Are you a T. John Dick?

11 Aug
TJpic2Which character in the T. John Dick books do you most resemble?

Take our fun quiz and find out if you have what it takes to be a top executive who thinks outside the box and focuses on the big picture. Or are you merely mediocre middle management  material? Or a complete loser, fit only for a position in Human Resources? You won’t know until you …

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A Written Warning to the Greek Government

9 Jul

Readers of the T. John Dick books will know of our hero’s enthusiasm for elaborate policies and procedures. You have only to recall his frustration at the flouting of his Meeting Room Reservation Procedure, the fearsome new Product Development Procedure and even a Company Nickname Procedure. In response, readers have sent me examples of policies they are meant to follow in their own companies, my favorite being a multi-page document describing the procedure for standardizing the format of nameplates on office doors. But none of these can compare for pure fatuousness and futility with the policy of the Greek government when it comes to driving in their country.

It is a legal requirement for visitors with a non-EU license to equip themselves with an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). This document, valid for a year, does not replace your license, but provides a translation of it in a standardized form, so that local authorities, such as the police can use it to interpret the license from your own country. That has a certain logic to it, and I have equipped myself with the document on previous trips to Italy and Spain, although it is a bit insulting to members of the constabulary of these countries to suggest that they would not be able to figure out something as basic as a US driver’s license. The governments of France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and elsewhere display no such lack of confidence in those policing their roads.

To be fair, knowledge of English is less widespread in Greece than in some of those countries and, since even the alphabet is different, it could prove useful to have a handy translation into the local vernacular. Which makes it puzzling that, although the International Driver’s Permit contains translations into eleven languages, none of them is actually Greek. If I make a few wrong turns and am stopped by the police for failing to signal in Beijing, I am covered. Same thing if, God forbid, I should end up in Russia or Iraq. But if I find myself being asked for my license in Rhodes, the policeman doing the asking will find himself staring at a document that is all not Greek to him. Statistically, there might be a slightly higher chance of his being able to interpret the license through a greater facility in French, Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Italian, German, Spanish or Swedish than in English, but this is a long shot.

Anxious to get to the bottom of this, I called the Greek Embassy in Washington. Perhaps it had escaped their notice that there was no Greek translation. After all, it does have Russian, which looks kind of like Greek. The lady I spoke to was pleasant enough but seemed unable to grasp why I was calling her. The conversation went something like this…

“You need the International Driver’s Permit to drive in Greece.”

“Yes, I know, but did you realize that there is no Greek translation?”

“It’s a legal requirement.”

“Thanks for confirming that. You do know there is no Greek translation?”

“You must have it and also your US license.”

“Even though it’s useless?”

“It’s a legal requirement.”

So yesterday I went to the AAA office and equipped myself with this legally required document in preparation for my upcoming trip to Greece with my daughter. It also allows me to drive in Guinea-Bissau, should the occasion arise – which it might, if she is navigating..

 

Black Snake Eating a Copperhead

20 Jun

I am not a big fan of venomous snakes. In my twenty years in North Carolina, I have had numerous run-ins with the local copperheads, and have generally come out on top, except for the occasion when one of them bit our dog Maddie. She survived, but it was not a pleasant experience.

On the other hand, I have generally been happy to see black snakes around the place. Not only do these large but non-poisonous serpents control pests like rats and mice (personally I don’t mind mice or even rats too much), but they also devour their venomous cousins. Or so I was told. I had no definitive proof until last week, when my neighbour, Randy took this photograph in front of our house.

Black snake eats a copperhead

Déjeuner sur l’herbe

No wonder my proudly redneck neighbours have always advised me to leave black snakes alone. I took their advice to heart and, on the many occasions when I have come across a specimen of Elaphe Obsoleta, my practice has been to salute it with respect, wish it well and pass on, except when I have caught one of the rascals attempting to dine on the wren hatchlings in the nest in our garage or on our porch. Even then I don’t kill them. Instead, I attempt, with limited success, to wrestle with them using a broom handle.

My live-and-let-live relationship with black snakes has even extended to sharing my house with a couple of five-footers, whom I would hear slithering about in the attic as I lay in bed. They eventually had to go for their own good when we fixed the hole they were using to enter and leave the premises.

On another occasion I found myself sharing the front seat of my truck with a large black snake which had been minding its own business in the folds of a tarp I had taken from the garage. It suddenly decided to stick its head up and check out what was going on. We were both quite surprised to see each other, of course, and I wouldn’t say we warmed to each other during the quarter-mile drive to a suitable stopping place – snakes are cold blooded and warming is probably beyond them, while I was uncomfortably aware that, venomous or not, black snakes can bite. In the end, it was my strangely ophidiophile wife who caught the blighter and pulled it out by the tail. Had I seen the evidence of its no-nonsense approach to copperheads, I would have given it a lift home.

As it is, I’ll have to content myself with giving this particular black snake a well-earned performance bonus.

