Cycling on the ‘Continong’ in 1906

Two things that jump out from a cursory glance at The Continong by the pseudonymous Anar de la Grenouillere, F.O.N.S., of which a file copy of the fourth edition of 1906 was found at Jot HQ the other day, is first the rather forced facetious tone of its advice to travellers to France, and secondly the predominance of references to cyclists.

In 1894, when The Continong  first appeared, the motor car had only been around for a handful of years and so presumably the author did not feel it necessary even to acknowledge its existence. But by 1906, when many more manufacturers were producing cars, this rise in traffic is not acknowledged in this ‘revised and updated ‘edition. Touring France for the English speaker was still all about railways or, in Paris, ‘buses and trams  ( though not the Metro, although this had been established by 1906)  possibly walking, horse-drawn ‘cabs’ but most of all, cycling. Compared to the four pages devoted to railways and three on cabs and cabbies, the author provides fifteen pages of advice for cyclists.

The first few pages of this advice are devoted to what to expect on arriving in France. British cyclists are urged to join the TFC (Touring Club de France) which was founded in 1890. For a mere five shillings a year, benefits include a Handbook, and the exemption of duty on their cycles, and for a few extra francs a Year-book containing a list of over 3,000 approved hotels, at which members enjoy a privileged position as to charges, a Year-book for foreign countries and a book of ‘skeleton tours’ for the whole of France and adjoining countries. Incidentally, a compulsory requirement for cycles being ridden in France and elsewhere on the continent was a name-plate ‘bearing the name and address of the owner (and) attached to the machine’. This seems to have been the equivalent of a car licence plate, which back then became a legal required for motor vehicles in 1903. Again, this suggests that cycles were seen as the predominant form of personal transport, at least in France.

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The Encyclopedia of Insulting Behaviour  (Anonymous 1981).

Forget the Season of Good Will. Behaving insultingly is much more fun. Over Christmas why not try out some of these stunts.


Insist on paying for everything in sterling.

Ask for local delicacies and leave them on your plate.

Drink Guinness or Scotch everywhere.

Wear your military decorations at all customs checks

Order a cup of tea at 9.00 p.m. in a pavement café on a Saturday night and sit over it for as long as you dare.

Wave back at policemen who whistle at you and wave their truncheons. ( Have your number plates covered in mud first!)

In banks

If there isn’t a queue form one by asking the cashier as many questions as you can think of  until the people get fed up and either go out or move to another window.( Questions about holiday money just before Christmas are always a success.) 

If there is a queue make it longer by writing your cheque incorrectly. Get the date wrong. Write another name by mistake and appear to see the fraud, enter a huge sum, say £10,000, and then change it to £10.00. Drop your pen, or lose it in your handbag while this is going on.

On the Beach.

Play your transistor very loud, but play Radio 3.

Take elaborate picnics with iced wine and proper cutlery, especially if you’ve noticed that everyone else is eating corned beef out of a tin.

At Christmas

Refuse to give any guests a drink on the grounds that it’s for their own good not to drink and drive. Have plenty of soft drinks to offer them though. Then pour yourself a large Scotch on the grounds that you aren’t going anywhere and don’t have to worry.

Send no Christmas cards at all.

Send the television set to be serviced on Christmas Eve.

Fill the children’s stockings with ‘useful presents’—O level revision cards, that sort of thing.

Turn up the television when the carol singers arrive and turn off the lights until they go away.

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More hilarious bits from Denys Parsons’ Much Too Funny for Words

Detectives making last-minute enquiries went to a stable in Berkshire yesterday. They wanted to interview the occupier.

Evening Standard.

Miss Y—, the well known singer was nearly poisoned at one time. So she said at the meeting on Tuesday. When she stated that she had been nearly poisoned , the features of the members expressed regret.

Irish Paper.

This policy offers absolute security in the event of any kind of fatal accident.

Insurance advert

London firemen with rescue gear were called early yesterday to Dorset Street, Marylebone, where a man fell into a basement yard. He was lifted to road level, injured, and taken to hospital.

Daily Mail.

The young woman, with a baby in her arms, appeared at the window amidst flames and smoke and yelled quick proof to the editor.

Sunday Paper.

The lad was described as lazy, and when his mother asked him to go to work he threatened to smash her brains out. The case was adjourned for three weeks in order to give the lad another chance.

Manchester Paper.

