Author Archives: Steve

The Case of the Howling Dog

The Case of the Howling Dog Erle Stanley Gardner – a Penguin Perry Mason. Cover by Romek Marber – 1963

The Perry Mason series ranks as the third best selling book series of all time, with total sales of around 300 million. That’s more than Terry Pratchett, Ian Fleming and George R Martin put together. Only Harry Potter and Goosebumps have sold more copies.

The case of the howling dogThis makes the author of the series – the criminal lawyer Erle Stanley Gardner –  the best-selling American author of the 20th century. Eat your heart out Ernest Hemingway. Unlike Hemingway, Gardner also published under numerous pseudonyms, including Kyle Corning, Carleton Kendrake and Les Tillray. He shouldn’t have bothered. Perry Mason had Gardner, and his estate, laughing all the way to the bank.

Perry Mason – also a criminal lawyer –  features in more than 80 novels and short stories. Most of them involve a client’s murder trial. Mason’s main M.O. is to establish his client’s innocence by implicating another character, who then confesses. The Case of the Howling Dog was the fourth in the series.

When a potential client goes to see Mason about a howling dog and a will, the attorney isn’t interested. He doesn’t enjoy drafting wills, and wonders if the man should see a vet. However, the man’s next question – whether a will is legal if the person who made it had been executed for murder – piques Mason’s interest. In addition to the will and the dog, he encounters a man who has run away someone else’s wife – and a sexy housekeeper. The latter explains the slightly risqué detail on Romek Marber’s 1963 cover illustration.

In this week’s TLS William Boyd announced that he’d worked out James Bond’s precise address in Chelsea from the details in Fleming’s novels. There’s not much chance of doing the same thing with Perry Mason.

Characterisation wasn’t Gardner’s strong suit. His novels provide very few details about Mason’s family, personal life, background, and education. We know that he lives in an apartment because he’s occasionally roused from sleep to go to the office, but he doesn’t entertain anyone at home. We know his tastes in food because many scenes take place in restaurants. And we know that he is an excellent driver as – unusually for a lawyer – he has a penchant for car chases. Despite the sexy housekeeper, his secretary is Mason’s only real romantic interest.

Other than those sketchy facts, there is so little physical description of Perry Mason that the reader is not even sure what he looks like. Perfect material for film and TV adaptation then.

01_12_PerryMason_S01_396104791_708649212-scaledAs if selling 300 million books wasn’t enough, Warner Bros released a series of six Perry Mason films in the 1930’s, starting with The Case of the Howling Dog. But for Baby Boomers, probably the best-known incarnation of the enigmatic lawyer was Raymond Burr in the  CBS TV series which ran from 1957 to 1966. Since Burr, three other actors have played Mason on screen. The latest is Mathew Rhys in the HBO series which premiered in June 2020.

 

Plats du Jour

Plats Du Jour, or Foreign Food – Patience Gray & Primrose Boyd. Illustrated by David Gentleman – 1957

Plats du Jour was published half-way between Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking in 1955 and French Provincial Cooking in 1960. Although not as well-known as David’s books, initially at least, it outsold both of them. And by “foreign food” Patience and Primrose meant mainly French and Italian. This was 1957 after all.Plats du Jour

By all accounts Plats du Jour is a very practical book. It describes a range of cooking methods from braising to roasting by way of larding and poaching. And there are chapters on Pots and Pans, Stoves and The Store Cupboard.

When it comes to the recipes, the authors laid out their stall in the opening lines, “In this book we have tried to set down the recipes for a number of dishes of foreign origin, in the belief that English people may be stimulated to interpret them, and in doing so find fresh interest in the kitchen.” This is not a million miles away from a sex-therapist recommending that a long-married couple should look for ways of finding fresh interest in the bedroom.

It’s a book I wish I’d owned when I learned to cook at university in the late-70s. My flat mate had a much weightier cookbook, the Good House Keeping Cookery Book; literally weightier, it was a whopping doorstep of a book.0852231377 Mark and I vowed to work through as many of the 2000 recipes as we could. I suspect we managed about 20 between us, including an ill-advised attempt to recreate the glossy chicken and ham pie on the cover. As this was the 70’s, the book contained several references to foreign food. My signature dish was Liver Mexican. There wasn’t much that was Mexican about it and the liver was the cheapest we could buy from the indoor market in Cardiff. I shudder to think what animal it came from.

