Competitions 17A and 17B: results

Clennell Wilkinson has set a more manageable competition: 17A is to be a parody of Herrick, writing about ‘Julia’s Eyebrow, on seeing it Newly-Pluckt’. 17B needs a bit of research – three meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) as prepared by Robinson Crusoe, based on the evidence given in the novel …

Eyebrow-plucking has a long and evolving history, but in 1930, pencil thin eyebrows were in, and this is presumably the source of the idea. As an idea, here’s Fay Wray, shortly to become famous for her role in King Kong:

Fay Wray

The prizewinners (squeezing out the familiars Seacape and Valimus and the newly-rising star, Majolica) are Walter Harrison and H.C.M.:

Whenas my Julia browless goes
Her eyes so boldly do disclose
Their fire, that all my being glows.
And when, in painted symmetry,
That deadly drawn-out bow I see,
Oh! how its shaft transfixeth me!
Thus burned by fire and pierced by dart,
That natural, this framed by Art,
I yield my singed, stricken heart.

                       WALTER HARRISON
Fair hairs, beneath whose golden shade
    My Julia’s eyes looked out,
And with a glance me captive made
    And compassed me about;
        I see you gone,
And I, methinks, would fain bemoan
        The impious deed
Which Julia’s fancy hath decreed.

But when I gaze on Julia’s face
      And see her lips that smile
And welcome me with winning grace
      To come to Cherry Isle;
Then, then my heart
      Is so constrain’d in every part
That, nothing loth,
     It must commend what Julia doth.


Competition 17B has asked for menus for a three-course Christmas meal to be prepared by Robinson Crusoe, based on the evidence of the novel. It’s this last requirement that might make us pause. Nevertheless, as the report shows, Wilkinson was impressed (the reference to Walter de la Mare concerns the publication in 1930 of an anthology of material for children drawn from a wide range of literary sources, illustrated by Rex Whistler, and called Desert Islands. It contained several footnotes).


The second prize goes to another new winner to hide behind initials: M.L.

Here is Majolica‘s studious winner – a lot of work for a guinea! 




And here is the second prize from M.L. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


It’s very difficult to imagine the work that has gone into these two – enough research for a decent thesis on Crusoe and food, perhaps to be entitled Crusoe: Man and Menu, and attracting hefty grants to travel to the Pacific. Hmm. Not a bad idea.

Competitions 16A and 16B: results

Not only has Gerald Bullett asked for Spenserian stanzas based on a folk tale, he has also asked for an essay with an upper limit of 300 words (an impossible luxury in these straitened times: I started in 1978, and I don’t think the word limit has ever exceeded 150, and has been as low as 100)  using John Earle’s aphoristic style (1628), and as if printed in a ‘modern’ and prurient Sunday newspaper. I have never heard of John Earle; but you may read him here. I wonder what the position was in 1930. Did the competitors do their homework? (It can be done. I thought I’d get through my life without reading Lawrence Durrell, but there was a competition in the late 1970s to turn Eliot into Durrell or vice versa, so I have read Durrell. A harder-earned £7, I cannot imagine.)

Anyway: Bullett is happy with neither. He didn’t mean entrants to write in Spenser’s style, just to use the form named after him; however, he did want the folk-rhyme to be a ‘metaphysical allegory’. When it came to Earle (a means of attacking the gutter press, to use a more modern term, something the Week-end Review writers had earned the right to do), however, he did want something in Earle’s style. However ‘sincere apologies’ are not in Bullett’s phrase-book (any more than they were when Raymond Mortimer or Julian Barnes were judges). Seacape is an unlucky loser, as is T.E. Casson, who must have begun – and he has more unhappiness in store – to need therapy for the number of times he has come close but gained no guinea.

The introduction to Bullett’s report is so grudging that even Valimus, who does get half-a-guinea, must have wondered whether to accept it. The winner (who has been waiting like Casson for a reward) is the pseudonymous Majolica:

Anon Sir Guyon counter’d as he far’d
An old decrepit woman all alone
With haske of eggs for market-day prepar’d,
Who shook and sneez’d, and weping made her mone;
And her olde legges that were but skin and bone,
She sought within her petticote to hide,
And ‘Lord have mercy on me’ did she groan,
‘I am not I, but who I be besyde,
Or in what unlykelyness, uneath may be descryde.’

Forwearied, by the way I layd me down,
And in my Kirtle did my feet enfold;
But lo, all starke, my sences in a swowne,
I wake, and am not I, and am a-colde,
Nor who I be, by no means may be told,
For when to meet me ran my littel hound,
As one bemused at what he doth behold
He bark’d and wayl’d, and gnarring lept around,
That I am none of I his wisdom doth expound.

This dearnely that mishappening bewayl’d
Hispania (for so the beldame hight)
Which, while she senceless lay, her coats curtayl’d,
And of her words and weeds despoyl’d her quite.
One Stout of harte and arm, a merry wight,
Had snipt the Kirtle of that ancient dame,
Nor mought she have agayne her antique might,
But with her vestiment, put off her fame,
And ‘I am none of I’ was still her fitt of shame.


Wheron sore laden with her merchandyse
Up til the toun on heavie steppes she wente,
Which ere she raught, as I wol yow devyse,
Upon the waye her litel fors was spent,
And sodainly dire weariness her hente
That al for failynge limbes she might not kepe
Her lonelie viage ne her ful intent,
Til on her droopyyng eye lids gan to crepe
As softe as quiet death the heavie lidded slepe.

Bifel that there a foul and witless loun
Stretcht on the cruell paument her espide,
Who cut her kirtel robe the knees aboun
And left her, on his palfreye for to ride
And don his other mischiefs far and wide.
So on a sodain was she ful awake
With biter colde, and “Lauk-a-mussie!” cryde
That al her limbes with pynching cramps did ake
And deathlie shivers so her tremblyng bones did shake.

