Author Archives: Jot 101

John Buchan and AI

As a lover of the works of John Buchan and one not unconcerned about the precarious future of this planet I consulted ChatGPT using a famous and prescient quote by Buchan from his thriller The Power House (1916).

I asked them this: “John Buchan wrote in 1916 “ think that a wall as solid as the Earth separates civilisation from barbarism. I tell you, the division is a thread,a sheet of glass. a touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reignof Saturn.” Is this still true in 2023?” 

25 seconds later they replied: “The quote by John Buchan is certainly still relevant in 2023, as the line between civilization and barbarism remains thin and fragile. Though the world has made great strides in terms of technological advancements, social progress, and global connectivity, there are still forces that work to destabilize these achievements and push society back towards chaos and conflict. Whether it’s geopolitical tensions, economic inequality, racial divides, or environmental degradation, the challenges facing humanity require us to remain vigilant and work together to maintain and strengthen the bonds of common humanity that hold us together. In short, the quote from John Buchan remains a timeless reminder of the need for vigilance, empathy, and unity in the face of adversity.”

A good answer. He/she / it is definitely more Bernie Sanders than Logan Roy. I went on to ask it for a parody of John Buchan. In a past Jot we have a very good Buchan parody by a young girl at boarding school in the 1930s. It is many miles better than Chat’s brave effort. As the old unreconstructed Dr Samuel Johnson said (in about 1760) of women preachers: “Sir…(it)is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” Tune in again soon to see both parodies..

More howlers, misprints and poor grammar from Much too funny for words by Denys Parsons.

1) Misprints

Two tablespoonful of paraffin oil added to the footpath will relieve and refresh aching feet.   Local paper.

The Churchillian jaw was outthrust and the Prime Minister thumped the despatch box with a heavy fish. Canadian paper.

A Grand Jury in Los Angeles have indicted welter weight boxer Art Aragon on a charge of offering a bride to an opponent.   Bradford Telegraph and Argus.

You really do no good by constantly scalding a child

Woman’s paper.

By this time the blenny had learned to come up to the surface of the water and take shreds of muscle from my friend’s fingers.  The Scotsman.

According to the estimation of Mine Host of Saxmundham, the Saxulation of Popmundham is 1,368.    Suffolk Paper.

Aunts in the house are a serious nuisance and are not easily expelled once they have established a kingdom. Perhaps a chemist in your town could help you. 

People’s Friend.

England’s team manager said|: ‘There seems to be some hoodoo over the English forwards in their inability to get gals’. 

Owing to a plague of wasps in the Sheffield district, farmers have had to stop harvesting operations to take wasp wasp nests before they could gather in their wasps.

Edinburgh Evening Dispatch.

Along the Parkway schoolchildren hurled roses in the General’s path. Two schoolgirls presented him with a large bouquet of roses . ‘God bless you my children, and thank you,’ he said as he killed both girls. Philadelphia Paper.

With nine wickets down, Enthoven changed his tactics and bit both bowlers.

Manchester Paper.

Following on yesterday’s defeat of the Government in the Dail, a meeting of the Cabinet was hell this morning.  Dublin Paper.

The letter pointed out that whereas there were definite allocation of oranges from time to time, the supply of demons was very short.   Northants Paper

Humidity is perhaps the distinctive Christian virtue.   Indian Paper.

Many other brides in the collection are scheduled as ancient monuments. Bath Paper.

When this is done sit on a very hot stove and stir frequently. Cookery book.

At Taunton this week an ex-soldier was charged on remand with having bigamously married, his awful wife being alive.  West Country Paper.

An official of the Patent Office said that many of the inventors abandon their parents during the first year of life.   Surrey Paper

Mr John M’Fadden was reappointed to wind, oil and keep the Town Clerk in order.

Irish Paper.

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English etiquette by an Indian Harley Street doctor 

Most books of etiquette published seventy or more years ago. have  comic value .If they were written by foreigners anxious to ‘ educate ‘ their compatriots in  the ways of the English there is a strong likelihood that they will be occasionally hilarious. Such a book is English Etiquette, which was published at St Christopher’s, Letchworth, a radical and culturally significant independent school that had established a printing press by the late 1920s. Its author, a certain  Dr R. U. Hingorani, an Indian who was active from 1928 to 1930, according to the records, and appears to have been a Harley Street practitioner around that time. The booklet’s aim was to familiarise Indian immigrants with the customs of the English.

