Hooting Yard On The Air: Jug o' Paraffin
- Publication date
Hectic Clanging - 06:12
The Great Ecstasy Of Tiny Enid - 10:56
A Vast And Chilly Gasworks - 16:31
Are You A Bird Or A Cow? - 23:56
JUG O' PARAFFIN
A curious tale attaches itself to the shortest pamphlet Dobson ever published. Of a light-hearted, even frisky, disposition one foul winter's day, he wrote as follows:
Obtain a large jug of paraffin. Remove the cap from the jug and slosh the paraffin over a pile of something dry and brittle in a public place. Toss a lighted match onto it, stand back, and watch the resulting blaze. This will warm your cockles and provide a pleasing spectacle to pass the time of day.
Having nothing further to add, the pamphleteer persuaded Marigold Chew to set these four sentences in a particularly decisive and heroic typeface, and issued it under the unambiguous title Fun With Paraffin! For the cover, Marigold Chew chose a mezzotint by the mezzotintist Rex Tint, depicting his sister Dot Tint hand-tinting one of his mezzotints with a paraffin-based colourant. Before doing any typesetting or production work on the pamphlet, however, Marigold Chew had a fractious to-do with Dobson over his use of the word jug. She insisted that a jug was by definition an open-necked container, and that he should prefer the word canister, for a canister would have a cap, and be a more likely receptacle for paraffin, than would a jug, which, though it may be fitted with a plug or stopper, would never have a cap.
Dobson never took kindly to having his errors pointed out to him, believing that the sheer force of his prose, even in so short a pamphlet as this, ought to silence his critics. He was fond of quoting Christopher Smart's line from Jubilate Agno, where the poet says "For I pray God for the ostriches of Salisbury Plain, the beavers of the Medway, and silver fish of Thames". Sorry, wrong line. I was distracted there for a moment by a freshly-laundered dishcloth flapping in the breeze. The line Dobson liked to use to defend himself against detractors was "For my talent is to give an Impression upon words by punching, that when the reader casts his eye upon 'em, he takes up the image from the mould which I have made".
Marigold Chew, though, was a stickler, and challenged Dobson to produce, in the real world rather than from the skewed universe inside his skull, a jug sealed with a cap. Characteristically, the pamphleteer tried to shirk this by muttering some nonsense about his urgent need to examine a nest of stints in a shrubbery over by the pond. Why on earth he persisted in his lifelong delusion that ornithology could rescue him from any pickle he found himself in is a question for wiser heads than mine. Marigold Chew made short shrift of his stinty babblings, of course, and Dobson was left with no choice but to head off to Hubermann's in the hope that somewhere on the shelves of that unutterably gorgeous department store he might pounce upon a capped jug.
And therein lies the strangeness of this tale. For as he approached the plaza where Hubermann's loomed enormous, he found the building enshrouded in a weird mauve mist, like the purple cloud in M P Shiel's novel of that title, and he wandered into the mist, and through the doors of Hubermann's, and there in the foyer he came upon a tottering tower of jugs, all with screw-top caps, and all filled to the brim with paraffin, and he was convulsed by a desire to toss a lighted match upon them, and to pass an entertaining time watching the blaze, just as he had described in his yet-to-be-typeset pamphlet. But as he reached into his pocket for a box of lucifers, he was felled by an eagle-eyed Hubermann's security guard, a titanic monster of a man whose epaulettes glistened in the mist and whose buttons glistened in the mist even more than his epaulettes so glistened. And Dobson was kept under lock and key in a broom cupboard in the basement of the department store until bailed by an eerie, cadaverous magistrate who roved the land on horseback, following the mauve mist wherever it settled.
Home again, fuddled and with mysterious mauve stainage upon his clothing, the pamphleteer told his tale to Marigold Chew, who, despite raising a skeptical eyebrow, skipped at once to her shed and cranked out Dobson's pamphlet with the text as Dobson wanted it, the world once again cast from the mould his words had made.
