The Lost Game Of Pank-A-Squith

It is a curious thing but the leading lights of the Women’s Social and Political Union not only found the time to prosecute a campaign to win the vote for women but also turned their minds to inventing board games as a means of raising funds. We have already looked at Suffragetto which was produced in 1908. It was followed a year later by Pank-A-Squith, an ungainly name conjured out of the surnames of the two principal proponents in the suffrage struggle, Emmeline Pankhurst and the then Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith.

First advertised in Votes for Women on October 22, 1909, the game was designed to teach people about the issues around the struggle for women’s suffrage but also to raise much needed funds as well as brightening up a dull evening. The set consisted of a board, a die, six suffragette figurines made from lead, and a set of instructions. Each of the figurines holds a rolled petition and wears a sash prominently displaying the green, white, and purple colours of the movement. The board also displays the suffragette colours and has “printed in Germany” stamped on the back.

The board contains 50 squares in a circular spiral pattern leading to the middle one which marks the Houses of Parliament, the arrival at which was the pinnacle of achievement for the movement. The object of the game, suitable for two to six players, was to move from the outer edge of the board to the centre and was rather like snakes and ladders. A throw of the die determined how many squares the player could move. The pictures on the board vividly illustrate some of the perils a determined suffragette could anticipate encountering.

The sixth square showed a group of women throwing rocks at the windows of the Home office, landing on square 16 required the player to send a penny to Suffragette funds, and square 18 had a picture of the Bow Street magistrate’s court. On square 25 there was an illustration of Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested after striking a police officer and squares 32 and 43 showed Holloway Prison and the practice of force-feeding, respectively.

Although there was a vein of humour running through the game, it also shed light on the darker side of the campaign with its images of police brutality against women protestors and the force-feeding of imprisoned hunger strikers. It was a novel and innovative way of popularising the cause and the movement’s colours as well as raising funds for the cause. A complete set was sold recently for just under £5,000.

A Nation Of Sausage Dogs

The management guru, Peter Drucker, once wrote that “plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work”. Never was this truer than in lockdown. How many of us have set out with good intentions, to take more exercise, to learn a new skill, to read War and Peace, only to slide into apathy, unable to resist the lure of another box set or a tasty snack? Even those working from home are not immune, 49% of them admitting that their snacking has increased. Inevitably, the lockdown lard appears around our midriff.

Sadly, it is not just humans that have been piling on the avoirdupois. Research just released by that inestimable charity, Guide Dogs, has revealed that the nation’s pooches have become sausage dogs over the last year, piling on an average of 3.3 kilograms, the equivalent of 100 jumbo jets if the results are extrapolated across the nation.

The reasons are revealing. Counter intuitively, respondents to the survey reveal that they are taking their furry friends for walks less often than before, partly because of the demands of juggling working from home and home schooling, the inability to call upon the services of a professional dog walker and concerns over dog theft. Absence of suitable spaces to exercise the dog means that London dogs have piled on a whopping 5kg whereas those in Yorkshire and East Anglia are positively anorexic, with a 2.4kg weight gain.

Then there are the doggy treats. Spending more time with their dog, the inability to resist their puppy dog eyes, the need to keep it quiet when on a conference call or when someone turns up at the door or the guilt of having a snack oneself means that respondents all too readily reach for the doggy treats. Male owners are more susceptible to taking the easy way out, their dogs averaging a 4.1kg weight gain compared with those owned by women that have added just 2.8kg.

With the better weather and the gradual, and dare we say irreversible, easing of lockdown restrictions, help may be at hand with 44% of respondents claiming that they will get their dogs out more, perhaps even ensuring that they get the one hour of exercise they need a day.    

To reinforce their message about the need for exercise, Guide Dogs are launching in May their Walk Your Socks Off challenge, challenging us all, with or without pooches, to set a step target and raise funds to support children and adults in the UK with sight loss. You never know, your furry friend could soon be as fit as a butcher’s dog.

For details of the initiative, follow the link below:

Penis Of The Week

If you are prone to penis envy, imagine what it would be like to have three. Diphallia, being born with two, is a relatively rare condition, occurring once in every five to six million live births and the supernumerary organ is usually removed early in the child’s life.

My go-to journal for matters medical, the ever-popular International Journal of Surgery Case Reports, reported the first ever documented case of triphallia. According to Dr Shakir Saleem Jamali, a Kurdish baby from the Iraqi city of Duhok was born with three penises. As only one could be called a true penis since the others did not possess urethrae, the other two were snipped off. The baby suffered no after-effects, although it may rue the loss of an ice breaker at parties in later life.

