I will refrain from telling you right away. I think you need a disinfectant bath and a good night’s sleep.”

Perhaps you are right, buttercup,” said Dobson, “And in any case there may be such an activity as moshing for the deaf, or moshing to the sound of a lone piccolo, or other types of moshing yet unimagined by frenzied teenpersons, and by unfrenzied teenpersons too. Tomorrow I shall go to the mobile library again, assuming it has not been shoved over the cliffs by the baffled and menacing peasants, and I shall undertake further and more rigorous research..”

That is an excellent idea, Dobson,” said Marigold Chew, “But before plunging into your disinfectant bath, just tell me one thing. Why on earth did you want to have frenzied teenpersons hurling themselves about in an uncoordinated and rambunctious manner to a soundtrack of improbably loud and thumping and often discordant electrified racket in your own back garden in the first place?”

Alas, whatever Dobson said in reply was drowned out by the piercing shriek of the now boiling kettle.

Some days later, Marigold Chew hoicked the spade and filled in the pit under the leafage, still dripping with rain, of laburnum and sycamore and larch, and strewed over it brambles and nettles and dockweed. Never again did the word “mosh” ever pass Dobson’s lips. Other matters had attracted his attention, as related in his pamphlet How I Witnessed The Sight Of A Wild And Unruly Bearded Mobile Librarian In Hand To Hand Combat With A Snarling Gaggle Of Brain-Bejangled Peasants (out of print).

Originally posted in 2011.

Dobson In A Pickle

Let us never forget the time Dobson got into a pickle. Hold your horses, you say, Dobson got into multiple pickles over the years, which particular pickle is it I am enjoined never to forget? To which I would reply that I do not have any horses, so cannot hold horses, as you would have me do. After scratching your head for a moment, you suggest I go lolloping off across several fields to some kind of farmstead where I might encounter a flock of horses, some of which I could then corral together with a cowboy-style lasso, and thus hold them in place, as you bid me do.

A what of horses?, I ask, in a tone which imparts both amusement and incredulity, a flock? You are muddling horses with birds, two creatures which could not be more different.

Flock, huddle, gang, murmuration, you snap back, what does it matter? Too much is made of those bestial collective nouns, they are linguistic fripperies, and I abjure fripperies of all kinds, as is my wont.

At which point, enter Robert Fripp, the Dorset-born guitar-plucker. He takes umbrage at being abjured. He flicks a plectrum at you, which strikes you on the cheek, causing you to cry ouch! I stand by, saying nothing, waiting for this altercation to play itself out. For the time being, the Dobson pickle is put on the back-burner.

Are you challenging me to a duel, sir?, you fume at Robert Fripp, likening his flick of the plectrum to the slap across the face of a glove or gauntlet, a common signal of challenge in the golden age of duelling, long past.

By way of reply, Robert Fripp executes some intricate noodling on his guitar, employing a second plectrum he had tucked into the cuff of his shirt. You hoist a shovel, unnoticed until now, which had been leaning against the trunk of a mighty cedar. Shovel held aloft, you run screaming at Robert Fripp in a manner akin to a blood-drenched homicidal maniac. The terrified guitar-plucker ceases plucking, turns on his heel, and scampers away in the direction of Dorset.

Now, where were we?, you ask.

Keen as I am to pursue the topic of Dobson’s pickle, and not merely keen but avid, I remain so amused by the flock of horses hoo-ha that I cannot let it drop. Accordingly, I chortle, and there is mockery in my chortle.

You mock me though I am armed with a shovel and quite prepared to use it, as you have just witnessed, you say, giving me pause. I have been bashed with a shovel in the past, on a number of occasions, and I have no wish to repeat the experience. My knees buckle, and I struggle to remain upright.

