Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

GOURMET’S PICNIC / There is an indescribable, pure delight about eating peanut butter sandwiches and drinking coffee in the open air. A stuffiness about both the flavour of coffee and that of peanut butter makes them a somewhat heavy combination indoors; they are oily, strong, and faintly nauseating tastes; they are things you never long for when your digestion is out of order. But to sit on the grass on a fine May day and champ mouthfuls of peanut butter sandwich, occasionally washing them down with coffee — well, I fancy there will be a good deal of that in Heaven. Fussy people object to the washing down part of this pleasure; they refer to it vulgarly as “swilling.” My old school nurse, Miss Toxaemia Dogsbody, Reg. N., advised most strongly against it. But I recommend it to gourmets. And if, by any chance, you are able to add a banana to this picnic repast, you have a treat indeed. Dip the banana in your coffee for a moment; bite it; add a big mouthful of sandwich; float the whole thing in coffee — it was thus that the gods picknicked on the slopes of Olympus.

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY / The place of my birth is not far from London (Ont.) and recently I made a pious pilgrimage thither and retraced the steps of my childhood. There it all was: the house in which I was born (for I am so incredibly old that I was born in a bed in a house, and not on a table in a hospital), the Town Hall where the Town Clerk’s dog would do tricks, the church in which I sucked ghostly wisdom from the knees of several Sunday School teachers, the Tecumseh House Hotel, and — best of all — the Ferguson Opera House in which, at the age of three, I made my first appearance upon the stage as an Israelite child in an opera about Queen Esther. As theatres go, it has more of the atmosphere of the drama than many more modern playhouses, and possesses a drop-curtain upon which virtually every picturesque feature of the Continent of Europe is represented. I saw two houses which, as a child, I believed to be inhabited by witches, and The Pit — a dreadful Sheol on the edge of town, believed in my youth to be a favourite haunt of German Spies, who doubtless wanted to blow up the local canning factory. I found this Sentimental Journey quite exhausting, and returned to London in the shaky condition of a man who has had a good long look at his past.

Communiqué (Thrust Under My Door)

To Big Chief Marchbanks.

How, Marchbanks:

Maybe you not know me, Marchbanks. How, anyhow.

You got money? I got no money. Get out of jail two day ago. Want money. Beg. Cops chase me. So I ask fat woman in house for money. You clean up yard I give you two dollar, she say. Awful mean face, Marchbanks. So I clean up dirt in nice pile behind garage. Then she say I got no cash but I give you cheque. She give me piece of blue paper. This no money, I say. Ha ha you poor ignorant savage, she say. You take cheque to bank, she say. I tear up cheque and steal three dollars worth her tools. She squawk. Cops chase me and take tools. Then I got no money and no tools. So I work one hour to dirty her yard again. Put back all her dirt and some new and stale dead cat I find under snowbank. Lots of work for nothing. Women awful hard to manage and fat ones worst. You got money? I need money.

How again,

Osceola Thunderbelly,

Chief of the Crokinoles.

Culled from the Apophthegms of Wizard Marchbanks

The bitter truth about women is that their minds work precisely like those of men: the bitter truth about men is that they are too vain to admit it.

(May 22 to June 21)

Gemini is the sign of the Twins, and people born under it are strongly excitable, and often experience the sensation of being beside themselves. As they are dominated by the planet Mercury, it is small wonder that they are constantly “up and down,” as they themselves express it. You who are born under this sign, being of a dual nature, understandably want to have everything both ways at once, and by a little judicious application of the intelligence you have it should not be impossible to manage this; it is principally a matter of never saying anything so bluntly and irrevocably that you cannot afterward get out of it. Politics has a strong attraction for those born under Gemini and you may do well at it. It lies in your power to eat your cake and have it, too: the cake may become a little messy under these circumstances, but there is always some drawback to all good fortune.


