The following comic newspaper articles give us Ashley Sterne's ideas on health and fitness. Mr. Sterne provides a light-hearted look at the pitfalls of diet, exercise, rest, and the medicinal arts.
Salad Days [Nov 1915]
My Bathing Experiences [Dec 1915]
My Rest Cure [Jan 1916]
The Blue Man [May 1916]
Passing the Doctor [Jun 1916]
Curing a Cold [Jul 1916]
How To Keep Fit [Dec 1916]
My Bathing Experiences
By Ashley Sterne
In normal times, I suppose, the long-distance swimming business would now be booming; but owing, I understand, to the depths of the Channel being required for other purposes, there is practically nothing doing, In one respect I am sorry, because I have a great admiration for anyone who can remain for long hours in the water—working hard all the time—without putting one foot on the bottom. My own attempts at long-distance swimming are not encouraging. About half a length of our local swimming bath is my usual limit, though at the seaside I have occasionally paddled along the beach much farther—owing, no doubt, to the superior buoyancy of salt water.
Unfortunately, however, I shall never make a name as a swimmer, since I do not possess the faculty of feeling thoroughly at home in the water. Apart from the fact that I can only swim a very few yards without wanting to sit down and rest, I suffer in other ways. For instance, although I always keep my luxuriant tresses trimmed to a reasonable length, I no sooner put my head under water than they promptly grow four inches longer and plaster themselves all over my face like a mask. Thus, I can't see where I'm going, and when I dive into the baths at home, my entering the water and crashing my head into the side of the tank are practically simultaneous actions. In the open sea, I fare even worse. Not being able to see after I come up from my initial dive, I invariably lose my way and collide with another bather, and—as luck will have it—I generally collide with the kicking end.
Somewhere down in the clear, cool recesses of the Atlantic, off Cornwall, there lies a rich trove for some enterprising diver, in the shape of a new and practically unused gold-crowned bicuspid, which was forcibly ejected from my jaw by the callous and brutal toe of some budding young Leander.
And there are other discomforts, too. The art of breathing through the nose is one which I have labored sedulously, but abortively, to acquire, with the result that I frequently swallow more water than I have any immediate use for. This doesn't matter so much in fresh-water baths, because the attendant can always turn on the tap and fill the bath up again. But sea-water is another matter. As a beverage, I don't really care for it, and after the first few pints I usually feel that I shouldn't mind if I never tasted it again. Besides, there is no attendant to replenish the sea. I remember that my uncle Jasper, the capacity of whose mouth compares very favorably with that of Sydney harbor, often ruined the bathing for that entire day by regurgitating so much ocean that, although the tide was high when he entered the water, he practically reduced it to low tide by the time he finally emerged.
Then, again, I find I act as a sort of magnet for jelly-fish. I have often read about animal magnetism, and from all I have learnt I suppose that I ought to be proud of my power to summon these living blanc-manges from the vasty deep. But at the moment of writing I would willingly exchange this Heaven-sent gift for—at present prices—a dozen new-laid eggs or a scuttleful of real coal. The way in which these flaccid fish lavish their attentions upon me is one which I only wish I knew how to discourage. I shouldn't mind a bit if they just floated around me in an admiring circle and purred. I shouldn't even object if they confined their display of affection to licking my hand, or rubbing their heads against my knee. But I righteously, and not unnaturally, deprecate their misguided enthusiasm for twining their antennae around me, embracing me with gelatinous fervor, and then biting large pieces out of me. I only trust that I may never so far lose my self-control nor forget my habits as a gentleman, as to slap one of these molluscous medusae by way of making an example of it. But, all the same, I should be grateful if they would only try to bear in mind that their sphere in life is not that of Virginia creepers, nor is mine that of a verandah.
My Rest Cure
By Ashley Sterne
I was suffering from brain fag. I had written my weekly article at fever-heat in five days instead of the customary seven, and I was paying the penalty. I had all the symptoms: intense drowsiness at eight o'clock in the morning, a ravenous hunger for breakfast, coupled with a strong desire to eat it in bed, and a thorough disinclination for work. I at once determined to try the rest cure, so I got back into bed and rang the bell. When my housekeeper—a nice, motherly body—arrived I told her the grave danger I was in, and what I intended to do. On the whole she took the news very well. True, she sniffed once or twice while I was telling her about it, but no lachrymose hysteria followed, and I consider that she controlled her emotion bravely. When, therefore, ten minutes later she sent up the poached eggs in the condition of frigid crumpets and the toast like cardboard I decided to say nothing about it.