O gentil Ouid, chroniler of chaunge,
Haue pitie of this poure and wretched wight!
What agonie of feares, what fantomes straunge
Her fraile and crazie senses did affright,
And stopt her eares, and blinded eek her sight,
So was she left with al her minde fordone,
And haples laye in sad and piteous plight
As she were thunder strook or turned to stone,
Nor knewe if she were she or els some other one!

Bisette with euil doutes and mazed with feares
She was as al her wits were stoln awaye,,
Nor coude the wantowne sorrowe of her teares
The Passyng Time with helying hande allaye.
Onlie she wepte, “O sad and woful daye,
Now graunte this teste of resoun may not faile:
If still mysefe am I, in happie playe
My gentil bound shall wagge his litel taile,
But if I be not I he shall bothe barke and waile.”

Which when she sayde, on weake unsteadie feet
Back to her wonyngre she assayed to goe,
And waited for her hound those steppes to grete
That at the lintel halted tired and slowe;
Yet he with rorying bowe and angrie wowe
Leped as a thief were knockyng at the dore,
That certes she could neuere tel nor knowe
If she were stille waht she had ben bifore,
And whose her wearie bodye was could know namore.


Gilbert Highet

Now we have 16B: the two pastiches of Earle. The winner is Gilbert Highet, and he is singled out for special praise as having produced ‘perhaps the most perfectly finished work that has ever come to me for judgment in a Literary Competition’. This must have pleased Highet, at that time an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford (at the age of 25), having already achieved a master’s degree in Greek and Latin from Glasgow. He had also won a whole host of prestigious prizes in Scotland, as he was to continue to do in Oxford. He was also to become one of the most renowned classics professors in the USA – and played a significant role in profiling Nazi leaders, successfully predicting their actions by comparing them to Roman emperors.

Here’s his winner:


The half-guinea goes to another young man who was destined for greater things – Stuart Piggott, later one of the key British archaeologists, and at this stage only 20 years old, but precocious enough to have published learned articles. In fact at almost the same time he was the tail-end charlie in Competition 16B, he was preparing a highly influential article on Neolithic pottery.

Stuart Piggott

Stuart Piggott


Comps nos 15A and 15B: results

There’s a subtle shift: the fourteen previous competitions have been headed ‘Literary Competitions’; now they become ‘Week-end Competitions’, a style they were to retain almost until the end of the century. The title change is partly to do with the name of the paper, of course; but it may also signal a slight shift to something a little more frivolous. J.C.Squire’s competition to find or create an entertaining list from a telephone or other directory is a little more playful than earlier competitions.

The phone directory game is one I am ashamed to say I have played myself, having once found A. Hook, A. Line and A. Sinker in an Oxford phone directory. Some of the competitors have used their discoveries to do what they haven’t been asked to do, like make a story up from names they’ve found. Squire lists some of the more remarkable names his competitors have come up with:


As Squire observes, after these, Chuzzlewit seems quite ordinary. I’ve met someone called Tosh, Chugg, Jump, Hugall (my father’s business partner), Spouge, and also Bytheway (the latter both called Bill). And some are quite famous now – Marje and indeed Greg Proops; Ronald Pickup; Mavis Cheek, Graham Yallop … You may be able to think of others. I don’t know why names are potentially funny, but most of us have names that will have been tinkered with in childhood. Just the Green part of my surname gave the entire staff at one school I went to, licence to improvise at will. For five years.

Many are commended, but Margery Coleman scoops the first prize for a list from ‘a northern town’.  The second prize goes to another new name, Robwil, with Squire, a bit late in the day to be sensitive, one feels, deleting one double-barrelled surname for being ‘too closely associated with particular families’, as if the many Halfhides deserved what they were given.

Margery Coleman’s list (in the original, set out in two columns) runs: Flatkin, Umbleby, Twose, Blatherwick, Halfhead, Sprittles, Glabby, Tarbottom, Toes, Fowweather, Tullymarsh, Brabbs, Tutty, Matey, Oddy, Slonker, Blabby, Tankle. It mght be me, but a high proportion of these seem to depend on the presence of an ‘l’ to be amusing.

Robwil’s second prize, its provenance not revealed, runs: Whalebelly, Trampleasure, Tiplady, Sheepwash, Littleales, Bullwinkle, Chewett, Rumph, Stumbles, Jesty, Humpage, Spankie, Scotcher, Leatherbarrow, Cobbledick, Walklate, Gotobed, Merredew, Gathercole.

I guess names, being words, are inherently funny. My mother’s surname was Frail, and she suffered repeatedly during the hymn with the line ‘feeble as frail’ (‘O worship the King, all glorious above …’). Some of my ancestors fared badly. One was called Humble Broom, and another, Temperance Spratt. Unbelievably, the latter married a man called Hall, and became, therefore, Temperance Hall.

I did have my suspicions about the list, and used the ‘count’ facility on FreeBMD (the transcription of the register of births marriages and deaths) to check a few. I counted the births. I was most suspicious of Puddephatt, but there were 1214 of them, 888 Fuggles, 363 Proverbs, 410 Shorthoses, 900 Fidos, 141 Funks, 157 Things, 622 Squelches, 228 Undys, 235 Sneezums, 441 Uffs, but only 67 Farwigs, 13 Jiffkins, and a mere 8 Quigs. However, there were no Hooshers and no Sposhums: none at all. (There were only 295 Frails, incidentally.) And while – just checking – there were no Chuzzlewits, there were 339 Pickwicks.

14B, considering it was the less well-rewarded of the two challenges was really difficult. Robert Bridges, the poet laureate since 1913, had died in April of 1930, and after some humming and hahing, and a decision not to honour Kipling any further, Ramsay Macdonald suggested to the King (or doubtless the trail went further back) the name of John Masefield, who went on to be the second longest-serving laureate after Tennyson. Writing an elegy on Bridges in the style of Masefield is a real challenge.


John Masefield

Robert Bridges

Robert Bridges

T.E. Casson (still no prize) and Marion Peacock were among several just out of the picture, and Squire (who could have done this competition in his sleep) gives the top prize to a new character, Whitlet, with R.J.Brett bringing up the rear.

