1920 remembered

A galoot is dancing with a flapper at the luxurious Corona Ballroom in New York — music by Sid Stomp and his Orchestra.

Suddenly the music stops: galoot flies one way, flapper the other, at very high speed.

During the heyday of the Charleston, the Shimmy, and the Fox Trot, this was just one of many strategies for cooling ardour, dampening lust, and controlling the birth rate.

Neither the galoot (fractured skull) nor the flapper (internal bleeding) survived the incident. So you see — it worked.

Today we call it social distancing.



I was writing a job application when the phone rang:

— Hello?

— It’s resumé, not resoom.

— What?

— I said it’s resumé, not resoom, line 2.

— Oh right, thanks.

— Also, it’s jail, not jale, line 7.

— Smart, aren’t you?

— Line 8, sentence, not sentense.

— Got it.

— And making licence plates is kinda weak. Write digital enumeration in the transport sector.

— Oh nice! Thanks.

— And it’s ask, not axe, line 14.

— No, now there you’re wrong, buddy. I axed them real nice is correct. Should I highlight that?

— Not a transferrable skill.

— Ok.

— Also, a certificate in needlework is worth diddly-squat.

— How do you spell that?

— Oh Jeez!

— Who is this, anyway?

— Department of Corrections.


The martyr

Seated in her brightly-lit oriel, Leonora is making gypsy costumes for the village children. The ridotto is in just two weeks, so there’s no time to lose! Already, the village hall is festooned with flowers and ribands, and the High Street will soon be a sea of colour, to celebrate the life of St Bernadette de Mourbray, who was hanged, drawn, and quartered just four hundred miles up the road, in 1419.

This morning, Miss Hall the dressmaker brought a bolt of apricot chenille, which was timely indeed, because Miss March had promised Leonora a bolt of forest green shantung for the costumes, but failed to deliver. ‘Sod the bitch’, thought Leonora. ‘I shall press on, regardless.’

So this year, the little gypsy jerkins, pantaloons, and chemises will be in apricot chenille. ‘Not quite traditional’, mused Leonora, ‘but perhaps the more striking for that. Bernadette was an iconoclast, and why not me?’

‘Hurrah for the ridotto,
the village all en fête,
to celebrate the martyrdom
of saintly Bernadette.’

‘The little village children,
in apricot bedecked,
and when I see Miss March again,
I’ll break her f—kin’ neck’,

sang Leonora, to her lapdog.



I was in the herbarium, tending dill, when the phone rang:


— Is your dill dilated?

— What?

— Is your dill dilated?

— Who is this?

— Dick Dilbert, from the Daily Dill. You’re just a dilettante with dill, you can’t deny it.

— Well, I’m diligent, and I’ve read Dillon’s Dill Digest.

— Does your dill dilate in dense dilution?

— I don’t dilute my dill.

— Dilute it with Dilworth’s Diluent, and don’t delay.

— I won’t.

— Won’t what — dilute or delay?

— Delay to dilute.

— And don’t demur either.

— Done.

— And don’t dilly-dally.

— I don’t dilly-dally.

— Well, you’re definitely dilatory. You should never dilly-dally with dill. It’s deadly.

— I definitively deny that I dilly-dally with dill.

— Does your beldam dilly-dally with dill?

— No.

— Well, someone is dilly-dallying with dill. Got a daughter?

— Yes, Dolly Desiree Danielle. She’s delightful.

— Ah! I thought so. I’m deuced difficult to deceive. Now it’s getting devilishly delicate, if your delightful daughter is dabbling with dill.

— She’s a dutiful daughter. Dolly doesn’t dabble. Or dilly-dally.

— I don’t doubt it. Does your delightful dutiful daughter Dolly digitally dilate her diadem d’amour?

— That’s dishonourably dirty! How did you deduce my number?

— I misdialled.

