Monday, September 3, 2012

Ashley Sterne and His Pets and Livestock

It is a strange use of my Labor Day leisure to be proofreading computer-generated text derived from photographs of Ashley Sterne's comic articles reprinted in Australian newspapers during the years of World War I.  After posting this blog entry, I shall devote the rest of the day to less tedious activities.

The following articles involve household pets and small creatures (the chicken, the silkworm, and the bee) on which Mr. Sterne hoped to base a cottage industry.  The dates shown are the earliest dates found for republication of the articles in Australian newspapers.

The articles include the following:

Domestic Pets  [Feb 1916]
Muddled Muzzling  [Dec 1919]
Ashley Sterne's Chicken:  Experiences as an Amateur Egg Grower  [Nov 1915] 
My Goldfish  [August 1916]
Sidney, My Silkworm  [Nov 1915]
About My Bee  [Oct 1915]
To Bee or Not To Bee  [Jul 1916]


By Ashley Sterne.

One of the oldest customs associated with the home circle is the keeping of pets. From time immemorial has it been maintained. Noah's addiction to animals of all kinds is a by-word, though there are some people who admit that, from the modern point of view, he rather overdid it. Cleopatra possessed either a pet asp or a pet wasp (my memory is somewhat shaky on this point), and King Charles' predilection for spaniels is familiar to all of us. Robinson Crusoe is probably the first recorded instance of the domestication of the parrot, the goat, and the cannibal; while the name of one, Mary (whose patronymic is unfortunately wrapt in oblivion) will forever be linked with her ubiquitous and parambulatory lamb. Coming to more modern times, Mde. Sarah Bernhardt still owns, I believe, a pet panther, Mr. Gluckstein a tame salmon, and the Laird of Guinspeth and Booles has, at his seat in Strathspey, a brace of pibrochs that follow him about wherever he goes.

But for the most part, nowadays, we exercise a very restricted choice in the matter of our pets. Dogs and cats decorate our gardens and our eaves; and various birds, humanely removed from the wicked wiles and lures of the boundless heavens and transferred to roomy, airy cages about four inches square and six inches high, add touches of brightness and color to our front windows. Occasionally we strike out upon less common lines with goldfish, newts, tortoises, or the more refined breeds of mice and rats. A lady of my acquaintance even adopted a chameleon, which she used to carry about with her attached by a thin silk chain to her waist. She would probably still own it but for the fact that she was once misguided enough to take her pet with her to a dance. All went well until the first Bunny Hug, when, I regret to say, owing to the fervor with which her partner embraced her, the unfortunate reptile met with a violent death by congestion, and thereafter Cuthbert was of no use to his mistress, except in the comparatively insignificant role of book marker. Then, too, I knew a man who, during a severe illness, kept a large green spider with crimson spots which, he affirmed, was so devoted to him that it never left his counterpane. But, unfortunately, when he got better, the animal unaccountably disappeared, and a diligent search of his premises utterly failed to reveal the whereabouts of his elusive little companion.

When I remember the comparatively small number of indigenous and exotic fauna that bring life and brightness to our homes, I cannot but wonder that some enterprising individual does not make an attempt to popularise other species. For instance, why has nobody yet started a penguin? This quaint bird would make an amusing pet, and I can imagine no more practical method of enlivening a dull and morose family circle than the introduction therein of this highly diverting fowl. The little trouble entailed by keeping the bird for the greater part of the time on a block of ice in the scullery, occasionally swimming it in the bath and procuring a specially frigid brand of sardines and shrimps for its consumption, would be amply repaid by the wealth of affection and devotion that would doubtless be inspired in the creature's breast.

Again, a nice, quiet, well-behaved animal is the oyster, with none of the rowdyism of the dog or the subtle intrusiveness of the cat. True, it can not pipe like a bullfinch or chatter like a parrot; but, on the other hand, it has potentialities of a valuable nature possessed by no other animal. Pearls, as you are probably aware, are caused by some foreign substance irritating the oyster; and in order to goad your pet into the requisite frenzy for pearl-producing, it will only be necessary to irritate the gentle mollusc, as humanely as possible, at regular intervals, and eventually—in return for al1 the pains expended upon it—it will present you with a jewel worthy of exhibiting, suitably mounted, amid the folds of the most expensive silk tie. Moreover, when too old for work, your little friend will form a most succulent and appetising hors d'oeuvre. 