To have slanted the yards of our singing, to have painted the hulls were wrong;
Our rigging still thrums with the beauty of the loveliest kind of song,
That has made the roads less dusty, and the seaways not so long.

I have seen dawn and sunset, but he told them better than I.
Beauty was his, and is mine; but the same blue sky
Found a mind more rare in him, and a clearer eye.

Right Royal – the king’s own poet, and a poet worthy of kings –
The wings of beauty were his, the eager beauty of wings;
And he wrote the grandest poetry of the simplest sort of things.

The flowers of the field, the marching battalion of stars
That steer in the widest heavens and crowd on the evening spars,
The weakness, the strength, the failure, the loud hurrahs,

The dawn wind, the summer twilight, that ached in my poet soul,
Touched his with the larger wisdom, and his was the higher goal.
For he made the smallest thing the loveliest part of the whole.

Twilight it is and the noises tender and few
From hill and valley, from lane and meadow come stealing through
The soft last splendid evening he loved and knew.

Glory is gone from the slanting sails of the Clipper, but we
Of the lowlier part remember how Beauty ran fair and free
In the winds of his voice to the greater silence, the wider sea.


The good old Queen was middling young
When little Bridges tried his tongue
And soon enough, a lovely stripling,
With Beauty’s notes his throat was rippling,
And Shorter Poems, green in bud,
Ran from the young man fast as blood,
Or fast as hares when April’s fervent.
For she had picked him as her servant,
– Beauty that sweets the poet’s breath,
And makes him kick a heel at death,
And saves his passion, unforgotten
When Helen’s bosom all is rotten,      That is a shockingly bad line!!
And keeps his sight and hearing furled,
From foxy cunning of the world,
And tells him … (What? I beg your pardon.)

This man was like a rosy garden
Where Beauty – (dang it!) – where the birds
And trees and flowers were his words.
Though he was learned, none completer,
In puzzling arts of rhyme and metre,
It mattered little since he knew
The arts of – no, no – Duty true,
And as he walked the fields of sorrels,
His thoughts were long of fate and morals.
I wish he’d been more keen to sing
About the sea, though. Many a thing
I could have told him – all the language
Of second mates and fever’s anguish.

I could have told him how to rig
His “splendid ship”, as barque or brig,
But there! fault-finding is no game
For salt and ploughman. As the same,*
I doff my cap and my sou’wester
With this last tribute to our master:
     The very prime of singing-men,
     We shall not hear his match agen,
     No, never one will turn a sonnet
     Like that grey beard with laurels on it.

               *See somewhere in Hollingdon Downs: –
                 “Scattering the holy hintings of her name [Beauty’s – of course!]
                  In the brook’s voice for us to catch the same.”


Is it me, or did Squire have to fill the space? This doesn’t even work as a parody of Masefield, and just descends deeper and deeper into the pit of doggerel to which it was heading at its outset.

Comps nos 14A and 14B: results

Ivor Brown has set one of the first competitions I would like to have entered. It is essentially the kind of news item that would fit the ‘This England’ column shortly to be started by Gerald Barry in The Week-end Review – hingeing as it does, as Brown points out, on the idea that children at 3.59 pm will be engaged in ‘infantile vice’ that will at 4.01 p.m. be re-classified as ‘acceptabe behaviour’. It reminded me of a notorious Conservative councillor on Exeter City Council, the governor of a local primary school, who thought that Hallowe’en should be banned at the school, and that so (in the same breath) should plimsolls.

The 14B competition, recreating Falstaff, would have been expected by Brown’s readers – he has already been spoofed in one competition for his obsession with Shakespeare. What he may not have realised when he dished out the half-guinea second prize was that its winner was only twenty, and I would guess not only the youngest winner so far, but among the youngest ever to have won a WR/NS competition.

T.E.Casson is still trying to win, and Brown claims that the standard is of a high and even quality. Hard to choose a winner. Yes, you guessed it: Seacape scoops the two guineas; and R. G. Brett, who is also becoming something of a serial winner, takes the bonus. (He is shown erroneously as R.J.Brett.)

Our popular seaside resorts are justly known to fame
For attention to appearances and keeping up the same,
With one eye on the money-bags, the other turned aloft;
And chief among the Sabbath-keeping spas was Lowestoft.

One day a ribald councillor, notorious for his larks,
Proposed that Sunday games be sanctioned in the public parks;
At first his horror-stricken colleagues turned him sharply down
But the irreligious gentleman had influence in the town.

For weeks and weeks the elders in the council chamber sat
And argued every aspect of the case this way and that;
And now the Ayes would prosper, and at other times the Noes,
But neither side could bring the long discussion to a close.

At length by dint of compromise, that saving British grace,
They hit on this expedient of disposing of the case:
They handed one park over to the Ayes and mortal sin,
Providing that from two to four no child should enter in;

The other park the Noes have and preserve, as heretofore
As places where the Orthodox can safely sit and snore,
And children, while their sires in sacreligious joys engage,
Can walk about and ponder on the evils of the age.


If I was being fussy, I would say that the first and penultimate lines are not in good shape, but then I won a competition yesterday – not in the NS – of which a higher proportion of lines seemed to me, in cold print, wonky.

Seacape has now won more than ten guineas, and we are only fourteen competitions in.

For R.G. Brett’s poem, I’m assuming we all know Mrs. Grundy is the censorious character in Speed The Plow. By? Yes, Thomas Morton? But I had to have a good think about Stiggins, who it transpires (I’d forgotten) is from The Pickwick Papers, in which there is a character called Grundy, too. That’s confusing. In fact, maybe that’s the Grundy intended.


Cry loudly, Stiggins, howl amain! And, Grundy,
Groan out a curse on these that shame your Sunday,
On all th’unholy wretches, who, to hurt you,
Have struck this lewdest blow at Britain’s virtue.
For in a park of green and guileless seeming,
The Evil Ones of Lowestoft are scheming
To play demonian games. Despite the menace
Of angry bells, there will the lustful tennis
Draw young addicts in falsely pure disguises,            (that’s a ropey line!)
Croquet and bowls will beckon with their prizes
To wanton elders, heedless of mortality,
And childhood’s bud will blast in criminality,
Drunken with swings and fierce with sandy digging
While bands tune every toe to worldly jigging.

