Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ashley Sterne and the Domestic Scene

The articles in this installment of the comic newspaper articles of Ashley Sterne address the domestic topics of house, garden, and family life in the years right after the Great War.

Bulbing: All About My Passion for Gardening  [Jul 1915]
Household Upheavals: A Domestic Fetish  [Aug 1915]
My Sardine Dish  [Jul 1920]   (linked to the previous article)
My Mulberry Tree  [Jan 1916]
The Family Album  [Mar 1916]
Underpinning a House  [Nov 1916]
In a Spare Room  [May 1917]
Painting The Bath  [Jul 1920]
Should Husbands Be Hoofed?  [May 1921]

Bulbing: All About My Passion for Gardening

By Ashley Sterne

It is a welcome relaxation to turn for a while from the consideration of the arts of war and ponder on the arts of peace; and of these latter I can conceive none more peaceful, nor more artful, than that of bulbing; or, if you prefer it, bulb-growing. To sit on an upturned flowerpot on one of these bright spring mornings idly watching the hyacinths getting higher, the tulips getting taller, the daffodils getting daffer and diller, and the crocuses (or, more correctly speaking, croci) croaking and cussing, is the very acme of peacefulness.

The artfulness before alluded to lies in the fact that until your bulbs have sprouted and made some sort of an attempt to disgorge a flower it is practically impossible to distinguish one kind from another. It may be quite easy for a consulting bulbician to do this, even with both hands tied behind his back; but the task is exceedingly confusing to the amateur.

Of course, the expert will say the various kinds of bulbs are of different dimensions, the crocus normally being several sizes smaller than the tulip. But how, I ask, is the lay mind to grasp the subtle distinction between an abnormally large crocus bulb and an abnormally small tulip bulb? Anyway, the task is beyond me, and therefore when friends come to my house and observe that the bulb things seem to be getting on nicely, express the hope that they will escape the distemper, and end by asking me whether they are hyacinths, tulips or artichokes, I seek refuge in various non-committal botanical names, and explain that one is a pons asinorum, another a lapsus linguae, and a third a nolle prosequi—a device which I find succeeds admirably, because no well-educated persons care to admit that Latin is all Greek to them.

Then, again, the artfulness of the bulb is encountered in one's total in ability to decide which way up it should be planted. Personally, I can never tell which is the business end. Both ends appear to me to possess equal sprouting possibilities, and hence I suppose it is more by luck than judgment that I ever succeed in rearing any bulbs at all. But I often wonder what happens to an unfortunate bulb which is put into the ground face downwards. Perhaps it has the instinct to turn itself right way up before commencing business; or it may even persevere and sprout downwards until the young shoot emerges at. the Antipodes; or it may perchance perish miserably of asphyxia.

The results of my annual experiments, therefore, are—as you may imagine—somewhat a matter of speculation. Of the 300 best mixed specimens that I have sown this season with so lavish a hand over my ancestral acres, forty-seven have duly risen to the surface to breathe, 184 have been dug up by my base and demoralised hound (he uses them to play a kind of canine ping-pong with the dog next door), and the fate of the remaining 69 is at the moment of writing an insoluble mystery.

I cannot quit this engrossing subject without cautioning the prospective bulb-grower against the folly of nurturing a bulb whose antecedents are not thoroughly well authenticated. Knowing my passion for bulbing, a young man of my acquaintance once presented me with an alleged bulb which, he said, he had every reason to think was that of a rare and ex pensive orchid, and which I, totally ignorant of its real nature, cherished with loving care and solicitude throughout a dreary winter.

I watched over it day and night. I rarely left its side except to walk over to its other side. I procured specially nourishing food for it, and watered it with the very finest water that money could buy. With the price of coal at its present lofty altitude, I simply cannot bear to think of the amount of fuel I consumed in maintaining this wretched bulb at a comforting and consistent temperature. When, finally, it sprouted to a sufficient length to be identified, I found it was a common or garden onion.

I felt extremely hurt—a sensation I hoped to transmit to the donor of the repugnant vegetable; but with what in other circumstances would have been commendable foresight, he had left the neighborhood. When I asked his landlady if she could throw any light on his present whereabouts, she merely remarked that she believed he'd got them on when she last saw him.


