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The placid streets of the village of Market Blandings were adorned on this June afternoon by a jaunty figure in a pale grey suit and matching derby hat and by his companion, somewhat less well-attired, in patched tweed and a battered straw boater.

The natty dresser dabbed his brow with a silk handkerchief, for the day was warm. Beach, the butler who had driven them down from Blandings Castle, had opted to remain at the Emsworth Arms for a cool one, while Galahad, for it was he, and his brother Clarence, the ninth Earl of Emsworth, strolled off to the tobacconist.

“I had a letter from young Ronnie the other day,” said Gally.

“Ah, yes, Ronnie. Yes, indeed. Ronnie who? “ asked Lord Emsworth courteously.

“Your nephew Ronnie. Ronald Overbury Fish. You know, Clarence- Julia’s boy— pink face, married Sue Brown, prettiest girl in three counties.”

“Ah yes, Ronnie, of course Ronnie. And how is he?”

“Very well. In fact, from hints he dropped, I fancy there may be a little Sue or Ronnie on the way.”

“The way here?” Clarence asked in alarm. “The summer has so far been remarkably quiet and free of pests, er guests.”

“No, no, a little bundle, to be brought by the stork in a number of months, you know… never mind, Clarence. The point is, he may need some extra income and wants to buy out his partners in the onion soup bar.”

“Ah, just so, good for him. Good for him.”

“In order to become sole proprietor of the onion soup bar he naturally needs some capital,” said Galahad, “and as you surely are aware, it would be a good investment, Clarence. Late night revelers and after-theatre crowds are always clamouring for onion soup, and young Ronnie has turned out, unlikely as it may seem, to be a canny businessman. Of course with Sue by his side, the world’s his oyster, or rather his onion, I might say. The world’s his onion,” he repeated, rather louder. “Ha, ha. Anyway, shall I tell him you are good for the money?”

Gally was glad to see that Lord Emsworth was fingering his chin and wrinkling the brow in concentration. It was not always easy to capture his full attention.

“Onions. Yes, hmm. Onions. Do you know, Galahad,” he said, swimming up suddenly from his brown study, “My veterinarian Banks has been advising me, and very strongly, I might add, against feeding the Empress onions. Onions of any sort, mark you. And yet, Whiffle, in The Care of the Pig, most clearly states that onions are not at all detrimental to pigs, if lightly boiled first. Lightly boiling them appears to remove any toxicity whatsoever!” He brooded a moment. “Banks is an ass. I shall take a strong line with him in this matter.”

“My sainted aunt, Clarence! You haven’t heard a word I’ve said.” Gally removed his pince nez and used them to rap Clarence sharply on the head. “Now listen, and forget about that blasted pig for a moment! Who is more important, your nephew Ronald or the Empress?”

Lord Emsworth regarded him with surprise. “The Empress, of course.”

“Clarence!”

“Well, really Galahad, I have…several nephews. Quite a few, I fancy. But there is only one Empress.”

“And I yield to no one in my appreciation of her many admirable qualities,” said Galahad, “but she is, after all is said and done, just a pig.”

Lord Emsworth started so violently that his glasses fell from his nose to dangle freely from their chain. “Just a pig! The Empress is a thoroughbred, an aristocrat, dash it, descended on both maternal and paternal side from prize-winning porcine pedigrees. She has three times won the silver medal in the fat pigs class at the Shropshire agricultural show and there is no reason why she may not win a fourth, no matter what drivel that fellow Banks says about onions in her diet. She is certainly not just any pig.”

“A pig is, in the end, a pig, Clarence. Yes, she is a good pig, a large pig, but a pig by any other name would smell as sweet.” Galahad paused. “Well perhaps not quite that, but I’m sure there are plenty of other pigs that, if fed properly for awhile, could match her girth and magnificence.”

“I beg to differ, Galahad, Lord Emsworth said stiffly, “I beg to differ indeed. Few other pigs match her lineage, precious few, if any.”