Here is the good doctor’s advice on :

Personal habits

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It is a social crime to lick your fingers when turning over the pages of a book. An educated Englishman values his books as part of his personal property—he looks after them and keeps them clean. If he lends them to a friend it is a personal favour and he expects that friend to return the books in the same condition as they were lent. Licking the fingers while turning over the pages, besides being considered a dirty habit, will, if persisted in, soon spoil the appearance of a book, giving it a ‘dog-eared’ look and detract from its value…

You should never overlook another person’s newspaper or book…It is quite in order to ask for a loan of a newspaper or book but you should wait until he owner has completely finished reading and then politely make your wish known…

In England, as in other countries, an attractive personal appearance is a great asset in any walk of life but to attend to one’s toilet in public is a very bad social error. For instance, finger nails must always be kept scrupulously clean—this is a very important point as dirty finger nails are taken as evidence of a person’s bad upbringing—but they must never be cleaned in public. Ears and nose should always be attended to in private and you must never play about with your fingers when talking to another person…

Another bad error is to talk to a lady with your hands in your pockets. This shows that you are not so accustomed to talk with well-bred ladies and that your primary education has been defective…

European and Far Eastern people lend emphasis to their speech when talking with friends and acquaintances by gesticulating with their hands. This is quite incorrect in English eyes. A person who continually uses his hands in conversation is considered to have had an inadequate education…Pointing with the hands should always be avoided as this is considered a very rude habit…

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TV versus the movies in fifties America

In recent years much has been predicted concerning the demise of movie theatres as a result of the popularity of streaming. Why, it is argued, would cinemagoers make the effort and pay money to visit a movie theatre when they could sit at home and watch the film on their TV screen through something like a Netflix subscription ?

Microwave repeater station

Back in fifties America, long before the Internet was even thought of  and movies weren’t available to hire or buy, our man in America, Alistair Cooke, was voicing  the fears of many movie makers who saw TV as their most dangerous rival. In a broadcast dated 10th June 1954 and afterwards published in the Listener, Cooke pointed out that since 1950:

’… the paying audience for movies has been going steadily —at first violently– down. It is now down by about thirty per cent….fewer and fewer people are going to the movies. This in as four year period in which the national income is higher, the number of people in jobs greater, than at any period in American history…’

The effect on Hollywood, according to Cooke, was devastating. The fifty or sixty big-time stars remained unaffected, but the bit players and others employed in the movie industry were certainly victims of the down turn:   

‘…  Feature players who have been doing nicely for ten, or even twenty, years suddenly do not appear any more. There is a lot of doubling up of casts, and economical commuting of actors between studios. About fifty per cent of the writers on long-term contracts have been fired, and there had been a general paring-down of technical crews, and rehearsal time , and costs….’

Movie makers were loathe to  admit that TV was the villain of the piece, but everyone in the industry knew the truth. And everyone who drove around the States could identify how the landscape was changing due to the mushrooming of the new medium.

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Bluff Your Way in Literature 2

A second helping.

In many ways, Martin Seymour-Smith’s Bluff Your Way in Literature (1966) can be seen as an opportunity for the author to satirise or criticise the work of writers he felt were overrated or even worthless. His opinions are inevitably heavy with irony.

We have remarked in an earlier  Jot that Seymour-Smith was critical of John Fowles, Muriel Spark, C.P.Snow, Malcolm Bradbury and Ted Hughes and that he regarded such generally admired figures as Auden, Pinter , Margaret Attwood and Tom Stoppard as overrated. On the other hand he wasn’t afraid of promoting an unfashionable and controversial individual like Wyndham Lewis, whose reputation had been in the doldrums for decades, or giving a lift to Thomas Hardy, Laura Riding or Rayner Heppenstall.

In an age of political correctness the opinions of such a maverick should be cherished rather than condemned and so in this second and final on Seymour-Smith Jot we ‘ll look at some of his other verdicts on writers or movements in literature, some of which might seem rather quaint or outdated today. 

Vomit, menstruation &c.

‘ In poems and novels, these are not only in but are obligatory. However, do not show bad taste and talk about them yourself. Preserve the kind of decency that is expected at parties and gatherings, while praising the fearless and ‘tough’ ( a key word) indecency of modern literature, which is a ‘ major breakthrough’.

All—not merely some—poems and novels, if they are to be major, must be about sickness and mental breakdown. This first became evident from the kind iof poems the poetry critic and poetry editor A. Alvarez began printing in The Observer some years ago: a good example was one which dealt with the theme of miscarriage in the bathroom. Badly written, filthy, insulting and hysterical, with no justification provided for its unpleasantness, it was just the kind of verse that is nowadays needed for magazines.

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The Sunday Times Book of Answers part two

Tony Body of York wanted to know the origin of the political terms left wing and right wing ?

Some may have guessed that the terms had something to do with football, but Mr Ross Ferguson-Ford of Stirling University seemed certain that the two terms could ‘ clearly be traced back to Revolutionary France in the last decade of the eighteenth century’.

‘In the legislative assembly of the French Republic, the convention was dominated by two factions—the Montagnards and Girodins. As a result of their respective beliefs and the seating arrangements of the Assembly ( the former sat to the left of the chamber and the latter to the right ), the labelling of political beliefs  according to left/right polarity was instigated.

However, neither was a political party , despite the Montagnardas showing the first traits of socialism in  the form of the Jacobin splinter group, and the application to them of the terms ‘ left wing’ and ‘right wing’ in their modern sense is inappropriate’.

Most commentators agree that this was the origin of the terms.

Why do most countries drive on the right? The Sunday Times wanted to know this.