Household Upheavals: A Domestic Fetish

By Ashley Sterne

I refer to spring-cleaning. Such is the term given to the solemn process of stirring up all the dust in your house from places where it can't be seen, and allowing it to settle in other places where it can be seen. The precise object of this is not easy to understand. Dust is perfectly harmless when allowed to amuse itself in its own quiet way underneath the furniture; there, at all events, it is out of the way and invisible, and—as the ancient Roman sage Eureka has so truly remarked—Sapolio moratorium gorgonzola rumpus, which (for the purposes of this article) may be roughly translated, "What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over."

Nevertheless, the rite of spring cleaning is one that is so firmly ingrained into our systems that the strict performance of it has become a matter of instinct; no self-respecting housewife would ever feel she had shaken all the dust off the curtains on to the furniture, shaken all the dust off the furniture on to the carpet, shaken all the dust off the carpet into a dust-pan, and thrown the contents of the dust-pan into the empty fire-grate; whence, of course, the dust is promptly blown back into the room every time the door or a window is opened.

Now, one of the most extraordinary things about spring-cleaning is that it should be necessary invariably to employ a decrepit and sinister-looking crone to assist in it. No matter how many servants you may keep, it is apparently part of the performance to employ the services of a sour-visaged beldame, though the functions exercised by this individual are not quite clear. When my own spring cleaning is in progress I occasionally encounter a nondescript kind of figure meandering about the premises either proceeding to or returning from the direction of the cellar where my fine old tawny ale is kept. The figure usually has a duster tied over its head, and carries a domestic bucket in its hand with nothing in it. Consumed with curiosity I once stopped this weird person and asked her what she was doing. She replied that she was "going to get a bit o' dinner." An hour later I met her again, and again I asked her what she was doing. Once more she answered that she was "going to get a bit o' dinner," from which I could only conclude that the duties allotted to the char-lady were to eat the regular servants' dinners, since they—presumably—were too busy chivvying the dust about to spare the time.

But other issues besides actual cleaning are involved in this annual "dust-up" (if I may so employ the expression), amongst which I must mention the observance of that irritating custom known as "putting things straight." This, as you may imagine, usually results in putting things where they can never be found. You can't think what a job I have, every time my house is put in order, to find all the things that loving but misguided hands have "put straight," and when found to mix them up sufficiently efficiently to be able to put my finger on any one of them at a moment's notice. In normal times—that is, when I am free to keep things where I like—I can always find my own personal property without any bother at all. My cigarettes, for example, I keep in a disused biscuit-box on the dining-room sideboard; my tobacco in the interior of a bust of Claudius the Clear that graces my study mantel piece (I might almost say it remains in statue quo); while my pens recline on my writing-table in a chaste dish upon which a group of intertwined sardines in picturesque attitudes is embossed. (I need scarcely add that this pleasing piece of pottery was a wedding present which, like most wedding presents, was totally unfitted for the sphere of labor originally designed for it.)

However, in the passage of years I have grown philosophically to accept spring-cleaning as one of the penalties cf existence, and I have now "blacklisted" it—along with mumps, cold mutton, squeaky boots, slow trains, and amateur tenors—as an ill that I am wiser to bear than to fly to another with which I am not on speaking terms.


My Sardine Dish

By Ashley Sterne

Aunt Amelia bought the hideous thing for me at a bazaar to which I had escorted her. What induced her to do it I can't think, as she had only had three ices and two chocolate eclairs.

It was a sardine dish made of twenty-four-carat earthenware. The lid of the dish was decorated with little slimy heaps of vivid green vegetable matter, which I took to be French beans until it was explained to me that they were intended to represent sea weed.

The appropriateness of the seaweed didn't strike me at first. I didn't know sardines were sea-fish; I thought they lived in oil-wells, and that you had to bore for them. However, from the moment Aunt Amelia placed the thing tenderly in my hands I hated it with a bitter hatred.

Aunt Amelia is very fond of sardines. She occasionally comes over to cheer the loneliness of my bachelor tea-table. She is very well off. I am her next-of kin. For years she has had a nasty hacking cough that any moment may— You see, in short, I had to take it home; I couldn't deliberately lose it in transit. An accidental breakage would be quite a different matter.