The end is come. No more a pious father
May point across to France (or Flanders, rather)
And whisper of that sabbathless, benighted,
– Ah, worse, unEnglish land. He flies, affrighted
With backward-glancing brood, to Tulse Hill homeward,
And feels his country sinking Hell – and Romeward.


That phrase ‘Wardour Street poetry’ is coming to mind, I’m afraid.

Now to 14B, Falstaff at Ascot, which Brown doesn’t think has worked. He rewards Lester Ralph for his Shakespearean puns, and also Muriel M. Malvern for her sense of the man, even if some of her puns were not Falstaffian (if you go to her page under Competitors, you’ll see that I think she is only 20).

I prithee, sweet wag, when thou art king, if the wenches allow thee, see to it that the baggages betake them to their short kirtles again, or that it rain not so roundly at Ascot. I tell thee Hal, what with plackets most vilely bemired about me, and that they apparrelled squirming like eels upon the fire, I was never so unmanned since I was a stripling as rabbit-gutted as thou art. If my new doublet be not as riddled as a sieve getting m to shelter, spit in my face, call me a shotten herring. Saving that all reverence for gray hairs and honourable poverty be quite washed out of thee by the rain, and the sack wert pouring down thy gullet, dost owe my tailor for twenty yards of good satin. But thou wert ever a scurvy companion and an ungrateful. Was it not old Jack that bade thee set thy father’s crown upon that same roan nag, whose name I forget? ‘Twas as lean as a rake, with a white fetlock, and won most royally. An thou outface me on that, ne’er say thou hast the face-royal, though barber ne’er won crown by the shaving of it.

               LESTER RALPH

… Give me a cup of sack … As you may know by my size, that I have a kind of alacrity in sinking; my feet sank in the ground; I was up to my ankles in mud; there was not a foot of dry flesh on my body; I sank to my knees in mud. Two men were killed by lightning. Zounds, I am afraid of this gunpowder thunder, though it be no more … Bardolph! … Four men were struck by lightning … A cup of sack, I say … The six men were found to be beyond human aid. Well, we cannot last for ever. I barely scaped drowning, a death I abhor.  If a man should speak truly, there was not an inch of dry flesh on the whole of my body. A plague of all such weather; I am as subject to heat as butter; a man of continual dissolution and thaw. I thoughtthe end of the world had come, and I was with the damned … A pox of this gout! for getting my feet wet plays the rogue with my great toe. I will turn discomforts to commodity: the prince shall furnish me with new clothes.


Comps nos 13A and 13B: results

To round off the first quarter, Martin Armstrong, the first judge to set two competitions, is so pleased by what he gets back about comparing kitchen gadgets with cuckoos that he prints four complete poems that are only commended (N.B., Issachar, Cyduba, and Seacape of course). The winners are M.C. Trench and Pibwob, whose poems are said to have a ‘snap’.

“Them cuckoos, Mrs. Green,” says I,
“They know a thing or two
“Them other birds ‘ave never learned
” – No more have me or you. –
“A house and kids – lor’ what a life!
Cook, clean, and mend up clo’es –
Our labour-savin’s dirt beside
What every cuckoo knows!”


Ere incubators were evolved
    By some inventive man,
Thy natural genius had solved
    That labour-saving plan.

“Saving”? The labour’s but transferred
    By methods hardly nice.
O Cuckoo! shall I call thee bird
    Or billeting device?


The translations from the French for 13B present competitors, says Armstrong, with the problem of avoiding ‘Wardour Street Poetry’ (for a definition, see here). Some familiar names (including one called Majolica who has not yet won) are commended, but the prizes go to two new names, Elizabeth Mott and Pobs.

Sea-levels bared in their immutability
Cleave with a long gold bar the sky’s profundity.
Far up, with languour trailing like a gracile eft,
Loiters a wisp of cloud belated, rosy and lone,
Above the silent ridges notched with peak and cleft,
… Charged with a subtle stir, slow airs coe floating, blown
Across the plain and all about the tufted slopes
Where great kine mightily horned, with eyes bloodshot and deep,
Hump-shouldered and with satin skins and thews like ropes
Crop salty turf and all low-growing herbs that creep.
– Two Madagascan negroes, lean of loin and bent,
Squat there and smoke black pipes, with elbows on their knees,
And jowls propt in their palms; absorbed, indifferent,
Brooding in stupor of thoughtless timeless reveries.
… And now the master-bull, th’old seasoned chief, who knows
That homing-time is soon, that nearer comes the night,
His open mouth a-drip with slaver silver-white,
Stretches a blunt upturned muzzle and seaward lows.

                                                           ELIZABETH MOTT

Receding waves have smoothed the dunes, that now redeem
the sea and evening sky with one long golden gleam.
Alone, a wisp of cloud, still snake-like in the skies,
in idle convolutions writhes until it dies,
torn into pieces on the silhouetted hills.
A breeze, unflurried presence, not quite seen distils
a mindless charm about green slopes and greener mead,
where graze the bulls, each rock-like thrusting his great head;
alive the red-veined eyes, alive the teeth that tussle
with roots, and lustrous skins, alive the muscle.
Not far away two blacks squat idle on lean thighs,
with knees upthrust to arms, fists stuck below their eyes,
fixed in a reverie beyond harsh words and stripes,
not moving,and not living, save in their black pipes.
Until the herd’s accustomed leader, he withal
aware of night’s approach and mindful of the stall,
a skein of silver dribbling blown against his chest,
sticks out his muzzle smooth, and bugles to the rest.


It’s interesting that the definition of Wardour Street poetry given in the link above actually cites ‘withal’ as an example.