The service was conducted by te Rev. Charles H—–MA, the bridegroom. The service was of a quiet nature owing to the recent death of the bride.

Blackpool Times.

WANTED, a Gent’s or Lady’s Bicycle for a Pure Bred Sable and White Collie.

Lincolnshire Paper.

There is a sub-department at Scotland Yard which looks after Kings and visiting potentates, Cabinet Ministers, spies, anarchists, and other undesirables.

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Another helping of misprints and syntactic fatuity from Much too Funny for Words by Denys Parsons ( 1985)

It is generally agreed that human beings acquire sleeping sickness from biting flies

The Pioneer.

It is estimated that about 16 foxes were shot or killed by the hounds

FOR SALE. Baker’s business, good trade, large oven, present owner been in it for seventeen years.

                                           FATHER OF TEN SHOT


                                               MISTAKEN FOR RABBIT

Headline in New York paper.

What is more beautiful for the blonde to wear for formal dances than while tulle? My

Answer—and I’m sure you will agree with me—is ‘ Nothing’.

Worcester ( Massachusetts) Evening Gazette.

Mr Lloyd George, patron saint of the Liberal Party, was a very astute gentleman with both ears glued to the ground. Naturally, he could not see very far ahead.

Scottish paper

A representative said that people saw in the movement a real big octopus which would put its ring around them and swallow them up.

Essex paper

This criticism is not open, as Britishers would be, and consequently is difficult to nail down, but, lie a snake in the grass, is whispered behind a hand which covers a sneering face.

Letter in Rugeley Mercury

In the first important utterance of the Chairman of the Board, he has, so to say, thrown the Board overboard and ploughed his own canoe.

Ceylonese Paper.

Said a Farnborough shopkeeper, ‘ The Council is pulling the bread and butter from under our feet’.

Farnborough Paper.

The great white elephant which is slowly emerging from the chrysalis at the end of Sepoy Lines has yet to be opened.

Malayan Paper

The rich man’s motor may sow the seed of the class war, but the landlord’s horse yielded the milk of human kindness.

Bradford Paper.

‘Gentlemen, we will have nothing to do with it; it is but the thin end of a white elephant.’

Hampshire Town Councillor.

Speaking at Mablethorpe Council meeting, Councillor P. Thomas said: ‘ This Council is fiddling while Mablethorpe is settling under the pounding hoofs of motorists.’

Local Paper.

Fortunately for the workmen the glass fell perpendicularly, for had it fallen vertically, the accident in all probability would have proved serious.

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Fun with Puns

Fun with Puns

Found at Jot HQ the other day, a small booklet of 48 pages entitled  A Pennyworth of Puns, which in its references to Home Rule and The New Woman,  can be dated to the close of the nineteenth century. In its attempts to describe various types of pun, to date its origin to Ancient Greece and to comment on its place in the history of English humour, this is more a disquisition on the pun than a mere list of examples of it. Perhaps we should begin with some punning book titles.   

In a previous Jot we listed some witty book titles which one writer had concocted for books in his library. Thomas Hood was asked by the Duke of Devonshire to come up with titles that he could place on the spines of a ‘ blind door ‘ in his library at Chatsworth. Not all can be appreciated today, but the following are some of the best.

Book titles

Cooke’s Specimens of the Sandwich Tongue 

Wolfe’s Treatment of Sheep

Boyle on the Gums

Bunyan on the Foot: by a Pilgrim

Walker’s Excursions to the Birthplaces of distinguished Travellers.


Why is a postage stamp like a naughty boy?

Because it’s licked and put in a corner.

What makes Treason reason, and Ireland wretched ?

The absentee (T)

Why is it a dangerous thing to sit in the free seats at church?

Because you learn to be good for nothing

Why is a novelist the most extraordinary of animals?

Because his tale comes out of his head.

Why is blindman’s buff like sympathy ?

Because it is a fellow feeling for a fellow creature.

When is a ship in love ?

When she is attached to a buoy

When is her love serious?

When she wants a mate.

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John Buchan parody by AI and a Clo-Kepp attendee

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Illustration from DALL-E when asked for a book cover for Buchan’s The Three Hostages. It doesnt seem to understand his name..

