Competition no. 175: results

Just one competition this week (prizes: two, one and two half-a-guineas). It’s set by Gerald Bullett. He wants a nursery rhyme (maximum 16 lines) that has the homely air of having been written by accident. This a clever, and I think, rather tough challenge. (Keeping the headful of old nursery rhymes at bay is the problem.)

There’s a large postbag and what Bullett describes as “a riot of  kings and cockleboats and hoppitty hoppitty wee wee men”, to the extent that he half-suspects a conspiracy. The nearest loser is W.A. Rathkey, who has his whole effort printed, as does Marion Peacock, who is just behind him in the queue (exasperating for the entrant when this happens!), but there are two clear winners, neither of whom have featured as also-rans, and neither of whom have remembered to send their addresses. The first is called Helen, the second is called Hazard.

Here is Helen’s:

The Seasons

A maid in a green frock,
A queen in a gold,
A hunter in russet,
A ghost in a shroud.

I stood on a hill
And I watched them come on,
But before O could stop them,
Behold they were gone.

I ran so fast to catch them,
But the green and gold went free,
The fellow in the white shroud,
He caught me.

You may well feel that this is quite twee, but I have to say I think it’s ambitious in avoiding an exact rhyme-scheme, and it’s easy to remember, too – crucial.

Here is Hazard’s:

The Baker

When Jack the Baker made his bread,
He set the dough o’er night,
And on the board above the trough,
He slept till morning light.

He made his bed upon the board
That rested on the dough,
And when the bread began to rise,
The baker did also.


Terrible! Truly terrible! What was Bullett thinking of?! He’s Jack in Part 1 but not in Part 2. The b rhyme in the second verse is really foolish. The only thing it’s got going for it is the double sense of ‘rise’. (I’ve also never seen o’er used for over as in night, but that may be because I have led a sheltered life.) But there we are, it’s given Hazard a guinea.

The two runners-up are W. Leslie Nicholls and Rosellen Bett.





It’s a curious competition. Bullett is a children’s writer and might be presumed to know what he is doing, but I wouldn’t have chosen Hazard or Bett (anything that rhymes with ‘dilly’ would be straight out).

Competitions nos. 174A and 174B: results

A brand new judge, and the most eminent so far – not only that, but a judge who would over the next few years, with the absorption of the WR by New Statesman, judge many more: V.S.Pritchett (Victor Sawdon Pritchett, 1900 – 1997), one of the greatest short story writers in English, and the author of two memoirs as well as five novels (not successful) and countless collections of literary and other essays. (His first collection of short stories had appeared the previous year; he was already a New Statesman contributor, and was to become its literary editor.) At this point he was 33, and his first marriage was nearing its end. His second marriage began a dynasty that gives us the writer Oliver Pritchett and the cartoonist ‘Matt’. Not the least remarkable thing about this competition is the man who just misses out in the B competition …

The A competition asks for a love letter from a shy delegate at the Economic conference to a widow with three children (why this detail?!), using the language of economics. In his report, Pritchett notes that it was easy enough to come up with double-meanings, including ingenious ones, but harder to give a necessary sense of sentiment. He prints an entire entry by someone labouring under the pseudonym ‘Tentacle’, to illustrate that it is possible to be witty and amusing, but fail to win the competition. Here it is:


Incidentally, the Economic conference, attended by representatives from 66 countries, lasted for most of June and almost all of July, and was eventually scuppered by Roosevelt, much to the chagrin of European leaders. One of the observers was H.G.Wells, who wrote about it in The Shape of Things To Come – see his description here. It was held in London at the Geological Museum, and its failure reflected badly on Macdonald, seen here at the opening with a German delegate:


The winners are A.H. Ellerington (note the misprint) and Guy Hadley.


The B competition is just as quirky – it asks for an apology in eight lines of verse by a surgeon who has left an implement inside a patient’s body, the patient being a purveyor of quack remedies. This strikes me as another competition in which the information is just too complex. Pritchett is sharp enough to spot that he should have allowed his entrants more lines (he also notes that opinions of surgeons and quack remedy-sellers are very low). He considers four winners and gives the first prize to E.W. Fordham and the second to W.E.B. Henderson (Henderson has been printed but not rewarded before – see Competition no. 134B here). Just off the money are L.V. Upward – and J.F.Wolfenden. This is none other than a thirty-year-old John Frederick Wolfenden, the educationist who was about to move from Oxford to become headmaster of Uppingham School, who was later to be Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, and who is best known for chairing the 1954 committee and subsequently producing the 1957 report which recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality – the report effectively that led to the 1967 Act that did just that.



Still, he didn’t win half-a-guinea.




