To be read andante or you might miss what I hope are occasional flashes of humour. Hope this will amuse some of you. And with your imagination and savoir-écrire you should all find the challenge at the end a doddle.
I wrote this piece partly to fill the gaping void left by the end of my Tour de France musings. It’s a bit quirky, undisciplined and very self-indulgent, but perhaps the Blog will not mind.
A Really Useful Little Letter
While tinkering idly with the names of the new Tory Cabinet and those who didn’t make it, I discovered two things: how useful the letter ‘e’ is in making anagrams and just how many of the Cabinet (and others) are annoyingly bereft of this cute little vowel. I’m so grateful to those politicians who thoughtfully include an ‘e ‘ in their names: without it, Priti Patel couldn’t have become ‘Ripple a Tit’, nor Rory Stewart ‘Wary Rotters’ nor Amber Rudd ‘Bad Murder’.
Among the eless MPs, Grant Shapps is too consonant heavy – attempts welcome – while Sajid Javid’s two js make him, at least in any language I know, unanagrammable. Even the new leader is tricky: how about ‘Sh! Bojo snorin’’. Gavin Williamson (top job at Education!!) is too long to bother with, while Chris Grayling is perhaps better suited to limericks:
‘The bald-headed Tory Chris Grayling
Has made quite a habit of failing;
Rail timetable slips,
Seaborne Freight with no ships,
With Chris it was* never plain sailing.’
* was, because he felt the sharp end of Vlad Johnson’s update of Harold Macmillan’s Night of the Long Knives.
Jeremy Hunt, another victim, has a couple of ees but at first juggle I’ve only come up with ‘The Jurymen’. He, too, is ready made for limerickers.
Outside British politics, some people or objects seem to have been created just to become anagrams, with or without an ’e’, slipping effortlessly into their alter egos. Clint Eastwood can become ‘Old West Action’, Margaret Thatcher morphs into ‘That Great Charmer’, Dormitory shifts ?nostalgically into ‘Dirty Room’ and can it be true that ‘Monkeys Write’ New York Times? ‘Online Bartenders’ are on hand for Leonard Bernstein. The web offers at least 30 variations on Britney Spears, including ‘Best PR in Years’, ‘Presbyterians’ and ‘Pert? Yes. Brains…?’. You can pack footballer Gareth Bale into a ‘Leather Bag’ and post it to ‘The Algebra’.
The letter ‘e’ can be adorned with accents or diacritics, signs above or below the letter, usually changing the pronunciation and always borrowed from foreign languages. ‘E’ likes company but is also quite happy standing alone: big ‘E’ stands for East, little ‘e’ means, most famously, energy, but in modern times it can mean electric or electronic, as in email, e-cigarette or e-scooter. About a dozen letters of the alphabet stand just as they are as elements in the periodic table, but sadly E isn’t one of them: it needs an ‘r’ to make erbium, an ‘s’ to make Einsteinium and a ‘u’ to make Europium. Vitamin E is defined as a group of eight fat soluble compounds. They have long names and various roles: one of the most dashing is as a radical scavenger, delivering a hydrogen (lucky H) atom to free radicals. But I digress.
As soon as we put pen to paper or finger to keyboard we find ourselves in need of the letter ‘e’. We might get by without it for a phrase or two, ……..But now and again an outstandingly brilliant author can concoct a full book without using it. (That last sentence approaches my lipogrammatical limit.) A lipogram is a piece of writing in which a letter or group of letters is omitted, and in the 1930s an American called Ernest Vincent Wright wrote and published a 50,000-word novel, “Gadsby”, in which the letter ‘e’ had a starring role by NEVER appearing. “Gadsby” generated little interest at the time, but has its place as a curio, sought after by devotees of constrained writing – or word games. Wright apparently wrote it in response to people who said that it was impossible, and in his (unconstrained) introduction he mentions some of the major difficulties he faced in this unusual enterprise: these included pronouns, past tense verbs with -ed endings, whole swathes of numbers (figures not permitted), even abbreviations – Dr and PS ok, Mr a no-no. At the beginning of chapter 7 of this monumental but less than gripping work, Wright made reference to the basic problem he faced:
‘Now that a Zoo was actually on its way, Gadsby had to call in various groups to talk about what a Zoo should contain. Now, you know that all animals can’t find room in this orthographically odd story, so, if you visit Lucy Zoo you’ll miss a customary inhabitant, or two’.
