Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ashley Sterne 1915 Punch Articles Part 2

Here are another two 1915 articles by Ashley Sterne from Punch, Volume 148.  The first story "Renaming A Rose" was published on April 21st and provides a comic look at anti-German fervor.  The second story "The Special Detective," published on May 5th, is a burlesque on the popular fascination with detective fiction.

Renaming A Rose

By Ashley Sterne

I forget when we – that is, our local choral society – first began to practice Acis and Galatea. I know it was long before the start of Lent. Anyway, a few weeks ago we decided that we knew enough about it to risk our annual public performance, and the posters were about to be issued. Then one evening the blow fell at a committee meeting. We were busily discussing the all-important point of the colour of the paper for the programmes when Appleby (our only tenor who can take a top G without causing grievous bodily harm to himself and those in his immediate proximity) rushed into the room in a state of uncontrolled emotion. It had got about, he told us, that the composer was a German, and the tickets in consequence were going as flat as our choir when they sing an unaccompanied glee. "Old Mr. Clivers," said Appleby, "has been tackling me about it. He says it's a shame to perform the work of a German composer when now is the time to support our home products."

Then a long altercation ensued as to whether Handel was or was not to be considered a German.

"But surely he became naturalised," said Miss Mallows, appealing to Mr. Bowles, our conductor, "after spending all those years in England, paying English rates and English taxes and–"

"And writing Italian operas," added Appleby.

"I really don't know for certain," said our harassed conductor, who always received ten per cent, of the gate-money as remuneration for his services. "I–  I think so."

"But he ought to know for certain," whispered Miss Parmenter to me. "It's his business. If he doesn't know, what's he doing with all those letters after his name, F.R.C.O., L.R.A.M., Mus.Bac., F.T.C.L., A.G.S.M.?"

"At all events," announced Miss Mallows solemnly, " I feel it my duty as a patriot to decline, under these doubtful circumstances, to assist at the concert."

Miss Mallows' powers of musical assistance are, I am afraid, long past their zenith, but her ability to dispose of tickets still remains undiminished. Hence her decision came rather in the nature of a Zeppelin.

"Handel must be interned," I said, "and we must revive an old favourite. As Mr. Chivers hinted, it's a fitting opportunity to perform a native work."

Mr. Bowles, who had just completed an oratorio on the subject of Og, King of Bashan, enthusiastically agreed.

But it must be something we know pretty well, remarked Miss Parmenter.  "What about The May Queen?  We know that backwards."

"The point is," I observed, "do we know it forwards?"

"Then there's The Lost Chord," suggested Miss Mallow quite seriously..

"And Eric; or, Little by Little," put in the irrepressible Appleby.

"The Lost Chord," I kindly explained, "is not, strictly speaking, a cantata.  It is more usually performed as a cornet solo.  Occasionally one hears of its being given as a song with harmonium accompaniment."

"I didn't mean The Lost Chord," Miss Mallows corrected.  "I meant The Ancient Mariner."

"Why not try high and do The Dream of Gerontius?" said Appleby.  "There's a fine chorus of Demons in it which would bring the house down."

"Don't you think," asked Miss Parmenter, "that we had better do something to keep it up?  Besides, two rehearsal are not sufficient.  We should have to call it The Nightmare of ––"

"Stay!" cried our conductor.  "why not change the title of Acis and Galatea and the name of its composer?"

"Splendid!" I said.  "But won't the words give us away?"

"Not they!" exclaimed Appleby.  "Everyone always says that the words we sing are absolutely unintelligible."

*          *          *          *          *

I only remains to add that we drew a bumper house for our "performance in concert form of Dido and Aeneas, the operatic masterpiece of England's greatest musical genius, Henry Purcell."


The Special Detective

By Ashley Sterne

I am a Special Detective. It came about in this way. When the Special Constables were being enrolled I offered my services for duty on Saturday afternoons from 4:30 to 5, so as to allow the regular policeman to go off for afternoon tea. I couldn't volunteer to serve any longer as I had to have a singing lesson at 5:15. However, they refused my offer, and as I still wanted to help I appointed myself an unofficial Special Detective – the only one.