MUDDLED MUZZLING. Will Dog-Keeping Become Compulsory?

By Ashley Sterne.

A few evenings ago Paggs, the man who lives in the flat above mine, dropped in to tell me he'd had a lot of trouble getting his dog fitted with a muzzle.

I don't know why he told me. I scarcely know his dog by sight.

However, it appeared that Paggs had been to the only two muzzle shops in the neighborhood, and had left the first in high dudgeon and the second in a taxi-cab. At the first shop the muzzles were so small that only by using a hammer could they get it over the dog's nose. The dog retaliated by biting a large piece out of the hammer. At the other shop the muzzles were all so large that the dog fell through the bars.

An Attempt to be Funny.

Now, I dislike being caught napping, so when Paggs had gone I wrapped myself in deep meditation and a pink dressing gown cut rather full in the skirt, and waited for a brain-wave. It came with the milk, and immediately after breakfast next morning I went straight off to the muzzle-merchant.

"I want a muzzle," I began.

"Certainly, sir; what size do you want?"

"It's not for me," I explained hastily. "It's for a dog."

"What's the size of the dog, then?'" asked the shopman.

"That," I said, "I regret to say I cannot tell you. It's a secret. Besides, I thought muzzles were ready-made, and not to measure."

The man began to look anxious.

"However," I added, "'probably a muzzle to hold about a couple of pints would meet the case."

The muzzle-merchant looked more anxious than ever.

"How will this muzzle do?" he asked.

Doing Things by Halves.

I examined the one he had thrust into my hand.

"It's got a lot of holes in it," I observed. "How do you account for that?"

"Moth." he said. "But if you think there are too many, or that your dog will feel a draught and get neuralgia in his gums, you can always use it as a soup-strainer."

"And is this"—I indicated the largest hole—"where the dog's face goes in?"

"It is," answered the man. "Did you imagine it went over its tail?"

"No." I said. "but I cannot help wondering why, while they are about it, the Board of Agriculture don't muzzle the whole dog. But that's the Government's muddling way. They always do things by halves. Look at the days of the meat shortage, when butchers were only allowed to kill half a sheep at a time. Why do we only have half holidays on Saturdays? This Coalition Government needs—"

"Ten-and-six. please." said the muzzle-merchant, hanging a parcel on my forefinger.

An Inclusive Price.

I lifted my eyebrows until they disappeared under my hat and got mixed up with my parting. "Surely—" I began.

"That price," hastily explained the man, "not only includes the wire, but also all the holes and the loop in the string of the parcel."

"Thanks," I said, much relieved. "I thought at first that you were profiteering." And I went home.

I have already said I dislike to be caught napping, and the position is now this; Paggs has a dog, but no muzzle to fit it. When he bought the dog he had no idea he would ever require a muzzle. I have a muzzle, but no dog to put in it. When I bought the muzzle I never thought I should ever require a dog. But in these days one never knows what the Government will do next. They may make dog keeping compulsory in order to get fresh revenue from dog-licenses. Then if they do, I shall be prepared. I shall merely have to get a dog that will fit my muzzle, and every child knows that dogs are made in a much greater variety of sizes than muzzles.


Ashley Sterne's Chicken: Experiences as an Amateur Egg Grower.

By Ashley Sterne

Having occasion some time ago to remark to a friend that eggs were still very high—in the financial sense, not in the olfactory sense—my friend asked; "Then, why don't you keep chickens?" Though nobody had asked me that riddle before, I nevertheless guessed the answer first time. "Because I haven't got any chickens to keep," I replied.

