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First: the All New Horsemen of the Apocalypse competition winner. Thanks to everybody for your outstanding entries, and a compilation of the best would include at least one from everybody’s list. But this time I’ll do the whole tear-off-an-Elastoplast-quickly thing and just blurt it out.

Oh so close was our runner up, The Imaginary Reviewer, with the inclusion of equine-replacement transportation so nearly clinching it. A big hand, please, lazengennulmen. But the winner is tennyson ee hemingway. Take a bow, Sir, and your choice of award:

big-fishabsolutely_splendid

Now, given my indecisiveness I’m not sure why I do this but here we go again with another competition.

In these straitened times we are all looking for ways to cut corners, make ends meet, make do and mend, darn our own yoghurt and so forth. So I got to thinking (while stealing ever so slightly from “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue”) about how some of the world’s great novels might have been more cheaply entitled. So here is a list of Credit Crunch Classics:

Lady Chatterley’s Brother D H Lawrence

The War of the Worms H G Wells

Fahrenheit 4 Ray Bradbury

The Perfectly Reasonable Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald

For Whom the Kazoo Blows Ernest Hemingway

Atlas Raised an Eyebrow Ayn Rand

Squinting in Gaza Aldous Huxley

The Maltese Sparrow Dashiell Hammett

Zen and the Art of Mending a Puncture Robert M Pirsig

A Couple of Weeks of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez

Love in the Time of Feeling a Bit Under the Weather Gabriel García Márquez

Teatime’s Children Salman Rushdie

A Tale of One Village Charles Dickens (“It was the best of times. That’s it”)

À la Recherche du Cléfs Perdu Marcel Proust

The Gentle Breeze William Shakespeare

The Old Man and the Pond Ernest Hemingway

Paradise Mislaid. Down the Back of the Sofa, Perhaps John Milton

The Lord of the Brooch J R R Tolkien

On the Sidewalk Jack Kerouac

Catch 2.0 Joseph Heller

classics

You are charged with the task, should it please you so to do, of adding your own. Enjoy!

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Given that the last post was lengthy to say the least, let’s take a breather today. A sorbet between stodgier courses, if you like.

Mind you, I’m not sure how light, fluffy and refreshing a paragraph or two about Goths is going to be.

I don’t generally associate Goths with interior design but that’s very narrow-minded of me. I should imagine they cheerily wield a roller, brush and paint thinners along with the best of us. Well, perhaps not cheerily. And I imagine not with a tin of Magnolia satin or Pale Aubergine eggshell.

Here’s an appropriately moody bedroom design that’s fetched up in ‘The Sims’:

goth angel teen bedroom

It’s the “Gothic Teen Angel Bedroom”. Perfect for that Gothic Teen Angel in your life. Nice and sombre, isn’t it?

Here’s a black-and-blood-red number that would fulfill its underworldly brief if it were not for one thing. Can you spot what it is?

goth bedroom

That’s right — too much light. There are windows, for goodness’ sake, affording a generous view of a perfectly agreeable looking balcony and garden.  Even if that is a mist of drizzle I espy, the atmosphere is nowhere near sufficiently chthonic.

To achieve an appropriate level of stygian gloom, we need those curtains dragged across. Or how about a tasteful pair like this? Spotted on ebay:

goth curtains 2

A perfect combination of red, black and grey, and of grinning skulls and corrupted roses. They are, of course, The Drapes of Goth.

Come on, you knew that was coming.

Advisory: Look out — here follows stuff about cricket and cremation.

Sport serves as a metaphor, even a proxy, for myriad rivalries: nation against nation, city against city, suburb against suburb. In soccer/football — let’s call it soccerball for convenience —  just look at the genuine enmity that lies between FC Barcelona and Réal Madrid, and the mutual hatred shared by Manchester United and Liverpool; or at intra-city level there’s United and City, who both claim the sobriquet ‘Manchester’s team’. For sectarian spice (and some tasty violence, let’s face it) look no farther than Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers.

