Sunday, May 15, 2005

The London Charivari

Many things about childhood we observe without understanding and move on; then in adult life we reflect on them with mystification. Occasionally there would appear on the coffee table a peculiar publication called Punch, and I would look through it and try to enjoy it, without success. My father got it through the inter-office mail, and it came in a manila envelope with a series of signatures on the front, very arcane in itself. I suspect now that the arrangement among Prudential employees to share copies of this rarity in this way was against policy and furtive. The magazine itself bore a superficial resemblance, to my eye, to the New Yorker, which we took, but it was even more mysterious and the cartoons more inevitably unfunny. I don't think I ever tried to read an article, but I diligently tried to decipher the cartoons. I recall, in particular, that the illustrator responsible for the lame but child-friendly Fred Bassett was regularly featured, and, like the rest of the regulars, he churned out interchangable pictures of tweedy gents in drawing rooms making cryptic remarks to one another. Or couples by the roadside. Or blowsy commoners talking sass to bowler-hatted respectables. Was it at all topical? After all, these were the days of Swinging London and "Cannabis Street". Not to my recollection; but I figured it must be "good", since Dad went to so much trouble to get it, and I endeavored to enjoy it.