But I could not help thinking that chickens in times like these might be made a very profitable investment, so I determined to buy one. Accordingly, I went to a chickenmonger and bought an entirely new chicken fresh from the shell. The chickenmonger wanted to sell me a brood, but, as I had no previous experience of chickens, and didn't want to waste any, I had to tell him that one was enough to start with. He replied that one chicken wasn't much good unless I merely intended to use it as a pen-wiper. It would pine away and die, he said. However, he finally wrapped it up for me, and I carried it home.

When I got it there I at once undid it, and as it was hatched I thought I would count it just to make sure it was there. And there, sure enough, it was. So I put it in a bird-cage, and gave it a mixed biscuit to eat. It ate it all except the paint. Then I gave it some water with a rusty nail in it (to prevent the chicken from moulting), fixed a piece of groundsel between the bars, and hung the cage up in my dining-room window over a pot of spiraea.

It soon became acclimatised to its new surroundings, and caused a good deal of mild excitement amongst the neighbors. One day, when I had: put the cage on the window-sill in order that my chicken might enjoy the fresh air and admire the special constable who patrols our road, a short sighted old lady who lives next .door, and who was under the impression that the bird was a canary, spent the whole of the morning crying "Sweet! Sweet!" to it at frequent intervals in order to encourage it to sing. Wilkinson, my cat, also labored under the same delusion, for I noticed that he tried on no less than seventeen occasions that day to push his paw through the bars and stroke it.

Cats like stroking canaries. I had one once named Colman, and Wilkinson was so fond of stroking it that one day when I was out and Colman wasn't looking he stroked its head off and hid the body.

However, no such demonstration of affection interfered with my chicken's progress, and every day it grew fatter and featherier until at length I thought it was about time it began to pay dividends, and for this purpose I decided to remove it to more spacious premises. I  therefore went to work and made a nice airy openwork coop for it, containing a disused blackbird's nest which I had found ready-made in a hedge in the garden. As soon as the coop was finished I went to transplant my chicken, but unfortunately it had grown so enthusiastically that it was too big to get through the door of the cage. After a terrific struggle I managed to get its head, neck, merry thought, and one of its feet—I forget which—out all right, but the rest of the bird remained firmly wedged in the door way. At one time I really feared that the poor thing would have to spend the remainder of its days half in the cage and half in the coop, but finally, with the aid of a shoe-horn and some lubricating oil, I succeeded in effecting the transfer to its new quarters.

I was pleased to note that it immediately went and sat down on the nest I had provided for it. I expected it would feel a little tired, but I nevertheless hoped that it would combine business with pleasure and improve the shining hour by laying a trial egg. I gave it a quarter of an hour's start, and then requested it to get up; but it hadn't begun to lay even the yolk much less finished the lob, and, to cut a long story short, it has never laid an egg from that day to this. I didn't understand it at the time; but a poultry-fancying friend has since informed me that I couldn't have expected a buck chicken to lay an egg—that's the duty of the doe. 



By Ashley Sterne

My passion for animals has found a new outlet in my latest.acquisition—a solid 24-carat goldfish named Godfrey. I first saw him a few weeks ago in a naturalist's shop-window. He was swimming about in a bowl of water, and as soon as he spied me looking at him with my friendly eye he strove with all his might to burst his bowl and dash through the shop window into my arms. At such signs of affection what else could I do but enter the shop and inquire Godfrey's purchase-price?

"Umpence," said the naturalist, who was busy stuffing a butterfly which, he told me, had been shot in Brazil by a noted big game hunter.

"Done," I said, slapping the money on the counter.

"You are," remarked the naturalist. "Shall I do him up for you?"

"No, thanks," I replied. "I'll just lead him home on a string." Of course, this was only my pleasantry. I really carried him home in his bowl. I was very careful to avoid spilling any of the water, but Fate was against me, and when I was still a hundred yards from home a stubborn fire-alarm post refused to move out of my way and ran into me. The result was that Godfrey was left gasping in very low-tide at the bottom of the bowl. Ye gods, how I ran!

