Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ashley Sterne Whipped Topics

Ashley Sterne collaborated with A.A. Thomson in writing the book Listener's License about the early days of radio.  The two also worked together on many comic radio revues.  Years later, Thomson mentioned Ashley Stern in his book Anatomy of Laughter (1966).  Here are two excerpts:

"The only considerable wit personally known to me was my friend and collaborator, the late Ashley Sterne, who began his autobiography with the words: 'I was born within a stone's throw of the Crystal Palace, the ideal place for throwing stones.'  He wrote a handy little book on first aid entitled: What to Do Till the Coroner Comes, and I remember one evening as we were walking along Portland Place on our way to a BBC party, a quavering old scarecrow asked us to spare him a trifle.

'What's the use of a trifle on a night like this?' growled Ashley.  'Here, take this and get yourself a thumping big Christmas pudding.'"


"Ashley was a regular contributor to a charivaria column called 'Whipped Topics' in the long defunct weekly London Opinion.  The column was bright as such columns go, but to Ashley's irritation he found that what he considered to be his best jokes were regularly reproduced in various parts of the national press and invariably attributed to Bernard Shaw.  After suffering this exasperating treatment for a long time in silence, he sent the great man a note of humourous remonstrance.  By return came a postcard in reply:

Dear Mr Sterne,

It is your own fault.  You should have a first class publicity agent like

                                                                                                         Yours truly,
                                                                                                                             George Bernard Shaw"

I found one complete column of "Whipped Topics" from London Opinion, republished in The  Straits Times (July 29,1912).  This is from the time when Ashley Sterne was contributing.  Many of the following quips seem (at least to me) to exhibit his typical style of comic wordplay.

The Labour Leader's prayer: Give us this day our daily strikes.

Mr. Arnold Bennett says that London is the most sentimental city in Europe.  That is, the most sentimental for its sighs.

An adder measuring 36 inches was killed with a scythe by some haymakers in the Isle of Wight.  The adder perished by simple division.

"Homeless.  The story of a woman's Fall. 4,000 feet." – Cinema film advertisement.  There should be with this a dull, sickening thud.

Now that full explanations of the Insurance Act are being given, we only need full explanations of the full explanations and then we can get to work.

While a man was cheering Mr. Lloyd George at Swansea, his purse was stolen.  Great indignation is expressed at this encroachment on the Chancellor's prerogative.

Mr. Carnegie's advice to the students of Aberdeen University was "to remain teetotallers until you have become millionaires."  Most people would elect to remain millionaires until they have become teetotallers.

A scientist is said to have discovered that the real cause of labour unrest is work.

"The poultice," said an eminent medical man the other day, "is as dead as Queen Anne."  Yet once upon a time it was a great draw.

Hats by "Steak, London" are among the articles sold by Parisian dealers in fictitious trade marks.  Hats "by mistake" are frequent in London barber's shops.

A French physician has discovered a new cure for asthma and hay fever.  It is a serum developed from the duck.  He should have concealed this fact; it is so suggestive of quackery.

The Recorder said the other day that the expulsion order against criminal aliens was a farce.  Even funnier that the farce itself is the time that it has taken the authorities to find it out. 

It is always less trouble to believe a lie than to prove it isn't true.

Actresses are not necessarily angels because they spend most of their life in wings.

There is more rejoicing in a hotel over one honeymoon couple than over fifty families with children.

Misfortune is the kind of fortune that never misses.

Man always regards flattery as truth, and truth as abuse, said a woman lecturer the other day.

Ashley Sterne Life Without Money

From the Huon Times (Franklin, Tasmania) July 29, 1921

To live within one's income is quite hard enough, but to live without it had always seemed to me as impracticable as hanging up the washing to dry on the North Pole. So when I saw in a bookmonger's shop a little volume, 'Life Without Money,' I said to my self, "That's the book for my money!"

But as I hadn't got any money, I couldn't buy it; so I just took it down from the shelf, made a noise like a bookworm so that the bookmonger shouldn't mistake me for a kleptomaniac, and started to perusal it.

I hadn't perusalled very far before I found that the title wasn't quite fair. I found that "Life Without Money'' didn't mean life without any money, but life with only sufficient money to buy absolute necessities.

Going One Better.

