Saturday, 17 November 2018

Don't Gollup Your Food, Harold

"Don't gollup your food, Harold".

The line popped into my head, unbidden, as it were.

I knew where it was from, but not exactly where.

It's a line from one of PG Wodehouse's Mr Mulliner short stories. And I knew I had to track it down. I knew the background. There's a timid Mulliner who loves a girl. There's a beefy guy who loves her and doesn't want Mulliner to marry her. As things come to a head, Mulliner heads home, where he finds two burglars, Ernest and Harold, helping themselves to his dinner. Ernest and Harold are pretty massive individuals, and are doing justice to Mulliners table and liquor when Harold asks the fateful question
Apart from the whole faux-Shakespearean shtick about the first and second burglar, this section just cracks me up
The result is that the burglars start fighting, knock each other out. Mulliner (this one turns out to be Osbert) calls the police who drag out the two battered and unconscious thugs just as beefy Bashford Braddock lands up, wearing hob-nailed boots to punish Osbert Mulliner for having the temerity to marry Mabel Petherick-Soames by giving him a stomping. Seeing the police, and assuming that Osbert was responsible for the the burglars' condition, Braddock wilts away.

Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings get most of the love, but I'm beginning to think that the Mulliner stories were easily their equal - if not better.

They certainly had some fantastic openings.
Here's Buried Treasure:
The situation in Germany had come up for discussion in the bar parlour of the Angler’s Rest, and it was generally agreed that Hitler was standing at the crossroads and would soon be compelled to do something definite. His present policy, said a Whisky and Splash, was mere shilly-shallying. “He’ll have to let it grow or shave it off,” said the Whisky and Splash. “He can’t go on sitting on the fence like this. Either a man has a moustache, or he has not. There can be no middle course.”
Or the well known - and succint opening to The Story of Webster
‘Cats are not dogs!’

The lines that follow are quite good, too...
There is only one place where you can hear good things like that thrown off quite casually in the general run of conversation, and that is the bar-parlour of the Angler’s Rest. It was there, as we sat grouped about the fire, that a thoughtful Pint of Bitter had made the statement just recorded.
Although the talk up to this point had been dealing with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, we readily adjusted our minds to cope with the new topic. Regular attendance at the nightly sessions over which Mr Mulliner presides with such unfailing dignity and geniality tends to produce mental nimbleness. In our little circle I have known an argument on the Final Destination of the Soul to change inside forty seconds into one concerning the best method of preserving the juiciness of bacon fat.
There's poetry too. Remember Good Gnus? From Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court?
A brief suspense, and then at last
The waiting's o'er, the vigil past;
A careful aim. A spurt of flame.
It's done. You've pulled the trigger,
And one more gnu, so fair and frail,
Has handed in its dinner-pail;
(The females all are rather small,
The males are somewhat bigger
And the clubs. Apart from the joy of finding out why the 'Gentleman's gentlemen's" club is called "The Junior Ganymede" (Hans Gruber would have called it the benefits of a classical education), there's the Junior Lipstick, for debutantes, the Senior Test tubes, for brilliant chemists, the Senior Bloodstain, for detectives, and so on...

Most Wodehouse fans love the Buck-U-Uppo stories. And the Story of Webster and its follow-up, Cats will be Cats, but there is so much treasure - not just buried - in these stories.  The sheer ridiculous absurdity - the loopiness  - guarantees grins, giggles, and snorts of laughter.

Look at  Lancelot Mulliner's emotions when he sees Angela, the daughter of Lord Biddlecombe. "His heart leaped like a young gherkin in the boiling vat" (Lancelot is the nephew of a pickle-manufacturing millionaire). And read "Darkling, a Threnody" and wonder who inspired it.

Or take the discussion that opens "Came the Dawn", where a Stout and Mild says "Yes, gentlemen, Shakespeare was right. There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will". And then it turns out what prompted this statement was that his dog had won a prize for short-haired tortoiseshells at a cat show. Which then segues beautifully, a few sentences later, into this line, "No Mulliner has ever won a prize at a cat show. No Mulliner, indeed, to the best of my knowledge, has even been entered for such a competition".

I could talk about the Order of the Crimson Edelweiss, carrying with it the right to yodel in front of the Vice President. Or the entirety of The Smile that Wins, featuring, among other things, the Bramah Yamah Gold Mines flotation. (I can imagine plum with his Encyclopedia Brittanica, looking up the list of Hindu gods and goddesses, and discovering that the name of the creator god rhymes -atleast on paper - with the god of death).

Ultimately, when I think of the Mulliner short stories, they're like the memory of these boiled sweet cough lozenges of my childhood. Sweet, could be savoured or cruched up, and left you breathing a whole lot better when you had them - and the taste lingered...