Competitions no. 160A and 160B: results

J.C.Squire amasses a huge postbag with his requests for ballades that have the refrain ‘I don’t know where the _______  ____ we are’. He is is driven to congratulating Lt Col H.P. Garwood, W. Leslie Nicholls, E.W.Parsons, and also (an unfamiliar name) Geoffrey Parsons, who, I suspect, is the lyricist who later (1954) co-provided the words for Charlie Chaplin’s melody ‘Smile’ (a song most associated with Nat ‘King’ Cole).

smileThere are also commendations for William Bliss and “Seacape II” – who’s this then, Black Gnat bored with not being Seacape?

After considerable flannelling, Squire gives first prize to Mariamne, and second to Obispo, while admitting that he’s not really sure what the latter always means with his blanks:



Ely Culbertson was a Russian with a surprising background, who popularised contract bridge, virtually single-handedly. There’s a piece about him here.


Ely Culbertson


The B competition goes awry, but perhaps because Squire worded it wrongly. He wanted an example of a ‘purple patch’ of prose, but he meant an existing one, and instead received lots of examples of the genre. He decides to give Guy Hadley a prize for some very purple prose, and a runner-up prize to Muriel M. Malvern, who has quoted something, albeit in translation (this was originally held over for space reasons, but I’ve restored it).


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.




Competition no. 112: results

Only one competition this week, but only because Sylvia Lynd’s extra winner has had to be held over. Gerald Bullett sets a really difficult competition (so difficult in fact, that I would quite enjoy having a go at it – there you are, an insight into the mind of a fanatical competitor). Suppose, suggests Bullett, that Swinburne and William Morris, over a bottle of wine, decide to elevate the status of ‘Jack and Jill’ to that of an Arthurian legend (yes, can see that happening), and do so using iambics – couplets, terza rima or blank verse – each in his characteristic manner, and in 8-12 lines each, at which point they abandon them and pass them to Tennyson for a mélange of both with a dash of his own style in 12 lines. The prizes are upped to two guineas, one guinea and half-a-guinea.

Phew. But then the readers were all still Swinburne fans, it seems to me. We would probably be asked to mix up (say) Plath and Hughes, and have it all re-written by Heaney. Or something similar. And we’d also have an extra week to do it.

Morris Tennyson Swinburne








Bullett says his judging is helped by the fact that most of the glazed eyes skated over ‘iambics’; Seacape and Lester Ralph come close; Tennyson is thought the easiest of the three; and the winner, by a whisker, is Yury, followed by Obispo, and George van Raalte (who is a bit dependent on the originals, and has made what I think is a tactical blunder in footnoting one poem).





Competitions 4A and 4B: results

J.C.Squire regrets asking for collective nouns of assembly of all or any of the following: chauffeurs, charwomen, income tax collectors, typists, acrors, men-about-town, politicians, Jews, Scotsmen, commercial travellers, novelist, dramatic critics and hedgehogs. (Interesting how ‘men-about-town’ and even ‘commercial travellers’ are now completely redundant phrases.) He admits to setting it to elicit a good response, but was rewarded by hundreds of lists, which he had whittled down to a mere sixty-four by two in the morning before his deadline. By four o’clock he admits he’s coming to an arbitrary decision and he vows to set a poem on Einstein in Sanskrit Elegiacs the next time he is asked. He’s amazed at the duplication of even recondite phrases. Two people have sent in ‘a gasometer of politicians’. He tabulates the most common multiple entries: a prickle of hedgehogs, a haggle of Jews, a strut of actors, a thrift of Scotsmen, a carp of dramatic critics, a giggle of typists, and so on.

He also includes a list of surprising suggestions, which include a gauntlet of chauffeurs, a scuddle of charwomen, a boodle of men-about-town, a cosmopoly of Jews, a bannock of Scotsmen, a chapter of novelists, and an umbrage of hedgehogs (this is a fraction of the list). He also notes that competitors find it almost impossible to to collectivise politicians without using a word ending in -le: he lists wangle, babble, piffle, bungle, and hustle. He commends 62 entrants to 4A (he’s looking for complete lists. Naturally Seacape is in the 62, as is ‘Morganwg, some of whose words I could not read’, and so – specially commended for his ‘pox’ of income tax collectors – is a certain Giles Romilly. Romilly might not have been very well known in 1930, but he was Churchill’s wife’s nephew, and the first on Hitler’s special list of prisoners to be captured and incarcerated in Colditz at the beginning of the war (he escaped, incidentally). Over half the 62 give initials only or pseudonyms (Queue, Marmalade and Theodolite among them). In the end a new name, Eiluned Lewis – another not-yet but about-to-be-well-known individual gets the first prize with

A squirt of chauffeurs
A draggle of charwomen
A screw of income tax collectors
A powdering of typists
A flourish of actors
A spree of men-about-town
A pocus of politicians
A gesticulation of Jews
A haggle of Scotsmen
A bag of commercial travellers
A mush of novelists
A gruntle of dramatic critics
A bristle of hedgehogs

– pretty consistent standard, and I think this might win today.