I asked Chat GPT to come up with a John Buchan parody. The brief was to write a piece with the context of rain outside, a man and wife inside and an unexpected visit by a friend. This had been the brief for a parody found in the annual school magazine of Clovelly-Kepplestone (1930) a private boarding school for girls in Eastbourne, Sussex. It flourished from 1908 until 1934 and was familiarly known to staff and pupils as “Clo-Kepp”. There is a very comprehensive piece on it at Wikipedia.

The Clo-Kepp John Buchan parody, probably by a school girl, is an amusing and well tuned effort:

    “The night was wild and rainy and reminded me of the time when old Hatiron and I were engaged in that business of the Forty-second Psalm. My wife, who was busily employed in the stitching and repairing of one of my shirts, torn during the day’s shooting at Clan Haggis, remarked upon the persistently bad weather we had been experiencing of late, and wondered, the streams being then in spate, whether I should not take a week off to try the mettle of the fish in the Ben Slioch burns.

    I opened The Times, and, glancing casually through its pages, noted with surprise that Flaxman had resigned his post in the Ministry. He was always pretty keen on politics, though strangely recondite in his views on Empire Policy, which he declared was sheer jingoism and inflated proletarianism.  However, it seemed strange that he should leave the Ministry at a time when Burton was intent on seeing that England got what she wanted.

    ” Well, what’s the news ? ” inquired my wife.

    ” Oh, very little,” I replied, ” the usual things ;  I see Flaxman has retired.  I can’t help thinking there must be something to it.”

    Just then the bell rang, and after a moment Breeves came in to ask if we were at home to Mr. Thoughtnot.

    ” Why, Jimmy,” I cried, ” this is a marvellous surprise.”  The last time I had heard of him he had been wandering about Samarkand disguised as a Shiari ; and had you spoken of him in a certain hovel where the mountains dip down beside the valley, which runs towards Tashkent, you would have heard strange things of him.  For Jimmy was a Lawrence in those parts, and there is not a wandering pedlar on the Kirgiz Steppe who will not give a night’s lodging to him who mentions Raskashpol.

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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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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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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.’

Zen and the art of Wordle

Are there ways of solving Wordle in 2 or 3 goes? One go is pure chance, although undoubtedly a glorious feeling, to get it in two is very lucky– possibly  with a touch of inspiration and nouse, three is quite do-able but feels great when achieved.  So aiming at three tier wins and hoping for  better this is a method, the Tao or Zen of Wordle…Partially inspired by re-reading Martin Amis’s now rare and very dated Invasion of the Space Invaders and  his advice for winning  the game Scramble where, inevitably, a swarm of deadly red snowballs come hailing at you from the east. Firing at them is apparently useless–Martin’s advice in order to survive is to go into “a sort of low level Zen trance.” It’s the same with Wordle (the NY Times version). Those smarty New Yorkers know all about the standard openers— so say goodbye to Adios and Adieu, ignore opening words like Least and the 15th century Helmet known as a Salet and just type in the first 5 letter word that pops into your mind the exact moment the NYT Wordle page opens— probably best to avoid words with 2 of the same letter like truss, tests etc.,


Getting into slightly occult, not to say Wu-Wu or pseudo science territory it may be better to do Wordle towards the end of its 24 hours. Our own great organic farmer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, evidently a Wordle player,  tweeted about “the controversial (but appealing) theory of morphic resonance, which predicts that puzzles should get easier to do once a critical mass of human minds have solved them…’ This theory was advanced a while back about crosswords – it was suggested  that they were easier to solve the next day when everybody had done them and even the answers were printed. I have a feeling some tests were done..

You need all the help you can get with Wordle and if tapping into Jung’s Collective Unconscious (or the Unified Field) helps, let it be. The other day the opening word that came to mind was  ‘risen’ giving me 3 right letters all in the wrong place so I went to Crisp, which gave 3 letters (ris) in the right order and I triumphed at 3 on Brisk (Frisk is a bit British and NY is a brisk sort of place). If no inspiration comes I use the word Nymph or Lymph, for no good reason— and that’s a good reason.



