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. 154A and 154B: results

There is something about the grand dame in Naomi Royde-Smith that means, when she sets a competition, she feels she must alter the disposition of the guineas on offer. In this case, in the A competition, she offers three individual guineas for the three best conundrums that end in the line ‘What should A do?’ Her report mentions no names other than the winners, but does make pronouncements on what not to do (one entrant had 26 characters from A to Z in the 250 words allowed). Two failed entries are quoted in full, but not credited.

Still, for the first time, T.E. Casson comes out first, although it’s his bad luck that, on this auspicious occasion, and on his 154th attempt, he earns a single guinea rather than two. The other two winners are Hutch and Guy Innes.


Casson’s entry, in case you missed it, is a sort of amalgam of the E.W.Hornung novels featuring the cracksman Raffles with the bodyline crisis. (Raffles had been created in 1898, and appeared in twenty-six stories and a novel between then and 1909 – but a British film The Return of Raffles had come out in 1932.)Hutch’s entry seems fairly conventional to me. But Innes’s entry is a witty send-up of the whole competition.

Alas for the B competition! Entrants had been asked to complete

Upon my plate his guinea-fowl;
I asked for guinea-fare.

But ‘a sad thing has happened’. The entry contains a misprint. It should have read

Upon my plate lies guinea-fowl;
I asked for guinea-fare.

The idea was to have a go at a waiter. Royde-Smith is certainly not giving any prizes out, but she allows one entry to be printed without any other reward:


Worth at least half-a-guinea, I’d have thought!


Competitions nos. 148A and 148B: results

Elizabeth Bibesco quotes a play called Passé by Porto-Riche from memory. (Georges Porto-Riche was a French playwright born in 1849, but who had died only three years before this, in 1930.)portoricheIn the play, the heroine says, if EB remembers correctly, ‘Dire que l’année prochaine je regretterai ce visage là’ (Sad to think that next year I will regret that face). She wants (yes, again) a sonnet on this theme, in English.

In her report Bibesco notes that this competition has not attracted the usual number, and she singles out, very curiously, the following four as being missing: Pibwob, Non Omnia, Issachar – and Gordon Daviot. The first three are regulars, but Gordon Daviot – the pen-name of Josephine Tey, the novelist – has not been mentioned since 1930 and then only on one occasion in the tenth competition. Does this mean she has been entering, under a pseudonym for her pseudonym, for all the intervening competitions? It’s a curious remark.

By a really curious coincidence, on the same day that I wrote this blog entry, an article on one of the runners-up, Dorothy Bowers, was published in The Independent. It’s here. Bowers was the author of well-received crime fiction, but her reputation is a casualty of early death. This is her most famous:

Bowers novel

But she isn’t a winner, and Bibesco prefers the serious to the many facetious face-lifting sonnets. The winner is W. Leslie Nicholls (his first win, and the first appearance of a competitor who was to do exceptionally well), and the runner up is William Bliss. Commended – and also printed, unusually, but described as ‘smoothly derivative’ is Black Gnat. As I’ve said, I’m still pretty sure this is Seacape.


For once, the B competition is a hit (and would play well today). An English cricket captain, asked who his successor should be, has remarked that ‘I cannot comment; that would not be cricket.’ Brilliant. Bibesco asks for similarly dunder-headed observations on a prime minister, president-elect, bishop (or archbishop), restaurateur, actor, or novelist . She commends a lot of individuals, including T.D.Tremlett (the heraldic expert who has come close before) on a president-elect (‘a charming man in private life’) and Mariamne on a prime minister (‘We owe him a debt that we can never repay’). The winners are Hutch and B. Gibbs, who I assume is the B.R. Gibbs who won the previous week.


