Saturday, 19 September 2015

Favourite snatches (redux)

Something from George and Weedon Grossmith's timeless comic masterpiece The Diary of a Nobody, which I expect all readers of this blog will know, and know backwards. It was first published in book form in 1892, originally appearing as a series of irregular instalments in Punch magazine. 

The extract from Chapter 19 (below) describes a Sunday afternoon outing by Charles and Carrie Pooter from their home ('The Laurels', Brickfield Terrace, Holloway) to rural Muswell Hill in North London, there to have lunch with a Mr Edgar Paul Finsworth, which turns out to be an awkward affair, scrupulously written up by Mr. Pooter.


Meet Teddy Finsworth, an old schoolfellow. We have a pleasant and quiet dinner at his uncle's, marred only by a few awkward mistakes on my part respecting Mr. Finsworth's pictures. A discussion on dreams.
April 27. -- Kept a little later than usual at the office, and as I was hurrying along a man stopped me, saying: 'Hulloh! That's a face I know.' I replied politely: 'Very likely; lots of people know me, although I may not know them.' He replied: 'But you know me -- Teddy Finsworth.' So it was. He was at the same school with me. I had not seen him for years and years. No wonder I did not know him! At school he was at least a head taller than I was; now I am at least a head taller than he is, and he has a thick beard, almost grey. He insisted on my having a glass of wine (a thing I never do), and told me he lived at Middlesboro', where he was Deputy Town Clerk, a position which was as high as the Town Clerk of London -- in fact, higher. He added that he was staying for a few days in London, with his uncle, Mr. Edgar Paul Finsworth (of Finsworth and Pultwell). He said he was sure his uncle would be only too pleased to see me, and he had a nice house, Watney Lodge, only a few minutes' walk from Muswell Hill Station. I gave him our address, and we parted.

In the evening, to my surprise, he called with a very nice letter from Mr. Finsworth, saying if we (including Carrie) would dine with them to-morrow (Sunday), at two o'clock, he would be delighted. Carrie did not like to go; but Teddy Finsworth pressed us so much we consented. Carrie sent Sarah round to the butcher's and countermanded our half-leg of mutton, which we had ordered for tomorrow.

April 28, Sunday. -- We found Watney Lodge farther off than we anticipated, and only arrived as the clock struck two, both feeling hot and uncomfortable. To make matters worse, a large collie dog pounced forward to receive us. He barked loudly and jumped up at Carrie, covering her light skirt, which she was wearing for the first time, with mud. Teddy Finsworth came out and drove the dog off and apologised. We were shown into the drawing-room, which was beautifully decorated. It was full of knick-knacks, and some plates hung up on the wall. There were several little wooden milk-stools with paintings on them; also a white wooden banjo, painted by one of Mr. Paul Finsworth's nieces -- a cousin of Teddy's.

Mr. Paul Finsworth seemed quite a distinguished-looking elderly gentleman, and was most gallant to Carrie. There were a great many water-colours hanging on the walls, mostly different views of India, which were very bright. Mr. Finsworth said they were painted by 'Simpz,' and added that he was no judge of pictures himself but had been informed on good authority that they were worth some hundreds of pounds, although he had only paid a few shillings apiece for them, frames included, at a sale in the neighbourhood.

There was also a large picture in a very handsome frame, done in coloured crayons. It looked like a religious subject. I was very much struck with the lace collar, it looked so real, but I unfortunately made the remark that there was something about the expression of the face that was not quite pleasing. It looked pinched. Mr. Finsworth sorrowfully replied: 'Yes, the face was done after death -- my wife's sister.'

I felt terribly awkward and bowed apologetically, and in a whisper said I hoped I had not hurt his feelings. We both stood looking at the picture for a few minutes in silence, when Mr. Finsworth took out a handkerchief and said: 'She was sitting in our garden last summer,' and blew his nose violently. He seemed quite affected, so I turned to look at something else and stood in front of a portrait of a jolly-looking middle-aged gentleman, with a red face and straw hat. I said to Mr. Finsworth: 'Who is this jovial-looking gentleman? Life doesn't seem to trouble him much.' Mr. Finsworth said: 'No, it doesn't. He is dead too -- my brother.'

I was absolutely horrified at my own awkwardness. Fortunately at this moment Carrie entered with Mrs. Finsworth, who had taken her upstairs to take off her bonnet and brush her skirt. Teddy said: 'Short is late,' but at that moment the gentleman referred to arrived, and I was introduced to him by Teddy, who said: 'Do you know Mr. Short?' I replied, smiling, that I had not that pleasure, but I hoped it would not be long before I knew Mr. Short. He evidently did not see my little joke, although I repeated it twice with a little laugh. I suddenly remembered it was Sunday, and Mr. Short was perhaps very particular.

In this I was mistaken, for he was not at all particular in several of his remarks after dinner. In fact I was so ashamed of one of his observations that I took the opportunity to say to Mrs. Finsworth that I feared she found Mr. Short occasionally a little embarrassing. To my surprise she said: 'Oh! he is privileged you know.' I did not know as a matter of fact, and so I bowed apologetically. I fail to see why Mr. Short should be privileged.

Another thing that annoyed me at dinner was that the collie dog, which jumped up at Carrie, was allowed to remain under the dining- room table. It kept growling and snapping at my boots every time I moved my foot. Feeling nervous rather, I spoke to Mrs. Finsworth about the animal, and she remarked: 'It is only his play.' She jumped up and let in a frightfully ugly-looking spaniel called Bibbs, which had been scratching at the door. This dog also seemed to take a fancy to my boots, and I discovered afterwards that it had licked off every bit of blacking from them. I was positively ashamed of being seen in them. Mrs. Finsworth, who, I must say, is not much of a Job's comforter, said: 'Oh! we are used to Bibbs doing that to our visitors.'

Mr. Finsworth had up some fine port, although I question whether it is a good thing to take on the top of beer. It made me feel a little sleepy, while it had the effect of inducing Mr. Short to become 'privileged' to rather an alarming extent. It being cold even for April, there was a fire in the drawing-room; we sat round in easy-chairs, and Teddy and I waxed rather eloquent over the old school days, which had the effect of sending all the others to sleep. I was delighted, as far as Mr. Short was concerned, that it did have that effect on him.

We stayed till four, and the walk home was remarkable only for the fact that several fools giggled at the unpolished state of my boots. Polished them myself when I got home. Went to church in the evening, and could scarcely keep awake. I will not take port on the top of beer again.


'A few minutes' walk from Muswell Hill station' is right on my doorstep. In those days, to adopt a cliche, 'all this was fields' from the outskirts of Holloway to the flanks of Muswell Hill (upon which the original Alexandra Palace was built in 1873, and which 'went on fire' (as they say in Glasgow) a short time after it opened.

No comments:

Post a Comment