A hundred up … It’s J.C.Squire who takes the judge’s chair for these two milestone competitions. He wants a parody of Walter de la Mare’s The Listeners with particular reference to the Phone Service. There is a large entry, and it’s interesting to see, amongst the near-winners, the name of A.M. Harbord – Arthur Macdonald Harbord – who is very well-known for a single poem about a man at a station watching another one depart for the Highlands. This poem is much used in Scotland, and you can buy illustrated and decorated versions of it. Harbord, who was born in 1897, and who was the son of an Anglican vicar in Sussex, also produced light verse under the name Riff (the illustrator went under the name Raff). Here’s his well-known poem:
Stranger with the pile of luggage proudly labelled for Portree,
How I wish this night of August I were you and you were me!
Think of all that lies before you when the train goes sliding forth
And the lines athwart the sunset lead you swiftly to the North!
Think of breakfast at Kingussie, think of high Drumochter Pass.
Think of highland breezes singing through the bracken and the grass.
Scabious blue and yellow daisy, tender fern beside the train,
Rowdy Tummel falling, brawling, seen and lost and glimpsed again!
You will pass my golden roadway of the days of long ago:
Will you realise the magic of the names I used to know;
Clachnaharry, Achnashellash, Achnasheen and Duirinish?
Ev’ry moor alive with coveys, every pool aboil with fish;
Every well remembered vista more exciting by the mile
Till the wheeling gulls are screaming round the engine at the Kyle
Think of cloud on Bheinn na Cailleach, jagged Cuillins soaring high
Scent of peat and all the glamour of the misty Isle of Skye!
Rods and gun case in the carriage, wise retriever in the van;
Go, and good luck travel with you!
(Wish I’d half your luck, my man!)
‘The Listeners’, published in 1912, or at any rate the title poem of a collection published in 1912, is just the kind of poem Squire would have admired (and Walter de la Mare had contributed to the WR). His entrants have fun with it. T.E. Casson almost wins … so do Marion Peacock and Guy Hadley, W. Hodgson Burnet and (obviously) Seacape. But the prize goes to a new (nick-)name, Peejay, and the runner-up is Chauve-Souris. Peejay is preferred because he or she shows a better knowledge of the phone system! (Interesting that, as in a previous competition, phone operators come in for some stick.) Incidentally, Button A and Button B had only been around since 1925:
Here are the winners:
The B competition is typical Squire. He wants a list of ten men or women in European history who have made the most permanent mischief. ‘The setter’s prejudices,’ he adds, ‘must be taken as final.’ Rousseau turned out to be top pest, but the list, to Squire’s incredulity, included Bessemer, Torquemada (both of them), Sir John Simon, Gauguin, Aristotle, and the first ten Popes. The winner is another new sobriquet, Sennacherib, but the runner-up is none other than Eileen Power (1889-1940) , whose life is well described in a review of a 1996 autobiography here, and by an obituary to be found on JSTOR (you can read the first page, but you’ll need access to read the rest) here. Power was at this time the Professor of Economic History at the London School of Economics, although she is probably best known for her books on the medieval world, some for children (co-written with her sister Rhoda, a children’s writer). She was married (after an engagement to Reginald Johnston, the man who tutored ‘The Last Emperor’, Pu Yi) to Michael Postan in 1937, just three years before her death at 51.
Here are the winning entries (the first item on the first list is at the bottom of a page so I’ll type it in)