Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ashley Sterne Knotted Yarns

I recently purchased a copy of Ashley Sterne's 1926 story collection Knotted Yarns from a Scottish bookseller.  I had been seeking this book ever since I read the following 1926 review in the London periodical The Age:

["Knotted Yarns," by Ashley Sterne (Nisbet and Co. Ltd, London) are a series of sketches of the broadly burlesque kind, which have been contributed to the "Passing Show," "London Opinion" and the "Bystander."  They represent the limits to which an English humorist will go, and are, as a flapper would say, "screamingly funny."  The very title of the first one – The Sheik, the Shriek and the Shrike – is enough to bring a smile to the reader's face.  The sketch is funny enough to convulse one.  The second one – The Charity Which Stayed at Home – concerning the heartburnings of a vicar who wins 10,000 pounds in a lottery reads like Anthony Trollope run mad.  The others are in similar strain.]

The first story in the collection is provided below.  In The Sheik, The Shriek, and the Shrike, Mr. Sterne has fun at the expense of Ethel M. Dell (referred to as Uthel M. Hell), a writer of popular romances—early twentieth-century bodice-rippers with repressed young women in exotic locales being stoked to red-hot passion by dashing men of adventure.

Prepare to be convulsed.


By Ashley Sterne

"Can you give me no word of hope?"

Hilary Hiccup stood gazing anxiously at the fair, frail girl before him.  She was twiddling her fingers nervously as if knitting an imaginary jumper.  The colour kept coming and going from her face as though it had lost its way.

"I know I am not nearly good enough for you," pursued the young man.  "I know I am only a soft-soap broker's ledger-keeper.  But my heart is in its proper place—on the left, just underneath my fountain pen—and I would try to make you happy.  My income, as you know, is not very large; but I can get soft-soap on wholesale terms, and I am very lucky at sweepstakes."

Hysteria Hinks uttered a deep sigh—one about five-foot-four deep, for it came from the depths of her sole.

"It isn't a question of money or means, Hilary," she said.  "I could be content with very, very little.  Like Mr. W.B.Yeats, I wish for nothing better than a cabin of clay and wattles, nine rows of beans, and a honey bee.  But I should require to share them—with the right man."

"You mean—after all those chocolates—after all those tram-rides—after all those visits to the pictures in the ninepenny seats—you mean I am not the right man?"

The words came stumbling, halting, faltering, gasping from his lips.  They might have been drinking.  Hilary Hiccup stood amazed, as Hysteria continued:

"I am afraid not, Hilary.  You see, you are not the strong, silent man of my girlish dreams.  You are rather, if I may say so, a weak, noisy man.  A girl of my romantic temperament and anaemic physique craves a fuller life than you can offer me."

So that was the trouble—this yearning for the Fuller Life he had heard so much about!  Nearly every man he knew who had recently proposed had been defeated on the Fuller Life clause.  The Fuller Life was clearly infectious.  He only wished he could understand what Hysteria meant by the Fuller Life.  Did it mean that she wanted Fuller's chocolates and no others?  Did she wish him to throw up soft-soap and enter the fuller's earth business?  Or did she merely require a tonic which would make her feel fuller beans?  The phrase baffled him.  It conveyed no more to him than if Hysteria told him she craved the ablative absolute or the Pragmatic Sanction.  Nevertheless, he sensed that this mystic shibboleth embraced his dismissal, and his face fell with a crash.  Little wonder that he found his voice cracked when he attempted to raise it.

"Is—that—final?" he managed to ask, with an effort; "or shall I call again?"

"It would be quite useless, Hilary," Hysteria replied.  "To-morrow—didn't I tell you?—to-morrow I am leaving England."

"Leaving England?" Hilary repeated, an octave lower; "what for?"

"For Algeria.  There, amid the desert sands and the ostriches, the camels and the date-palms, I hope to find that fuller, freer life for which I long."

"But why Algeria?  Why not Chipping Sodbury or Leighton Buzzard?"

"There is no fuller, freer life in England," said Hysteria gently.

"Have you tried Selfidge's or the Stores?"

Hysteria shook her head.  "I have been blackballed at both," she said sadly.

"Have you tried a small ad. in the Daily Express?"

The girl smiled enigmatically, and made a noise like the Sphinx being inscrutable.  "You don't understand," she murmured.

"But Algeria!  I hate to think of your going there—alone.  The desert is so frightfully—er—deserted.  Supposing you tripped over an oasis and sprained your ankle?  Supposing you walked into a mirage and bumped your forehead?  Supposing you fell into the hands of one of those brutal Sheiks?  Sup—"

He paused.  At the mention of the word "Sheik" she had colored violently.  Hilary gazed at her long and loud.  His eyes pierced her like gimlets.  Through one of the holes he saw plainly what was passing through her mind.

"So!" he said, at length.  "I see what it is.  You have been reading Uthel M. Hell!"

Hysteria hung her head—hung it so low that Hilary was seized with an insane desire to kick it.  But he mastered himself with an effort.

"You're after a Sheik!" he went on accusingly.  "Can you deny it?"

Hysteria, her secret out, could bear up no longer.  She went all to pieces.  Lumps of her crashed to the floor.  Odd bits of her littered the whole room.  She opened her mouth to speak, but the draught from the open window blew it to.

"All is clear to me now," Hilary continued.  "Hitherto I have only seen as in a pewter darkly.  But now my vision is as keen as a Hyde Park policeman's.  This fuller, freer life you rant about is nothing but an excuse to trickle off into the desert and get kidnapped.  You've got the Sheik fever—that's what's the matter with you.  No wonder there's no room in your heart for the pure, unselfish love of a soap-softener's ledger-clerk!  Very well, then; go to Algebra—I mean, Algeria.  Go to Neuralgeria, if you prefer it.  Go to Arabia, Bessarabia, Jemimarabia, Cochin China, Cochineal, Ballarat, Ararat, Arrowroot, Clapham Junction—anywhere!  I don't care!  All I hope is you may get your fuller life—three bags fuller!"

He paused for his words to sink in.  A sinister silence pervaded the apartment, relieved only by the faint ticking of a mattress in a bedroom overhead and the voice of an itinerant hawker crying onions in the street without.

"Have you thought what this foolish, headstrong action of yours will mean?" he resumed.  "If you persist in your determination your relatives, your friends, your acquaintances would wash their hands of you.  The more punctilious of them would probably wash their necks of you, too.  Your insurance company would cut you off without a shilling.  Telephone operators would cut you off without an apology.  You would be a social pariah—a leper—an outcast—a forecast—anathema maranatha.  You would be excommunicated from the Plymouth Rocks, or whatever your religious sect may be, with bell, book, and candle, lock, stock and barrel.  And what of your life as a Sheikess—have you thought of that?  Do you grasp what it will mean?  Your master will soon tire of you, and he will cast you aside like an old shoe.  You will get the boot, and be relegated to the Zareba with his other disused wives.  There you be handed a crochet-hook and a cocoon, and forced to make yashmaks for the remainder of your life.  Your diet will be entirely new to you.  You will be fed on nothing but tame locusts and wild honey, sherbet and gum arabic—sustenance to which your innards are totally unaccustomed.  Your clothing will be exiguous to a degree that would make a Beauty Chorus blush—camel's hair cammy-knicks and a couple of saucepan lids.  You will be forced to adopt the Mohammersmith religion and to pray seventeen times a day in a foreign language with which you are totally unacquainted, while you kneel on a cork bathmat with your head towards Honolulu and your heels towards Stoke Newington.  Lastly, if your lord and master predeceases you, you will be forced to commit chutnee—a barbarous custom which consists of shaving your head, smearing your naked body with vaseline and cigar-ash, and finally burying yourself alive, head downwards, in a zinc dustbin.  I can only add—"

But Hysteria had collected her scattered faculties, pulled herself together, and now stood confronting him.