Richard Sotnik put the blame on Napoleon for thisBefore he became a dominant influence in Europe ‘it was customary to drive or ride on the left hand side. Historically this was to enable the great majority of persons to draw their sword against an oncoming opponent.’

‘ Napoleon modernised this thinking in marching his armies south to Italy. In order to gain time he took advantage of the cool of the shadows of the trees in the strong afternoon sun and therefore obtained extra kilometres. Naturally Britain declined to acknowledge this crude upset to tradition.

Most of the other correspondents to the Sunday Times agreed that Napoleon was the culprit, though no-one else felt that he chose the right handed side because he wanted to take advantage of the cool shadows of the roadside.

Why does the fair hair of so many children darken as they mature ?

Mr James Ellinthorpe of Wiltshire asked this very good question, which your Jotter, whose own golden auburn hair at twenty has now turned to a rather boring shade of dark brown.

Mr Patrick James, whose answer possesses the erudition of a trichologist, explains thus:

Hair and eye colour are interrelated. Colouring depends on two pairs of genes, each pair of the same chromosome but fairly far apart. ‘E’ would represent dominant dark eye; ‘e’ light eye ’H’ would be dark hair and ‘h’ light hair. Thus:

HHEE—dark hair, dark eyes

HhEE —  medium dark hair, dark eyes

HHee—  medium dark hair, hazel eyes


EEhh—–Fast cynope( brown eyes, blond hair)

Eehh——slow cynope

eeHH—–fast glaucope (blue eyes , dark hair)

eeHh——slow glaucope

eehh ——blond

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Stephen Potter’s Relaxmanship (1965)

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Steohen Potter. From the National Portrait Gallery (many thanks)

Books sponsored by companies, particularly drug companies, were more common in the nineteenth or early twentieth century, than they are now. A few years ago we featured one sponsor –a manufacturer of a tonic for those lacking energy—on Jot 101. The book they sponsored was a self-help treatise aimed at those high-fliers whose jobs overloaded them with work to the detriment of their health. We were reminded of this when, while   looking at a pile of books at Jot 101 HQ the other day, we found a rare example of a mid-twentieth book sponsored by another drug company, in this case Roche, a multinational  concern. By putting their name to Stephen Potter’s relaxmanship (1965) the company hoped to sell bucket loads of Libraxin, a drug sold to alleviate the symptoms of ‘ nervous dyspepsia ‘—a digestive condition brought about by stress and anxiety.

But let the advertising executives acting for Roche ( or even Potter himself) tell you about the benefits of Libraxin:

‘You may regard relaxation as an art. Not all of us, perhaps, are able to cultivate it to meet Mr Potter’s high requirements. But if properly approached , the holiday season can provide a real opportunity to unwind and to forget day-to-day worries for a short time.

Clearly this is excellent therapy for the nervous dyspeptic; his lack of anxiety reduces his dyspepsia. Sooner or later, however, he will have to return to work and to all his old problems and anxieties. This is the time when Libraxin  can be of particular value. Libraxin, which combines the anti-anxiety properties of Librium with the anti-secretory properties of clidinium, is most effective on the treatment of nervous dyspepsia.

It is possible that Potter’s booklet was aimed at GPs or psychiatrists rather than members of the public, for printed on the back flap were the following words:

Basic NHS cost 25 tablets: 

3/10 ½  (500 rate)

4/8d. (100 rate)

5/4d.(25 rate)

Potter is an interesting writer. Born in London on 1 February 1900, just a week after the death of Queen Victoria, he also missed action in the First World War, it having ended while he was training to be an officer. He then went on to study English at Oxford. On graduating he was offered a job as a Talks Producer for the fledgling BBC, but turned it down because it was based in Birmingham, where he didn’t want to live. Instead he established himself as an elocution teacher in London, advertising ‘Cockney accents cured ‘. He was then a tutor and schoolmaster before becoming private secretary to the playwright Henry Arthur Jones.

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The Sunday Times Book of Answers (1993)

In 1993 Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil, editor of the Sunday Times, initiated a regular column in his paper inviting readers to submit answers to the origins of well known phrases and institutions. In the same year a book appeared with some of these answers. Many of these submissions now read like the outrageous fictional suggestions that Private Eyeoccasionally publish in one of their columns.

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Who was the ‘ Bob’ in the phrase ‘ Bob’s your uncle ?

Only one reader offered a solution. Bob, according to Tecwen Whittock of mid Glamorgan, was Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne Cecil, better known as Lord Salisbury, the last man to be Prime Minister while a member of the House of Lords. The phrase came into use when Salisbury promoted his nephew, A. J. Balfour, to the post of Chief Secretary for Northern Ireland in 1887. Fifteen years later Balfour succeeded his uncle Bob as Prime Minister.

It is interesting to note that Tecwen Whittock later achieved notoriety as the audience member with the chronic cough who it was alleged helped Major Ingram  win a million pounds on ‘ Who Wants to be a Millionaire ‘. But Whittock was surely incorrect in stating that Balfour was Chief Secretary for Northern Ireland, which only came into existence in 1921, after the island was divided into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Balfour was in fact Chief Secretary of Ireland. So perhaps Mr Whittock was not the reliable quiz expert he appeared to be.

