Comps nos 15A and 15B: results

There’s a subtle shift: the fourteen previous competitions have been headed ‘Literary Competitions’; now they become ‘Week-end Competitions’, a style they were to retain almost until the end of the century. The title change is partly to do with the name of the paper, of course; but it may also signal a slight shift to something a little more frivolous. J.C.Squire’s competition to find or create an entertaining list from a telephone or other directory is a little more playful than earlier competitions.

The phone directory game is one I am ashamed to say I have played myself, having once found A. Hook, A. Line and A. Sinker in an Oxford phone directory. Some of the competitors have used their discoveries to do what they haven’t been asked to do, like make a story up from names they’ve found. Squire lists some of the more remarkable names his competitors have come up with:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As Squire observes, after these, Chuzzlewit seems quite ordinary. I’ve met someone called Tosh, Chugg, Jump, Hugall (my father’s business partner), Spouge, and also Bytheway (the latter both called Bill). And some are quite famous now – Marje and indeed Greg Proops; Ronald Pickup; Mavis Cheek, Graham Yallop … You may be able to think of others. I don’t know why names are potentially funny, but most of us have names that will have been tinkered with in childhood. Just the Green part of my surname gave the entire staff at one school I went to, licence to improvise at will. For five years.

Many are commended, but Margery Coleman scoops the first prize for a list from ‘a northern town’.  The second prize goes to another new name, Robwil, with Squire, a bit late in the day to be sensitive, one feels, deleting one double-barrelled surname for being ‘too closely associated with particular families’, as if the many Halfhides deserved what they were given.

Margery Coleman’s list (in the original, set out in two columns) runs: Flatkin, Umbleby, Twose, Blatherwick, Halfhead, Sprittles, Glabby, Tarbottom, Toes, Fowweather, Tullymarsh, Brabbs, Tutty, Matey, Oddy, Slonker, Blabby, Tankle. It mght be me, but a high proportion of these seem to depend on the presence of an ‘l’ to be amusing.

Robwil’s second prize, its provenance not revealed, runs: Whalebelly, Trampleasure, Tiplady, Sheepwash, Littleales, Bullwinkle, Chewett, Rumph, Stumbles, Jesty, Humpage, Spankie, Scotcher, Leatherbarrow, Cobbledick, Walklate, Gotobed, Merredew, Gathercole.

I guess names, being words, are inherently funny. My mother’s surname was Frail, and she suffered repeatedly during the hymn with the line ‘feeble as frail’ (‘O worship the King, all glorious above …’). Some of my ancestors fared badly. One was called Humble Broom, and another, Temperance Spratt. Unbelievably, the latter married a man called Hall, and became, therefore, Temperance Hall.

I did have my suspicions about the list, and used the ‘count’ facility on FreeBMD (the transcription of the register of births marriages and deaths) to check a few. I counted the births. I was most suspicious of Puddephatt, but there were 1214 of them, 888 Fuggles, 363 Proverbs, 410 Shorthoses, 900 Fidos, 141 Funks, 157 Things, 622 Squelches, 228 Undys, 235 Sneezums, 441 Uffs, but only 67 Farwigs, 13 Jiffkins, and a mere 8 Quigs. However, there were no Hooshers and no Sposhums: none at all. (There were only 295 Frails, incidentally.) And while – just checking – there were no Chuzzlewits, there were 339 Pickwicks.

14B, considering it was the less well-rewarded of the two challenges was really difficult. Robert Bridges, the poet laureate since 1913, had died in April of 1930, and after some humming and hahing, and a decision not to honour Kipling any further, Ramsay Macdonald suggested to the King (or doubtless the trail went further back) the name of John Masefield, who went on to be the second longest-serving laureate after Tennyson. Writing an elegy on Bridges in the style of Masefield is a real challenge.

Masefield

John Masefield

Robert Bridges

Robert Bridges

T.E. Casson (still no prize) and Marion Peacock were among several just out of the picture, and Squire (who could have done this competition in his sleep) gives the top prize to a new character, Whitlet, with R.J.Brett bringing up the rear.