Some nightclubs and ‘dives ‘ of post-war London


Jot 101 Night club dancing pic

We at Jot HQ know our audience. We know, for instance, that Jots on long-departed restaurants and pubs in London are popular. Presumably, Jots on seedy night clubs and ‘ dives ‘ ( do people still use this word to describe such resorts ?) will also prove popular. People are certainly curious about the London drug culture of yesteryear. They are aware that drugs like opium and cocaine have been around, thought not always easily available, for two centuries or more. They know that S. T. Coleridge and Thomas de Quincey were slaves to laudanum and that Sherlock Holmes was a cocaine addict. They are perhaps not so sure about the history of marijuana consumption in the UK before it became the drug of choice among hippies in the swinging sixties.. One of the most interesting sides of The Good Time Guide to Londonis the candour with which the more disreputable and sleazy pleasures of the flesh— from sex , (the while slave trade and prostitution)—  to hard drinking and drug taking are discussed in 1951. This is such a contrast to a guide like Dining Out in London, published in the same year, which merely covers restaurants. In fact, The Good Time Guide to Londonseems to revel in the seamier side of London.

Take the general introduction to the section on night clubs:

‘…In theory all the clubs are for the use only of members and their guests. Some of them stick to this rule, and it isn’t easy to get in without preparation ( though nothing, of course, is impossible). Others are, shall we say, less insistent on the letter of the law. A day ticket is produced from somewhere, or the secretary may discover you are a life-long friend of his…The dives vary a great deal. Some have specialised clienteles—artists, coloured folk, poets or crooks. Some play be-bop all night; others prefer poker. A sniff of marijuana. Not all of them places to go with your wife. Whatever happens, you’ve been warned !’

The writer then proceeds to make notes on individual night clubs, which we shall discuss under various headings:

The Pigalle

‘…just opened in Piccadilly, offers the disturbing attraction of 40 pretty girls, properly dressed to be undressed, accompanied by a really lavish stage show. You can dance between times, and enjoy yourself for the remarkable small sum of 17/6 which you pay for your dinner…Original idea was provided, it is said, by the world famous Tabarin in Montmartre…’

The Society

Sited in Jermyn Street ‘…with its tiny dance floor and its beautifully panelled walls, ( it) is an excellent rendezvous if you are in the mood to appreciate an intimate, relaxed, unmistakably French atmosphere. Here the gypsies will leave their stand to sing just for you; here the rumba-drums mix with the ripple of whispered conversations and subdued laughter…’ Continue reading

Some anecdotes from ‘Fun with the Famous’ by H. Cecil Hunt (1928)

Jot 101 Kipling's home in sussex


Funny book titles in Prince Edward’s Library.


In the library of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) at Marlborough House were many false book spines inscribed with amusing titles, most dating from the Victorian age. The following particularly amused the Prince.


Boyle on Steam.


Lady Godiva on the Horse


Constable’s notes on motoring.


Bacon’s History of Greece


Nine Tales of a Cat


The Voyage of Noah by Arkwright.


Payne’s Dentistry


Warm Receptions by Burns


First Sight by Lovett.


Spare the Tree by Hewett


Cochin’s Lays of China.


‘The Prince is often amused at visitors who cannot find their way out of this quaint library. There is no apparent exit, but one of the morocco volumes bears the title “ The Passage Out “, and it is in the centre of the door, so that the discerning explorer soon has a clue to his escape.’


Charles Wesley meets ‘ Beau’ Nash.


The great Wesley once had an encounter with the pompous Beau Nash. The meeting was in a narrow street, and the right of way obviously belonged to the divine. The dandy, drawing himself up proudly, said in his most haughty manner:

“I never make way for fools.”. I always do”, said Wesley, quickly stepping aside.


Kipling’s autographs


A comical situation arose some years ago when the writer made a habit of paying even small bills by cheque. He found that his balance was much larger than the counterfoils of his cheque-book warranted. It was discovered that local tradesmen never cashed his cheques. They found that admiring visitors would often willingly but them for much more than the values for which they were drawn. [Above is Kipling’s house in Sussex] Continue reading

Max Beerbohm—practical joker

Max Beerbohm young picIn The C. O. Jones Compendium of Practical Jokes(1982) Richard Boston narrates some entertaining anecdotes concerning the humorist Max Beerbohm. Most of those involving the ‘ alteration ‘ of books remind us of the hilarious alterations  made in the ‘50s and 60s by Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell on books borrowed from Islington Public Library, where they are still displayed. It is possible that the two men got their idea from Beerbohm.

One joke, according to Boston, was played on ‘a volume of exceptionally solemn poems by a dullard called Herbert Trench ‘. Boston doesn’t identify  the collection, but since it contained a ‘ romantic dialogue between Apollo and a mariner ‘ it was definitely Apollo and the Seaman(1908).This is what Beerbohm did.

With a sharp knife and painstaking care Max scraped out the aspirates at the beginning of every word beginning with ‘h’ spoken by the mariner, and substituted an apostrophe. The result was that a speech intended to be of a classical dignity was turned into straight Cockney. Max then sent the book to the author, commenting that he had notpreviously come across this edition of the book.

The work had been done so carefully that it appeared to be perfectly genuine. At first Trench was horrified. When he tumbled, he was offended. Max made it up by explaining to Trench that he considered him to be a true poet —-‘Otherwise there wouldn’t be any fun in making fun of you’.

 Some lines altered by Beerbohm may have appeared thus:

Apollo:    “ And whence did that craft hail, sailor,

Of which you seem so fond ?”

Seaman:   “ It was some ‘ arbour of the East

Back o‘ beyond, back o’ beyond. Continue reading

Walter Jerrold as book collector

Autolycus of bookstalls 001We at Jot 101 had not imagined the travel writer and biographer Walter Jerrold ( 1865 – 1929 ) to be a frequenter of second-hand bookstalls, but there he is as an unabashed collector of ‘unconsidered trifles ‘ in  Autolycus of the Bookstalls (1902), a collection of articles on book-collecting that first appeared in The Pall Mall GazetteDaily News, the New Age, and Londoner.

But as we already knew him as a biographer of Charles Lamb we should have known better, and indeed he mentions Lamb several times in his book. Jerrold’s range as a bibliophile was wider than Lamb’s, but he seems to have been particularly drawn to writers of the Romantic period. He wrote about collecting Thomas Hood, Cobbett, Coleridge, Southey, and Rev Sydney Smith, while also mentioning books on Oliver Cromwell and Ruskin. In addition, he appears to have rather liked association copies of all dates, and boasted that he had ‘snapped up ‘volumes bearing the signatures of Cardinal Manning, George Eliot, Sydney Smith and Thomas Noon Talfourd at ‘Metropolitan stalls’ in recent years. Jerrold was also tickled at the idea of buying books that had been displayed in the windows of very unliterary shops—in one particular instance an ‘ oil and colourman’s shop in the Seven Dials’, where a first of Ruskin’s Political Economy of Art and a Tennyson signed by George Eliot rubbed shoulders with ‘ soap, soda, pickles and jam ‘. Finding literary treasures in unlikely stores was probably more common in Jerrold’s time than it is now, although your Jotter does recall his first entry into collecting back in 1968, when he found an odd volume of the fifth edition of Johnson’s Dictionary and a battered early edition of Gay’s Fables, complete with nice copper plates, in the window of a car mechanic’s shop opposite Sketty Library in Swansea, along with spanners and a grease gun. After negotiating with the mechanic he secured the two tomes for just 2/6 ( 12p ).

Jerrold favoured ‘ Booksellers’ Row ( aka Holywell Street, off the Strand ), a disreputable  area cleared for the construction of Aldwych c 1900, from where he moved to ‘ that newer Booksellers’ Row which has sprung up in Charing Cross Road ‘, itself a product of slum clearance a little earlier. He also ( in passing ) mentions the stalls in Farringdon Street, for so many decades dominated by the Jeffrey family (see earlier blog in Bookride) , and Aldgate, in addition to the New Cut opposite Waterloo station. The two latter sites went many years ago and following the demise of George Jeffrey, the Farringdon bookstalls, where a lucky punter a few decades ago bought an early sixteenth century scribal copy of a work by Sir Thomas More for a few pounds, folded within a year or so. Today the only surviving ‘Booksellers’ Row ‘ is in Charing Cross Road. Continue reading

Practical Jokes by Richard Boston

The late Richard Boston (1938 -2006 ) was an interesting man. He was a columnist for the Guardian,a writer on beer in the early days of Real Ale, the author of Beer and Skittles, a history of the English pub, the biographer of Rabelais’s translator Urquhart, who allegedly died oRichard Boston Jones jokes cover 001f laughter after hearing that Charles II had been restored to the throne, and the editor of the short-lived magazine The Vole, a pioneering ecological magazine. Boston lived in the same village ( Aldworth ) as Richard Ingrams and was friendly with him. He was also a pal of the artist and writer John Piper ( though Frances Spalding’s biography neglects to mention this fact ) and it was Piper,  who may have supported The Vole 
financially, who told me that Boston had gone into depression when the magazine had folded. Subsequent to this I asked Boston to contribute an appreciation of Geoffrey Grigson for the festschrift I was preparing for his eightieth birthday in March 1985. Boston seemed happy to comply and his piece was one of the best in the book.


Fast forward to 2002 and on walking in sweltering heat from Streatley station to Aldworth to interview Ingrams for Book and Magazine Collector, I passed Boston’s cottage and thought about knocking on his door to say hello. I didn’t do so, but I regret it now. Boston died just a few years later, a rather forgotten figure by this time. His titles appear occasionally in second-hand bookshops, but one I have never encountered is The C.O. Jones Compendium of Practical Jokes,which luckily cropped up in a pile at Jot HQ the other day. It was published in 1982, which was the year in which my Hertfordshire Shell Guideappeared, and was illustrated by the lovely Posy Simmonds, who was another of my interviewees. But that’s a story for later.


Boston was primarily a humorist. All those who knew him said that he couldn’t be serious for very long and had a particular penchant for practical jokes. Even the title of The C.O. Jones Compendium of Practical Jokescontains a pun on the Spanish word for testicles ( cojones, geddit ?). The running joke in the book is the identity of the mysterious Mr Jones, who remains a mysterious, and distinctly subversive figure—rather like Boston himself— right to the end. Continue reading

Lousy condition / Cold climate

Found in our old blog Bookride from 2011 this piece about a quest for the world’s worst condition book. Below (right) is a pic of IMG_2825 a particularly lousy LOTR found in a holiday rental college. Compared to the books we found this copy is quite acceptable.. We wrote:

…have been trying to build a set of books by Nancy Mitford for a customer who wants to have them bound in leather. In these cases you require no jackets, the covers can be worn but the text must be clean. I have dismissed all the nice copies at silly prices and all the lousy copies at whatever price, although as usual some of these were pricier than the ones in exemplary condition. Some were so bad they reminded me of the Dada knife (lacks handle and blade). They lacked pages, spines, boards, some even had missing title pages – mentioned as an afterthought as if it was no big deal.

Inspired, motivated, energised and exasperated I started on a search for the worst condition book on the entire web. In 2007 there had been a legendary Webster’s dictionary on Ebay that was basicaly a pile of ruined, frayed and crumbling paper — it looked like, as Jimmy Webb would say -‘Someone left a cake out in the rain…’ It attracted no bids but was a fun item for a while. That was a yardstick. There are not that many truly appalling books on the web as they take a long time to describe and you cannot charge much for them. There are some eighteenth century and earlier books in laughably bad state often with huge loss and every indignity a book can suffer, presumably catalogued because of their antiquity. There is a type of customer who thinks old books should be a bit worn and distressed, even a few dealers. It should be noted that old and ruined books can have their uses as door stops or draught excluders etc., Continue reading

Thorpe’s Water Frolic of 1824

Thorpe_Water_Frolic,_Afternoon‘Water Frolic’ is a new term for us at Jot HQ. But according to the art historian Trevor Fawcett, who was perhaps a Norfolk man ( he attended the University of East Anglia), these events were common festive occasions on the Norfolk rivers and broads, at least in the early years of the nineteenth century.

In his short article published in Norfolk Archaeology ( XXXVI, Part IV, 1977), a reprint from which we found in a pile of ephemera at Jot HQ, Fawcett writes about the Thorpe Water Frolic of 1824, which was captured in a superb oil painting by the provincial artist Joseph Stannard, himself a keen oarsman and the owner of a skiff—the Cytherea — the following year.

Thorpe is today a riverside place on the Yare immediately adjoining Norwich, whose station is named after it. In 1824, however, it was a picturesque hamlet ( dubbed the ‘Richmond of Norfolk’) on an important trading route to foreign markets; and on this particular occasion all the various commercial vessels on the Yare would have been immobilised to enable the ‘ frolic’ to take place.

Although annual frolics had been common events in Norfolk over the years, the Thorpe frolic had only been established in 1821 by local cloth-merchant and manufacturer John Harvey, who had bought and developed the Thorpe Lodge estate. Originally, it was attended only by the wealthy and influential in Norwich and its vicinity. In 1822 nine cutters had raced for a silver cup and five rowing boats for another trophy. But in 1823 Harvey decided to open the event to everyone—from the humblest loom-worker, farm labourer and shop assistant, to the wealthiest businessmen and landowners. Continue reading