Today there is general acceptance that this derivation is correct.

If it is not over until the fat lady sings, who is the fat lady and what does she sing ?

Four readers thought they had the answer to this question. One thought it was a portly singer in the role of Brunhilde in a Seattle production of Wagner’s Ring; another felt it was the woman who sang the national anthem at American baseball matches; another argued it was the overweight American diva Kate Smith; however, the most convincing answer came from a Mr Robert Fox of Shrewsbury who contended that it referred to someone who sang at the first performance of Wagner’s Ring in 1876.

Today the most popular derivation is the one featuring the overweight Miss Kate Smith.

When did homosexuals become gay ?

Only one reader dared to answer this question. Ms Emma Fox, a Ph D candidate at my alma mater, the University of Birmingham, argues that the term was beginning to be used by around 1900. According to her, men drawn to wearing gaudy clothes were popularly regarded as effeminate. She argues that in  R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  Jekyll’s admission that he is torn between a life of gaiety and one of gravity suggests that he is a closet homosexual. Also in Conrad’s Victory (1915) the ’openly homosexual Jones wears a ‘ gay’ blue silk dressing gown. By 1957 – 8 yay novelist E. M. Forster used the word in his story ‘The Other Boat’ to described the hedonistic lifestyle which the protagonist Lionel wishes to experience.

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Royal Alphabet Game (R.A.G)

This game was sent to Jot by someone call Opal Alger, possibly a pseudonym, but it conforms to the rules of her or his game. They call it the ‘Royal Alphabet Game’ (R.A.G) as it was supposed to have been played by kings** – possibly the unfortunate Edward VIII, who may have used it to get to sleep (as Shakespaere wrote:’Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’.)

Image conjured up at Dall-E

Lewis Carroll was also fond of these ‘waiting’ games. They can be played in your head while waiting at a dentist or barber or as a passenger in plane train car or bus or especially lying in bed unable to sleep.
R.A.G. goes like this— you start with AA and move on to AB AC AD etc., Each time you are looking for a word that begins with the 2 letters and ends with the 2 letters and you form a sentence or statement from these. Any word in any language will do – it just has to exist. If it doesn’t you are just fooling yourself…

Place names, proper names and known slang are OK. Also initialled words (‘Best Beatles LP? Help!) At AA you could have “Aaron’s lamb bleated ‘baa‘ and at AB “Grab a ticket to see the virtual Abba” or ‘A very drab abbot.’ At AC “Lets bivouac across the Ganges.” You get the point… going all the way through to ZZ – “’Time to grab some ZZ’s said the tired guy with the buzz cut.’ Many letters will have no solution at all (eg QQ or BC) – in those case move swiftly onwards.

Scoring? Not necessary but if you want you can score 1 for one word, 2 for 2 and 3 for a particularly amusing, clever or surreal solution. For this punching the air or sketching out a tick or shouting or mouthing ‘Yes!’ will also do. Try ‘Damn mnemonics!’ or ‘Xenophobes avoid the Prix Fixe menu’ or ‘The best xylophone in the galaxy.’ For the advanced player there is a 3 word version that could (with over 2000 potential solutions) take months to do but is said by Opal to be very satisfying..more of that later.

**The web shows nothing on this but as Bruno said: Se non è vero, è molto ben trovato –‘if it is not true, it is a happy invention.’

Bluff Your Way in Literature

Found in a cupboard at Jot HQ is this very slim (66 pages), pocket sized guide on how to ‘ get on ‘ in the literary world by surely the one man qualified to help you. By 1966, when the booklet appeared from Wolfe Publishing, who had hitherto brought out other bluffer’s guides to Finance, Music and Marketing,  Martin, Seymour- Smith was already the best-known and most industrious compiler of literary reference works in Britain. But unlike many literary critics he came to this point in a meandering way. Having started auspiciously as the undergraduate editor of both Oxford University’s Isis Magazine and Oxford Poetry, he subsequently sailed off to Majorca to tutor the son of Robert Graves, then spent six years as a schoolmaster in Sussex, and it was only from 1960 that he was able to support himself as a freelance writer.

His poetry had already impressed many critics, including C. H .Sisson and Geoffrey Grigson. Robert Nye dubbed him ‘the best British poet after 1945’, but to most readers of novels, he was , with a reading knowledge of twenty languages, simply the most wide-ranging critic of world fiction in the UK. Like Grigson, he was not afraid to court notoriety by his outspoken views on certain modish writers. For instance, he criticized the work of John Fowles, Muriel Spark, C. P.Snow, Malcolm Bradbury and Ted Hughes. He also felt that Shaw, Pinter, Attwood, Auden and Tom Stoppard were over-rated. On the other hand he argued that Hardy, Laura Riding, Wyndham Lewis and Rayner Heppenstall were severely underrated. Even more controversially, he called Wyndham Lewis ‘ the greatest British writer of the twentieth century ‘.

