On Ford Madox

Detective Captain Ford Madox Unstrebnodtalb was not related either to the writer Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939) nor to his grandfather, the painter Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893). Ford Madox Ford was born Ford Hermann Hueffer, went by the name Ford Madox Hueffer, and in 1919, decided to ditch the Hueffer because, in the aftermath of the Great War, it sounded too German. Casting around for a new surname, he did not look far, and simply repeated the Ford. Similarly, there came a point when Ford Madox Unstrebnodtalb decided to get rid of the Unstrebnodtalb, allegedly because it sounded too foolish, and in choosing a replacement went for Madox, so he became known as Ford Madox Madox.

I have tried to discover if there are any notable persons named Madox Ford Madox or Madox Ford Ford, but so far without success. Nor have I found anybody called Ford Madox Green or Ford Madox Black or Ford Madox followed by any other colour on the spectrum. One will turn up eventually, of that I am sure.

As a Detective Captain with a clutch of exciting cases under his belt, Ford Madox Unstrebnodtalb had a vast amount of paperwork to do when he changed his name to Ford Madox Madox. He had to go back over all his old case files in the basements of several different police stations, crossing out Unstrebnodtalb and inserting Madox. This was in the days before Liquid Paper correction fluid had been invented by the mother of the Monkee Mike Nesmith, so the Detective Captain had to scratch out the Unstrebnodtalbs with a sharp pointy blade, without actually gashing a hole in the paper, and then gingerly write Madox in the resulting off-white space. How much easier the job would have been had Liquid Paper, or its rival, Tipp-Ex been invented!

Incidentally, there are those who claim Mike Nesmith’s mother invented Tipp-Ex, but that was a separate innovation devised by Wolfgang Dabisch in Germany. Dabisch was not related to any Monkee. Liquid Paper was invented in 1951, and Tipp-Ex in 1959. Quite what the difference between these two products is I have no idea, save that one is American and the other European. Nor do I know if Bette Nesmith Graham and Wolfgang Dabisch ever met, at some kind of correction fluid summit. Had they done so, it would certainly have been a clash of the titans. I must do further research on this particular point, and if I get nowhere, just make something up in lieu of facts.

Before leaving this absolutely fascinating topic and getting back to our main business of the day, which is Ford Madox Unstrebnodtalb aka Ford Madox Madox, it is worth noting that Dabisch is a splendid surname for an inventor of correction fluid, given that you sort of dab the stuff carefully on to the paper, or at least you used to, in the days when we used typewriters rather than these newfangled space age computers. Of course, some writers stick loyally to their typewriters, and some indeed even more loyally to pens and pencils. For all I know there may even be writers who still use goose quills. I have been tempted to do so myself, were it not that the logistics of creating a daily blog from scratchy goose quill manuscripts seems so fearfully complicated.

I apologise, by the way, for using the word “logistics”. It is one of those words much favoured by the kinds of people who like nothing more than to obfuscate and to make simple tasks sound complex. Coupled with “solutions” it is even more horrifying. Though I have to say if I saw a van passing with Ford Madox Logistics Solutions emblazoned on its side I would be very tempted to scribble down the telephone number or email address for future reference. One final logistics note: I have seen an advertising poster repeatedly in recent days inviting me to “Imagine the Olympic Games without logistics”. I have, and they were remarkably like the Olympic Games with logistics, but that is perhaps a failure of my imagination.

A few paragraphs ago we left Detective Captain Ford Madox Unstrebnodtalb, now Ford Madox Madox, in the basement of one among any number of police stations altering old case files, scratching out Unstrebnodtalb and inserting Madox. Now admittedly, this is not the most enticing of scenes. Even tiptop writers like frizzy-haired Jeanette Winterson and that equally frizzy-haired chap, what’s his name?, oh yes, Sebastian Faulks, would be hard-pressed to make something of it. Grunting detective, in basement, armed with sharp pointy thing, scratching away.

I suppose one could introduce a thrilling time-travel element, where a being from the future suddenly materialises behind the Detective Captain. Unstrebnodtalb / Madox spins around, a look of astonishment on his chops. The being from the future tells him to be not afeared, the way angels do in Bible stories, but then assures the Detective Captain he is not an angel.

“I am merely a being from the future,” he says, “1960, to be precise. And in that future which you must find as unimaginable as the Olympic Games without logistics, do you know what? We no longer need to scratch out writing with sharp pointy blades, for we have something called correction fluid! Look!”

And the being takes from one pocket a bottle of Liquid Paper, and from another pocket a bottle of Tipp-Ex, and says:

“Not only do we have correction fluid, we have two different types. One is American, and it is called Liquid Paper, and the other is German, and called Tipp-Ex.”

Ford Madox Unstrebnodtalb aka Madox is goggle-eyed. He reaches out his hands to take one, or both, of the bottles. But the being pops them back into his pockets and slaps the Detective Captain’s hands away.

“Sorry, but I cannot let you use them. Were you to do so, an anomaly would be created in the space-time continuum that could have cataclysmic world-shuddering effects on the very fabric of the universe!”

And with that, he dematerialises, leaving the Detective Captain once again alone in the basement of a shabby provincial police station.

Beat that, Winterson and Faulks, with your frizzy hair and Oxbridge backgrounds and publishing contracts!

And Mr Key softly and suddenly vanishes away, in search of a bottle of ink and a goose quill . . .

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