You reach out with your free hand, the unbeshovelled one, to help me steady myself. I am moved by this unexpected gesture of amity, and tears well up in my eyes. But I am easily moved. One of my parents, the poetic one, observed that I was as easily moved as a mote of dust in an autumnal gale. When I was old enough to think about this simile, I wondered why my poetic parent employed the image of a mote of dust rather than of a leaf, for leaves are what we commonly see being moved and blown by gales in autumn time. This thought occasioned in me an inferiority complex, or what would now be called low self-esteem. Was I nought but a mote of dust in my parents’ eyes, or at least in my poetic parent’s eyes, or rather eye, for Ma had but the one, following a cocktail party calamity at which a cocktail stick became detached from its sausage and a succeeding series of events rendered her eyeless, in one socket. Ma’s remaining eye, fortunately, was gimlet, and it was said she could spot a mote of dust at fifty paces. This was said, in my hearing, by her optician, and it served to assuage my self-esteem, so I no longer suffered, moping, weedily, in the shadows.

You invite me not to further mock you and I accede readily, dabbing at my tears with a rag from my pocket. You put down the shovel, leaning it against the trunk of a different tree, a binsey poplar. We have reached an accommodation. You no longer fear my mockery, and I no longer fear being bashed with the shovel. Now, God willing, we can embark on an agreeable conversation regarding that pickle Dobson got himself into which ought never be forgotten.

But all of a sudden, Robert Fripp reappears. He is accompanied by his wife, the diminutive warbler Toyah Wilcox. You and I shift positions, almost imperceptibly, so we are closer together, forming a united front. This is a stand-off. Nobody knows how it will end. Then, at precisely the same moment, you and Toyah Wilcox lunge for the shovel …

Cut.

Larks’ Tongues In Aspic plays over the closing credits.

Dobson On An Atoll

Dobson once found himself marooned on a remote atoll. The circumstances were inexplicable. He had a vague memory of toppling from the deck of a barquentine, but could not recall what he was doing aboard the boat in the first place. Nor did he remember how he came to be washed up on a barren sea-girt rock. But there he was, and he had to lump it.

As a mostly deskbound pamphleteer, Dobson had never found cause to undergo rigorous training in basic survival skills, so the first few minutes on the atoll were emotionally wrenching, to say the least. In fact Dobson could not recall such an emotionally wrenching experience since he had attended a performance of Binder’s third symphony. The conductor on that occasion was the psychotic maestro Lothar Preen, and his approach to that piccolo and glockenspiel business in the final movement caused in Dobson the welling up of the most wrenching emotional experience he had ever had. He remembered the music as he sat slumped on the atoll, staring at the sea, though the sound in his head was of an LP recording conducted by Binder himself, where the piccolos and glockenspiel were slightly less emotionally wrenching than in Preen’s hands. Dobson was not overly fond of what he considered Binder’s somewhat clinical treatment of his own symphony. He once wrote an intemperate letter to the composer, insisting that he rerecord all the LPs of his music with more oomph, but tore it up before sending it, not from second thoughts but because he did not have Binder’s postal address and did not at the time have the energy or wherewithal to hunt it down.

Energy and wherewithal, however, were precisely what he needed to call upon if he were to survive his maroonment on a remote atoll, and to his credit Dobson did not shilly-shally. His first thought was of food, and then of water, and then of shelter. It was almost as if he had undergone rigorous training in basic survival skills! He wondered briefly if he had attended a course of instruction in a dream. Dobson often had vivid dreams, and wrote down the details upon waking. He fossicked in the pockets of his overcoat for his notebook, thinking that perhaps he might find a list of hints and tips on basic survival skills scribbled down one dawn before the dream faded. As he rummaged, his fingers fell upon something unfamiliar, and taking it from his pocket he found he was clutching a packet of frozen crinkle-cut oven chips.

The food problem, then, was solved, at least for the time being. Or so Dobson thought. He could either suck the chips as he would ice lollies, or he could lay them out on the atoll and let them thaw in the sunlight. Stupidly, he decided on the latter. No sooner had he torn open the packet and laid the frozen chips out in neat rows upon the barren rock than a formidable flock of seagulls came swooping out of the sky and snatched up every single chip in their terrible beaks. Thus Dobson experienced a third wrenching of the emotions, perhaps the most emotionally wrenching to date. Such was its intensity that Dobson leapt to his feet and shook his fist at the sky and screamed his head off at the seagulls. But the seagulls had already flown far far away, perhaps to another atoll, where they would perch awhile and scoff their crinkle-cut chips. Seagulls will eat anything.