How we’ve moved on. These days I’m a confirmed Master Chef fan. You wouldn’t get me to enter it, but I watch all three versions; amateur, professional and celebrity. In every show we’re treated to a display of cookery styles from around the world, reflecting the true multicultural nature of the UK in 2020, more than 60 years on from the publication of Plats du Jour. I wonder what Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd would have made of Neil “Razor” Ruddock working alongside Zandra Rhodes on the lunch service at one of London’s top Korean restaurants.

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Plats du Jour didn’t rely on the gleaming, full colour plates that made the Good Housekeeping book so alluring back in 1978. It’s beautifully illustrated by David Gentleman whose work can now be seen in Tate Britain, the V&A and the Northern Line platforms at Charing Cross station. Gentleman’s cover illustration of a family of ten sitting around a huge table reminds us of the sheer joy of eating and drinking together. It’s especially poignant on a day when England’s pubs and restaurants prepare to open for the first time in three and a half months.

Not To Be Taken

Not to Be Taken – Anthony Berkeley

Penguin Mystery & Crime – 1946

This is the first card that I’ve written about for five years. And the first that I’ve allowed someone else to put to the top of the pack.

Not To Be Taken

I’d never heard of Anthony Berkeley, so it was the ambiguous title that attracted my attention. It reminded me of an observation by Spike Milligan, “the prison camp was full of British officers who’d sworn to die rather than be captured”. Or maybe one of Benny Hill’s dodgier songs, “He asked if she should be taken literally, she said, “I’m not to be taken at all!” It’s not good entertainment. We all take extra responsibility sometimes.

The clue of course, is in the dark green Penguin Mystery & Crime cover. The substance not to be taken is poison, a fact reinforced by the release in the USA of the novel as A Puzzle in Poison.

Anthony Berkeley was a loosely veiled pseudonym, one of several used by Anthony Berkeley Cox who also wrote as Frances Iles and the splendidly named A Monmouth Platt. Cox’s career as a crime novelist lasted less than 15 years, but in that time he earned a reputation as part of the Golden Age of detective fiction.

Like many crime writers, Berkeley wrote most of his novels as part of a series featuring a quirky detective, in his case an amateur called Roger Sheringham. But Not to Be Taken is a non-series novel and the reader follows the events leading up the death of John Waterhouse, which may or may not be from natural causes. Unusually for novels in this genre, the case is observed from outside the police investigation with none of the usual insider information. It’s also unusual in that it features a strong female character, the feminist Rona Brougham.

Cox also founded the Detection Club, an invitation-only social club for prominent crime writers. Presidents of the Detection Club have included G K Chesterton, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers. There was an initiation ritual with an oath, probably written by either Chesterton or Sayers, and the club held regular dinners in London. It’s still going to this day.

In the oath, prospective member promised that their detectives would “well and truly detect the crimes presented to them” and not rely on or make use of, “Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God.”

Perhaps the oath explains why there are so few female detectives in fiction. There’s not much point in being a detective if you can’t use your intuition.

Towards the end of Not to Be Taken, Berkeley issues a challenge to the reader, asking for answers to various questions, which the reader ought to be able to answer from the information they had at their disposal.

So, dear reader, are you able to work out the name of the person who inspired me to write this post from the clues at the beginning, initially at least?

Tiger! Tiger!

Tiger!Tiger!

Tiger! Tiger! – Alfred Bester. Cover by Alan Aldridge, 1967.

Tiger! Tiger! is a science-fiction novel set in the 24th century. It was first published as a four-part serial, The Stars My Destination, in the US science fiction magazine Galaxy,  beginning with the October 1956 issue.

The novel first appeared in book form in the UK taking its title from William Blake’s  poem,  The Tyger. The poem’s famous first verse  is printed as the first page of the novel.

Alfred Bester, the 9th Grand Master of Science Fiction Writers of America, certainly packed a lot of action into the book’s 236 pages.

The central character, Gulliver Foyle, is marooned in space when his ship is attacked. He is the only survivor and, after six months of waiting for rescue, is ignored by a passing spaceship.   Foyle, not unreasonably,  is enraged and is transformed into a man consumed by224px-TheStarsMyDestination revenge.  He repairs his spaceship, but is then captured by a cult which tattoos the image of a tiger on his face. He manages to escape and attempts to blow up the spaceship which abandoned him. He fails and is captured by the ship’s owners who torture him.