"Stop!" she cried, and there was something about her appearance that silenced him.  It would have silenced a boiler factory.  "You can tell me nothing of which I am not already aware.  But you have guessed rightly.  I have no use for your flabby, flaccid, invertebrate lovers.  I would as lief marry a jellyfish or a Devonshire junket.  Give me someone with crude, primeval passions which make lumps like door-knobs stick out on his forehead, which cause his jugular veins to bulge like fire-hoses!  Give me someone who'll gnaw my ears and chew my neck.  Someone who'll clump me, thump me, bump me, and jump on me!  Someone who'll force me to love and reverence him with harsh blows from the sjambok, the springbok, the zambuk, and even the timbuk, too.  Give me him I say!  Give me him!"

Hysteria's passionate outburst left Hilary impotent.  He knew he hadn't such a person about him, and it was purely to convince Hysteria that he turned out all his pockets.  He turned to her with a shrug.

"So that is the kind of man you want, is it?"

Hysteria nodded, like Homer.  "Only more so," she added, like a chartered accountant.

"Then the worst I can wish you," said Hilary, picking up hat, stick, gloves, overcoat, scarf, hat, newspaper, gloves, attache case, stick, overcoat and scarf, "the worst I can wish you is that you may get him.  The best—that you'll miss the boat."


Sheik Hashish Ben Nevis reclined on the luxurious divan in his sumptuously appointed marquee, puffing contentedly at the mouthpiece of his B-flat hookah, in the bottle of which the smoke bubbled musically the fragrantly scented bilge-water.

Upon a small triangular octagonal table by his side reposed a bucket of rich, thick, sweet coffee made in Arab fashion (one quart of fish-glue and one sack of soot beaten into a paste with a Japanese umbrella).  Upon another by his other side rested an earthenware bowl of antique native workmanship, marked with the customary antique native inscription, "Birmingham and Midland Hardware Co., Ltd.," wherein were heaped coconuts, pomegranates, dates, figs, vegetable marrow, artichokes, and other fruits of the desert.

He was simply but picturesquely clad in a burnouse, a callouse, a fez, a boz, and a pair of loose-fitting dahabiyehs cut on the Oxford, 1925, model; the only sign of opulence about his dress being an untanned ostrich-egg mounted on stilts, which he wore as a tie-pin.

The heavy, hot desert air, combined with a heavy, hot lunch, had made him sleepy, but there was to be no siesta for the Sheik that afternoon.  A knock on the tent-flap, and his young lieutenant, Rhubarb Ben Lomond, entered.

"Allah alum bismillah alleluia ille illa illud, your Sheikship."

"Never!" exclaimed the Sheik, sitting up.  "Is that a fact?  Tell me again."

"I said, my lord, there was a woman without."

"Without what?" demanded the Sheik.

"Without any sense of decency, sire."

"Show her in," said the Sheik.  "Is my fez on straight?"

"One moment, sire.  When I said she had no sense of decency I did not mean what you mean.  I meant she had no sense of social decorum.  I informed her you were siesta-ing, but nevertheless she insisted that I acquainted you of her presence.  When I refused, she got quite shirty.  She's another of those confounded Englishwomen, seeking abduction."

"By the big toe of the Prophet!  What, another one!  How many does that make to-day?"

"Nineteen, sire."

"Tell her the abduction quota for the month is full."

"I have ventured already to tell her so, sire, but she refused to believe me."

"Then," exclaimed the Sheik angrily, "may wild dromedaries lay their eggs on the tomb of my great godfather, Ragbag Ben Hassock, if I don't teach her a lesson!  What did you say her name was?"

"Hysteria Hinks—both h's aspirated, as in apple-dumpling."

"Where is she now, and what is she doing?"

"She is beside the Shalimar washing her pink-tipped hands in a pail."


"Sergeant Rabbi Ben Ezra and a squad of armed  guards are watching her."

"What arms have they?"

"Two each, sire.  One on each shoulder."

"Good!  Put her in irons, then seize her by the left ear and drag her to me."

The young lieutenant dropped on his knees, and having beaten his head 147 times against the tent-pole in token of obedience, withdrew, to return, after a short while, with Hysteria.  She had been heavily ironed.  Manacles were about her feet, barnacles were about her wrists, carbuncles about her  neck; but withal she was smiling happily.  For some moments the Sheik eyed her in silence.  Hysteria returned his gaze with interest—interest that would have turned a moneylender sick with envy.  She was vamping him for all she was worth.

"Well, what's brought you here?"

"A camel, your Royal Sheikness."

"Tut!  With what intent have you come to this oasis where my caramel—I should say caravan—has rested?"

"O mighty Hashish Ben Nevis!" began Hysteria, "O Moon of my delight!  My Song of Araby!  My Tale of Fair Cashmere!"

"How dare you address me in this manner!" snapped the Sheik.  "Tale of Fair Cashmere, indeed!  D'you take me for a nightshirt?  Cut out all the solo and come to the chorus.  What is it that you want?"

"I want to be abducted," replied Hysteria. 

"House full," remarked the Sheik tersely.  "Ask me another."

"Then let me be my lord's handmaiden—to minister to his needs, to sew on his buttons, to darn his socks, to patch his pants—even to grovel in the dust and lick his shadow!"

"I'm already overstaffed with handmaidens," retorted the Sheik.  "And footmaidens, too," he added.

"Then suffer me just to be my lord's slave—to follow him whithersoever he goes, keep the flies off him, and brush the sand out of his ears."

"I flung fourteen of my superfluous slaves to the camels this morning.  I'm flinging nine more to the ostriches after tea this afternoon, and to-morrow I fling the rest to the buzzards.  Do you know what that means?  Do you know what buzzards are?"

"I've always understood that they were an Oxford Street firm of wedding-cake manufacturers," replied Hysteria, her heart beating wildly at the thought.

"It is only another name for vultures," said the Sheik pointedly, "and vultures only feed on dead bodies.  So when I talk of flinging people to the buzzards it is merely an euphemism to saying that they will be submitted to a twelve hour's non-stop spell of torture and their mutilated carcases flung to the vultures.  Would you wish to figure among the also-flungs?" laughed the Sheik derisively.

Hysteria, totally unprepared for such summary rejection of her overtures, grew desperate.

"Don't you even want a nursery governess?" she pleaded.  "I can teach the piano, fancy needlework, the Shorter Catechism, freehand drawing, underhand bowling, painting—hand, house, or face, and elementary conics."

"Stop it!" barked the Sheik.  "To be quite frank, I'm fed up to the roots of my beard with you English girls.  You're the nineteenth to-day that has blown in imploring me to abduct her, and I'm darned well sick of the whole jolly lot of you—and you, especially.  The others did have the common decency to bimble off without stopping to argue with me." 

Panic-stricken at last, and fearful of the worst, Hysteria flung herself at the Sheik's feet, and shrieked for mercy.  Only release her and she would never trouble him again.  What's more, she would spare no pains to prevent his being again molested by Englishwomen.  She would even go so far as to promise him the head of Uthel M. Hell—the author of all the trouble—on a soup-plate.

The Sheik merely turned her over with his foot and clapped his hands.  Rhubarb Ben Lomond entered and knocked his head against the mantelpiece 296 times in token of fidelity.

"Remove this woman," ordered the Sheik.  "Take her into the kitchen and give her a small sherbet and a lump of date pudding, then tie her up to a cactus overnight.  I will deal with her after breakfast to-morrow."


An hour or so later Rhubarb Ben Lomond again came to the Sheik's tent.

"My lord," he gasped, in a tremor of excitement, "a sandstorm is brewing!"