Once I had got the dish home, the obvious course was to arrange an accident; so I handed it over to Mrs. Danks, my housekeeper, and told her to instruct the servant girl to wash it. This, I felt sure, would settle its fate promptly and effectively. Had Cicely Muriel lived in the days of Joshua, that warrior would have had no need to march round the walls of Jericho for a week. He need only have instructed Cicely Muriel towash them and she would have reduced them to tooth-powder in two shakes.

But, alas! Cicely Muriel's hands lost their cunning that day, and the sardine dish emerged scathless from the ordeal. Similar treatment at the hands of the char-lady was equally futile; and so one day I took the thing into the coal-cellar and got to work on it with the coke-hammer. In five minutes I had reduced the head of the coke-hammer to iron filings. Then I got the axe from the tool-shed. In another five minutes the blade of the axe resembled a fretwork pipe-rack. Finally I threw the dish out of the window. There was a sound as if I had smashed the Crystal Palace, and looking out, I saw three cucumber frames rendered useless for anything except filling the ends of kaleidoscopes. The sardine dish lay unharmed on a grass-plot.

*          *          *

Aunt Amelia had come unexpectedly to tea. Cicely Muriel had been hurriedly dispatched for sardines. Mrs. Danks had hastily retrieved the sardine dish from outside the back door, where it had been serving the purpose of a drinking trough for the dog. Now at last would the dish come into its own. I heard Cicely Muriel panting along the passage with the tea-tray.

Suddenly a shrill shriek, an ominous crash in the doorway, and in a moment the air was thick with flying fish. I retrieved a handsome pair from Aunt Amelia's lap and another from her hair net. When I had helped Cicely Muriel to her feet I noticed that the sardine dish was a total wreck. I apologised so profusely to Aunt Amelia that the old lady nearly threatened to buy me another. To this day Cicely Muriel does not understand why I presented her with a bonus of ten shillings.


My Mulberry Tree

By Ashley Sterne

Early this summer I moved into a new house, my old one being worn out. The new house has several advantages over the old one. For instance, there is now room for me to swing a cat—should I ever wish to indulge in this exhilarating recreation; there is sufficient space in the bathroom for me to dry myself without having to open the door and the window; I can now trip down to the coal collar whenever a Zeppelin is reported in the offing without fetching my head a foul and cowardly blow against a low, overhanging staircase; and I can now ask a friend to dinner, and dine not only in the same room with him but off separate plates.

But it wasn't so much the extra roominess of my present abode that appealed to rne. It was the fact that there was a mulberry tree in the garden. And I must say that the possession of a mulberry tree, even if one only possesses it on a three-years' agreement, gives one a kind of cachet like having ancestors who came over with Julius Caesar, or knowing somebody who has shaken hands with Mr Lloyd George or Charlie Chaplin; and though I don't suppose there are a dozen men in England who are by nature more unassuming and modest than I am, I really cannot help giving myself a slightly superior air when I look over the hedge into my neighbors' gardens, and find that one of them can only boast a moribund cactus as his piece de resistance, and the other a monkey-puzzle which no self-respecting monkey would deign to perplex himself with.

Ever since June my mulberry tree has given me unalloyed pleasure. Every day I have inspected it carefully to see how the fruit in progressing, and I have watched it turn from green to pink, pink to crimson, and crimson to copying-ink; and I am able to state from actual experience that the stain produced by a ripe mulberry failing upon one's linen is almost as indelible as that occasioned by the last mentioned commodity. That is the one fault I have to find with mulberries, They are attached so carelessly to the stems that the least thing will bring them down. And the extraordinary part about it is that they invariably fall on one's shirtcuffs or collar, or one's white tennis flannels, leaving thereon an imperishable memorial. Never by any chance do they fall upon anything which won't show the gravy marks. A somewhat similar phenomenon is to be observed when, amid the indecent hurry and scramble in which one usually takes breakfast, you have the misfortune to drop a slice of buttered toast. It always falls with the buttered side downwards, and, moreover, consistently falls on a portion of the carpet where the whiskers are loose.