On this day

Tommy (‘Tosser’) Doyle was born in Wakefield, CA, on this day in 1902. He was sickly from birth, and was diagnosed with Kaempfer’s Dropsical Palsy (KDP). His mother gave him strong doses of beetroot juice in his early years, and blueberry baths every day. By the age of ten he could lift both his parents and a mule with just one hand, and in a single graceful motion deposit them on the roof of the family barn. News of his prodigious strength spread rapidly in Wakefield and beyond, and throughout his teens he  made a living by depositing heavy things in unusual places. At the County Fair in Misery, TX, he tossed six Baptist preachers and a Model T Ford a distance of 3.2 miles, a record that still stands today.

His big break came in 1921 when Hollywood mogul Lou (‘The Screw’) Carew spotted him and signed him on a five-picture deal with Megamug Movies. It was then that Tommy adopted his screen name, ‘Tosser’, for a string of low-budget movies, including Attack of the Toxic Tossers (1923), Toss Me To The Moon (1924), Toss That Cabbage! (1925), and Toss or Be Tossed! (1927).

In 1926, he married starlet Dolores Twilb, but the marriage didn’t last. In a freak accident during their honeymoon, Tommy picked up his bride and tossed her two miles out to sea. Her body was never found. Tragedy struck again when he broke a fingernail on the set of Alien Tossers (1928). From then on, his fortunes declined and he fell into depression, alcoholism, penury, prostitution, perdition, paranoia, and a large uncovered manhole on Pepper Street, Pensacola.

He spent his final years making occasional appearances at county fairs and hillbilly hoe-downs, but his heart was no longer in it. He died in 1942. Near the end, he confided to his diary: ‘Beetroot juice and blueberry baths. Gonna kick your ass, Momma’.


Life lesson

‘It’s bad luck to meet twins before noon, or to find a pea pod that holds nine peas;
for good luck, carry a boiled scummel in your left pocket for three days and bury it near a cairn on the fourth day.’ 

My old dad was a trove of wisdom such as this, and I have thrived on his trove all my life. I have never been hit by a bus, and I was just one number short for the Lottery jackpot last Saturday.

So listen to your parents: they are just as crazy as you are.



Phantisticall magorias are teeming in my brain:

Cybernetical colossi clash with devilish deviations,
gargantuan gargoyles grapple spectral spooks,
monstrous mutants maul misshapen mastadons,
and fiery phantoms feed on odious ogres.

But in a quiet casement, near a spray of scented lavender,
sits thoughtfully a mid-day sprite, reading The Cat in the Hat.

Outrage in Pilchardstown

June 26.
Around 2pm, local resident Arthur (‘Tick-tock’) Carmody was struck about the head and body by two burly salmon as waited for a bus in Pound St. He suffered some bruising to his face and person, and was treated at the scene. The assailants escaped down the alleyway between Crofton’s Hardware and Nelly Pearce’s old place. Onlookers said that while Tick-tock often played the Tom Noddy about town, he did nothing on this occasion to provoke the attack.

In a curious twist, the incident comes almost a year after another resident of Pilchardstown was assaulted by a shoal of bream near St Anselm’s Church. Townspeople were quick to point out that both incidents happened on a Wednesday.


Foreign affray

London, June 6
. Shortly after 2am, a set of ruffianly fellows took to throwing cudgels in the thoroughfare near Covent Garden, until a squadron of constables routed them with musket and ball.

Some of the retreating brigands invaded a premises in Maiden Lane, and in the  character of shrove-cocks, spread alarm among the gentlefolk who were just then present. The proprietress, Mrs Sarah Sowerbutts, said ‘My girls were sore affrighted by the affray’.

Acting resolutely, Constable Henry Procter (2nd Holborn Div.) led a charge that saw the arrest of some fifteen ruffians. They are thought to be of foreign origin, variously from Po-Land, Austro-Hungary, and the Russian Empire. An onlooker said ‘…coming over ‘ere, causing may’em!’


Afternoon off

I must remind old Catflap
that I won’t be here for tea.
I’m meeting Captain Carver
at the Kat & Kedgeree.

Oh, by the way, Mudflap, I won’t be here for tea.

— M’Lud?

No tea this afternoon, Flipflop… take the afternoon off.

— M’Lud?

I’m going out, Slipknot, so no tea today. You can take the afternoon off.

— Afternoon off, M’Lud?

Oh for God’s sake! I won’t be here, Drainpipe. You can take the afternoon off!

