Thursday, 20 November 2008

Rowing in Literature (3)

The finest bedtime reading that literature affords is P.G. Wodehouse, and the other night I came across this description of a rowing expedition in Tried in the Furnace, one of his tales from the Drones Club.
The story so far: Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps has been tricked into taking the Village Mothers of Maiden Eggesford, Somersetshire, on their Annual Outing. Sixteen females of advanced years assembled in a motor coach, demure and docile, but once out of sight of the Vicarage they went wild, hijacking the coach from its intended destination of the Abbey and Museum at the neighbouring village of Bottsford Mortimer and directing it and him to the fleshpots of Bridmouth-on-Sea. After trashing the amusement park, they headed for the beach:
Suddenly the sixteen mothers gave a simultaneous whoop and made for a sailing-boat which was waiting to be hired, sweeping him along with them. And the next moment they were off across the bay, bowling along before a nippy breeze which, naturally, cheezed it abruptly as soon as it had landed them far enough from shore to make things interesting for the unfortunate blighter who had to take to the oars.
This, of course, was poor old Barmy. There was a man in charge of the boat, but he, a rough, untutored salt, had enough sense not to let himself in for a job like rowing this Noah's Ark home. Barmy did put it up to him tentatively, but the fellow said that he had to attend to the steering, and when Barmy said that he, Barmy, knew how to steer, the fellow said that he, the fellow, could not entrust a valuable boat to an amateur. After which, he lit his pipe and lolled back in the stern sheets with rather the air of a Roman banqueter making himself cosy among the cushions. And Barmy, attaching himself to a couple of oars of about the size of those served out to galley-slaves in the old trireme days, started to put his back into it.
For a chap who hadn't rowed anything except a light canoe since he was up at Oxford, he considers he did dashed well, especially when you take into account the fact that he was much hampered by the Mothers. They would insist on singing that thing about 'Give yourself a pat on the back,' and, apart from the fact that Barmy considered something on the lines of the Volga Boat Sone would have been far more fitting, it was a tune that was pretty hard to keep time to. Seven times he caught crabs, and seven times those sixteen Mothers stopped singing and guffawed like one Mother. All in all, a most painful experience. Add the fact that the first thing the females did on hitting the old Homeland again was to get up an informal dance on the sands and that the ride home in the quiet evenfall was more or less a repetition of the journey out, and you wil agree with me that Barmy, as he eventually tottered into the saloon bar of the Goose and Grasshopper, had earned the frothing tankard which he now proceeded to order.
The picture is by the late Beryl Cook (of course).

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