A Mediterranean Morning of Misunderstanding (short story in the style of P.G.Wodehouse)

This was another of my entries to the Daily Telegraph Short Story Competition that made it to the Top Six, but didn’t win – I never did. It seems to have been removed maybe on suspicions that P.G. Wodehouse‘s estate might have something to say about me borrowing his characters and putting them to work again 80 years later. But I expect that it will be safe in a readership as small as this blog now is to share it with you, and I’ve been saving it up a bit. As ever there was a limit to the number of words and certain words like Diplodocus and Ginger Beer Plant had to be used in it – there were about five of these words that had to feature somewhere, I can’t remember them all now and My.Telegraph has been through too much of a transformation for me to be able to access that one now. Here goes, enjoy…

I awoke from dreams of performing “Burlington Bertie from Bow” to a packed music hall populated entirely by an audience of Bow Street magistrates of the Sir Watkyn Bassett ilk and kidney – you know, the sort that would fain and gladly hand yours truly down a short sharp sentence of fourteen days inside of one of Her Majesty’s decreed stately pleasure domes, as the fellow said, without the option, to the voice of what at first seemed to be a distant harpy eagle shrieking after its hapless prey, “Bertie! Bertie! Wake up, you cowperian sluggard! It’s already half past ten, you lazy, glassy-eyed nephew of mine, come and get your breakfast before it all goes cold!”

“What-ho, aged relative! Down in a tick! Just need to work out what to place on the person, and all that,” Which was quite a job, in fact, since I had allowed my manservant Jeeves to take a fortnight’s furlough, as I believe the correct term is, and not accompany me to my usual paschal expedition to my beloved Aunt Dahlia Travers’ retirement residence a little round the bay from Limassol, overlooking the ruins of the ancient port of Amathus, now submerged by a turquoise swathe of the Mediterranean Sea.

“Forget all that, young ruffian. Just come down in your pyjamas!” she bellowed in tones that would have been welcomed as a seminal contribution by any team of engineers tasked with the reinvention of the foghorn. I decided to do just what my dear aunt suggested.

There is something about the roasts and boiled of their local chef, Anatolios, which brings out the healthy flow of salivation and sends the tiny feet running toward the trough. Uncle Tom and Aunt Dahlia were busy doing justice to the traditional if slightly cliched full English as I finally ambled out onto the verandah to join them.

“Good morning, young blister!” boomed Uncle Tom, as he administered the old cream to his coffee from that cow-shaped piece of silverware we all hold so dear in our memories. “You look like you could do with one of your fellow Jeeves’ patent pick-me-ups! Out on the town last night, were we?”

“Not really, Uncle Tom”, I replied. “I just decided to walk back after the event along the beach. I asked some bods at the local branch of the International Drones Club whether there was a path by the sea all the way from the centre to Amathus, and they said yes there was, but I suppose there must have been some misunderstanding, as the path stops after a few miles and one must needs retrace one’s steps, or face a wade in the pitch darkness. So in the end it took me three hours to walk back here. Anyway, I got you the £502 you asked me for in your note, Aunt Dahlia.”

“What £502? What do I need with £502, young scallywag? We’ve been on the Euro here since January, and a big disgrace that is too – doubled the price of everything despite the laws and the fair trading promises and all that nonsense! What are you rabbiting on about? It’s been eighty years now, and you’ve still got no idea, have you?”

I retrieved the note asking me to “get headache tablets, some shampoo, some batteries for your Uncle’s cordless drill and some GBP while in the town, you young loafer”, and showed it to her, adding “GBP is pounds. I didn’t know that myself but I texted Jeeve’s mobile, and here’s his reply”

With which I showed them the screen of my latest multimedia mobile telephone “It is an abbreviation of which the provenance is ISO 4217, sir, which is an extension of ISO 3166, the two letter abbreviations of countries, sir, plus one final letter which refers to the name of the main unit of currency under discussion, sir. In this case the GB refers to Great Britain, and P refers to the pound sterling”.

“That’s what I like about him”, said Aunt Dahlia, “not only does he have an encyclopedic knowledge in that brain of his, as if he were connected by some biological antenna inside that formidable head to the information superhighway, but also he is probably the only person I know who doesn’t use these modern abbreviations in his texts – even when talking about abbreviations. Anyway, be it as it may that GBP is pounds or whatever in that ISO thing, it also refers to Ginger Beer Plant. I needed five ounces of Ginger Beer Plant to make more lashings and lashings of what you’ve been drinking lashings and lashings of, these long Mediterranean afternoons.”

