A likely story
IN COMPETITION NO. 1890 you were invited to provide an anecdote in which a clothes-horse, a piece of toasted cheese, a black-beetle and a harp each play a part in bringing about a disaster.
This was an invitation to produce a wild Marx Brothers scenario, but it went beg- ging. Nor did Ben Gunn of Treasure Island make an appearance, despite his passion for toasted cheese. But most of you juggled artfully enough with the props provided and six of you deserve prizes this week. The entries printed below earn their authors £20 each, and the bonus bottle of Isle of Jura Single Malt Scotch whisky (whose makers have generously offered to extend their sponsorship for another year) goes to Cohn Shaw.
I'll swear it, damned thing bolted. We were at Perish's house. Big place, Devonshire perhaps, I forget. Nothing to do, flung back on own resources. Dress up, old clothes from the attic. Grandpa's top hat, frock-coat, that sort of thing. One good feature, Perish's people absent, so butler fellow very forthcoming with key to wine- cellar, if palm crossed. Frankly, that night we were all plastered, Perish, Willis, Donovan, me. Midnight, butler out for the count. Donovan draped a clothes-horse with old saddle-cloth and Willis persuaded Perish aboard. Tally-ho! I acti- vated his mama's harp, plucked a few bars of 'The Galloping Major'. Recognisable, Willis said. Very soon Perish bellows for Welsh rarebit. I fetch it and resume plucking the harp-strings. Illusion pretty complete, Perish now heading confidently for tricky little fence by cellar stairs. Suddenly, black-beetle in his path. Clothes- horse rears, throws Perish, Perish flung down whole flight. Never the same, poor chap.
(Colin Shaw) Guggenheim's request for 'Nearer, My God, to Thee' was serious business. Our only harp, need- ed for celestial arpeggios between verses, had three broken strings. Captain Smith came aft, snack lunch in hand. He pushed aside a clothes- horse, on which music was drying, to get at a possible source of spares. From behind it emerged the largest black-beetle I have ever seen. In his fright the Captain lost his balance, bracing himself against a speaking tube. This was precisely the moment, I later ascertained, when a message should have come down it con- cerning an iceberg. Had I not quickly cleared the
toasted cheese from the mouth of the tube, the bridge would not have taken the Captain's sharp 'Bugger off' (addressed to the beetle) as his response to their message. The harp remained unserviceable, but other circumstances happily contrived to make our rendition of the old hymn not unmemorable. (Jonathan Sleigh) Duke Ferdinand wanted a picture of the Three Graces — his daughters Zena, Dina and Mona — against a posh background, hung with tapestries. Zena held a harp, Dina stroked a pet dove, and Mona managed somehow. She was the unspoilt one. We had trouble from the start. The dove had to be kept happy with toasted cheese, and the tapestry I'd arranged on a clothes-horse in my studio was in precarious balance. The floor was littered with bits of cheese, and the two elder girls announced they couldn't stand mice. The mice held off; but the end came when the cheese attracted an enormous black-beetle. Dina screamed, Zena flung her harp at it, knocking the tapestry over, and both stormed out. Mona just smiled; so I painted that. There was no money in it, though. (Paul Griffin) Having, perhaps unwisely, nibbled at a piece of toasted cheese just before bedtime, it should have come as no great surprise to K. to be plagued by troubled dreams. To find himself, however, in the cold light of dawn, transformed into a black-beetle did come as a bit of a shock. Aghast at the hitherto unremarkable travelling salesman's sudden metamorphosis, his parents hurriedly locked K. away in his bedroom and turned instead to their daughter and, in particu- lar, her music. In happier days K. had arranged for his younger sister to take harp lessons; now the haunting music swept under the bedroom door. It is a general truth amongst humans that, when love is withdrawn, succour is to be found in food. For beetles it is no different. The clothes- horse proved the tastiest repast. Alas, after repeated gnawing, it crumbled down on top of K. and squashed him. (Ian Falconer)
Sir Frank Benson's 1913 tour of King Lear showed him at the height of his powers. He was famed for being undisturbed by any accident; but his morbid fear of insects once nearly threw him. The production was simple — though for atmosphere he had a harpist on-stage through- out. In the Trial Scene, where the mad Lear sees a mouse — 'this piece of toasted cheese should do it' — he crawled along the boards proffering the imaginary titbit, till confronted by an enor- mous black-beetle. Leaping up as one possessed, he crashed into the hovel — a fragile structure of green baize draped over a clothes-horse — and sent Poor Tom cannoning into the harp with an almighty crash. The great man was not dis- concerted long. Neatly interpolating the lines from The Tempest, 'Sometimes a thousand twan- gling instruments/Do hum about mine ears', he concluded the scene to tumultuous applause.
See, I blame Bruce Chatwin myself. All that romantic nonsense about Welsh communities in Patagonia. Turned their heads on the Eisteddfod committee, didn't it? Soon it was all 'Hands Across the Water', 'We'll Keep a Welcome ... ' You know the sort of thing: PR masquerading as hwyl. Nothing went right. The food for starters. Saying they were expecting more from Welsh rarebit than a bit of toasted cheese. Then their music. `La Cucaracha'! Imagine, thirty grown men singing an anthem to a black-beetle at an Eisteddfod! Worst was when they hung their ponchos to dry on Tudor Morgan's harp: the symbol of Celtic lyricism turned into a bloody clothes-horse! After a scuffle with a tenor from Treochy one of the gauchos yelled, 'I spit on your grandma's grave, Taffy rubbish. May the leeks shrivel on your pampas!' And that's how Dolgellau came to be twinned with Goose
Green. (David Jones)
No. 1893: PC Grundy
Now that Tintin has been accused of being drunk, the floodgates of political correct- ness are wide open. You are invited to write a letter to a public librarian from a PC angle, complaining about the contents and implications of some well-known chil- dren's book. Maximum 150 words. Entries to 'Competition No. 1893' by 3 August.