Tuesday, 26 February 2008


Ben Trovato writes:

Fred was a single guy living at home with his father and working in the family business.

Knowing he was going to inherit a fortune when his sickly father died, he decided to seek a wife.

One evening at an investment meeting he spotted the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her natural beauty took his breath away.

"I may look like just an ordinary man," he said to her, "but in just a few years, my father will die, and I'll inherit 20 million dollars."

Impressed, the woman obtained his business card; and three days later she became his stepmother.

Women are so much better than men at estate planning.

Friday, 22 February 2008


Anticant has been whiling away these dismal dark cold days by sorting through some old family letters. Spurred on by trousers' recent visit to Matlock, he recalled the mystery of his grandfather's uncle who vanished from there and was never seen or heard of again.

My grandfather had a bachelor uncle who was his godfather, and after whom I believe he was named Thomas. My great-grandfather was an ironmonger and hardware merchant in Manchester, and his younger brother, Uncle Tom, was also a merchant in Ceylon [now Sri Lanka], from where he wrote some lively letters to my great-grandfather.
I still have the holograph originals, penned in neat copperplate and deftly illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings of local ‘characters’.

In March 1866 Tom [then aged 27] writes from Colombo and, after some enquiries after the family’s health and comments on the Irish Fenian outrages which were then traumatising the English, proceeds:

‘In reply to your query I have to state that I am a full blown Freemason Irish Constitution & expect soon to receive my certificate. Masons in Ceylon are as a rule very quiet fellows; in fact in this hot country men dare not indulge too freely in liquors altho’ some I will allow take a “fair whack” -

The coffee planters are the most noisy and obstrepolous [sic] - at the last banquet held at Kandy I hear that one of the “worthy masons” shied a whole boiled fowl at the Worshipful Master’s head. In fact the planters are not at all particular in attentions of this sort & the tales of havoc they commit in one anothers Bungalows sometimes, is scarcely to be believed. The Crockery and Glass ware on such occasions are the first to suffer, then the furniture comes in for its share - on such occasions it is the rule for the English and Scotch to take separate sides -

To recur again to Masonry, it is widespread over India and China and to any one visiting these places must be of advantage. We are very charitable and to a deserving brother in distress sometimes pay his passage home or send him on to another place where he may perhaps be more fortunate. Of course when he can afford it he returns the money. We also contribute handsomely to the local charities.’

He continues:

As you say, the time since I left home has passed away very quickly, and my 3 years will soon be up - whether or not I shall stay I don’t know - it all depends upon [RBC] and [JB], who will no doubt come to some arrangement & it will be for me to say whether or not I am agreeable to further risk my liver &c for a further term of years - If they do the handsome I may and most likely will, but if there is no proper inducement, what’s the good - Life is a great drag out here I can assure you, compared with Home, & the only balm for it is to know you are making money. If you know you are not making money and the future is dark, then you are miserable in spite of yourself - time is passing cheaply [?] - year by year, and I must look well about me - so far I consider I have not done much. I must however wait and see.’


‘Didn’t go to Church last Sunday, but my Companion [B] did - he told me he felt very sleepy under the Native parson & was only fairly aroused when the said Native parson spasmodically ejaculated a prayer that we might be preserved in this “Wicked World of Wailing Weeping Woe”. The Bishop seldom preaches and Europeans are often absent, and it’s very dreary work going to listen to some of the Black ministers, although they are good men I have no doubt. The above expression of the parson’s was however a Crasher -

I am glad to say that I continue in very good health, and take plenty of Horse Exercise - it is expensive £45 a year with the risk of your horse dying, but it is far better to spend your money than spoil your liver - it is very disgusting, but people out here are perpetually thinking about their livers -

Trade keeps exceedingly quiet in “Rags” - i.e. cotton goods - and unless a change takes place soon we shall have to pocket a loss instead of a profit .’

The next letter is undated, and is largely about trading matters. But there are some illustrations:

1. Ceylon Moorman (Trader, Full Dress). [From a sketch by M Hypolite Silvaf.] 2. Ceylon Moorman (Mason). [From a photograph by Slinn & Co.]

3. Ceylon Malay [From a sketch by M Hypolite Silvaf.]

Tom comments: Figures 1 & 2 represent the class of men to whom the shipment of nails would be sent. Do not despise the Old Buffer no 2 - when I came out first an honest old fellow in similar “get up” was worth £50000 ! Very few like him left.’

Reverting to family affairs, he says nostalgically ‘ In my reveries of home I think now & again of those little trips we used to take when lads with Father to the Taylors at Wilmslow & away through the breezes to Alderley Edge - Happy days those were!’