Wright taped the ‘e’ key down to make it impossible to use, though in one manuscript a handful got through; not surprising, as they certainly tried their hardest. In a whimsical section of the introduction he relates that they did their best to play a part in his writing, some of which was longhand: ‘a whole army of little ‘ees’ gathered around my desk, all eagerly expecting to be called upon. But gradually as they saw me writing on and on, without even noting them, they grew uneasy; and, with excited whispering among themselves, began hopping up and riding on my pen, looking down constantly for a chance to drop into some word; for all the world like sea-birds perched, watching for a passing fish! But when they saw that I had covered 138 pages of typewriter-size paper, they slid off onto the floor, walking sadly away, arm in arm; but shouting back: you certainly must have a hodge-lodge of a yarn there without us! Why, man! We are in every story ever written, hundreds of thousands of times! This is the first time we ever were shut out!’
“Gadsby” made ‘e’ the centre of attraction by excluding it, but the approach was different in a more recent work, “Eunoia”, by the Canadian experimental poet and conceptual artist Christian Bök. “Eunoia”, published in 2001, is a univocal lipogram, wherein each chapter restricts itself to a single vowel, to the exclusion of the other four. ‘Y’ does not appear in the book. Seven years of effort went into Bök’s work, which as well as using only one vowel per chapter is constrained by many rules concerning style and content. Here are the first few lines of one of the ‘e’ chapter tales:
‘Westerners revere the Greek legends. Versemen retell the represented events, the resplendent scenes, where, hellbent, the Greek freemen seek revenge whenever Helen, the new-wed empress, weeps’.
Eunoia, which means ‘beautiful thinking’, is the shortest English word containing all the vowels. Oiseau is its equal in French, but as for other languages……….pass.
‘’Eunoia” is an altogether more complex and erudite work than “Gadsby” and much too difficult for me. So I’ll end with a small effort à la “Gadsby”.
Many years ago I submitted an eless piece for a magazine competition. My story concerned a lady’s man called Gino and his sad end. I didn’t keep my effort, which won nothing, not even an honourable mention, so I’ve done my best to remember what I can. Here’s how I think it ended:
‘Crossing a busy main road without looking both ways, our lothario was mown down by a fast-moving lorry. How ironic that a man who was always falling for young girls, but always surviving, should finally succumb to a random Guy**.
** Guy Motors was an important name in the history of British commercial vehicles, producing cars, buses, trolleybuses and lorries between 1914 and the early 1980s. It is not known which particular model was responsible for obliterating poor Gino.
A “Gadsby”-style CHALLENGE to anyone reading this article: compose a short piece, say 100 words, on Brexit, without using the letter ‘e’.
This is just not my cup-of-tea. I lack the patience and the curiosity. Further, I abhor x-words and so have never acquired the necessary skills. I probably think it all rather boring and pointless. BUT…..who cares? The whole point of the Blog is meaning for someone. This is clearly as meaningful for CP as it is not for me. Something to think about there. Enjoy the Challenge! CJ
Here’s the first response to the challenge, from RM, proving my point about what means what to whom conclusively. Hope it is not the last…..
Gr*at work, Pierre. You know I can never resist a challenge like that in your last paragraph. So here goes:
It starts with a hardly rational discussion among many disputing participants – all about if, but not how, to abandon a long-standing, but arguably unhappy, trading and political association Britain has had with a group of far from distant nations, originally six but now almost thirty.
Following mass voting on continuing, or not continuing, in that association – with a majority against which was small but broadly thought politically binding – finding a man or woman not guilty of stupidly starting all this chaos was a task our Tory party couldn’t avoid. But, alas, it appoints (or annoints) a lady who was stubborn, had no charm, no wit and, most importantly, had no notion at all of how to bring a satisfactory (or any) conclusion to what was by now Holy Writ – that Britain should stop participating at all in that trading group (although it was obvious that its politicians would insist on discriminating against us, to our mutual substantial loss).