Back in 2015 there was a report of an Indian boy also with triphallia, although this was never verified in an academic journal.  

No explanation has been offered as to what caused this condition to occur, just the roll of the dice, perhaps.

Cantering Through Cant (26)

The act of travelling can be rather boring. In order to while away the time I remember as a child being encouraged to play I-Spy or a form of cricket where runs and wickets were determined by what we passed. Francis Grose in his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) records a predecessor of this rather engrossing game, travelling piquet.

This he defines as “a mode of amusing themselves, practiced by two persons riding in a carriage, each reckoning towards his game the persons or animals that pass by on the side next to them”. He then gives an example of a scoring system.

Seeing a parson riding a grey horse with blue furniture or an old woman under a hedge would be sufficient to win you the game outright. Spotting a cat looking out of a window would score you sixty points and a buggy containing a man, woman, and child would net you forty. A man with a woman behind him would score thirty, but just seeing a solitary man or woman would only be worth one. A flock of sheep would score twenty, while a flock of geese warranted just ten. A post chaise was worth five points and a horseman two. Presumably, it was up to the competitors to determine what the target point score was.

Grose records another game, tray trip, which he likens to scotch hop (or hopscotch as we would know it), “played out on a pavement marked out with chalk into different compartments”. It may have been a street version of an old dice game, tray-trip, where success depended upon throwing a trey or three. The older game is referred to in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; “shall I play my freedom at trip-tray?” (Act 2, scene 5, line 205).

More anon.

The West Pier

The West Pier – Patrick Hamilton

I first came across Patrick Hamilton some years ago when I read his Hangover Square. He is another writer who has fallen out of fashion, but his legacy lives on through the modern predilection for the term gaslighting which came from his novel, Gaslight. Published in 1951, although set in the period between 1914 and 1921, The West Pier introduces us to Ernest Ralph Gorse and is now regarded as the first of the Gorse Trilogy. Hamilton intended a fourth volume, although his death from alcoholism prevented him finishing the series off.   

The West Pier in the title is the famous structure at Brighton, the town in which the book is set. At the time it had a reputation as a place where young men and women met in the prospect of some romantic attachment. Gorse is what we would now know as a psychopath, although Hamilton makes no attempt to psycho-analyse the monster that he is portraying. Gorse has no redeeming features, the classic anti-hero, a monster who draws the reader in to find out what his devious and sadistic mind will turn to next and whether his hapless victims will eventually have the sense to realise what is happening to them. Hamilton’s commentary does not attempt to rehabilitate Gorse, but to emphasise the downwards trajectory of his behaviour.

In essence, the book focuses on two short periods of Gorse’s early life. The first is when he is at school with two of his friends, Ryan and Bell. Even at an early age Gorse displays an unfeeling attitude towards others and a cruel streak exhibited, initially, in a cruel joke when he puts a boy’s prized torch into another boy’s pocket and stands by to watch the accusation of theft. The second example is more disturbing and a harbinger of what to come when he lures a young girl into a shed and ties her up.

It is tempting to see Hamilton painting the young Gore as a proto fascist. The victim of his torch trick happens to be a Jewish boy. Although far too young to serve in the First World War, he is fascinated by military uniforms and enjoys mindless army drills. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, although by the time Hamilton wrote this, the consequences of fascism were there for all to see.

The second time we see Gorse is when he returns to Brighton on holiday, again with Ryan and Bell. They wander down to the West Pier in the hopes of encountering young girls and soon pick up Esther and Gertrude. Both Ryan and Gorse fancy Esther and while she recognises that Ryan is the better catch, she falls under Gorse’s spell. Gorse engages in a two-pronged attack to break up the Ryan-Esther relationship by sending a series of anonymous notes, planting the seeds of doubt in their minds about the fitness of the other, and to relieve Esther of her life savings which she foolishly boasted about in an early encounter when he treated her to a drink in a posh hotel, the Metropole.

Gorse’s campaign is successful. While the reader is invited to express disgust at Gorse’s behaviour it is difficult to find much sympathy for Esther. How could she be so stupid? But that is the way a confidence trickster works, making their victim seem loved and valued only to destroy their self-worth with a cruel trick. In the scheme of things Gorse’s fraud is small beer, but confidence tricks of this nature are the meat and drink of the fraudster. Hamilton’s insight into the workings of a fraudster are as relevant today as they were then, even if the medium of the fraud has changed.

Easy to read and with flashes of wit, it was an enjoyable and slightly disturbing read. I shall follow Ernest Ralph Gorse into his next adventure.

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