To have slanted the yards of our singing, to have painted the hulls were wrong;
Our rigging still thrums with the beauty of the loveliest kind of song,
That has made the roads less dusty, and the seaways not so long.

I have seen dawn and sunset, but he told them better than I.
Beauty was his, and is mine; but the same blue sky
Found a mind more rare in him, and a clearer eye.

Right Royal – the king’s own poet, and a poet worthy of kings –
The wings of beauty were his, the eager beauty of wings;
And he wrote the grandest poetry of the simplest sort of things.

The flowers of the field, the marching battalion of stars
That steer in the widest heavens and crowd on the evening spars,
The weakness, the strength, the failure, the loud hurrahs,

The dawn wind, the summer twilight, that ached in my poet soul,
Touched his with the larger wisdom, and his was the higher goal.
For he made the smallest thing the loveliest part of the whole.

Twilight it is and the noises tender and few
From hill and valley, from lane and meadow come stealing through
The soft last splendid evening he loved and knew.

Glory is gone from the slanting sails of the Clipper, but we
Of the lowlier part remember how Beauty ran fair and free
In the winds of his voice to the greater silence, the wider sea.

                                                                               WHITLET

The good old Queen was middling young
When little Bridges tried his tongue
And soon enough, a lovely stripling,
With Beauty’s notes his throat was rippling,
And Shorter Poems, green in bud,
Ran from the young man fast as blood,
Or fast as hares when April’s fervent.
For she had picked him as her servant,
– Beauty that sweets the poet’s breath,
And makes him kick a heel at death,
And saves his passion, unforgotten
When Helen’s bosom all is rotten,      That is a shockingly bad line!!
And keeps his sight and hearing furled,
From foxy cunning of the world,
And tells him … (What? I beg your pardon.)

This man was like a rosy garden
Where Beauty – (dang it!) – where the birds
And trees and flowers were his words.
Though he was learned, none completer,
In puzzling arts of rhyme and metre,
It mattered little since he knew
The arts of – no, no – Duty true,
And as he walked the fields of sorrels,
His thoughts were long of fate and morals.
I wish he’d been more keen to sing
About the sea, though. Many a thing
I could have told him – all the language
Of second mates and fever’s anguish.

I could have told him how to rig
His “splendid ship”, as barque or brig,
But there! fault-finding is no game
For salt and ploughman. As the same,*
I doff my cap and my sou’wester
With this last tribute to our master:
     The very prime of singing-men,
     We shall not hear his match agen,
     No, never one will turn a sonnet
     Like that grey beard with laurels on it.

               *See somewhere in Hollingdon Downs: –
                 “Scattering the holy hintings of her name [Beauty’s – of course!]
                  In the brook’s voice for us to catch the same.”

                                                       R.J.BRETT

Is it me, or did Squire have to fill the space? This doesn’t even work as a parody of Masefield, and just descends deeper and deeper into the pit of doggerel to which it was heading at its outset.

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Comps nos 14A and 14B: results

Ivor Brown has set one of the first competitions I would like to have entered. It is essentially the kind of news item that would fit the ‘This England’ column shortly to be started by Gerald Barry in The Week-end Review – hingeing as it does, as Brown points out, on the idea that children at 3.59 pm will be engaged in ‘infantile vice’ that will at 4.01 p.m. be re-classified as ‘acceptabe behaviour’. It reminded me of a notorious Conservative councillor on Exeter City Council, the governor of a local primary school, who thought that Hallowe’en should be banned at the school, and that so (in the same breath) should plimsolls.

The 14B competition, recreating Falstaff, would have been expected by Brown’s readers – he has already been spoofed in one competition for his obsession with Shakespeare. What he may not have realised when he dished out the half-guinea second prize was that its winner was only twenty, and I would guess not only the youngest winner so far, but among the youngest ever to have won a WR/NS competition.

T.E.Casson is still trying to win, and Brown claims that the standard is of a high and even quality. Hard to choose a winner. Yes, you guessed it: Seacape scoops the two guineas; and R. G. Brett, who is also becoming something of a serial winner, takes the bonus. (He is shown erroneously as R.J.Brett.)