A performance bonus also to Randal Tuttle, who took the photograph.

Also a written warning to the same Randal Tuttle, who, having consulted with an expert, has inconveniently pointed out that it is in fact a black racer (coluber constrictor) in the picture rather than a black rat snake (elaphe obsoleta). Actually, the other snake doesn’t look like a copperhead (poisonous bastard), until you realize that you are looking at its belly.

Fun fact about black racers: despite their Latin name, they don’t constrict their prey. They swallow it alive.

Another fun fact about black racers: they are much more aggressive than black rat snakes, not at all the kind of chap you want to give a lift to in your truck.

 

The Diary of a Nobody – Episode 11

6 Jun

Well, the illustrations are back with a vengeance. Three of them in today’s chapter, plus an extra bonus illustration in the footnotes. Fans of footnotes are also in for a treat. Ten of them in this episode.

CHAPTER XI.

We have a dose of Irving imitations. Make the acquaintance of a Mr. Padge. Don’t care for him. Mr. Burwin-Fosselton becomes a nuisance.

November 20. - Have seen nothing of Lupin the whole day. Bought a cheap address-book. I spent the evening copying in the names and addresses of my friends and acquaintances. Left out the Mutlars of course.

November 21. - Lupin turned up for a few minutes in the evening. He asked for a drop of brandy with a sort of careless look, which to my mind was theatrical and quite ineffective. I said: “My boy, I have none, and I don’t think I should give it you if I had.” Lupin said: “I’ll go where I can get some,” and walked out of the house. Carrie took the boy’s part, and the rest of the evening was spent in a disagreeable discussion, in which the words “Daisy” and “Mutlar” must have occurred a thousand times.

November 22. - Gowing and Cummings dropped in during the evening. Lupin also came in, bringing his friend, Mr. Burwin-Fosselton – one of the “Holloway Comedians” – who was at our party the other night, and who cracked our little round table. Happy to say Daisy Mutlar was never referred to. The conversation was almost entirely monopolised by the young fellow Fosselton, who not only looked rather like Mr. Irving, but seemed to imagine that he WAS the celebrated actor. I must say he gave some capital imitations of him. As he showed no signs of moving at supper time, I said: “If you like to stay, Mr. Fosselton, for our usual crust – pray do.” He replied: “Oh! thanks; but please call me Burwin-Fosselton. It is a double name. There are lots of Fosseltons, but please call me Burwin-Fosselton.”

He began doing the Irving business all through supper. He sank so low down in his chair that his chin was almost on a level with the table [1] , and twice he kicked Carrie under the table, upset his wine, and flashed a knife uncomfortably near Gowing’s face. After supper he kept stretching out his legs on the fender, indulging in scraps of quotations from plays which were Greek to me, and more than once knocked over the fire-irons, making a hideous row – poor Carrie already having a bad head-ache.

Mr. Burwin-Fossleton at SupperMr. Burwin-Fosselton at supper.

When he went, he said, to our surprise: “I will come to-morrow and bring my Irving make-up.” Gowing and Cummings said they would like to see it and would come too. I could not help thinking they might as well give a party at my house while they are about it. However, as Carrie sensibly said: “Do anything, dear, to make Lupin forget the Daisy Mutlar business.”

November 23. - In the evening, Cummings came early. Gowing came a little later and brought, without asking permission, a fat and, I think, very vulgar-looking man named Padge, who appeared to be all moustache. Gowing never attempted any apology to either of us, but said Padge wanted to see the Irving business, to which Padge said: “That’s right,” and that is about all he DID say during the entire evening. Lupin came in and seemed in much better spirits. He had prepared a bit of a surprise. Mr. Burwin-Fosselton had come in with him, but had gone upstairs to get ready. In half-an-hour Lupin retired from the parlour, and returning in a few minutes, announced “Mr. Henry Irving.”

Mr. Henry Irving

Lupin announces Mr. Henry Irving.

I must say we were all astounded. I never saw such a resemblance. [2] It was astonishing. The only person who did not appear interested was the man Padge, who had got the best arm-chair, and was puffing away at a foul pipe into the fireplace. After some little time I said; “Why do actors always wear their hair so long?” Carrie in a moment said, “Mr. Hare doesn’t wear long HAIR.” [3] How we laughed except Mr. Fosselton, who said, in a rather patronising kind of way, “The joke, Mrs. Pooter, is extremely appropriate, if not altogether new.” Thinking this rather a snub, I said: “Mr. Fosselton, I fancy – ” He interrupted me by saying: “Mr. BURWIN-Fosselton, if you please,” which made me quite forget what I was going to say to him. During the supper Mr. Burwin-Fosselton again monopolised the conversation with his Irving talk, and both Carrie and I came to the conclusion one can have even too much imitation of Irving. After supper, Mr. Burwin-Fosselton got a little too boisterous over his Irving imitation, and suddenly seizing Gowing by the collar of his coat, dug his thumb-nail, accidentally of course, into Gowing’s neck and took a piece of flesh out. Gowing was rightly annoyed, but that man Padge, who having declined our modest supper in order that he should not lose his comfortable chair, burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter at the little misadventure. I was so annoyed at the conduct of Padge, I said: “I suppose you would have laughed if he had poked Mr. Gowing’s eye out?” to which Padge replied: “That’s right,” and laughed more than ever. I think perhaps the greatest surprise was when we broke up, for Mr. Burwin-Fosselton said: “Good-night, Mr. Pooter. I’m glad you like the imitation, I’ll bring THE OTHER MAKE-UP TO-MORROW NIGHT.”

