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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Cedric Dover —-George Orwell’s ‘very dishonest‘ entomologist and writer on race

When the editor of The Complete Self-Educator (c1939) recruited the thirty-five year old Cedric Dover to write the section on biology for his multi-author book, he knew what he was going to get. Dover (1904 – 61), an Anglo-Indian entomologist, born in Calcutta, who had signalled his passion for insects by publishing The Common Butterflies of India at the tender age of seventeen, had gone on, despite the lack of a degree, to write learned papers on entomology for various journals, but soon afterwards changed his focus to race issues, bringing out such books as Half-Caste, Know this of Race and Brown Phoenix.

Dover’s new interest in race was undoubtedly engendered by his status as a mixed-race person in a land dominated by white people. On arriving in London in 1934  from India, where he had abandoned his wife and three children, he soon became involved with V. K. Krishna Menon’s India League. He later corresponded for a number of years with George Orwell, usually on the subjects of politics and race, and in a letter of 1940 Orwell reprimanded him for spelling the word negro with a capital ‘n’. As a supporter of Stalin at this time, principally because he believed that the Soviet leader stood for racial equality, Dover would have antagonised the author of Animal Farm, and indeed Orwell included Dover on his notorious list of persons not to be considered as potential writers of anti-communist propaganda, where he was described as ‘ a very dishonest  and  venal  person whose main emphasis was  anti-white ( especially anti-USA ), and reliably pro-Russian on all major issues’.

Some indication of Dover’s obsession with combating racism can be founded in his chapter on blood and blood groups in The Complete Self-Educator. After discussing the genetics of blood, he concluded that

‘ while blood groups are determined by inheritance, the blood has no further hereditary significance. There is no ‘blood relationship ‘, and mothers do not hand on their blood to their children as is often supposed. There is no social or hereditary advantage in relationships with people of the same blood group…

        And in these days, when ancient blood myths are being used for disgraceful political purposes, it is important to know what we are talking about when we talk about blood. No one is someone else’s flesh and blood. No one can keep his blood pure, except by keeping it clean and healthy. These superstitions not only clutter up our language and our thinking. They help to play us into the hands of the enemies of human decency.’

On the subject of races, Dover was equally emphatic: 

‘…human groups ( they can hardly be called races) have been broken down and built up by migration and crossing followed by periods of isolation, and their characteristics are now being shuffled by further crossing. All human ‘ races ‘ are mixed races.’

On the issue of biology and society Dover argued that Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest was a natural process that occurred over time.

‘It is a question of space, food and numbers. It is therefore a distortion of the truth to apply it justifies war and the inequalities of capitalist society. We do not need war to eliminate the unfit, especially as it first eliminates the fittest. We do not need exploitation masquerading as ‘ free competition’ for ensuring the survival of the fittest  and the improvement of mankind. There is room and food for all, and those who spread such travesties of biological thinking already have more than they need. And they are by no means the fittest…’

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John Langdon-Davies: poet, Conscientous Objector, pro-Anarchist (1897 – 19 71)

The Complete Self-Educator (nd. but c1939), a copy of which we found in the archives at Jot HQ the other day,  was one of those doorstep self-help books that Odhams brought out in the late thirties. We have already discussed various aspects of a companion volume in previous Jots. The Complete Self-Educator, however, is a different kind of multi-author book altogether and a much more challenging one. It sought to give the average intelligent reader a grounding in the principles of a number of important academic disciplines, including biology, medicine, physics, chemistry, economics, psychology, philosophy and logic.

Some of the writers were prominent experts in their field—people like Professor Erich Roll( psychology) and Max Black ( philosophy). Others, like Stephen Swingler, who later become a Labour minister, were relative newcomers who had published work in areas not altogether related to the subjects on which they were invited to write. One of these tyros was John Langdon- Davies, who had published books on Spain and women in society, but whose topic for the Complete Self- Educator was ‘The English Common People’.

Among the rather conventional fellow contributors Langdon-Davies stood out as a bit of a maverick. Born in Zululand, when it was part of South Africa, he came to England as a young boy and went on to attend Tonbridge School, which he hated. He was not, it must be said, officer cadet material. When he was called up in 1917 he declared himself a Conscientious Objector and as such served a short prison sentence. Declared unfit for military service, he lost two of the three scholarships for St John’s College Cambridge that he had gained at school. At Cambridge he tried to live off the remaining scholarship, but was obliged to abandon his studies. As a result, he switched his attention to the fields of archaeology and anthropology and ended up with diplomas in these disciplines. While an undergraduate Langdon-Davies did, however, manage to publish a volume of poems, The Dream Splendid, which received some favourable reviews. 

After the War Langdon-Davies embraced leftish politics, promoting the cause of women with his book A Short History of Women and embracing the anarchist cause in the Spanish Civil War with Behind the Spanish Barricades. His opposition to Nazism, fascism and ‘scientific racism’ can be gleaned from the opening paragraph of ‘The Story of the Common People’.

‘…English history is what it is because geography and geology made England what it is. We can go further than this, and say that geography and geology have made the Englishman himself what he is…’

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The Library of E. M. Forster

Found in the archives at Jot HQ, this catalogue from Heffers in Cambridge of a large portion of E. M. Forster’s library.

In the introduction by King’s College Librarian, A.N.L. Munby, who knew Forster well, we learn something of Forster’s ancestors, who included his grandfather, Charles Forster, friend and Chaplain of John Jebb ( 1755 – 1833), Bishop of Limerick. Of the books bequeathed by Jebb to  Forster, by far the most valuable was a ‘superb’  copy of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, which came down to E. M. Forster in 1904. He in turn donated it to Kings College Library on his eightieth birthday. One book from Jebb that Forster owned at his death was a piece of incunabula dating from 1494. Sacrii Eloquii Celeberrimi Preconis Venerablis dni Alberti Magni Epi Ratisponess Sermones Aurei de Sacrosancto Eucharistie Sacramento had covers bound from a vellum manuscript. 

When Forster left the family home at West Hackhurst, Surrey, for King’s College, Cambridge in 1946, he had to downsize his library. Many books were sold and in his new accommodation on A staircase in the College Forster was obliged to settle on a library totalling 2,500 volumes. So, as new acquisitions were made, other volumes had to be given away to friends or to the College library.

On Forster’s death in 1970 Professor W. H. Sprott, one of his executors, inherited the contents of his rooms, including the library. After King’s College was allowed to purchase five hundred significant items from the library and friends were invited to choose books in memory of the writer, the rest was retained by Sprott. On the latter’s death in 1971 Heffer’s bought this remaining portion of Forster’s library.

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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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Some artists’ letters from the D’ Offay catalogue

Felicien Rops

Letters written by artists are generally boring. Just read William Blake’s letters. Most of them concern business arrangements with printers and publishers. However, there are a few exceptions. The letters of Samuel Palmer, that great admirer of Blake, tell us so much about his mental state, his religiosity and politics. Those of James Smetham, the Victorian artist, are occasionally mystical and deranged. The unpublished  letters of Britain’s favourite twentieth century artist, John Piper, many of which I have read, are also lively and sometimes controversial. 

We could say something similar about the twenty-five letters of Jean Cocteau, that Anthony D’Offay had for sale in his Art and Literature catalogue back in the late 1960’s. The addressee was Madeleine Le Chevrel and most of the letters and postcards to her were written between 1912 and 1925. Cocteau had the rather eccentric habit of composing ‘in a curiously abbreviated style where one word suggests a sentence and a question mark a paragraph’. Thus: (1917) ; Diag. prolonge mon sejour…Rome est lourd, molle, morte, grosse et petite. Le souvenir decourage de vivre. Les soupe, les champagnes, les aphrodisiaques, le cacodilates du Vesuve menent la danse de cette Kermesse enorme ou les eglises, les cuisines et les bordels  sont decore de la meme pacotille splendide. Les femmes sur les balcons se laissant tomber comme de bateaux entre les bras des marins…’ 

That strange word ‘ cacodilates ‘ is certainly new to us at Jot HQ. Some online research reveals that a French chemist named Cadet brewed up something he called Cadet’s fuming liquid in 1757. This turned out to contain cacodylic acid, a poisonous arsenic-containing compound, which today is used in chemical analysis. However, back in Cocteau’s day, it seems that a derivative of this substance was used in France as a stimulant, rather like cocaine.

For such a graphic picture of the young avant-garde artist and writer D’Offay wanted a quite reasonable £185, which is around £7 a letter.

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A catalogue of Art & Literature, 1870 – 1920, from Anthony D’Offay

John Gray

Anthony d’ Offay ( b. 1940) was once one of London’ s leading   dealers, with a reputation as a specialist in late nineteenth and twentieth century art.  He opened his first gallery in 1965 aged 25, but closed it in 2001.The third catalogue he issued was entitled Art and Literature, 1870 – 1920. We  found this lip smacking treasure house of goodies lying about Jot HQ the other day. Undated, though probably published sometime in the late sixties ( evidently,  d’Offay’s London telephone number was Welbeck 7566),  the catalogue is a miscellany of drawings, designs, posters ,original artwork, a few printed books, the occasional literary manuscript and collection of  letters from prominent British and continental writers and artists. Some items stand out

 On the literary front, there is an unpublished holograph manuscript of ‘an important ‘ poem by Mary Shelley on the death of her husband Percy B. Shelley, who drowned in 1822. The price of £350 seems on the face of it a bit steep (for the time) for a mere three stanzas, until one thinks of how highly rated the author of Frankenstein is today. According to D’Offay, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the poem was published. In 1876 the critic H. Buxton Forman published Mary Shelley’s ‘ The Choice ‘, which was a tribute to her late husband, but this was a much longer poem. The D’Offay MS may have been a draft of this work, but until its present whereabouts of it is revealed we won’t know. 

There is also a holograph manuscript of a draft novel entitled L’Amour Parricide by Charles Baudelaire dated c 1864. According to D’Offay, ‘ the holograph drafts… were lost until recently when they came to light after more than seventy years obscurity.’ D’Offay wanted £75 for this rarity, which certainly doesn’t seem outrageous.

Of the printed items we find The Fairies Wood ( c 1899) by the cult writer Ronald Firbank, who at this time signed himself Arthur Firbank. According to D’ Offay, this is ‘the first copy to be offered for sale in sixty-five years ‘ though he somehow neglected to mention that this example of the first printed work by Firbank was basically just a piece of card printed on one side only. The stanzas themselves are hardly more rewarding than greetings card ‘ verses ‘ which even the most ardent Firbank collector would shrink at paying the £105 asked for. Nevertheless, that same piece of card is currently on sale at an eye watering £3,500.

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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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G.F.Sims bookseller

G. F. Sims (d. 1999) was a rare book dealer and writer of crime thrillers who your Jotter last wrote about five years ago. His catalogues were always full of tasty items. Indeed, they are now appreciated and collected in their own right. Sims specialised in nineteenth and twentieth century books and letters and the catalogue of c 1980 that we found at Jot HQ the other day contains some choice pieces.

1) Pulped ,burnt and otherwise destroyed.

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Ezra Pound

Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti ( Steven Swift 1912). The bulk of this edition was destroyed by fire at the binders. Some escaped the fire, including Sims’ copy, which he had at £75. Another in Abebooks is priced at £375.

Vladimir Nabokov

Other Shores. Translated and revised by V.N.( Izzdatel’stvo imeni (Chekov Publishing House 1954). Only one copy can be found at Abebooks. Sims says ‘Rare—many copies were pulped.’ In the Abe description there is no mention of this book being pulped. Today you’d pay £228 for a copy. Sims has his at £75.

D. G. Rossetti.

The Blessed Damozel By D.G.Rossetti. nd. (?1904)

“Excessively scarce”. The edition was destroyed at the binders. Funny that you don’t hear of such fires nowadays. I blame Edwardian pipe-smokers. Anyway, according to an inscription by the printer at the Pear Tree Press ‘This is one of the best copies after the fire in which the whole edition of 250 copies were destroyed. One copy remained as sample binding and five more made up from sheets not sent to binders, making six copies in all. There were also five vellum copies which had not been sent to the binders.’ In the words of Sims ‘One of the few books to which the description “ excessively scarce “ might well be applied. He accordingly priced it at £75.

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‘ Look at this Mr Gutenberg’—C. Lester Walker on an invention which may have rivalled the photocopier.

Chester Carlson (thanks Xerox)

‘ Who invented the photocopier ?’ is a question that sometimes comes up in pub quizzes. The answer, of course, is Chester Carlson, an American inventor whose persistence over decades made him a multimillionaire. This is not the place to survey Carlson’s brilliant idea, which transformed businesses all over the world. Instead, let’s  examine a possible rival to xerography, as Carlson’s invention came to be called. This was ‘ electronographic ‘ or ‘ ghost printing, whose origins go back further than xerography.

We at Jot HQ must confess that electronography is a new term for us. But let the American journalist C. Lester Walker, who tried to explain the process in an article for Harper’s Magazine in July 1948, an extract from which we found typed up in our archives. Up to now, Walker begins, printing has been the dominant method of creating multiple copies of a text. But printing involves the application of pressure. With electronography:

…There will be no contact between the printing surface and the paper. Instead, a stream of electrons will supply the force needed to make the ‘ impression’.

Walker then goes on to tell us how this radical new process was discovered. It was all down to a boffin in the printing industry, William C. Huebner, who in 1924 discovered the process by ‘accident’.

He was called in by a printing house, which was doing a big-sheet label job, to help them stop what the printers called ‘ off-setting’…This day solid reds were offsetting badly, and Huebner was inspecting the stacked sheets by ‘ lift fanning’ the corners, when suddenly he saw something his eyes refused to believe. When he lift fanned  (i.e.) ruffled the corners, the off-setting increased. That is, the red on the back of a sheet strengthened and deepened.

Huebner said to a pressman, ‘ You, look. Am I seeing things? The pressman said no—he thought he saw it too. Wondering if the offsetting could possibly be due to static electricity, Huebner arranged for a ‘ grounding’ of the press. The offsetting was checked. Then the static was pulling ink off one sheet ad depositing it on another ?

Huebner’s inventor’s mind started whirring. Before the end of that day, he had said, he had proved to himself that statically charged surfaces would make printing jump a gap as much as an inch wide. Nowadays he demonstrates this phenomenon to sceptics by rubbing by rubbing a sheet of celluloid with a handkerchief, laying a sheet of yellow copy paper over the celluloid, and then moving an ink-wetted artist’s paint brush around above. Ink flies from the brush to the paper two or three inches through space…

Walker goes on to explain how the process actually ‘ prints ‘:

There is an inking cylinder, a cylinder on which is the curved plate of type and a cylinder around the paper travels. The first cylinder touches the second  and inks the type. But as the type cylinder and the paper cylinder rotate, they never touch. Between then  stands permanently a narrow gap—usually from one to three thousands of an inch. Inside the paper-carrying cylinder is a gadget with electrodes, which runs the cylinder’s length and lies directly opposite the type cylinder outside. When current is turned on , this gadget produces a stream of electrons which pull the ink off the type cylinder and onto the paper. Another electrical circuit has already ionized and charged the ink negatively and charged the paper surface positively. When the machine is in operation, it has been observed, the ink on the type cylinder actually bulges towards the paper surface , and the paper surface moves towards the inked type cylinder. But turn off the ionizing current  and keep the press running and mo print occurs, because no pressure content is present anywhere.

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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.’