Reviewing a new book about God in The Spectator, Alexander Waugh notes
the ancient Jewish Hekhalot gives precise measurements of the space between God’s thighs and his neck, revealing that from head to toe he is 1,298 billion km tall.
(That’s 806½ billion miles, for those of us who still use sensible measurements.)
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).
This week is meant to be Dobson Week at Hooting Yard (atoll, pickle, mosh pit), but we must interrupt with important news o’ toads. Devoted readers will recall The Book Of Gnats (collected in the slim anthology We Were Puny, They Were Vapid – buy it now if you have not already done so). In part one, we read:
And then my eyes saw, standing fiery on a wooden plinth ringed by scum-pools, the obscene figure of Winckelmann. In his left hand he brandished aloft a scrap of burning linoleum. His right hand was made into a fist. As, dribbling, I watched, the fist was slowly opened to reveal a….. I cannot say. I do not know. For just at the moment my peering, watery eyes would have seen that… that thing, I was startled by a toad, which leapt up at my face, and thwacked me on the forehead, leaving an imprint which remains there to this day, like a brand.
The narrator of part one then turns up in part two as The Man With The Mark Of The Toad! (He invariably attracts an exclamation mark.)
Now, years later, far far away and banished to a pompous land, Mr Mike Jennings has unearthed this piece of comic book art by the creator of Spiderman, one Steve Ditko. An eerie premonition …
“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.
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 …
Larks’ Tongues In Aspic plays over the closing credits.
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.
“Talmudiic scholar action figure with two pointy things.” (2017)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
As I made my way through the world, along lanes and pathways lined by larch, laburnum, and pine, I came at last to the village of the cheesegraters. Here, I thought, is somewhere I can lay my hat. My hat is not a cheese-hat. It will not be grated.
And it was not. But nor was it admired, as I felt sure it would be. No villager came up to me to say “Cor blimey, what a splendid titfer you’ve got there atop your head, meinheer!” Rather, they seemed a sullen people, jowly and hoarse, and sullen, sullen.
In the village square I sat, to observe their ways. I jotted no notes in my jotting pad. It struck me, and forcibly, forcibly, that they seemed to grate more marzipan than cheese. The air was scented with almond. Theirs was a sullen grating.
There were many gratings, too, punctuating the paving slabs of the path crisscrossing the square. Metal gratings that gleamed in the sunlight in lattice patterns of stupendous complexity, like the most delicate of lacework. What lay beneath those gratings?, I wondered. Drains and sewers, drains and sewers, came the reply, whispered on the breeze.
Do not scoff when I suggest I was spoken to by the wind, by the stirrings of the almond-scented air. That is how it is in the village of the cheesegraters, that sullen place, where cheese comes cheap, and marzipan cheaper.
It was a tiny village, and when I left the square I was soon enough out in open country. Now there was no wind to speak of, or to speak to me. All was still and silent. I saw a bird in the sky, but I know nothing of ornithology. I passed on, my splendid titfer atop my head, towards another village.
The church of St Adalbert, in the market square of Krakow, is almost a thousand years old. On one side of it there is a low wall – much more recent – on the inner part of which, for no apparent reason, a single small tile has been embedded.
On this tile is depicted a bird. This bird has recently been designated as the Hooting Yard Bird Emblem. Next time you go to Krakow, make sure you pay due obeisance to the bird by sprawling on the ground before it and thinking of Dobson.