Foyle, protected by his own revenge fixation, cannot be broken. He is thrown into prison where he meets the magnificently named Jisbella McQueen. She  teaches him to think clearly and tells him he should find out who gave the order not to rescue him. Together they escape and, while they’re at it,  arrange to have  his tattoos removed. This is not a total success and the scars become visible whenever Foyle becomes too emotional. Undaunted they travel to find Foyle’s old spaceship from which they recover a fortune in platinum. But… Foyle and Jis are captured again. And that’s just the first chapter.

Tiger in a Tropical Storm Surprise! Smaller

“Surprise! Tiger in a Tropical Storm”, Henri Rousseau

The novel inspired some wonderful cover designs but Alan Aldridge’s 1967 version is not one of them. Penguin’s founder Allen Lane certainly wasn’t a fan; he felt that Aldridge’s designs were too commercial and tasteless. If it had been up to me I would have used Rousseau’s scaredy-cat, Tiger in a Tropical Storm. I like to think that Lane would have approved.

David Pelham designed the cover of the 1974 edition which  was inspired by the edition’s back cover blurb; this described  Foyle as, “liar, lecher, ghoul, walking cancer, obsessed by vengeance, the 24th century’s most valuable commodity but he doesn’t know it”.

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Tiger! Tiger! 1974, David Pelham

Pelham decided that it was impossible to depict such a multi-faceted character in a conventional portrait:Tiger! Tiger!_pelhamTiger! Tiger!_pelham

“I drew a composite portrait made out of debris. If you have a copy of this book you might actually see Gully Foyle on the cover. He’s a tiny white spot to the left of the portrait’s left eye, adrift in space, because that’s where we first come across him, barely getting by, living in the tangled remains of a drifting spaceship that has exploded”.

Can you spot him?

Chosen Words

Chosen WordsChosen Words – Ivor Brown. Cover by Derek Birdsall, 1961.

Chosen Words is a collection of notes about various words in the English language from accidie to zymurgy. There is no particular theme linking the words, other than that they interested Ivor Brown.

Brown, a Shakespearian scholar writing in the mid-twentieth century, clearly loved words. Chosen Words is part of a series of eight books with titles that would have impressed the producers of the Carry On films: A Word in Your Ear; I Give You My Word; No Idle Words. You get the idea…

The notes, supported by quotations, touch on etymology, construction, and history; but Brown is particularly interested in how the words were used when he wrote his books. And of course, had he been able to think of enough punning titles – and been granted immortality – he could still have been writing them today. This is because the English language, unlike most Shakespearian scholars, has a remarkable capacity to evolve in a very short space of time.

spamThe name for a newly coined word or phrase that is in the process of entering common use – but that has not yet been accepted into mainstream language – is neologism. It can be a new use of an existing word (spam), a combination of existing words (website) or an acronym (scuba).

Neologisms often come from popular literature: cyberspace, McJob or nymphet. Sometimes the title of a book becomes the neologism, for example, Catch-22. Occasionally, it’s the author’s name; Orwellian or Kafkaesque. Another category is words derived from famous characters in literature:  quixotic or scrooge.

DonquixoteThe last two examples demonstrate that no one, to my knowledge, has defined the amount of time a neologism has to exist before it is considered fully part of the language.

But a word – in any language – isn’t just a sound or a handful of letters; what makes it interesting, what makes it a word, is that it has a meaning. And, if a neologism gives a name to, or describes, something that exists but that has no name or description, it must be considered a useful addition to the language.

So, here’s my own attempt to add something useful to the English language – relaxaction – a word which, reassuringly, is not recognized by the Microsoft spellchecker. Relaxaction, like spellchecker, is a classic, compound neologism. I use it to describe the act of relaxing the mind or body through some kind of physical action, as opposed to relaxation which means doing as little as possible.

It’s a concept most people recognize, although the action of choice differs from one person to another. For me it’s chopping logs. Others have suggested mowing the lawn; having vigorous (or not so vigorous) sex; going for a run, singing in a choir or driving off-road on a remote dirt track in Oman.

If you’d like to add your own favourite form of relaxaction to the list, please let me know.

Lost Moorings

Lost MooringsLost Moorings – Simenon. Cover by Romek Marber, 1962. Georges Simenon was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century, capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day. He wrote close to 200 “serious” novels, 150 novellas and scores of pulp novels using a number of pseudonyms.

