Wednesday 29 July 2009

Crows in Rows

This is one of our favourite times of year at Hawker’s Pot, when rangy young crows come out on the lawn with their parents. These young crows, though barely distinguishable from their elders, still seem to find flying a bit of a trial: when the parents lift up lazily for a short-hop flight to somewhere else on the lawn, the youngsters all peg it along the ground after them. It puts a smile on our faces, as we set down our thesauri and dictionaries for a moment and watch them. But then, by the next time we look up, the whole family has disappeared again into the green secrecy of the trees.

While we're on the subject ...

Friday 24 July 2009

Crashaw’s Diary (part i)

The story so far: Philip Crashaw is the Curate to the Rev. Arthur Jenkins in a Country Parish in Dorset. The year is 1870.

Friday, 22 July
All afternoon a joke seemed to hover just beyond my grasp, almost like a fairy thing. It was there in the room with me, yet I could not see it. It danced in the corners of my eyes. I even drew the curtains at one point and sat there with my eyes closed, as I imagined Milton might have done in the throes of composition. In the end, I had to resign myself to Sunday’s sermon not having a joke in it.

After tea I walked out into the garden. The hollyhocks tall and lovely, over-towering the dark hedge, and a little cloud over the woods. The sky all burnished and golden. And there it was! The joke I had been searching for so assiduously all afternoon. As if it was a thing of the garden, to be plucked by the hand! What a strange thing inspiration is!

Sunday, 24 July
After lunch Mr Jenkins, that dear kind man, asked me to come to his study. Very sweetly he broached the subject of my propensity to make jokes. Sermons not the natural home of jokes, he suggested. I suspect he felt as uncomfortable as I did, and we fell silent for a while. We discussed the importance of a man in my position having a hobby. The intimate study of Nature, for instance, or the keeping of a Journal. He was concerned that if I gave in to my tendency to make puns, there was a danger that it might become a compulsion. I agreed, and said I wondered how to cure it.

The yellow rim of the old moon trembling above the dark wood. Stars.

Friday 17 July 2009

Literary Adaptation no 3

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely laid their puns against us.

(adapted from H.G.Wells The War of the Worlds)

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Every night as the young poet sat down to work on his verses a little voice spoke encouraging words to him from the cupboard. “You are a great poet. An epic poem on the subject of retail outlets is a great idea! You can rhyme manages with sandwiches!” His pen nib scratched, his eyes rolled frenziedly. (He began to believe his own press.)

While we're on the subject ...

... may we at Hawker's Pot present a poem by the above?

The Conjunction

It flies by night. It drinks no blood
From horrid gaping bloody cut.
It hunts its hapless victim down
Then lets her go. It is a vampire but.

Friday 10 July 2009

A brief history of Jokes (Part VI)

It was the Romantic Era. When it was sunny, it was sunny in a mellow, hazy kind of way. When it was stormy, it was really stormy. And as soon as it was night the moon blinked out from behind ragged clouds which raced across the sky, while shadows shuddered and trees hissed in the high wind. It was never quiet unless there was a hard frost.

The year 1797 brought together two young men who had independently been struggling to develop a new kind of humour that befitted the extreme weather of the epoch. Their names were Wordsworth and Coleridge. Coleridge had been working as a politically-minded stand-up, playing clubs in places as far afield as Bristol, Sheffield and Manchester. The quieter Wordsworth had been writing character-based comic pieces, featuring every variety of broken-down person and building. Now in an extraordinary year of collaboration, the two young men would develop a host of comical characters, and immortalise them in memorable stand-up routines.

One of their most successful creations was the extremely garrulous character, who it was impossible to get away from once he started talking (Coleridge, “The Ancient Mariner”, Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey”). Then, there was the pedantic mathematician who, in the routine “We Are Seven”, encounters a child who claims that she is one of seven children, despite the fact that two of them are dead! This routine was a great favourite when performed by Wordsworth in the folk clubs of Bridgwater. There would be howls of laughter as the pedant tried to prove to the child that her maths was faulty:

‘How many are you then,’ said I,
If they two are in Heaven?’
The little Maiden did reply,
‘O Master! we are seven.’

Finally the pedant would lose his temper with the child. Contemporary accounts report that Wordsworth would mime comical exasperation at this point, clenching his fists and jumping up and down on the stage:

‘But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!’
‘Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, ‘Nay, we are seven!’

Then, before the gales of laughter subsided, Wordsworth would move swiftly into a routine featuring a pedantic land-surveyor. In this, the land-surveyor recounts a stirring tale of betrayal, madness and infanticide, while all the time giving very exact measurements of everything in the locality.

But already, Wordsworth and Coleridge had plans to move beyond the sketch format and nurtured hopes to become the Galt and Simpson of their age. Together they were working on a sitcom to be called “The Pedlar”, in which a pedlar (or mean hawker of wares) travels through a mountainous neighbourhood, dispensing philosophical gems and encountering many humorous characters and situations. But like so much of their planned collaboration, it was never to see fruition.

For, sitting on a hillside and watching the sun sinking over the Bristol Channel on those long summer evenings, the two men did not know that their year of wonders was soon to end. The years that followed were to bring misery, addiction and much tedious moralising. Coleridge would spend long years seeking out a glory that had passed, trying to reconstitute a perfect pun from the metaphysical works of Immanuel Kant. Meanwhile, a gloom would settle over the work of Wordsworth which would stifle every impulse to humour. (Even when he worked on a lengthy preamble to “The Pedlar” it would prove to be almost entirely joke-free.)

For the two men could not know the identity of the planet they marvelled at each summer evening as it followed the track of the blazing sun into the sea. They could not know that for much of human history it was a planet that was hidden behind the sun. Nor could they know of the mystery of its influence on the world of men or that, after the summer of 1798, it would once more return to its hiding place. The spark would be lost, and for the rest of the age Romanticism would devote itself to landscape painting, tragedy and high emotion.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Pathetic Epithets #4

Here at Hawker’s Pot we are assembling a circulating library for those who like a little bit of gentle swearing with their literature. So far our catalogue includes:

A Child’s Blooming Garden of Verses

To the Blinking Lighthouse

The Dashed Charge of the Light Brigade and other poems

Foxe’s Book of Bleeding Martyrs

The Darned Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Under the Flaming Volcano

The Family Encyclopaedia of Ruddy Health

The Book of Blasted Space Travel

The Moon and Flipping Sixpence

The Red Shoes and other Bally Stories

Suggestions for further titles for the catalogue would be gratefully received.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Literary Adaptation no 2

Whatever trouble there was and strife, however much uneasiness and pain, no matter what tears were shed, what sorrows borne, the peace of Hawker’s Pot could not be broken. The old quiet moss smell would linger in the air, and bees would come, and crickets, and herons build their nests in the deep dark woods. There would be quips and repartee still, and the hard white buds of the inevitable puns unfolding slow and tight beneath the dining-room window. It would lie always in a hollow like an enchanted thing, guarded by its jokes, safe, secure, while the laughter broke and ran and came again in the little shingle bays below.

(adapted from du Maurier: Rebecca)