Grigson felt the same about the lack of attention given to Lewis by fashionable critics. In many ways the two critics shared certain traits: Seymour-Smith described himself as ‘ tense, malarial, angry as a bull when roused, ugly, clownish…and a compulsive talker’. Like Grigson, he kept himself away from the literary establishment, ‘mistrusting its machinations and self-importance’.  According to the reviewer of Seymour-Smith’s Who’s Who in Twentieth Century Literature, he ‘wasn’t for everyone’. He could be over harsh and mean spirited. His many ‘put downs and undercooked psychoanalysis’ might alienate some readers. However, he compensated for some hilariously biased judgments by his willingness to challenge received wisdom and established reputations. Such a book, the reviewer concluded ‘would be impossible to write today’. Times change. In the current  literary world, where diversity and Wokeness count for more than talent and originality, we perhaps could do with someone like Seymour –Smith to kick over the ant-hill.

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Richmal Crompton on writing for children

Today, when fully formed adults from around the world queue patiently at the portal to  Platform 9 ¾ at  King’s Cross Station to have their photograph taken beside the Harry Potter luggage trolley, it’s worth reading another and better children’s writer, the one-time Classics teacher and creator of William, Richmal Crompton, as she explains in an article in the October 1952 issue of The Writer, how she began her career as a writer for adults.

‘I submitted the first one to a women’s magazine and the editor, accepting it, asked for another story about children. I remember that I racked my brains, trying to invent a different set of children from the ones I had already used, and it was with a feeling of guilt and inadequacy that I finally fell back again on the children of the first story. Asked for a third story about children, I wrestled once more with the temptation to use the same set of children, succumbing to it finally with the same sense of guilt. When I had written the fifth story I said to myself: “This must stop. You must find a completely different set of children for the next story.” But somehow I didn’t and gradually the ‘William’ books evolved. They were still, however, regarded as books for adult reading, and I think it was not till the last war that they found their way from the general shelves to the children’s department in the bookshops. And even now I receive letters from adult—even elderly –readers…

…if you are writing about children for children, you must be able to see the world around you as a child sees it. To “ write down” for children is an insult that a child is quick to perceive and resent. Children enjoy assimilating new facts and ideas, but only if the writer is willing to rediscover these facts and ideas with the children, not if he hands out information from the heights of adult superiority. I think the fact that the ‘William’ stories wer4e originally with no eye on a child-reading public has helped to make them popular with children…The plots are not specially devised for children, but I think that if there’s anything I the story that children don’t understand they just don’t worry about it. Children, too, seem to like a series of stories dealing with the same character—especially if it’s a character  with which the normal child can identify itself…

In those early days I saw myself as a budding novelist and wrote the William stories —rather carelessly and hurriedly—as pot-boilers. The history of the pot-boiler, by the way, is an interesting one. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Hans Andersen’s fairy tales, Stevenson’s Treasure Island were all written as pot-boilers…Stevenson would have been surprised to know that after his death the story that people connected most readily with his name would be Treasure Island…

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Curries in 1924

Talented artist, friend of Beardsley and writer on cookery, G. F. Scotson Clark ( see previous Jots) , was particularly fond of curries which, though they had been the staple of Anglo-Indian families since the late eighteenth century, were only just becoming popular with restaurant customers in the United Kingdom when his first book, Eating Without Fears , appeared in 1924. Here are his views on curries. 

‘ I was brought up on curry. Mine is an Anglo-Indian family. So fond was my mother of curry, that she used to declare she was weaned on it. In our old home one day we would have” Uncle Edward’s “curry, on another,“ Uncle Charles’s”. Uncle Charles was the only member of the family who was a Madrasi. All the rest were Bengalis, and our early recollections of Uncle Charles—when I was about seven or eight years old—are that his curries were infernally hot. The older he got—and he was close to ninety then—the hotter became his curries, until at last no one but himself could eat them. He lived in a curious old house in Bayswater, a house literally walled with books. The doubled drawing-room upstairs was always scattered with papers. He wrote from morning till night, but what he wrote I know not, except that he was the author of a Telegu dictionary in some twelve volumes, which I am sure no one ever read…

There is no necessity for a curry to be hot—hot with pepper to burn the tongue. Too much curry powder, or curry powder insufficiently cooked, is generally the cause of this. At the same time it should be piquant and not like a  stew with a flavouring of curry.

When the gas was cut off by the Gas Board at his small ‘ Bohemian Club ‘in London frequented  by ‘ artists, writers, barristers, soldiers, sailors, the clergy, including two bishops’, Scotson Clark volunteered to cook an Indian dinner using only a chafing dish and a spirit stove. The menu was: 

                                                                    Mulligatawny Soup


                                                                     Curry of Veal and Rice

                                                            with Bombay Ducks, Chutney, and

                                                                    West Indian Pickles

                                                                     Iced oranges

                                                                      Fruit Curry

The complicated  recipe for mulligatawny soup is as follows: 

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Sound advice and some complaints from Johnnie and Fanny Cradock

Taken from Bon Viveurs’s London and the British Isles (1956).