We often refer to money in that slipshod way. How often one hears the expression, "She married a man with money," which is generally interpreted to mean bags and bags of money in the old iron coffer, with perhaps a stockingful up the chimney.

If some half-witted damsel under the influence of drink or drugs chose to marry me, you could exclaim with equal truth, "She has married a man with money," for, on turning me upside down and shaking me, you would discover twopence in solid copper, a. threepenny bit with a hole in it in solid silver (all except the hole, which is solid air), and trading-stamps to the value of three-ha'pence. It would be cruel to say I had no money.

A passage in the little book where the author states that the absolute necessities of life are food, raiment and shelter has suggested to me a scheme whereby one can actually live on nothing at all.

I once saw a fasting man at a fair whose sole nourishment for six months had consisted of smelling the butt-end of a gooseberry three times a day.  I know this to be a fact because he told me so himself, and if he didn't know, who did?

Up a Tree

I asked him if he didn't find it monotonous, and he said no, as when he got tired of smelling the butt-end of the gooseberry he merely turned it round and smelt the other end.

You can't whittle the food problem down to a finer point than one gooseberry for life; while, as for raiment and shelter, I read the other day that in one of the Solomon Islands — the second on. the left up High-street — the inhabitants wear no clothes and live in trees. Therefore, to live on nothing at all you should become a fasting man, naturalise yourself as a Solomon Islander, and live up a tree.

At the present moment I am fulfilling two of these conditions — fasting (I'm suffering from a stubborn form of indigestion) and living 'up a tree' (occasioned by an income-tax demand note and eleven unpaid bills.)  So if somebody only sends me a Solomon Island for a birthday present, I can do the job thoroughly.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ashley Sterne Aunt Louisa Cashes a Check

From the Huon Times  (Franklin, Tasmania)  December 16, 1921

One of the first things Aunt Louisa does when she comes to town is to cash a cheque.

But this is not the simple matter to her that it is to you or me. It combines many of the picturesque features of King John signing Magna Charta, Mrs. Lloyd George opening a bazaar, and trooping the colors on the King's birthday. The process it resembles least is cashing a cheque.

On the morning after her arrival Aunt Louisa, after complaining bitterly that her bed had proved to be about as dry as an oyster bed, and that she had been kept awake half the night by a mouse in the wainscot, announced her intention of drawing and cashing a cheque. I brought her pens, ink, and blotting-paper, and the first part of the enthralling performance began.

After she had ruined my three best nibs, and completely spoilt two nice clean pink cheques, she discovered that she had got her wrong glasses. So while she went in search of a suitable pair I mobilised six more pens and another half-pint of ink.

Aunt Louisa has numerous pairs of spectacles, each of which is designed to fulfil some special purpose. For instance, she has a long-distance pair for admiring the scenery, looking at fire works and so forth. Another pair sighted up to only half a yard, she uses exclusively for reading, writing, and arithmetic. A third pair of medium range she wears at the theatre.

"There, that's done!" cried Aunt Louisa, triumphantly, when she had decided how much money she required — an abstruse and complicated calculation compared with which the preparation of the Budget must be as easy as keeping silkworms. "And now we will go to the bank, Reginald."

I must explain that although Aunt Louisa lives in a prosperous, enterprising country town, with several competent policemen of its very own, a fire brigade, and a jubilee cattle-trough, she has never entrusted her money to the custody of the local branch of the County and Country Bank, but has always kept her account at the head office in London. She fosters the curious delusion that the money in all London banks is guarded day and night by Beefeaters with drawn halberds.

I went out and secured a taxi (and what with taxis for Aunt Louisa and taxes for the Government I shall soon be reduced to selling grand pianos in the streets), bundled her into it with the help of a policeman, and directed the driver to the West End office of the County and Country Bank. Since Aunt Louisa's visit they have installed one of those revolving glass doors at the entrance, and as I have mentioned previously that she is somewhat bulky, the reader can imagine that she made a pretty tight fit when, after an exhausting struggle, I got her into one of the partitions.

We went round thirty-seven times in all (power supplied by hasty customers going and coming) before Aunt Louisa providentially fled out. Thereafter the cheque-cashing ceremony followed the same lines as on previous occasions, which I will describe briefly.