Well, I had hardly been curing myself for ten minutes when a barrel-organ commenced a recital outside my front gate. The organist presented a long and varied programme, and it must have been a good quarter of an hour before he exhausted his repertoire. Then he moved about twenty yards down the road, and went through it all over again. After that he eased off another few paces, and I was just listening for the third time to "You made me love you" when the man who tunes my piano arrived, and for the best part of an hour he favored me wth that extraordinary rhapsody that all piano-tuners perform so brilliantly. I was just about to summon the house keeper to ask why on earth she had admitted this heartless disturber of my rest, knowing how ill I was, when the coal-cart came and proceeded to discharge three tons at lowest summer prices into the cellar. How I cursed my misguided foresight of two days ago! From the length of time they took, and the noise they made, one would have thought that they were delivering the whole output of Newcastle and Cardiff combined. However, the din subsided in the course of time, and I was just about to settle down for a nap, which I now felt sorely in need of, when the housekeeper brought in my lunch—boiled mutton and tapioca pudding, both of which I detest. I managed to swallow a little of each, and the rest I carefully dropped out of the window into my neighbor's garden, where it was at once pounced upon and consumed by his scandalously underfed dog.
After lunch I actually did manage to drop off to sleep, but whether this was because the cure was at last beginning to work, or because I usually take a nap after lunch, I cannot say. Anyway, I was awakened in the middle of the afternoon by my neighbor's daughter practising the violin. Now, you wouldn't think—to look at the frail instrument—that it was possible to extract so much excruciating cacophony from it; yet during the three hours I was the unwilling listener of her diabolical exercises she produced from that violin every variety of objectionable sound known to acoustics, and from time to time I breathed a prayer of thankfulness that her passion for music had not led her to learn the trombone. She practised right away till I heard their dinner-gong sound, when, I trust, she was fittingly punished with boiled mutton and tapioca pudding.
How I got through the evening I don't know. About midnight I dropped into an uneasy doze, but was almost immediately aroused by a concert organised by the leading cats of the neighborhood. At two o'clock I was awakened by someone blowing a police whistle. At three o'clock the whole force of both the Metropolitan and Provincial Fire Brigades (it seemed) tore past; where to, I was too tired to care. At four o'clock they all tore back again. At five o'clock vast flocks of the shrillest and squeakiest birds I have ever heard began their search for early worms on the lawn immediately beneath my window. At six o'clock some gardening fiend in one of the neighboring gardens mowed his lawn and rolled his paths. At seven o'clock a sweep arrived at my own house, and after making the most appalling clatter, succeeded in removing all the soot from the other flues in the house and discharging it by some feat of sweeply legerdemain down the chimney into my grate. At eight o'clock—I got up. I was cured. Cured of any desire to continue the rest cure, I mean.
The Blue Man
By Ashley Sterne
Anthropologists owe me a great debt. A week ago, races of most colors—white, brown, black, yellow, red—had already been discovered, leaving practically only two unknown—the green and the blue. On Saturday morning I very kindly reduced this number to one by the momentous discovery of a blue man.
It happened at Brighton. I can point out the exact spot when the time comes to erect a statue or a drinking-trough in my honor. I was taking a stroll upon the front before breakfast when, glancing over the hand-rail erected to prevent the goat-chaises and bath-chairs falling over on to the foreshore, I caught sight of a beautiful cobalt tint. At first I thought he was one of. the simple life brigade, who, in enthusiasm. for the customs of the ancient Britons, had been too lavish in his use of the matutinal woad-pot; but upon descending to the beach and examining the phenomenon more closely I found that he was not stained for decorative purposes, nor yet distempered for hygienic reasons. He was apparently of a natural blue tint all over. He seemed to— But perhaps I had better be quite candid, and say at once that he was one of those individuals who make a practice of bathing all the year around—in the open, if possible; if not, indoors with the chilliest water the cistern can produce.
Now, I had often heard this strange race spoken of, much after the manner in which the sea-serpent is alluded to, as a possible being whose existence is more or less assumed; but I had never before met one in the flesh. Here I met one almost entirely in the flesh (his bathing costume—what there was of it—didn't count), and that flesh, as I have said, was blue. This was scarcely a matter of surprise, since, there was a liberal allowance of hoar-frost scattered over most of the permanent fixtures upon the sea-front. What did surprise me, however, was to have ocular demonstration that there actually exist people who voluntarily immerse themselves daily in a frigid and depressing fluid. I know lots of men who say they do; who talk glibly of the exhilarating cold plunge they take every morning in the sanctity of their own bathrooms. But that so-called cold plunge is generally preluded by a five minutes unchecked run of the hot-water tap—a process known as "just taking the first chill."