On Tuesday morning I was woken by the hectic clanging of the bells of St Bibblybibdib's. I had been dreaming about a monkey as big as a planet, as I sometimes do. Using the Blotzmann technique, I squeezed the sleep out of my brain, clambered out of bed, and threw my windows wide open. I was rather disconcerted to note that, as Milton put it in Book IV of Paradise Lost, "the starry cope of Heaven... or all the elements / At least, had gone to wrack, disturbed and torn", for Monday had been mild with sunny intervals and there had been no sign of cosmic cataclysm. Indeed, I had made a point of watching Daniel Corbett's early evening weather forecast on the BBC, and that always reliable and beautifully well-spoken presenter had said nothing at all about wrack, disturbance, and a tearing in the heavens, as far as I could remember.
I had, however, taken the precaution of making a copy of his forecast on my bakelite televisual simulacrumating device, and the steam would have dispersed overnight, making it ready for viewing, so I went into the parlour and depressed the starting knob. I was keen to see if my memory was playing tricks, for there seemed to be no other explanation for the disjuncture between Daniel Corbett's prognostications and the foul reality outwith my windows. While I waited for the valves to warm up, I recalled that the monkey in my dream had been about as big as the planet Mercury. In earlier dreams it had been the size of one of those gigantic gas planets you read about, and I wondered if this shrinkage was something to be welcomed or, indeed, feared. It was hard to tell.
I sat down on my stool and pulled my crumpled hessian nightshirt tight about my torso, and the simulacrumating device hissed into life. There, as if by magic, was Daniel Corbett again, telling me about the weather, dumbfounding me. For as he moved his arms in graceful scooping gestures, like a meteorological ballerina, his words were not those I remembered from yesterday evening, but those of Milton. Dan said that "the starry cope of Heaven... or all the elements / At least," will go "to wrack, disturbed and torn". And he was right, of course, for that was precisely what was happening outside.
I had concentrated like mad watching him the day before, as I always do, and I was absolutely convinced that what his simulacrum was saying now was not what I had heard then. The bakelite device could not be at fault, for I had had a person from Porlock come to give it an overhaul but a week before, and he had pronounced it to be in full working order. Was my brain being monkeyed with by the planet-sized monkey of my dreams? I watched Dan Corbett again, three times, and three times he spoke of wrack. Shutting down the device, I changed into my crumpled hessian outdoor clothing and hurried down the lane to St Bibblybibdib's. The bells still clanged as I staggered into a pew and prayed as hard as I could for my immortal soul, on Tuesday morning.
THE GREAT ECSTASY OF TINY ENID
Like Kaspar Hauser, she was an enigma. Like Petra Von Kant, she wept bitter tears. And like Woodcarver Steiner, she knew great ecstasy. But was it a religious ecstasy, or was it, as for Woodcarver Steiner, related to ski-jumping at championship level?
Had she been so inclined, there is no doubt that Tiny Enid could have been a top skier in spite of her club foot, for we know that she never allowed that infirmity to dissuade her from the most remarkable exploits. Hang-gliding, hot air ballooning, pole-vaulting and daring undersea rescues were among her many accomplishments, and she was only narrowly pipped to the post in a vinkensport contest when her finch, Edgar, became rattled and chirped susk-e-wiat instead of susk-e-wiet in the final minutes. Yet we have no evidence that Tiny Enid ever strapped on a pair of skis, nor dwelt in an area of snow fallen on sloping ground.
Equally, however, if hers was a religious ecstasy, we are hard put to identify to what brand of supernatural belief it could be ascribed. Those who knew Tiny Enid crinkle in glee as they recall that, like Benjamin Peret, she spat at Catholic priests, so I think we can rule out the Ratzingeristas, as we can confidently dismiss any connection to Aztec fundamentalism, given Tiny Enid's reported remarks on Temaxcaltechi, the goddess of sweatbaths, whom she described as "far too sweaty". This is not the place to examine Tiny Enid's somewhat unseemly preoccupation with both human and divine sweat, for we must keep on track.