— You want tea now, M’Lud?

No! I’m meeting Captain Carver, I won’t be…. oh forget it, Turnpike!

— Captain Ernest Carver, of the 13th Infantry Brigade, M’Lud?

Yes, old Irondrawers himself! We’re meeting at four at the Kat & Kedgeree, so I won’t…

— Beg pardon, M’Lud, but Captain Carver was killed on the twelfth of May 1915, two miles north of Verdun. Sniper on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, M’Lud.

Nonsense, Pikestaff! I got no such report!

— Possibly out of respect, M’Lud. Oh, and the Kat & Kedgeree closed in 1982, M’Lud. There’s a teashop there now.

Yes, in the drawing room. Thank you, Cornstarch.


Easy rider

Billy rode like an arrow across the desert, his lustrous locks lapping in the wind.
‘Look at my lustrous locks’, laughed Billy. ‘How they lap in the wind!’

Just then a wily hunter peeked out from ‘neath a bush,
and fired a hefty salvo that left Billy on his tush.

— ‘Long-haired idjit,’ muttered the wily hunter, as he walked towards his hairy prey. ‘Make a fine soft pillow, or maybe a shawl for my beldam.’

But Billy was only stunned, and he quickly surveyed the situation: ‘My tush smarts — no doubt about it — but I must put that behind me and get outta here. That wily hunter bodes ill for me.’

So, manfully hauling ‘Samantha’ from the ground, he sat astride her and Zooooooom! — into the sunset like a startled starfish.

Thanks to Samantha’s ’Superglide’ suspension, Billy’s tush was cosseted and cajoled all the way back to Bakersfield, where he got a beer, a joint, and a haircut.

It’s not known what happened to the wily hunter, though he was sometimes seen snooping round Harley Davidson showrooms between Bakersfield and Sacramento.


On the outside

When I get out I’m going straight to Rosa’s Cafe in Camden, and I’m gonna order a 10-oz steak with pepper sauce, mashed potatoes, honey-glazed baby carrots, apple pie and ice cream, and a big mug of hot, sweet tea.

I’m gonna sit there for three hours with a copy of The Sun. I’ll read the sports pages first, obviously, then work my way through from page one to the end: all the muggings, stabbings, robberies, murders, corruption, road rage, neighbours from hell, love rats, 12-year-old mums, tragic grans, lotto louts, have-a-go heroes, missing kids, celebrity pregnancies, and loyal border collie Rolf, who burrowed through ten feet of garbage to alert neighbours to the plight of 94-year-old Albert — a war veteran — who died six weeks earlier.

It’s still a long way off, but it gives me something to live for.



Have you ever tried to shave an egg?

It’s tempting, I know, but take it from me — it’s just not worth it.

I’ve spent years shaving eggs, and I’ve even become quite skilful at it. I can shave an egg with one hand tied behind my back, blindfolded, in a cage with a Tiger Shark, six feet under water, at midnight. But even that doesn’t satisfy, at least not in the long term.

Now I just wish I could turn the clock back. We only get one chance in life, so please don’t waste your time shaving eggs.

Shaving sharks, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fulfilment.


Knowing Missy

I was sittin’ on the porch with Delmar, just jawin’, you know, after dinner, and of course Missy was there. Missy was always there.

She had some kind of stitchwork or ‘broidery or somesuch. Anyhow, she paid us no mind, just sat there, real busy, real quiet.

I always liked little Missy — not in that way — but you know, just kinda liked her for herself. Hard to know if she was fifteen or fifty, and it didn’t seem to matter none.

Well, Delmar asked me if I could stand more coffee and he just turned to Missy and her eyes were closed, and her hands were in her lap, and she was still holding the needle.

And Delmar hollerin’ ‘Missy! Missy! Missy!’, but I knew.

I like Delmar, but I never went back after that.


The old story

People with four eyes tend to have very keen vision, and none more so than Elmer Twilb, the celebrated optician and town tease. When Elmer fits a new pair of specty-cules to an upturned nose, he always says: ‘See?’. And the upturned nose always says ‘Yes, I see now.’ Then Elmer says ‘Now turn and look out the window. Can you read that sign on the building opposite?’