Steam-rollers, bath-chairs, telegraph boys—I left them all behind, and just as Godfrey was going down for the third time I managed to get him under the bathroom tap. You should have seen him flap his gills and waggle his tail as the reviving fluid ran into his works! And the look of gratitude he gave me I shall never forget. That and "Calais" will one day be found graven on my heart. When his pulse had had time to steady down a bit I put my hand in the bowl to pat him, and he actually licked it. Such was the exciting nature of Godfrey's entrance into my household.

Next I sought out a fitting abode for him. I possessed a nice aquarium which had once contained a newt, but which, since Ewart's unfortunate demise—he ate the cord which I had provided for him to sit upon when he got tired of swimming—I had had no occasion to use. (I called him Ewart for two reasons: firstly, because my housekeeper always referred to him as a "new-ert" instead of a newt, as ignorant people do, and I thought it would save possible misunderstandings if I gave him a name that resembled "new-ert" as much as "new-ert" resembled "newt"; and secondly, because, in certain aspects, he reminded me strongly of the late Mr.Gladstone. Otherwise it was my intention to call him Nigel.)

Well, I fetched the aquarium down from the lumber-room and proceeded to fill it. It held about four gallons. Then, when I had mopped up the cataclysm from the carpet and table, changed into dry clothes, stopped the leak with putty, and refilled the aquarium, I put Godfrey into it. He made a bee-line for the putty, at once (if a goldfish can be strictly said to describe a bee-line); and attempted to dig little bits of it off with his snout. It struck me that he was probably hungry; so I went into the garden and excavated a nice thick worm, which I dropped into the aquarium, and then started off to find an encore. When I returned, the nice thick worm was eating Godfrey. This was most unexpected. I had no idea worms could be so fierce and greedy. Hurriedly I divested myself of coat and boots, and boldly plunged into the aquarium up to my elbow. It was but the work of a moment to snatch Godfrey from those remorseless jaws, and to throw his assailant out of the window with a dull, sickening thud. The crisis over. I suddenly remembered that goldfish ought not to be fed with worms; it spoils their coat. Their proper food is ants' eggs or vermicelli. Our ants, however, weren't laying just then; but I fortunately found some vermicelli doing nothing at the bottom of a disused milk-pudding, and I fed him with that. All this happened but a week or so ago, yet even in that short time Godfrey has grown very devoted to me, and whenever I approach the aquarium he rises to the surface, sticks his head out of the water, and I tickle him behind the ear. Acushla, but he's a bonnie bit fesh, as they say in Yarmouth when bloaters are in the bay.



By Ashley Sterne.

He first entered my household as a young and innocent egg. Of course, he had no name then . He was just an anonymous egg, and it seemed stupid to call a mere egg anything; though, upon occasion, I had previously called our breakfast eggs by profane titles. His name was given him the day be was born. This happened quite unexpectedly. I left the egg as usual one night, safely reposing upon a piece of blotting paper in a match box. The next morning it had hatched and my one ewe-silkworm was crawling about the box raising frantic cries for nourishment.

I decided to call him Sidney. I don't exactly know why I chose the name of Sidney; probably for the sake of euphony. Then, the christening over, I at once went out and bought him a lettuce. I also contemplated buying him a silver christening mug since he was my god-silkworm, but I fortunately remembered that Sidney's life must perforce be a drlnkless one, that to offer him liquid refreshment would be tanamount to committing vermicide; that, were he given moist food even, he would swell up and burst, and his career in the textile industry be ruined.

When I reached home I found Sidney simply ravenous. He had eaten his egg-shell and a large piece of his blotting paper and was just about to start on that part of the label of the box that implores us to support home industries. So I quickly thrust a lettuce-leaf between  his jaws, and thus averted a crisis.

At his birth Sidney was not quite an eighth of an inch long, and weighed—well; I didn't know whether silkworms were avoirdupois or troy, so I hesitated to weigh him by any of the recognised standards; but he just balanced against a cigarette paper. However, by sedulously plying him with lettuce I managed in a very short time materially to increase his size, so that I soon found that when I wanted to look at him it was no longer necessary to close the door and the window, and shut the register in the chimney. And as Sidney grew so did my expectations; and I got to regard him first as potential dress-socks, then as a potential neck-tie, and finally as potential pyjamas.