In 2005 he was nominated for the title of De Grootste Belg (The Greatest Belgian). Simenon wrote in French and, unsurprisingly, did well in the Waloon (french-speaking) version of the contest, finishing in 10th place behind Jacques Brel, Eddie Mercxx, Herge and Rene Magritte, but ahead of Adolphe Sax, Reubens and Peyo, the comic artist responsible for The Smurfs. In the Flemish version, Simenon was placed 77th, behind most of The Smurfs. Georges_Simenon_(1963)_without_hat_by_Erling_Mandelmann

Simenon is best known for the 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring Commissaire Jules Maigret – known simply as Maigret to most people, including his wife. Maigret was a commissioner in the Parisian police and the novels were translated into all major languages and several of them were turned into films and radio plays; two television series were made in the UK.

Maigret had much in common with his more modern, Edinburgh counterpart, Ian Rankin’s John Rebus. The two men shared an unconventional approach to detecting, a laconic manner, and a fondness for alcohol. Like Rebus it was a matter of personal pride to Maigret that that he could hold his liquor. If Rory Gallagher had been around in Maigret’s time I’m sure the French detective would have listened to his music as well. On vinyl, of course.

It’s easy to get these fictional detectives mixed up. Maigret was a French “dick” created by a Belgian author. Hercules Poirot was a Belgian “dick” created by an elderly Englishwoman. The protagonist of Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim wasn’t a detective at all, but his creator was both an old woman and a complete dick.

Anyway, Lost Moorings isn’t one of Simenon’s Maigret novels; it contains two tenuously connected novellas; Banana Tourist (Touriste de Bananes) and Blind Path (Chemin sans Issue). The only person I can find who will admit to reading it is Mike Ward who reviews the books he reads on his daily commute from Brighton to London. He describes it as, “A sad and slightly disturbing pair of novellas”1.

The Marber Grid

The Marber Grid

So,  perhaps the most interesting thing about the book is its cover, designed by Romek Marber. He arrived in England in 1946, one of the group of European émigrés who went on to influence British graphic design in the second half of the twentieth century.

Penguin’s Germano Facetti commissioned Marber to design an entire sequence of titles for Penguin Crime. His design approach – the ‘Marber Grid’ – and his rather dark visual images  had an immediate impact. The Grid was so successful that Facetti applied it, first to the blue Pelicans and then to the orange covers of Penguin fiction. Its spirit is evident throughout The Perfect Library.

Note 1. You can read Mike’s full review at: http://0651frombrighton.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/lost-moorings-georges-simenon.html  

A Book of Scripts

A Book of Scripts – Alfred Fairbank. Cover by Jan Tschichold, from a design by Juan de Yciar, 1960.

A Book of ScriptsThe author of A Book of Scripts was Alfred Fairbank who, like Samuel Pepys,  spent most of his working life as a naval administrator in London. Pepys’s famous diary gave a first hand account of events such as the Great Fire of London, but Fairbank’s legacy may well prove to be even more long-lasting.

During his time at the Admiralty, Fairbank spent his leisure time learning to produce illuminated manuscripts and established a reputation as a calligrapher. Around 1920 he came across some manuscripts from the Italian Renaissance  in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Fairbank decided that the best qualities of these scripts could be amalgamated into a simple modern hand, giving an elegant and contemporary solution to the problem of writing quickly, fluently and legibly. He called this new hand,  ‘italic’.

After the Second World War he founded the Society for Italic Handwriting which aimed to improve the nation’s handwriting by aspiring to the standards of the Renaissance Italian masters.

When he retired from the Admiralty, Fairbank moved to Hove and taught at Brighton College of Art from 1955 to 1966. He also taught italic writing to student teachers. One of his colleagues described “a tall figure, stooping a little from years of calligraphy, moving punctually and deliberately up the hill to the teacher training department, holding a net bag with some precious book or manuscript to share with the class”.

alfred-fairbankThe Art College bar in Brighton played a special part in my life.   In 1978 I was a postgraduate student at the teacher training department which by then had moved even further up the hill, close to Sussex University. In the only photograph I can find of Fairbank he comes across as a somewhat buttoned up gent, who would have stood out in the staffroom of the achingly hip establishment that the Art College had become by the late 70’s. But I wish his italic writing classes had been part of the PGCE syllabus; at least I would have learned something useful.