That track is the one we hope would lead us to know the source of Tiny Enid's great ecstasy. With Woodcarver Steiner we know where we stand, as we do with Saint Teresa of Avila and any number of visionary enthusiasts and mystics through the ages. But what can we say of the great ecstasy of Tiny Enid except that it remains a puzzle? We know she experienced such ecstasy, for we have the mezzotints, done from the life, by the mezzotintist Rex Tint, which depict Tiny Enid in great transports of joy. It is true, as Rex Tint's sister Dot Tint pointed out, that in many of these mezzotints Tiny Enid could more accurately be described as chuckling or giggling in a childish way at slapstick scenes of pratfalls and larkabout, rather than convulsed in spiritual ecstasy. But let us not forget that in one of the most well-known of the mezzotints Tiny Enid is shown so convulsed, standing next to a clown with unmistakeable beads of sweat upon his brow and great patches of perspiration visible under the arms of his clown costume as he reaches up to flap his beclowngloved hands in some sort of funny business. Tiny Enid would never have laughed at a clown, sweaty or not, for she feared them as she feared nothing else on earth, ever.
Trawling through the various biographical documents which survive, I have found no indication that Tiny Enid ever professed any religious impulses whatsoever, nor, for that matter, any more broadly spiritual leanings. Indeed, all accounts agree that she was a severely practical type of heroic infant, never more essentially herself than when solving very concrete problems, usually involving the rescue of persons imperilled. One thinks, for example, of Tiny Enid abseiling down a crevasse to deliver a life-saving polythene bag of nutritious bread pudding to the half-starved, half-frozen polar explorer Sir Blinky Cheeselip, or digging a tunnel under the Vindervandersee to reach a trio of extras from a Werner Herzog film trapped in a subterranean pool rife with blind albino aquatic tentacled beings each with thousands of razor sharp fangs and unassuageable appetites. One pictures Tiny Enid kicking a git in the head with her big black boot.
Perhaps, we must ask, it was her reveries of such deeds which sent her into her great ecstasies? We ask, but for the time being we cannot answer "yes" with any great conviction, not until much further work has been done to disentangle the hugely complicated legacy Tiny Enid left in her heroic, infantile wake.
A VAST AND CHILLY GASWORKS
Somewhere in today's papers I came across the phrase a vast and chilly gasworks, and this reminded me that for ages now I have been meaning to write about the Blister Lane Gasworks. More specifically, I wish to address the time that the manager of the gasworks approached Dobson, the out of print pamphleteer, asking him to write an instruction manual for the gasworks janitor.
The words vast and chilly certainly describe the Blister Lane Gasworks to a T. They describe, too, the manager, a man of huge bulk and cold disposition named Istvan Pan. His moustache was of the Kaiser Wilhelm type, and his eyes were glacial. Interestingly, no one could ever recall seeing him off the gasworks' premises, and how he lived and fended for his everyday needs was a complete mystery. Equally perplexing was the fact that in his left hand, at all times, he carried a hammer, almost as if it were an extension of his arm. Perhaps it was. So chilly was his manner that no one had the temerity to ask him about it.
Janitors came and went at the gasworks with bewildering rapidity. Some left voluntarily, after a few days or weeks, and others were fired by Pan, often within minutes of their appointment. Curiously, not a single ex-janitor would speak of their experience, remaining steadfast in their silence even when badgered for a scoop by bumptious reporters from The Daily Shovel.
It is against this background that one needs to consider Dobson's response when he was summoned to the gasworks by Istvan Pan. Unfortunately, we do not know how the pamphleteer reacted, because there is a gap in his journals covering this period. He may have crowed with delight, or he may have shuddered with queasiness, but we are unlikely ever to know, so let's just crack on and find out what happened next.
Dobson presented himself at the gasworks gate promptly at six o' clock in the morning on a Monday of blustery gales and drizzle. He was met by a woman so tiny that he mistook her for a female homunculus, and wondered if she had been created according to the Paracelsian recipe of burying a bag of bones, semen, skin fragments and hair in the mud for forty days. Tactless as ever, Dobson wondered this aloud, and had his knee slapped by the tiny woman. Had she been any taller, no doubt she would have slapped his face, but his knee was as high as she could reach. She introduced herself as Mrs Pan, wife of the gasworks manager, and bade Dobson follow her down a very long corridor hissing with gas-jets, at the end of which was Istvan Pan's office.