Then one day I was called away from home on urgent business, and I had to leave Sidney for twenty-four hours in the care of my cook-general. I carefully explained to her that Sidney was not to be stinted in the matter of meals. The more food he ate (I pointed out), the more silk he would yield. (I don't know whether this is in strict accord with fact.  I know it isn't my own case, because the more food I eat the less inclined I am to toil; and nothing whatever would induce me to spin). I knew it would be useless to tell her to give Sidney his lettuce dry, because her instincts as cook would impel her to soak it in water without question.  I therefore hit upon the idea of giving Sidney mulberry leaves during my absence. No cook-general, I argued, would ever dream of washing mulberry leaves. I had no tree of my own, but my neighbor next door had one, and so I instructed the girl to go and give my compliments to him, say I was in no hurry for the return of my lawn mower, and could he oblige me with a few mulberry leaves?  I then left Sidney with a light heart and a heavy suitcase.

When I returned the following afternoon I found my cook-general in tears. Between her sobs she managed to stammer out that Sidney had turned black and burst.

"Did you soak his mulberry leaves in water?" I .asked sternly.

"N-no," sobbed the girl. "Should I have ought to?"

I overlooked her grammar, and bade her tell me what had happened.

"When I came down this morning," she began, "I saw that Master Sidney had nearly finished 'is lettuce, so after breakfast, as soon as ever it stopped rainin', I—

"I didn't wait to hear any more. Thirty seconds later poor Sidney's remains were fertilising the soil in my back garden.



By Ashley Sterne

I have just bought an apiary. At least, I think that's what it is called. It's a thing to put a bee in, you know. Or is it a monkey-house? Really, I'm not quite sure. Anyhow, what I actually ordered was a bee-hive, so it doesn't much matter what its technical name is.

The fact is I am going to start a bee for economic reasons. As you may have observed, nearly all our household commodities have gone up in price since the war began, and it recently occurred to me that it would be a good plan to develop the honey resources of the country, and thus be independent of the cost of jam and marmalade. The idea came to me yesterday when Bertram flew into my room and commenced to walk about on the window-pane. Now the "busyness" of the bee is proverbial, and it seemed to me rather odd that a busy bee could spare the time to fool around on my window-pane when, according to all I had read about bees, it ought to be out in the garden spinning honey. Then.I had an oscillation of the cerebellum (some people would call it a "brain-wave"). Most likely Bertram hadn't got any home, and it was no use him spinning any honey if he had nowhere to put it when he had spun it. Or he might possibly have left a hive that was scandalously overcrowded, and was looking about for other premises where he wouldn't fit so tight, and where he would have more elbow-room.. But whatever his reason, it was pretty obvious that Bertram was out of a job for the time being, and so I at once decided to take him into my own employ, and let him produce honey for me in return for house-room and free use of garden.

I therefore caught him in my handkerchief, and transferred him to a cardboard box, which had originally contained boots, then a jig-saw, and after that silk-worms. It had a lot of small holes in the lid so that Bertram should not swoon from lack of air, and one hole slightly larger than the others where he could put his head out and look at the scenery when he felt bored. I hadn't the least idea what to give him to eat. I read Maeterlinck's "The Treasure of the Humble Bee" right through from cover to cover without a word about bee-diet. But I knew that most animals got on pretty well with milk, and I seemed to remember something about "milk and honey," so I put a saucerful in the box, and then went to look for Wilkins, the gardener, to tell him what I had done.

He had just come back from his dinner, and was getting ready to go to his tea. I pay him twenty-eight shillings a week to go out and eat meals, and when he can spare the time he walks around the garden and tells me what I ought to do to keep it in better order. He's rather conservative in his notions, is Wilkins, and I didn't know how he would take my idea about keeping Bertram. However, he was awfully decent about it, and practically said he wouldn't put any difficulties in my way so long as I didn't expect him to dig worms, or put down fresh straw for Bertram every day. He wanted to know if Bertram had swarmed, as he wouldn't spin any honey until he had. I asked why not? And Wilkins said it wasn't etiquette. No self-respecting bee, he said, would ever dream of entering a hive, much less of starting a cocoon, until the ceremonial part of the business had been gone through.

