Monday, 8 February 2010

Ballad of Stoke Newington

A recent conversation with some people from Stoke Newington, or 'Stoky' as they sometimes call it, reminded me of later childhood delights that I don't think I've entirely worked out of my system. I probably never will now.

Was it not in Stoke Newington that was to be found, many years ago, the UK's leading mail-order joke shop? I can't now remember the name of the outfit, and I might easily have got it all wrong, but they used to advertise on the back page of Meccano Magazine and similar organs, alongside Hamley's of Regent Street and the very curious Mr H. Becker of Brighton, who claimed to be able to teach you to play the piano in six weeks. (Mr Becker's advert showed a picture of a weedy, drippy bloke with long hair, supposedly resembling Franz Liszt, not much of a role model for red-blooded lads. I learned elsewhere, in case you were wondering.)

Little drawings illustrated the jokes on offer. The rubber fried egg. The nail through finger. The dribble glass. The whoopee cushion, O heavenly delight. The joke flies and spiders. And, joy of joys, the plate lifter.

This was a rubber bulb the size of a small walnut. A long thin rubber tube connected it with another bulb, maybe a bit bigger. You placed it before a meal under the table cloth where Auntie Madge or Rev. Todger would later be served, you secretly trailed the rubber tube under the table-cloth to your own place, where the other bulb dangled down on to your lap. At strategic moments you squeezed your bulb, thereby inflating Bulb No.1 and causing the plate above it unaccountably to lift. Mirth, admit me of thy crew. It was best if you affected to take no notice, because then you could do it again. And again.

Sadly, I never owned any of these wonders. As so often in life, it was better to travel in hope than to arrive, the contemplation was more rewarding than the actuality. Another joke item was the Seebackroscope. This was a sort of horizontal reverse periscope. When you put it to your eye you could see what was going on behind you. Maybe this is what I need now for a clearer vision of past times. I might even be able to make out what the company was called.

This Elysian industry and its enthusiastic clientèle of small boys (never girls?) lost its innocence with the import from Hong Kong of joke dog turds and joke vomit and suchlike. The lowest common denominator is never far below the surface.


I, Like The View said...

give me the highest common factor, anyday

(altho not so common, in your case Christopher)

Rog said...

Elysian industry indeed, as I believe you refer to Ellisons! A magic name from my boyhood, I knew those adverts by heart.

I actually possessed a "Seebackroscope" and can confirm that you were better to travel hopefully than arrive.

Rog said...

Ellisdons of High Holborn. I went there once and it was equally dissappointing. Shining light upon magic.

Vicus Scurra said...

I don't believe any of the things you mention ever existed, they are just a distorted view of times past seen through spectacles of suspect clarity.
I don't even believe that Stoke Newington exists, and I've been there.

Dave said...

Surely they were all made by the Acme Manufacturing Co?

I once visited a joke shop. I believe I bought a squirting buttonhole flower.

ps. I am the Rev. Todger. Did I ever visit you for tea?

zIggI said...

I once bought some little white pill type things that you secreted into the ends of cigarettes. When said cigarette was ignited the room would gently fill with what appeared to be several tons of feathers.

I have to say it worked a treat and once the fog cleared and my mother caught me, I couldn't sit down for at least 2 days!

To this day I don't know why she didn't find it funny.

Z said...

Oh Ziggi, that was brilliant. I'm disappointed in your mother.

The Sage has a weakness for practical jokes and our children were encouraged to buy the sort of items you describe. I quickly learned never to accept a boiled sweet from an apparently generous child.

Sarah said...

It's a boy thing.
I can't bear practical jokes. They are rarely funny and usualy end up with some form of retaliation that verges on the spiteful.
Isn't there a poem about boys and spiders and snails....oh can't remember.

Christopher said...

I: Oh, I do so utterly concur. HCF and CFN especially.

Rog: Ellisdon's. Of course. Thanks. Clearly a slip of the subconscious to put in Elysian. But High Holborn? Maybe the mail order dept. was in the place Vicus has been to but doesn't believe exists.

Vicus: Do you exist? Are you a practical joke? What happens when someone e.g. Rev. Todger sits on you?

Rev. T: It really quite original of you to christen those infants with holy water from your squirting buttonhole flower. Were they Z's kids?

Zigs: Yes, I remember those pills. A wonderful exploit you describe. I'm sure your mother was secretly rather proud of your initiative, and didn't hesitate to tell the neighbours as they shook all that white feathery stuff off their washing on the line.

Z: Clearly your kids had a most enlightened upbringing.

*memo to self: remember to check half-open doors for perched buckets of water if ever invited to tea (along with Rev. Todger) at Z's place*

It's all right, Sarah, you're quite safe - I haven't made you an apple-pie bed or sewn up your pyjama legs or put Seidlitz powder in the loo or holly leaves in your vest drawer or plastic worms in your Chardonnay - or do you prefer Viognier?

Sarah said...

Oh it reminds me of my first term at pie beds, honey in my knicker drawer, buckets of water balanced on doors, and worse...horrid girls.

Pinot Grigio or Boly please

Christopher said...



Sarah said...

Obviously !

Christopher said...

Ah. A girl of taste. I really appreciate the efforts you make to maintain the tone of this blog. Brut or demi-sec?

Doubtful Doctor said...

Possibly the seebackrosope was derived from that essential medical tool, which at one time or another has brought belated wisdom to most doctors - the retrospectoscope?

Christopher said...

Hello, DD. Very good to see you - it's always good to have a doctor on board. By a strange coincidence I had lunch today with someone who had exactly the same post-diagnostic idea.

Incidentally, I seem to have accidentally hammered a nail through my finger: can you help?

UberGrumpy said...

I used to have a hand buzzer. It got me thumped so often I threw it away

Christopher said...

I know, UG. Treacherous things. I don't suppose you kept track of it? Might it have ended up with The Black Hand Gang here ?

Sarah said...

COMON with the new post already

Christopher said...

Squeezed blood out of any stones recently, have you, Sarah?