"What's it brewing?" the Sheik inquired, removing the head-phones and jumping off the divan.


"My Allah!  Then there is not a moment to be lost.  Tell Rabbi Ben Ezra to saddle the camels, and tell Gwyllwm Ben Davies to bring me my boots.  Then strike camp at once."

The lieutenant withdrew, and a minute afterwards the noise of knocking satisfied the Sheik that the camp was being struck lustily in all directions.  In an incredibly short space of time the caravan was formed and moving rapidly in the direction of the nearest shelter—a cave in the middle of the desert some half a league or more on the caravan track to Bungal-al-Makim.

None too soon!  Barely had they travelled a mile ere over the oasis the sandstorm burst with a loud report, and the Sheik and his lieutenant ascended a dune to watch it.  In a few minutes nothing was to be seen of their former camping-ground save the tops of a few of the taller palm-trees.  Everything else was submerged beneath the sabulous cataclysm, and for some moments the two men wept like anything to see such quantities of sand.  Then the Sheik  looked up and glanced once more at the oasis.  The storm was over, and on the sand which covered the oasis there had settled a large bird, with a bill as long as a solicitor's, delving a hole in frantic haste.

"What sort of bird is that?" idly asked the Sheik.  "It looks to me like a buzzard."

"I rather think it's a shrike," said R.B. Lomond.

"Possibly," said the Sheik.  "But buzzard or shrike, what brings it there, I wonder?  We left no carrion about?"

The other shook his head.

"Strange!" muttered the Sheik.  "Very strange!  Those birds never come to earth except for carrion.  But let us hasten, or we may get mixed up in an anti-sandstorm."

"By the Prophet's Whiskers!  I have it!" cried the lieutenant.  "I know what the bird's after!  In the hurry of departure I forgot to untie that infernal woman!"

"That," observed the Sheik, smiling, as he patted Rhubarb Ben Lomond on the back, "is the first piece of good Kismet we've struck for months!"  

Ashley Sterne Twisted Tales

Ashley Sterne's first book was Twisted Tales, a 1924 story collection.  His summary reads: "The contents of this volume are revised and, in some cases, amplified versions of frivolous stories which have appeared from time to time in the columns of London Opinion, The Passing Show, Pan, and the Lyons Mail, to the respective Editors and Proprietors of which I am indebted for kind permission to reproduce them.  A.S."

The book is somewhat rareonly four library copies exist in the international InterLibrary Loan system, none of them authorized for external lending.  I was fortunate enough to acquire a copy of this book from a New Zealand rare-book vendor.

Here is the first story in the collection, a burlesque of passion and tragedy set in Japan.  In square brackets I have provided short explanations of references that may be obscure to the modern reader.


By Ashley Sterne

It was the Feast of Crab-Apples, and the Tea-House of Ten Thousand Jim-Jams [jitters] was doing a thumping trade in tea at one yen per pot per person.

Flitting from table to table was the beauteous O Pyjama San, the gayest and daintiest geisha that even twanged the catamaran (or whatever the thing is called which sounds like an unripe banjo afflicted with adenoids).  Behind the buffet, infusing tea in a disused sanitary dustbin, was her mother, O Tomato San, herself a prominent and highly-respected geisha in her day, but now relegated to the Special Reserve.  In the kitchen behind the buffet, untwisting tea-leaves, was her grandmother, O Banana San, who once had attained fame as an acrobat.  In the scullery beyond the kitchen behind the buffet, skinning onions, was her great-grandmother, O Potato San.

However, the idea to be impressed upon the reader is that the Tea-House was purely a family concern, and as before observed, and as here observed again for the second and last time, it was doing a simply thumping trade in tea—which, when you come to think of it, is a not-altogether-unlikely thing for a tea-house to do.  You could scarcely expect it to do a thumping trade in linoleum, or chutney, or insect-powder, or polo ponies.  It just traded thumpingly in tea.

But its patrons did not come to drink the tea—oh, dear no!  Once a tocsin [alarm bell] merchant from Fujiyama, knowing nothing of the quality of the tea served at the Tea-House of Ten Thousand Jim-Jams, had innocently swallowed the contents of a whole pot per person, and was found two minutes later twisted into a complicated knot and writhing on the hearthrug in the throes of about 8,517 of the 10,000 jim-jams which the Tea-House boasted.

No, they did not come to drink the tea, which, so soon as it was served, they promptly poured into waste-tea baskets (thoughtfully provided by the management for that purpose) in order to avoid any possible unpleasantness.  They came to see O Pyjama San dance, and to listen to her 20-carat, 6-cylinder voice as she sang her quaint songs to the thrummed accompaniment of the catamaran thing (which, it has now been ascertained, is rightfully named a samisen).

And so on the afternoon on which this story opens, when everybody had been served with tea and had shot it with every symptom of disgust into the waste-tea baskets, O Pyjama San took her samisen out of the samisen-cupboard and tripped lightly into the centre of the room.

What a picture she made!  How piquant her melon-shaped face with its aureole of blue-black hair glistening with beef-dripping!  How svelte her lithe figure upholstered in her richly-embroidered kimono!  How dainty her feet encased in patent-leather elastic-sided sandals made of patent-leather with elastic sides!

Lightly flicking a few handfuls of tuneful chords from her instrument, O Pyjama San lifted her voice with both hands, and began to sing.  And the song she sang may be translated thus:—

'The love of my Beloved is pure as the light of the moon
          on the Feast of Whitebait—
     (Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!)
It is warm as the heat of the sun at noonday
           on the Feast of Crumpets—
     (Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of Worcester sauce!)
It is long as the worm that never turns—
It is strong as the odour of Camembert cheese—
In short, and to avoid superogatory periphrasis, the love
            of my beloved is some cinch.
      (Tee-he-he, and a packet of pins!)"

[superogatory periphrasis means excessive wordiness]

And when O Pyjama San had finished her song she broke into the intricate steps of the hari-kari, which she danced with all the audacious verve and reckless abandon of one who had acquired her technique on the Correspondence System.  At the conclusion of her performance there wasn't a dry eye in the room—for the simple reason that all the customers had remembered that they had pressing engagements elsewhere; had remembered that they had forgotten to buy crab-apples for the Feast; that they had an appointment to see a man about a goldfish.  All were gone, save only one—Larynx Q. Stubbs, the young millionaire pickle-packer from Peppercorn Springs (Pa.), with branches at Vinegar Springs (Va.), and Gherkin Springs (Ga.).

Slipping a dime under his saucer he rose, and advancing to O Pyjama San, said:—

"Gee, kid! but your voice just beats the band.  It's like striking fuzees [friction matches] on a canvas-backed terrapin.  Your banjo-playing sounds to me like an operation for appendicitis, and as for your dancing—wal, if ever you've seen performing seals, you've got me!  Yours is jest the duddest show I've struck outside a backwoods fit-up [makeshift theater].  I've heard plenty about the performances of you geyser-girls, but, by gum!—I guess yours is the durndest I've ever clapped eyes on.  So long, old pip!  More power to your ankle!"

Although not understanding a single word of what Larynx Q. Stubbs had said, except "gee," which happens to be Japanese for cod-liver oil, O Pyjama San nevertheless blushed like a peony at this sincere and unstinted flattery.  Into her liquid almond eyes sprang two liquid almond tears, and seizing Larynx Q. Stubbs' hand she pressed it to her liquid almond lips.

"Waki-waki-waki-waki-waki!" she whispered, with emotion, in her own dulcet language.  ("May little green gooseberries grow on the shrine of your grandmother!")

"Toodle-loo! O Gymkhana Sam, or whatever you call yourself," cried L.Q. Stubbs; and as he left the room there entered Pinki-Ponko the samisen-tuner, who held the contract for the quarterly tuning of O Pyjama San's samisen.  In one hand he carried a tuning-fork; in the other a tuning-spoon.