A little sprite within Dobson’s head told him that he was wasting his energy, so he sat down and gazed about him. This was when he noticed that there were various creatures, such as barnacles and limpets and mussels, clinging to the rock. They were not frozen and did not need thawing. He wrote the word “Food” in his notebook and placed a tick next to it.

Dobson had read a number of books about atoll maroonment, and it was the memory of these he now drew upon. He could collect rainwater in his upturned hat, for example. It was not raining, but Dobson was wearing a yachting cap, so he took this off and placed it, upside down, on as level a patch of rock as he could find. As he did so, he felt a pang of great perplexity, for he could not remember ever seeing the yachting cap before. How had he come to be wearing it? It must be connected in some way to the barquentine from which he had a vague recollection of having toppled into the sea. It was not the sort of headgear he would normally choose to wear. He was a Homburg man through and through, except for those occasions when he sported a floppy and shapeless thingummy or a battered leaden crown. But stylish or not, the yachting cap would catch rainwater, if and when rain fell. Dobson looked up at the sky, and saw a cloud. It was quite white, and very high above him. It only bloomed for minutes, and when he looked up again, it vanished on the air. He took his notebook, wrote the word “Water”, and placed a question mark next to it.

The last item on his agenda was shelter. It was a particularly wrenching emotional moment when he admitted to himself that there was no sign either of foliage or of a tatty tarpaulin abandoned by a previous maroonee. Dobson was at the mercy of the elements. He thought of that passage in Binder’s tenth symphony when the four elements are evoked by mordant bassoon toots, and he began to weep.

Then he remembered something else he had read in one of those books, that always, sooner or later, a ship full of Jesuits would appear, and one need only dance and hop like a mad thing, waving one’s arms, and they would sail in to the rescue. Or perhaps it was the Jesuit who was marooned, and the ship’s crew were just ordinary sailors. Whichever way round it was, the dancing and hopping and waving was the important thing. And so he practised those disciplines, with great vim and vigour, while munching thirstily on barnacles, until a ship hove into view on the horizon. It was the HMS Gerard Manley Hopkins, and it took him home at last.

Originally posted in 2012.

Ogre

We all know that God spelled backwards is Dog, but it is not commonly pointed out that Ergo spelled backwards is Ogre. This insight can lead us to faff about with Descartes’ famous dictum cogito ergo sum so that, instead of stating I think therefore I am, we say instead I think I am an ogre.

It could be argued that this is actually a more profound statement than Descartes’ original. It could be, and it has. In a new book, the paperbackist Pebblehead takes cogito ogre sum as his starting point, and weaves a tale staggering in its implications.

I am known for my potboilers” said Pebblehead, speaking from his chalet o’ prose high in the Swiss Alps, smoking his pipe, “Fat paperbacks with garish covers sold in bulk at airport bookstalls and the like. With my new book, I like to think I have created an entirely new genre, which I have dubbed the ‘potboiler of profundity’. This is a fat paperback with a garish cover sold in bulk at airport bookstalls and the like which, in terms of deep mind-numbing profundity, can stand alongside the deepest and most mind-numbing and most profound works in the canon.”

Bashed out in just two weeks of frantic typing, Pebblehead’s potboiler of profundity tells the story of a man who thinks he is an ogre. It poses questions which delve into the core of the human soul. If I think I am an ogre, am I an ogre? If I think I am an ogre but I am not an ogre, what, then, am I? Why would I think I am an ogre in the first place? Am I hairy and brutish and savage? Do I grunt rather than speak articulate words? If so, how do I manage to narrate this potboiler of profundity in such punchy prose, daddy-o? Answer me that, or I’ll tear your head off with my bare hands, or rather paws, yes, great hairy paws, suitable for an ogre. And when I’ve torn your head off I’ll carry it back to my lair, a dark dank cave, full of bats, where I lurk, grunting and slobbering, ogreishly.