Aunt Louisa advances to the cashier's desk. Ignoring the other customers patiently waiting their proper turn, she cleaves a path to the front, and forthwith embarks on a long discussion with the cashier as to whether she will take he money all in notes, or half in notes and half in threepenny-bits. When she has changed her mind for the fourteenth time the man immediately behind her in the queue asks me to keep his place for him while he goes and has a Turkish bath. The rest of the crowd settle down to playing naughts and crosses, cat's-cradle, and other innocent, healthy pastimes.

After three-quarters of an hour Aunt Louisa's cashier goes mad. Panic breaks out in the queue, where a rumor gets about that Aunt Louisa has drawn out all the cash the bank has had in stock, and that everyone else will have to be paid in stamps, pins and cowrie shells. When a fresh cashier has been procured I think it is time to intervene.

"Why not take it all in fivers, Aunt Louisa?" I suggest. "You can always get change at a pub — I mean elsewhere."

But Aunt Louisa is adamant. She has decided she wants four — no, five — one-pound notes, seven — or is it nine? — no, it's eight — eight ten-shilling notes, seventeen-and-sixpence in half crowns, a shillingsworth of coppers, and the remainder in small silver; and no combination of the national currency will satisfy her.

Meanwhile, three people in the queue commit suicide by drinking the bank's ink, two more cashiers chuck up their jobs and emigrate to banana-ranches in Honolulu, and I am approached by a deputation of the directors to remove Aunt Louisa under the Prevention of Nuisances Act.

The only placid and unmoved person is Aunt Louisa, who by this time has received her money and is busy counting it for the fifth time, having made the amount differ on each previous occasion.

But enough. My account may be slightly exaggerated in detail, but it is certainly what it seems like when Aunt Louisa cashes a cheque.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ashley Sterne By Gum!

By Gum!
Some (Tooth) Cutting Remarks by Ashley Sterne.

From the Huon Times (Franklin, Tasmania)  August 5 1921

I cannot imagine why so many men and women, as soon as they attain the dignity of parenthood, apparently lose their reasoning faculties.

Just try this over on your piano and see what you think of it.

I was coming home in the train the other day, and had settled myself in the corner of an empty compartment preparatory to feasting my eyes on the superb scenery which my railway-line affords by a practically unbroken chain of soap-works, brick fields and sewage-farms, when a comparatively newly-married couple and a few-months-old baby got in.

It wasn't from the baby that I deduced that the couple were comparatively newly-married. The husband allowed his wife to get into the carriage first — that's all.

In ordinary circumstances it is my custom, whenever my compartment is invaded by an infant-in-arms, to clear out and get another; or, if there's no room, bribe the engine-driver to let me ride on the coals.

On this occasion, however, I didn't, because I mistook the baby for a more than usually pallid vegetable; and it was not until we were passing the fourteenth set of soap-works that it revealed its identity by commencing to shriek.

I at once meditated throwing myself out of the window, but unfortunately it was one of that patent kind to open which you have to read a whole brass plate full of instructions; and then it won't open — you only get your fingers mangled. So I resigned myself to the inevitable.

I don't know why it is, but whenever I have the misfortune to be in the same railway compartment with a baby it is invariably taken violently ill, or else yells incessantly until I get out. Then it ceases. I sometimes wonder if there can be anything wrong with my face.

In this instance, it had been staring at me for a good ten minutes before it set the welkin ringing, so I could only conclude that the mother had inadvertently broken it somewhere. Or perhaps she had thrust one of the murderous safety-pins with which a baby requires to be held together through its spinal cord or other equally tender spot.

But the true cause of the trouble was soon ascertained, for in opening the hole in its face to its fullest extent in order to give vent to a particularly piercing shriek, the infant revealed its gums.

"Good gracious!" exclaimed the mother, in intense excitement, "Vernon's cutting a tooth! Look, Archie, look!"

Archie put his head in the baby's mouth, had a good look around, and finally cried, "Good gracious!" too. He looked as though he normally expected a baby to cut a crochet hook or a boot jack instead of a tooth.

Never shall I forget the exclamations of wonder and surprise that brainless young couple indulged in. Vernon was cutting a tooth — that's all — but they went on as if the feat had no parallel in history. Anyone would have imagined that they didn't know children had teeth, and I should not have been very surprised if the mother had turned the child upside down, and exclaimed, in the same wonder-stricken accents, "Look, Archie! Vernon's got two feet!"

