With a new year it is inevitable that the passing of time sees us taking account of what has passed and what we plan to do in the future. Somehow this natural pause seems more focused with this new year.

The passing of many well-known musicians, actors, writers, and others besides, last year promotes looking back and reflection on what their work has meant. Time filters and changes our perceptions; of how we value the songs, the books and films we have known over the years.

With that in mind, bear a thought for someone who, in his day, was a consummate writer, of novels, poetry, and plays; who was wildly successful and popular; left a few phrases that have become part of speech; had a political career, and judging from his pictures, he was quite dashing too. Surely this person would be a vital part of literary life, even now.

It is not so: this fabulous writer is celebrated chiefly now, in the humorous Bulwer-Lytton contest which is founded on his infamous opening sentence: It was dark and stormy night – the rain fell in torrents….

Bulwer-Lytton has suffered this indignity for more than 30 years.

Just a little context: Wagner adapted his novel, Rienzi, into an opera and Wagner had quite good artistic judgement. Bulwer-Lytton left us the expressions: almighty dollar and the great unwashed. His other phrases and witticisms have been digitized on YouTube and like Oscar Wilde they hinge on inversion and paradox to achieve effect.

In 1871 he published an intriguing book called, The Coming Race, about superior beings, who call themselves the Vril-ya, and lived underground. They have a fluid called Vril, which is a source of energy and these beings use it at will.

The book impressed a manufacturer who realized the value of Bulwer-Lytton’s status to market a new product. He called the product Bovril. This is a sticky black meat extract which can be used for flavorings in cooking, or commonly in winter in England, as a drink diluted with hot water.

Now Bulwer-Lytton’s literary career is not a joke: it’s a syllable that nourishes people when they are cold and need a comfort drink.

It was dark and stormy night – the rain fell in torrents, there was thunder and lightning all around, but as Jessica sat down to her favorite Netflix series, she cradled a mug of Bovril in both hands, and sipping it, she felt warmed through.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.