[I too remember trips to Wilmslow and Alderley Edge with my grandparents when I was a child.]

Uncle Tom’s third letter was written much later, in 1896, by which time my great-grandfather was dead. It is addressed to my grandfather, and dated three days before my grandparents’ marriage: Tom had stayed on in Ceylon, and was back in Britain on leave – furlough – at the time.

Smedley’s Hydropathic Establishment

Telegraphic Address, “SMEDLEYS” Matlock Bank. Railway Station, MATLOCK BRIDGE.

MATLOCK, 17th April 1896

My dear Nephew Tom,

This will I hope find you safely returned to Gransmoor after your, probably, stormy journey to and from Belfast.

Hebe [my grandfather’s eldest sister] has very kindly informed me fully with respect to matters that so nearly concern yourself, and which are now on the eve of accomplishment - I refer, of course, to your approaching marriage with Miss Gartside.

Altho’ I shall not be able to witness the ceremony at St. Peter’s, Ashton, next Monday, I shall be there in spirit you may be sure.

I am pleased to learn that it is to be a very quietly arranged function - Emblematic, in that respect, I trust of the tranquil life before you both when you get fairly settled in your own little nest at Heaton Chapel. I have seen the house and it has a pleasant outlook.

It is customary, I know, on occasions like this for Uncles to accompany their letters of congratulation & felicitation with something substantial in the form of a suitable presentation, and your being, moreover, my Godson naturally makes it all the more incumbent on me to conform to the ‘good old rule’. How gladly I would do this, were I able, it is needless for me to tell you. The opportunity can now only arise and be embraced and availed of “when my ship comes in”, and when that will be is known only to the Gods! -

I now send you and Miss Gartside my sincerest wishes for your present and future happiness, health, prosperity and long life,

and remain Your affectionate Uncle Thos. Wright.’

This is where the mystery begins and ends – because Uncle Tom was never seen or heard from again. He vanished from Smedley’s Hydro without trace, and no-one ever discovered what had become of him. As time went by, there were various theories: he had fallen down a pothole, either by accident or by committing suicide in a fit of depression. Or he had decided to return to Ceylon on an impulse, without telling anyone, and had been lost at sea. As I don’t know whether he checked out of Smedley’s with his luggage, or simply vanished from his room leaving his things behind, I don’t have a view on these alternatives. But a cousin of my grandfather’s who dabbled in spiritualism said that a medium had told him that she made contact with Uncle Tom, who spoke of “rushing waters”. This could have been either a subterranean pothole or a mishap at sea, so who knows?

What I do know is that I wish I could have met Uncle Tom and heard more of his stories about life in Ceylon at first hand. Maybe we would have had a drink too many, and flung some crockery, or even a boiled fowl or two, around the room!


Our inimitable Emmett, dear Bodwyn Wook, waxes lyrical here about the recent eclipse of the moon in a delightful piece which we are sure all Burrow visitors will enjoy.

Monday, 11 February 2008


Ben Trovato writes:

According to the BBC, religious police in Saudi Arabia are banning the sale of Valentine's Day gifts, including red roses. As a result, black market prices for roses are rising, and some florists will deliver bouquets in the middle of the night to avoid suspicion.

Valentine's Day is regarded by the Saudi authorities as unIslamic, because it encourages illicit sexual relationships out of wedlock, punishable by law in the desert kingdom.

But heigh-ho, we used to have our killjoy puritans too. After all, Cromwell's cronies went around cutting down maypoles when they weren't cutting cavaliers' heads off.

Thursday, 7 February 2008


ANTICANT is an accredited bigot. A “pseudo-liberal” one, to boot. We have this on no less an authority than that of a headmaster of an Islamic school, Ibrahim Lawson [see Anticant’s open letter to him on Anticant’s Arena].

This glad news set off a rash of bigotry confessions in the Burrow, with the following results:

ANTICANT is also a bigoted opponent of pseudo-religious twaddle.

BEN TROVATO is a bigoted topper-up of Snug regulars’ favourite tipples.

THE BEADLE is a bigoted turfer-out of knicker-waving naked kayakers.

MRS MALAPROP is a bigoted ribbed woollen stocking knitter.

WOOFFIE is a bigoted devotee of fine pearls and brandy.

DAME BARBARA is a bigoted champion of virginity in even the most bosom-heaving circumstances.

MISS MARPLE is a bigoted devotee of discreet sleuthing and demure omniscience.

THE CRAFTY CHAMBERMAID is a bigoted bedhopper and keyhole snooper.

So bring your bigotries to the Burrow, one and all, and let’s have a confessional orgy in the Snug. Free drinks all round.