“All right. How about this? If I can take a pig, a common local young pig from the village here or its environs, and, given six weeks to feed it up, nurture it, and make it a match for the Empress in girth, you will cut Ronnie a sizeable cheque.”

“Certainly. I agree to your proposal. There is surely no chance of you doing it, none at all, but I give you leave to try. If you manage to turn a plebian local animal into something resembling my prize pig (and I scoff at the idea), I will not only give Ronald the money, but I will… I will eat my hat!” he finished hotly.

“That I will not require, Clarence. But after we obtain our tobacco, let us go to a nearby farm with the purpose of purchasing a pig.”

**********

Five and one half weeks later, the Honourable Galahad Threepwood and the Castle’s butler, Beach, stood gazing morosely at a pig rooting contentedly in a ramshackle pen behind the abandoned garden shed. More precisely, Gally was gazing morosely— he would have described Beach as wearing his customary demeanour, that of a stuffed frog.

“No use sugar-coating it, Beach,” he said, screwing his black-rimmed monocle more firmly into his eye. “This pig, though certainly day after day, in every way, it’s been getting fatter and fatter, is nowhere near in the Empress’s class.”

“I have not neglected a single feeding, sir,” said Beach. “Despite it having added considerably to my regular duties, I have carried comestibles amounting to approximately 57,800 daily calories in starches, proteins and additional roughage to the animal. As far as I can tell, it has consumed them all.”

“I don’t doubt it, Beach. I don’t doubt it. Be that as it may, this porker is never going to win Ronnie the money for his onion soup bar. What is worse, Clarence will be able to crow over me for making that silly bet. “

The butler nodded mournfully. He was fond of Mr. Ronald Fish, and his wife Sue Brown had made a strong impression on his susceptible heart.

“Too bad, too bad, sir. Poor Mr. Ronald. He will be disappointed, I fear. Perhaps he can acquire the money from some other source.” Beach stood a moment in a grave silence. “Ah, well. I must return to the house, sir. Tea will be served on the terrace in approximately twenty minutes, if you require sustenance.”

“Damn the terrace, and damn tea!” Beach turned back as Galahad, removing his hat and slapping it on the railing of the pen, burst into impassioned speech. “I won’t accept defeat this easily. Did my ancestors at Agincourt, when faced with a few bloodthirsty foes, turn and go home for tea? Pshaw! Besides, you know I never touch tea, not after what happened to my old pal Buffy Struggles. Gave up cocktails for the foul stuff after attending a temperance lecture and the poor fellow was dead within a week!”

“Dear me!”

“Absolutely. Run over by a hansom cab in Piccadilly Circus. No,” he mused, “what we are going to do-“

“We, sir?” the butler quavered.

“Most certainly we. I shall need you for this next phase of the plan, or Plan B, as it were. Now, I have heard that Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe down the road at Matchingham Hall is boarding a prize pig in the hopes of mating his own pig, Pride of Matchingham, to it. Clarence has never seen that sow, so we, or more accurately you, will sneak over in the dead of night and borrow it. We will then present it to Clarence in the place of this pig, and he will have to admit that we have won the bet. You can leave old Parsloe this smaller sow for a couple of days, just to confuse him.”

Beach was trembling all over like a jelly in a brisk wind. “But sir…”

“But me no buts, butler! Would you want to be the one to dash that young Fish’s hopes and dreams? Or cause Sue’s starry blue eyes to fill bravely but despairingly with unshed tears? Surely the Beach I have known practically from a lad would not be the man to allow fear of a simple pig-swap to dash the food from the mouth of Sue and Ronnie’s first-born, or soon-to-be born, child?”

“Mrs. Ronald is expecting, Mr. Galahad?” Beach drew a deep breath and a look of noble sacrifice passed over his large face, causing his chins to quiver. “Tell me what I need to do, sir.”