Baseball has the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Mets, the Cubs and the White Sox, and the Dodgers and … well, everybody. Nobody likes the Dodgers, right?

I don’t know all that much about Aussie Rules Football, but I’m given to understand that Carlton and Collingwood share, shall we say, a similarly keen sense of competition.

At international level, the apotheosis of the perennial love-hate relationship between England and Australia is The Ashes, the third match of the 2009 series of which begins on Thursday this week. At which point I should point cricket neophytes towards an explanation: Wikipedia will do for now.

Suffice to say, The Ashes is a quasi-biennial series of five matches of five-day cricket spread across the summer, alternating between Blighty and the Antipodes, that has been fought over since 1882, and which serves, even in these less-romantic and more hard-nosed professional times, to define those summers. To make a facile comparison, it’s like an elasticated seven-week World Series. But with tea and cakes.

How this cricket series came by its name has been discussed to the point of tedium. But this is cricket after all; you’re supposed to be bored, people seem to think. So I’ll run through it again, point by point.

  • When Australia visited England in 1882, they arrived for the second Test at The Oval, London, having not won any of the eight matches the two nations had thus far contested.
  • An act of chicanery by W. G. Grace lit such a rocket of righteous indignation under the Australians that it propelled them to a remarkable victory. Dr William Gilbert Grace was the best cricketer of his age and for a good while after: “a portly all-rounder”, according to Simon Briggs in The Daily Telegraph, “who shared a beard with Rasputin and a moral code with Al Capone.” He might have invented both gamesmanship and sporting celebrity.

wg-grace

  • So fired up was the Australian fast-bowler Frederick ‘The Demon’ Spofforth (I kid you not) by the Doctor’s underhandedness that he took seven wickets for just 44 runs, and Australia won by a meagre six runs — to the shame and chagrin of the nation, the England team and its unfortunate captain A.N. ‘Monkey’ Hornby (really). Such was the tension in the closing minutes that one spectator keeled over with a fatal heart attack while another chewed clean through the handle of his bumbershoot.
  • Reginald Shirley Brooks — journalist, boulevardier, flâneur, bon viveur, lothario, gambler and man-whose-middle-name-was-Shirley — felt moved to publish this now infamous mock obituary in The Sporting Times:

obituary

  • A few months later the England team sailed to Australia to take up the cudgels once again. This time they were without W.G. Grace, who it might reasonably be assumed was omitted for fear of his bulk capsizing the ship or his extravagant beard fouling the propellor.

ashes_188283

It seems that they took a splendid array of moustaches, though, and also the Honourable Ivo ‘Lemur’ Bligh (later 8th Earl of Darnby) as the new captain. Of the cricket team, not the ship.

And I made up the ‘Lemur’ part.

  • On arrival, Bligh announced “We have come to beard the kangaroo in his den, and to try to recover those ashes” (which they did) thus cementing the term in in the popular imagination (without the capital ‘A’ just yet). Presumably, though, forced marsupial facial hair never caught on.

During the tour, the Hon. I. Bligh fell for a music teacher called Florence Morphy, and she for him. So besotted was she that at a Christmas party she mischievously presented Bligh with a tiny perfume jar filled with real ashes which became and remains the manifestation of the whole metaphorical conceit.

Oh, and they got married the following year.

ashes 3

Here we have your Ashes ‘trophy’, Ricky ‘Punter’ Ponting (Australia) brandishing it, and Andrew ‘Fred’ Flintoff (England) desiring it.

The gentlemen are not giants: it really is that tiny. But that’s not the original, I have to confess, which never leaves the display case at Lord’s, the home of cricket. The ashes contained in that wee jar (which came to be renamed ‘the urn’, for a more Olympian and hairy image) are supposed to comprise, depending on who you believe, the burnt remnants of either a ball or a bail or a stump or a veil or, god help us, an Aborigine.

Most likely they are nothing of the sort and were just sweepings from the grate, or the mortal remains of one of Florence’s lacy lavender-soaked handkerchiefs.