Our popular seaside resorts are justly known to fame
For attention to appearances and keeping up the same,
With one eye on the money-bags, the other turned aloft;
And chief among the Sabbath-keeping spas was Lowestoft.

One day a ribald councillor, notorious for his larks,
Proposed that Sunday games be sanctioned in the public parks;
At first his horror-stricken colleagues turned him sharply down
But the irreligious gentleman had influence in the town.

For weeks and weeks the elders in the council chamber sat
And argued every aspect of the case this way and that;
And now the Ayes would prosper, and at other times the Noes,
But neither side could bring the long discussion to a close.

At length by dint of compromise, that saving British grace,
They hit on this expedient of disposing of the case:
They handed one park over to the Ayes and mortal sin,
Providing that from two to four no child should enter in;

The other park the Noes have and preserve, as heretofore
As places where the Orthodox can safely sit and snore,
And children, while their sires in sacreligious joys engage,
Can walk about and ponder on the evils of the age.

                                                                   SEACAPE

If I was being fussy, I would say that the first and penultimate lines are not in good shape, but then I won a competition yesterday – not in the NS – of which a higher proportion of lines seemed to me, in cold print, wonky.

Seacape has now won more than ten guineas, and we are only fourteen competitions in.

For R.G. Brett’s poem, I’m assuming we all know Mrs. Grundy is the censorious character in Speed The Plow. By? Yes, Thomas Morton? But I had to have a good think about Stiggins, who it transpires (I’d forgotten) is from The Pickwick Papers, in which there is a character called Grundy, too. That’s confusing. In fact, maybe that’s the Grundy intended.

Stiggins

Cry loudly, Stiggins, howl amain! And, Grundy,
Groan out a curse on these that shame your Sunday,
On all th’unholy wretches, who, to hurt you,
Have struck this lewdest blow at Britain’s virtue.
For in a park of green and guileless seeming,
The Evil Ones of Lowestoft are scheming
To play demonian games. Despite the menace
Of angry bells, there will the lustful tennis
Draw young addicts in falsely pure disguises,            (that’s a ropey line!)
Croquet and bowls will beckon with their prizes
To wanton elders, heedless of mortality,
And childhood’s bud will blast in criminality,
Drunken with swings and fierce with sandy digging
While bands tune every toe to worldly jigging.

The end is come. No more a pious father
May point across to France (or Flanders, rather)
And whisper of that sabbathless, benighted,
– Ah, worse, unEnglish land. He flies, affrighted
With backward-glancing brood, to Tulse Hill homeward,
And feels his country sinking Hell – and Romeward.

                                                                R.G.BRETT

That phrase ‘Wardour Street poetry’ is coming to mind, I’m afraid.

Now to 14B, Falstaff at Ascot, which Brown doesn’t think has worked. He rewards Lester Ralph for his Shakespearean puns, and also Muriel M. Malvern for her sense of the man, even if some of her puns were not Falstaffian (if you go to her page under Competitors, you’ll see that I think she is only 20).

I prithee, sweet wag, when thou art king, if the wenches allow thee, see to it that the baggages betake them to their short kirtles again, or that it rain not so roundly at Ascot. I tell thee Hal, what with plackets most vilely bemired about me, and that they apparrelled squirming like eels upon the fire, I was never so unmanned since I was a stripling as rabbit-gutted as thou art. If my new doublet be not as riddled as a sieve getting m to shelter, spit in my face, call me a shotten herring. Saving that all reverence for gray hairs and honourable poverty be quite washed out of thee by the rain, and the sack wert pouring down thy gullet, dost owe my tailor for twenty yards of good satin. But thou wert ever a scurvy companion and an ungrateful. Was it not old Jack that bade thee set thy father’s crown upon that same roan nag, whose name I forget? ‘Twas as lean as a rake, with a white fetlock, and won most royally. An thou outface me on that, ne’er say thou hast the face-royal, though barber ne’er won crown by the shaving of it.