Mr. PadgeMr. Padge

November 24. - I went to town without a pocket-handkerchief. This is the second time I have done this during the last week. I must be losing my memory. Had it not been for this Daisy Mutlar business, I would have written to Mr. Burwin-Fosselton and told him I should be out this evening, but I fancy he is the sort of young man who would come all the same.

Dear old Cummings came in the evening; but Gowing sent round a little note saying he hoped I would excuse his not turning up, which rather amused me. He added that his neck was still painful. Of course, Burwin-Fosselton came, but Lupin never turned up, and imagine my utter disgust when that man Padge actually came again, and not even accompanied by Gowing. I was exasperated, and said: “Mr. Padge, this is a SURPRISE.” Dear Carrie, fearing unpleasantness, said: “Oh! I suppose Mr. Padge has only come to see the other Irving make-up.” Mr. Padge said: “That’s right,” and took the best chair again, from which he never moved the whole evening.

My only consolation is, he takes no supper, so he is not an expensive guest, but I shall speak to Gowing about the matter. The Irving imitations and conversations occupied the whole evening, till I was sick of it. Once we had a rather heated discussion, which was commenced by Cummings saying that it appeared to him that Mr. Burwin-Fosselton was not only LIKE Mr. Irving, but was in his judgment every way as GOOD or even BETTER. I ventured to remark that after all it was but an imitation of an original.

Cummings said surely some imitations were better than the originals. I made what I considered a very clever remark: “Without an original there can be no imitation.” Mr. Burwin-Fosselton said quite impertinently: “Don’t discuss me in my presence, if you please; and, Mr. Pooter, I should advise you to talk about what you understand;” to which that cad Padge replied: “That’s right.” Dear Carrie saved the whole thing by suddenly saying: “I’ll be Ellen Terry.” [4] Dear Carrie’s imitation wasn’t a bit liked, but she was so spontaneous and so funny that the disagreeable discussion passed off. When they left, I very pointedly said to Mr. Burwin-Fosselton and Mr. Padge that we should be engaged to-morrow evening.

November 25. - Had a long letter from Mr. Fosselton respecting last night’s Irving discussion. I was very angry, and I wrote and said I knew little or nothing about stage matters, was not in the least interested in them and positively declined to be drawn into a discussion on the subject, even at the risk of its leading to a breach of friendship. I never wrote a more determined letter.

On returning home at the usual hour on Saturday afternoon I met near the Archway Daisy Mutlar. My heart gave a leap. I bowed rather stiffly, but she affected not to have seen me. Very much annoyed in the evening by the laundress sending home an odd sock. Sarah said she sent two pairs, and the laundress declared only a pair and a half were sent. I spoke to Carrie about it, but she rather testily replied: “I am tired of speaking to her; you had better go and speak to her yourself. She is outside.” I did so, but the laundress declared that only an odd sock was sent.

Gowing passed into the passage at this time and was rude enough to listen to the conversation, and interrupting, said: “Don’t waste the odd sock, old man; do an act of charity and give it to some poor mar with only one leg.” The laundress giggled like an idiot. I was disgusted and walked upstairs for the purpose of pinning down my collar, as the button had come off the back of my shirt.

When I returned to the parlour, Gowing was retailing his idiotic joke about the odd sock, and Carrie was roaring with laughter. I suppose I am losing my sense of humour. I spoke my mind pretty freely about Padge. Gowing said he had met him only once before that evening. He had been introduced by a friend, and as he (Padge) had “stood” a good dinner, Gowing wished to show him some little return. Upon my word, Gowing’s coolness surpasses all belief. Lupin came in before I could reply, and Gowing unfortunately inquired after Daisy Mutlar. Lupin shouted: “Mind your own business, sir!” and bounced out of the room, slamming the door. The remainder of the night was Daisy Mutlar – Daisy Mutlar – Daisy Mutlar. Oh dear!

November 26, Sunday. - The curate preached a very good sermon to-day – very good indeed. His appearance is never so impressive as our dear old vicar’s, but I am bound to say his sermons are much more impressive. A rather annoying incident occurred, of which I must make mention. Mrs. Fernlosse, who is quite a grand lady, living in one of those large houses in the Camden Road, stopped to speak to me after church, when we were all coming out. I must say I felt flattered, for she is thought a good deal of. I suppose she knew me through seeing me so often take round the plate, especially as she always occupies the corner seat of the pew. She is a very influential lady, and may have had something of the utmost importance to say, but unfortunately, as she commenced to speak a strong gust of wind came and blew my hat off into the middle of the road.

I had to run after it, and had the greatest difficulty in recovering it. When I had succeeded in doing so, I found Mrs. Fernlosse had walked on with some swell friends, and I felt I could not well approach her now, especially as my hat was smothered with mud. I cannot say how disappointed I felt.

In the evening (SUNDAY evening of all others) I found an impertinent note from Mr. Burwin-Fosselton, which ran as follows:

“Dear Mr. Pooter, – Although your junior by perhaps some twenty or thirty years – which is sufficient reason that you ought to have a longer record of the things and ways in this miniature of a planet – I feel it is just within the bounds of possibility that the wheels of your life don’t travel so quickly round as those of the humble writer of these lines. The dandy horse of past days has been known to overtake the SLOW COACH.

“Do I make myself understood?

“Very well, then! Permit me, Mr. Pooter, to advise you to accept the VERB. SAP. [5] Acknowledge your defeat, and take your whipping gracefully; for remember you threw down the glove, and I cannot claim to be either mentally or physically a COWARD!

“REVENONS A NOS MOUTONS. [6]

“Our lives run in different grooves. I live for MY ART – THE STAGE. Your life is devoted to commercial pursuits – ‘A life among Ledgers.’ My books are of different metal. Your life in the City is honourable, I admit. BUT HOW DIFFERENT! Cannot even you see the ocean between us? A channel that prevents the meeting of our brains in harmonious accord. Ah! But CHACUN A SON GOUT. [7]

“I have registered a vow to mount the steps of fame. I may crawl, I may slip, I may even falter (we are all weak), but REACH THE TOP RUNG OF THE LADDER I WILL!!! When there, my voice shall be heard, for I will shout to the multitudes below: ‘VICI!’ [8] For the present I am only an amateur, and my work is unknown, forsooth, save to a party of friends, with here and there an enemy.

“But, Mr. Pooter, let me ask you, ‘What is the difference between the amateur and the professional?’

“None!!!

“Stay! Yes, there is a difference. One is PAID for doing what the other does as skilfully for NOTHING!

“But I will be PAID, too! For I, contrary to the wishes of my family and friends, have at last elected to adopt the stage as MY profession. And when the FARCE craze is over – and, MARK YOU, THAT WILL BE SOON – I will make my power known; for I feel – pardon my apparent conceit – that there is no living man who can play the hump-backed Richard as I FEEL and KNOW I can. [9]

“And YOU will be the first to come round and bend your head in submission. There are many matters you may understand, but knowledge of the fine art of acting is to you an UNKNOWN QUANTITY.

“Pray let this discussion cease with this letter. VALE! [10]

Yours truly,

“Burwin-Fosselton.”

I was disgusted. When Lupin came in, I handed him this impertinent letter, and said: “My boy, in that letter you can see the true character of your friend.”

Lupin, to my surprise, said: “Oh yes. He showed me the letter before he sent it. I think he is right, and you ought to apologise.”


FOOTNOTES
1. Henry IrvingHenry Irving was the most famous actor of the age. Burwin-Fossleton would seem to be aping his performance as Mathias in “The Bells.” Photographs of this performance show him slouched over a table. “The Bells,” a powerful melodrama in which Irving played a remorseful murderer, was the play that firmly established Irving’s reputation and Mathias was a role he returned to many times. Irving’s ultra-dramatic acting style was easily imitated. Both George and Weedon Grossmith did so on stage to comic effect.

2. Readers with keen powers of observation will notice that Burwin-Fossleton is dressed in similar garb to that worn by Irving in “The Bells.”

3. John Hare was a famous comic actor at the time.

4. Ellen Terry was the most Shakespearean actress of the age and reputedly the mistress of Irving, opposite whom she appeared in many productions.

5. Abbreviation of the Latin phrase verbum sapientī sat est – a word to the wise is sufficient.

6. The French expression revenons à nos moutons is from the medieval French play La Farce de Maître Pathelin, in which the protagonist deliberately misleads a judge by bringing two cases before him – one relating to sheep and the other to sheets. The judge is very confused and attempts to get back to the case about sheep by repeatedly saying “mais revenons à nos moutons.” Since then, (mais) revenons à nos moutons has meant “let’s get back on topic.”

Students of great literature will recall that this expression occurs in The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick in the unlikely mouth of Greg, Grace’s Australian “friend.” I didn’t get the idea from Diary of  a Nobody. It was a favourite expression of my father’s.

7. French for “everyone to his taste.” Burwin Fossleton certainly likes his French clichés.

8. Burwin-Fossleton also likes his Latin clichés. This one may be unfamiliar to younger readers, who, unwisely I believe, neglect to study Julius Caesar’s victory in his short war against Pharnaces II of Pontus. In a letter to his pals in the Senate back in Rome, Caesar wrote the famous words “Veni, vidi, vici,” I came, I saw, I conquered. Burwin-Fossleton believes that he has “conquered” Mr. Pooter.

9. Irving’s portrayals of Shakespeare’s Richard III were considered the finest available at the time.

10. Burwin-Fossleton is at it again with the Latin. Vale = Farewell.

Eurovision – More Effective than Sanctions

15 May

The sanctions imposed on Russia by the civilized world may have been as harmless as the sedated tiger so famously caressed by the fearless Mr. Putin, but, where the US and EU are failing, an unexpected hero is hitting Ivan where it hurts. I refer, of course, to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Admittedly it doesn’t take much to get the Russians up in arms – looking at them the wrong way is pretty much all that is required to have them pulling up outside your door in an armoured personnel carrier and a filthy mood – but, according to the BBC, by awarding the coveted  crown to a bearded Austrian drag queen called Conchita Wurst, Eurovision has really got under their skin. Now, I’ve been to Russia, and can report that the majority of the female population consists of what appear to be bearded drag queens, though admittedly somewhat brawnier than Ms. Wurst.

So what is it exactly that has Russian politicians choking on their borscht? Well, it seems to be a combination of two things. The first is obvious – they hate gay people, or, in official parlance, they are anxious to protect their children from hordes of rampaging bearded ladies, in pretty much the same way as they have so gallantly leapt in to protect defenceless Russian speakers in Ukraine from hordes of baby-eating fascists from the west.

The second reason is more puzzling. Several members of the Duma have expressed outrage at the conspiracy that deprived their own entry, sung by the adorable, and clean-shaven Tolmachevy Twins, of victory. They seem to have overlooked the fact that the song was shite.

Well, OK, Ms. Wurst’s song was also shite, but so were almost all the entries – that’s the whole point of the Eurovision Song Contest. There have only been about six decent songs in the whole fifty year history of the event – and, if you’re looking for a scandal, I suggest you start with Cliff Richard not winning in the corruption-soaked contest of 1968. I mean to say, Congratulations lost to this! That Spanish lady didn’t even have a beard.

So what is their answer to the not-so-bare-faced aggression of the Eurovision fascist drag queens? Well, Duma member Valery Rashkin doesn’t intend to lie down and let them trample him into the ground of the sacred motherland with their size ten stilettos. He has proposed a unilateral withdrawal from the contest and the creation of a new “Eurasian Voice” competition. Presumably this will mean browbeating the songsters of Belorussia, Kazhakstan, Tajikistan and a few more Stans to take part. The Ukrainians will have to join too, if they still have a country, and they would like Moscow to pass gas in their direction. It shouldn’t be difficult to persuade them. After all, as Mr. Rashkin says:

“I’m convinced that all sensible people, who love children and their motherland, will support this idea. The new contest will promote completely different values. Certainly not the values of transsexuals, lesbians and homosexuals.”

Well, recent events certainly suggest that Russia does indeed have a different set of values, but is all this really necessary? Building on the experience gained in their invasion of Ukraine, they could just have had their TV stations report that the Russian song had, in fact, won. Ninety percent of the population would have believed them.

So, it’s a well-earned bonus to Eurovision and this year’s Wurst performance.

The Diary of a Nobody – Episode 10

5 May

No illustrations again, I’m afraid, for episode 10 of our continuing serialization of this classic novel. It seems that Weedon Grossmith either was uninspired by his brother’s writing at this point in the book or had other things to do.

CHAPTER X.

Reflections. I make another Good Joke. Am annoyed at the constant serving-up of the “Blanc-Mange.” Lupin expresses his opinion of Weddings. Lupin falls out with Daisy Mutlar.

November 16. - Woke about twenty times during the night, with terrible thirst. Finished off all the water in the bottle, as well as half that in the jug. Kept dreaming also, that last night’s party was a failure, and that a lot of low people came without invitation, and kept chaffing and throwing things at Mr. Perkupp, till at last I was obliged to hide him in the box-room (which we had just discovered), with a bath-towel over him. It seems absurd now, but it was painfully real in the dream. I had the same dream about a dozen times.

Carrie annoyed me by saying: “You know champagne never agrees with you.” I told her I had only a couple of glasses of it, having kept myself entirely to port. I added that good champagne hurt nobody, and Lupin told me he had only got it from a traveller as a favour, as that particular brand had been entirely bought up by a West-End club.

I think I ate too heartily of the “side dishes,” as the waiter called them. I said to Carrie: “I wish I had put those ‘side dishes’ ASIDE.” I repeated this, but Carrie was busy, packing up the teaspoons we had borrowed of Mrs. Cummings for the party. It was just half-past eleven, and I was starting for the office, when Lupin appeared, with a yellow complexion, and said: “Hulloh! Guv., what priced head have you this morning?” I told him he might just as well speak to me in Dutch. He added: “When I woke this morning, my head was as big as Baldwin’s balloon.” [1] On the spur of the moment I said the cleverest thing I think I have ever said; viz.: “Perhaps that accounts for the paraSHOOTING pains.” We roared.

November 17. - Still feel tired and headachy! In the evening Gowing called, and was full of praise about our party last Wednesday. He said everything was done beautifully, and he enjoyed himself enormously. Gowing can be a very nice fellow when he likes, but you never know how long it will last. For instance, he stopped to supper, and seeing some BLANC-MANGE on the table, shouted out, while the servant was in the room: “Hulloh! The remains of Wednesday?”

November 18. - Woke up quite fresh after a good night’s rest, and feel quite myself again. I am satisfied a life of going-out and Society is not a life for me; we therefore declined the invitation which we received this morning to Miss Bird’s wedding. We only met her twice at Mrs. James’, and it means a present. Lupin said: “I am with you for once. To my mind a wedding’s a very poor play. There are only two parts in it – the bride and bridegroom. The best man is only a walking gentleman. With the exception of a crying father and a snivelling mother, the rest are SUPERS who have to dress well and have to PAY for their insignificant parts in the shape of costly presents.” I did not care for the theatrical slang, but thought it clever, though disrespectful.

I told Sarah not to bring up the BLANC-MANGE again for breakfast. It seems to have been placed on our table at every meal since Wednesday. Cummings came round in the evening, and congratulated us on the success of our party. He said it was the best party he had been to for many a year; but he wished we had let him know it was full dress, as he would have turned up in his swallow-tails. We sat down to a quiet game of dominoes, and were interrupted by the noisy entrance of Lupin and Frank Mutlar. Cummings and I asked them to join us. Lupin said he did not care for dominoes, and suggested a game of “Spoof.” On my asking if it required counters, Frank and Lupin in measured time said: “One, two, three; go! Have you an estate in Greenland?” [2] It was simply Greek to me, but it appears it is one of the customs of the “Holloway Comedians” to do this when a member displays ignorance.

In spite of my instructions, that BLANC-MANGE was brought up again for supper. To make matters worse, there had been an attempt to disguise it, by placing it in a glass dish with jam round it. Carrie asked Lupin if he would have some, and he replied: “No second-hand goods for me, thank you.” I told Carrie, when we were alone, if that BLANC-MANGE were placed on the table again I should walk out of the house.

November 19, Sunday. – A delightfully quiet day. In the afternoon Lupin was off to spend the rest of the day with the Mutlars. He departed in the best of spirits, and Carrie said: “Well, one advantage of Lupin’s engagement with Daisy is that the boy seems happy all day long. That quite reconciles me to what I must confess seems an imprudent engagement.”

Carrie and I talked the matter over during the evening, and agreed that it did not always follow that an early engagement meant an unhappy marriage. Dear Carrie reminded me that we married early, and, with the exception of a few trivial misunderstandings, we had never had a really serious word. I could not help thinking (as I told her) that half the pleasures of life were derived from the little struggles and small privations that one had to endure at the beginning of one’s married life. Such struggles were generally occasioned by want of means, and often helped to make loving couples stand together all the firmer.

Carrie said I had expressed myself wonderfully well, and that I was quite a philosopher.

We are all vain at times, and I must confess I felt flattered by Carrie’s little compliment. I don’t pretend to be able to express myself in fine language, but I feel I have the power of expressing my thoughts with simplicity and lucidness. About nine o’clock, to our surprise. Lupin entered, with a wild, reckless look, and in a hollow voice, which I must say seemed rather theatrical, said: “Have you any brandy?” I said: “No; but here is some whisky.” Lupin drank off nearly a wineglassful without water, to my horror.

We all three sat reading in silence till ten, when Carrie and I rose to go to bed. Carrie said to Lupin: “I hope Daisy is well?”

Lupin, with a forced careless air that he must have picked up from the “Holloway Comedians,” replied: “Oh, Daisy? You mean Miss Mutlar. I don’t know whether she is well or not, but please NEVER TO MENTION HER NAME AGAIN IN MY PRESENCE.”

FOOTNOTES
1. The reference is to Thomas Baldwin, an American showman who would jump from a hot air balloon wielding an umbrella-like parachute.
2. The implication is that Pooter Senior is “green” or naive and clueless. Where else would such a person live but Greenland?

Learn a new langue – it doe not have to be difficult

27 Apr

A wonderful piece of spam just came my way.

Speaking a different language doe not have to be difficult.

It’s easy to learn a any language in 10 days.
(link removed)

What langue would you like to learn?

I will be singing up immodiately for this grete offer. I just need to figure out which Nigerian language to learn in order to communicate more effectively with the gentleman who is holding a large amount of money for me there.