So that’s the outline of the story of The Ashes as briefly as I can sketch it. Which is still pretty lengthy but does not even scratch the surface of more than a century of drama, intrigue, sporting heroism, athleticism, stoicism, bravery, diplomatic incidents, blood, moustaches and cake.

But there is one twist to the original Ashes gag that is often overlooked or not even known. A subtly macabre and satirical political point was being scored, which would have been obvious at the time but which soon became lost amidst the romanticism and mythology of the contest itself.

In the late 19th century the practice of human cremation was illegal. The father of Reginald Brooks, author of that sardonic obituary to English cricket, was Shirley Brooks (from whom Reginald bequeathed his middle name) who was also a journalist (and author and playwright). He became editor of the satirical magazine Punch but was also a fervent campaigner for the right to cremate.

Shirley Brooks helped to found the Cremation Society of England, which included amongst its membership such luminaries as Anthony Trollope. The Society issued a Declaration that began “We the undersigned disapprove the current custom of burying the dead, and we desire to substitute some mode which shall rapidly resolve the body into its component elements.” Apart from anything else, they reckoned that those ‘component elements’ would make splendid fertilizer.

Before sufficient pressure and opinion could be brought to bear on Parliament, however, Brooks Sr. died and was buried not burned.

cremation

The Australian cricket team arrived in 1882, just as a Captain Hanham from Dorset was asking for the Society to help him cremate two family members. The government said ‘no’ but he went ahead anyway, building his own crematorium, if you please, and avoided prosecution.

Frustrated at not having been able to fulfill his father’s wishes in the same way, Reginald Brooks grasped the opportunity to make his point in print while simultaneously deriding the national sport. To which I say: “Neat, huh?”

The combatants resuming hostilities on Thursday in the soggy English Midlands will mostly be unaware of this darker motif. Quite right, too. They need just concentrate on hurling that hard red ball at each other with extreme prejudice.

cricket-ball

The original Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (hereafter FHA) as described in the Book of Revelation were Conquest, War, Famine and Death.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887

Citing apocalyptic differences, Conquest left to launch a moderately successful solo career across the Roman Empire. Employing a new manager (Hades) the remaining band members found a new vocalist, Pestilence, and relaunched as FHA Mk II, touring the world and grossing 23 billion deaths.

Forgive my flight of fancy there, but I’m actually puzzled as to how ‘Conquest’ disappeared and became replaced by ‘Pestilence’ in popular culture. After all, we haven’t spurned the snake in the Garden of Eden in favour of the more fashionable crocodile; nor has society ditched Jonah’s whale for the scarier and more exciting great white shark. Then again, your man Jonah would have had dimmer prospects, I suppose, of Learning a Valuable Lesson and believably being coughed up onto some forlorn forgotten beach. While remaining in one piece, at least. Not that I buy the whole swallowed-by-a-grampus tale either, to be honest.

In these softer and more effete days of Western Civilization, perhaps the F H of the A are overdue a further makeover and revision to reflect our rather feeble and fragile sensibilities. Also, Pestilence, War, Famine and Death are far too dangerous for our increasingly litigious societies.

So here are a few suggestions for the toned-down members of the ALL NEW Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And I think this time there should be at least six of them:

A Bit of a Cough and Sniffle.

An Argument in a Bar with Some Pushing and Shoving.

Getting Stuck in an Elevator.

An Annoying Fly Trapped in the Double Glazing.

Feeling a Tad Peckish.

A Neighbourhood Dispute Regarding an Overhanging Shrub.

And instead of a White Horse, a Red Horse, a Black Horse and a Pale Horse, they’d ride in on a pink scooter, a red tricycle, a pogo-stick, a tandem and a Segway.

apocalypse_transportation

Why not come up with your own cast of health-and-safety-approved eschatological characters, too? And, hey, let’s make it a competition!

I believe I should add ‘yay!’

