Tongue twisters, extracted from a text book about folklore I’m currently reading for reasons I won’t bore you with right now.
This one was apparently passed on by a Jesuit priest in California who was taught it many decades previously by an old Shakespearean actor who gave private elocution lessons in San Francisco:
Amidst the mists and frosts the coldest,
With wrists the barest and heart the boldest,
He stuck his fists into posts the oldest,
And still insisted there were ghosts on Sixth Street.
The first three (below) were reported by people who’d auditioned, worked in radio or had therapy for speech impediments. The tongue twisters on the second list are old, but still known today or until the recent past. Peter Piper was already old in the 17th century, when it was first collected in a book. The third set are newer. I remember some of them from acting classes, especially Peggy Babcock, the lengthy version of Peter Piper, and “red leather yellow leather”. That last one isn’t in the book, although clearly it’s known in the USA or from there because I distinctly recall a nervous Don Draper having a little red leather yellow leather moment in an episode of Mad Men. For those who don’t know already, you shouldn’t feel smug if you can say any of these once, slowly… although some people are shocked to find they can’t even do that. The idea is that you say them fast, repeatedly. Some of them are easy to say once but inexplicably difficult to say three or four times in a row, “black bug’s blood” for example.
Get your tongues ready. No, not you Miley. We’ve all seen enough of your tongue, I think.
“… a fissure of the fundament…”
As research for something I’m writing, I recently re-read Aldous Huxley’s book The Devils of Loudun (1952), which is a very thorough, sardonic account of the 1630s outbreak of mass nymphomaniac diabolical hysteria instigated by a bunch of “possessed” nuns to get back at an unpopular local clergyman. I hate it when that happens. Nowadays the book is primarily known as the source material for Ken Russell’s salacious 1970s nunsploitation version with Oliver Reed, The Devils. Why this pertains to what I’m writing is not important to relate right now, but among the excellent background material about France in the 17th century is the following section about the general filthiness of things:
“The most grotesque of avoidable mishaps would mar the most solemn occasions. Consider, for example, the case of La Grande Mademoiselle*, that pathetic figure of fun who was Louis XIV’s first cousin. After death, according to the curious custom of the time, her body was dissected and buried piecemeal– here the head and there a limb or two, here the heart and there the entrails. These last were so badly embalmed that, even after treatment, they went on fermenting. The gases of putrefaction accumulated and the porphyry urn containing the viscera became a kind of anatomic bomb, which suddenly exploded, in the middle of the funeral service, to the horror and dismay of all present.”
* Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans, Duchess of Montpensier (1627-1693) wrote a self-pitying memoir (with appalling grammar and spelling) in which she complained that being rich didn’t make her happy. When she died childless and unmarried she left one of the largest inheritances of any woman in recorded history.
Erotic Japanese prints at The British Museum
Last week I had the chance to visit the British Museum’s exhibition of shunga, which translates as the rather euphemistic “Spring paintings”: Japanese erotic prints and books from the medieval period up to the turn of the twentieth century. So it’s Spring as in sap rising, if you know what I mean.
Given the enduring popularity at this blog of James Joyce’s bum letters and the number of people who come here trying to find out (in English) what the octopus is saying in Hokusai’s Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, I thought some of you
perverts scholars may be interested to hear a bit about the exhibition. It’s worth a visit if you can get to London and you’re into Japanese culture and/or smutty pictures; therein lies one of the unintentionally funny things about it. Yes, every single day at the British Museum hundreds of respectable middle class people are spending a hour or more scrutinising vintage porn with no holds barred depictions of what goes where. I suspect many of them would say (like the complacent wife in Airplane!) that Jim never looks at porn when he’s at home, and many of them are Telegraph readers or Guardianistas who’d probably assert that pornography is demeaning and sordid. Yet here they are, earnestly checking out pictures of famous actors’ penises… albeit famous actors’ penises from over a century ago. It’s all strangely un-arousing anyway, at least to me.
There are also some inadvertently amusing pseudo-scholarly captions such as “the unusually large size of the colour print serves to accomodate the orgy”. Er, yes… it does. The print in question (circa 1785) shows a travelling salesman being set upon by six housewives who in true pornographic style are all absolutely gagging for it, proving that where (heterosexual/heteronormative male) sexual fantasies are concerned, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Complaints about pornography being unrealistic and damaging to the body images of “real” people are also nothing new. In 1254 a chap called Tachibana no Narisue wrote that “the old [shunga] masters depict the size of the thing far too large … If it were depicted actual size there would be nothing of interest. For that reason, don’t we say art is fantasy?”
If you’re on the front page this post has some rather explicit images and text after the “continue reading” link, so NSFW unless you work at a Japanese vendor of sexy prints during the Edo era, OK?
The Devil of Usury. From John Blaxton’s pamphlet against loan sharks, ‘The English Usurer’, printed by John Norton for Francis Bowman of Oxford, 1634.
“An Usurer (i.e. a person who lends money at an unreasonably high rate of interest and/or with unfair terms) is not tolerable in a well established Commonweale, but utterly to be rejected out of the company of men.”
Too bloody right. Four hundred years on, little has changed: payday loan companies, Lehman Brothers, toxic mortgage lending, fixing the LIBOR rates, bank executives getting huge bonuses at failed but state-bailed banks, etc. Note also the piggy bankers on the right, the top one saying “Mine is the Usurers defect. To root in earth, wallow in Mire” and the bottom one issuing the refrain we’ve also recently heard many contemporary versions of from bank CEOs, that they can’t and won’t be held accountable for the devastation they’ve caused with their greed: “Living spare me, and Dead spare me.”
PS: Beware, for after a long separation I have been reunited with my beloved library and this blog will most likely live up to its tagline like never before in the coming weeks as I explore it anew. Forthcoming… Japanese monsters, Cold War kitchen performances, telekinesis, Giorgio Moroder robot, a load of intensely nerdy vintage computer stuff, etc.