Competitions nos. 189A and 189B: results

Having come out against the ballade a few posts ago, it is my melancholy pleasure to tell you that 189A is for yet another ballade, and that, looking ahead, 190A will be for yet another ballade. That’s not very great planning!

We can exculpate the first setter, I think: Sir John Squire. He wants a ballade that ends ‘I liked my partner but she trumped my ace’. (The idea that a man and woman might swap roles is not envisaged.) Extraordinarily – to Squire as well – there is a glut of red-headed shes’ among the entries, most of which (the entries) he admires. He has to cut out the ones who still can’t tell a ballad from a ballade; he cuts out all the ones who don’t seem to know what game is being played; and, very oddly, he cuts out the small minority who picture the ‘he’ as a condemned man awaiting execution. The winners are Arthur Oliver and W.R.Y:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbridge_simplifiedThe B competition asks for a summation by a loser [as in a gambler] after a horse-race. Actually, this turns out to have been a misprint, as Squire wanted the word ‘rumination’ (he says he is hanged if he would use ‘summation’ even if it existsed, as he must have known it did). Squire thinks that no entry is especially good, but, perhaps ruminating on ‘summation’, hands the prizes to W. Leslie Nicholls and E.W. Fordham (the latter very definitely a summation).


Competitions nos. 153A and 153B: results

Anthony Bertram returns with one of the liveliest competitions for a while. He asks for a poem (two or three stanzas) modelled on Thomas Hood’s ‘Song Of the Shirt’ (which you can read in its entirety here and which begins

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread–
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the “Song of the Shirt.”

It’s a poem that has inspired countless images, of which this is just one (by Edward Radford):

Radford Song Of Shirt

However, Bertram wants a poem that mentions the grey (sic) shirts of Mosley, the brown shirts of Hitler, the black shirts of Mussolini, and (the less familiar) red shirts of the Independent Labour Party stewards who followed James Maxton (1885-1946). Maxton had by this time broken with Macdonald, with whom he had been a key force in leaving the First World War coalition (he was a conscientious objector in WWI), and who was highly regarded as a parliamentarian on all sides, and notably by Churchill.

James Maxton

James Maxton

In fact, any other notable shirts were allowed.

hitler brown shirts Mosley and grey shirts blackshirts

William Bliss comes unstuck because he goes for too many shirts. Other big-hitters who fall by the wayside are W. Hodgson Burnet, Lester Ralph and Guy Innes. Many are ticked off for never having read, it would seem, Hood’s poem, or indeed the rules. As Bertram notes, the rhythm is irregular, so plenty of latitude is allowed. The winners are W.R.Y. (‘real emotion’) and E.W. Fordham (‘sustained neatness’).


The B competition takes an extract from an Edmund Blunden poem, The Forefathers, and asks for a parody of footnotes (four) on it. Blunden (1896-1974) had been fortunate to survive the latter part of World War I, and had been a literary success with his own poetry in the 1920s, as well as with his book ‘Undertones of War’. He had also edited selections by Owen and Gurney. 1933 found him teaching at Merton College, Oxford (where his most famous acolyte would be Keith Douglas). One suspects Bertram knew him – it’s unusual for a living, and indeed 37-year-old poet to be made fun of like this.


Here they went with smock and crook,
Toiled in the sun, lolled in the shade,
Here they mudded out the brook
And here their hatchet cleared the glade:
Harvest-supper woke their wit,
Huntsmen’s moon their wooings lit.

(You can read the whole here).

As Bertram says, the results will give Blunden a foretaste of his fate at the hands of scholars. Casson comes close, but Nick and Cuniculus are the winners.


Two great competitions for once – the second one is a great candidate for contemporary setters.

Competitions nos. 124A and 124B: results

J.C Squire sets this one. Earlier in 1932, in March, Eamonn de Valera had risen to be the ‘President of the Council’ i.e. Prime Minister of the Irish Free State, as it then was. It was Fianna Fail’s first triumph, just five years after first contesting an election, and the party took very nearly half the seats (and 47% of the popular vote).

