During 1914, early in his career as a comic journalist, Ashley Sterne contributed a series of articles to Punch. Here are the first three articles:
Vol. 146 (Jan – Jun 1914)Buying a Piano, p.414 [May 27, 1914]
Vol. 147 (Jul – Dec 1914)
My Trousseau, p.86 [Jul 22, 1914]
Mnemonics, p.136 [Aug 5, 1914]
Buying a Piano
By Ashley Sterne
I had often thought I should like to possess a really good piano—not one of those dumpy vertical instruments, but a big flat one with a long tail. For a long time I hesitated between a Rolls Royce, a Yost, a Veuve Cliquot, and a Thurston. At last I put the problem to a musical friend. He said:
"It's a piano you want, not a motor-typewriting-champagne-table? Very good, then. You go to Steinbech's in Wigram Street. They'll fix you up. Mention my name if you like."
"What'll happen to me if I do?"
"They'll sell you a piano. That's what you want, isn't it?"
So I went. I told the man at Steinbech's that I believed they sold pianos. He said that my belief was not without foundation, but that, in any case, they would be prepared to stretch a point in my favour and sell me one. What sort did I require?
"A big flat one with a long tail," I replied.
"Ah, you want a full concert-grand? Then kindly step into our show-room, Sir. Now, this one," he said, indicating a handsome brunette, "is a magnificent piano. Best workmanship and superior materials employed throughout. Splendid tone and light touch. Price, one hundred guineas. Examine it; try it for yourself, Sir." And he opened the keyboard as he spoke.
"Er—what order are the notes arranged in?" I asked.
"In strict alphabetical order," he answered. "A, B, C, and so on."
"You must excuse my asking the question," I went on, "but the fact is I've never seen a Steinbech before. I thought perhaps that different makers adopted different arrangements of the notes, as makers of typewriters do. Now, will this piano play Beethoven? I particularly want a piano that will play the 'Moonlight' and the 'Waldstein.'"
"You're not thinking of a pianola, Sir, are you?"
"No," I replied, "I am not. I have no sympathy with music that looks like a Gruyère cheese. The music I want my piano to play is the ordinary printed kind—black-currants and stalks and that sort of thing."
"Well, Sir, you will find that this piano is specially adapted for playing all kinds of printed music. Music in manuscript may also be rendered upon it."
"That's one point settled then," I said. "Now, if you will kindly prize the lid off, I should like to look at the works."
He lifted the lid and propped it up with a short billiard-cue which fitted into a notch. All danger of sudden decapitation having been removed, I put my head inside.
"Hallo!" I cried. "What's this harp doing in here? Doesn't it get in the way?"
"That is not a harp, Sir; that is part of the mechanism—the wires, you know."
I plucked a few of them, and they gave forth a pleasing sound. So I plucked some more.
"Yes," I said decidedly, "I like the rigging very much. And now perhaps you will be good enough to tell me what those two foot-clutches are for, which I noticed underneath the keyboard. I suppose they are the brake and the reversing-gear?"
I was wrong. The man expounded their true functions to me. Then I said, "I should just like to examine it underneath, if you wouldn't mind turning it on its back."
The fellow told me that it was unnecessary and unusual—that I had seen all there was to see. This made me suspicious. I was certain he was trying to conceal some radical defect from me. So I made up my mind to see for myself. I took off my coat and crawled underneath. As I suspected, I found two large round holes in the flooring. When I had finished rubbing my head, I drew the man's attention to them. He was able to give a more or less reasonable excuse for them. I forget what he said they were—ventilators, I think.
He concluded by saying that the instrument would be certain to give me the utmost satisfaction.
"You would not recommend my having a more expensive one?" I asked. "A Stradivarius, or a Benvenuto Cellini?"
He thought not; so we clinched the deal.
"I think," I said, as I handed him my cheque, "that I should like my name-plate fixed on it somewhere—say, on one of the end notes that I shall never use."
But he advised me against this. None of the players handicapped at scratch ever thought of such a thing.
"Very well," I said. "Just wrap it up for me, and I'll—"
"Hadn't we better send it for you," he suggested, "in one of our vans, in charge of our own men?"
"Just so," I agreed. "Good morning."
The piano duly arrived, and when we had taken the drawing-room door out of its socket and demolished a large portion of two walls, they got it in—just in. With care I can squeeze into the room. However, I am happy, though crowded, for I have achieved my heart's desire.
It has been with me a year now. I must soon think of learning to play it.
By Ashley Sterne
Having been a bachelor from my earliest youth I suppose I ought to be accustomed to the condition; but the fact remains that I miss something—something which only a wedding supplies.
Curiously enough this want is not a wife. I have been without one so long that I should not know what to do with her if I had one. I should probably overlook her, and she would become atrophied or die of neglect or thirst. Neither do I crave a home of my own; nor golden-haired children to climb up my knee. I can do without these accessories.