— ‘Oh yes… it’s quite clear.

— What’s it say?

— Well…

— What’s it say?

— Well, it’s a sort of advert for…  gentlemen’s entertainment. I can read it perfectly clearly, thank you. We don’t need to….

— Oh I see! But you don’t mind pulling the bellrope in private, do you? Ding-ding, ding-ding! 

— How much do I owe you?

— I suppose you’ll go home now and twang the banjo, eh? What a specty-cule! At least those people opposite are honest about it.

— Just let me pay you and leave, please.

— The old story: if you don’t pay for it across the street, you pay for it here — and a lot more too! It’s eight hundred for the frames, and six hundred for the lenses. Plus three-fifty for the non-scratch phototactic coating. Plus tax.

— Just take this. Goodbye.

— Mind the step.


Thinking allowed

A lifetime of thinking has taught me that it’s something you should only do in private. Don’t think in public, because people just don’t like it. For instance, if I’m sitting by myself, just thinking, people become uncomfortable, or anxious, or suspicious. It’s just not normal, sitting there, thinking. Some people — total strangers —  will even come up to me and say ‘Cheer up, pal. It may never happen’. They assume that I’m worried or sad or lonely, when nine times out of ten I’m actually composing my next Ode to Joy (either that or I’m trying to find a rhyme for pestilence). But it’s all happening on the inside, so people can’t see it.

Sometimes, though, I really am worried. I’m deeply worried about all those people who never think at all, either in public or in private, and there are millions of them, everywhere. I can’t think of anything more dangerous.


Travel plans

I’ll need twenty camels to carry my women, and make sure the kedgways are decently covered with scarlet cloth. Ensure the beasts are sturdy and well watered (the camels, not the women).

So saying, I went inside and placed an offering on the altar of Gadzoum al Buzzoom.

Then I called my astrologer and ordered him to name the most auspicious day for my departure.

— Thursday looks good.

Why pronounce you thus, Purveyor of Ancient Wisdom?

— 10% off at Booking.com. Must end Friday.

Book review

Chapter One was very good,
our hero starting out.

Chapter Two dragged on a bit,
our hero wracked with doubt.

Chapter Three, not for me,
too much dialog.

Chapter Four I did enjoy,
the vampire in the fog.

Chapter Five, the brothel scene,
(they don’t teach that in school).

Chapter Six, OMG!
— she really was a ghoul!

Chapter Seven, at the morgue,
the zombie and the creep.

Chapter Eight, I can’t relate,
cos then I fell asleep.



I was searching for a word to rhyme with candour when the phone rang.

Hello. Who’s this?



We met at the Goose & Gander.

Sorry, I don’t…

You must remember me! I was dressed as a salamander.

Sorry, I can’t…

The New Year Ball? You were dressed as a Space Commander.

That’s right, I was. But I don’t…

And you offered me a back-hander.

I what?

You offered me a back-hander so you could philander with Leander.

But that’s slander!

There you go. Bye.


Breakfast at Dauphigny’s

—  Have you voltaired, Lionel?

— No, but I’ve twemlowed like billy-o!

— Don’t be crude, Lionel, especially at the breakfast table!

— Twemlow tells a cracking story. Le Salon de Mme Anueil…

— Stop it at once! Tosh and flim-flam! What about you, Jocasta? What are you reading?

— I’m reading Robespierre on the duties of government, Mama.

— Oh how exciting! Are you enjoying it?

— Well yes, up to a point.

— Oh dear! Is there some obstacle, some entrave, to your reading pleasure?

— There’s just too much Montesquieu in his thinking, Mama. It rankles.

— That’s certainly true, Jocasta. Well observed! He was steeped in Montesquieu, and lacked the largesse to admit it.

— You agree with her about everything!

— That’s not true, Lionel, and you know it. We differ sharply on the Council of Trent, for instance, and on the centrality of la tendresse in human affaires.

— We don’t disagree on that, Mama. Only our paths diverge…

— Well put, Jocasta! More chocolat?

— I hate that chocolate. Makes me puke.

— Stop it, Lionel, at once! You’re just like your father!

— Where is Father, by the way? Why does he never come home?