Well they talked about the marvel for at least twenty minutes. It was so startling, so unheard of, they agreed, that it was necessary to inform by wire both sets of grandparents. I'm surprised they didn't pull the communication cord and tell the guard.

Now, people with minds like that ought not to be entrusted with children. They ought to be allowed to keep nothing more exciting than gold fish, which don't cut teeth. The only excuse for their behavior would be if Vernon had not cut a tooth. Then I agree that no time should be lost in putting the matter into their solicitor's hands.

It is a baby's duty to cut teeth, just as it is a barber's duty to cut hair, and the sooner young parents grasp this fact and cease to lapse into a state of hysterical wonder at the performance of a purely natural function the better for all concerned.

Otherwise I see some rude shocks in store for Vernon's parents in the future; but it may lessen the force of the blow if I warn them in advance that the following phenomena are likely to occur in due course:

In a few days Vernon will cut another tooth. He will continue at intervals to cut teeth until he has amassed about thirty. These teeth will come out from time to time and he'll cut new ones. At the age of eighteen or nineteen Vernon will commence to cut a moustache. At twenty-one he will cut a dash. Shortly after that he'll cut his tailor dead in the street.

Finally, at the age of seventy, Vernon will again shed his teeth, but he won't cut any more. His dentist will cut the next lot for him, and fix them on some pretty, pink india-rubber gums.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ashley Sterne Boiling an Egg

From the Huon Times (Franklin, Tasmania)  November 5, 1920

"Mrs. Danks," I said to my house keeper one morning, "the eggs are hard boiled again. Look at them. Smack 'em on the head with the spoon. Why, they're as hard as — Chinese."

"Well, sir," said Mrs. Danks, "I  can't understand how that can be.  I did 'em to 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing,' and that always boils 'em light. The herald angels have never let me down before, sir."

"Quite sure you didn't go through 'Paradise Lost' or 'The Swiss Family Robinson' by mistake?" I asked.  'There must be something wrong with the hen— they've been eating cement, perhaps., Do you know the name and address of the depraved bird?"

"The eggs came as usual from my sister, sir," said 'Mrs. Danks, "and I can guarantee there's nothing wrong with her hens. They're— they're — "

"Sans peur et sans reproche, of course?"

"No, sir; some of them's Plymouth Rocks and some Dorkings. This egg would be a Plymouth Rock,'' she remarked, pointing to the more stubborn of the two.

"Yes," I agreed. "A bit of the original old Plymouth Rock that the Pilgrim Fathers stood on."

"I'm sure I'm very sorry," murmured Mrs. Danks apologetically. I'll do 'em to a different tune, to-morrow."

"The next morning when she brought in the eggs she was beaming all over her face.

"I think you'll find 'em all right to day," she observed. " boiled 'em separate — the brown one to 'The Voice that Breathed O'er Eden' and the white one to '0 Happy Band of Pilgrims'."

"We'll soon see," I cried, tapping them lightly with the spoon. Nothing happened, so I tapped them harder and bent the spoon. I was on the point of fetching the coke-hammer when Mrs. Danks intervened and managed to cut off their heads with the carving knife.

"They are a bit hard," she remarked, after examining them closely. "I can't understand it."

"Perhaps you sang the wrong, tune," I suggested.

"Not me," said Mrs. Danks. "I know every tune in 'Hymns Ancient and Modern' that'll boil an egg soft."

"Very good," I observed. "This matter requires investigation.   I. shall engage a detective. I shall place the eggs in the hands of my solicitor. Meanwhile, will you make me a lobster mayonnaise for lunch?"

Later in. the morning,, when Mrs. Danks was out lobstering, I went into the larder, took the only egg I could find, and determined to boil it myself. I wasn't going to sing the 'Hallelujah Chorus' to it; I was going to give it three and a half minutes pure Greenwich time.

I placed the egg in the saucepan and boiled. it three and a half minutes to the tick. I cracked the shell very cautiously and exposed a surface as hard as a billiard-ball. Then I had a bright idea. There must be something the matter with the water. Possibly it was very rich water and boiled at a much higher temperature than ordinary water.

I fetched the thermometer from the greenhouse where it was keeping an orchid warm, and proceeded to boil it in the saucepan. In the middle of the operation Mrs. Danks returned, complete with lobster. I explained what I was doing. Her eyebrows went up so high and so suddenly that they nearly knocked her bonnet off.