               LESTER RALPH

… Give me a cup of sack … As you may know by my size, that I have a kind of alacrity in sinking; my feet sank in the ground; I was up to my ankles in mud; there was not a foot of dry flesh on my body; I sank to my knees in mud. Two men were killed by lightning. Zounds, I am afraid of this gunpowder thunder, though it be no more … Bardolph! … Four men were struck by lightning … A cup of sack, I say … The six men were found to be beyond human aid. Well, we cannot last for ever. I barely scaped drowning, a death I abhor.  If a man should speak truly, there was not an inch of dry flesh on the whole of my body. A plague of all such weather; I am as subject to heat as butter; a man of continual dissolution and thaw. I thoughtthe end of the world had come, and I was with the damned … A pox of this gout! for getting my feet wet plays the rogue with my great toe. I will turn discomforts to commodity: the prince shall furnish me with new clothes.

       MURIEL M. MALVERN

Competitions 10A and 10B – results

Josephine Tey aka Gordon Daviot, really Elizabeth Macdonald

Josephine Tey aka Gordon Daviot, really Elizabeth Mackintosh

A new competitor called Koorali has spotted that ‘Once a candle in the midnight/ of my heart was briefly lit’, the lines that Humbert Wolfe, himself a poet, wants us to continue for fourteen more lines, is ‘a free translation from Heine’. Of course! (Actually, it’s a fair guess, as Wolfe, whose reputation in the 1920s was considerable, was known as Heine’s translator.) Nevertheless one competitor has written in, by the sound of it in a rage, to say that it will produce a lot of ‘cheap anguish’. Wolfe pleads guilty, but goes on to say that this made the good ones particularly special. Amongst the also-rans are Austin Priestman (a children’s poet) and T.E. Casson (a poet and critic) and also ‘Gordon Daviot’ – the pseudonym used by one Elizabeth Mackintosh for her historical plays, and for the novel she’d published the year before, although she is far better known under the pseudonym ‘Josephine Tey’, and for her mystery novels, especially for her last novel The Daughter Of Time (1951, published just before her death in 1952). H.C.M. (who may also be famous, we don’t know) and ‘A.Orta’ are also commended. But the winners are R.G. Brett, and there are two second prizes (Koorali and Biddy), so the editor has an extra half-guinea to stump up.

Once the candle in the midnight
   of my heart was briefly lit
when a winter-braving blackbird
   whispered out his exquisite

tune from last year half-remembered
    like the shadow of the clear
April-coloured song he lavished
   on his brown delighted dear.

So in spring my heart had chanted
    drunk with love as with new wine.
So the winter bird’s awaking
    woke a ghostly joy of mine.

Then the rain, and wind more bitter,
   quencht our little sinking spark;
mute upon his branch, the blackbird,
   in my heart the silent dark.

        R.J. BRETT

Once the candle in the midnight
   Of my heart was briefly lit;
Soon to be blown out, on purpose
   To compose a song on it.

Candle, midnight … Any poet
   Worth his guinea ought to see
How to do it – “frightened children
   Left in darkness, just like me.”

Then one works it up, The children
   Sing to drive away their fear;
And a grown-up man, so doing,
   Sets in every eye a tear.

There’s your song. Without the famous
   Heine-touch, a little flat?
Say: “My singing’s far from pleasant” –
   Who but I would think of that?

                                                 KOORALI

Once the candle in the midnight
   of my heart was briefly lit
So shame-making – so damned awkward
   isn’t it? or isn’t it?

“Darling am I going to be … be?
   “I’m afraid so – do you mind?
“Sweet lamb don’t be sentimental –
   “blow the light out – draw the blind.”

So fear-making, so quite loofy
   horrid – I have got a pain –
Dear I hate you – draw the blind up
   Curse – it’s pouring now with rain.

Howl? I will – that beastly candle
   guttered grease blobs on my heart –
shut up darling – get the car out
   Dawn or not – I want to start.

                                            BIDDY

I haven’t altered anything in Biddy’s entry (except changing its to it’s) and I can’t work out if the compositor was having an off-day, or whether Biddy is being very eccentric in the way Heine sometimes was. The latter, I suspect. (This poem is re-printed in the anthology, ‘The Week-end Calendar’, with slightly different inverted commas, and the apostrophe still missing from it’s.) And in a curious way, these three poems do seem to have something more reckless about them that might have had J.C.Squire asking Wolfe some pointed questions.