Often, as I have gazed with pride on my tree, have I wished that Sidney my silkworm—of whose brief but (I trust) happy life and untimely demise I have already written—were with me now. What Lucullan banquets he would revel in! How useful, too, he would be—after a little training—to climb to the highest and most inaccessible parts of the tree, where all the ripest and largest mulberries grow, and shake them down!

Or, rather, he would have been useful until yesterday morning. It is a well-known fact that it isn't everybody who likes mulberries. They are what in called an acquired taste—like artichokes, Wagner, ammoniated quinine, Bernard Shaw, and so forth. Now a few days ago I had reason to think that someone was trying hard to acquire a taste for mulberries and was practising on my tree; for on inspecting it as usual one morning I happened to miss a very large mulberry that I had been encouraging to grow to its utmost capacity with the idea of entering it at a show, besides several smaller ones. However, I dismissed the unworthy thought, and dwelt no more upon it until yesterday, when I was amazed to find on visiting the garden before breakfast that my tree was as bare of mulberries as old Mother Hubbard's cupboard of bones. Not one single specimen could I find anywhere. I went in to breakfast heart-broken. When Mary brought in the coffee I noticed a peculiar purple hue about her mouth and cheeks, and I at once taxed her with eating not only Marmaduke—my prize mulberry—but all the rest of the tree as well. She denied it indignantly, and, being a truthful girl, I was forced to believe her. Then I remembered that she was engaged to the milkman—a fact which accounted for the marks upon her face. For of course he was the miscreant. He calls at half-past six, when the garden is empty, and— But I need say no more. I will only add that the milkman will not call again. I have decided to keep a cow.


[NOTE: the "cigarette-pictures" mentioned at the end of the next article were small cards—originally blank cards for stiffening paper packets of cigarettes—that marketers adapted for advertising by printing a picture in addition to product details.  Early cigarette-cards were targeted at men and sported pictures of Navy ships, military battles, sports heroes (a precedent for the baseball cards that came wrapped with stale and brittle bubble gum in my youth), and glamorous chorus girls in suggestive poses. Marketers of products such as tea, biscuits, and confectionary gave out cards with pictures more appealing to women: flowers, sentimental animal scenes, and Royalty.  Card collecting was all the rage in Britain from World War I to the beginning of World War II.] 

The Family Album

By Ashley Sterne

I am sorry to see that an old familiar custom of domestic life is fast falling into desuetude. Families no longer maintain any interest or pride in the family portrait-album; the pianola ant the gramophone have superseded it as a domestic diversion; and the illustrated papers have completely ousted it as a means of providing a little light entertainment for the friend who has casually dropped in to tea, and is kept waiting in the drawing-room while the lady of the house hurriedly changes her gown and despatches her maid for six penn'orth of Swiss roll and three penn'orth of fancy biscuits. As a record, too, of what our grandparents, parents, relatives. friends, the family doctor, and the family solicitor (both before and after he absconded) looked like in the Victorian era, the book was a constant source of instruction and enlightenment. I remember the days when my Aunt Louisa's portrait-album was the piece de resistance of her entertainment whenever I used to visit her. It lay on top of a chiffonier upon a woollen mat that vied with Joseph's coat in the rich variety of its color-scheme; and a magnifying glass, to enable one to appreciate more fully the joys within, was invariably laid beside it. And Aunt Louisa would seat herself in her antimacassared arm-chair. place the book in her lap, and while I stood beside her take me for a personally conducted tour through its pages. I liked it almost as much as a visit to the Chamber of Horrors.

Page one, I recollect, looked as it the ink-pot had been accidentally overturned upon it; but in reality it was occupied by a silhouette cut out of black paper, representing my maternal grandfather at the age of two. The first time I was shown It. it took an interval to explain to me that my grandfather. was not born a Moore and Burgess minstrel, and that the peculiar swarthiness of his complexion was entirely due to the black paper. Then followed early photographs of my parents—my father with a cravat the size of a hearth-rug and with a luxuriant vegetation of side-whiskers that gave him the appearance of having a large bath-loofah attached to each ear, and with an imposing top-hat about two feet high, reposing upon a side-table, at which he was gazing with a look of misplaced pride and affection; and my mother in a crinoline the size of an Eskimo hut, reading a book which, from the ill-concealed agony upon her features, might well have been Young's "Night Thoughts' or the earlier poems of Robert Browning.