The line of duty

I was spotted recently at the royal wedding, and ever since then my phone hasn’t stopped ringing:

— Was that you with the 7th Earl of Melmontshire?

— Was that you with Demerara De Courcy-Devereux? Is she as delightful as they say?

— Was that you with Prince Percival Poggenpohl von Schoenberg-Schlesvig-Holstein?

— Was that you shagging a horse behind the privet hedge?

Of course, one doesn’t confirm or deny anything, but I refer the interested reader to the next editions of Town & Country and Horse & Garter, and to my forthcoming Compendium of Upper-class Nancy-boys & Tarts (C-NTS).

All in the line of duty.



The recent outbreak of Appalling Punning (AP) has reached ceramic proportions:

— Our hotel offers ceramic views across the lake.

— Just add a dash of ceramic vinegar, and toss.

— Is IS developing a ceramic bomb?

A leading ceramic at Harvard University commented: ‘We’ve noticed that outbreaks of AP tend to occur during times of ceramic downturn. People are bored and depressed, and will do anything for ceramic effect. AP can be spread through ceramic syringes, and can cause ceramic upheaval to the ceramic nerve.

If you’re infected with AP, take ceramic acid immediately, and call the Ceramic Duo.

And if that doesn’t work, you can always blame the Ceramic State.’


The onset

Like most people, I stopped buying from Rolls Royce in 2002, following the ‘faux mahogany’ scandal.  I can still remember when that story broke, just as I was shimmering down the Boulevard Raspail in a Silver Shadow II  (the two-door version, by Mulliner Park Ward). I stopped at the nearest Concessionnaire and traded it in for an Aston Martin DB7 Zagato.

But now, almost two decades later, I’m beginning to re-assess my thinking on that memorable day. Is it age, perhaps, and with it, the onset of wisdom? Or is it that indefinable quality that only Rolls Royce can offer the true devotee?

No, it’s just that some bastard stole my car, and I’ve got to get home. Nanny’s made a special cake for my birthday.


Twemlow’s Herbarium

Acacia Hermetica, good for snakebite.
Arsesmart, a balm for all manner of evil.
Aqua Salva, can revive a dead cow.
Aqua Vita, can quell a noisy beldam.
Belmain, prevents scrofulus in lawyers and infants.
Bishop’s Crowbar, disperses wicked thoughts.
Blinny, blent with cowslips, is good for sickly porkers.
Derbyshire Kale, induces night-sweats and fevers.
Chickwort, a salve for knotted pilbeams; also good against earthquakes.
Duckweed, cures all manner of pustules, black kelbs, and botches.
Fumaria, eases the bilious flux in geese and clergy.
Horse Tar, applied to the nether lips, can cure the scummox.
Ibex Cincinnatus, cools the brainpan and relieves guilt.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit, good for pregnant beldams.
Lemanwort, good against hypocrites.
Sorrel, taken at night, a caustic for pungency.
Tincture of Bezel, good against calamity.
Trumpwort, good for a laugh.
Verba Ludica, good for a lively brainpan.

Society column

Mantled in Murmansk mink, Leonora Cazenove stepped gracefully from a cab in Drury Lane, amid a throng of well-wishers. She looked radiant in a Chloe Deluce evening dress and sequined shoes by Patrice. Her escort for the evening, Honeyfritz Belmondo, was effervescent in a velvet ensemble and a crimson Oscar Wilde hat.  He smiled and waved flamboyantly to the crowd, while Leonora, more reserved, glided quickly into the brilliantly-lit foyer. The fabulous pair had arrived for the opening night of Give Us a Dab o’ That, a light-hearted farce from the pen of Lionel Smooch.

This is the third time the celebrity duo have been spotted together, so rumours are swirling about in the beau-monde. Has Leonora found love again, following her very public split from Joachim Cumbersnatch? Can playboy Honeyfritz finally put an end to those sordid rumours about his personal life? I, for one, have never believed the catty innuendae of the gutter press (though the hat doesn’t help, Honeyfritz, dear), and I wish the couple several weeks of happiness together.

Captain Tandy addresses his crew, Portsmouth Harbour, 12 May AD 1846.