When staying. at country houses I have occasionally succeeded one of these cold-water devotees in the occupation of the bathroom, and have marvelled much at the clouds of warm vapor that obscured the room. One ingenious gentleman explained the phenomenon by saying that the appearance of steam in the atmosphere was attributable to the warm, healthy glow that invariably pervaded his body after a particularly cold douche; and when I pointed out that the warm, healthy glow of him had also heated the sides of the bath he had the effrontery to say that he had been filling the bath for me, but had omitted by an oversight to shut off the waste-pipe.
For this type of palpable deceit I have only a wholesome contempt; but, on the other hand, I must admit a grudging admiration for the fanatical and misguided man who sedulously goes through the painful ordeal by cold water winter and summer alike. The reason he advances for this is that it is good for the nerves. My blue man on Brighton beach told me this in the intervals when his chattering teeth allowed him to enunciate a few syllables. It braced up the nervous system, he said. But I contend that if one's nervous system is in such a deplorably undisciplined condition as to require resort to such a confoundedly chilly remedy it is better to go through life with unbraced, baggy nerves than to be turned blue every morning in an endeavor to tauten them.
For even my enthusiast didn't pretend he enjoyed it. To him the whole business was a discharge of the duty he felt he owed to his nerve-centres. He told me how he had once received a medal from the Society of Matutinal Ablutionists for bathing in the Serpentine one Christmas morning. It seems there were ten degrees of frost loafing about Hyde Park at the time, and he had to borrow a pick-axe from a road-mender in Lancaster Gate in order to make a hole in the lake sufficiently large to permit of the insertion of his whole body. Even so, he informed me, he dared not duck his head for fear that the surface-water would freeze over him before he could withdraw it.
In addition to the medal, he added, he also got awarded a severe attack of pneumonia; but the ill-effects of that, he maintained, were quite counter-balanced by the immense benefit his nervous system derived. He entirely omitted to mention, however, what effect a peevish pneumonia patient had upon the nervous systems of his devoted family.
[NOTE: In the following article "Mr. Asquith" refers to Herbert Henry Asquith, who served as the Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916. Asquith was nicknamed "Old Wait and See" after responding to questions about the Finance Bill (1910) with the reply "We had better wait and see."]
Passing the Doctor
By Ashley Sterne
I was sure that it was my liver that was all wrong. I had an anatomical chart (I used to heave a brace of dumb-bells about in front of it in accordance with the instructions printed thereon) which I consulted, and as I saw therefrom that the liver seemed to occupy most of the space where I was feeling particularly bad, I knew at once where the root of my trouble lay. Undoubtedly my liver had got rolled up, or had tied itself into a knot. Clearly it was my duty to go to a medicine man and have unrolled or untied, as the case might be.
So I went: and the servant showed me into a room where a benevolent old gentleman sat at a tabled reading the Special Summer Number of the "Antiseptic Gazette" for the year 1899. I went up to him and recited all my symptoms. Then, when I had finished, he said, "My young friend, I am deeply pained at all you have told me, but I am afraid I cannot do anything for you."
"Am I as bad as all that?" I cried in alarm. "Am I incurable?"
He took up the Christmas Extra Number of the "Amputator" for the year 1864, and said, solemnly, "I can not say. I can only advise you to wait and see."
"Mr. Asquith!" I exclaimed. "Who'd have thought of meeting you? I am pl—"
"I can only advise you to wait and see the doctor," he continued, looking at my outstretched hand, and finally deciding to have nothing to do with it. "I have come to give his daughter a singing lesson."
"Step this way, please," said the servant, re-entering, and I hurriedly followed her.
"Oh, doctor," I began, as soon as I got within shouting distance, "I've got a horrible pain just here, and another just here, and I feel as if nothing interests me but funerals and inquests and fogs! and—"
"Sit down!" he commanded, sternly. "Now open your mouth. No, I don't want to get inside," he added hastily, as I started to comply with his request. "Now say seventy-six. Again. Cough. (I did so.) Sneeze. (I tried to.) Yodel. (I fell off the chair.) Ah, I thought so! I don't much care for the look of your tongue," he observed, gravely. "It's very white."
"Some people don't like Albino tongues," I remarked, "but I've got quite used to it. It just fits my mouth. At the same time, I think it only fair to tell you I don't love your whiskers passionately."