Then there was a portrait of Aunt Louisa herself leaning upon a fragile stone pillar (made of cardboard) which, were she to-day photographed under the same conditions, would most certainly collapse like a concertina—Aunt Louisa's specific gravity not having exactly declined with advancing years. After that I had obviously put in a not, I trust, unwelcome appearance, for my mother is depicted looking with perplexity mingled with amusement upon what at first sight one would take to be a singularly unprepossessing watermelon upon her lap. The melon, Aunt Louisa informed me, was myself, and, judging the portrait quite dispassionately, I do not hesitate to say that, whatever I may be to-day, as a baby I did not possess that marked facial beauty which artists would have raved over. At least, they wouldn't have raved over it in the generally accepted sense of the expression.

Then came a photograph of an obscure uncle whose sole claim to distinction rested on the fact that while on service in Egypt he had the misfortune one dark night to trip over a Nile dam, and was neatly bisected by a crocodile. After him succeeded numerous other melon-like children bearing a distinct likeness to the former portrait of myself—evidence that my parents were starting babe-keeping in earnest. Then the advent of a numerous progeny, of course, meant that at various stages in our development we were all photographed in the inevitable "group." Oh, those groups! Page after page of Aunt Louisa's album was devoted to preserving these relics of our childhood, and I cannot think of them without a thrill.Our parents (seated) with a look of patient resignation in their faces, such as that which is depicted in the famous "Napoleon on board the Bellerophon"; on either flank, their aggressively clean and obviously Sunday-clothed offspring (standing), with hair that even in the photograph was redolent of pomade in force, and all bearing that wan, sweet smile that is sometimes found on masks about the period of the first week in November.

But Aunt Louisa's album is no more. At any rate, it is not on view, and is never alluded to. This is perhaps a little surprising, seeing that she is somewhat conservative in her notions, and abhors the sight of both pianola and gramophone. I heard, however, that she was recently seen exchanging cigarette-pictures with her gardener, which may perhaps explain both the purpose to which her album has been put and her reluctance to exhibit it.


[NOTE: In the following article there is a reference to Balbus's wall.  There was a classic Latin textbook called Gradatim, an easy Latin translation book, by H.R. Heatley and H.N. Kingdon (1882).  Lesson #21 in the book mentioned Balbus: Video murum, quem Balbus aedificavit. Translation: I see the wall, which Balbus built.  Every schoolboy who studied Latin at the beginning of the 20th century would be familiar with Balbus and his wall.  The names "Pelion" and "Ossa" refer to two mountains near Mount Olympus.  In Greek mythology, giants tried to scale Olympus by heaping Pelion on Ossa.]

Underpinning a House

By Ashley Sterne

I was lying in bed one morning reading the 6.30 edition of an evening paper of the same day, when, without one permonitory symptom, a large piece of plaster moulding fell down from the ceiling. Fortunately, my head broke its fall, or it would have smashed my bed into splinters. Then an ominous crack sounded behind me, and turning my head I found myself gazing into the room next door through a gap in the wall large enough to admit a horse and cart. Next, a whole avalanche of rubble rushed down the chimney and blocked up the fireplace, while the other walls cracked and gaped, and more ceiling came off.

I knew at once what the matter was. The house—an old one, built in a mixture of Graeco-Roman and Catch-as-catch-can styles, with Balbus's original walls—had got tired of standing so long, and was trying to lie down. I dressed hurriedly, and ran down stairs to tell my housekeeper. I found her sitting on the kitchen ceiling. (The ceiling, I should add, was on the floor.) I explained the situation in a few words. "Now, if you'll just hold the rest of the house up for a few minutes." I concluded, "I'll go and fetch the builder-feller." And off I went.

In ten minutes I returned with him. He went systematically all over the house, tapping the walls with a hammer, and bringing down fresh masses of debris to swell the ranks of the fallen. Then at last he became thoughtful, scratched his chin, his ear, and was about to scratch his leg when I interposed.

"Well," I said, "what about it?"

He looked very grave for about a quarter of an hour, and then he said, "It's falling down."

"I almost suspected it," I observed, as the ceiling of the hall where we were standing came down with a run and smashed my solid cocoanut-fibre doormat to atoms.