As enormous as his wife was minuscule, Pan towered above the pamphleteer as he coldly outlined what he wanted Dobson to do for him. Before appointing a new gasworks janitor, he explained, he wanted to have an instruction manual clearly setting out the janitorial duties, and he wanted it to be written in sweeping, magisterial prose so that whoever took on the job would be properly awestruck. As he said this he flailed his hammer in the air. He went on to say, in a voice redolent of Antarctic desolation, that Dobson had been recommended to him as a writer of sweeping, magisterial prose, and as a man who knew a thing or two about janitordom. Dobson was curious to know who might have made such a recommendation, but just as he was about to ask, Mrs Pan rushed into the office with a stricken look on her tiny face. The pamphleteer was astonished to see Istvan Pan's cold imperiousness crumple into uxorious solicitude as he swept his tiny wife into his arms and, without dropping his hammer, comforted her, chirping into her ear softly, like a linnet.
Eventually becalmed, Mrs Pan explained why she was stricken. There had been a pile-up on the Blister Lane Bypass, she said, just beyond the gasworks, and fumes and flames were being blown by the blustery gales in their direction. Unless they took action, the whole place could explode in a conflagration like the one that engulfed the Potato Building just after the war. Istvan Pan looked Dobson coldly in the eye and told him that this was just the kind of circumstance where a competent janitor would be a boon, and the pamphleteer could only nod in agreement. Then the gasworks manager turned around and depressed a knob upon his desk and Dobson felt a sudden lurch in the pit of his stomach. It took him a few seconds to realise that the entire vast and chilly gasworks was descending, via the thrumming of some incredible and complicated engine, below the surface of the earth, into a subterranean vault as vast and chilly as the gasworks itself, while above ground, the firestorm created by the Blister Lane Bypass pile-up raged, and raged for days and weeks and months..
For many years now, Dobsonists have hunted high and low for a copy of the legendary "missing pamphlet", How I Spent Six Months Underground In An Amazing Subterranean Vault Built To House The Blister Lane Gasworks, Together With Mr And Mrs Pan And Their Cat Hudibras. If ever a copy can be discovered, we might learn what happened in that time and, more importantly, why, when Istvan Pan at last pressed the knob to return the gasworks to ground level, his plans to have a janitorial instruction manual written in sweeping and magisterial prose by Dobson seem to have been utterly abandoned. We might learn, too, whether it was giant Istvan Pan, or tiny Mrs Pan, or even perhaps Dobson himself who managed to train Hudibras the cat to carry out all the tasks the manager expected of a vast and chilly gasworks janitor.
ARE YOU A BIRD OR A COW?
I recently came across a fascinating personality test. Normally, I give short shrift to such things, because they tend to be devised by airheads drunk on a combination of psychobabble and inanity, but this one delighted me. Unfortunately I can't reproduce it here. Rarely have I seen a document so thoroughly protected by copyright, threatening extreme measures up to and including the crushing of one's skull and the sale into slavery of one's descendants, yea unto the fourth generation. Very occasionally I have shown a devil-may-care attitude in the face of such warnings, but I am not an idiot.
Anyway, as far as I can see, there is nothing to stop me paraphrasing a few questions from the test, so that's what I'll do. It's called "Are You A Bird Or A Cow?". I looked in vain for any indication that these are meant as types of human personality, so I can only assume that we are meant to take it literally. Maybe the test is meant to be conducted on behalf of your bird or cow acquaintances who are confused about their identity. That would make perfect sense.
So, for example, there are questions like Would you say you were flighty or given to rumination? and Do you prefer standing in a field or perching high in a tree? Please remember that I am only paraphrasing. One question asks specifically whether for breakfast you would prefer to eat millet or cud. Oddly, it doesn't go on to ask about elevenses, lunch, dinner, tea, or supper, and nor is there any mention of snacks. This may indicate a certain laxness in the methodology employed, par for the course with tests such as this, but given the ferocious look on the face of the deviser, whose photograph appears at the top of the first page, I am minded not to level any criticism.
I completed the test for myself, rather than as a proxy for my crow Martin or for a cow I know called Degustibus, and the results were extremely interesting.
- 2020-12-22 02:31:23
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