Some tall tales

The veteran anthologist Peter Haining (1940-2007, pictured right) only managed to make a decent living by having a number of different projects on the boil at once. Although it has been estimated that he published around 200 books, not all of his ideas came to fruition. One that didn’t excite publishers was ‘Tall stories ---an anthology of boaster’s tales’, which he was hawking around in April 1991 as a potential Christmas book.

Haining’s introductory presentation to one publisher promised stories by ‘a veritable galaxy of star names ‘ in which ‘ fiction outweighed the fact ‘. Some of these stories would be presented by their authors as ’ ostensibly true ‘ while others would be ’ unashamedly fictitious’.

Some of the material that he intended to reproduce included Spike Milligan’s ‘Agent 008’, Lord Dunsany’s ‘The Electric King’, Baron Corvo’s ‘ How I was buried alive’, Charles Dickens’ ‘’The Wide-awake Club’, Tom Sharpe’s ‘ Disaster in the Deep Bed’, Fitz James O’ Brien’s ‘ How I achieved perpetual motion’, Stephen Leacock’s ‘ The iron man and the tin woman’, and G.K.Chesterton’s ‘ The Club of Queer Trades.’

I’d certainly publish a book which included those titles, but perhaps the titles were better than the stories.

Like most scissors-and-paste merchants, Haining collected cuttings over a long period. For this tall stories anthology he was busy with the scissors in November 1978. Shaun Usher‘s feature in the Daily Mail for the seventh of this month was a mini-anthology of real-life stories of the bizarre that appeared in True Remarkable Occurences by the American writer John Train . Here are a few that Haining put a tick against:

‘The eager bridegroom’

Lebai Omar bin Datuk Panglima Garang , a Malaysian claiming to be 118 years old , was caught living in sin with a village neighbour . Cycling back there from the courthouse after being offered the choice of marrying her or going to prison, he popped the question and was accepted. He died in August this year after 11 months of conjugal bliss, ‘having remained active until the last day’, his bride announced smugly.

‘The weight of the evidence’

Dr Nils-Olof Jacobson, an enquiring Swede, believes he can weigh the human soul. Placing hospital beds on sensitive scales, he finds that at the precise moment of death they register a decrease of about eight tenths of an ounce.

‘The flying dog’

Mrs Rose Purse of Johannesburg was gravely injured when struck by a miniature Pomeranian called Blackie. He had been hurled from the 14th floor of a block of flats. Residents reported that ice cubes and a guitar had also been deposited on passers-by


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