Fianna Fail government 1932

Fianna Fail government, 1932, De Valera in centre of front row

Squire asked for a song about Dev (he was fond of asking for songs) to the tune of ‘The Spanish Cavalier’, not one I know, but dating to the 1870s and running thus:

A Spanish cavalier stood in his retreat
And on his guitar played a tune, dear
The music so sweet, they’d ofttimes repeat
The blessing of my country and you, dear

Say darling say, when I’m far away
Sometimes you may think of me, dear
Bright sunny days will soon fade away
Remember what I say and be true, dear

I am off to the war, to the war I must go
To fight for my country and you, dear
But if I should fall in vain I would call
The blessing of my country and you, dear

And when the war is o’er to you I’ll return
Back to my country and you, dear
But if I be slain you may seek me in vain
Upon the battlefield you will find me

You can hear the song here.

It turns out that the song was already rather forgotten in 1932 – Squire attracts a small entry (unusual), an ‘even’ level, and no decent songs. He reproaches himself a bit for not having spelled out the bleeding obvious (De Valera was to stand in for The Spanish Cavalier), but all the same only hands out a lucky first prize to W.R.Y. who provides some Oirish:


The B competition asks for six titles, as yet unpublished by Waugh, Chesterton, Belloc, Kipling, Shaw, Walpole, Wodehouse, Priestley, or ‘Francis Iles’. Squire was obviously having a poor day at the office, because he has to apologise for not stating the bleeding obvious again – six by any one of them, not a pick and mix.

To take the last of the nine first, ‘Francis Iles’ was Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893-1971), a crime writer who also wrote as Anthony Berkeley. He had in fact just published, as Francis Iles, ‘Before the Fact’, which you are forgiven for not having heard of, but which was the basis for Hitchcock’s film ‘Suspicion’ (the end of which was notoriously changed so that Cary Grant did not turn out to be a wrong’un. Well, that’s what Hitch said, and what I’ve always believed, but the latest biography claims this was a gigantic fib being perpetrated by Hitchcock. Two other oddities about ‘Suspicion’ – Nathanael West co-wrote a screenplay that was discarded, not long before West died, in a car crash, on the same day as F. Scott Fitzgerald; and ‘Suspicion’ was the only film that garnered a Hitchcock actor an Oscar (Joan Fontaine)).

Seeing Waugh on the list (‘much belaboured but evidently widely-read’) is a surprise – he’d only just published his third novel, Black Mischief. (Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies were its only predecessors, and Waugh was only 28 going on 29 at the time.) The other writers were respectively 76 (Shaw), 68 (Kipling), 62 (Belloc), 58 (Chesterton), 50 (Wodehouse), 48 (Walpole), with only ‘Iles’ (39) and Priestley (37) within a decade of Waugh’s age. I don’t think anyone would disagree that it’s Walpole whose reputation has vanished – as noted in an earlier commentary on a report, he was holed beneath the waterline by an attack on him by Maugham in Cakes And Ale. Although Walpole published more than thirty novels – his most recent was one of the Cumbria-set ‘Herries’ novels (one suspects a TV producer will get round to them), The Fortress – as well as five volumes of short stories, two plays and three collections of memoirs, it is hard to think of a title of his that resonates, and I’ve only ever read one of his books. Still, I think it’s a hard job to come up with imaginary titles for any of them, Wodehouse perhaps excepted. Nevertheless, it’s Kipling and Walpole who win for Majolica and (new name) Saevio respectively (the money is split equally between them):


Squire is always generous with naming the also-rans, and in this case, they include A.H. Ellerington and H.A.L. Cockerell, who have already been mentioned in more detail. Another is (Miss) K.T. Stephenson, a veteran of the Edwardian Saturday Westminster competitions (I think she is one and the same as the Miss K.T. Stephenson who was principal of St. Gabriel’s CofE college in Rochester between 1913 and 1930).  There is a raft of others who look traceable: J.J. Nevin, Violet I. Kemp, Diana De Vaux, and the figures hiding behind the initials C.E.V.O and T.W.I.H. But no luck. I can tell you that Ronald Bargate, another proxime accessit, was Ronald Arthur Bargate (1906-1990), but other than that he was the Fulham-born son of a Middlesbrough-born architect, I can’t get closer. Over to you.

Competitions nos. 121A and 121B: results

Edward Shanks returns with a poem in German by the Austrian poet Hugo von Hoffmanstahl (1874-1929, and there’s a good biography of him here):hofmannsthal


Shanks is not sure what made him write this one, which my German tells me is the song of the ship’s cook, and I can also spot that there is an unusual repeated line (8 as 9) which then rhymes with 11:???????????????????????????????

Shanks’ adjudication is pretty technical – Alice Herbert is ticked off for writing in decasyllabics when octosyllabics would have done, and there is a great deal of commentary (far more than usual) on the need to mix the tone. The (first-time) winner, D.J.G., is the one who manages to keep that curious line-repetition. The runner-up, W.R.Y., just staves off Valimus, who has the bad luck to translate ‘Licht’ as ‘candle’ rather than ‘lantern’: ???????????????????????????????


Shanks’ choice of a B competition is reasonably predictable – he wants Chesterton (whose biographer he was) and Belloc to be involved in a selection discussion for the England Cricket XI. Others can speak too, but only within the confines of reality. You sense this is a bit of a daft idea, and it ends up with a calamity in the B competition for the third week running – no prizes, not even, indeed, an honourable mention. Another guinea and a half back in the pot!


Competitions nos 58A and 58B: results

Another new judge: Gordon Phillips, the diarist and satirical poet of the Manchester Guardian, who wrote under the pen-name Lucio. Presumably this is the in-joke behind his 58A competition, in which he asks us to imagine that a Bright Young Person called Leuconoe (or Lucy) is showing signs of taking seriously to table-rapping, and similar, a development viwed with apprehension by her Boy Friend (sic) Horace, who urges her to stand fast in her older intention of Having A Good Time. His advice in verse, please, in 12-24 lines. And if you haven’t picked up the classical reference yet, ‘The results, though modernised, should obviously bear some relation to Q.Horatius Flaccus in Book 1, Ode XI.’ That’s Horace to you and me.

Here is A.S.Kline’s translation (2003):

BkI:XI Carpe Diem

Leuconoë, don’t ask, we never know, what fate the gods grant us,
whether your fate or mine, don’t waste your time on Babylonian,
futile, calculations. How much better to suffer what happens,
whether Jupiter gives us more winters or this is the last one,
one debilitating the Tyrrhenian Sea on opposing cliffs.
Be wise, and mix the wine, since time is short: limit that far-reaching hope.
The envious moment is flying now, now, while we’re speaking:
Seize the day, place in the hours that come as little faith as you can.

Phillips is a complimentary judge, particularly about Gertrude Pitt, L.V.Upward, T.E.Casson (in case you thought he’d packed it in), Chauve-Souris, R. Mal, and the ‘dignified’ Seacape. He opts for A.J.Perman (with some strictures about the scansion of the 10th line, which he doesn’t think Horace would have liked) as the winner and W.R.Y as runner-up.

WR Comp 58

WR Comp 58a

It’s easier, says Phillips for 58B, to stand forth as a knowing fellow by exalting the French hotel while damning the English inn. In the hope that some readers have struck it lucky over Easter (it is now May), he asks for five reasons for the superiority of The Bull’s Head over the Tete Boeuf. He specifies 150 words, but the winner is a poem by Lob (a new name), and the runner-up another new name, John Stevenson, who says he’s just had a good Easter. The others praise the tea and the breakfasts, but not the frequency of the veal in France, which puzzles Phillips; and he is surprisingly taken aback by the many paeans to Beer. The Billiard Table and English coffee (that’s a surprise) also get the thumbs up.

WR Comp 58b

WR Comp 58c