But what I do hunger for and what I will have is a trousseau. Why the acquisition of a trousseau should be a purely feminine prerogative I have never been able to understand. A bride without a trousseau is generally regarded as an incomplete thing—a poached-egg without toast; a salad without dressing. But the bridegroom without a trousseau is a recognised institution. True, he has new clothes, both seen and unseen, but this is not a trousseau; it is merely a "replenishment of his wardrobe." His least disreputable old things are "made to do"; and nobody thinks slightingly of him if he attends his wedding in a re-cuffed shirt or in boots that have been resoled. A girl, however, would as soon think of entering Paradise with a second-hand halo as she would contemplate being married in anything that was not aggressively new.
Thus it is that before my wish can be consummated I have two honoured conventions to defy: that only a girl may possess a trousseau, and that a marriage is a necessary condition to the acquiring of it. Fortunately I am strong-minded. A long course of Mrs. Humphry Ward's homilies has given me no little facility in achieving this attribute, and I am determined that I will change neither my sex nor my status.
Now, I have prepared a list, just as—I suppose—every girl does. In the first place I am going to indulge in the hitherto undreamt-of luxury of a surfeit of dress-shirts. No one who has not experienced life on two dress-shirts—one in wear, the other in the wash—can quite understand what this will mean to me. Men like Sir Joseph Beecham, Mr. Mallaby-Deeley, Mr. Solly Joel, Lord Howard de Walden, and others, who, I daresay, have four or even five, cannot know what it is to feel that their evening's refreshment and entertainment depend on their finding the French chalk or the india-rubber.
Therefore I am making no stint in this matter. I am having fifteen dress-shirts, so that there may be one for wear each day in the week, seven in the laundry, and one over for emergencies—like Parsifal, that begins in the middle of the afternoon. I mean to be similarly lavish in the matter of collars and handkerchiefs. The number of the former which I am buying amounts almost to an epidemic; while the extent of my commission in the latter is the result of lessons learnt in the hard school of experience. I say unhesitatingly that the man who tries to get through life on a mere dozen handkerchiefs is simply begging for disaster, as, however methodical in their use he may be, a carelessly-caught cold may any day upset his reckoning and leave him at a loose end; sometimes scarcely that. Hence I am doing this part of my trousseau in princely fashion. I am having half a gross of them.
Then there is my slumber-wear. For years I have hungered for silk ones, but have had no conscientious excuse for appeasing my appetite. To buy silk pyjamas in cold blood has hitherto seemed to me to be sheer cynical extravagance; but now I feel that circumstances justify me in my action, for it would be a very sorry thing for me to encounter a burglar or cope with a fire clad in apparel that would not be up to the standard of the rest of my wardrobe.
Now, I am a great believer in dressing for the spirit of the moment; therefore I have resolved upon a pretty colour-scheme for my night-wear. My pyjamas are to be of tints conducive to refreshing rest, namely and severally white, lemon, light pink, and pale green—an idea which I candidly confess was inspired by the spectacle of a Neapolitan ice. If you think that this is merely an idle whim, just imagine endeavouring to sleep in pyjamas patterned like an Axminster carpet or a Scotch tartan. No wonder Macbeth "murdered sleep" if he was arrayed in garments of his club-colours!
I have brought the same æsthetic sense to bear upon my choice of ties and socks: greys and blacks for times of grave political crises; fawn, buff, pearl, moose—I am not sure that this is a colour, but it sounds quite possible—for brighter hours; and colours familiar to every student of spectroscopy for halcyon days of rejoicing—the opening of the Royal Academy, the Handel Festival, the return of Harry Lauder, or the elevation of Mr. Bernard Shaw to the peerage.
As for externals, suffice it to say that they will be en suite, and that I intend to introduce just a little touch of originality into my trousers. I am going to have them made with spats sewn to the leg-ends in order to save time and trouble in dressing.
In short, I have forgotten nothing, except spare studs, and I think it is quite likely that I shall remember them too in course of time. I have even gone so far as to fix a day for a dress rehearsal. But first I shall invite my friends, as is the way with brides-elect, to a private view of my trousseau, when they shall see all of it spread upon the coverlet of my bed, over the backs of my chairs, or hanging in serried ranks in my wardrobe.
And now nothing more remains to be done but to raise the necessary funds, and with this object in view I have instructed my broker to draw my money out of the Savings Bank. I am expecting a postal-order almost any moment.
By Ashley Sterne
For reasons of economy we get all our household requisites from Moggridge's Stores in the Tottenham Court Road, where we have a deposit account. Joan once worked out that by shopping in this manner we saved ninepence-halfpenny every time we spent one pound four and fivepence (her arithmetic cannot cope with percentages), besides having our goods delivered at the door by a motor van. This is a distinct score off our neighbours, who have to be content with theirs being brought round by a boy on a kind of three-wheeled Black-Maria.
We are not on the telephone at home, so it is my part of the arrangement to ring up Moggridge's when I arrive at my office, and order what we want; that is, whenever I remember. But unfortunately I own the most impossible of head-pieces. It's all right to look at from the outside, but inside the valves leak, or else the taps run. Consequently it generally ends in Joan's writing a note when I return home in the evening. Thus I was not altogether surprised when, one morning after breakfast, Joan asked me to repeat her orders. I did so. "That's not what I said!" cried Joan. "That's only what you thought I said. I did not even mention smoked salmon. Now listen while I tell you again; or, better still, write it down on a piece of paper."