"Did you take that egg from the larder?" she inquired, rather tartly. "Because if you did, I can tell you why it's hard boiled. It's the egg for the lobster marseillaise. I hard-boiled it. myself before I went out."

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ashley Sterne The Stilton's Revenge

From the Huon Times (Franklin, Tasmania) October 1, 1920

If you have tears prepare to shed them now. If you haven't, don't bother.

Some sorrows lie too deep for tears. This may be one of them. Carry on, sergeant-major.

I recently came into possession of an old Stilton and a new mouse. The former was very wild; the latter bid fair to become very tame. I had lost all my old mice months before in a trap, and though I had gone to great pains to exterminate them, I felt sorry when the supply was exhausted.

I missed their nightly gnawings at my furniture, albeit they had gnawed the legs off my grand piano, so that when I wanted to play, "Everything is bloaters down in Yarmouth" I had to lie on the floor. I missed them scuttling into the china cupboard and throwing the crockery about. In other words, I missed them; and of all the absences which make the heart grow fonder mouse-missing, is perhaps the most poignant. Therefore I was not a little pleased when Mrs. Danks, my housekeeper, announced one night that a new mouse had arrived.

"'What name?" I asked, "and has it brought a character or letters of introduction?"

Mrs. Danks assured me that the mouse was anonymouse and had brought nothing but what it stood up in.

"Well," I said, "ask it to sit down. I will interview it before I go to bed, and decide what to do about it. Is the spare mouse-trap well-aired?"

Mrs. Danks said it was.

Later I went into the kitchen to interview the new mouse. It was sitting in front of the grate fanning itself with its tail.

At once I decided it might remain. I would be kind to it, and tame it, and train it. Then one day it might eventually be able to help Mrs. Danks with the beds or the dusting; it might even learn to bring up my early morning tea, my letters, the hot water — anything so long as it didn't bring up a family. I would start kindness to mice that very evening. I would give it a piece of my fine old Chippendale Stilton.

Now this Stilton, I should explain, has been in our family for some years. It was originally given to my Uncle Peter by a cheese fancier. Two years later Uncle Peter gave it to my brother Herbert as a birthday present. Herbert, who collects antiques, kept it for some time in a birdcage outside his backdoor until his neighbors presented him with an ultimatum to the effect that either Herbert's or the Stilton's removal from the neighborhood was desired. Then Herbert presented the Stilton to me.

The mouse, however, would not touch the cheese. It exhibited symptoms of terror at the very sight of it. It ran panic-stricken six times around the room and finally collapsed in a state of violent hysteria on the floor of the larder. As I did not know any remedy for collapsed hysterical mice I left it there.

Some time during that night a dark deed was done — a brutal crime unparalleled in the history of mice and cheese. Early the following morning Mrs. Danks reported finding the Stilton on the floor in a state of heavy torpor, and the tail of the mouse a short distance away. No trace of the rest of the mouse was to be found anywhere. It was all too clear what had happened. The fierce, untamed Stilton had eaten the mouse.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Last Lights of Christmas

The Parks Department has been slow in taking down the Christmas lights, to my complete gratitude.  I love the lights.  My druthers would be to leave Christmas lights shine until about Memorial Day. 

I walked out last night and attempted to take a picture of my favorite light display: a magnificent spruce tree wrapped with colored lights (some of which mysteriously oscillated between red/blue or red/green) and its surrounding deciduous trees with their strands of white lights.  This was the dull and pallid result.

Disappointed, I decided to improve on nature and alter the photograph with an editor.  Honest photographers would rightly find this reprehensible.  My only defense is that I wanted to recreate the bright and lovely blur that my near-sighted eyes actually saw.  An acute observer will notice that my hands shook with the cold, causing the image of each light bulb to trace out a lower-case "e."


A Sumptuous Start to the New Year

My younger son, in a sudden and unexpected fit of gourmet cooking, created a fine dinner of stuffed mushrooms, risotto, and garlic bread.  A splendid Italian meal! 

I intruded with a side dish of my own, German potato salad, which shifted the gastro-geography of the meal northward, to somewhere in the vicinity of Liechtenstein.

And here is a picture of the meal itself.

A Happy New Year to all, especially my Liechtensteiner readership!