Well, if you know anything at all about bees, you will know as well as I do that you can't tell whether a bee has swarmed by looking at its teeth., The only thing to do is to get a hive, place the bee on the doorstep, and see if it goes in and starts the honey business. That's why I went to town this morning and bought the apiary thing. When Wilkins comes back from his dinner we are going to move Bertram from the boot-box with much pomp.

*  *  *

The bee-hive is for sale at an enormous sacrifice., Bertram, I regret to say, has escaped—I think through one of the ventilators.



By Ashley Sterne

I have decided to start bees (the honey sort, not the spelling). The fact is, I recently contributed an article to one of the papers advocating that, as our sugar supply was threatened, it would be as well to extract all the honey we could from every opening flower; and realising that by some extraordinary fluke I have made a sane suggestion, I intend to put my plan into action.

This will mean that I shall have to keep bees to do the collecting, as the man who, relying solely on his own exertions, sets out to gather honey armed with a teaspoon and the soap dish won't have to write home about his success for quite a long time. My principal difficulty is that I know practically nothing about bee-havior (if I may so express myself), though I believe that with a book of instructions and a blue-bag I shall eventually triumph. In common with many other people, I dislike being stung. To me the risk of this is the great drawback of bee-keeping, notwithstanding that familiarity with bees would doubtless enable me to distinguish between the blunt end and the sharp. But the period of initiation is, I fear, fraught with dire peril. With other animals that hurt the case is different. You can muzzle a snapping dog. You can draw the poison-fangs of a tortoise. But you can't muzzle a sting—the bee could still poke it between the wires. You can't give the creature gas or cocaine and remove the sting, because the bee would not survive the operation. The only other possible plan would be to make little scabbards to cover the stings. But here again one is beset by a difficulty, because one will first of all have to catch the bee, and probably get stung in the process, before one can have a chance to fix the scabbard on to prevent the bee's doing what it has already done.

I know that some bee-farmers protect themselves with a mosquito-net; but men who have tried it tell me that it is only a wicked delusion and snare. It doesn't prevent mosquitoes and things from getting in; it merely I prevents their getting out, the result being that you get stung more often, and upon a more restricted area than you would if you wore no net at all.

Again, bee-experts will tell you that when the bees once get to know you they won't sting you. But the question at once arises: how are they ever going to get to know you? Take my own case. The day my pack of bees arrives I shall take them down to the bee-run which I have provided for them at the bottom of my garden, and turn them all into it. They will naturally want to start the honey business at once, and will fly out again. They will not know who I am; I shan't know their names; and I shall promptly be stung. The next morning when I go to take them fresh seed and water they'll see me again, and, not recognising me for the individual they met yesterday (since I shall be swollen and distorted from their former attack), they'll sting me again. And so the game will go on. Every day I shall be stung one size larger, and every following day appear as a total stranger to my bees. A possible alternative would be to wear a complete suit of armor and boxing-gloves, and then I sha'n't care a bean for the sharpest and the hottest bee. They would get to know me very quickly if I always appeared thus clad; and I am perfectly certain that they would soon tire of blunting their stings upon quarter-inch steel plate. The only thing against it is that armor would, I am afraid, prove a trifle irksome as a summer costume, and I have no pressing desire to experience the sensations of a sardine a 1' huile.

At the same time I have no immediate wish to be stung all out of shape. The facial dimensions of the hippopotamus are revolting to my aesthetic sense. After all, I think that the best plan will be to get the gardener, who is very old and tough, and would never be mistaken for Beau Brummell even in a coal-mine with the lights out, to do the dangerous part of the work while I sit in the tool-shed with a soup-plate on my knees to receive the honey. Mean while I intend to apply for member ship of the Bee, Wasp, and Hornet Keepers' Association, a distinction which will enable me to use as my crest the imposing design of a bee rampant on a field of clover, subscribed with that inspiring motto, "Ora proboscis."

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