As you will undoubtedly want to dress in the most astrologically acceptable way, your lucky colours are yellow-brown, orange, slate-grey and gold. Wear them and you will have good fortune; if they do not become you, you will have to be content with thinking how lucky you are to have good taste. Your lucky flowers are mayblossom, myrtle, bittersweet and lily-of-the-valley, and you had better reconcile yourself to living without this particular sort of luck, for they all have a very short season and florists cannot make enough out of them to be bothered growing them in greenhouses. Your lucky stones are the beryl, the emerald and the topaz. If your fiancé wants to give you an appropriate stone, you may be excused for forgetting about the beryl and the topaz.

Health Hints for Those Born Under Gemini

You are said to be especially prone to ailments of the nervous system and rheumatic complaints. A century ago this would have been dismissed as bad luck; nowadays you may turn such disabilities into positive good fortune. To be nervous is to be one of the elect in the Twentieth Century; you can accept it either as a hobby or a career. One word of warning, however: if you intend to let nervous troubles dominate your life, you must be certain at all times to get plenty of rest, for neurosis is apt to prove exhausting to yourself and not, as it should be, to those around you. Ten hours sleep a night and a nap after lunch are the minimum for you. As for the rheumatic illnesses, they are a passport to the South every winter. They are also a protection against all the shoving, lifting and carrying expected of persons not gifted in this respect. Play your cards carefully, and a life of splendid ease lies before you.

Meditations at Random

GARDENER’S PROBLEM / I am always a little later than other people getting my garden in, but it is the autumn flowers, and asters in particular, which appeal to me. While I made my careful map of my garden on ruled paper, as the garden book said to do, I reflected how hard it is to get a satisfying bed of annuals which sounds good when you describe it. Spiderflower and feverfew look well together, but they sound as though the garden had been planted by Frankenstein’s monster. And though Mourning Bride and Bouncing Bet make a nice combination, it seems to be tactless to put them together. As for bugbane, gasplant, tickseed and sneezeweed, nothing would induce me to plant them, pretty as they are. I would not know how to mention them to people who wanted to see my garden.

YOUR PET BETRAYS YOU / A man I know who is very fond of dogs called my attention to a newspaper article today, which said that a dog grows to be like its owner. Nervous people have nervous dogs; savage people have savage dogs; stupid people have stupid dogs. Well, it may be so, though I have never seen any dog-owners among my acquaintance nosing their pets away from a garbage can, or chasing each other amorously over a newly seeded garden. But it is a fact that married people grow alike from living together, and no true dog-owner would admit that his dumb chum was less sensitive to atmosphere than his married partner. It may be that this theory about dogs throws new light on some of my friends: Professor A, the celebrated economist, has a dog which always forgets where it has buried its bones; Madame B, the fortune-teller, has a dog which cannot foresee what will happen when it goes to sleep with its tail under the rockers of Madame’s chair; modest little Miss C owns a pooch of notorious wantonness and infidelity. Can it be that these beasts reveal the truth about their owners? Beware of the Dog!

THE SEX WAR / Walking home from my work this evening I passed a group of children who were busy, as children so often are, in taunting and torturing one of their number. “Teddy’s got a gurr-ul! Teddy’s got a gurr-ul!” they screamed, while Teddy, who appeared to be about six, denied the charge with a remarkable command of blasphemy and obscenity. I pondered upon this scene for some time. Why is it considered disgraceful for little boys to play with little girls, though a little girl who can get herself accepted in a gang of little boys gains prestige by doing so? The equality of the sexes, about which there is so much futile blather in the adult world, is unheard of among the young. Women’s suffrage, and equal-pay-for-equal-work would never have come into being if children had had any say in the matter. I toyed with the idea of going back to the children and saying: “My pretty dears, the fact that Teddy has a girl shows that he is more mature than the rest of you; do you not know that girls will grow up to be the equals, in all respects, of men? Don’t you know that girls will sit on the juries which will condemn you to hang, which, if I may judge by your language, is the fate to which you will all come?” But I was rather busy, and went home instead.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson