IN COMPETITION NO. 1887 you were bidden to write a poem to mark the occa- sion of my 68th birthday.
First, thank you those kind ones who went beyond the call of duty and enclosed a birthday card. I was touched. Another mark of my sometimes doubted humanity is that, although in setting the competition I said that flattery and mockery were equally invited, when it came to choosing the winners I found myself irresistibly drawn towards the more friendly entries. The best of these appear below, their authors taking £20 each, and the bonus bottle of Isle of Jura Single Malt Scotch whisky goes to Michael Lee. I promise never to repeat this competition.
Oh Jaspistos, my dear fellow, this is very sad to find! What? You're nudging sere and yellow, three score years left well behind?
Pray assure us you'll not mellow — such a prospect numbs the mind!
Well, no doubt your life's a hard one, toiling on from week to week, Bundled in with Chess and Crosswords, Mary Killen and the Greek - Tears of pity well within me so that I can hardly speak.
As the tasks you weekly set us, so to me man's life appears, Challenge, then response, then endless waiting with its hopes and fears, Then the dreadful day of judgment, wild despair and bitter tears!
Stay — let's linger with the notion. In our earthly state we see Darkly through a glass, and since that's surely how it's meant to be, Twitch away your veils no further — stay a thing of mystery.
So, your health, you Great Tormentor! Fling the roses! Swill the wine!
Bet on horses! Chase the ladies! One day you'll be sixty-nine.
Happy Birthday! Please see under for my present one spare line. (Michael Lee) Come, Muse of fire, and speed me to indite: This day Jaspistos doth no more 'invite', But bids. Then strike the harp with lyric hands: The Arbiter of Eloquence commands! And who are we, crazed logodaedalists, To shirk our ditty when our Bard insists?
Some shall compose an epigram or squib From Martial, filched out of the Penguin crib; Others a dithyramb may well essay, To honour our Maecenas' natal day.
But, my Jaspistos! I shall thee incite To my rude villa this midsummer night, And with a Bonus Bottle succour thee And talk of life, and books, and poesy Till the resurgence of the morning star: I with my pipe, thou with a small cigar.
(Martin Woodhead) She asked him to what he'd attribute His long and distinguished career. 'It's thanks to the help and the comfort Of the regular compers, my dear.
'My postbag is full every Thursday, They send in their tries by the ream; To judge by their flattering comments They feel they are part of my team.
`They are sports, they have wit and such gusto No envy, no carping, no blame; They love to perform incognito, Hiding under some whimsical name.'
She'prompted, the Mid-Week presenter: 'You'll be giving up soon, I don't doubt?'
'I've entered my prime as a setter: I'll judge comps till they carry me out.'
(Gill Ewing) If you had lived in Chaucer's time, And you'd survived to sixty-eight, You'd be a wretched rarity, With forty years the average rate.
If you had lived in Shakespeare's day You might have just made fifty plus; Sans eyes, sans teeth, sans everything, Weak-hammed, rheum-eyed, superfluous.
If you'd lived a Victorian When dentistry was yet pathetic, At sixty you'd be wrecked by ops, Well-meant, but minus anaesthetic.
Rejoice. You're sixty-eight in Ninety-five. You pay your taxes, and you're kept alive.
(V. M. Cornford) Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Jaspistos o' the Speccie race! Aboon them a' ye tak your place, Press, news, or blurb; Weel are ye wordy of a grace Not to disturb.
O trusty James, do not tak fright On reaching three-score year and eight! Keep struggling on wi' all your might An' keep your wits, While all around ye, left an' right, T' world falls to bits.
Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Gie Jamie all that ye can spare 0' bright ideas; Then we'll compete for ever mair An' hae no fears. (E. F. Bradford) Hurrah for Jaspistos! He's terribly old And handsome and clever, or so I've been told; Perfection from youth, he was born good as gold, Prodigiously gifted, courageous and bold: Years simply perfected this man as they rolled.
Bring out every poet and songster and bard In fervent loud praise: it shouldn't be hard, Remember in talents he drew the high card, This man's not been blackballed, expelled or disbarred, He's Nature's success, by failure unscarred.
Drink deep on his birthday, have fun, celebrate, And we shall all join in acclaiming the date: Yippee! Alleluia! Hurrah! Sixty-eight!
No. 1890: A likely story
This was kindly suggested by Simon Philips in Hong Kong, nine years ago. You are invited to provide an anecdote (maximum 150 words) in which a clothes-horse, a black-beetle, a piece of toasted cheese and a harp each play a part in bringing about a disaster. Entries to 'Competition No. 1890' by 13 July.