Having had thirty-six months or so of farcical faffing about on Irish backstops and similar stupidity and with curtain rising for a final (and probably tragic) Act – who is put in command to follow May? A MONSTROUS ABOMINATION – that’s Boris Johnson, as many think – sadly with a similarly minimal notion of how to obtain anything that Boris, with Dominic Cummings assisting no doubt, can fairly portray as a famous victory..
Most, if not all, participants will obviously follow up with an autobiography showing how no fault could possibly attach to its author. I can’t wait!
Thanks for that, and many congratulations! It’s a brilliant, witty work and so quickly drawn up – it’s almost as though you saw my blog coming many days ago! Such industry, such application, such fun! I can say without contradiction that it’s worthy of myriad and multifarious plaudits, which obviously await it. CJ would without a shadow of a doubt wish to add it to my (in comparison) paltry paragraphs in his blog. Would that obtain your approval?
CJ: Well done RM! Whose next?
Looks like CP wants another go
Jumping to Conclusions
I’m sure you’ll agree that ‘e’ has had its moments of freedom and should now come back from its break to do what it was meant to do. But let me indulge myself one last time, while describing one of my greatest passions.
‘My Fascination with National Hunt Racing’ or ‘National Hunt Racing – Why I Luv It’.
I could hardly go on living without National Hunt racing. A bold claim, you might say, and obviously going a bit too far, but it’s what will fill a fair chunk of my waking hours (and far too many nocturnal musings) from this Autumn to coming Spring, watching, shouting, cursing, scoring, journalising, in short going nuts about it, from first flag fall to final photo finish.
It’s always satisfying to watch a victory by a tough colt or filly, with a skilful lad or lass on its back. It’s particularly thrilling to pick it out and to back it, and winning in a photo finish adds an additional kick.
In my wild imaginings I own a clutch of jumping stars, so who would I most want to train this string of actual or budding champions?
Paul Nicholls, who has long shown outstanding skills, and is always forthcoming with information. Two Harrys a big bonus.
Colin Tizzard, on occasions a bit hard to fathom his placing plans, but always happy to impart information and always amusing in his way of doing it. His son is a major plus.
Donald McCain, without a rival up north.
Olly and Amy Murphy, two to watch.
Harry Fry, I’m still watching……..and waiting.
…..and Nicky H (a bit naughty, I admit, but I simply couldn’t omit him), a wizard with Irish imports, a wizard with tricky animals, in short a wizard at his craft.
And who would I put on top?
Richard Johnson, Bryony Frost, Darryl Jacob, David Noonan and Tom Cannon stand out among a handful of skilful, solid, trustworthy pilots.
National Hunt is obviously what I follow most assiduously, but Flat racing has its own attractions and its own stars. Richard Hannon, Mark Johnston and William Haggas invariably notch up strings of wins, and on top you’ll find a who’s who of outstanding jocks: Piggott, Carson and Sir Gordon Richards, icons from long ago; stars of today Oisin Murphy (for whom a championship awaits), William Buick, Tom Marquand, Franny Norton, David Allan, Jason Watson, Paul Hanagan, Adam Kirby; up-and-coming lads Rob Hornby and Rossa Ryan.
I could go on, but I’m running out of puff……Hang on, who’s this? It’s that naughty runaway ‘e’, back just in time to let me hail James Doyle, Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore, Nicola Currie, Holly Doyle, Hayley Turner, Josephine Gordon, Tom Queally, Louis Steward, John Gosden, Michael Stoute, Aidan O’Brien, the Skeltons, the Bowens, the Twiston Davieses, Harry Cobden, Harry Derham, David Pipe, Tom Scudamore, Nico de Boinville and all my other racing heroes.
So welcome back wayward master ‘e’ and please promise not to run away again.
CJ Anyone for any more?