More fool I
Imagine this: Billy the Bard — aka Shakespeare — chasing Goosy Gander through an Elizabethan marketplace in hopes of plucking one of his tail feathers to fashion into a quill.
Picture Billy, plucked plume in hand, whipping out his pocketknife and whittling a dandy nib, dipping it into a pot of sooty ink and scribbling something like … oh, I don’t know … ”Romeo, Romeo,” or some such poesy.
Chances are, the paper Billy inked using Goosy’s filched feather was made of rags. There’s nary an accurate notion in my noggin to explain how a pile of rags was transformed into sheets of paper. Boiled in a humongous vat, I s’pose, stirred with a ladle the size of a sculling oar, then squeezed through a mangle and squashed flat as a stomped flounder.
Before Billy, or his bard buddies for that matter, laid hands to them, the resultant pieces of paper were hung on a line to dry, folded — p’raps even double folded — and stamped with a watermark.
Commonly, the imprinted water- mark was the image of a joker, a jester, a Tom-fool wearing a coxcomb hat tasselled with tinkle bells. In recognition — I s’pose — of the jester’s head gear, scribblers and scholars fondly called the folded paper foolscap. Fool’s-cap! Billy the Bard’s immortal lines were first goose-quilled on foolscap. Something to think about, eh b’ys?
“Harry, my own goose-livered love,” says a voice as soft as Juliet’s, “every word you’ve ever writ, flowed from underneath a fool’s cap.”
“A most unkindest cut, my Dearest Duck,” say I.
“Knock off your foolishness,” says Dearest Duck, a shrewish tone, I fancy, creeping in to her erstwhile rosy voice.
“I have a tiny tale to tell, my Duck,” say I.
“I ‘ low,” says Dearest Duck and goes away, p’raps to stir her bubbling, boiling, soupy caldron.
My tiny tale: Once in a foreign province I enrolled in a brand new, very English school. The Principal, British as a bulldog, stood me, a poor fool trembling bay-boy with beakbilled cap in hand, at the front of the class and said, “This new young specimen is Harry.”
Directly, he showed me to a desk, and then promptly bade me stand again.
And so I stood, my cap now a twisted rag.
“You,” the Principal said. Not to me as I first believed but to the fellow in a nearby desk. “Take Harry to the stock- room and pile him up with books and pencils, a pen and a bottle of ink.”
Yes, a bottle of ink. It was that long ago.
My arse was almost out the door when the Principal said, “Don’t forget to give Harry a ream of foolscap.”
Foolscap! The first time I’d ever heard the word.
In my bay-boy Primmer Class I’d traced ten thousand ‘O’s’ in my pulppaged scribblers, each one’s furl stamped with our young queen’s face. Yet there on the edge of the Great Big Land, I was expected to make my marks on unfamiliar paper — foolscap.
Certainly my foolscap was of a better quality than Billy the Bard’s absorbent raggy pages. Mine was slick and ruled, and a heart’s-blood red line defined its left-hand margin. But it was long and folded and could be “booked” depending on the quantity being used.
I bet a loonie some of you wrote exams on similar unbound booklets. Whether a scholar or … uh … or one less scholarly, some of you wrote on fool’s-cap. Didn’t you, b’ys?
A sad aside: Sometimes, maybe in Billy’s day, instead of using a jester