Competition no. 142: result

Once again, under the aegis of Martin Armstrong on this occasion, we have a solitary competition – perhaps because the B competitions are starting to go down like ninepins, perhaps because the form requested – a ballade – is a long one. It asks for a ballade – three eight-line verses and one four-line envoi – ‘on the present difficult times’, having as its refrain the ‘Distinguished Invalids’ phrase ‘Lord Limpet passed a comfortable day’. This needs a bit of unpacking, and anyone who thinks I’ve missed something, drop me a comment.

There really were notices in prominent places in Victorian and Edwardian newspapers about the great and the good who were unwell. Here’s one about the Conservative PM from 1902 to 1905, Arthur Balfour.

DI Balfour

Lord Limpet – I can find published references to him as far back as 1839, so there must be many earlier – seems to be an all-purpose comic aristo, of plenty of income, and – in some instances – a habit of staying with acquaintances far too long (there are several Punch jokes that use him). I wonder if there is a political reference here to the way the National Government is hanging on (Lord Limpet is often characterised as a ‘Liberal-Conservative’). Or it may be an attack on the impotence of the House of Lords. Much later, in the 1950s, the phrase was wheeled out to attack Attlee, after his refusal to step down as Labour leader after losing (in a very Al Gore kind of way, incidentally, as he won the majority of the national vote) the 1951 election.

Here’s one of many descriptions of what you need to do to write a ballade. It was a popular form with comic poets like Belloc, Chesterton, Gilbert and so on. (Wendy Cope, a notable NS competitor, included one in her Making Cocoa For Kingsley Amis.)

Armstrong enjoys himself by suggesting he has set such a fiendish task, he’ll be able to have a holiday. But after discarding those that aren’t ballades, and don’t apply themselves to the theme, he admits that there are still 38 in the running for the guineas. One of them, who is a runner-up, was H.S. Mackintosh, who actually produced a collection of Ballades:


Here is one of his:

Ballade to a Dentist
by H S Mackintosh.
Not for the instruments of this, your trade –
The pick, the whining drill, the probe and screw,
Not for the needless havoc you made –
The broken tooth patched up with dental glue;
Not for the perfect hell you put us through,
But for the fulsome sympathy you shammed,
The line of piffling prattle you pursue,
For this shall your immortal soul be damned.

Not for the work half-done, the tissues flayed,
Nor for the spotless molars that you drew
To find out if the roots were bunched or splayed,
Nor that you left us impotent to chew
Our daily bread; but this shall be your due
Because you quoted Kipling while you rammed
Right to the nerve some poison that you brew;
For this shall your immortal soul be damned.


Not for the lies wherewith you have betrayed
Our mouths to torment, and although you knew
Your “This won’t hurt” made Ananias’ shade
Turn green, yet not for that Hell gapes for you;
But since on one who had good cause to rue
Your handiwork last week, your door was slammed
Because you had a long week-end in view,
For this shall your immortal soul be damned.


Prince, to relieve my pain, the most you’ll do
Is this : “Next Thursday, though your day is crammed,
You’ll try to fit me in at half-past two” –
For this shall your immortal soul be damned.

But the winners are Lt. Col. H.P. Garwood, and Obispo. In addition, Armstrong prints a ‘commended’ (i.e. no money) which he says is the best poem … but not a ballade. It’s by Arthur Oliver.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s