Competitions nos. 173A and 173B: results

Clennell Wilkinson sets, rather wordily, a competition for a Speech Day speech by the father of a son at the school. The father has lurid memories of his own sufferings [editor’s note: then why the hell has he sent his son there?!]. The speaker was ‘not a brilliant schoolboy’ and ‘is not interested in education’, and has resolved, in a maximum of 300 words, to cheer the beggars up. Competitions like this, with so many qualifying instructions, tend to bomb.

Wilkinson analyses the entries at length. Some have put in too much stuttering; some have introduced controversial subjects (school sporting types who were cowardly in World War One, where swots were brave, and killed); some have written serious speeches (and here Wilkinson is surely right in discounting them, as the speeches really wouldn’t be listened to, and pretty well infringe the admittedly complicated rubric).

Perseverance pays dividends. Having entered, as far as I can see all 173 A competitions and the slightly fewer number of B competitions, and having what few prizes he’s garnered split, or halved, or whatever, T.E. Casson finally gets his two guineas. (It’s not very good, alas!) Marion Peacock manages to slip a poem under Wilkinson’s nose. He has to admit he hasn’t outlawed them.


Here are some of the likely recipients – this comes from a web-site dedicated to Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School:


The B competition is triggered by someone having seen Lenin’s tomb and saying it’s the architectural equivalent of saying ‘Boo! I frightened you that time’.


In 1933, he would have been in uniform.

So what would a) The Sphinx, b) The Taj Mahal, c) The Statue of Liberty, d) The Albert Memorial say?

The winners are G.C.B. Cotterell, who had been in the Naval Air Service in the latter part of World War One, and who contributed articles in support of the Scout movement and Officer Training Corps and other subjects to The Spectator at about this time, as here, and Alice Herbert.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is worth noting of Alice Herbert’s entry that there is an etymological discussion about whether or not ‘Brown Windsor’ was used before 1943, in reference to soup. I am grateful to Michael Quinion, the etymologist, for his suggestion that ‘Brown Windsor’ refers to soap, not soup. I still don’t get the joke, though! (Is it the ‘royal appointment’ as in the image below?)

BW soap


Competitions nos. 172A and 172B: results

After a while away from the fray, Sylvia Lynd sets a competition to write a poem – ‘a portrait in verse’ – in the manner of George Crabbe (1754-1832). Crabbe can be quite wearisome to read at length, in my opinion, but he is good in small does – the thirty-line limit Lynd sets is about right. The thing about Crabbe is that he almost always writes in rhymed iambic pentameter couplets, so it’s the manner rather the matter that’s a nuisance. For his day, he was a surprisingly revealing writer – the first not to vilify or patronise ordinary people, in his case, in village life. He can be sardonic when he wants, but you do get a sense of the character on whom he is fixing (I can’t offhand think of a comparable portrait artist from the eighteenth century/ early nineteenth, unless you count Wordsworth, who plods rather more dully in Crabbe’s footsteps).

CrabbeLynd wants each submission to include the phrase

“… The fuddled midnight and the peevish day …”

I’m not quite sure a) why she chose the line, and even b) if it is a Crabbe line or a pastiche of Crabbe (probably Crabbe, who loves the word ‘peevish’). My Day-Lewis selection doesn’t have it, and I may have missed it in the online collected Crabbe (you can read some of his poems here).

Crabbe is no problem for the WR competitors (he is quite easy to mimic). Lynd thinks there are many potential winners. She notices that the entrants seem to divide themselves into those who habitually have fuddled midnights and peevish days, and those who shun them at all costs. The majority are shunners (‘to their moral credit’). So she gets virtuous clergymen, punctusl clerks and octogenarian labourers by the score, who don’t do peevish. But as Lynd notes – she could have been more explicit in the instructions, perhaps? – it’s the peevish ones she was hoping to read about. So out go Charles G. Box (who I think is Charles Gerard Box, boirn 1871, and a schoolteacher at Midhurst Grammar School in Sussex), W. Leslie Nicholls, and one or two psudonymous, types, including H.C.M.

As often happens when Lynd judges, the prize money gets carved up. The two guineas are split betweem Eremita and Valimus, and the bonus goes to Hutch. They’re all perfectly competent, but Crabbe can cause an allergic, soporific reaction …


The B competition – a little unpromising, although Lynd was surprised that entries weren’t so good – was to write a letter from one young person to another on the subject of a picnic. Lynd had been expecting wild and hilarious tales. She doesn’t get them. She also breaks the rules in giving Eremita a prize in B when she or he already has a prize in A. And once again, she splits the first prize, which is daft, as it means it is the same value as the second prize. The ‘first prizes’ belong to Eremita and Marion Peacock. the runner up is ‘F.J.B’, who must be Freda Jane Bromhead.


Surely an argument for deducting points for being too clever?!


