There is an old saying, act in haste, repent at leisure, advice that is pertinent for those who are considering a tattoo or body art, as it seems to be called today. Some tattoos seem designed to tempt fate.
Take Donald Murray from Indiana who has had the slogan “Crime Pays” tattooed across his forehead. On February 17th he led officers from Terre Haute Police Department on a chase before having his collar felt. He’s now behind bars, facing charges of resisting law enforcement, reckless driving, possession of amphetamines, maintaining a common nuisance and stealing a vehicle.
It’s not his first run-in with the law. In December last year he was involved in another car chase which was featured on A&E’s Live PD. The chase ended in dramatic style when he crashed into a tree and legged it, before being caught by pursuing officers.
Cookery books are the staple fare of the book trade, Publisher’s Weekly reporting that sales rose by 21% in 2018, compared with 2017. It has been ever thus. The 19th century blockbuster, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published between 1859 and 1861, and its 18th century equivalent, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, published in 1747 and a best-seller for over a century, were the go-to books for culinary advice.
In this age of supermarkets and an inexhaustible supply of ingredients to hand, it is easy to forget that there was a time when often the only way of getting what was to be the centre of your culinary masterpiece was to hunt or catch it yourself. The phrase “first catch your hare”, other variants include fish or carp, is now used figuratively to indicate the first step you must take when undertaking a task or project. A tongue-in-cheek statement of the bleedin’ obvious it undoubtedly is, but how often have you reached into the cupboard and found that you are out of what you need to make your dish? You can never overstate the need to assemble all your ingredients before you start.
A variant of the phrase can be traced back to the 13th century to the English legal commentator, Henry de Bacton. In his De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae, he wrote, “and the common folk say thatyou must first catch your stag, and after it has been caught skin it”. Sensible advice and the fact that he is talking about a stag rather than a hare is no matter, the type of fauna was interchangeable over the centuries. What is also interesting is that Bacton claims that, as a piece of advice, it has an almost proverbial status. It was a well-known saying at the time.
That said, as a phrase it seems to have fallen out of favour, at least in the written word, only reappearing in the 19th century, and then in the figurative sense. Thackeray, in The Rose and the Ring, published in 1855, wrote, “a soldier, Prince, must needs obey his orders; mine are…to seize wherever I should light upon him. First catch your hare, exclaimed his Royal Highness”. The Times lamented on August 25, 1858: “bitter experience has taught us not to cook our hare before we have caught it”.
Earlier examples from the 19th century attribute the saying to Hannah Glasse. The Tyne Mercury used the phrase in its edition of July 18, 1815 thus; “first catch your hare, says Mrs Glass”. The Morning Advertiser of February 11, 1819 when reporting on the steps the Spanish government were going to take towards foreigners fighting on the side of South American insurgents, noted, “this is something like the recipe of Mother Glasse for dressing carp – first catch your carp and then kill it”.
The problem, though, is that nowhere in her crowd-pleasing cookery classic does Hannah Glasse use the verb catch immediately before any member of the animal kingdom, be they animal, fish or fowl. The doyenne of 18th century cooking was not keen to get her hands dirty with the unpleasant and intensely frustrating task of catching and killing the main ingredient. The nearest she got to the phrase was in a recipe for roasting a hare was “take your hare when it is cas’d (skinned) and make a Pudding”. Her common formulation was to use the imperative of the verb to take and position it before the creature.
What are we to make of all this?
A variant of the phrase existed in the 13th century, if not earlier. It may have fallen into disuse over time, at least in printed form, before having a renaissance in the 19th century. To add a touch of celeb-glitz to the phrase, users dragged Hannah Glasse’s name into the equation. Still, it meant her name lived on.
They call it third album syndrome. The first is full of energy and fresh ideas, the second is more rounded as the artist learns the tricks of the trade but the third is a disappointment, repetitive and devoid of ideas. Although a prolific and accomplished author, the same comments can be made of Delafield’s third novel in The Provincial Lady series, published in 1934 and parts of which were serialized in Punch magazine.
The Provincial Lady (PL) is now an established writer and, at the behest of her publisher, is encouraged to go to North America to fulfil some speaking engagements and plug her book. As this is the 1930s, it wasn’t just a question of jumping on a plane but a sea voyage, courtesy of Holland America Line and the SS Statendam. The early part of the book is taken up with PL’s concerns about how to break the news of a prolonged absence to her husband, how she was to break the news to her staff and friends, preoccupations about what to pack and wear and, the continual theme of the books, how much it was all going to cost and how she could possibly afford it.
She is treated to a first class on the trip out, somewhat wasted as she is terribly sea-sick, whilst on the return she has to make do with tourist class. Such is the treatment of authors by their publishers. Photographed and fêted when she lands in New York, PL is engulfed in a whirlwind of parties with the literati and a tour of the lecture circuit. Throughout the trip PL is outside of her comfort zone, continually fretting about the suitability of her clothing and how to avoid being saddled with the inevitable bores.
Part of the charm of the PL series is getting to know some of the characters that she interacts with. The nature of her trip to North America, she pops across the border into Canada, is that we have a multitude of characters to contend with, most of whom rarely engage us for more than a page or two. It adds to the sense of a whirlwind, but the book loses some of Delafield’s acerbic barbs as a consequence.
It is a bit of a literary commonplace for an English writer to visit America and regale the reader with their views. Charles Dickens was particularly sniffy about what he found there and his disdain for the uncouth American way of life came through loud and clear in Martin Chuzzlewit. The PL is a more sympathetic guest, overwhelmed by the hospitality and vivacity that she encounters. She does, though, seem to have a bit of a cloth ear as to what is going around her. At the time of PL’s visit America was in the depths of the Great Depression, not that you would know it from the text. Perhaps the wealthy, who had survived the Wall Street Crash, and those who lionized literary figures were impervious to the economic downturn. It struck me as a bit odd, though.
Although PL does not go down to the southern States, there is a lot of comment about the Southern accent. To English ears it does sound odd, but it is hardly worthy of a major leitmotif for the book.
PL has definitely changed since her debut and not for the better. She is still a bundle of insecurities, but her warmth and observational powers which made her such an endearing character have been blunted. There is one more in the series in which she turns her hand to Land work in support of the war effort and another, which most critics regard as a stand-alone. I think I will leave PL here back in the bosom of her family. Her husband, surprisingly, seems to have missed her.
I’ve always enjoyed the Asterix series of comic books, featuring the eponymous wily Gaul in his battles against Roman oppression. The 37th book in the series, Asterix and the Chariot Race released in October 2017, sees our hero battling his way across Italy in a chariot race against the Romans.
Fascinating as this is, what has brought the book into the spotlight now is the name of a masked Roman villain who will stop at nothing to win. His name?
Alfred Hummel (1898 – 1954), the last German Prisoner of War
It is tempting to think that when a war is declared to be over, the combatant sides would be eager to exchange their prisoners as quickly as possible. After all, why would the winning side want to saddle itself with extra mouths to feed? But that doesn’t seem to always be the case. After the First World War, France retained its German combatant prisoners of war until the spring of 1920 and moved other rank prisoners to the northern battlefields and put them to work, partly to put pressure on the German authorities to accept the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
It was only in 1930 that the French authorities were able to assure the Germans categorically that every prisoner they had had been released. Anyone who hadn’t made it back to the Fatherland could be presumed to be dead. Imagine the stir, then, when in May 1932 a soldier by the name of Oscar Daubmann made his way back to Germany, claiming to have spent the last sixteen years in a French PoW camp.
Daubmann’s tale was one of misfortune and fantastic derring-do. Captured in October 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, he was sent to a camp, where he killed a guard during an unsuccessful attempt to escape. The French authorities came down hard on him, sentencing him to twenty years’ hard labour and shipping him off to Algeria. After being kept in solitary confinement, tortured and starved, the unfortunate Daubmann was transferred to a prison tailor’s shop where he worked until he was able to effect his escape. Still, he had to walk some 3,000 miles along the African coastline before being picked up by an Italian ship which took him to Naples. He then made his way back to Germany.
Daubmann was treated as a national hero, partly because his remarkable return gave a scintilla of hope to those families whose relatives were missing that they might still be in camps somewhere in the French empire and partly because it fed nascent anti-French sentiments. The remarkable return of Daubmann seemed to suggest that the French had been lying. In particular, the Nazis used him as a poster-boy, a living epitome of German strength and virtue, and he regaled thousands at their rallies with stories of his ill-treatment at the hands of the French. A book detailing his life story was rushed into print and sold 180,000 copies and Daubmann was made an honorary citizen of 18 towns and cities.
However, not everyone was convinced by his story. Supporters of a rapprochement with France began to make enquiries of the French authorities about Daubmann and drew a blank. The French notified Berlin that they could find no record of an Oscar Daubmann, a claim that was poo-pooed by the Nazis as a typical example of French duplicity. Supposed former comrades, though, failed to recognise him. In September 1932 he was unmasked as a fraud.
There are two versions of how this came about, one prosaic and the other more dramatic. It may well have been that the weight of evidence that the French authorities were able to produce convinced the naysayers amongst the powers that be. The other version is that when Daubmann was about to begin his usual account of his amazing experiences in a Bavarian town, a man stood up and shouted, “You are not Daubmann. You are my son, Alfred Hummel, Get down from that platform, you faker!”. Daubmann fainted and confessed all.
The truth soon came out. Daubmann was really Alfred Hummel, a tailor from Offenbach, who had spent ten years in jail on a burglary charge. He had never served in the army and upon his release, had bought a second-hand army uniform in a shop. Inside he found some papers relating to Daubmann, who had been killed in the war, and decided to assume his identity.
Quite why is not known but the Nazis came down on him like a ton of bricks. He was sentenced, in July 1933, to two and a half years in prison on charges of serious forgery and fraud and, upon his release, was held in preventive detention at Schwabisch Hall until his release by American forces in 1945. He worked as a tailor until his death in 1954.
If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Scams and Hoaxes by Martin Fone?