**********

“I would never have credited it, Galahad. It seems a miracle, but you have done it!” Lord Emsworth shook his head wonderingly two days later. You have taken a common farmyard sow, even perhaps a somewhat scrawny sow, and transformed her into a magnificent creature. I do not say she is the equal of the Empress, but you have certainly won your point.”

He took another turn around the large, placid animal that a rather pale and haunted-eyed Beach had led by a rope out into the stable-yard.

“Yes, she is a very fine animal indeed. I will be happy to add her to the Castle’s livestock. She will not by any means do us shame.”

“Er, as to that, Clarence,” Galahad said hastily, “I have promised her back to the farmer from whom we bought her. It seems her litter-mates in his pig-sty have been missing her. Pining away in fact, and refusing their food.”

“Egad, that is most worrisome, Galahad.” The Earl of Emsworth took one last covetous look at the sow. “Pigs will not thrive if they do not ingest their regular daily nutrients. Wolff-Lehmann is very clear on that in his book on the subject. Perhaps you’d better bring her back to the farm after all.”

“And that cheque for Ronald? Your nephew Ronald, that is, for his onion soup business.”

“Ah yes.” A slight shadow crossed Lord Emsworth’s face. “Exactly how much was he needing, Galahad?”

Galahad told him and the ninth earl winced.

“But look at the bright side, Clarence. Ronnie will be so busy with the increased responsibilities of his business and his growing family that he will have no time at all to make pleasure trips down to Blandings. And as our sister Julia will soon be presented with a grandchild in London, she will surely remain in the metropolis as well.”

“Er, for quite some time, do you think, Galahad?”

“Indefinitely, I’m sure.”

“Ah, well, that’s… too bad, of course, and all that. However, the pressures of business and family, yes, certainly. Let them know we quite understand if they stay away…, er, quite some time. Er… indefinitely, as you say.”

With the look of one who sees the sun coming out from behind the clouds, Lord Emsworth turned towards the house. “Come see me in the library in ten minutes, Galahad. I will be writing that cheque.”

 

(Permission to post this piece here is gratefully acknowledged.)

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(Disclaimer : This composition is not by Ralston McTodd. But poets are, after all, also God’s creatures…)

 

 

I wish I could be Bertie, and let Jeeves do all the thinking
Whilst avoiding hard work – about it having no inkling,
I worship Ickenham’s horror of convention
And yet, often, am prevailed upon to avoid contention;

I yearn to saunter between tailor, bootmaker and hatter 
Rather than dentist and supermarket – whilst enduring boring chatter,
I dream of living in Blandings, superbly waited on by Beach
Unconcerned about rules I daily feel inclined to breach;

But, alas, one cannot live other’s lives – that’s our lot
And however irksome one’s existence, of it one cannot be shot,
So one must find solace in laughter, fellowship and books
To escape – however briefly – boredom’s nasty hooks;

And there is a place to go, unlike any other one
Which uplifting powers are huge, and cannot be undone,
Stemming not from order or discipline but, rather, farce and disaster
Recounted and made supremely enjoyable by the art of The Master;

So here’s to you, my fellow members of this most noble institution
Stalwarts of culture, wit, joy and laughter – genteel forms of revolution,
Where the burdens and anxieties are shed as one mocks
Spode’s brutality or even, say, one’s “less understated” socks…;

Unlike our Dover Street heroes we do spin and, indeed, must toil
But here, like them, we find peace and sanctuary – and can uncoil,
So I state with the utmost certainty, never having to recant or atone
That one of the greatest boons of life is this: being a Drone!

 

(Eduardo Garcia is a fuddy-duddy human salad, having been born in Rio, received an anglicized education and lived in the UK, Spain, Central Asia and Portugal. To complicate matters further, he is married to an American citizen – whose stepfather was a Dutchman – of Brazilian, English, U.S. and Greek extraction and his son lives and works in Denmark. This does not explain his liking for P.G Wodehouse, but may well have to do with his behaviour being often associated to some of the Master’s less mentally stable characters.)

(Visual courtesy Wikipedia)

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