by Leo Madigan
The popularity of this collection of satirical verses as an e-book called for this paper and ink edition.
Publication date: 2013
Binding: Quality softcover
Size: 6½ x 4¼ inches
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Monday, 21stJuly 2014.
I picked up the Crystal Balls and have to say I was a bit suspicious at first as I have a tendency to see heresy in any attempt to invoke the spirit of Hilaire Belloc. It was only when I heard your exquisite readings that things fell into place and I now find the pieces delightful.
Crystal Ball Cameos is a collection of 21 verses which take as their premise a crystal which is retrospective rather than foreseeing. Characters from near or ancient history appear, none of them known to posterity, but usually with some connection with famous figures. Schopenhauer's charlady for instance, and King Croesus' accountant. Napoleon's psycho-analyst is here too, along with Lucrezia Borgia's confessor and Vlad the Impaler's Aunt Immacula. Certain historical and literary conundrums are solved, such as whether or not hieroglyphics employed the letter 'w', the identities of the Mr W. H. of Shakespeare’s sonnets and the Unknown Soldier. Superman, Batman and Spiderman have a brother who missed the limelight, as did two Saxon sailors who believe they started the Hundred Years War. The Mayor of Sodom has a verse to himself as do Goliath’s batman and a number of others among whom is the beggar with whom St Martin shared his cloak:
Originally conceived as audition pieces for actors, these verses would not be out of places alongside Belloc’s Cautionary Tales and Don Marquis’ archy and metitabel.
1. We encounter the Ball
2. Schopenhauer's Char
3. Bog Man.
4. Cleopatra's Chiropodist
5. King Croesus's Accountant
6. Bucko & Oppo
7. Goliath's Batman
8. An Insignificant Demon
9. Lucrezia Borgia’s Confessor
10. Napoleon’s (Undercover) Psycho-Analyst
11. Booth’s Prompt
12. Shakespeare's Swain: Mr. W.H.
13. St. Martin's Beggar
14. St. Sebastian's Model
15. Sts. Peter and Andrew's Parents
16. The Hell of the Sisters Bell
17. The Man from Porlock
18. The Mayor of Sodom
19. The Unkown Soldier
20. Vlad the Impaler's Aunt
21. The Failed Poet's Society
As a young actor in the 60s I attended many an audition emoting through Shakespeare, Chekov and Tennessee Williams. That was what was expected but I hankered to deliver something that might make the producers and directors in the dress circle an engaged audience instead of work-weary auditioners. I wanted to do something original, humorous, multi-voiced and over-the-top because there was no time for subtlety. It was only later when I’d left the stage and gone back to sea that I discovered Belloc’s Cautionary Tales and Don Marquis’s Archie & Mehitabel and several gems of stimulating nonsense. It was too late; my probationary Equity card had expired and anyway I was happy shipping out but I got to scribbling my own would-have-been audition pieces in quiet moments and holding forth in the shaft tunnel or on a hatch top on a starry night.
The little world I created was, as I say, in a crystal ball, a retrospective crystal ball which conjured up fellow nonentities who are, after all, the substance of history.
I forgot about them until, several years ago. I came across them in a trunk, tidied them up and sent them to an agent. He hawked them round, but publishers reader’s didn’t know who Croesus, or Vlad the Impaler or the Man from Porlock were and assumed their readers wouldn’t either. They were returned by the agent who lamented the lack of interest but asked if I minded if he kept a copy to read at dinner parties. It was something of a back-handed compliment, and reminded me of once drinking with a writer whose recently published book was getting a lot of publicity. Her was congratulated by a patron of the pub who asked blandly, “If I get a copy from the library will you sign it for me?”
I never tried to publish again because I knew it needed an illustrator, but where was I going to find a Nicholas Bentley or a James Thurber to give it the visuals it needed? I did put it up as an e-book last year not thinking that it would ever capture an audience, especially with the gerry-built cover it wore. However the response, while not large, was enthusiastic but as all the feedback asked for a print version, here it is.
We all know that Lincoln's assassin, an actor called John Wilkes Booth, wasn't in the caste on the night of the President's shooting but he is fior the purposes of this Cameo rom the CrystalBall:
Aggrieved, aggrieved! arose a call
From deep within the Crystal Ball.
How could a simple mortal make
So monumental a mistake?
Alas, I’ve suffered far too long
The burden of this awful wrong.
Who speaks?' I cried.
It’s me, John,
Who’s been so vilely put upon?
'Step out, present yourself, forsooth!
Why bless my soul! It’s John Wilkes Booth!
The thespian who made great strides
Well, not quite, I’m J. P. Bright,
The prompter on that fatal night.
Abe’s wholesome, boyish levity
Was corpsing both the cast and me;
While Booth was showing all the signs
Of stage-fright, fluffing up his lines.
All he had to do was stand
Centre stage with gun in hand
Aimed at Mistress Betty Boop.
His line was simply: Nincompoop!
He stalled. ‘Poop!’ I whispered. ‘Poop! Poop! Nincom…’
Which he mistook for, ‘Shoot, shoot Lincoln!’
Upon which, bless his cotton socks,
He fired into the Royal Box.
And ever since the wretched Press
Have caused him nothing but distress.
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