With your head torn off and tossed on to the pile of other torn-off human heads in the corner of my cave, you won’t be able to continue reading my fat paperback with a garish cover sold in bulk at airport bookstalls and the like, will you? You won’t be able to read, and you won’t be able to think. And if you can’t read and you can’t think, can you still call yourself civilised, or are you, too, now merely an ogre, albeit one without a head? Ultimately, are we not, all of us, wandering the world like headless ogres, searching for our torn-off heads, tossed onto piles of other torn-off heads in the corners of dark dank caves? Is one of those caves Plato’s cave? Was Plato, too, an ogre? And if Plato was an ogre, what of René Descartes? And what of you?

The latest news from Pebblehead is that his own brain has been so bedizened by the writing of his potboiler of profundity that he is currently languishing, exhausted, on the balcony of a sanatorium even higher in the Swiss Alps. His book is available at all good airport bookstalls. We wish him well.

The Cuthbert Spraingue Song

Cuthbert Spraingue! Cuthbert Spraingue!
He’s the boss of the Mayonnaise Gang!
His head’s the same colour as his shoes.
He darts between elms & bays & yews.
He came unglued on St Bibblybibdib’s Day.
A cart pulled up to take him away.
He fought them off with pins and straw,
Just pins and straw and nothing more.
They say he’s related to Nobby Stiles,
According to the police station files,
But he denies any links by blood
To Nobby. memorably smeared with mud
At the end of that match in ’66.
Cuthbert Spraingue loathes Weetabix
And Coco-pops and Special K.
He eschews breakfast every day,
But his days still go with a bang!
For he’s the boss of the Mayonnaise Gang!
Cuthbert Spraingue! Cuthbert Spraingue!

Lint

Once upon a time Dobson decided to write a pamphlet on the subject of lint.

Thus begins Ted Cack’s mammoth new book The Lint Pamphlet : An Enduring Mystery. It is the latest in a series of mammoth books, each one devoted to a single work by Dobson, including those which the twentieth century’s titanic pamphleteer abandoned, or planned but never wrote, or were mere fugitive throbs within his cranium.

By the time my work is done,” announced Ted Cack at a press conference held at the end of a dilapidated seaside pier, buffeted by squalls, earlier this week, “The number of words I will have devoted to Dobson’s works will dwarf the number of words in all those works put together, however you add them up.”

Quite what he meant by this last phrase is unclear, as there is only one way to add things up, as most of us understand the process. Granted, we are not all students of advanced mathematics, but then nor is Ted Cack. His profile on the online network MyBoast lists several qualifications from several dubious or unimportant institutions, most of which appear to be in frankly absurd fields such as Hermeneutic Ornithology or Unapplied Faffing.

As a Dobsonist, however, Ted Cack is peerless. Once the hot-headed enfant terrible of Dobson studies, as the years have passed his head has become far less hot. Indeed, last time its temperature was measured, his head proved to be so cold various medics pronounced him clinically dead. Ted Cack shocked them all by springing up from his head-temperature-measuring-bed, cutting two or three capers around the room à la James Boswell of a morning, dancing either a quadrille or a gavotte depending from what angle you viewed it, and singing, with unnerving boisterousness, the chorus from “More Than A Feeling” by Boston (Scholz, 1976).

I’m afraid I must interrupt this riveting narrative. The console is beeping with an incoming query. Let me decode it.

Q – If Ted Cack is peerless, how do you explain his press conference taking place on a pier, albeit a dilapidated one?

The question is more sensible than it seems, much, much more sensible, so sensible it takes my breath away (Moroder/Whitlock, 1986; performed by Berlin. Berlin ought not be confused with Irving Berlin. The former was an American New Wave band formed in Orange County, home of Richard M. Nixon, in 1979. The latter, born Israel Beilin, wrote the kinds of songs which would knock anything written by the band into a cocked hat.)

My breath having been taken away, I am unable to answer the question right now, but can only pant and wheeze as I struggle to remain conscious. You may be familiar with such a struggle, for example when listening to Hooting Yard On The Air, broadcasts of which have been known to lull even the most alert listeners into a deep and profound sleep, or at least a catnap.