Welcome aboard, men! We’re about to cast off on our great adventure! But before we do, remember this:

A ship without men is like a dog without a tail. A dog can’t wag its tail if it hasn’t got one, and a man without a ship…. I mean a ship without a sail can’t wag the dog, in either direction. No! A voyage like ours calls for loyalty, paternity, lobotomy, deuteronomy — all the things we’ve cherished since boyhood, all those years ago, when we were callow lads up to no good behind the….  And just as a boy loves his dog, even if it has no tail, a sailor loves his ship, even if it has no boy.

And remember this too, men: The sea is a cruel mistress. Oh, by G—d, she is cruel! She grabs a man by the twemlows and never lets go. Yes men, it will be a long voyage and a hard one. That much is self-evident!  But we must never forget…. never forget!…. that victory is the handmaid of hard work, and hard work maketh the man, and the man is mightier than the sword that launched a thousand ships that pass in the night. In the words of Ebeneezer Squeeze of Yarmouth….

We’re losing the light, Captain. 

Thank you, Mr Pilbeam. That’s right: Boozing at night will not be permitted on board, at any time! Any man found innoculated will be hanged from the topgallant, and any man who is not hanged will be incarcerated by the light of the silvery moon that passeth all understanding. Yes, very soon, by the light of the moon, we’ll cast off upon life’s great ocean, like a dog without a pail…. a boy without a tail…. a pale moon shining on the silvery sea, so bring back my bonny young lassie to me. In the words of Philip the Flippant of Flanders….

Cast off! Cast off!

….and all who sail in her.


Tell you what

A frowsy dratchell meets a drab fustilugs in Fosdyke Drive.

— Awright?

— I could just as well be a feather duster.

— Yes, and I could just as well be a dried fig.

— We’d be better off on Delmar’s Freeway, where the morning sun caresses and soothes the harried hag.

— Not just the harried hag, but the bespattered beldam too.

— Tell you what: you be a frowsy fustilugs and I’ll be a drab dratchell. Then we could head over to Fermor’s Fields, or even the Dreyfuss District.

— Or…. you be a harried hag and I’ll be a bespattered beldam. Then we could trip the light fantastic either at Holden Hall or in Busby’s Boulevard.

— Oh, the horror of choice!

— Tell you what: we’ll have a word with Catweazle. He needs all the help he can get today.

The calculated life

I’ve always been artistic
and really quite refined.
My tea is sweet verbena
and my socks are satin-lined.

One likes to nibble fruitcake
while one reads the New York Times,
starting with the book reviews
— their critics are sublime!

They tear an author’s work to shreds
in calculated prose,
while I nibble on my fruitcake
and scratch my knowing nose.

It’s not an easy life, of course,
the life of the aesthete,
but it helps to nibble fruitcake,
and wear satin on one’s feet.

Save the twemlow!

Did you know that at the present rate of decline, the twemlow could be extinct within the next 4,000 years?

Have your seamstress fashion a gallipoke for you, and make a strong statement about the wholesale slaughter of the lesser crested twemlow in Nova Zembla.

It doesn’t have to be a calmet or even a pilbeam — just a simple, hand-sewn gallipoke makes a powerful statement in these wicked times.

And remember to Like us on Facebook.


On the line

On the subject of railway couplings, Twemlow speaks very highly of the Sprat & Winkle system, for its ‘reliability’, while Pilbeam admires the ‘simplicity’ of the Wilmot & Pryce.

For me, however, the Stanhope Quadrant system is very hard to beat. No, it’s not simple, but why should it be? When you’re responsible for the lives of thousands of rail passengers every day, is ‘simplicity’ really such a desirable feature? And consider this: will ‘reliability’ ease your pain as you lie dying in a pool of blood beside a railway track, one leg in the carriage and the other in a field of new-mown hay?

So I’ll stick with the Stanhope Quadrant, thank you very much, and let irresponsible murderous bastards speak for other coupling systems.

My conscience is clear.


My story

About a month after Ellie died I went on a fishing trip to Lake Cheekbyjowl, way up north of here.