Fairbank developed the first italic nib and devoted most of his time to improving the handwriting of the British public through articles such as ‘A Graceful Cure for the Common Scrawl: A Fair Italic Hand’ and the series of nine  Beacon Writing Books. Despite his efforts, standards declined steadily as schoolchildren in the 60s and 70s were left to develop their own individual  handwriting styles.

At his Memorial Service a friend said, “Not only was he one of the finest calligraphers of our time but there was given to him that rare chance to turn a personal activity into something far-reaching…. he eventually turned his scriptorium into a worldwide movement for the reform of handwriting”.

Today, most people know italic as the little slanted that sits between B and U on their word processor’s  menu bar.

 

 

Penguin Modern Poets 2

Penguin Modern Poets 2: Kingsley Amis, Dom Moraes, Peter Porter, 1972.

Penguin Modern Poets 2The aim of the first series of Penguin Modern Poets was to introduce contemporary poetry to the general reader. The result was a wide-ranging sampler of English-language poetry in the 60s and 70s.   At the time, most poetry was published in expensive hardbound editions and Penguin Modern Poets offered readers a taste of modern verse in an accessible format. The first volume was released in 1962; the last, No. 27, appeared in 1979. A second series was launched in 1990.

I still have a battered copy of the most successful volume in the first series, No 10, The Mersey Sound, which featured Brian Patten, Roger McGough and Adrian Henri. It sold more than 500,000 copies making it one of the best-selling poetry anthologies ever published. 225px-Mersey-Sound

The link between the three Liverpool-based poets is obvious. But what connects Amis, Moraes and Porter? And who designed the beautifully simple cover of the 1972 edition of the second book in the series?

The answer to the first question appears to be emphatically not very much at all. The three poets were from different countries and were born some years apart; Amis in London in 1922, Moraes in Mumbai in 1938 and Porter in Brisbane in 1929.   The wranglesome Amis was notorious for  drinking, anti-Semitism and adultery. He was photographed sleeping on a beach with “1 Fat Englishman – I fuck anything” written on his back. His long-suffering wife Hilly seen in the bottom left hand corner of the photo  was responsible for the lipsticked slogan.

Respect to HillyMoraes was also very fond of booze and women; he had a lifelong battle with alcoholism and three failed marriages, including one to the actress Leela Naidu. Unlike Amis, he was a vehement supporter of Israel.   Porter seems to have been relatively happily married, although his first wife killed herself in 1974, and he was not known either for his views on Judaism or for his drinking. Ironically, he died of liver cancer.

However, the three men were all substantial poets. Clive James described Amis’s poetry as “accomplished, literate and entertaining… a richly various expression of a moral personality coming to terms with the world”. I suspect Hilly may have taken issue with James’s use of the word “moral”. Porter was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and Moraes remains one of the best-known names in Indian poetry.

The only connection I can see between the three men is W.H. Auden. Amis and Porter both acknowledged that they were influenced by his work. In those days it was either Auden or Yeats; a bit like “The Stones or The Beatles?” in the 60’s and “Galaxy or Cadbury’s?” in the 90’s. The precocious 15-year-old Moraes is reported to have shown Auden his poems. I wonder if Auden offered to show him his?

Regrettably, I have no idea who was responsible for the black and white feather design on the cover of the 1970 edition of Penguin Modern Poets 2.  

Edward Burra

The Penguin Modern Painters: Edward Burra – John Rothenstein, 1945.

Edward BurraThe Penguin Modern Painters series, edited by Sir Kenneth Clark, was launched in April 1944. Clark was the Director of the National Gallery and the  author of Edward Burra, John Rothenstein, was Director of the Tate Gallery. Rothenstein was an atypically feisty gallery director. When fellow art historian Douglas Cooper tried  to have him sacked,  Rothenstein punched him in the face.

Burra was born in 1905 and had his first solo exhibition in London at the age of 24. He went on to establish an international reputation as a painter and set designer. He worked almost exclusively in watercolour and achieved the rich tones and dense, vivid colours which are prominent in many of his works by applying paint, layer upon layer, like a Lebanese bride putting on her makeup.

The theme of much of Burra’s early work was modern, urban life. His subjects were multicultural, encompassing all races, ages and sexualities. Between the wars he travelled to the US, France, Italy and Spain and seems to have spent his time abroad enjoying new experiences, absorbing the exotic situations in which he found himself and storing up memories that he turned into paintings when he returned home to the Sussex coast.

