Friday, 6 August 2010

Key's Cupboard: A Swimming in the Head

By Frank Key

Rupert Murdoch has his paywall, but how does the average impoverished scribbler eke some cash out of the internet? A Paypal button to solicit donations is all very well, but it doesn't exactly tug at the heartstrings, does it? What is needed is a good old-fashioned hard luck letter, in stirring prose, posted at the top of your webpage or blog. Something like this:

"I am in great distress and know not my future. My failure is in Buffalo. I have been here so long because I have no money to move away. I have been evicted and have lost all my clothes and goods, am destitute, a stranger in a strange land, friendless, helpless and hopeless; have not had a full meal for a month, am dirty, ragged and in tatters; precisely in the condition that Joshua might be expected to be in, and do not know at all what is to become of me – all seems dark. I am aged, have grown infirm, and badly ruptured with always a swimming in my head. Walk about the streets ready to fall, inclined to think my mission in life has ended, and that this is my last letter... People at home have been secretly working against me. I am too honest to steal, too proud to beg, too old to work, and have no trade at my hands."

(Quoted in Eccentric Lives And Peculiar Notions by John Michell, Thames & Hudson 1984)

Thus Edward Hine (1825-1891), the brains behind the British Israelite movement, a group dedicated to the idea that the British are the blood descendants of one of the original ten tribes of Israel and need to move en masse to Palestine to usher in the Second Coming. (Unlike contemporaneous groups with similar ends, Hine did not consider it a requirement that all Jews had to convert to the Anglican church.) He wrote his letter when stuck in North America following an unsuccessful speaking tour. It worked – he was sent a ticket enabling him to return home to England, where he died three years later.

I am emboldened by this, and am in no doubt whatsoever that if I complain of a swimming in the head over at
Hooting Yard, the loot will come pouring in!


  1. Here's the way to do it

    Help me help you

    I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

    If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

    If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

    If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

    The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

    Thanks for reading!

    Failing that would launching an online Big Issue be of any assistance.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. A really good hard-luck letter must be quite hard to write. Hats off to some master stylists, then.

    The problem with describing oneself as dirty, starving and on the streets is that these days folks may assume it is self-inflicted - drugs - and so be reluctant to give generously or at all. A mistake, but there we are. It may be better to make the reader fell that any donation will also help a good cause. Looking around some charity shops here, it occurs to me that you could announce that you are founding the country's only Sanctuary for Distressed Cravats, noble garments that can now be loved and cared for in their retirement after a lifetime of faithful service rather than languish in smelly charity shops and church bazaars. An alternative might be the Wild Swans Sanctuary. There's no real need for the reader to know that you are referring to the many copies of the book of that name which litter charity shops rather than to the feathered variety. Just imagine what an endorsement from Bill Oddie would do. May your many donations flow generously!

  4. Ah yes, Mark, Wild Swans Sanctuary could describe most charity shops. Also, The Full Monty (VHS) and Foot Spa Retirement Home...

  5. An animal link is the key to raising lots of money. There's something called the Blue Cross Sanctuary (equine mostly but they do dogs too) near Burford and they literally don't know what do with all the money they've got. The place is lavishly well-equipped.

  6. In fact, when I'm marketing my newspaper I should really be informing people about the picture of a sheep on the cover. However, it may be that sheep are a minority taste.

  7. Dickens wrote a great piece on the art of the begging letter -- the queasy shifts in tone, the rambling tales of suffering and injustice, the sudden, strangely specific, demands for help:

    "I ought to know something of the Begging-Letter Writer. He has besieged my door at all hours of the day and night ... He has wanted a greatcoat, to go to India in; a pound to set him up in life for ever; a pair of boots to take him to the coast of China; a hat to get him into a permanent situation under Government. He has frequently been exactly seven-and-sixpence short of independence. He has had such openings at Liverpool … that I wonder he is not Mayor of that flourishing town at the present moment.

    "The natural phenomena of which he has been the victim, are of a most astounding nature … He has been the sport of the strangest misfortunes … His brother would have given him employment to the tune of hundreds a-year, if he would have consented to write letters on a Sunday … His landlord has never shown a spark of human feeling …

    "He has been in the army, in the navy, in the church, in the law … He has been brought up as a gentleman; he has been at every college in Oxford and Cambridge; he can quote Latin in his letters … Sometimes he has never written such a letter before. He blushes with shame … Don't answer it, and let it be understood that, then, he will kill himself quietly … He is fond of enclosing something - verses, letters, pawnbrokers' duplicates, anything to necessitate an answer …

    "Sometimes … he writes to inform me that I have got rid of him at last. He has enlisted into the Company's service, and is off directly - but he wants a cheese. He is informed by the serjeant that it is essential to his prospects in the regiment that he should take out a single Gloucester cheese, weighing from twelve to fifteen pounds. Eight or nine shillings would buy it. He does not ask for money … but if he calls at nine, to-morrow morning may he hope to find a cheese? And is there anything he can do to show his gratitude in Bengal?"

  8. Gaw - it may be that sheep are a minority taste. Not where you come from, boyo.

    I hear that Donkey Sanctuaries are absurdly overfunded.

  9. I wonder why the cheese would have to be between twelve and fifteen pounds?

  10. People have gone to extraordinary lengths in the quest for (comparative) wealth, there is always the old saw the hand / leg / arm off wheeze, the downside being that if it doesn't work, bit of a bummer. Forming a string quartet and standing in the pouring rain, only effective if you happen to be Russian. Learn acoustic guitar buy a chair and sit in the plaza at the Santa Croce, only works If you're Polish and called Tadzeus.
    The above of course are in the domain of the real world, asking for dosh on the internet, the pretendy world, is like whistling in the wind, unless your name happens to be Amazon. Or the Inland Revenue or O'Leary.
    That's it, the answer, have a budget blog, the punters will think that they are, by bunging Frank a few bob, saving money.
    Using a mouse is extra, ditto keyboard and monitor.

    Donation, the digital equivalent of Yosser's "gissajob"