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SONIA SNELL

This is the tale of Sonia Snell
To whom an accident befell;
An accident to which was lent
Confusion and embarrassment.
It happened, as it does to many,
That Sonia went to spend a penny,
And entered in with modest grace
The properly appointed place
Provided at the railway station,
And there she sat in meditation,
But with this knowledge unacquainted
The woodwork had been newly painted.
Soon Sonia came to realize
Her inability to rise,
And though she struggled, pulled and yelled,
She found that she was firmly held.
And so she raised a mournful shout
"Please someone come and let me out!"
Her cries for help quite quickly brought
A crowd of every size and sort,
Who stood around and feebly sniggered
And all they said was "I'll be jiggered!".
The Stationmaster and his staff
Were more polite, and did not laugh.
"Cor Blimey!" croaked an ancient porter
"We'll 'ave to soak it off with water!
They tugged at Sonia's hands and feet
But could not get her off the seat.
A carpenter arrived at last
And finding Sonia still stuck fast
Remarked "I know what I can do"
And promptly sawed the seat right through.
Sonia arose, only to find
A wooden halo on behind.
An ambulance came down the street
And bore her off, complete with seat,
Taking the wooden-bustled gal
Off quickly to the hospiTAL.
They hurried Sonia off inside
After her short but painful ride
And seizing her by heels and head,
Laid her face downward on the bed.
Male students all came on parade
To render her immediate aid,
With prodding fingers, probing thumb,
They each examined Sonia's bum.
Then, to ensure there was no pain,
They all examined it again.
"How are you feeling?" "Fine," said she,
"It's how YOU feel that bothers me."
The surgeon came and cast his eyes
Upon the scene with some surprise.
"Well, well " he said "Upon my word",
"Could anything be more absurd?
Have any of you, I implore,
Seen anything like this before?"
"Yes," said an intern, unashamed,
"Frequently, - but never framed."

I first heard Sonia in the early 1950's recited by my Mother's cousin-in-law, Jim Misslebrook, as "Sonia Spell". The above ode has been on my web site since March 2001. Five years later in April 2006, the author's daughter left a message on my Contact Us and following contact with her, I now reproduce above what may be considered the original wording of the ode. I also print below, extracts from an e-mail received from Kate (nee Ginger) Baynham, telling the origins of the ode and about the life of Doug Ginger.

"It's good to know that Dad's ode is still out there being enjoyed. His name was Doug Ginger, and he told us the story as follows.

When he was a Private in the army his sergeant was a man named Eisenglick - Dad described him as a "garrulous Londoner". Dad would regularly contribute pieces for camp shows. Sonia can be quite precisely dated - the camp show was in March 1940, at Taunton in Somerset. One Friday they were to put on a show for a visiting dignitary, and being short of material Eisenglick approached Dad on the Wednesday. "Ginger! I need something for Friday!". This was an order from above, so Dad wrote "Sonia" for Eisenglick to perform. He thought no more of it until many years later when he and my mother were listening to the Cyril Fletcher Show on the radio. Cyril was very popular with a wide audience. Suddenly Dad exclaimed "That's my Ode!" and began to recite it along with Cyril. It had never been broadcast before.

He suspected that Eisenglick had sold it on to the BBC, passing it off as his own. As Dad said, "I had just come up on the Turnip Train and was no match for Eisenglick". Dad died six years ago, and we never found any of his rhymes in writing. The few pieces I have are those he recited to us and we wrote them down. Later he wrote down "Sonia" for us, but was unable to remember some of the middle lines. I'm very grateful to you for preserving it, as most of the middle lines in your version sound just like Dad, and must be original. I've put it all together - it's not a great deal altered, but is neater. Gal is pronounced to rhyme with TAL in hospital, where the last syllable should have the emphasis.

Dad was a gentle unassuming man with a wealth of beautiful poetry learned by heart. He was able to recite reams of Shakespeare and our house was full of poetry books. He read to his grandchildren with unending patience. He worked in the office of a papermill, but for twenty years was the Editor of the local magazine "Target" in Bourne End, Bucks. He was able to indulge his love of the spoken word in his editorials, which were beautifully written. I recall once how a printer altered the spelling of "illegible" to "Illegable". Dad altered every single copy by hand as he refused to have the magazine go out with a spelling mistake in it. The printer received a polite but firm letter telling him never to tamper with Dad's spelling. In his eighties he was featured on the Anne and Nick morning show when they were doing a slot called "Bridging the Gap". This involved swapping roles for a day with a thrusting young reporter from the Sun. The Sun was not a paper Dad would ever read. He went to cover the Brit Awards, had a wonderful day, but was bemused and overwhelmed by the technology. He always wrote everything by hand.