The second prize goes to M.L.W., with

A treadle of chauffeurs
A truckle of charwomen
A harry of income tax collectors
A tattoo of typists (very good!)
An eminence of actors
A jessamy of men-about town
A multiloquence of politicians
A sheen of Jews
A dourie of Scotsmen
A gammon of commercial travellers
A hack of novelists
A scrabble of dramatic critics
A cusp of hedgehogs

[This competition led to some further correspondence in The Week-end Review, encouraged by Barry, after Gerald Wolfe of Tile House, Farnham Royal wrote in with a list of collective nouns relating to a variety of public schools (e.g. ‘A scrum of Rugbeians’) – which helps indicate one kind of reader of the review. First to reply to the challenge is 4A’s winner, Eiluned Lewis, writing from Glan Hafren, near Newtown in Montgomeryshire, who offers  ‘A litter of trippers’. In the following issue, Ivor Brown (whom we will meet as a judge) adds in some more public school nouns, e.g. ‘a riddance of Blundellians’. In the same issue, writing from Downside School, near Bath, Lionel Gough takes mock-umbrage at Gerald Wolfe, who has offered ‘a pride of Etonians’, and claims that Shrewsbury has a monopoly on the word ‘proud’, and that therefore it should be ‘a pride of Salopians’. Happily, this is the end of the sequence.]

But we still have 4B – a ballade. Entrants are ticked off for missing an envoi, or not spotting the e on the end of the word. Familiar names are among the runners-up:  Valimus, Mrs G.P. Lea, Pibwob, James Hall, but the prizes go (first) to Obispo, who also has a winning streak ahead of him, and Lavengro, who hasn’t sent in his address, and whose ballade is held over for reasons of space. In the event, it is held over repeatedly, and printed with the results to Comp VII, so it is here reunited as a second prize, with the first, after over 82 years. Who was Obispo? Who was Lavengro? Does anyone out there know?

A ballade is a 28-line form that has a rhyme structure ABABBCBC  ABABBCBC ABABBCBC BCBC. The last line of each stanza and of the envoi is the same, and it’s been given here: ‘It beats me why they bring such rubbish out.’ If there are any unsatirical ballades, I don’t know them: the last, repeated line is a sort of laconic summing-up.


“A Novel of Profound Psychology!” –
Mr. Cock-Sparrow meets Miss Jenny Wren –
Invites her to his Studio to Tea,
Where each new hatch’d and unfledg’d Denizen
Of Chelsea drinks his Absinthe Cocktail – then
She feels strong Twinges of Religious Doubt,
And he subsides into an Opium Den . . .
It beats me why They bring such Rubbish out.

Now let us hold Romanticism in Fee
And converse with the fierce Sheiks of Yemen,
Swear by the Prophet, or for “you” say “ye,”
For “soon” “eftsoons”, and for again, “agen”;
Let’s stand with Cortes stout in Darien,
Accompany the Region to a Rout,
Rise with Prince Rupert over Moor and Fen . . .
It beats me why They bring such Rubbish out.

Of more than Holmesian Profundity
A new Detective swins into our Ken,
And brings to Book in Chapter Twenty Three
The Criminal We spotted on Page Ten,
Proving it was the sinister Yung-Chen
That did in Colonel Pondicherry Prout,
Whose Corpse was found in “Buccaneer’s Glen” …
It beats me why They bring such Rubbish out.


Prince! some Poor Devils wield a facile Pen
Whose weekly Pullulations duly sprout
In Literary Reviews – misguided Men …
It beats me why They bring such Rubbish out.


This is, how shall I say, just a little crowded to work. Squires spots that, in line 23, you need a lot of ‘e’s at the end of ‘Buccaneers’ to make up for a missing syllable. But perhaps his judgment was impaired by the early morning judging of collective nouns. Here is the second prize:

I like Advertisements; it’s fun to read
Of things that should be hid from public view –
About the stuffs and puffs that Beauties need
To make their skin as satiny as their shoe.
I read the Testimonials through and through,
Pore o’er the questios – have I Glanders? Gout?
“Write for our samples (free)” and when I do
It beats me why they bring such rubbish out.

I love the papers; O I do indeed,
The Daily Older and the Daily New;
They tell me where Society doth feed,
The frock it wears, the hat, the cock-tail brew, –
That Lady Chose has dyed her toenails blue,
And not the green we’ve seen so much about.
Jove! how I love it, still, between us two,
It beats me why they bring such rubbish out.

I love our novels; I adore the screed
That makes folks devils all; it isn’t true
What odds? since darling Ducksley hatched the breed
The geese, though faint, must one and all pursue.
I love our Poets, – fresh as honey-dew
Or woodbine; green with jade; – in spite of doubt
That Byron might have said of all the crew
“It beats me why they bring such rubbish out.”


Yet, scavenger Oblivion, take your due,
Rake in O Ragman, coronet and clout;
What! grousing at the burden, even you –
“It beats me why they bring such rubbish out.”


The problem with Lavengro’s ballade is that it starts confidently, but then goes off the rails into odd line-crossing, multiple inversion, and rhyme-driven lines. Ballades are hard to sustain: give Obispo his due, he sticks to his theme. Lavengro has a couple of better lines at the start, but that’s as far as it goes: Sorting out I love our novels; I adore the screed/That makes folks devils all; it isn’t true/What odds? is hard!