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]

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