He was also a master crossword compiler and even today his crosswords are still featured every week in the Bucks Free Press newspaper - they haven't found a better compiler yet. For twenty years he set the questions for a monthly quiz held in Bourne End and is remembered every year when the trophy in his name is presented to the winner.

I'd be so glad if you posted the Ode onto your site - Dad would be delighted that people can still enjoy it. Sadly he died before he knew it was on the net. My sisters and I read "Sonia" at his wake, in honour of a much loved Dad."

I also received an e-mail which gave another version of two of the middle lines, as follows:

"I was delighted to see that you had 'Sonia Snell' on your pages. I remember it well from my boyhood except that two lines in the middle are not as in the version we knew. Instead of :-
"Cor Blimey!" croaked an ancient porter
"We'll ave to soak it off with water"
Our version was :-
"Cor Blimey!" cried two ancient twerps
"They'll have to soak it off with turps"
I suspect this may be the original version as turps is much more apt than water for attacking paint, and you did report that Doug Ginger was not too sure of the middle lines when recalling it many years later.
Best wishes and any comment would be welcome.
David Phillips

Back has come a reply from Doug Ginger's daughter Kate:

The two middle lines are definitely as in my version. I clearly remember Dad reciting these. "Twerps" would not be relevant to the context of a railway station, which Dad would have preferred over and above the logic of the paint-stripping properties of turpentine. Glad to know your readers are still taking an interest!

Another interesting e-mail was received from Win Hughes, who recounted memories from over 50 years ago:

"I first heard this poem being recited some 52 years ago, as a student and spent a few days trying to get the story line right and making up a remembered version which I have told for many years. Even to an improvised wash ‘er off with soap and water. I am delighted to finally read the original and see that my recollections from a once off reading were so close. I lost about six lines and compressed a couple but retained the story line and the main rhyme. I was doubly delighted to hear who the original author was and was sorry that no other pieces of his works have been published. I have scanned Cyril Fetcher’s poems and while amusing, lack the wonderful finesse of Sonia."

Further information in August 2010, from John Blinman, identifies how Cyril Fletcher found the ode, with which he was later to be associated.

"I think I can tell you pretty certainly how Cyril Fletcher came to have 'Sonia' in his repertoire.   I first heard 'Sonia' from Leslie Scamp, who was my boss at the time.  He had previously been a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers.
Les, when in the Army, was in the audience at an Army Concert Party where Cyril Fletcher was performing.   Towards the end of his performance Cyril asked if anybody had a poem they would like to recite.   Les volunteered and recited 'Sonia', which was entirely new to CF at the time.   Cyril copied it down and included it in his own performances 'quite frequently' from then on.   I don't know where Les originally heard the poem, but as it was first told at a Concert Party in Taunton and Les was from Axbridge and in the RE's he may very well have been present at it's original  reading."

Again in August 2010, I received another e-mail from Peter Bridgwood in Sydney, Australia, as follows:

Sonia Snell has been part of my life since late 1944. In July of that year, when I was a 13-yr old schoolboy, the (English) Daily Mirror published an article about me, which was reproduced in a British Army publication called (something like) ‘the Middle East Gazette’, a British soldier who was fighting the war ‘somewhere in the Middle East’ found time to send me a copy enclosed with a letter of congratulation.  This was the only communication I ever had from that soldier; I never did know if he survived the war & got home safely.  Anyway, as I remember it, the M-E-Gazette contained a number of articles in its 4-foolscap pages, including what I now see is a version of Sonia Snell, titled “FRAMED”.
There are quite a few differences from those that you have show here so I have attached my version in its entirety”.