Competitions nos. 47A and 47B: results

Charles Riddell give the entrants to the A competition such a complex set of instructions that you sense it’s a bit doomed. He wants an epigram on any subject (‘on any subject’, a phrase hated by almost all competitors) in which a foreign language is used in the four-line rhymed piece, in the rhyming bit, but no more than two lines of this, got it? No, you’re getting confused as well. Riddell then tops the mess by illustrating what he wants with something that ‘is not itself an epigram’ but should illustrate what he’s after. Okay, let’s try it on you:


It foxes the entrants, although there are many who are given some credit. One of them is R(obert) J.V. Pulvertaft, who was to become one of the leading microbiologists of his generation. He became Professor of Pathology at Westminster Hospital, London. (He married Elizabeth Costello, who had survived the wartime sinking in 1918 of the SS. Leinster – there is an account by his daughter here.) Another, Helen Hawkesworth, is almost certainly the wife of  the army officer ‘Ginger’ Hawkesworth, or, as he eventually became, Lieutenant General John Hawkesworth, one of the rare instances of a soldier who not only survived the whole of World War One in action, but played a key part in World War Two too.

The winners are Hutch and H.C.M.. Hutch first:


You son – when a green amateur we could class him –
You permitted to flirt with poemata passim;
But his project of wedding his Muse you taboo:
On pardonne a l’amant, mais on punit l’epoux.

I bet you spotted that the Latin was Horace, and the French was Forgest …

H.C.M. now, and really a lot better:

Let those who claim to be well read,
     And use quotations, understand ’em,
Lest they be like the man who said
     “De mortuis nil desperandum.”

One of near-winners was W.Hodgson Burnet, and another J.E.M.Gunning (about whom I can only tell you that he was later awarded an O.B.E.).

47B is bizarre (and complicated again). A letter breaking of an engagement (max 300 words) has to be written by a young lady of noble birth (why? was there some contemporary news story being satirised here?) on the grounds that (a) her husband-to-be trumped her winning ace at bridge, and (b) refused to lend her his copy of Joyce’s Ulysses.

Bemused competitors ‘dismissed’ the bridge and Ulysses in the first para, which Riddell admits was not what he intended. Some, including Gertrude Pitt, made plain that she’d already read Joyce’s novel (I’ve never got through it, even though I have tried four or five times, I confess). This means, says Riddell, that there are only three left in the frame. One of them has written an ‘ingenious nautical fantasia’, but he is, alas, left in the cold. You’ve guessed it. It’s T.E. Casson. The winners are L.V.Upward and Mrs. E.M. Waterhouse.

Dear Monty,

When you gave your famous imitation of an almost human chimpanzee at the card table last night it began to dawn on me that, if I brought you into the family, it would take more blotting-paper than I can afford to keep the old escutcheon clean. No, no, Monty! When you’re dealing with a Fitzffaulkon you simply can’t get away with that sort of thing. Our motto is, Nemo me impune lacessit, which means you can get far more fun out of slapping a gooseberry bush than out of putting my back up.
     And there’s another thing: Cave-man stuff, as I told the tenth baron the other night when he told me to try and make my dress allowance last out a bit longer, is all very well in the right place; but the right place doesn’t happen to be twentieth-century England, and when it comes to refusing to lend me a book which everybody who is anybody is reading, just because it gets under the puritanical old epidermis a trifle, the limit has very definitely been reached and slightly over-stepped.
    So, what with one thing and another, you may take it that the soul’s mate business between you and me is off, and I am returning the doings herewith. The tenth baron (not that I care for his opinion much) cordially agrees with my decision. He always hated the idea of you.
    Don’t go in off the deep end about it, and better luck next time

    Yours (not to be)



Dear Dumpty

I’m through.

First there’s your Bridge. I said nothing at the time – I hate people who quarrel publicly at cards – so I believe you never realised that when I doubled John’s four hearts on Sunday, you, my partner – trumped my winning ace.I couldn’t face a life contract with such a partner. But your refusal yesterday to lend me ‘Ulysses’ finally does it. It could only mean that (a) you were afraid I should damage the book or (b) that it should damage me. I spent half the night wondering which was the greater insult. At 2 a.m. precisely, I decided that (b) was, and at 2.5 p.m. I decided that (b) was obviously your reason for refusing. You could easily replace the book if damaged.

