A tricky hand

A tricky hand

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In Competition No. 2385 you were invited to incorporate 13 given words into a plausible piece of prose, using them in a non-card sense. Searching for Tolstoy’s ‘happy families’ quotation in my Bartlett’s, what did I find bang next to it? This from War and Peace: ‘The old man used to say that a nap after dinner was silver — before dinner, golden.’ ‘Finesse’ was the tricky one: I didn’t think it sounded unforced on the lips of either Gerard Benson’s plodding policeman or Brian Murdoch’s violent burglar. Blackjack and poker led to a lot of GBH, but the top prize (£30) goes to Margaret Joy’s peaceful rural scene, in which the zoology may not be plausible but the joke is. The other winners, printed below, get £25 each.

Mrs Jenkins was having a nap by the fire. Her newt crouched on a table nearby. As the barmaid refilled her glass from a blackjack on the bar the loo door shut with a slam and a customer returned to the fire. He watched transfixed as the newt, with some finesse, ate a crisp with a snap of its jaws. He exclaimed, ‘I’ve never seen such a rummy sight as that old maid and her newt.’

‘I don’t want to brag,’ answered the barmaid. ‘We’re a contented village of happy families here, but people come from miles to see those two.’

She rattled the poker in the coals. Mrs Jenkins woke with a start and saw the stranger. She sighed — another dummy to try her patience with questions.

‘Excuse me,’ he ventured. ‘What is your pet called?’

‘Tiny,’ she replied.

‘Tiny, ma’am — why Tiny?’

‘Because he’s my newt.’

Margaret Joy

My Aunt Agatha’s son, Thos, is just the sort of child that never occurs in happy families. He does not require care and nurture so much as a swift slosh on the base of the skull with a blackjack or a cast-iron poker. He had been in my charge for only four hours, and the Wooster patience, of which I have been known to brag, was ready to snap. So when I was told that Thos was taking an afternoon nap, I thought it exceedingly rummy. An investigation confirmed the worst. Showing finesse beyond his years, Thos had constructed a convincing dummy in his bed. He must now be at large in the village, perpetrating some hideous outrage on an innocent clergyman or old maid, or planting a booby-trap in somebody’s loo. I let the bedroom door slam and yelled for Jeeves.

Peter Gasson

She was not young and had never married but Aunt Bea was no old maid. She was formidable. The area where she lived in London had gone to seed around her, the streets full, she observed, of rummy types who looked as if they didn’t have happy families. Burglary was rife. But Bea had no patience with fancy locks and alarms. Her security consisted of a poker in the umbrella stand, a niblick in the loo, and a blackjack under her pillow. The blackjack was her weapon of choice. Although she’d never brag about it, she loved showing off her technique, using a milliner’s dummy. It needed finesse, she said, plenty of snap in the wrist. You shouldn’t just slam it on to the intruder’s occiput. The idea was to give the blighter an unexpected nap, not put him to permanent sleep. Word must have got around. She was never burgled.

W.J. Webster

Being a mass murderer and destroyer of happy families is nothing to brag about. The fact is, I just can’t help it. It started with our old maid, Hilda, when I was ten. There she lay, a chronic rummy taking a nap on the sofa after raiding the drinks cabinet; the poker stood in the fireplace; slam! So easy. Somehow her smug, sleeping presence had caused my patience — or mind — to snap. It created a household drama, but who would suspect a child?

Impunity, and the thrill of success, led me to continue my homicidal career. Mother was dispatched via an intricate, lethal dummy cistern I’d rigged in the loo. Father required brute force rather than finesse; I simply whacked him with a blackjack one dark night. And when my elder brother’s XJ6 suffered inexplicable brake failure I was sole heir. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

Basil Ransome-Davies

Tired of hearing our neighbour brag about her priceless antiques, we set off to one of those famous roadshows where hundreds of happy families wait in line with anticipatory patience. It seemed that every old maid for miles around had sacrificed her afternoon nap for an evaluation of a prized heirloom. On one table a naval gentleman had deposited some doubloons wrapped in a moth-eaten blackjack. At another the hallmark on a silver poker was being examined. It struck me that only a dummy would actually use such an artefact. The experts never made snap decisions, but with painstaking finesse investigated even those offerings that seemed distinctly rummy. When our turn came, my wife had vanished to the loo. Irritated, I was about to slam her brass trivet down on the table when the expert gasped and took it from me with reverential tenderness.

Frank Mc Donald

In those days we lived surrounded by many interesting and happy families and I could brag that I was welcome in every household. There was one house, particularly, I delighted to visit, belonging to an old maid. Stiff as a poker, she treated us children with solemnity, offering us ginger-beer from a blackjack jug, seating us in armchairs and talking to us as chosen friends. It’s a rummy thing but we all became quietly wise and gracious there. No one would slam a door, but, had one slammed, we knew she wouldn’t snap at us. Even dreadful Delia, a dummy still plugging her mouth at six years old, managed not to wet herself there but to use the loo. Miss Lilias combined the finesse of Talleyrand with the patience of Job. Then, her afternoon nap long overdue, she would usher us out, sweets in our pockets and our dignity endorsed.

Josephine Boyle

No. 2388: Anti-picturesque

Robins, sunsets, mountains, kittens, roses are all vulgarly popular images. You are invited to offer a poem expressing aversion to an object or person in that category. Maximum 16 lines. Entries to ‘Competition No. 2388’ by 14 April.