 

A performance Bonus to The Wu-Tang Clan

21 Apr

A performance bonus and a humanitarian award to the Wu-Tang Clan for the innovative marketing idea behind their new album release. Only one copy of the album will be made, which will be placed in an engraved metal box and buried somewhere in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, before touring art galleries, where admirers will have the chance to pay $20 to $50 to listen to it. It will then be auctioned. Reportedly there is already a bid of $5 million.

While the benefits of there only being one copy of a Wu-Tang Clan album are obvious, second in their contribution to both art and the well-being of society to there being no copies at all, I can’t help feeling that an opportunity is being missed. With $5 million, surely they could afford a box big enough to bury The Wu-Tang Clan too If this sounds expensive, think of the money that could be saved by not returning to dig it up again.

Perhaps they could rent space to Mumford and Sons.

Hats off to the Clan for a marketing gimmick and example of inside the box thinking that might have come from the fevered brain of T John Dick himself.

Book Review – The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

20 Apr

As a writer of humorous fiction, I had long intended to read The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne. Written between 1759 and 1767, it is in some ways the granddaddy of English humorous literature and contains within its gentle, meandering, conversational style many of the elements that make comic writing from that country unique, in spite of Sterne’s admiration of authors such as Rabelais and Cervantes.

There is much to admire in the book, or rather series of books – there are nine of them – provided that you make allowances for the fact that it was a pioneering work (though not entirely without precedent). Its loose structure, which smacks of sheer laziness, would not stand up to today’s standards, but some of the comedic incidents and the characterization of the narrator’s father, his Unlce Toby and the latter’s servant Trim are ahead of their time. The satire of learned people, though a little hard to decipher for the modern reader, is also amusing. Perhaps the work’s most prominent virtues are its warmth and generosity, particularly apparent in the discussions involving the narrator’s father and his Uncle Toby – even when engaged in satire, Sterne is kind – and its engaging voice. Sterne is good company.

And he has to be, because much of what he writes is codswallop, and not all of it is funny. He takes us in huge digressions and even digressions within digressions. The whole of Book VII consists of a travelogue recounting a journey to France, which, while interesting in the insights it gives into the modes of travel and accommodation of the time, has nothing to do with any of the other books. You get the feeling that he just got up and wrote what he felt like writing, regardless of what preceded it, before popping out for a couple of beers. He seems to admit as much in the second chapter of Book VIII:

“The thing is this. That of all the several ways of beginning a book which are now in practice throughout the known world, I am confident that my own way of doing it is best – I’m sure it is the most religious – for I begin with writing the first sentence – and trusting to Almighty God for the second…

…I wish you saw me half-starting out of my chair, with what confidence, as I grasp the elbow of it, I look up – catching the idea, even sometimes before it half-way reaches me -

I believe in my conscience I intercept many a thought which heaven intended for another man.”

It is a tribute to Sterne’s engaging style that you keep reading it, especially as it also includes chaotic sentence structure and punctuation and the occasional chapter towards the end of the book that consists of nothing at all! You forgive all this because you somehow like him. You don’t even mind that the books, with all their “progressive digressions” do not really have a plot, as such. You certainly never learn much about the life of Tristram Shandy, who doesn’t even enter the world until three volumes have passed, and as for the opinions – they are undisguisedly those of Sterne himself. This is a very strange work, and it somehow seems fitting that it should end strangely and very suddenly. In fact, it doesn’t really have a conclusion. It just stops.

And so will I.

The Diary of a Nobody – Episode 9

15 Apr

Apologies for the long gap between episodes and for the lack of illustrations in this chapter, although that can be explained by the simple fact that there are none in the original book either. Attentive readers might notice that the font has changed from previous chapters. This is because WordPress has changed the paste function to strip out all formatting by default and I can’t figure out how to put it back in without an inordinate amount of work.

Whence, I hear you ask, cometh the text that is being copied and pasted. Well, the thrilling news is that it comes from the ebook, which will be published at the conclusion of this series to great acclaim, arising from the fact that it is free.

 

CHAPTER IX.

 

Our first important Party. Old Friends and New Friends. Gowing is a little annoying; but his friend, Mr. Stillbrook, turns out to be quite amusing. Inopportune arrival of Mr. Perkupp, but he is most kind and complimentary. Party a great success.

November 15. - A red-letter day. Our first important party since we have been in this house. I got home early from the City. Lupin insisted on having a hired waiter, and stood a half-dozen of champagne. I think this an unnecessary expense, but Lupin said he had had a piece of luck, having made three pounds out a private deal in the City. I hope he won’t gamble in his new situation. The supper-room looked so nice, and Carrie truly said: “We need not be ashamed of its being seen by Mr. Perkupp, should he honour us by coming.”

I dressed early in case people should arrive punctually at eight o’clock, and was much vexed to find my new dress-trousers much too short.