"It wants underpinning at once," he continued.

"Good!" I exclaimed. "While you're rolling up your shirt-sleeves, I'll roll down to the draper's for a packet of underpins. Then no time will be wasted."

He then explained that there was no need for reckless hurry, as in any case he'd have to go home first and fetch his tools, and then when he'd got his tools he'd have to go back and fetch his mate, and then when he'd fetched his mate it would be too late to start work for the day, and he and his tools and his mate would all have to go home again. So reluctantly I had to release him, and it was not until late in the afternoon that the builder-feller and the tools and the mate were all on the premises simultaneously; and then he only had time to tell me that the job was a far bigger one than he had at first imagined, and that before he could tackle it he would require a lot more tools and several more mates. And having spoken thus, he and the tools and the mates all went off in a row.

Then one day, about a month later, the builder-feller turned up with a hundred and fifty-nine tools of different shapes and fourteen more mates of different sizes and commenced to underpin in earnest. They dug a huge hole right under the scullery (so that the house should have something to fall into when it finally collapsed, I suppose), and then they got some nice long underpins the size of telegraph-poles and boosted them against the outside walls in order, presumably, that they could push the building over more easily. After that they knocked a few more holes through the brickwork, and thrust in huge iron rods with which to pull down the more stubborn portions of the masonry. Next they delved a network of trenches in the front garden and stole the drains, and filled the back garden with Pelions of cement and Ossas of mortar. Finally, after battering my premises about for six weeks, when the house was leaning over at an angle of forty-five degrees, and when a more than usually energetic knock from the postman would most certainly have resulted in its being counted out by the referee, the builder-feller announced that the job was done.

"Safe?" he said, in answer to my inquiry. "It's as safe as a house. It may subside a little during the next day or two, but don't worry about that. It merely indicates that the building is settling down on its new foundations."

(For further particulars see the auction mart advertisements of a "Desirable Villa Residence, newly underpinned, guaranteed settled on its new foundations," etc., etc.).


[NOTE: The following article references the following: "seccotine", an adhesive;  Paul Cinquevalli (1859-1918), a famous juggler based in London; "stickleback", a fish about 2 or 3 inches long; "Jack Johnson", the nickname for a black German 15-cm artillery shell (after Jack Johnson, the African-American boxing champion).]

In a Spare Room

By Ashley Sterne

I recently spent a night in a friend's spare room, and I now know why it is so called. It's because it can be easily spared. Nobody else in the house wants it. It is situated at the top of five flights of stairs right under the roof, close to the Zeppelins. In summer it has the temperature of an orchid-house; in winter that of an Alpine crevasse. The ceiling, too, slopes in several different directions all at once, with the result that the casual visitor, unacquainted with its architectural vagaries, repairing to bed by the light of a wan and sickly candle, belabors his head against it, and more often than not spends the night insensible upon the floor.

However, the ceiling of the room I occupied did not happen to slope very awkwardly on the night I was there, and I put my candlestick on the mantelpiece and had walked thence nearly into the centre of the room before I fell flat on my back. The cause of this was one of those ridiculous patchwork floor-mats that are apparently made of small strips of worn-out petticoats, discarded house-flannels, and old fancy waistcoats. On the slippery floor these things are as treacherous as a butter slide, and I should never be surprised to learn that, if a referendum of cripples were ever taken, they owed their misfortunes to a night spent in an unfamiliar spare room.

I fell down heavily, but I got off lightly, all things considered. I only fractured my skull, ricked my back, and dislocated my shoulder; and my doctor told me to-day that he is coming with a shoe-horn next Friday to take me out of the plaster of Paris. Curiously enough, I didn't feel very much injured at the time, and when I had regained my feet I made a systematic tour of the room to try to discover the bed. I missed it the first time round, but found it on the second journey. It was in a very dark corner of the room, and the bed itself was very small. At first I mistook it for a mousetrap. The more I looked at it the more I was convinced that I should have to go to bed in it in instalments. A newly-born infant might have slept in it fairly safely it it had first been stuck in with seccotine; but for a fully-grown man to balance himself on that narrow couch would have taxed the ingenuity and resource of Cinquevalli himself.