I was out on the lake one afternoon when a storm blew up. A nor’easterly came screaming round the bluff at Nokanook Falls and near tore the pines off Sesqueleeguek Ridge. Out on the lake, the water heaved and riled and rolled my boat every which-way, till I was tossing around out there like a cork, and hanging on to the gunwale for dear life. I was near blinded by wind and rain, but I finally made it to shore near Toohahaha and lashed the boat to an old pontoon.  I hunkered down in some scree and brushwood they got there, just below an overhang, and that way I rode out the storm.

I thought about Ellie as I crouched there, how she would’ve said I was a stupid bastard for going out in the first place, how I got what I deserved. She was always more cruel than any storm.  I never said she deserved to get cancer, though I did think it at the time.

Of course, it was nothing but dumb luck that I survived at all: four men died that day on the lake, and two more near the timberline on Mount Davis.

But for me, the biggest loss that day was my old reefer knife, that I’d had since I was a boy. It must’ve slipped through a runnel or something when the water rolled the boat. It had a beautiful clamshell handle, and always cut like a dream, even when it was wet. That knife was a real friend to me for many years, and I don’t have many friends. Don’t need ‘em, do I?

So yeah, that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.


Ask Dad

Today is the birthday of Solomon (Sol) Meldew, born in 1915 to poor immigrant parents in Twemlow, West Virginia. He studied engineering at college, but dropped out after only one year, and headed to New York. Aged just 20, he had little experience of city life and soon fell in with the wrong crowd: poets, novelists, and artists — what his father used to call ‘the scum of the scum of the earth’.

But scum seemed to suit Sol, and his first collection of poems, Wherefore the Vision? was published in 1937. While giving a poetry reading at Columbia University, he was attacked by a hothead in the audience (a fan of Eliot, apparently), and was seriously injured. While recovering in hospital, Sol fell in love with his nurse, Mary Ellen Rosetti. They married in 1946.  Sol wrote: ‘Mary Ellen meant the world to me, and I think she gave my poetry a whole new depth. A woman can do that, you know.’

His next collection, Storm over Twemlow (1948) was gritty, hard-hitting, and seethed with anger about his childhood, his family, and small-town America. It won the National Book Award, and Sol’s reputation as a poet was secured.

From then on, he wrote nothing. He became what his father called ‘a lousy stinkin’ bum who couldn’t write to save a dog from drownin’.’ Which is exactly what happened: in 1956, Mary Ellen’s beloved dog, Spangles, was drowned in the East River, while Sol stood by, his inkhorn dry, writing nothing. The couple were divorced shortly after, and Sol moved to a trailer park in Pilbeam, Missouri. His National Book Award was officially withdrawn, and was given instead to his father, for his ‘prophetic vision that looks unflinchingly into the hearts of men’.

Today, Sol is best remembered for being forgotten. He died alone in 1960 and was buried at Mount Oblivion. It was said that Mary Ellen visited his grave once a year, to spit. Sol’s father went on to host his own radio talkshow, Meldew Moments (1961-66), where he made famous the catchphrase Aaaask Daddy!


From the top

After putting the Ferrari through its paces on the Avenue des Etoiles, I like to relax on the patio with a tisane of Osmanthus tea, which is specially made for me by my good friend Theo, at the Pavilion de Thé, in Montparnasse. It’s a wonderful blend of dried flowers from the sweet olive tree and leaves from the Chinese Kotsa bush, commonly known as Cat’s Eye. Theo is such a treasure — I simply couldn’t live without him!

Having said that, his blend of pennyworth and Korean knotweed is absolutely disgusting, and his papaya and dill tea would take the shine off a brass doorknob.

So you see, life at the top is not all pleasure. Now get back to work.


Bearing fruit

Now class, I want you to tell me what you think is the best profession in the world. The best profession….

Delmar, what do you think?

Emmy-Lou? Any idea?

Madison? Stop picking your nose.

Tommy – is your hand up? Yes, Tommy.

— Eh, is it writer, Miss?

Writer? Why do you say that, Tommy?

—  Well, cos, you know, without writers all the other professions would be totally meaningless, wouldn’t they?

What does your father do, Tommy?

— He’s dead, Miss.

Choose an orange from the basket, Tommy, and enjoy.