Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Damned Silly!

“One is tempted to say,” said the white wine and soda, “it was a positive wolf in the grass slothing lambs wool mittens!”

The tea with milk, no sugar, agreed.

With a clear and unambiguous title, Blandings Castle emblazoned on the dust cover, one is not expecting trips to Hollywood, even with the inestimable Mr. Mulliner and his ubiquitous family.

Sneakily slipped inside is the full title, ‘Blandings Castle and Elsewhere’. Damned cheek I’d call it – especially as I’d settled in to my summer holiday read and, like England, was expecting …

In two clear parts with and entr'acte of mixed pedigree, this collection of short stories takes you through an early phase of Lord Emsworth’s passions (strictly horticultural at first but moving swinewards), deals with the suicidal American publisher and comes to rest in the US of A’s bitter world of celluloid sweat-shop.

Emsworth here seems to be a bit stronger - to be able to offer resistance to that most formidable of avenging hosts, his sister and even takes to refusing his Glaswegian sourpuss Head Gardener – but only with the helping hand of a London waif.

These are tales which wag with all the drunken puppy-dog vigour you would expect from Blandings and don’t disappoint. The young characters are chumps, the older characters either fighting against the encroaching idiocies of youth, or rich enough to indulge them. Sailing through it all is Emsworth, concerned only with the important things of life – watching his marrow grow or fattening his pig to Shropshire Show prize winning proportions. His son is more concerned with selling dog biscuits.

This ends all too quickly – at page 160 of a 300 page book.

Mr Potter, publisher, gets dragged down to a very Blandings-inferior country residence for the between acts entertainment marking a sort of obvious transition – an American in England before we hit the English in America. What he is doing sneaking out of a punt and into the moat I’ll leave it to you to find out – but star (or rather Lady Wickham’s celebrated willpower) crossed love is involved, and furniture piled against the door.

Mr Mulliner then, as is his want, engages in a bit of storytelling in the local pub to assembled drinks. All are of related Mulliners, their blighted loves and interactions in the jungle we know as the film industry.

Mr. Wodehouse seems to have a wormwood like inflection towards the Californian dream factory and one wonders if personal experience hasn’t coloured his attitude.

Monstrous moguls, scheming starlets and writing prisons all feature in this most deceptive of environments – and the bland drift of English youth towards it is reminiscent of Pacific flotsam.

Amusing but cautionary, the moral high ground is scaled, whilst in the cellar the police are locked out of the illicit liquor store.

Good tales – but not what I wanted on the hot summer riverbank as I lazily watch the local hookers attempting to land the indolent carp.

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