More fool I

The Compass - - NEWS - Harold N. Wal­ters

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

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