Competitions nos. 159A and 159B: results

Norman Collins is back, with an A competition based on ads he’s seen in the paper, ads like ‘Wanted, nicely bound Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’ in exchange for nearly-new silver-plated cornet with solo music and stand’. It’s very hard for me to wring any sociological significance out of this, but it seems anyway that Collins has something else on his mind. ‘Assuming this decision to have been reached after moments of domestic crisis … [provide] not more than 250 words of the conversation between husband and wife which preceded the insertion of the advertisement’.

There is almost a contest over the last twenty competitions, although no-one is as rude as Agate, to blame the competitors for shortcomings (an especially  bad idea in this case, when the competition is so silly, for a reason I’ll come to). However … ‘Without wishing in any way to appear discourteous or unappreciative’ (so now Collins is going to be just that), ‘I am bound to say that if the prize money were mine, I should keep it.’ (Actually, it would make a good competition to have a judge being as politely rude as he or she could.) He admits he’s only the cashier, so he does present two candidates for prizes: N.B. and Southron.

The problem, says Collins, is that no-one has paused to consider the deeper implications. And it turns out that Collins has – he imagines a young wife married to an ageing scholarly husband, who has striven valiantly (his words) to keep the marriage going by bringing  music into the home. He has then repented. On Planet Collins, there is a strange melodrama going on, and nobody has tapped into it. What an odd story! He must have had genuine problems reading the adverts of the day.

He recommends Southron’s entry being read ‘in the mood in which on a Sunday night one watches a performance of the work of one of the grimmer dramatists from the North’. It is tempting to thank Collins for sitting through such plays (I admit I didn’t know there was really such a wave of them, and can only think of Lawrence’s plays, so I’m obviously ignorant of contemporary drama). I note that this is the earliest time I’ve seen ‘grim’ and ‘north’ in such close proximity.


The B competition is for a sonnet (yes, again) after Keats’ ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’, only this time ‘On First Looking Into Dickens’. One of the also-rans is Sir Hector Munro, who had been the Permanent Secretary to the Local Government Board until the end of the First World War. The others are Lester Ralph, Guy Hadley, Lapin and P.R. Laird. (Laird was an occasional entrant – he was mentioned in dispatches in 1931 in the WR, in an unnumbered sequence of competitions in The Spectator in 1926, and in a numbered competition (37) in The Spectator in 1940. Looking at these Spectator competitions he nearly won, one trips over the names of George van Raalte in 1926 and Lt. Col. H.P. Garwood in 1940.)

The sonnets are well-written, and the winners are L.V. Upward and W. Leslie Nicholls. Note the reference to Beaverbrook in the first, and to Jim and Amy Mollison (Amy Johnson) in the latter.