1) For wine drinkers.

Whenever possible order your wine in advance of your meal so that whites may be properly chilled and the reds brought gently and slowly to room temperature. It ruins a wine to stuff it into a pan of hot water…Do not smoke while drinking wine…Take a mouth of claret or burgundy, for example, draw in a good lungful of cigarette smoke and see how much bouquet and flavour you can detect through the smoke barrage. Now rinse out you r mouth with lukewarm water. Stub out that cigarette, eat a crust of bread and start all over again. If you do not notice a difference, SMOKE; you must be choked with catarrh and would not taste anything anyway. Do you begin to follow now?

Do not obey the final idiocy, which we have heard declaimed in public recently and also read in famous publications,‘ put yourself in the hands of the wine-waiter’! Do nothing of the sort. The chances are ten to one he knows less than you do! Either he knew years ago and is now too old and tired to remember, or care; or else he doesn’t know because he is too young, having grown up through the war years when he could not learn because there was practically no wine. He was, anyway, not a waiter in all probability during the war. Let us remember this with respect, he much more likely was a member of one of His Majesty’s fighting forces.

Avoid at all costs being a vintage or price snob. It is fallacious to suppose that you must purchase great wines in order to have vinous pleasures. You choose how much you want to spend. You keep the wine list and read it as slowly and carefully as you like. You select the wine you want to try. But if this happens to be one which you have never tasted before, copy out the details about it and add your own comments on its colour, nose, bouquet and its flavour. Remember, a wine connoisseur is a man with a long memory, and memory, like everything else, must be helped and trained at the beginning

Arrange your meal—however simple—the way you want. Do not be bullied by us or by anyone else either. Choose the wine or wines and build the meal around it or them. Choose the food and select the wines to blend harmoniously with your chosen dishes. Just remember, wine should not be the boss and food should not be the boss. Your aim is to achieve a happy marriage in which each p-lays a part producing a balanced harmonious whole in which flatters and enhances the other, and does not strive to steal a majority of the thunder.

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London restaurants in Fanny and Jonnie Cradock’s Bon Viveur (1956) that are still open today


1) The Ivy

‘A classic name in the restaurant world and one most significant to the men and women of the theatre, the Ivy has at last changed hands. Since its inception until, last year it was under the administration of M. Abel, who so many will think of in his present-day retirement with affection and respect.

Now an entirely new ‘ character’ takes over—a big, boisterous, gentle, tough, kindly Edwardian fish king with a tremendous laugh, and a fair measure of that divine inheritance which is cockney humour. Waving a vast paw, he tells you, ‘I’m in fish, m’ father was in fish, I know fish, and yet I still put vinegar on my oysters because I like ‘em that way. It’s the fish lark that has given me four restaurants in London.’ Here he is apt to pause and reflect—the four restaurants seem both to astonish and tickle him. In a world overrun with meagre men Bernard Walsh stands out, nor alone for his height and build—nor for his silver side-whiskers and fancy weskits, but for his overall rumbustious largeness. Thirty-eight pancakes is his normal portion. ‘I like pancakes’, he explains. He probably has more friends among the press than any other restaurateur in London, and that speaks as loud and hearty as his laugh.

As he also likes meat, and Bernard, we say ‘gets what he wants’, the meat and the fish are quite excellent at the Ivy. Oysters are opened at the table ( the Bill of Fare states this), gives the prices—12s. No 2 Natives, 15s. No 1 Natives, 21s. Colchester—and Bernard adds as we twinkle at each other, ‘ I take the boast, ‘natives’ off my menu, when every fish-boy knows the town has run out of ‘em—which is more than some restaurants do.’ He is correct.

Correct, too, and good value are his Moules Mariniere ( 6s 6d), superb lobsters ( the scene on one occasion when these were cooked in the morning for evening service instead of in the afternoon!), served Cardinal, Newburg, Mornay and Thermidor for 11s. 6d.; his entrecotes( 7s. 6d.), mixed grill ( 10s. 6d.) , chops ( 7s.6d.) and lamb cutlets ( 7s.6d.).

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S.P.B.Mais meets Sir Hugh Walpole

Hugh Walpole was once one of the most popular and richest novelists in Britain. Today he is hardly read, though he still has his fans; in 2020 The Hugh Walpole Society was founded in an attempt to resurrect his reputation. Back in the early thirties, when Walpole’s star was at its highest, the journalist and broadcaster S. P. B. Mais ( see previous Jots), while rambling in the Lake District, popped in to talk to him at Brackenburn, his ‘ small stone house’ on the edge of Derwentwater, not far from Keswick. This is the impression of Walpole that Mais published in his Weekends in England(1933).