Competitions no. 12A and 12 B: results

George Blake, a notable Scots writer, coming to the end of an eight-year stint in London, has asked for an English rendition of a Burns poem, but admits that the southerners cannot match the spontaneity of the original. Poet and critic T.E. Casson misses out again. Instead, the first prize goes to the ‘flattish, faithful and simple’ version by … Seacape. Seacape has become that inevitable tortoise to the hares around him: when all others are unexceptional, he has a quiet, probably smiling suggestion:

Robin mowed my father’s field,
   With him I’d be going,
Scythe or sickle had I none,
   Yet we two went mowing.

I went up to London Town,
   There to ply my bobbin;
Standing at my father’s gate,
   Who met me but Robin?

Robin he was bold as bold,
   I was weak as water,
And alas! he played me false,
   Me, the farmer’s daughter.

Robin vowed he’d cherish me
   Through the coming winter;
All he had was feathers three
   And a whetstone splinter.


Second prize goes to H.B.C. – ‘her false rhymes in the folk-song manner are pleasing’, says Blake.

Robin in the harvest field
Hired me for the binding
Ne’er a shearing hook had I
But followed fast behind him
      Sing a derry derry down,
      In the yellow barley.

To the bleaching field I went
With a web I’d woven;
Who shoould meet me on the green
But my handsome Robin?
      Sing a derry derry down,
      In the yellow barley.

Wasn’t he the daring lad
To court the weaver’s daughter?
Played her such a saucy trick
When round the waist he caught her?
     Sing a derry derry down,
      In the yellow barley.

Robin promised me he’d send
Flour to last the winter.
Nothing had he but his scythe,
His spaniel and his dimple.
     Sing a derry derry down,
      In the yellow barley.


12B is a competition that turns up about once every two years to this day – competitors are asked to parody contributors to the magazine (sometimes, although not in this instance, ‘writing’ each other’s columns). The two targeted by Blake were T. Earle Welby (‘Stet’), who was known for his tendency to harp on the merits of late Victorian poets; and Ivor Brown, who was mildly addicted to puns, but even more addicted to references to Shakespeare, particularly Hamlet. (Brown was the drama critic for The Observer.) However, after allowing that there are one or two good phrases (even Seacape gets an honourable mention), Blake eventually puts into action the rule about there being no obligation to publish. A new competitor, Belleverte, squeezes in with a parody of Brown, but there is no second prize (that extra 10s 6d given away by Humbert Wolfe has been reclaimed!)

‘Brown’ has been given the unpromising subject of ‘Third Party Risks’:

It should be legally ensured that all who go down the road in cars are insured against third-party risks. Even the skilled Phoebus who drives his Sunbeam through the terrestrial smoke-clouds may be set dreaming, and discover one day that he has inadvertently overrun some poor mortal’s coils. Yet for him the insurance companies are prepared to play the rich uncle. And the hyperbolical speed-fiend, to whom the lounger by the pavement’s brim a simple victim is to him, will find he has nothing more in his bank balance after paying compensation, if he is not insured. Every rich man knows that journeys end in chauffeur’s boasting and that the spirit of friendly rivalry instilled by the good old school of motoring may lead to a master’s meeting in the coroner’s court.
      Then the commercial gent. He who drives a car all day may live to realise that insurance is the best policy to carry in his pocket. Besides, which of us is safe? When the frenzied sports-car merchant’s not a-sporting he may have to tak’ the high road on foot and be run down by a lawless linsey-Wolseley brother of the speedway. If his runner-down be not insured, our friend may spend the rest of his crippled days in the poorhouse, telling mournful numbers of his empty dreams. So if it were done when ’tis done, ’twere well it were done by return of post. Even M.Briand believes in insurance against third-party risks …


The word ‘party’ in the last sentence was actually printed as ‘parity’, but if it’s a pun, it’s too complex for me. Briand was the eleven-times French prime minister (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) whose final government had concluded the previous year, and the reference is probably to Briand’s fondness for pacts and treaties to ensure that there was no war.

Competitions 11A and 11B: results

The quotation T. Michael Pope has invited a reply to is from the preacher Mr. Chadband in Bleak House, as pictured here by ‘Phiz’:

Mr. Chadband as scanned By George P. Landow at

Mr. Chadband as scanned By George P. Landow at Victorian Web 

but in a fine competition tradition, I don’t seem to have the results of 11A, so you will have to wait a while. Apologies. However 11B, which asked for an imaginary reconstruction of Pope’s overheard in a conversation – “Well, why shouldn’t he? Ice cream ain’t food, is it?’, in which this was the last line, is with us … The winners, in this order, are the redoubtable (although it doesn’t go with his – or her – name), Pibwob; and Marion Peacock. It may help to know that, on March 4th 1930, speaking at the Hotel Cecil, Baldwin had proposed a national referendum on (of all things) tariffs on food imports (it’s worth bearing in mind that that this was the United Empire Party policy which had led to The Week-end Review being founded in the first place).

MR. RADDE. This ‘ere Baldwin! Calls ‘isself a politician!
MR.TORRE. Well, why shouldn’t ‘e? Been elected, ain’t e?
R. Politician! When ‘e don’t tell them newspaper blokes to go to —
T. Well, why should ‘e? That’s where your lot’s going to sit, ain’t it?
R. Funny, ain’t yer? ‘Im and ‘is Referendum! What’s ‘e want that for?
T. Well, why shouldn’t ‘e? ‘Tain’t Bolshie, is it?
R. No, it’s a Greek word, they tells me. Why can’t ‘e speak English?
T. Well, why should ‘e? Most of the Empire’s ‘eathen, ain’t it?
R. Fact is, Baldwin’s waiting to see which way the cat’ll jump.
T. Well, why should ‘e? We’re a democracy, ain’t we?
R. Democracy be blowed! Why can’t ‘e say straight out if ‘e’s going to tax the working man’s food?
T. Well, why should ‘e? That’s what a Referendum’s for, ain’t it?
R. I don’t think! It’s my belief ‘e’d tax everything. Why ‘e’d tax – ‘e’d tax ice-cream.
T. Well, why shouldn’t ‘e? Ice-cream ain’t food, is it?

