Saturday, 19 October 2013

When Melbourne Was Marvellous

I took my mother to a funeral in Victoria this week. The person who'd died had made a scrapbook of cuttings from the social pages of Melbourne newspapers - yes, they actually had such things, slavish with adoration of Clyde girls and people from the Western District - from the days when she and my mother were young.

Flicking through the book, my mother said it was like walking among ghosts. To me, it was like being allowed inside the walls of Blandings Castle. If the dates didn't give the lie to the theory, I'd argue, based on the evidence of what I saw in that scrapbook, that Wodehouse never wrote fiction at all. Rather than using his imagination, my theory would go that he based everything he wrote on his experiences during a hitherto unrecorded trip to pre-war Melbourne.

There he discovered the prototypes for his ranks of formidable aunts:

as well as templates for the legions of terrifying eligible girls, waiting to ensnare young Bertie Wooster and those of his ilk:

While sheep were the farm animal of choice in Victoria, it wouldn't have been a great leap for Wodehouse to convert that Victorian obsession into the reverence shown for pigs by some of the inhabitants at Blandings:

As for Woosterish types, Melbourne was simply teeming with them, my dear fellow:

Mind you, I also found evidence for the existence of a real Barry McKenzie (who else could that possibly be on the left?)
My thoughts on the topic of Wodehousian and Humphriesesque inspiration were interrupted at this point by an exclamation from my mother.

'Oh look, there's Tighty Fogarty - he was such a good dancer,' she cried.

'Why was he called Tighty?' I asked, peering at the picture she was pointing at.

'Oh darling, you know, he was rather fond of a drink', she said. 'But you've no idea how marvellous it was when you found a good dancer.'

She stared at Tighty for another long moment.

'Mind you', she added, 'the night he got so tight he ate the flowers from the vase on the table, I did wonder whether he wasn't perhaps taking things a little too far.'

(History doesn't relate whether Tighty's friend Streak was unusually fond of bacon or of taking her clothes off in public, let alone what the hell is going on in this photograph:)


  1. I don't think my Nanna ever got over the moment when men were allowed to stop wearing hats. Life for her was full of these little cruelties.