S P B Mais (1885 – 1975) with wife Doris

‘A most charming host I have seldom met. He took me all over his house, muttering , “ I hope I’m not boring you, “ as he turned out treasure after treasure for my inspection. There was a thirteenth century missal, exquisitely painted. “I got that from an old man in Carlisle, “ he said. There were the holograph manuscripts  of “ The Fortunes of Nigel “, with scarcely a correction, the proof sheets of the same novel with many corrections, not only by Scott, but also by Ballantyne, there were letters from Charlotte Bronte showing how deeply she loved her husband, letters from Thackeray showing how he disliked Dickens, especially in his relation to America, there were very rare early editions of Kipling and Bennett, and first editions  of every Victorian and Georgian novelist, some glorious pictures of C. J. Holmes, Sickert, Bone, Grant and most of the moderns.

Altogether a house of taste.

Then we were taken over the garden and shown the bee-hives and the superb view over the woods of Manesty to the lake.

But the thing that remains most in my mind beyond the lovely pictures and beautifully bound and rare books is the quality of Mr Walpole’s voice.

It was full of genuine friendliness and charm…’

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Eating without Fears: a second helping

In our first Jot on the artist and cook Scotson-Clark, we referred to the time he spent working in the City just after he had left school. After reading further into his very autobiographical book we now know much more after about this period in his life. It seems that one of his jobs was as a clerk in ‘ a very old-established wine business ‘. He describes the premises with the eye of a painter:

‘ The office was spacious, with large windows. In the winter a comfortable fire burned in the large open grate in the outer office. Green silk curtains screened the lower part of the windows from the vulgar gaze of the passer-by, and corresponding green silk curtains screened the upper part of the desks from the customers or visitors who chanced to call. The ledgers were so large that it was as much as I could do to carry them from the safe to my desk. Quill pens had retired in favour of steel ones on my entry, as had the sand-box in favour of blotting paper. There was no evidence of wine about the place—that would have been vulgar—but the atmosphere was charged with a delicious blend of the sweet aromae of wine, brandy and corks, that came up from the cellar…’

Scotson-Clark then goes on to describe the process of wine-tasting performed by the chief of the business, ‘a most polished gentleman if the old school’.

‘ I have often him with six or seven glasses of wine before him—each glass with a hidden label on the foot, reject four o five on the bouquet alone and then the remaining ones would be tested and arranged in their order of merit before the labels were looked at. And then came the final test of colour. A special old Waterford glass was used for this. It was most beautifully cut, though the lip was as thin as a visiting card. The stem was a trifle dumpy because it had been broken many times and blown together again, and with each repair , so had the stem shrunk. Then there was a special glass for claret, one with an out-turned lip. He liked it because it distributed the bouquet. Now the dock glass you will remember is slightly larger at the bottom than at the top, the alleged object being to concentrate the bouquet so that it escapes just below the nostrils…The glass should be wide enough at the top to admit the nose of moderate proportions, for the bouquet of the vintage is of great importance as the taste.

Champagne should not be taken from a tumbler except as a “corpse reviver” in the forenoon, and at that hour and, for that purpose, an inferior wine is as suitable as a good one, especially if it be “Niblitized”, that is, has incorporated in it a liqueur glass of brandy and a squeeze of lime, with the rind dropped in the glass. Neither the palate nor the stomach is in a fit condition to receive champagne before 8 p.m., and then it should be taken from the thinnest of thin glasses, either of the trumpet or inverted mushroom shape….On principle I am against hollow stems, except as curiosities. Nor do I like coloured glasses, except for hock which is apt to be slightly cloudy

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S. P. B. Mais on Leisure and the Herd Mentality

‘ It is quite obvious that in the years to come we shall have to tackle this business of employing leisure much more scientifically than has hitherto been the case. For about 150 years men have been struggling to obtain leisure, and now that they have got it they don’t know what to do with it. Education has been no preparation for it. When the average working man gets any leisure he spends it in the purely passive pursuit of watching films, dog-racing or football. Leisure, which surely ought first and foremost to be an opportunity for giving vent to mans passion to express himself, to create something, is wasted  in serving commercial interests.

Our first mistake is to spend our leisure in herds. It has been wisely said that religion is what a man does with his loneliness, and one result of modern civilisation has been to make men afraid of being by themselves. They look upon loneliness as a state to be avoided. In a word they fight shy of it exactly as they fight shy of the word religion.

Too much obedience of the herd extinct has gone along way to destroy our liberty of action and liberty of thought. We follow the dictates of convention and society quite blindly without stopping to think whether we are wise in applying them to our own case. “ It isn’t done,” is our parrot-like remonstrance when someone suggests a convenient but unusual mode of behaviour, like walking coatless in the street on a hot day or drinking tea out of the saucer to cool it. 

Our first duty to ourselves is to is to learn to know ourselves, and we shall never do that by always keeping with the crowd. The world is far too full of leagues and societies and clubs and associations. There ought to be an Association for those who vow never to belong to any association. 

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The artist as cook:

George Frederick Scotson-Clark

Some cooks may be artists in their own way, but artists are rarely cooks. But if this little book, Eating without Fears, a minor  best-seller in 1924 ( we have a third edition which we found in the Jot 101 archive at HQ) is any indication, the fin de siecle artist, G. F. Scotson –Clark was certainly both, albeit in a very minor way.

