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.


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