He affected not to hear my stinging rejoinder to his critique of my tongue, and proceeded to get a divining rod out of a drawer. I knew what he was going to do. He was going to hold it over my head to see if I had water on the brain. But he didn't. He just seized my dickey and threw it on the floor. "Stand up. I want to sound your chest," he said, without apology, and then he jabbed the divining rod into me and put an electrophone tube into each of his ears. I was wondering, what tune my works would play, when he looked up and said: "I don't like your heart a bit. The aortic valve squeaks, and the mitral valve's loose. They're all wrong, all of them. Turn round."
I did so, and was just going round for the fourth time when he stopped me. "I don't want you to spin like a, like a..."
"Silkworm?" I suggested, as he seemed stumped for a simile.
"No, no! like a Dervish," he said, testily. "I only want your back."
As his wants were so few and so simple, I gratified them. Then he readjusted the divining rod and stuck it in my spine. "Your spleen's a disgrace," I heard him mutter, "and as for your liver. Hang it, man! What have you done with it?"
"Well," I said, "it was there when I came out. P'r'aps I've left it in the tram, or it may be in my hat. I carry things there sometimes."
"Ah! I've found it!" cried the medicine man, giving me a ferocious dig between the shoulder-blades.
"And now you've found it." I observed, sarcastically, "You don't like it a bit, of course?"
"No, I don't," remarked the medicine man. "It's absolutely the worst liver I've ever seen, I mean heard. I must give you a prescription immediately."
He went to his desk, opened a drawer full of prescriptions, and picked ones out. "Take this to 154 High Street," he said, giving it to me, "and then have a dose at once."
I departed forthwith, and found 154 High Street was not a chemist's, but a picture-palace. I was on the point of returning to the medicine man to tell him of his error, when I thought I might as well look at the prescription. It ran:
One reel of Carolum Capellanus to be taken immediately. Then repeat dose daily until bad symptoms disappear.
"Carolus Capellanus!" I repeated to myself. "What's that? Some new drug, I suppose. Carolus Capell–"
"Charlie Chaplin now showing!" shouted the commisionaire in the lobby. "Roll up! Step in!"
"Of course," I murmured; and I rolled up and stepped in.
Curing a Cold
By Ashley Sterne
'Snawful cold I had. I think I must have caught it one day in the City. I entered a Mecca and sat too near some men playing draughts; or the coffee I drank may have been damp—I can't say. Anyway, 'snawful cold I had, and though I tried to give it to several people I didn't love, I couldn't get rid of it. When I went out of doors strong men rushed away and hid. Nursemaids heroically carried toothless children to places of safety. Policemen diverted the traffic up side streets. Dogs fled panic-stricken. Even my nose ran.
Then I met Gerkin. He said, "Why dot try sub abbodiated quideed for your code? It's cured bide." So off I went to the drugster's and bought some, took it home, and had it with my lunch. As a beverage, I decided I preferred Condy and soda ; as a liqueur, cod-liver oil. It wasn't a success. The truth is I did not take it in time. The whole secret of the successful ammoniated quinine drinker is to take it at the critical moment. But that's no use to me. I never recognise the critical moment when it ticks. One moment I am full of health, vigour, vim, lux, brasso, and so forth, strolling down the Strand chewing the fragrant banana. The next, my temperature rises all of a sudden and knocks my hat off. My beautiful eyes become suffused with tears; my nose turns red; my ears flap; I sneeze and sneeze until the passers-by mistake me for a particularly aggressive type of soda water syphon. Of course it's too late then to imbibe ammoniated quinine, it always will be too late for me, unless I take it every day for breakfast instead of marmalade. As far as I am concerned, ammoniated quinine is a bad egg—only with a more repellent flavour.
When I met Gerkin again I told him I was too late with his quinine stunt.
"Then try putting your feet in mustard and hot water," he said. "It's cured be."
"But," I remarked, "I thought you'd already cured yourself with quinine."
"I doe," he observed, sadly; "but this was adother wud." So I went home, burgled the cruet, and immersed my feet in this evil consomme. I raged, I melted, I burned. I grew ruddier than a cherry, and brighter than the berry. All the skin came off my legs and had to be thrown away. I absorbed so much mustard that I contracted Colman's ankle, which is something like housemaid's knee, only lower down. But my cold remained. It wouldn't let me out of its sight for an instant. It didn't even close early on Saturdays. We were as inseparable as David and Jonathan, Crosse and Blackwell, Jack and Evelyn. In quick succession I tried one-night cold-cures, menthol snuff, spirits of nitre, and dear little linseed poultices. But nothing happened. It was like pouring oil on a troubled duck's back, or shutting the stable-door after the steed had been led to water. I only got more miserable day by day, and commenced writing to all the best cemeteries for their tariff.