[Apologies for those pesky inverted commas]

                                 At the corner of Paradise Crescent

Mrs. Harris. ‘Eard the latest about the Greenses, Mrs. ‘Olloway?
Mrs. Holloway: What, them up at Orimore. No, what’s up now?
Mrs. Harris (breathing importantly). Bin and cut his wife’s throat ‘e ‘as, then turns in for the night hisself with his head in the gas-oven.
Mrs. Holloway. You never say so! I always thought him such a quiet one.
Mrs. Harris. Them quiet ones is often the worst. Always quarrelling they was though nobody knew it ‘cept Mrs. Parker, the lady wot did the scrubbin’ up there. Told me confidential she did that ‘e couldn’t stand ‘is wife’s cooking. And larst week-end, Mrs Parker says she ‘ear ‘im swear to go without food until the Monday.
Mrs. Holloway. Oh he did, did he?
Mrs. Harris. Then it appears she catch him on the Sunday afternoon red-‘anded if you please, eatin’ ice off a barrer round the corner. Gave it him she did, not ‘arf!
Mrs. Holloway: Well, why shouldn’t ‘e? Ice-cream ain’t food, is it?

                                                                              MARION PEACOCK

Competitions 10A and 10B – results

Josephine Tey aka Gordon Daviot, really Elizabeth Macdonald

Josephine Tey aka Gordon Daviot, really Elizabeth Mackintosh

A new competitor called Koorali has spotted that ‘Once a candle in the midnight/ of my heart was briefly lit’, the lines that Humbert Wolfe, himself a poet, wants us to continue for fourteen more lines, is ‘a free translation from Heine’. Of course! (Actually, it’s a fair guess, as Wolfe, whose reputation in the 1920s was considerable, was known as Heine’s translator.) Nevertheless one competitor has written in, by the sound of it in a rage, to say that it will produce a lot of ‘cheap anguish’. Wolfe pleads guilty, but goes on to say that this made the good ones particularly special. Amongst the also-rans are Austin Priestman (a children’s poet) and T.E. Casson (a poet and critic) and also ‘Gordon Daviot’ – the pseudonym used by one Elizabeth Mackintosh for her historical plays, and for the novel she’d published the year before, although she is far better known under the pseudonym ‘Josephine Tey’, and for her mystery novels, especially for her last novel The Daughter Of Time (1951, published just before her death in 1952). H.C.M. (who may also be famous, we don’t know) and ‘A.Orta’ are also commended. But the winners are R.G. Brett, and there are two second prizes (Koorali and Biddy), so the editor has an extra half-guinea to stump up.

Once the candle in the midnight
   of my heart was briefly lit
when a winter-braving blackbird
   whispered out his exquisite

tune from last year half-remembered
    like the shadow of the clear
April-coloured song he lavished
   on his brown delighted dear.

So in spring my heart had chanted
    drunk with love as with new wine.
So the winter bird’s awaking
    woke a ghostly joy of mine.

Then the rain, and wind more bitter,
   quencht our little sinking spark;
mute upon his branch, the blackbird,
   in my heart the silent dark.

        R.J. BRETT

Once the candle in the midnight
   Of my heart was briefly lit;
Soon to be blown out, on purpose
   To compose a song on it.

Candle, midnight … Any poet
   Worth his guinea ought to see
How to do it – “frightened children
   Left in darkness, just like me.”

Then one works it up, The children
   Sing to drive away their fear;
And a grown-up man, so doing,
   Sets in every eye a tear.

There’s your song. Without the famous
   Heine-touch, a little flat?
Say: “My singing’s far from pleasant” –
   Who but I would think of that?


Once the candle in the midnight
   of my heart was briefly lit
So shame-making – so damned awkward
   isn’t it? or isn’t it?

“Darling am I going to be … be?
   “I’m afraid so – do you mind?
“Sweet lamb don’t be sentimental –
   “blow the light out – draw the blind.”

So fear-making, so quite loofy
   horrid – I have got a pain –
Dear I hate you – draw the blind up
   Curse – it’s pouring now with rain.

Howl? I will – that beastly candle
   guttered grease blobs on my heart –
shut up darling – get the car out
   Dawn or not – I want to start.


I haven’t altered anything in Biddy’s entry (except changing its to it’s) and I can’t work out if the compositor was having an off-day, or whether Biddy is being very eccentric in the way Heine sometimes was. The latter, I suspect. (This poem is re-printed in the anthology, ‘The Week-end Calendar’, with slightly different inverted commas, and the apostrophe still missing from it’s.) And in a curious way, these three poems do seem to have something more reckless about them that might have had J.C.Squire asking Wolfe some pointed questions.

Competition 10B, requiring a list of the seven deadly virtues, is one of those competitions that could go anywhere and a Mr. Cutting has listed as one of his – to Wolfe’s delight – “to insist on sounding the letter h when chatting to a bed-fellow”, which is what I would call leftfield and my daughter would call random, and which Wolfe insists is genius. Pibwob notes that a penny saved is a penny taxed, but the winners are two new names: Sannox (address, please!) and Cowper. Vaguely, Wolfe would like the prize-money split as easily as possible between the two, as Sannox’s meter has gone, Wolfe thinks, to pieces in the second verse. (I make that three-quarters of a guinea, and it’s a long time since I have done this, but is that not 15s 9d?)  Here they are:

                   (1) Safety First                                                         (2) Safety First   
                   (3) Safety First                                                         (4) Safety First   
                                                   (5) Safety First

When Grenville sailed from Flores and the Spaniards hove in sight
And the seamen clamoured, –  “Shall we fly, or, Master, shall we fight?”
He scanned the mighty galleons that held the crew accursed,
And cried in ringing accents, – “My comrades,
                                                                             Safety First!”

The Frenchmen lay off Aboukir, a great and mighty fleet;
Shoals and the coastal batteries made made the defence complete.
Did Nelson waver? Never! His signal doubts dispersed, –
“England expects each man this day to study
                                                                              Safety First!”