Competition 10B, requiring a list of the seven deadly virtues, is one of those competitions that could go anywhere and a Mr. Cutting has listed as one of his – to Wolfe’s delight – “to insist on sounding the letter h when chatting to a bed-fellow”, which is what I would call leftfield and my daughter would call random, and which Wolfe insists is genius. Pibwob notes that a penny saved is a penny taxed, but the winners are two new names: Sannox (address, please!) and Cowper. Vaguely, Wolfe would like the prize-money split as easily as possible between the two, as Sannox’s meter has gone, Wolfe thinks, to pieces in the second verse. (I make that three-quarters of a guinea, and it’s a long time since I have done this, but is that not 15s 9d?)  Here they are:

                   (1) Safety First                                                         (2) Safety First   
                   (3) Safety First                                                         (4) Safety First   
                                                   (5) Safety First

When Grenville sailed from Flores and the Spaniards hove in sight
And the seamen clamoured, –  “Shall we fly, or, Master, shall we fight?”
He scanned the mighty galleons that held the crew accursed,
And cried in ringing accents, – “My comrades,
                                                                             Safety First!”

The Frenchmen lay off Aboukir, a great and mighty fleet;
Shoals and the coastal batteries made made the defence complete.
Did Nelson waver? Never! His signal doubts dispersed, –
“England expects each man this day to study
                                                                              Safety First!”

Effingham, Grenville, Raleigh, Drake – Admirals bold and free!
Rodney, Collingwood, Byron, Hawke – kings of the circling sea!
What was it steeled your mighty hearts, daring as few men durst?
Old England’s deathless watchword, – the clarion
                                                                             Safety First!”

                                                                  SANNNOX

Have I got this wrong or is this like the contemporary dread of Health and Safety?

Here is Biddy:

                            Though dead we speak, yet let our words be brief,
                            For of dead virtues, Silence is the chief,

(1.) RESPECTABILITY
For certain, grocers wil have a place in heaven:
Peter will open to an Austin Seven.

(2.) INDUSTRY
Bow down thy head and work – time flies,
And look not idly at the opal skies.

(3.) PATRIOTISM
Though as a man, I’m bound to love all men,
I hate all foreigners as a citizen.

(4.) FRANKNESS
“To be quite frank with you,” thus I begin;
I ope my mouth and Rancour has his fling!

(5) GOOD FORM

I bully in the regiment and school
Eccentric genius till he feels a fool!

(6) SELF-KNOWLDEGE

Knowedge is useless that my class has banned,
We govern where we cannot understand!

(7) LOYALTY

“Leave me out, Deadly Virtue I am not!”
“It all depends on loyalty to what?”

                                                                COWPER

I’ve thought about these two a lot, and sometimes I get the whiff of a gist. But that’s as far as it goes.

Competitions 9A and 9B: results

Dyneley Hussey admits that his request for translation or imitation of Apollinaire’s animal poems haas led to no-one producing three (the maximum allowed) good poems. ‘Many competitors,’ he adds, ‘fell into the error of introducing irrelevancies for the sake of rhyme’ (any entrant to this kind of competition has made that mistake). There is something quite schoolmasterly about Hussey (‘lowered their marks’ … ‘not up to that standard’) – that makes one wonder at first whether he had a teaching career before his military service and journalistic exploits – but he didn’t – it’s merely part of the slight archness of judging the competitions.

Unable to make his mind up, he divides the first prize between H.C.M (a translator) and Seacape (an imitator), and gives the second prize to R.J.Brett (a translator). Valimus, G.A. Newall, Geegee (sic) and A.M.L. are commended.

The Goat of Thibet

The golden Goat of far Thibet,
The fleece that Jason sailed to get,
Are but accounted nothingnesses
Matched with the gold of Julia’s tresses.

Rodents

Time is a rodent who devours
My eager, gloowing, glittering hours,
And leaves me but the cerement
Of eight and twenty years, ill-spent.