Lupin, who is getting beyond his position, found fault with my wearing ordinary boots instead of dress-boots.

I replied satirically: “My dear son, I have lived to be above that sort of thing.”

Lupin burst out laughing, and said: “A man generally was above his boots.”

This may be funny, or it may NOT; but I was gratified to find he had not discovered the coral had come off one of my studs. Carrie looked a picture, wearing the dress she wore at the Mansion House. The arrangement of the drawing-room was excellent. Carrie had hung muslin curtains over the folding-doors, and also over one of the entrances, for we had removed the door from its hinges.

Mr. Peters, the waiter, arrived in good time, and I gave him strict orders not to open another bottle of champagne until the previous one was empty. Carrie arranged for some sherry and port wine to be placed on the drawing-room sideboard, with some glasses. By-the-by, our new enlarged and tinted photographs look very nice on the walls, especially as Carrie has arranged some Liberty silk bows on the four corners of them.

The first arrival was Gowing, who, with his usual taste, greeted me with: “Hulloh, Pooter, why your trousers are too short!”

I simply said: “Very likely, and you will find my temper ‘sHORT’ also.”

He said: “That won’t make your trousers longer, Juggins. You should get your missus to put a flounce on them.”

I wonder I waste my time entering his insulting observations in my diary.

The next arrivals were Mr. and Mrs. Cummings. The former said: “As you didn’t say anything about dress, I have come ‘half dress.'” He had on a black frock-coat and white tie. The James’, Mr. Merton, and Mr. Stillbrook arrived, but Lupin was restless and unbearable till his Daisy Mutlar and Frank arrived.

Carrie and I were rather startled at Daisy’s appearance. She had a bright-crimson dress on, cut very low in the neck. I do not think such a style modest. She ought to have taken a lesson from Carrie, and covered her shoulders with a little lace. Mr. Nackles, Mr. Sprice-Hogg and his four daughters came; so did Franching, and one or two of Lupin’s new friends, members of the “Holloway Comedians.” Some of these seemed rather theatrical in their manner, especially one, who was posing all the evening, and leant on our little round table and cracked it. Lupin called him “our Henry,” and said he was “our lead at the H.C.’s,” and was quite as good in that department as Harry Mutlar was as the low-comedy merchant. All this is Greek to me.

We had some music, and Lupin, who never left Daisy’s side for a moment, raved over her singing of a song, called “Some Day.” It seemed a pretty song, but she made such grimaces, and sang, to my mind, so out of tune, I would not have asked her to sing again; but Lupin made her sing four songs right off, one after the other.

At ten o’clock we went down to supper, and from the way Gowing and Cummings ate you would have thought they had not had a meal for a month. I told Carrie to keep something back in case Mr. Perkupp should come by mere chance. Gowing annoyed me very much by filling a large tumbler of champagne, and drinking it straight off. He repeated this action, and made me fear our half-dozen of champagne would not last out. I tried to keep a bottle back, but Lupin got hold of it, and took it to the side-table with Daisy and Frank Mutlar.

We went upstairs, and the young fellows began skylarking. Carrie put a stop to that at once. Stillbrook amused us with a song, “What have you done with your Cousin John?” I did not notice that Lupin and Frank had disappeared. I asked Mr. Watson, one of the Holloways, where they were, and he said: “It’s a case of ‘Oh, what a surprise!'”

We were directed to form a circle – which we did. Watson then said: “I have much pleasure in introducing the celebrated Blondin Donkey.” Frank and Lupin then bounded into the room. Lupin had whitened his face like a clown, and Frank had tied round his waist a large hearthrug. He was supposed to be the donkey, and he looked it. They indulged in a very noisy pantomime, and we were all shrieking with laughter.

I turned round suddenly, and then I saw Mr Perkupp standing half-way in the door, he having arrived without our knowing it. I beckoned to Carrie, and we went up to him at once. He would not come right into the room. I apologised for the foolery, but Mr. Perkupp said: “Oh, it seems amusing.” I could see he was not a bit amused.

Carrie and I took him downstairs, but the table was a wreck. There was not a glass of champagne left – not even a sandwich. Mr. Perkupp said he required nothing, but would like a glass of seltzer or soda water. The last syphon was empty. Carrie said: “We have plenty of port wine left.” Mr. Perkupp said, with a smile: “No, thank you. I really require nothing, but I am most pleased to see you and your husband in your own home. Good-night, Mrs. Pooter, you will excuse my very short stay, I know.” I went with him to his carriage, and he said: “Don’t trouble to come to the office till twelve to-morrow.”

I felt despondent as I went back to the house, and I told Carrie I thought the party was a failure. Carrie said it was a great success, and I was only tired, and insisted on my having some port myself. I drank two glasses, and felt much better, and we went into the drawing-room, where they had commenced dancing. Carrie and I had a little dance, which I said reminded me of old days. She said I was a spooney old thing.

 

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