He scowled as he saw the pickle-packer, for every day for a week past he had observed the latter either just leaving, or just going in, or just being in, the Tea-House; and as he scowled his feature grew hoarse with passion.  He could not imagine why anyone should ever wish to enter the Tea-House more than once in a lifetime unless it were to make love to his betrothed, O Pyjama San.  He didn't know that L.Q. Stubbs simply came for the sake of a hearty laugh.  He didn't know what a sordid, laughless job pickle-packing was, and how seldom the respective welkins of Pa., Va., and Ga. re-echoed with the pickle-packer's ebullient mirth.

So, as he crossed the room to where O Pyjama San was sitting on a hassock, fanning herself with a dried shark's fin mounted in passe-partout, his eyes were bloodshot with the green gleam of jealousy.  Dropping his tuning-irons down the back of his neck in order to check the flow of haemoglobin to his cerebellum, Pinki-Ponko the samisen-tuner successfully regain control of himself.

"And so he has been here again, O Pyjama San, Light of my Tonsils?"

"Who, O Pinki-Ponko the samisen-tuner, Moon of my Jugular Vein?"

"The young American millionaire, Larynx Q. Stubbs, the pickle-packer.  You sang the Love-Song to him; you danced the Love-Dance to him; your eyes never left his face."

O Pyjama San rose to a point of order.

"You mean, his eyes never left his face!" she said, fearlessly.

"You know quite well what I mean.  You are infatuated with him.  I don't know whether you are aware of it, but the position of affairs is becoming a positive scandal.  In the banzais, in the jinrickshas, there is only one topic of conversation: that O Pyjama San, the betrothed of Pinki-Ponko the samisen-tuner, has lost her heart to O Stubbs Sahib.  I am become a butt for mockery, ribaldry, scornery.  The Amalgamated Union of Samisen-Tuners have threatened to endorse my licence, have me hammered at Broadwood's as a defaulter, and struck off the rolls.  Even the boys in the street jeer at me, throw rotten mimosas in my face, and cry 'May salamanders make their nests in your ancestors' breeches!'  I tell you, I'm fed up with it.  Choose now between him and me."

In vain did O Pyjama San protest that there was nought betwixt her and O Stubbs Sahib; that surely had Pinki-Ponko drunk deep of the ju-jitsu bottle to suggest such a thing; and that she still loved him, him and him only, drunk or undrunk.

"You lie!" cried Pinki-Ponko, lashing himself to a fury with a small piece of knotted cord he carried for that purpose.  "I saw you kow-tow to him!  I saw you press burning, sizzling kisses on his hand!  And—see here!"—he strode to the table where his illusory rival had been sitting, lifted up the saucer, and disclosed the dime which had been deposited there—"he has even brought you jewels!"

He flung the coin on the ground before her.

"Take his miserable gew-gaws, O Pyjama San the Faithless!  Cursed be you, and cursed be your mother, O Tomato San, and you grandmother, O Banana San, and your great grandmother, O Potato Salad—I mean San—and thrice-cursed with the seven-fold curse of Kikiwiki the Avenger (making twenty-one curses in all) be that dolgarned hobo of a rubber-necked, gum-chewing pie-can, O Stubbs Sahib, the packle-picker!  I have spoke."

Pausing only to throw a slop-basin at the prostrate, sob-torn figure of O Pyjama San, Pinki-Ponko the samisen-tuner passed out into the warm dusk, fragrant with the scent of apple-blossom, plum-blossom, grog-blossom [pimple caused by drinking], and the onions which the toothless old beldame was still patiently skinning in the scullery.

And as he hurried along the narrow street, gaily decorated for the Feast with fans, umbrellas, spaniels, and other products of Japanese industry, the populace looked askance at the grim-visaged youth who strode so fiercely through their midst.  Was it vengeance they saw written on his face?  Or had he merely wiped it with a soiled pocket-handkerchief?  None could say.

The next morning the body of Larynx Q. Stubbs was found floating in a tank of sacred goldfish outside the Temple of the Golden Horseradish.  A tuning-fork (Philharmonic pitch) was found embedded up to the hilt in his suspenders, while the pockets of his clothes were discovered to be loaded with samisen-strings, as if purposely placed there to induce the body to sink.

Towards opening-time Pinki-Ponko the samisen-tuner wended his way to the Tea-House of Ten Thousand Jim-Jams.

"Give you good-morrow, good mother!" he said, addressing O Tomato San, whose head was buried in the fragrant depths of the sanitary dust-bin.

"Give me how much?" said O Tomato San, looking up.

"Give you good-morrow, good mother!" repeated Pinki-Ponko.

"Put it on the counter," said O Tomato San, looking down.

"Where is O Pyjama San!" asked Pinki-Ponko.

"O Pyjama San," replied the other, looking up and down, "became a novitiate in the Temple of the Seven Sacred Saveloys [seasoned sausages] at noon to-day.  The Tea-House will know her no more."

"Oh, won't it!" gasped Pinki-Ponko, great beads of sweat running down his face, and turning his jade tie-pin to rust.  "Has she taken the veil?"

"She has taken two," replied O Tomato San, looking sideways.  "In fact, she took a complete change of everything."

For a moment Pinki-Ponko fell all to pieces.  Then with an effort he pulled himself together, helped himself to a double tea from the buffet, and raised the cup to his lips.  O Tomato San looked up, down, and sideways simultaneously.

"Ah!" she shrieked, in Japanese, as she realized what Pinki-Ponko was about to do.  "Ooh!"

But before she could dash the cup from his hands Pinki-Ponko had drained it to the dregs; and before she could dash his hands from the cup Pinki-Ponko had drained the dregs too, turned round three times, taken away the number he had first thought of, and fallen, lifeless and inert, upon the cat that lay on the mat that lay on the floor that lay in the Tea-house of Ten Thousand Jim-Jams.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Ashley Sterne Unclad Legs for Lawn Tennis

Yesterday I spent hours scouring the Internet for more Ashley Sterne articles. All that I gained for my efforts was the following article from 1929, as republished in a Jamaican newspaper.  It is a workman-like effort, pleasant but not hilarious.

Unclad Legs For Lawn Tennis

(London Opinion of 20 July 1929)
(republished in Kingston Gleaner, 22 July 1929)

By Ashley Sterne

The Great Stocking Controversy is now a thing of the past and though I see nothing offensive in bare legs (unless they're attached to a centipede) I feel bound to pass the personal opinion that the practice of doffing garments for public occasions, just as and when it may individually be deemed convenient so to do, should be sternly discouraged.  There has been far too much of this sort of thing in the past and the danger of the practice lies not in what it has already done but to what it may eventually lead.

It has been pointed out by more than one profound thinker, including Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Shakespeare, Herbert Spencer, and (in this instance only) myself, that great results arise from trifling causes.  For a girl to play lawn tennis with bare legs is a trifling matter.  It is doubtful whether a bare leg would, at ordinary gazing distance, be discernible as such.  It would certainly be wholly indistinguishable from an authentically clad leg if its owner first had it whitewashed.

But in the course of years to come what may happen?  Encouraged by such extra freedom of action and lightness of limb as the disuse of stockings may have engendered, garments may conceivably be discarded regardless of consequences, and the astonishing spectacle ultimately be offered of a coating of woad [a blue dye used by the ancient Celts] and a wrist watch vieing for the Singles Championship against a couple of slave bangles and a corn plaster.