Nevertheless, I got two chairs and placed them at the end of the bed to accommodate my legs, and then I started to collect other pieces of furniture wherewith to erect a kind or barricade which shoull prevent my falling out. First of all I found a large chest of drawers that I would have stopped a steam-roller. It was so heavy that I thought I had better remove the drawers before attempting to drag it across the room. But I couldn't get them out. It was as hopeless as trying to pull out a crocodile's tail. After struggling for half an hour I managed to coax one drawer open to the extent of three or four inches. It was full of potential floor-mats in the shape of old clothes, old curtains, and old bath-towels. There were also some cases of cutlery, which I presumed were duplicate wedding presents that had not yet been passed on. And then, as might be expected, I couldn't get the contents out. Neither could I close the drawer again. In my efforts I kicked off one of the brass handles and incidentally put my big toe out of joint. Eventually I succeeded in painfully lugging the unwieldy piece of furniture inch by inch across the floor.

Next I got the washing-stand—a fragile, delicate affair in the Early Tottenham Court-road style, with a basin in which a stickleback would have felt unduly crowded, and a totally disproportionate water-jug that would easily have accommodated a school of porpoises. These I placed on the other side of the bed, and my barricade being then complete I made myself as small as possible and clambered in.

All went well until, half-past six next morning. When I say all went well I mean that I did not fall out. Twice in the night I started up in the bed and bludgeoned my head against the sloping ceiling. I also kicked over both chairs at the end of the bed in the course of my slumbers. Furthermore, I removed most of the skin from my left elbow through cannoning at intervals against the sharp edges of the half open drawers of the chest. But I did not fall out-not until half-past six. I was dreaming that I was lying in a dug-out upon a bed of barbed wire and bayonets, and that a Jack Johnson plopped on to my chest and exploded. What actually happened I don't know, but the next moment I awoke to find myself swimming for dear life in about four feet of water. The wreckage of the washing-stand was floating all around me. I just managed to grab my tooth-brush as it was going down for the third time, and then I struck out boldly for the mantelpiece.

*          *          *

An hour later a servant knocked at the door.

"Your bath is ready, sir,"'she said.

"Thanks," I replied. "I've had it. Could you oblige me with a piece of blotting-paper?"


Painting The Bath

By Ashley Sterne

My bath is rather an ancient one—one of those original old Roman baths, I fancy, which were brought over by Julius Caesar to keep his coals in.

Anyway, it's very old and very noisy. When it's filling it sounds like Niagara falling into a crockery shop, and the noise it makes emptying itself is like forty thousand school-children sucking oranges.

Unfortunately I have been having trouble with the enamel. It began to come off in flakes and chips quite a while ago. Whenever I arose from my matutinal ablutions it used to take me a long time to pick out all the bits which had become firmly embedded in my flesh—a most painful process. My back and limbs viewed in the wardrobe mirror gave me the impression that I had been shot by a careless and inexperienced sportsman.

Indeed, so much enamel came off the bath that I began to fear that the iron would rust and one day let me through—an exceedingly awkward contingency, as my bathroom happens to be immediately above the breakfast room of the flat below. The spectacle of me, clad only in a thin film of soap suds, suddenly falling through the ceiling into the porridge or bacon dish would, I feel sure, thoroughly scandalise the two pious old ladies who are my downstairs neighbors.

Happily, my army training turned me into a handy man. I can even sew on a button for myself with very little help from Mrs. Danks, my housekeeper. When she has threaded the needle for me and fixed the button in position with a dozen or so stitches, I can very often finish the job off quite satisfactorily. So you will readily understand that I was not to be baulked by so trifling a matter as enamelling my bath.

I procured a pot of white enamel and set to work. One of the chief glories of this enamel was that it was alleged to dry and harden very quickly.

So I slapped on the enamel as quickly as I could. For a quarter of an hour the air of the bathroom was thick with flying paint, and in my zeal I enamelled not only the bath but most of the other fittings as well. Even Mrs. Danks, who looked in to see how I was getting on, narrowly escaped being enamelled for life, and having to spend the remainder of her days as a statue.

I finished the job at last, and must admit that I was very pleased with my handiwork. It was all I could do to wait until the following morning before trying what a pure white bath felt like.