Dear Alfred, – We had the best kind of picnic last night, on the way home. I don’t know quite where it was; we turned down a track on a long road between Stratford-on-Avon and Oxford, and found a field. We left the theatre at eleven (it was ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’ – I do like a bit of slapstick on a Saturday night, don’t you?’ – and the moon had set, so we couldn’t see anything, except what our headlights picked out, They made the trees look as green as delphiniums are blue. There wasn’t a sound or a movement anywhere – not a dog barking or a moth fluttering. We ate little cold sausages (the Lees call them ‘bangers’. I suppose because of the fuss they make in the drying-pan) and drank shandy. We;d bought a melon in Stratford and Peggy cut it up with Boy’s knife – “big blade is for pipe and horse’s hoofs, small blade, oranges and cheese”, and ate it standing up, and bending over so that the juice shouldn’t drip to our toes. This looks like a very heathen rite when it is done in the beams from two strong headlights, with streaming shadow behind. We were rather quiet; nobody sang or told long stories. We’d all five been together since lunch-time, but I don’t think anyone was bored, aggrieved or sick of the arrangement. Certainly I wasn’t, for someone else had driven the car, someone else had poled the punt on the river before the theatre, and someone else had provided my sausages and shandy. It was the best kind of picnic.


I have to say I think the last one is the best – it catches a particular kind of idiocy that is all too believable.

Competitions nos. 171A and 171B: results

Another new judge for us: R.Ellis Roberts, who (like Clennell Wilkinson) had been New Statesman‘s Literary Editor – and who was the only writer whom Kingsley Martin could not bear as a writer –  says he has a friend who can remember a punchline to a story, but not the story itself. The punchline is ‘And then he said “Call that good spitting?”‘ The short story is asked for (no word limit given). Most go for an American story. Some turn Roberts’ stomach. Lester Ralph is admonished for ‘sordid realism’. James Hall, William Bliss and James Henderson get close but the winner is ‘Seton C‘. Now there’s already a competitor on the books called Seton, so I am going to take a wild stab and suggest that they are one and the same. The runner-up (doing very well, incidentally) is Southron.



The B competition is for an acrostic sonnet, to spell out PSYCHOANALYSIS.

One of the runners up (mis-spelled as Blarraid) is the Irish poet and playwright Blanaid Salkeld, who had just brought out her first collection of poetry, Hello Eternity. Born in what would become Pakistan in 1880 (where her father was a friend of Tagore), she grew up in Ireland, married, returned to India with her husband, who died in 1908, and came back to Ireland in 1909. She worked as an actor. She wrote five collections of poetry, and verse plays. She encouraged Flann O’Brien and Patrick Kavanagh, and her grand-daughter married Brendan Behan. She died in 1959. There is a brief synopsis of her life here.

Roberts prefers poems with models (and he believes they have missed a trick by not using Donne, but doesn’t explain why). He therefore goes for Eremita and Black Gnat (Seacape).



Competitions nos. 170A and 170B: results

Antony Bertram offers, for the first time in a while, a translation task – you have to translate this Heine poem, in three abab quatrains, although the metre can be different.


The poem is untitled, but Schubert set it to music as ‘Der Doppelgänger’. There’s a translation by Louis Malinofsky here, and one by A.S. Kline here. With more than a touch of potential hubris, I’ve had a shot at translating it myself, so I can see what the winners do:

A stilled night, and the cobbles mute:
This house was once my lover’s space –
But she’s long left town, left no substitute,
Though the home remains, it’s the same place.

There’s a man here too, staring up into sky,
Wringing his hands as if nothing heals –
It frightens me when I catch his eye –
It’s my alter ego, the moon reveals.

Yes, dopplegänger, you washed-out double –
Why that look of my love’s long pain,
In this very same place, giving me trouble,
So many nights, lived over again.

I couldn’t see how I could lose dopplegänger in line 9. Mainly I’ve tried to get some echo (that ‘Doch steht noch’ is impossible to capture). However …

Bertram rules out everyone who rhymes ‘woe’ and ‘long ago’, and anyone who mixes up liebeslied (‘heartsong’) with liebesleid (‘life-pain’). That takes him to four – R.G.G., N.B., Valimus and the new set of initials and winner, E.S.B. (Valimus is picked as the runner-up). The winning entry is very, very clever, because it shifts the whole poem into Scots dialect, giving the writer a whole new lexicon to use.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second one – to be fair, Bertram thinks they’re none of them very good, is very self-conscious. I like the fourth line, I hate the ninth, and ‘unfold/Grief’ is just terrible. But then I am reacting to these having just used up an hour of my life on trying to do the same thing. It certainly sounds better in the German!

For the B competition, Bertram lifts a description of ‘a mere great man’, i.e. a snob, from the Microcosmography of the bishop John Earle (1601-1665), a sort of compendium of ‘types’ (you can read it here):


(There is a picture of John Earle here.)