Exciting and surprising “news” about David Lee Roth and pancakes, in a screenshot “from” CNN:

CNN_Roth3

Intrusions

Sometimes life intrudes on, er, life. So it has been this past week, and I offer my apologies for my absence and, more importantly, the lack of ‘Hemingway’ prize-giving.

Not that there is an exciting holiday to Trenton, New Jersey, or even a year’s supply of Marmite up for grabs (the latter would probably amount to one jar anyway, let’s face it). But I owe an announcement and what meagre gift it is in my power impart.

So, without further ado, and with a modicum more decisiveness than previously (despite the high standard and the consequent closeness of the judging), but the same lack of drum roll, the winner is:

the girl with the pink teacup for “Most regrettably, I’d forgotten my harpoon.”

The pithiness of which is matched by the intrigue of the implied conclusion; and which introduces echoes of not only Hemingway but Melville, too. And it has the word ‘harpoon’, which is always a plus. Performance anxiety or not, g with a p t, you have sailed home on a wave of excellence, and here’s your rather paltry prize to do with as you will: the GHenry Splendid Award.

absolutely_splendid

It’s not a patch on soda & candy’s, I’m afraid, but there it is. But speaking of whom: soda & candy, as thanks for the lovely award you designed previously, the Splendid Award goes to you as well. Even if it is a bit odd to award an award for an award.

Edit: I fear I have been a little gauche by introducing a brand new award so hard on the heels of the last, especially as the previous is, frankly, better. So help yourselves to the glorious original instead / as well!

big-fish

Special mention to sittingpugs (who writes a most excellent sport and movies blog, by the way) for getting such a pleasing combination as ‘harmonium’, ‘molasses’ and ‘caked with’ into one short sentence. Nicely done.

Thanks for your patience. Back soon.

dictionary2

Finally, after way too much deliberation, and with a display of unbridled and shameful pusillanimity, I am happy to announce the winner(s) of the Word Verification Competition, which you might recall I set some time last century, it seems.

Having guffawed at regular intervals, it would perhaps be invidious to pick just one list. So here, with the help of Julia at Homemade Hilarity, is a compilation of many of our favourites.

cdf

Soda & Candy:

Ficti A really, really short story.

Vegetable Assassin:

DosphotA deft kick in the gonadular region by a horse/zebra/unicorn. (High fives both for ‘gonadular’ and for getting unicorns into the equation).

Eric:

Milaro – Italian for ‘I caught malaria’.

(and a special mention for Cystral – a skin blemish caused by being outside during windy season in southern France, particularly around the Les Baux area. (Much impressed with the subtly brilliant meteorological reference here).)

Alex:

GothuckiType of spicy sushi found only in South Louisiana.

The Imaginary Reviewer:

Cystral – Cheap alternative to real crystal, used predominantly by The Chandelier Hour on the Shopping Channel.

Cora:

Panore – Being bored with your crappy old kitchen pans and desiring new ones.

The Muse:

Gothucki –  an angry person with a speech impediment…

Cooper Green:

Gothucki – The anticlimactic feeling experienced by a theme convention attendee whose handcrafted Anime costume won accolades and applause during the day’s events, but now feels quite ridiculous on public transit.

Lingst – The creeping prickle that marks the moment when you greeted a workmate with “Hi, Lisa”, when her name is Margaret and you’ve known her since childhood.

Milaro – The word that you stuff into a song repeatedly when you have forgotten the lyrics, but have made such a show of loving it so dearly that you don’t want to risk having your friends think you are musically insincere.

Squid – Marine cephalopods of the order Teuthida that are the biggest mistake a home aquarium afficionado can possibly make.

On reflection, I suppose that tearing open the gold envelope has in fact revealed an overall winner, by dint of being quoted most. So step up and take a bow, Cooper Green; but make the speech a short one if you would. Here, thanks to the lovely Soda & Candy, is your splendid award. (Seriously – thanks S & C; it’s terrific).

big-fish

Coming very soon – the Hemingway result.