Well, now you can replace me. I found this morning that Aunt has a copy and borrowed it. I read the end first (as usual), so you will realise that it is already too late. Incidentally, you, who buy no literature except for the evening paper, paid 25s for ‘Ulysses’, and read it from cover to cover. Why? Because it is the greatest literary achievement of our age? Oh, undoubtedly. But no proper-minded young man could respect a woman who had read such a book. So I have spared you the unpleasantness of explaining this, as you will see in tomorrow’s ‘Court and Personal’. You can console yourself (if necessary) with Tennyson’s encouraging remark that kind hearts are more than coronets (especially when they’re trumps) and simple faith (in womanly innocence) and Norman blood.

Yours more in sorrow than in anger


P.S. Do make sure that your eventual bride has not read the Bible. A most improper book, I assure you.


[Ulysses was first published in 1922, but not freely available in the UK until 1936, when it cost £3.3s. 0d, so any circulating copies at 25s must have been printed in France and brought over.]

Competitions 24A and 24B: results

For 24A, Ivor Brown has set the task of writing a Wordsworthian sonnet on riding a motorcycle up Scafell Pike. One of the winning entries refers to ‘Clarkson’ … However, I can’t find an obvious news report of anyone taking a motorbike up Scafell (over 3000 feet) in 1930, so I’m not sure if this was a topical reference (it sounds it). The list of also-rans is lengthy (including the luckless T.E.Casson), and Brown is more than a but surprised that there’s such little mischief. He gives the top prize to the best of the ‘reverents’, C.M.R., and the second to the best of the parodists, William A. Jesper.



Only one William A. Jesper is listed in the births and marriages register, which would suggest that this is William Alfred Jesper of York, born in 1878, and in 1911 a railway clerk in the same city.

24B asks for four rehearsed opening conversational gambits to be prepared for a Mr. Tremble (‘a modest author’) when at a party given by a literary hostess (‘Lady Booming’). The date of the party is given as August 23 1930. I’m not sure of the significance of the 23rd, but it was two days after the birth of this little girl:

Princess Margaret

Princess Margaret Rose, a few years later …

Brown awards the guinea to N.B. for a suicidal set of suggestions:

(1) I do hope you like Jane Austen.

(2) Tell me about your home life.

(3) Do tell me how one sews on buttons.

(4) Don’t you just adore Woolworth?

(None of these raised a smile in my case.)

The half-guinea goes to Hutch, and I do, like Brown, admire the fourth stage (Gilbert Jessop, by the way was regarded as the finest cricketer of the pre-WW1 years; a serious medical accident during World War I prevented him from playing again. Hobbs rated him the equal of Bradman).


“I hope we shan’t have an experience like the one I had last week at a dinner when the lights all went out

during the soup course.” (Failing a counter-reminiscence, you enlarge on an imaginary experience.)


The Test Match… “I have the advantage over you of being able to remember when Jessop …”


“I heard a rather amusing remark on the way here this evening.” Here follows some joke culled

from an old Punch. It is unlikely that your victim will remember it; if she does, “Is that so?

How truly Wilde said that Nature imitates Art!” If, however, she fails to see the joke, you

pass on to


“Do you believe in the lore of numbers? Someone has discovered that our new little Princess is

the second daughter of the second son of the second son of the second child of Queen

Victoria, and was born on the second day after the second decade of the second month of the

second half of the year.” To stop this kind of thing, she will have to start some subject of

her own.

[It actually took me a while to get this, as ‘decade’ is being used to mean ten days, i.e. two plus twenty days into August. I don’t know if it’s a better joke for getting the date of her birth wrong by one day, or a worse one, but it entertained me.]