Effingham, Grenville, Raleigh, Drake – Admirals bold and free!
Rodney, Collingwood, Byron, Hawke – kings of the circling sea!
What was it steeled your mighty hearts, daring as few men durst?
Old England’s deathless watchword, – the clarion
                                                                             Safety First!”


Have I got this wrong or is this like the contemporary dread of Health and Safety?

Here is Biddy:

                            Though dead we speak, yet let our words be brief,
                            For of dead virtues, Silence is the chief,

For certain, grocers wil have a place in heaven:
Peter will open to an Austin Seven.

Bow down thy head and work – time flies,
And look not idly at the opal skies.

Though as a man, I’m bound to love all men,
I hate all foreigners as a citizen.

“To be quite frank with you,” thus I begin;
I ope my mouth and Rancour has his fling!


I bully in the regiment and school
Eccentric genius till he feels a fool!


Knowedge is useless that my class has banned,
We govern where we cannot understand!


“Leave me out, Deadly Virtue I am not!”
“It all depends on loyalty to what?”


I’ve thought about these two a lot, and sometimes I get the whiff of a gist. But that’s as far as it goes.

Competitions 9A and 9B: results

Dyneley Hussey admits that his request for translation or imitation of Apollinaire’s animal poems haas led to no-one producing three (the maximum allowed) good poems. ‘Many competitors,’ he adds, ‘fell into the error of introducing irrelevancies for the sake of rhyme’ (any entrant to this kind of competition has made that mistake). There is something quite schoolmasterly about Hussey (‘lowered their marks’ … ‘not up to that standard’) – that makes one wonder at first whether he had a teaching career before his military service and journalistic exploits – but he didn’t – it’s merely part of the slight archness of judging the competitions.

Unable to make his mind up, he divides the first prize between H.C.M (a translator) and Seacape (an imitator), and gives the second prize to R.J.Brett (a translator). Valimus, G.A. Newall, Geegee (sic) and A.M.L. are commended.

The Goat of Thibet

The golden Goat of far Thibet,
The fleece that Jason sailed to get,
Are but accounted nothingnesses
Matched with the gold of Julia’s tresses.


Time is a rodent who devours
My eager, gloowing, glittering hours,
And leaves me but the cerement
Of eight and twenty years, ill-spent.


Yes, I shall go, and in the tomb
Awake some dark, appointed doom,
The victim of a Latin word,
Ibis – and an Egyptian bird.


The Mayfly

This mayfly, when its wings unfurled,
Lived but an hour to judge the world,
And as that hour was bare of sun,
What merit has its judgment won?


As swallows fluttering on high,
Our thoughts turn upward to the sky;
But the scant harvest that they bring
Would shame the humblest wingèd thing.


The teeth of each besetting vice
Nibble at character, like mice,
And till the havoc’s past repair,
None notices the hole is there.


I think Seacape has been lucky to continue his winning streak on this occasion. If we are like swallows, our thoughts aren’t going to turn upward to the sky, are they? It’s a very poor simile. And I have a thing about poems that start ‘Time is …’. Harrumph. The consolation prize of half-a-guinea goes to:

The Goat of Tibet

The fleece of this rare goat is nought
And that of gold, which Jason sought
So long, as little worth for me,
Who have my mistress’ hair to see.

The Mouse

By gentle days the sly mouse Time
Has nibbled half my life away.
For eight and twenty years of rhyme,
Alas! and folly I’ve to pay.

The Ibis

Yes, I shall pass uto your shades,
O Death, whom nothing may beguile!
In his dark Latin, as he wades,
Thus chants the Ibis, bird of Nile.


9B asked for a rewrite of some W.S.Gilbert (‘Iolanthe’) to reflect the choice for infants of being able to vote for not two but three parties. Hussey grudgingly gives two entrants, Sylvia Thompson and old hand but first-time winner in the WR Lester Ralph half-a-guinea each (Hussey’s main general complaint is that he can’t imagine the entries being sung). If you don’t know the song they are parodying, go to Private Willis’s song in the pdf – go to page 28 – you can download it here


As year by year I still parade
On sentry-go (despite Disarmament),
I contemplate the changes made
In Britain’s legislative firmament;         (he’s right, that’s nigh-on impossible to sing!)
Since Queen Victoria passed away
And Edward went to his divinity,
The Labour Party’s joined the fray
And made a kind of blessed Trinity.
      And now each poor bewildered mite
      Must use its Infant Vote, you see,
      To forward a three-cornered fight
      In what we call Democracy;
      And so it never learns a Right
      Hand from a Left hand policy!
                                Fa La.

When Members are inclined to vote
They often find they can’t decide at all
(And like Three Men in the same Boat)
Their leaders hope they won’t divide at all;
Liberal, Tory, Socialist, –
Each bidding to outdo the other chap;
If I’d my way, I would insist
Two Parties’ politics, but three’s a “scrap”!
      For now the Politicians fight
      To catch the Infant Vote, you see;
      By showing them that black is white,
      And all roads reach Democracy;
      And so they never learn a Right
      Hand from a Left hand policy!
                                Fa La.

                  SYLVIA THOMPSON

We’ve done with those old days effete
   of simply bifurcated politics
when Blue and Red assumed his seat,
   by honest means, or else by sorry tricks,
when voters registered their vote
    alternately or just by habitude,
and candidates declaimed by rote
    their views on cabbages and rabbit-food.
        So let’s rejoice with loud fal lal
           fal la la lal, fal la la lal,
        that Nature need no more contrive,
           fal la la lal, fal la la lal,
       that every boy and every gal
           who is born into this world alive
     be either a little Liberal
       or else a little Conservative. 

Now flappers all are free to choose
   with no electoral dignity,
of three the one whose jokes amuse
   them most, or put him in from charity;
nor need the figure of their choice
    described be as mere trilateral
with Beaverbrook’s stentorian voice
   to rouse, confuse, or deftly flatter all.