This is no mere idle speculation on my part as will be readily conceded when the reader comes to consider the cases of subtle and gradual relinquishment of various articles of clothing which has been taking place for many years past in all ranks of life.  The bricklayer long ago discovered how greatly the wearing of a collar and tie hampered his movements in laying his daily brace of bricks.  He promptly took the matter into his own hands and regardless of the social proprieties discarded them, an action which the fact that he performs much of his daily task in obscurity behind a screen of scaffolding does little to excuse.


The road mender, too, has not only followed the bricklayer's example, but has gone one better (or, rather, worse).  The croquet hoop stance which the nature of his work forces him to adopt has proved to be unduly galling to his shoulders with the results that he has abandoned in addition to restrictive neckwear, his braces too.  True, he has substituted a belt therefor, but not so much as to make some concession to less conveniences as to provide a convenient repository wherein to park his pipe when the exigence of his labour renders the act of smoking prohibitive.

The chimney sweep, again for the more expeditious manipulation of the tools of his craft has doffed collar, tie, braces, and hat – yet another step towards achieving that convenient state of primordial nudity which, however, apposite for performing one's daily dig in the Garden of Eden, is not exactly the correct costume for cleansing the flues of Edenbridge (or anywhere else, for that matter.)

Thus it may clearly be seen how the labouring classes have taken it upon themselves to decide in what raiment their activities may be most felicitously pursued, while simultaneously ignoring many cherished canons of social decorum.  But they are by no means the only sinners in this respect.  To cite but one example of the many others, there are the clergy.  They, for some obscure and unfathomable reason, have been suffered to reject the necktie as a useless encumbrance to their calling.  They do not even wear one tied at the nape of the neck to conceal the protrusive stud retaining their reversed collar.

The higher dignitaries in the ecclesiastical ranks have likewise abandoned trousers in favour of the more scanty knickerbockers, and it only needs a cleric with something of the indomitable spirit and initiative of a Savonarola or a Luther to curtail these crural [pertaining to the leg] brevities still further in episcopal "shorts" – a lamentable example of "unfrocking" for which even the wearing of several bootlaces attached to the hat can scarcely be said to make adequate compensation.


I suppose that in very warm weather it is only reasonable to lend a certain amount of tacit sanction to the unauthorized abandonment of apparel which is found irksome and intolerable in the prosecution of one's duties.  But here again it is a little difficult to determine where the line may be decorously drawn, and equally hard to define to which sections of the community it may or may not be intended to apply.  As matters rest at present, the City merchant may without offence to customer or colleague doff his waistcoat and his spats during a heat wave, the better to enable him to pursue his arduous labours afflicted with a minimum of bodily discomfort.

But if this unwritten law applied all round we should possibly have the entire regiment of Scots Guards hurling their busbies and rifles into St. James's Park which would never do, much as those of us, who in our Army days experienced the privilege of doing pack drill under a flaming July sun and an even more inflamed corporal, would show our ready and cordial sympathy with the deed.

But I have doubtless by now said enough to support my contention that the arbitrary and surreptitious reduction of what I may call the standard limit of clothing is certainly a measure standing in no need of encouragement; for, although there is no immediate cause for panic at the public display of a bare limb per se, it cannot be said that, from the aesthetic point of view, it contributes any added beauty to the general landscape.  I would even go so far as to maintain that a bare limb is not nearly so picturesque or inspiring a spectacle as a nattily and daintily clad one.

On the other hand, our scenery would possibly be greatly improved if, instead of denuding something usually kept clad, we occasionally covered up something normally permitted to go unclad.  I will say nothing more directly personal in this connection until I have consulted my solicitor.  But I may perhaps add, in closing, that there must be many who have attended some public function or other, and have been struck by the fact that the facial appearance of the assembly would be greatly improved if the wearing of motor masks [driving googles] and yasmaks [Turkish veils] in public were made compulsory by law.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ashley Sterne The Spelling Beehive

I offered up an excerpt of the following Ashley Sterne piece some weeks ago.  This was before I decided to devote many blogging hours to posting all readily available parts of Mr. Sterne's scattered oeurve for the enjoyment of the general public.  Here is the entire piece.  (The numbers at the bottom are meant to represent a miniature crossword puzzle, with a dangling black square at the lower right.)

The Spelling Beehive  (The Passing Show, 24 January 1925)

By Ashley Sterne

Pottleby , my next-door neighbor, is one of those peculiarly constructed individuals who are never happy unless they have a grievance. If for the time being he hasn't got one of his own — not counting Mrs. Pottleby — he'll borrow one, or make one, or adopt one. At the moment, however, the particular bee in his bowler is all his very own. I happened to meet him at his gate yesterday, and remembering that the Pottleby's once had a governess who was betrothed to the treasurer of a Slate Club who had found it wise to emigrate to Buenos Aires suddenly one Christmas Eve, I asked him if he could tell me, since he had a sort of secondhand interest in the country, the name of a South American lizard the thirteenth letter of which was probably ' q ' but might be anything except a diphthong.

Pottleby was quite terse about it; refused to help me with my lizard, and volunteered instead to give me a very apt name for a feeble-minded, British journalist, the first letter of which was 'd' and the seventh 'f.'

'Statistics of the future,' he went on, brandishing his umbrella and rolling his eyes as if enacting a dumb charade to which the answer was the Communist Party, 'will undoubtedly afford evidence to prove that more homes have been broken up, more folks driven to drink, more crimes committed, through the introduction of the Crossword Puzzle into our daily lives than through any of the catastrophes which punctuate the poignant pages of "The Martyrdom of Man." Look around, and what do you see?' he bellowed, prodding me in the lunch with a huge forefinger.

I looked around, and saw a dastardly rate-collector thrusting a Final Demand into my letter-box—a form of cross-word puzzle whose intricate beauties I fail wholly to appreciate. Pottleby, however, went on at full cock.

'Why, instead of attending to their business, City men slink into quiet teashops and concentrate all their energies upon discovering the name of an Abyssinian grasshopper whose final letter is "j" or a species of Bessarabian hummingbird whose initial is "x"!

'Housewives, when they ought to be busy counting the laundry or assembling the potato pie, shut themselves up behind locked doors and drawn blinds and rack their brains to find synonyms for such expressions as " a lover of wardrobes," "disused dromedaries," "pink string," and so forth; while the lives of the children are rendered unbearable by their being set to wade through atlases and gazetteers in order to identify Chinese volcanoes and obscure tributaries of the Amazon.'

Here Pottleby boiled over, and blew up in a cloud of steam; and here I returned to my little back-room (which, by virtue of the fact that it contains a Whitaker for 1903, a Bradshaw for 1896, a catalogue of last year's Royal Academy, Hymns Ancient and Modern, and other handy works of reference, I call my study), there to take up the cudgels on behalf of the crossword puzzle.

For there is much to be said in its favor in spite of Pottleby's jaundiced disclaimer.

For instance, women are learning to spell correctly such words as 'parallelogram' and 'ipecacuanha' without referring the matter to their menfolk; while we, in our turn, have been made familiar with the meaning of such hitherto mysterious terms as 'morocain,' which, personally, I always thought was an anaesthetic; and 'nainsook,' which I had imagined to be a sort of secret religion.

Both sexes, too, through delving into the dark recesses of Webster and Chambers (whose royalties must lately have been making Ethel M. Dell's seem, by comparison, like a mere tip to a barber),  have gleaned much .enlightenment in the General Information department, and are going about with knobs of knowledge sticking out on their foreheads like the buffers on a railway engine.

Who of us three months ago was aware that the technical term for a burnisher of goldfish is a 'stimpter,' that the man who paints the eyebrows on dolls' faces is known as a 'gorpler,' that the instrument used for hollowing out thimbles is a 'squirk,' and that in the Rutlandshire dialect a Neo-Hellenist is called a 'gawpie'?