Ibis

Yes, I shall go, and in the tomb
Awake some dark, appointed doom,
The victim of a Latin word,
Ibis – and an Egyptian bird.

        H.C.M.

The Mayfly

This mayfly, when its wings unfurled,
Lived but an hour to judge the world,
And as that hour was bare of sun,
What merit has its judgment won?

Swallows

As swallows fluttering on high,
Our thoughts turn upward to the sky;
But the scant harvest that they bring
Would shame the humblest wingèd thing.

Mice

The teeth of each besetting vice
Nibble at character, like mice,
And till the havoc’s past repair,
None notices the hole is there.

   SEACAPE

I think Seacape has been lucky to continue his winning streak on this occasion. If we are like swallows, our thoughts aren’t going to turn upward to the sky, are they? It’s a very poor simile. And I have a thing about poems that start ‘Time is …’. Harrumph. The consolation prize of half-a-guinea goes to:

The Goat of Tibet

The fleece of this rare goat is nought
And that of gold, which Jason sought
So long, as little worth for me,
Who have my mistress’ hair to see.

The Mouse

By gentle days the sly mouse Time
Has nibbled half my life away.
For eight and twenty years of rhyme,
Alas! and folly I’ve to pay.

The Ibis

Yes, I shall pass uto your shades,
O Death, whom nothing may beguile!
In his dark Latin, as he wades,
Thus chants the Ibis, bird of Nile.

     R.J.BRETT

9B asked for a rewrite of some W.S.Gilbert (‘Iolanthe’) to reflect the choice for infants of being able to vote for not two but three parties. Hussey grudgingly gives two entrants, Sylvia Thompson and old hand but first-time winner in the WR Lester Ralph half-a-guinea each (Hussey’s main general complaint is that he can’t imagine the entries being sung). If you don’t know the song they are parodying, go to Private Willis’s song in the pdf – go to page 28 – you can download it here

Iolanthe

As year by year I still parade
On sentry-go (despite Disarmament),
I contemplate the changes made
In Britain’s legislative firmament;         (he’s right, that’s nigh-on impossible to sing!)
Since Queen Victoria passed away
And Edward went to his divinity,
The Labour Party’s joined the fray
And made a kind of blessed Trinity.
      And now each poor bewildered mite
      Must use its Infant Vote, you see,
      To forward a three-cornered fight
      In what we call Democracy;
      And so it never learns a Right
      Hand from a Left hand policy!
                                Fa La.

When Members are inclined to vote
They often find they can’t decide at all
(And like Three Men in the same Boat)
Their leaders hope they won’t divide at all;
Liberal, Tory, Socialist, –
Each bidding to outdo the other chap;
If I’d my way, I would insist
Two Parties’ politics, but three’s a “scrap”!
      For now the Politicians fight
      To catch the Infant Vote, you see;
      By showing them that black is white,
      And all roads reach Democracy;
      And so they never learn a Right
      Hand from a Left hand policy!
                                Fa La.

                  SYLVIA THOMPSON

We’ve done with those old days effete
   of simply bifurcated politics
when Blue and Red assumed his seat,
   by honest means, or else by sorry tricks,
when voters registered their vote
    alternately or just by habitude,
and candidates declaimed by rote
    their views on cabbages and rabbit-food.
        So let’s rejoice with loud fal lal
           fal la la lal, fal la la lal,
        that Nature need no more contrive,
           fal la la lal, fal la la lal,
       that every boy and every gal
           who is born into this world alive
     be either a little Liberal
       or else a little Conservative. 

Now flappers all are free to choose
   with no electoral dignity,
of three the one whose jokes amuse
   them most, or put him in from charity;
nor need the figure of their choice
    described be as mere trilateral
with Beaverbrook’s stentorian voice
   to rouse, confuse, or deftly flatter all.

                 LESTER RALPH

Ralph was himself an artist, an American living in London, who was well-known for having provided the controversial black-and white illustrations to Mark Twain’s Eve’s Diary. In 1930, he was fifty-three. There is more detail about him here,