I don't suppose you would ever guess what I was if you saw me in the street, because I always go about disguised when on duty. When I am disguised I can detect things which I should never dream of detecting in propria persona. For instance, were I just wearing my usual clothes and my ordinary face, I should not attempt to interfere with an armed burglar in the execution of what, rightly or wrongly, he conceives to be his duty. I should go home. If the occasion demanded it, I should even go to the length of remaining at home until I had grown a moustache, or a beard, or a whisker or perhaps the complete set, according to the requirements of the character I proposed to assume.

I remember once detecting a desperate villain in the act of emptying a perambulator full of practically new children into the canal at Basingstoke. As I happened at the moment to be disguised in the totally unsuitable garb of a member of the Junior Athenaeum Club I refrained from interfering. I contented myself with tapping him on the shoulder (I forget which), explaining my difficulty to him, advising him that I should return in due course and severely arrest him, and finally warning him that anything he might say in the meantime would be taken down, suitably edited, and used in evidence against him.

I then returned to town and commenced at once to grow a luxuriant vegetation of whiskers. You see, it was my intention to disguise myself as an Anabaptist, and then go back to Basingstoke and seize my man, if possible, red-handed; if not, whatever colour his hand happened to be. However, hair-raising is not so easy as it looks, for although I read all the ghost stories I could lay my hand on, and actually spent several hours a day under the forcing-pot in the company of the rhubarb, it was a long time before my whiskers were long enough to infuriate Mr. Frank Richardson.

The consequence was that when I eventually returned to the scene of the crime I found that the villain had completed his thankless task and had in all probability gone home to a guilty meal.  The indifference displayed by the criminal classes to their impending fate is proverbial.  Yet how this heartless desperado ever summoned up the effrontery to clear off after I had expressly informed him that I was coming back to arrest him passes my comprehension.  Anyhow, I examined the surface of the canal thoroughly, but as it was quite smooth, without a hole in it anywhere, it is just possible that I was mistaken, and that the miscreant was only intending to wash his offspring.  Or, again, they may not have been children at all, but merely turnips or cauliflowers.  Personally, I am often unable to distinguish between a very new child and a turnip.  I once mentioned this failing to a friend.  He was a family man, and simply said, "Ah, wait till you have a baby of your own," which was a singularly fatuous remark to make, because, as it happens, I have a baby of my own, though only a very small one.  What I don't possess is a turnip of my own.

Then, too, there is the important matter of clues.  How often one reads in the newspapers that detectives are handicapped for want of clues!  From the very outset of my career I determined that I would never be handicapped in this manner, and therefore I have my own set of clues which I always carry about with me.  I have got a very good footprint from which I expect great results, a blood-stain, several different kinds of tobacco-ash and a button.  Buttons, I have observed, nearly always turn out to be clues, from which I gather that the majority of criminals are bachelors.

The science of deductive reasoning naturally plays an important part in my work and often – just to see the look of amazement on their faces – I amuse myself with a little practical demonstration at the expense of my friends.  I well remember how I surprised Uncle Jasper by asking after his cold before he had even mentioned a word about it to me.  All he had said was, "Well, by boy, what a log tibe it is sidce I've seed you."

And I have had some exciting experiences.  Once I stopped a runaway bath-chair at the risk of the occupant's life.  I gave myself a medal for that.  On another occasion I stopped a cheque just in the nick of time.  For this I presented myself with an illuminated address and only by the exercise of great self-control refrained from awarding myself the freedom of my native town.  On yet a third occasion I successfully traced a German spy to his lair.  I heard him talking German as he passed me (I was disguised at the time I remember as a Writer to the Signet), and never shall I forget the look of utter despair he gave when I forced him to disclose his real name, which was Gwddylch Apgwchllydd.  Next time I bring off a coup – as we call it – I have marked myself down for promotion.

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