I said “I should think you’ll be able to find it growing wild here. My guidebook says that this island contains plants from three continents growing wild, that it has one of the most varied botanies of any place on earth…”

“No, you young ass!” boomed the ancient huntress, “You’ve misunderstood me completely! Ginger beer plant is not actually a plant, at all. It’s … actually, I don’t know what it is, even though I use it quite a bit. Get Jeeves on that contraption of yours, I’ll bet he knows. Put him on the speaker!”

A few moments later and the voice of the faithful valet came as clear as crystal over the latest technology, “Ah yes, sir. GBP as Ginger Beer Plant is actually is a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, sir, which must contain the yeast Saccharomyces florentinus (formerly of the species name “pyriformis”, but that went pear-shaped – sorry, a little semantic pleasantry, sir) and the bacterium Lactobacillus hilgardii (which used to be called Brevibacterium vermiforme), sir.”

“That makes, me sick, that does,” interjected my aged Uncle, with some vigour.

“Well, Mr Travers, sir, it is generally described in fact as being quite benign…”

“No, Jeeves, I mean the way they cannot ever settle on one Latin name for a bally animal or plant or symbiotic culture or whatever the case at hand may be without changing it around every five minutes, just to try and make a name for themselves. Bally scientists! What good does it do? It only costs taxpayers’ money. Not that I pay any, now that we live here, but that’s beside the point! It reminds me of that whole Diplodocus/Brachiosaurus fiasco that lost me a fiver in a pub quiz in Nicosia that time…”

“Mr Travers, sir, maybe you are thinking of the change of the Brontosaurus to the Apatosaurus? Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus are still largely considered as valid, and separate, taxa, sir. One friend of mine at the Junior Ganymede club is the valet of a gentleman who recently wrote an influential paper on Diplodocus carnegiei, sir. It contained the witticism that the name “carnegiei” was perhaps given in deference to the long neck of the beast, which gave it a marked advantage in “winning fronds and influencing people”, but it was sadly rejected by the Academy. The species was, of course, named in 1901 for Andrew…”

“Goodness gracious, Jeeves, is there anything you don’t know?” asked Aunt Dahlia in amazement. “I could not say, Madam.”

After we had finished consulting with this human oracle, and permitted him to return in peace to the next furlong of his furlough, my Aunt turned to me and said “And what about the batteries for the cordless drill, and the shampoo and the headache pills, young nincompoop?”

“Not a problem, oh senior relation. There they are in the plastic bag on the table. I simply set what I wanted to the chap in the shop, in my best Greek accent, and he went and got it all and packed it for me.”

My long-suffering aunt removed the now molten pack of butter, the champagne and the penknife that I had inadvertently bought instead of the required items and looked at me in a despairing sort of way.

“Bertie, you young buffoon, it would appear that there have been quite a few misunderstandings going on involving your chaotic person of late!”

I had no option but to concur, and to look forward to a prompt reunion with my faithful manservant at the end of this sojourn, which looked set fair to be the only way of preventing me getting into a proper pickle-jar of chaos and entropy, from which no mortal man could extricate me evermore. These things do tend to happen whenever I let the old bod tootle off on his own, but, in these days of European Unionism and the resultant social chapters and verses, what can the more or less law-abiding employer do? I may “know all about Eulalie”, as I once, you may remember, informed that reprobate Roderick Spode, but I could not know or understand less about the complexities of EU law, or why we ever needed such balderdash in the first place. After all, Cyprus was ours anyway, wasn’t it?

2 thoughts on “A Mediterranean Morning of Misunderstanding (short story in the style of P.G.Wodehouse)

  1. Another very creative offering. Enjoyable , as always. Thanks. The Daily T judging panel must be pretty tough “hard boiled eggs” as Bertie might say.
    I read somewhere (but can’t remember where) that the word “Featherstone” of Wodehouse’s character Stanley Featherstone Ukridge , fame, should be pronounced “Fanshaw”. Often wondered how this was arrived at. With your linguistic background and wide reading, I feel sure you can throw something into the pot on this one, if anybody can.

    1. The fact is that certain pseudo-aristocratic English names are pronounced differently than they are written, and “Plum” was probably having a chuckle at some of them. For example “Beaulieu” is pronounced “Bewley” and “Featherstonehaugh” is pronounced “Fanshaw” which is a perfectly normal surname in its own right, sometimes with an -e on the end. It’s a bit of an affectation, and as with most affectations it comes into the spotlight for a ribbing at times in humourous literature.

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