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April 5, 2004 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

The Limerick Competition

A couple of weeks ago, staff and students were invited to ink their thoughts on the topics of “working and studying at Victoria” or “the Vice-Chancellor”. Tony Simpson, author, Montana Award judge and private secretary to Jim Anderton, acted as judge. His comments and the results are below. Salient expects to see more of this sort of gently amusing parlour activity taking place in the bars, cafés and hostels around Wellington. Rocking party good time.

Simpson: The limerick doesn’t exist in any other culture or language except English. I spent an hour recently trying to explain limericks to a Chinese from Tientsin; which left him bewildered, me frustrated, and the staff of the bar we were in, in hysterics.

As you may know the form was popularised by the nineteenth century Victorian writer Edward Lear of whom it was said:

There once was this man, Edward Lear,
Who was really a bit of a dear
But he spent too much time
Writing comical rhyme
And would never admit he was queer.

His last lines were invariably weak and W S Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, who intensely disliked Lear in general and a limerick he had written about bees in particular, composed one which runs:

There was an old man of St Bees
Who was terribly stung by a wasp
When they said: “Does it hurt?”
He said; “Not very much
And I’m so glad it wasn’t a hornet.”

Eventually the limerick was rescued again from neglect in the 1920s by a clergyman called William Baring-Gould who published one of the definitive collections and spent twenty years engaged in a duel with The Times over his attempts to sneak fake advertisements into their Personal column without them realising they were limericks. This may explain why there are so many anti-clerical limericks such as the terrible tale of the Bishop of Wessex:

A habit obscene and unsavoury
Keeps the Bishop of Wessex in slavery
With maniacal howls
He deflowers young owls
Which he keeps in an underground aviary.

Since then the limerick has never looked back and proliferates daily. Limericks do many strange things. There are extended limericks with nine lines but the same form as in:

There once were two cats of Kilkenny
Each thought there was one cat too many
So they quarrelled and fit
They scratched and they bit
Till baring their nails
And the tips of their tails
Instead of two cats there weren’t any.

There is the variation on the haiku known as the limeraiku as in:

Theres a man at Crewe
Station, who buggers muggers
So well, there’s a queue.

There are limericks who depend for their sense on the words being wrong:

There was a young man of Duntroon
Who always ate soup with a fork
He said: “I don’t eat
Either fish fowl or flesh
And that way I don’t finish too quickly.”

There are rhyme schemes both clever and desperate. Some are both:

There was a young lady of Exeter
So beautiful men craned their necks at her
And one who was brave
Proceeded to wave
The distinguishing marks of his sex at her.

But above all:

The limerick’s a verse form unclean
You must keep it in close quarantine
Or it runs to the slums
Where it quickly becomes
Disorderly drunk and obscene.

They all descend into sex at the end. If you’ll pardon the expression. And of which I should say:

The enjoyment of sex, although great
Is in later years said to abate
This well may be so
But how would I know?
I’m now only seventy-eight.

All right. This is a limerick competition. You were to write on the university generally, or conversely on your Vice Chancellor Mr. Stuart McCutcheon. Not a very popular chap up here with some of you. In fact the best limerick I received on him was so scurrilous that its author begged me not to reveal it. Which is a wish with which, after some struggle with my conscience, and a fine knowledge of the laws of libel, I’m going to respect. Some of the entries failed to make the grade because their authors apparently didn’t understand the scansion required. Shame on you!
But it wasn’t a bad field. The winners are:

In the general category the first winner by Claudine Earley was:

Enthused about philosophies
I paid university fees
But in lectures most heinous
I sat on my anus
Dying tedious death by degrees.

And second winner in this category by Beverly Telfar runs:

There once was a uni called vic
With a VC exceedingly quick
With nary a hug
He pulled out the plug
On staff claims – he must think we’re thick.

In the “I hate Stuart McCutcheon” category, the first winner is Peter Rochford with:

It is with enormous frustration
I’m reduced to this form of oration
But Stuart McCutcheon
Is out testicles clutchin’
In what he thinks is negotiation.

And the second winners, worthy of special mention because they produced a limerick variation, are Jill Brassell and Don Franks for:

A sad little dipstick called Stuart
Had the chance to do something for free
education but he blew it
He put up student fees
But not staff salaries
Let’s unite, and make the prick rue it.

Congratulations to the winners. Better luck next time for the ones who didn’t make it. And a personal favourite for the road:

A pretty young man name of Ransom
Was buggered three times in a hansom
When he called out for more
A voice from the floor
Answered: “Darling, I’m Simpson, not Samson.”


About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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