Again, this gathering of much out-of-the-way information has added quite a new zest to the more humdrum functions of social life. Clergymen expounding the singular saline properties possessed by Lot's wife commence with a brief reference to svjongulite—a polymorphous mineral salt, dear brethren, found in the dried-up beds of Norwegian sardine-streams.

Writers of the approved pattern of vocal fox-trots are no longer considering it essential to make their singers yearn for Kentucky and Arizona. Instead, they are biffing them back to unpronounceable islands in the Malay Archipelago and villages in Czechoslovakia with names which sound like the gasp of exhausted soda-water siphons.

Even magistrates dealing with drunk-and-disorderlies draw mordant similes between the prisoner in the dock and the 'pku'—a species of Madagascar crocodile which possesses double vision, sings falsetto, and walks backward.

I cannot conclude these few remarks more fittingly, I think, than by setting my readers a little crossword puzzle of my own. I may add that the little black square at the side may be disregarded, as it has only been inserted to make it look harder. Solutions must be written in yellow ink on the back of the paper only, and must be accompanied by birth certificate, wireless licence, and copies of three recent testimonials.

To the sender of the first correct solution opened I shall award a superb hand-sewn pork-pie for life.

1 2
3 4 [-]

HORIZONTALS. — 1.  Two consonants.
3.  Two more (Greek alphabet).
VERTICALS. — 1.  A Zulu interjection denoting excessive boredom.
2.  Noise made by ptarmigans when drinking ginger-beer.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ashley Sterne Christmas 1925 1926 1927

Here are Christmas articles that Ashley Sterne wrote in 1925, 1926, and 1927.

The first article is notable for its reference to the ptarmigan:  "The turkey is easily distinguished from other poultry by reason of the difference in spelling.  It is also much bigger than birds that are much smaller, such as the ptarmigan and the pthree-ptoed sloth."  Could this be the literary ancestor to S. J. Perelman's famous reference to the ptarmigan, published some years later in his celebrated story, The Idol's Eye?  Compare, if you will:

"The following morning the Maid of Hull, a frigate of the line mounting thirty-six guns, out of Bath and into bed in a twinkling, dropped downstream on the tide, bound out for Bombay, object matrimony. On her as passenger went my great-grandfather, an extra pair of nankeen pants and a dirk his only baggage. Fifty-three days later in Poona, he was heading for the interior of one of the Northern states. Living almost entirely on cameo brooches and the few ptarmigan which fell to the ptrigger of his pfowlingpiece, he at last sighted the towers of Ishpeming, the Holy City of the Surds and Cosines, fanatic Mohammedan warrior sects."

A Wireless Christmas

By Ashley Sterne

from the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 25 December 1925

Hullo, everybody!  Ashley Sigismund Sterne (1ASS) calling the British Empire for a little light dissertation upon peace and pudding, bells and beef, carols and crackers, sausages and sodamint; everything, in fact, which pertains to what I may call the Festive Season (Copyright).

I propose to open with a carol for the pets, and so, my little loud-speakers, get out your B flat saxophones, your 4-cylinder trombones, and your thermionic valve-trumpets, and accompany Uncle Sigismund while he warbles to you of "Good King Worcestersauce"—same tune as G.K. Wenceslas, but different words.

Good King Worcestersauce looked out
On the Feast of Stephen;
Saw some hobo mouch about
On his lawn so even.

"Hither, page, and bring to me
Chunks of winter fuel—
Pine-logs, coal, and coke," quoth he;
"I'll give yon gink groo-oo-el."

"Dost thou know this wouldy wight?
What's he want here, drat him?"
Asked the King; and, aiming right,
Chucked three pine-logs at him.

"That's the bloke," outspake the lad,
"Who came last week to vex us!
Said for days he'd nothing had
In his solar ple-ex-us!"

"What d'yer want, you cow-faced chap?"
Cried Good Lea-and-Perrin;
"Fish or flesh or fowl, may hap,
Or a good red herrin'?"

"Wine and duck, I'm after, bo',
For my Christmas dinner!
See how lean and thin I grow—
Every moment thi-in-ner!"

"Right! I'll give you all you lack!
Page, bring me my bootses!
Leave the old Kentucky shack,
Follow in my tootsies!"

Then the beggar chap had luck,
On which he'd not been countin';
They made him whine, and gave him a duck
In St. Agnes' fou-oun-tain!

*          *          *          *

Thank you, darlings!  That was very nicely accompanied indeed!  And to mark my appreciation I'm going to send you each my private Christmas greeting-card.  I'll read it to you:

"Mr. Ashley Sigismund Sterne presents the compliments of the season together with his own, and begs to inform you that he is prepared to advance any sum from thrippence to thrippence-farthing on note-of-hand alone.  No interest.  No tiresome enquiries.  No more tired aching feet.  No bottles. No hawkers.  No circulars.  All is peace and goodwill.  Just say which sum you want, enclosing at the same time a £1 note to cover cost of packing and postage, and the money will be sent you under a plain sealed wrapper.

N.B.  I do not do business with miners, majors, or sergeant-majors."

*          *          *          *

Good-night, pets!  I hear Nurse calling that your bath is ready; so put out your cigars, drink you dill-water, and buzz off to bed.  I'm going to talk to Pop and Mums, Aunt Sally and old Uncle Tom Cobley now.

*          *          *          *

By way of a suitable overture to to-night's adult programme, I have very kindly arranged with a robin I know to broadcast his liquid notes to you.  Don't, however, take any notice of the preliminary noises you hear, as they will merely emanate from a Burmese nose-flute—an instrument which never fails to stimulate the robin into song.

(Ah. he's off!  Hop close to the microphone, Rupert, and for Heaven's sake don't stop in the middle of the song to blow your beak.)

Listen, everybody!  This is Rupert the robin.

*          *          *          *

Tweet!  £#£#£#£#@!@!@!@!  Pip-pip!   Teedle-eedle-eddle!  Trtrtrtrtr! &&&&####££££???@!

(Go on, Rupe!  If you can't remember the rest of the verse, get on with the chorus.)

Cheep-cheep-cheep!  @£@£!!!478££  Grrrrrrrrrh!  Honk-honk! ...

(Really, Rupert!  I'm ashamed of you.  Remember, you're a bird, not a Ford.  What's that? ...  Oh! ... Dear, dear!)

Hullo, everybody!  You will be sorry to hear that Rupert the robin has suddenly developed clergyman's sore throat, consequent, he thinks, on swallowing the rusty nail in his drinking-water.  In the circumstances, he feels he cannot pip and tweedle any more to-night.  I've given him a black currant jujube to suck, and he's doing as well as can be expected.

The next item should have been a song from a herald angel, but unfortunately the herald angel has got hiccups.  Also he is not in very high feather to-night, as it's the moulting season.  I shall, therefore, ask the eminent zoologist, Professor Barmion Crumpett, F.Z.S., M.I.C.E., R.A.T.S., at once to deliver his doubtless very interesting little "Two-Minute Talk on Turkeys."  If at times he should be indistinct, I must ask you kindly to remember that he is very old and very stupid, and has a habit of getting his beard into his mouth when excited.  Moreover, he's just entering his second childhood and cutting his third teeth.

*          *          *          *

"The Turkey, dear brethren, is a horizontal bird of six letters commencing with "t" and ending with "y."  It belongs to the order Hydrophobia, sub-order Calceolaria, genus Kamptulicon, species Pantechnicon, variety Hycokolorum.  As you may surmise, it is a native of Turkey, its name "turkey" being derived from the Turkish word "turkey," which means a turkey.

The bird was first introduced into England 367 years ago, though judging from some I've eaten they have been here far longer than that.