"That's no good," I said. "I always lose the paper. But go on with the list; I've got a very good idea."
"Two pounds of Mocha coffee," she began.
I picked up two coffee beans from the tray—Joan self-grinds and self-makes the coffee every morning—and placed them amongst the loose change in my trouser pocket.
"Fourteen pounds of best loaf sugar," she went on.
I drew my handkerchief from my sleeve, tied a small lump of sugar in a corner of it, and then placed it inside my hat.
"Why put it in your hat?" asked Joan.
"Because," I answered, "I may not have occasion to draw my handkerchief from its usual place, whereas I always have to take my hat off."
"How will you remember the quantity?".
"Well, fourteen pounds make one stone, don't they? Before I remember the hard thing is a piece of sugar I shall think it's a stone."
Joan sniffed contemptuously.
"Then there's my ring," she continued, "the diamond and sapphire one that I left for resetting. The estimate they promised has not come, and besides there's the—"
"Hold on a minute!" I cried. "Just tie a piece of cotton round my married finger."
She did so. Then she went on:
"The drawing-room clock should have been sent home, cleaned, last Friday. They haven't sent it."
"Perhaps they expected it to run down," I suggested.
Joan bore up wonderfully, and merely said, "Well—do something. Put the sardines in your pocket-book, or the marmalade in your gloves."
"Those," I said, "are not, strictly speaking, mnemonics for sending home cleaned clocks. They would be all right for a picnic tea-basket, but not for the thing in question. Everything I have done up to the present is suggestive of what I have to remember," and I turned my watch round in my pocket so that it faced outwards.
"I see," said Joan. "Now, what's the cotton round your finger for?"
"Smoked sa—, that is to say, coff—, I mean the estimate for your ring," I answered. "Is there anything else?"
"Another box of stationery like the last—the crinkly paper, you know. They've got our die."
I tore a strip from the newspaper, crinkled it carefully and put it away in my cigarette-case. A minute later I was on my way to the railway-station.
A keen head-wind was blowing, causing my eyes to water and the tears to flow unbidden. I explored my sleeve for my handkerchief. It was not there. I could not possibly go to town without one, so I hastened home again. Joan was at the window as I ran up.
"What is it?" she cried.
"My handkerchief!" I gasped. "I've forgotten—"
"Fourteen pounds of best loaf sugar!" called out Joan. "It's in your hat."
As I hurried once more in the direction of the station I withdrew the handkerchief from my hat and wiped my streaming eyes. The operation over, I placed the handkerchief in my sleeve. I heard the whistle of a train in the distance and instinctively took out my watch. It was right-about-face in my pocket, and I lost a good half-second in getting it into the correct position for time-telling. It was nine-seventeen. I had just one minute in which to do the quarter-mile; but my forte is the egg-and-spoon race, and I missed the train handsomely.
There was an interval of twenty minutes before the next one was due, so I thought I would have a cigarette. I opened my case, and a piece of paper fluttered to the ground. I picked it up and glanced at it. On one side I read that "... knocked out Submarine Snooks in the ninth round after a hotly—contested ..." while on the other side I saw that "... condition offers the gravest anxiety to his numerous friends and ..." I threw the paper away, for it did not interest me, and walked up to the bookstall to select a magazine. I had to remove my left glove in order to get at my money, and in pulling it off I noticed a shred of cotton come away with it. This meant an inside seam gone somewhere; and they were new gloves, too. I threw a coin to the paper-boy, and two small round objects like boot-buttons rolled on to the platform. Shortly afterwards the train strolled up.
At the office I was so busy all day, arranging about the shipment of a steam-crane to Siam (I am a commission-agent), that it was not until I was seated in the train, going home in the evening, that I vaguely remembered that I had forgotten something. I grew more and more uneasy, and, with the idea of distracting my thoughts from an unpleasant channel, I picked up an evening paper from underneath the opposite seat. At some quite recent period it had obviously contained nourishment of an oleaginous nature, but, though soiled, it was still legible. The very first paragraph which I read served to remind me of Joan's forgotten orders; but it brought me, nevertheless, an unholy joy, for it ran: "The funeral of the late Mr. Jeremiah Moggridge, founder and managing director of the mammoth stores which bear his name, took place this afternoon. As a mark of respect the premises were closed for business throughout the day."
So it would have been futile to ring them up in any case. I was saved!
On reaching home the first thing Joan said to me was—
"Did you order those things from Moggridge's?"
I didn't say anything. I merely handed her the evening paper and indicated the saving clause. Joan read it through. Then she said—
"Yes, I thought you'd mess it all up in spite of your ichneumonics, or whatever you call them; and so after lunch I went to the call-office and ordered the things myself."
"But Moggridge's was closed—didn't you read?"
"Yes," replied Joan; "but, next time you forget, don't try to establish an alibi with yesterday's evening paper."
* * *
Our private telephone will be fixed by next week. I forget how much Joan reckons we shall save by it.