Bertram wants a modern version to describe an intellectual snob. His instructions are a bit vague, and the entry small – but Southron wins with a modernised version, and Guy Innes (far more work involved, surely?) wins with a pastiche of Earle. I would have reversed the prizes, but perhaps I am being an intellectual snob.



Competitions nos. 169A and 169B: results

Say what you like about Frank Sidgwick, he constructs very off-the-wall competitions. The A competition here is intended to be both a parody of the proceedings of an academic discussion, and also a shot at solving a grammatical problem. He wants the minutes of the discussion between Dean, Bursar and Fellows of a College on an agenda item that runs ‘It is proposed to empower the Council to temporarily suspend vacant Fellowships’. (Apparently this was an actual item on an actual agenda, although Sidgwick won’t say where. The problem appears to be the split infinitive, until you start solving the split infinitive, at which point you start running into other problems. Sidgwick doesn’t think it’s a problem, splitting infinitives, and points out that it was only in 1893 and in America that it became an issue. (Fowler is very happy for some infinitives to be split.) But of course, it doesn’t end there. How do you suspend something that is vacant, for instance?

Only James Henderson, the winner, actually produces a set of minutes, but James Hall, whose entry is dialogue pure and simple, is allowed in because it amuses. (Nearly a fifth of the entrants wound up the debate by suggesting that they all retire for drinks!)


The B competition is to write a sonnet of any kind, but with the lines using the meter of ”Tis the voice of the sluggard,’ I heard him complain’. He gets thirty-one sonnets (and only one is discounted as not a sonnet, although there is some elaborate stuff about whether an octet/sestet principle is appropriate, and T.E. Casson is noted as having sent in fourteen and a bit lines. In the end, he cuts the footling and gives the prizes to Rosellen Bett and Issachar.


Competitions nos. 168A and 168B: results

A new judge, Richard Church, just embarking on a successful literary career after 28 years at the Ministry of Labour, asks for a sonnet in the manner of Milton’s ‘On His Blindness’, only supposing him to have been deaf. For those of you who didn’t know JM was a redhead, here he is:


The competitors are apparently prone to staying too close to the original, the exception being Alice Herbert, who is followed into the winners’ enclosure by William Bliss (ticked off for splitting the sonnet in a non-Miltonic way).


I am afraid the B competition is just as serious, asking for the text of a broadcast, had he been able to make it, by St. Paul, the night after Damascus. Church refers to ‘glaring faults’ having spoiled many entries (but does not say what they are), and refers only to the winners, Southron, and the curiously named Sawdust as Gold. (His or her previous appearance was as Sawdust Asgold, so there may be a printing error involved.)


Competitions nos. 167A and 167B: results

A spot of bad planning here. Last week we had Pope. This week we have Pope. That surely could have been avoided unless it’s a case of ‘No-one says ‘No’ to Naomi Royde-Smith‘. She asks for up to 21 lines (21! One competitor chides her for suggesting there could be a line over) by Pope on the premise that he has had lunch at the Ivy, and spent the afternoon round Covent Garden and Fleet Street with various editors and agents.

Royde-Smith is taking no prisoners here. Why do the entrants start writing before reading the instructions? Her brief report is a slightly cack-handed piece of disguised Pope:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADamon is the only recipient of any prize money:


The second competition, however, is, even allowing for the fact that Royde-Smith thinks it is, something of a success. Competitors are asked to come up with ‘six suggested improvements to the human frame’. She prints two winners, but also some of the other suggestions. One of these entrants is P.Y.Betts – Phyllis Yvonne Betts – then a short-story writer in her early twenties, but later to fade from view until 1989, when her memoir People Who Say Goodbye was published to considerable acclaim. (She had vanished, rather as Jean Rhys did, from sight – first to East Anglia, then to a secluded part of Wales.) There is a very good blog about her here.

People-Who-Say-Goodbye-coverThe main prizewinners are Majolica and Little Billee.


Competition no. 166: results

Once again, no B competition, and the prizes being 3 guineas, and one guinea. The dual competition format, inherited from The Saturday Review is doomed.

Norman Collins reveals the (startling) fact that, in Portugal, bulls were not allowed to be killed in bullfights, unless the bullfight were for charity. He asks for up to 20 lines of Popeian satire, as spoken by one of these Portuguese bulls.

Portuguese bullfight

A more recent Portuguese poster.

There is quite a large entry to this (Collins says he thinks Popeian couplets are easy), and there are quotations from Chauve-Souris, James Hall, Eremita, Little Billee, Guy Innes, and many other usual suspects. But we can be quick with this competition: the winners are Guy Hadley and F.C.Burgess (whom you may recall nearly won the last one, and has therefore been spurred on).