I think I must have got the wrong sort of enamel after all; or possibly the water next morning was unusually hot. Anyhow, I got into my beautiful white bath and proceeded to make a noise like a lark in its watery nest. Later I tried to get out. But unfortunately that beastly enamel had softened somewhat, presumably with the extra hot water, and now that it was cooler it had set again and fixed me firmly to the bottom end of the I bath.

How I eventually got free I don't know. Suffice it to say that most of the enamel I had so painstakingly painted on to the bath had transferred itself to me; and though I live in hopes that it will wear off in time, my one consolation for the time being is that if there be any truth in the claims made by the manufacturers for the wretched stuff, my back, shoulders, and nether limbs will never rust.


[NOTE: "Hoofed out" was British slang for being walked out or evicted.  "Pelmanism" was a popular early 20th-century mental training system to "remove those tendencies to indolence and inefficiency."  "Bimble" means to amble or wander.]

Should Husbands Be Hoofed?

By Ashley Sterne

In order that the gentle (and I trust constant) reader may labor under no misapprehension as to the meaning of the title I have selected for the few well-chosen words which I have very kindly arranged to address to him (or, if a lady, her; or, if a baby; it), I must at once explain that it has nothing whatever to do with any proposed reform in the nature of husbands' pedal extremities.

They may or may not share with the chamois, the pig, the great elk, his Satanic Majesty, and other domestic animals the distinction of having a cloven hoof beneath their spats. That is not the point.

The question at issue is: Should husbands be hoofed out of their homes? I gather from a lecture recently delivered at the offices of the Women's Freedom League that many people are apparently of the opinion that the father of a family should, after the first five years of married life, automatically get the push out of the home altogether, "thereafter supporting it, but not interfering in it." Their contention is that he is "bad for the children"—just as if he were a lobster salad, or a slab of cold Christmas pudding, or an epidemic of rickets.

Now, at first sight this novel suggestion seems, perhaps, a trifle callous; but (as the lady remarked whose cat had just swallowed the canary whole) "there is more in that than meets the eye."

When one comes to think of it, the bread-winner of the family is so little in his home as it is that a few hours less of his company every day—most of which are occupied in snoring—can not make very much difference one way or the other; and hence there is much to be said for the theory that the bread-winner needn't bother to come home at all so long as he sends the "dough" along.

Take the case of that oft-quoted person, "the average man." He remains wrapped in heavy slumber until the last possible moment; then splashes into his bath, gashes into his chin, dashes into his raiment, crashes into the breafast-room, lashes himself into a fury because the food is cold, bashes on his hat, and finally flashes down the street for the 8.25.

He returns home some fifteen hours later, delayed at the office on account of its being either (a) stocktaking day, (b) quarter day, (c) half-quarter day, (d) settling day, (e) mail day, or (f) Armistice Day. He promptly retreats to bed, falls at once into a state of profound coma, and only awakens to begin the same routine all over again.

By the time Saturday afternoon comes he is so knocked up with the strain of stocktakings and half-quarter days that it is scarcely surprising he finds it necessary to recoup his shattered energies over the week-end at Brighton. Bognor, or Boxhill, accompanied only by a bag of golf-laborer's tools.

To summarise, out of the 168 hours comprising the week the "average man" spends in his home, he passes forty five hours in a state of blissful unconsciousness that he owns a home at all, and one and a quarter hours in cursing the inedibility of frigid American bacon and tepid poached eggs. The rest of the time he is bread-winning and recouping.

I agree with the lecturer that this is bad for the children. It is bad for them to realise that father is virtually only awake in his home for seventy-five minutes in seven days, splashing. gashing, dashing, crashing, lashing. bashing, and flashing, owing to the demands made upon his time and energies by stocktakings and mail days. It is bad for them to realise that father hasn't even the time to pelmanise. It is bad for them to realise that all this martyrdom is cheerfully undertaken in order to win bread for them, and to keep the home fires burning so that they can vary the monotony of bread with toast.

In short, I go even further than the lecturer. Why should husbands be kept so long as five years? Why not grab one, pinch all his ready money, sneak his watch, chain, collar-studs, coals and butter ration, get a permanent garnishmnent on his salary, marry the blighter, and then bimble out of the settling up the amusement tax with the church by the back door while he's parson?

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