Scotson-Clark, the son of a famous organists and composer was the same age as his fellow illustrator and friend Aubrey Beardsley, and was in the same class with him at Brighton Grammar School.  But while Beardsley left school to pursue a brilliant but short career, his friend decided to try his luck in the City ( his biographers described him as a ‘ businessman ‘), only to change direction at the age of twenty when he emigrated to the United States. Here he may well have continued as a businessman for all we know, but what we do know is that his natural talent for drawing ( he appears to have been self-taught) saw him supplying art work for several American newspapers and magazines, including the New York Sunday World. He also designed posters for The Outing and worked as a stage and costume designer.

Then, in 1897, aged twenty-five, Scotson-Clark returned to England, where he remained until his death. He continued to design posters, mainly for the theatre, and his interest in the Music Hall is strongly evident in perhaps his best-known ( and certainly most expensive book), The Halls, which appeared in 1906. Scotson-Clark, though talented as a graphic artist , lacked the amazing originality of Beardsley, hence perhaps his comparatively low-profile as an illustrator today. His plates for The Halls, for instance, are strongly influences by the ‘ Beggarstaff Brothers ‘ who were very popular at around the same time. 

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Ethel Mannin on writing

We have seen in a previous Jot how in The Writer magazine Compton Mackenzie told readers about his writing methods. Inspired by this article, the prolific novelist, anarchist, anti-imperialist and pacifist Ethel Mannin (1900 – 84) offered an account in the same magazine of her own working life.

She begins her piece by declaring that she dislikes dictating her work to another person. It’s too much like ‘undressing in public ‘. Dictating machines were around in her time, so it’s odd that she doesn’t mention these. Nevertheless, she admits to preferring to see her words on paper in the form of typing, mainly because she has difficulties on deciphering her own writing. She continues:

‘ In the twenties, when I was a young writer, I liked to emulate Arnold Bennett and keep office hours for work, and for a number of years I did so…, keeping to the 9.30 -6 working day I had know during my four years of office experience. But in those days life was different. Then I was a young married woman with a baby, a resident servant and a husband coming home at seven each evening. By the thirties I was on my own and living a quite different kind of life. A good deal of it was lived in hotels and pensions all over Europe, but still I tried to keep to a regular working day, though the hours began to be more flexible. I hardly know at what point in the forties I turned into the night worker I now inveterately am. Life changed again; resident domestic helped was replaced by daily women two or three times a week—an arrangement by this time , with an increasing liking for solitariness, I much prefer…I live alone—and like it.

The routine now is that I get into the study between ten and eleven in the mornings and am very often still there at midnight. Most of the day until six in the evening in occupied with mail ( like Sir Compton Mackenzie, I deal with about 4,000 letters a year ); then there are six clear hours till midnight for the book I am working on. I seldom continue much after midnight, feeling too mentally tired by then, though not sleepy. I doubt if it is possible to work for more than five or six hours out of the twenty-four on actual writing. On the days when the mail is less I start work—the actual writing, that is—in the afternoon, but then perhaps a guest is coming or supper and I must finish by seven or eight. Even so, I have been eight hours at the typewriter—a full working judges by non-literary standards. Leaving the study around midnight, I read for a while in bed and my bedside light is seldom out before 1 a.m.—often later…

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Leonard Rossiter

The Lowest Form of Wit

Now that the season of good will to all men is behind us Jot 101 can safely tackle the art of sarcasm, examples of which can be found in a compilation published by the gifted comic actor  Leonard Rossiter ( The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, Rising Damp) in The Lowest Form of Wit (1981).

Now I ‘ didn’t get where I am today ‘ by insisting that all the items   included in his book are good or even funny examples of sarcasm, but here are some of the better ones:-

The novelist James Joyce had an encounter with a fan, a woman who grabbed his hand and asked him fervently:

‘ May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses ?’

‘ No’, Joyce told her. ‘ It did other things too.’

Fred Keating once remarked of the actress Tallulah Bankhead:

‘I’ve just spend an hour talking to Tallulah for a few minutes.’

Of Hollywood Rex Reed remarked:

‘Hollywood is where if you don’t have happiness you send out for it.’

Margaret Kendal called Sarah Bernhardt:

‘ A great actress from the waist down.’

And Somerset Maugham , watching Spencer Tracy on set during the filming of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde asked a friend beside him:

‘Which is he playing now?’ 

Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree was nothing if not dramatic in his entrances on stage, always contriving to make the greatest impact on an audience when he appeared for the first time. So, on the opening might of his latest play, he flung open a pair of double- doors centre-stage, at the back of the set, and stood there for a moment holding an impressive attitude and looking straight out into the house. He was just about to launch into his first speech when he was pre—empted by a voice from the goods shouting:

‘Next station Marble Arch!’

Horace Walpole commented on the on the works of Samuel Richardson:

‘The works of Richardson …are pictures of high life as conceived by a bookseller, and romances as they would be spiritualized by a Methodist preacher.’

Oscar Wilde on Hall Caine:

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