I should point out here that enquiries, such as the one about peerless Ted Cack on a pier, are always welcome, even if I do not always – oh, wait, here is another one beeping on the console already!

Q – I could not help noticing that you have mentioned two pop music combos today, both of which take their names from cities beginning with the letter B, that is, Boston and Berlin. Are there any other groups with similar nomenclature, for example Bridlington, Basingstoke, Biggleswade, Bognor Regis, Broadstairs, Budleigh Salterton, or Bungay, to list only a few towns in England?

If anything, this is an even more sensible question, and one I would be prepared to answer here and now were my knowledge of pop music combos more exhaustive than it is, but for heaven’s sake, I’m meant to be talking about lint!

Perhaps the most startling revelation of my mammoth new book”, said Ted Cack at that press conference held at the end of a dilapidated seaside pier, buffeted by squalls, earlier this week, “is that Dobson seemed to be wholly ignorant about his proposed subject matter.”

This is not half as startling as Ted Cack thinks it is. It was the out of print pamphleteer’s common practice to write endless screeds on topics of which he knew nothing whatsoever. The word for this is perpilocution, and Dobson was a master of it. Sometimes he liked to pretend he was following the dictum that the best way to learn about something is to write a book about it, but this is rather belied by the resulting out of print pamphlets, which rarely tell us much about anything except the baffling innards of the author’s brain.

Startling or not, however, Ted Cack paints a compelling picture of Dobson and Marigold Chew at breakfast on the morning when the lint spark was lit. The couple were tucking into bowls of reconstituted partridge livers in a mustard ‘n’ milk of magnesia froideur when the pamphleteer suddenly banged his spoon against his forehead and burst into unnervingly boisterous song.

I want to know what lint is. I want you to show me, Marigold my sweet. I want to feel what lint is. I know you can show me.””

He sang to the tune of “I Want To Know What Love Is” (Jones, 1984; performed by Foreigner. Interestingly, all the members of the group actually were foreigners, except for those periods when they were present in their home countries.)

I think you had better write a pamphlet on the subject, Dobson”, said Marigold Chew.

The “enduring mystery” of Ted Cack’s subtitle is that Dobson never did.

Birds And Bats And The Bible And The BBC

Dear BBC Radio Four

I am a keen and regular listener to Tweet Of The Day, your two-minute programme devoted to birds and birdsong broadcast each weekday morning at the ungodly hour of 5.58. I have grown used to beginning my day having my ears delighted by the various trills, chirps, chirrups, caws, squawks, tweets, etcetera etcetera of our avian pals. Thus I was mightily disconcerted, this morning, to hear not a bird but a bat.

I charged the unpaid interns of the Hooting Yard Ornithological Research Bureau with the task of checking these things for me, and the crippled yet sprightly orphans toiling away in the cellar reported back, toot sweet, that, as I suspected, a bat is not a bird. Unless you have renamed the series Airborne Mammalian Squeak Of The Day, this is simply unfathomable.

Please ensure that your editor studies carefully this diagram of a bird, to avoid committing the same blunder in the future.

Yours peevishly,

Frank Key

*

Dear Mr Key

Thank you for your peevish complaint. Recent developments at the BBC have clearly escaped your notice. You may know that the inaugural Director General of the Corporation was a God-fearing Scotchman of great rectitude, Lord Reith. Following a conference held in a grim granite chapel perched on a windswept promontory, the senior management vowed to jettison all that leftie politically correct Gramscian Marxist poppycock and return the BBC to stern-jawed Reithian values informed by Christian ethics.

Henceforth Christ is our guide, and the Bible is His Word, and it is abundantly clear from the Bible that the bat is a bird. I refer you to Leviticus 11:13-19.

And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray, And the vulture, and the kite after his kind; Every raven after his kind; And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind, And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl, And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle, And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.

I trust this clarifies the matter, and that you will repent of your sins. May the Lord bless you and keep you, or smite you and chastise you, as in His infinite wisdom He sees fit.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Ninian Tonguelash

BBC Ornithology & Theology Inquisitor General