Barbara Hepworth once wrote this:
‘Perhaps what one wants to say is formed in childhood, and the rest of one’s life is spent in trying to say it.’
In her case, it was through great contemporary sculptures. In my case? Well, my first English schoolmaster judged:
‘Flippant boy. That’s what you are. Flippant. About serious matters and great human
endeavours. All I can hope is that for your sake you will grow out of it.’
At this time, my hero was A.A.Milne’s Sir Brian. I walked up and down repeating what I
remembered of the words and energetically miming the accompanying action:
Sir Brian had a battle-axe
With great big knobs on
He went among the villagers
And blipped them on the head.
On Tuesday and on Saturday
But mostly on the latter day
He called them all together
And this is what he said:
‘I am Sir Brian, sper-lash!
I am Sir Brian, sper-losh!
I am Sir Brian
As bold as a lion
Is anyone else for a wash?’
I would roll around in delight at this picture of extrovert schadenfreude at work. Seventy years later, I decided to finish it off, thus:
One man said ‘Please, Sir,
Can I have my say?
And on Saturday
But always on the latter day,
I wear my special suiting,
‘Cos I am SDA.
So, yes Sir, for your blipping,
Could you choose another day?’
My English master would have been disappointed. I didn’t—grow out of it, that is. In fact I got worse. It was all the fault of Ogden Nash, that great American rhymester. I never could resist:
The Golden Trashery
Of Ogden Nashery
The grand outrageousness of his puns was matched by his deliberate flouting of syntax
conventions and scanning; and by his manipulation of invented words to produce an end-of-sentence rhyme, often lines away from its mate.
Then there were his little pieces:
Men never make passes
At girls who wear glasses.
The trouble with a kitten’s
Eventually it becomes a
Thus Ogden Nash on the progressive inevitability of vanishing childhood innocence and playful dependence. But Nash remains silent about the nine or so lives of adult cat-ness; tom, cool, hep, fat, and nap for example. As the poet might have put it, but didn’t:
Protection rules for Mother
Until one day, the cygnet’s
So Mother Swan just nods her
‘Come on, Dad. Let’s go to
‘After all,’ said Mother
‘Cyclic life means start
I still laugh out loud at the Nash longer cautionary tales, mostly with stings in them. And I continue to marvel at his versatility—he might say ‘versustility’—and range of subject matter. His curiosity was insatiable. Nothing was sacred to that penetrative pen.
Yet he was never destructive, vulgar or crude.
(Unlike some pieces included here,
When even apostasy may be seen to intrude.)
Nash remains uniquely funny for his gentle ridicule of the pompous, the pretentious, the
gruesomely ordinary and the outrageously bizarre. He would have approved of calypsos and
calypsonians who can be sharp, bitter and iconoclastic.
I’m glad I’ve got that off my chest. Now I have to distance myself from it. Someone said that a sense of indebtedness is the most corrupting form of human relationship. Distorts everything and satisfies no one. Especially if a second-rate acolyte is thought to be clutching at the coat-tails of the inspired and sucking at the cloth of that inspiration.
So if the fault is by distant derivation that of Ogden Nash, the excuse for this claim is the old one about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. Or something like that.
I wish it were indeed so. But Ogden Nash is inimitable. The Doggerel Ditties that follow are relieved in their pedestrian parochialism by one or two which, in places, are less bad than the others. Let me know when you find one. It would be a kindness. As that English teacher also once wrote:
‘HE IS TRYING—VERY’
So you have been warned. If you are nonetheless determined on mindless masochism, proceed now. The contents eschew strict chronological sequence and are accordingly without opus numbers. The place and date of composition are laid bare when I remembered to do so. And footnotes hopefully make clear the obscure for new players. Hopefully, because footnotes are often the ultimate refuge for the intellectually confused and muddled writer.
One or two cuckoos have found their way into the doggerel nest.
They may serve as light relief from the rest.
The rhyme was intended as you will.....
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About the Author
He was Secretary to the Government of Tonga 1953-56; Commissioner, British South Pacific Office in Fiji, including responsibility for Pitcairn, 1965-70; Deputy High Commissioner for Fiji in London 1970-75; a Director at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London 1975-80; then for five years, Financial Secretary and , for a period, Deputy Governor in the British Virgin Islands. He has also been Director of Studies in Financial Management at the Royal Institute of Public Administration in London.
In close to 60 years, Kenneth Bain has written eleven well-received books. They include seven with worldwide island themes, including three on the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga and its people. There is one each on Fiji military coups, St Helena, British Virgin Islands, and Pitcairn, together with books on schizophrenia, Doggerel Ditties in the style of Ogden Nash, obituaries he wrote for the London newspaper The Independent, and Gaza, his Palestine mandate diary 1946-48.
He now lives on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, where he and his wife were made Honorary Belongers in 1985. His wife Margaret Anga’aefonu is part-Tongan; their three children were born in Tonga and Fiji.
He was awarded the OBE in 1976, and appointed by King George Tupou V of Tonga to be Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Queen Salote Tupou III in 2010.