Then at last I remembered homoepathy—the "like-cures-like" theory, you know—and resolved to give it a trial. By every known method of catching cold I would endeavour to acquire an entirely new set of microbes and accommodate them in my already germ-crowded body. Accordingly, I removed all flannel from next my skin; I put on an unaired shirt, a damp collar, and an open-work tie; I loitered in puddles and made my feet wet; I went out into the rain, and lingered about in my damp clothes; I took a Turkish bath, and went straight out of the hottest room and cooled myself with an electric ventilating fan. The result exceeded my most sanguine hopes. I caught more microbes than I could use: hay fever, mumps, ingrowing finger-nails, rinderpest, glanders, rickets, writer's cramp, painter's colic, clergyman's sore throat, tennis elbow, and about forty more that I didn't even know by sight. True, it took about three months before the cause of these Allies prevailed; but I cured my cold, and to-day I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am the only person that has ever discovered an antidote for this most popular of all complaints.
[NOTE: A "greengage" is an old-fashioned English plum of uncommon sweetness.]
How to Keep Fit
By Ashley Sterne
The other day I received through the post a large envelope containing what seemed to be a plan of the Underground Railway system. On closer investigation, however, I found it was a map of the human works, or, as the pamphlet which accompanied it said, an anatomical diagram. What I had taken for Battersea Park was really my liver. The Serpentine was one of those twiddly things with which advertisements for indigestion cures are so tastefully and picturesquely illustrated. Golders Green was my larynx, the Albert Memorial my spleen, and so forth. The enclosed pamphlet was entitled "How to Keep Fit," and described all the different ailments I should contract if Battersea Park were ever exposed to a draught, or if Golders Green were ever encircled by a damp collar, or if I omitted to wear flannel next the Albert Memorial. And even then, supposing I observed all these precautions, I learned that my works would still be liable to run down, unless I sent five shillings to the address mentioned and purchased an outfit consisting of a muscle-developer, an electric belt trimmed with flashes of lightning, a chart of exercises, and a book of "Health Hints."
Well, I had always wanted to have a chest like a pumpkin and biceps like pomegranates, so I sent the five shillings, and in due course the outfit arrived. The muscle developer, which looked like a lot of garters and bicycle hubs, I fixed into the bedroom wall with the exercise chart pinned beside it. The first morning I tried it—I got up early on purpose—it developed my muscular system so rapidly that before I had finished Exercise #1 I pulled about a ton of plaster and forty feet of gas-pipe from the wall. The garter things being suddenly released from strain acted like a catapult, and I crashed through the thin wood of the wardrobe, brought off a beautiful cannon on to the washing stand, and finally scored a clear board by sweeping the contents of the dressing table through the window into the garden. I was much annoyed at the loss of my shaving mirror, as I had won it in the Highland games at Pibrochspey a year or two before for tossing the usquebaugh; and in a fit of pique I threw the garter things after it, and turned my attention to the electric belt.
I was very disappointed to find that it wasn't trimmed with flashes of lightning as I had expected, and I was still more disappointed to find it didn't fit. I think they must have sent a dog-collar or a strop for my wrist-watch by mistake. Try as I would I couldn't make both ends meet, and it finally snapped in two during an heroic effort I made to fasten it with a button-hook.
This left me with "Health Hints." There were about five thousand of them, and I couldn't help thinking that if I had to remember five thousand hints in order to keep in health, it would be a less exhausting process to catch some nice easy disease, and put up with it for the remainder of my life. However, I wanted something for my five shillings, so I opened the book haphazard, and my eye caught the following: "An excellent thing with which to commence the day is a cold baked apple, which should be eaten immediately on rising. It contains beneficial acids that have a most healthful and stimulating effect upon the digestive system."
I at once ran downstairs and interviewed my housekeeper.
"Have you such a thing as a cold baked apple in the larder?" I asked.
She gave me a look as if I had asked her for the obliquity of the ecliptic.
"It's all right," I said reassuringly, "I've just had a most extraordinary dream, in which I dreamt I ate a cold baked apple and married a widow of fifty."
She went into the larder like a bird. Like a hen, I mean.
"There's no baked apples," she said at length, "but there's a bit of cold greengage pie, and some Devonshire cream."
I reflected a moment. If apples contained beneficial acids, why not greengages? In the noble cause of the advancement of medical science I would experiment. "That'll do nicely," I said at length. "And if you'll kindly give me a plate, a spoon and fork, and the castor sugar—"
* * *
I have advanced the cause of medical science. I have discovered an entirely new disease. It's called day-mare.