If you were fortunate enough to be hanging around with Blodgett on a Thursday morning in the middling years of the last century, you would as likely as not have been witness to a display of rare skill. For it was Blodgett’s endearing habit in those days, on Thursday mornings, to bash out various national anthems, using his fists, and sometimes sticks, on the base of an upturned biscuit tin. He would have eaten all the biscuits for his breakfast, of course. Blodgett had learned by heart the national anthem of almost every state and statelet on the planet, reduced each one to its rhythmic core, and bashed them out on biscuit tins. He would do this at home, or by the edge of a pond, or halfway up a hillside. In truth, it mattered not where he was, for he had fallen into a routine. Thursday meant biscuits for breakfast, then bashing out anthems. So energetically did he thump and bash that by the end of his recital the biscuit tin would be a dented and effectively destroyed thing. Apparently he passed the ruined tins on to Jasper Poxhaven, the sinister scrap metal dealer whose yard was a few doors away from Blodgett’s chalet.
Blodgett was not fussy about his biscuits, and would gobble down whatever the tin contained. The biscuit shop was conveniently located between his chalet and Poxhaven’s yard, so you can see that fortune favoured the accomplishment of his designs. He might take his tin to the pond, or to the hillside, if the weather was balmy, but if it rained, or there were tempests and cataclysms, he would hurry back indoors. I am not sure if he kept a dog at this time, but if he did it was probably the deaf dog of which we know he became fond, its lack of hearing rendering it oblivious to the frantic bashing of the biscuit tins. It would be useful to gain some clarity about this, because it raises the possibility that Blodgett may have bought a tin of dog biscuits from time to time, and given them to the dog rather than bolting them down himself, which would have been a boon at such times as he suffered from stomach cramps. Certainly there is evidence that the biscuit shop sold dog biscuits as well as biscuits for human beings. It also sold hard tack biscuits for the many jolly jack tars and matelots who congregated at the quayside, babbling incoherent maritime gibberish while gutting fish in a desultory fashion.
I have said that sometimes Blodgett bashed his biscuit tins with his fists and that sometimes he deployed a pair of sticks. Had you asked him about this, he would have explained that the different timbres of fists and sticks were each appropriate for certain national anthems. Indeed, one of his little mottos at the time was “European fists, South American sticks!”, which he always shouted with great enthusiasm. That leaves unclear the preferred thumping implement for the anthems of other continents, but Blodgett was the first to admit that he was not yet fully au fait with all the anthems in the world, just most of them. This may have been a specious claim, but who in that wretched seaport knew enough to challenge him? Certainly not Poxhaven, whose knowledge of music was confined to his eerie renditions of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie The Moocher”, drunkenly wailed under the moonlight as he staggered out of The Cow & Pins.
It was only on Thursdays that Blodgett ate biscuits for breakfast. The rest of the week he strained to suck a glutinous purple goo through a straw. He had been assured by a quack that it was a miracle goo, a panacea for all known ailments, corporeal and cerebral, that by ingesting it he would in all likelihood cheat Death itself. To be sure, the quack himself looked to be at least two hundred years old and still went tobogganing every winter. That is what he told Blodgett, in any case. It is a pity that we do not know the recipe for the goo, for we could mix up a supply and subject it to lab tests, with our wiser heads. All we know with any certainty is that Blodgett once described the taste of the goo as approximating to that of the straw through which he sucked it. In the years of which I write, such a straw would most likely have been made from cardboard.
Of course, neither Blodgett nor anyone else became immortal by sucking goo through a straw, but long before his death he had abandoned his Thursday morning biscuit tin bashing. Why? It would be an exaggeration to say, as Ford Madox Ford does at the beginning of The Good Soldier, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard”, but I’ll admit that when I heard all about it I sniffled into the napkin I happened to be holding. Jasper Poxhaven had, it turned out, been hoarding all those battered and dented biscuit tins rather than flattening them his big pulverising machine and selling the tin to a tin buyer, as one might have expected him to do. But I told you he was sinister. Now he built the huge collection of biscuit tins into a tower, out at the front of his yard, for no other reason than a deluded sense of self-importance. He hoisted a flag, embroidered with his likeness, atop the tin tower, and took to perching up there, in all weathers, like some ascetic of the ancient world, except that rather than contemplating the ineffable he hurled imprecations and spittle upon the citizenry below. He was bonkers as well as sinister. But the biscuit tins, remember, were bent and battered, and the tower was unsafe. And one day a gale swept in from the west, and the tower toppled, and it toppled at the precise moment that Mrs Purgative, the proprietress of the biscuit shop, was pulling up her shutters, and she was buried under the biscuit tins and the flagpole and the flag and Poxhaven himself, who somehow survived. Mrs Purgative did not, and soon her shop was taken over by a potato magnate, and no more biscuits were sold in the town from that day to this.
As Blodgett was to reflect, when writing his memoirs many years later, potatoes come in sacks rather than in tins, and you cannot bash out the national anthems of the world on burlap, with fists or sticks or anything else. And so he ceased his Thursday morning biscuit-scoffing, and his rhythmic thumping of biscuit tins, and on those days too he sucked glutinous purple goo through a straw for breakfast, but it did not save him.