                 LESTER RALPH

Ralph was himself an artist, an American living in London, who was well-known for having provided the controversial black-and white illustrations to Mark Twain’s Eve’s Diary. In 1930, he was fifty-three. There is more detail about him here,

Competitions 8A and 8B: results

In asking for parodies of Shaw on Antony and Cleopatra (as against Caesar and Cleopatra), parodies of a man the judge G.W. Bishop knew well, and whom he had interviewed, and was to interview on several occasions, Bishop may have overlooked the fact that Shaw actually had written about Antony and Cleopatra. One or two entrants (James Hall is named and shamed) actually lifted Shaw’s phrases. One of the problems for me looking at this competition is that Bishop, whether rightly or not, dismisses entrants left right and centre because he knows his Shaw better than them e.g. some entrants wrote (as Shaw) in blank verse while claiming it was because it was easy. ‘None remembered,’ says Bishop, ‘that he has also stated that he is “fond of blank verse”.’ A bit of one-upmanship there, I think.

After ‘the gravest consideration’, Bishop gives the first prize to a new name, Robert Speaight:

          I wrote ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ for three reasons: to expose the futility of love and the futility of war; and to provide a part for Miss Tallulah Bankhead. The monstrous incursions of the socialist government on private capital have compelled me to some consideration of public taste, and indeed I am thankful to have saved the part from Mrs. Campbell, whose importunate regality of mien, and sovereign disreagrd of her dramatist’s wishes, would have reduced me to the level of Sudermann by the end of the second act. The Cleopatra of this play is a cocotte by nature, and only a queen by accident: I have purposely dispossessed her of her traditional beauty, and given her instead a cheap gipsy allure, which Miss Bankhead has subdued her natural orchidacity and perfect loveliness to interpret. I have proceeded to an attack on popular history, and have used this business of Antony and Cleopatra to explode two common and striking fallacies: that because a man is Roman, he is necessarily noble, and because a woman is Greek she is automatically lovely. It has also enabled me to demonstrate how easily a campaign may be ruined by womanising at G.H.Q. I have shown Antony as an amateur strategist, an incompetent soldier, and a besotted sensualist to boot; and Cleopatra as the dirty, cross-bred, Levantine harlot, familiar to anyone who has travelled East of Stresa. Both are treacherous, sadistic and mean, and those who read the last acts of my play will see how a pair of theatrical exhibitionists very nearly made a mess of an Empire. The uproarious comedy of the battle scenes should sensibly relieve the depression of the final episodes.
         People will wonder why I have clothed these ignoble puppets in the greatest blank verse since Shakespeare. The consummate irony of this will be apparent to a public conversant with my plays …


Blimey, that’s 312 words! I can’t tell if it’s very good, because it’s a long time since I read any Shaw (who does seem to have fallen out of favour). It feels as if it’s probably very good. On an autobiographical note, I won, at the age of thirteen, a Large Prize, which meant my having to select a book. My father, confused in any case by anything outside the world of naval engineering, watched in horrified amazement as I selected Shaw’s Complete Plays. Unable to keep quiet, he asked ‘Do you really want that?’ (since his knowledge, although non-literary, extended to knowing that Shaw was a bit of a lefty). Of course that settled any doubts. ‘Yes,’ I said. I still have it. I have still never opened it except to write my name in it. I only wanted it because it was a Very Big Book. Digression over.

Speaight was a radio actor, and his case you can see his image, hear his voice, and read a book he wrote. It is curious how these competitions are turning up such highly successful figures.

Second prize goes to Leonard J.Simons, another new name, and lucky to get his half-guinea, given Bishop’s strictures:

… the truth being that all my other plays have been essentially tragic; but ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ (for which I have used iambic pentameters merely because that form of writing is easier than prose) is pure comedy. There is no laughter in it, because there is no need for laughter. In my plays showing life to be essentially tragic there is plenty of laughter, to make the tragedy bearable. Laughter was invented for that purpose. If it were not for laughter, for love, and, above all, for death, life would be unbearable. In ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ there is so much of love and of death there is neither room nor necessity for laughter. When we can laugh at death, life ceases to be a tragedy and becomes a comedy. I am not the original discoverer of this truth. Aeschylus, who also wrote great comedies, recognised that death was the ultimate and highest comedy of life.
         In killing herself with an asp, Cleopatra, therefore, achieved life’s greatest comedy. In causing the daeth of Antony she represents a wide-spread feminine principle. Lady spiders often kill their husbands; and it is well known that the gentlemen of the beehives, the drones, are destined to be killed. In the case of the silkworm moth, on the other hand, ir is the female which dies when she has performed her egg-laying destiny. Cleopatra, uniting in herself some of the qualities of the queen bee, the lady spider and the silkworm moth, causes the death of her lover and then kills herself, thus reaching supreme comedy.

        When ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ was first performed, the critics failed to recognise that Cleopatra was a prude. On hearing of the death of Antony’s legitimate wife, she, like any well-brought-up grocer’s wife …


I think it’s plain that Shaw was seen by 1930 as an inceasingly megolamaniac merchant of nonsensical paradox. I might have to read him again.

Let us not forget 8B, in which an epitaph was sought for Ruper Brooke, although Bishop would certainly rather forget it. He quotes with dismay the single facetious epitaph: ‘ He wrote a lot of verse./ Which might have been much worse;/ Then ended up in dust/ As every poet must.’ and gives grudging prizes to S. and Noah with these two, apparently characteristically sentimental:

No good for epitaphs

No good for epitaphs

England he loved, and after England, Greece:
The life of one with his own life he blest;
The other holds him clasped against her breast,
And with her body wraps his soul in peace.


Weep not for me. Quiet here the body lies;
For God has heard the mortal “Would I were.”
No more the spirit hungers, echo sighs
ευρηκά Grantchester.


Bishop says one curious thing about Brooke – that most entrants only remembered ‘Grantchester’ and ‘Dust’. Surprising that ‘The Soldier’ wasn’t mentioned, and I suspect that ‘Dust’ is long forgotten. Here is a pub trivia detail: a version of ‘Dust’ was recorded by Fleetwood Mac.