The turkey is easily distinguished from other poultry by reason of the difference in spelling.  It is also much bigger than birds that are much smaller, such as the ptarmigan and the pthree-ptoed sloth.  On the other hand, it is much smaller than birds which are much bigger, such as the ostrich and the dromedary.  It feeds on Wednesdays and rice pudding, and lays egg-shaped eggs full of egg.

Its feathers are much used in the manufacture of boas, pipe-cleaners, penwipers, fans, penwipers, pipe-cleaners, and boas; whilst from its wisdom teeth an excellent mucilage is obtained by boiling them in a mixture of secotine, glue, tar, toffee, and bird-lime.

That is all I have to say about the turkey to-night, except to add that the Turkey carpets and Turkey rhubarb are no relation."

*          *          *          *

That nasty noise, everybody, was Professor Barmion Crumpett.  He has now been pushed out, and I will pass on to the final item of our programme; a Little Christmas Fairy Tale translated from the Double-Dutch of A. Sterne into English by Ashley Sterne, and specially adapted for me by myself on fifty-fifty terms.  I have called it "Madeline; or Only a Milkmaid."  That title seems to suit as well as any other, though the story contains no madeline, no milk, no maid.

*          *          *          *

Once upon a time there was an old charcoal-cutter who lived in a cottage in a wood in Berkhampstead in Hertfordshire in dire poverty.  He was very poor, having lost all his money and most of his charcoal in betting, beer, bridge, billiards, and Stock Exchange speculation, so that he had no money with which to buy a lump of gold he had seen in a goldsmith's window and wanted awful bad.  One Christmas Eve, just before Christmas, he set out on a cold and frosty morning as usual for the forest to do a spot of charcoal-cutting.  On the way he met an old man clad in a red flannel dressing-gown trimmed with wadding and a long white beard like a bath loofah.

"Have you seen a reindeer knocking about anywhere?" asked the old man, anxiously.

"Is it a red reindeer, with a white tail, three ears, slightly lame on the off-stump, and answering to the name of Harold?" asked the charcoal-cutter.

"That's him," replied the old man.

"Well then," said the charcoal-cutter,  "I haven't seen it.  Good-morning."

"Stay!" cried the other.  "I must reward you for your assistance.  What would you like for a Christmas present?"

"A lump of gold," replied the charcoal-cutter.

"Right!" said the old man.  "Just hang your socks over the bed-rail to-night when you go to bed, and to-morrow morning you'll find you lump of gold inside 'em.  I'm Santa Claus.  See you later."

Now so delighted was the charcoal-cutter at this unexpected good fortune that instead of going to work he returned home, scraped up all the money he had, and went off to spend the day at the "Gizzard and Gimlet."  When he returned home late that night he had certainly had about eight over eight, but he neverthelesh remembered to shushpend his shocks over the bed-rail as per Santa Claushesh inshructionsh.

But unfortunately he forgot to take his feet out, and when he awoke the next morning he found a sandwich-board hanging from the bed-post bearing the words "House Full."

Yes, that's all.  Sad, is it not?

Hullo, everybody! 1ASS closing down!  Good-night all, and the same to you!


Father Christmas Interviewed

By Ashley Sterne and Arthur Moreland (illustrator)

from the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser,  25 December 1926

"Yes, I am Father Christmas, and not Sandy Herd, in spite of my appearance.  Come in!  Come in!"

The benevolent-looking old gentleman beckoned us into the sitting-room of his flat, and as the Moreland man and I entered, I saw that at last we had run the object of our interview to earth.  A blazing Yule log crackled in the fireplace.  A robin chirruped in a cage in the window.  Instead of the customary aspidistras and hart's-tongued of the ordinary bachelor apartment, dwarf Christmas trees, mistletoe tree, and holly trees in pots were disposed about.  The head-cushions of the sofa and easy chairs were fashioned like Christmas crackers, while the floor was carpeted with nice, thick snow.

Father Christmas waved us to two seats by the fire, and himself took a third.

"And so you'd been looking for me on the roof, eh?" he chuckled.  "Well, well!  Time was, not so very long ago, that I did live on the roof—second chimney-stack on the left past the fire-escape—but I gave it up when I sold my sledge and team of little reindeer, and took to a car and a chauffeur instead.  Anyway, it's encouraging to know that there are still some people, even if they're only newspaper men, who still think of me as I used to be.  Did my appearance and costume surprise you?"

The Moreland man and I nodded vigorously and Father Christmas laughed aloud.

"Of course!  You hardly expected to see me clean-shaven, with an Eton crop, and dressed in a sports jacket and plus fours, did you now?  You expected Rip van Winkle locks, flowing beard like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, fluffy hat, fishing-boots, and red flannel dressing-gown trimmed with wadding, eh?  Well, the tempura, as you no doubt know, mutantur from time to time, and I felt at last that I had to mutantur too, or else join the unemployed."

"That, Father Christmas," I said, "is absolutely unthinkable."

"Not entirely," said the dear old boy, as he passed us the cigar-box, which I was pleased to see contained a notable brand, and not the plumber's smoke-rocket type of cigar that one has grown to associate with Christmas presents.

"You see," he continued, "the modern child, compared to the child of, say, the Victorian or even the Edwardian Age, is a very different proposition."

"A horse of quite another colour," I endorsed.

"Quite a different kettle of fish," added the Moreland man.

"It was really to obtain your views on modern children," I remarked, "that we sought this interview."

Father Christmas heaved a sigh, and shook his venerable head.  Little icicles appeared in the corner of his eyes.

"They've changed—my word!  they've changed," he lamented.  "Now when you two were little boys, you used to write me little letters, didn't you?"

"Rather!" I agreed.  "Dear Father Krismuss I hop you are quit well I hop you are two pleaze bring me a rokking hoarse and sum solejars'—and so forth."

"And we used to send them up the chimney," the Moreland man went on, "by the Fiery Postman."

"Of course you did!" exclaimed Father Christmas, beaming.  "And I used to catch 'em at the cowl and enter up your orders in my ledger.  But now, what with Secondary Education, Higher Thought Centres, University Extension Lectures and whatnot, children don't believe in the efficacy of the Fiery Postman.  Sometimes I wonder whether they really believe in me."

"Well," I said, "quite apart from the question of Higher Education, gas stoves and electric radiators are obviously responsible for that.

"You bet they are!" cried Father Christmas.  "Why, it was one of those dolgarned gas stoves that first suggested to me that my methods were getting obsolete.  I was coming down a chimney one Christmas Eve a few year ago, and got my foot jammed in the stove-pipe.  The job I had releasing it you wouldn't believe.  As it was, I had to leave my boot behind, and nearly died of chilblains on the way home.  I couldn't deliver my presents—the gas stove blocked up the entire fireplace.  Not that it mattered much," he added, sadly.

"How so?" I enquired.

"Children's tastes in presents have altered too," he observed.  "The things that used to send you and your artist confederate half off your rockers with boyish delight are simply sneezed at by the modern child.  What was it the boys of your time used to want in their stockings?"

"Toffee," I answered promptly, "and lead soldiers, and a squirt, and an air-gun, and lots more toffee, and—"

"And something to make a row with," put in the Moreland man, "a drum or a tin trumpet, and peppermint humbugs the size of sofa cushions, and, above all, a knife with a thing-for-taking-stones-out-of-horse's-hoofs."

"Precisely!" agreed Father Christmas.  "And your sisters wanted dolls with practicable eyes, and barley sugar, and Hans Andersen, and painting-books, and toy grocer's shops.  And now—I ask you!  Last Christmas, for instance, I took quite a lot of trouble over one little boy.  I spent particular pains to please him because he reminded me strongly of another little boy, named Hal Monmouth, to whom I once gave a lovely box of soldiers, a drum, a trumpet, and a little pewter sword.  That was at Christmas 1395, and some twenty years later little Hal Monmouth justified my choice of presents by winning the battle of Agincourt.  Well, I gave this other little boy a precisely similar but more superior outfit last Christmas, and—my word! —although his name was Eric, he raised Hal right enough.  It transpired that what he really wanted was a three-valve set, a safety-razor, and a pair of Oxford trousers."