“FRAMED”

This is the tale of Sonia Snell
To whom an accident befell,
It happened, as it does to many, that Sonia went to spend a penny
and entered in with modest grace
The properly appointed place provided at the railway station,
And there she sat, in meditation.
Unfortunately unacquainted, the wood-work had been newly painted
Which made poor Sonia realise her inability to rise;
in vain she struggled, pulled and yelled
but found that she was firmly held.
Her cries for help soon quickly brought
a crowd of every kind and sort
who stood around and feebly sniggered
and all they said was, ”I’ll be jiggered!”
“Cor blimey!” said two ancient twerps,
“They ought to soak ‘er orff wiv turps!!”
The Stationmaster and his staff were most polite and didn’t laugh,
They pulled at Sonia’s hands and feet
But couldn’t shift her from the seat.
A carpenter then came, at last, and finding Sonia still stuck fast
Said, “I know just what I can do!” and gently sawed the seat right through!
Then, in a modern ambulance, complete with seat, (but minus pants)
they rushed the wooden-bustled gal off to the cottage hospital!
The doctors then came on parade to see if they could give first aid,
and one old surgeon scratched his head and in bewilderment, he said,
“Have any of you, I implore seen anything like this before?”
“Yes,” said one student, unashamed,
“frequently, but never framed!”

I am now in my 80th year & Sonia has been a good friend to me for the best part of 65 years now.
A couple of days ago a friend of mine sent an email asking me to email ‘FRAMED’ to him & his request prompted me to surf the net to see if there was anything about Sonia there & that’s how I found you!!    I had always thought it was one of Cyril Fletcher’s ‘Odd Odes’ but you have a different explanation.  I remember Cyril Fletcher as a regular on the BBC & I also saw him ‘live on stage’ as a Dame in the pantomime, Cinderella at (probably) the Chiswick Empire.  It all seems so long ago now!!

There is also the version, attributed to Cyril Fletcher, shown elsewhere on the Internet, which I reproduce below:

This is the tale of Sonia Snell,
To whom an accident befell.
An accident which may well seem
Embarrassing in the extreme.
It happened, as it does to many,
That Sonia had to spend a penny.
She entered in with modest grace
The properly appointed place
Provided at the railway station,
And there she sat in meditation,
Unfortunately unacquainted
The woodwork had been newly painted
Which made poor Sonia realise
Her inability to rise.
And though she struggled, pulled and yelled
She found that she was firmly held.
She raised her voice in mournful shout
"Please someone come and help me out."
Her cries for help then quickly brought
A crowd of every kind and sort.
They stood around and feebly sniggered
And all they said was "I'll be jiggered."
"Gor blimey" said the ancient porter
"We ought to soak her off with water."
The Station Master and the staff
Were most perverse and did not laugh
But lugged at Sonia's hands and feet
And could not get her off the seat.
The carpenter arrived at last
And, finding Sonia still stuck fast
Remarked "I know what I can do',
And neatly sawed the seat right through.
Sonia arose, only to find
A wooden halo on behind.
An ambulance came down the street
And bore her off, complete with seat
To take the wooden bustled gal
Off quickly to the hospital.
They hurried Sonia off inside
After a short but painful ride
And seizing her by heels and head
Laid her face down on the bed.
The doctors all came on parade
To render her immediate aid.
A surgeon said "Upon my word
Could anything be more absurd,
Have any of you, I implore,
Seen anything like this before?"
"Yes" said a student, unashamed,
"Frequently... but never framed."

In August 2011 I received a touching e-mail, which I print below:

Thank you for having this poem on your website. My mother has recently spent some time in hospital and she managed to avoid possible embarrassing moments by reciting this poem to the carers.  She has remembered it almost word for word as on the website apart from the name which she thought was 'Eileen Snell'.  She is 84 and remembers learning this poem during the war - I do not remember her reciting it to me as a child, but will now never forget the laughter it has engendered at a time when our family is engulfed in sadness (my mother has an incurable brain tumour).  I have read some of the comments and notes on the poem to her and she was very pleased to hear these and to identify the author 'Doug Ginger', and circumstances in which he wrote this poem.
Thanks again , Sylvia 

Scott Whitmont contacted me from Australia in April 2012 to tell me that his father Russell, aged 92, still remembered the ode and had recitied it to family and friends for many years.  His version had an additional two lines, with the ode ending:

"Ever since these sad events,
She does it standing in the Gents."

Should you have memories of this 70 year old ode, or can add any further information, please contact us.