Some More Brief Lives

Baden-Powell: defied cars

Baden-Powell: defied cars

Continuing Frank’s extraordinary series of very, very brief lives…

Atholl Oakley, Sir Edward (British wrestler, writer, and organiser of “rugged holiday cruises”, 1900 – 1987). To build up his physique, Atholl Oakley followed a regimen devised by the giant wrestler Hackenschmitt, which involved drinking eleven pints of milk every day. Many years later, Hackenschmitt told him that the quantity of milk prescribed was “a misprint”.

Baden-Powell, Robert (British scoutmaster, 1857 – 1941). Baden-Powell’s favoured method of crossing the road was to stride forth, looking to neither left nor right, sure in the conviction that the “foot slogger” had as much right to the king’s highway as any motorist. If, as a result, he “gets it in the back”, he dies asserting his right. That is not “blank foolishness”. “That’s British.”

Borges, Jorge Luis (Argentinian writer, 1899 – 1986). In 1946, Borges was appointed to the post of Chief Poultry Inspector for the Buenos Aires municipal market. He resigned immediately.

Chamberlain, Neville (British politician and Prime Minister, 1869 – 1940). In 1916, Lloyd George appointed Chamberlain as the Minister for National Service. He sacked him a few months later, having taken a dislike to Chamberlain because “he had the wrong-shaped head”.

Gosse, Edmund (British writer, 1849 – 1928). Gosse’s birth was noted in his father Philip’s diary as follows:  “Received green swallow from Jamaica. E delivered of a son.”

Maxwell-Lefroy, Harold (British entomologist and founder of Rentokil, 1877 – 1925). Maxwell-Lefroy choked to death on a gas insecticide of his own invention. His last words were “the little beggars got the best of me this time!”

Newton, Sir Isaac (British physicist and mathematician, 1642 – 1727). In 1689, Newton was elected Member of Parliament for Cambridge University. He held the post for one year, during which time he spoke only once – asking someone to close the windows, as he could feel a cold draught.

Taylor, Joseph (British writer, 1761 or 1762 – 1844). Taylor was the author of Apparitions or, The Mystery of Ghosts, Hobgoblins, and Haunted Houses Developed. Being A Collection Of Entertaining Stories, Founded On Fact, And Selected For The Purpose Of Eradicating Those Fears, Which The Ignorant, The Weak, And The Superstitious, Are But Too Apt To Encourage, For Want Of Properly Examining Into The Causes Of Such Absurd Impositions (1815), wherein he observed, inter alia, that “idiots in general are remarkably fond of any thing relative to a funeral procession”.

Wilson, Harold (British politician and Prime Minister, 1916 – 1995). In his own words: “I see myself as a big fat spider in the corner of the room. Sometimes I speak when I’m asleep. I might tell you to go to the Charing Cross Road and kick a blind man standing on the corner. That blind man may tell you something, lead you somewhere.”

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

4 thoughts on “Some More Brief Lives

    September 20, 2013 at 11:28

    From Harold’s face, buried deep within the Gannex, came the sound of spittle emerging from pipe, filtering through a half ounce of best shag. The familiar frown, the unkempt hair slowly emerged into the hard bright world of the cabinet office. The troubled face broke into a smile, Harold had an idea “It does not mean that the pound here in Britain, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued.”

    St Mary’s, 1994, at the corner window of a modest house sits Harold, lord of the Scillies, his troubled face now powdered with the rouge of Alzheimer’s, muttering “infamy, they still have it infamy”

    I should say rest in peace but in all honesty, I will not.

    jonathan law
    September 20, 2013 at 17:20

    This is bloody brilliant, ought to be a book (a proper one with paper and everything). Here are three you might just consider:

    Wordsworth, William (1770-1850) English poet. Once dined on roast owl at the home of Robert Southey, poet laureate. Southey later admitted the experiment had not been a success: the owl should have been “boiled and smothered in onions”.

    Mussolini, Benito (1883-1945) Italian statesman. Had a terror of moonlight touching his face when he was asleep.

    Goodwin, Fred (1958- ) Scottish banker. According to Iain Martin’s Making It Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew up the British Economy, Fred the Shred had “a particular horror of any public use of Sellotape”. His other phobias included peanuts, carpets, false teeth, Christmas cards, violins, filing cabinets, and pink wafer biscuits (a popular snack in the UK and the Isle of Man).

    Michael Smith
    September 21, 2013 at 01:39

    Absolutely priceless Frank.

    September 21, 2013 at 10:34

    This is gold! As Jonathan says, surely a toilet book beckons?!

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