"How sharper than a serpent's tooth..." I murmured.

"And there was a little girl too," went on Father Christmas, "who kicked up a dreadful shindy because the hair of the doll I gave her wasn't shingled, while she simply wouldn't look at the little fitted workbox and Kingsley's 'Water-Babies.'"

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because the little fool wanted a lipstick 'like Mother's,' some pink cammy-watser-names—I forget the exact name, but it was some new-fangled kind of sweetmeat, I guess—and the complete works of Michael Arlen.  I tell you, I'm just about fed up with 'em."

"All this is very distressing," I said.  "But don't leave the kids in the lurch!  After all, you're their Patron Saint, you know, and it's up to you to do a spot of light patron-sainting on their behalf."

"Quite so," said Father Christmas.  "But I'm proposing to do it on modern lines.  That's why I've modernised my get-up.  Not without a pang, mark you.  When I had my hair cut I couldn't help shedding a tear when I thought of how once Delila herself had favourably compared my locks to Samson's.  My champion long-distance beard too!  I got quite sad when I saw it lying on the barber's floor, and recalled how Bonnie Prince Charlie, as a boy of four, mistook it for my sporran [the pouch that is suspended in front of a Scottish kilt].  I don't mind the change of togs so much.  The boots—well, every woman one meets seems to be wearing my original Moscow 1812 model, while as for my red jacket, I'm not particularly anxious to be mistaken for a Communist."

"And, of course," he continued, "I am modernising my presents too.  I've scrapped all my old stock, or rather I've given 'em away to the posh hotels to distribute to the adults at suppertime on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.  You'd be surprised if I told you how long a balloon and a rattle will keep a modern adult amused.  Where I used to give dolls, I'm now giving manicure sets, and where I used to give boxes of soldiers, I'm not giving wooden cut out caricatures of our most detested statesmen.  Books I've washed out absolutely.  Give a modern little girl 'Alice in Wonderland' and she'll tell you that it was merely a case of subliminal consciousness and that the psychoanalysis is all wrong anyway.  Give a modern little boy 'Treasure Island' and he'll tell you that Jim Hawkins simply isn't in it with Douglas Fairbanks."

"But surely," I urged, "there are some children who still love to picture you as you used to be, who still like to thump a drum and make themselves sick with toffee and play with dolls and lead soldiers?  Surely they're not all modernised to the same extent?

Father Christmas blew so big and dense a cloud of smoke from his cigar that it enveloped him completely.

"Yes, yes, a few perhaps," came a dreamy voice.  "In the hospitals—in the slums—in the country cottages—perhaps a few still in the big cities.  Yes, after all, they are all children, and the majority can't help being born modern.  The sins of the fathers, what? ...So I think it would be best if I..."  The voice ceased, the smoke cleared.  In the chair formerly occupied by our sports-jacketed, plusfoured host sat an old familiar figure—fluffy hat, flowing white locks and beard, red gown, big boots, and all.  Through the window I caught a glimpse of tossing antlers, as though a reindeer team dallied impatiently on the stone balcony without.

"Ah!" I exclaimed, as I rose to my feet, "I like you better like that.  Now you're talking!  Arthur," I said, turning to the Moreland man, "snap him like that before he changes his mind again!"

"Or his clothes!" he added, as he cranked up his pencil.


The Diary of a Christmas Pudding

by Ashley Sterne

from the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 24 December 1927

I have just been made, and am consequently writing this entry in my journal with somewhat mixed feelings.  It's a funny sensation not knowing which part of me is to be inside and which my out.  Yet it is with no little pride that I record the fact that my manufacture undoubtedly caused a considerable stir in the house.  Everybody from the mistress to the baby had a finger in the pie, so to speak, and came into the kitchen one after another to help mix me.  Between them all they did give me a turn!  Anyway, I heard cook say that even Mrs. Beeton herself (who, I believe, is the Goddess of Puddings) couldn't have mixed me more thoroughly—a remark which inspired one of the boy facetiously to observe that in the matter of Christmas pudding Mrs. Beeton couldn't be beaten.

I think I really must be a good pudding, because, just before the final stir, the mistress gave me a bright new sixpence.  No wonder people say that Christmas puddings are rich if they all get sixpences given them!  The master of the house, when he saw the coin dropped into me, said: "That's what I call putting money on currant account!"


I have been put into a basin to sleep overnight, and deposited on a shelf in the larder.  I hear I am to be partially cooked to-morrow.

December 24th

Rose early without being called.  That's one of the advantages of being made with self-raising flour.  Passed a rather restless night, however, as a bit of candied peel, which hadn't been properly chopped up, occasioned me some discomfort.  One of my raisins, too, gave me a little trouble, complaining that he hadn't been stoned—an omission calculated to give anyone the pip.

Cook has just put on the stove a large saucepan in which, I hear, I am to be boiled for four hours.  I wonder what it will feel like.  A hard-boiled egg on the shelf next to mine says it's not half bad, especially when the water bubbles and makes you do the Charleston.  I'm to be tied up in a cloth first, it seems.  Are they afraid of my getting water on the brain?


Here I am, all tied up, and only waiting for the saucepan to boil.  I had no idea I was so big.  I'm larger than a soccer football.  Besides weighing ever so much more, though I'm afraid that's nothing to write home about, for I heard cook say to the parlourmaid that she hoped I wouldn't be heavy, or there'd be a row.  I fancy cook thought I was funking being boiled, for just before she lashed me up she poured two tablespoonsful of brandy into me.  I don't need any Dutch courage.  We Christmas puddings have a spirit of our own...

The saucepan is boiling.  Now for the plunge!  I'll show cook the stuff I'm made of!


Phew!  I wish I had a fan.  Four hours of it in a stuffy old pot with the lid on!  If it hadn't been for my cloth I should have perspired all the suet out of me in five minutes.  I've been put back again into the larder to cool down, but cook hasn't undressed me yet, as I hear I've got to be boiled four hours more to-morrow, just before I'm wanted for the table.  I hope I shan't burst my cloth.  I've already swelled appreciably, and that ill-mannered hard-boiled eggs has been laughing at me—says I've run to waist.  Wait till I start chipping him!  He'll laugh out the other side of his yolk.

I can't think what's happened to my sixpence.  I can't feel it anywhere.  Can it have melted?  I hope not, though some folks would probably consider it an advantage to have their only worldly asset a liquid one.  And so to bed.

December 25th.

Merry Christmas everybody!  Merry Christmas, turkey and sausages!  Merry Christmas, mince pies!  Merry Christmas, egg!

Dinner is to be at two, they say, and I'm to go back into the saucepan in a few minutes to ensure my being properly cooked in the middle.  I ought to be an authority on central heating after they've finished with me.

I'm to be served with sauce, I understand, and the mistress has just given cook a little sprig of holly which is to be stuck in my North Pole when I'm sent up to the table.  What's more, I'm to be surrounded on the dish by a little moat of blazing brandy!  If I could only grow a few fish scales on my chest I should look like Brynhild in "The Valkyrie."  I see cook's just put the biggest saucepan on, so I imagine I'm expected to well some more.  Well, I'll do my best.  After all, one's only a Christmas pudding once in a lifetime.


I'm positively trembling with excitement, and have already shaken out three currants and a bit of suet.  Cook has just tasted me, and says I'm the sweetest thing in Christmas puddings she's ever turned out.  A funny thing's happened, though.  When she...  

 [sadly, the story was truncated in the original newspaper]