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Dockside Café, Marseilles – 1929

Going by the detail in many of his paintings he must have had an excellent memory. Dockside Café, Marseilles is a good example; this is not a conventional café and the young man in the magnificent pink sweater is wearing what appear to be ballet shoes. In contrast, the two barmaids look like stokers in drag. Sailors and bars – whether steamy, late-night gin-joints in Harlem or shady dockside dives in the south of France – are recurring themes in Burra’s work. Strangely, he never married.

In the 1930’s, Burra’s paintings became increasingly macabre and grotesque. He never considered himself a Surrealist, but his work was included in the International Surrealist Exhibition held in London in 1936. However, after the Second World War – especially from 1959 to his death in 1976 – landscape became his main subject matter.

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Not One of Burra’s – But My Favourite Landscape Joke

Unlike Burra’s earlier work, which is crammed with detail, there is a lot of space in the later landscapes. But the themes that ran through the internal, urban scenes re-appear in many of them. Burra’s landscapes are not conventional, picturesque views and there is often a sinister edge to them, emphasized by dark, brooding colours.

Hastings Beach

The Harbour, Hastings – 1947

The Harbour, Hastings links the two main periods of Burra’s work. The painting shows fishermen going about their daily routines; unloading crates of fish, winding in the nets, taking down sails. But the muscular figures echo his earlier, homoerotic urban scenes, especially the louche figure stretched out beside the boat. The dark clouds prefigure the looming skies that he painted into many of his later landscapes.

Ironically, The Penguin Modern Painters: Edward Burra, is the only landscape cover in the box. I’m grateful to The Perfect Library for re-introducing me to Burra’s work.

Still She Wished for Company

Still She Wished for Company – Margaret Irwin. The Bodley Head, 1937.

Still She Wished for CompanyMargaret Irwin’s best-known work is a trilogy of novels about Queen Elizabeth I. The first of these, Young Bess, was made into a Hollywood movie starring Jean Simmons as the young Queen, Stewart Granger as the suave, handsome Thomas Seymour, and the not so suave and handsome Charles Laughton as Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII.

Irwin also wrote two novels about James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose, who fought a civil war in Scotland on behalf of the English king, Charles I. Montrose achieved a number of spectacular victories but met a sticky end in Edinburgh in 1650. Wikipedia records his cause of death simply as “execution” although, in true Game of Thrones fashion, his head was mounted on a spike outside Edinburgh Cathedral. To make absolutely certain he wasn’t going to reappear from beyond the grave his limbs were sent to Glasgow, Perth, Stirling and Aberdeen. You can imagine the scene in a tenement flat in Glasgow,

“What was that in this morning’s post Morag?”

“Och, it was only one of Lord Montrose’s legs dear…”

Young_Bess_

Still She Wished for Company…

Irwin also wrote a number of ghost stories and two fantasy novels; the first of these, published in 1924, was Still She Wished For Company.

The story moves between the 1920s and the 1770s, following two heroines; 20th century Jan Challard, from London, and 18th century Juliana Clare, the daughter of an aristocratic Berkshire family. The two heroines see one another from time to time through a magical time slip, but never actually meet.

The title of the novel comes from the poem, The Strange Visitor, published in Joseph Jacobs’ 1890 anthology, English Fairy Tales. Like many of the tales collected by Jacobs it is terrifying. A woman sits at her spinning wheel and wishes for company. As she spins and wishes, a series of disembodied body parts arrive one by one, starting with the feet:

 “In came a pair of broad, broad soles, and sat down at the fireside; And still she sat, and still she span, and still she wished for company.

When the body is complete the woman asks it a series of questions culminating in,

“What did you come for?”

If I were writing a handbook for babysitters I would include the poem in the chapter, “How to Deal with Kids – and their Parents –  Who Give You a Hard Time”. It should be read aloud shortly before the parents arrive home. The final line is:

… “I came FOR YOU!”

If this is delivered with sufficient gusto, accompanied by a quick change into a Halloween mask, the child will levitate from its bed, petrified with fear. The returning parents will then have to deal with the sleepless nights which follow and – if you’ve really put in a performance – several months of counseling.

Like The Strange Visitor, Montrose’s mangled body was reassembled.  Eleven years after his execution he was given a state funeral in Edinburgh.