A story of the haps and mishaps on an English Chicken farm
Classic Wodehouse, full of period dialogue, impossible plot contrivances, two-dimensional characters and everything else one might love about old Plum, if one loves old Plum at all. Infectious, too. But here's the thing: all the while I was reading it, I couldn't shake one thought from my mind.
Stanley Featherstonehough Ukridge is without a doubt the original on which Boris Johnson modelled himself.
First, though, I should explain that I, in search of something light for the Kindle and a long train journey, I remembered a friend saying that they had just downloaded the entire works of PG Wodehouse. Perfect. Off to Project Gutenberg, which didn't seem to have the whole thing (just as well). I lit upon Love Among the Chickens1 only because I have a certain love of chickens myself, without knowing that it was the first of his novels to be published in the United States. What on earth did they make of it?
Anyway, the story was diverting enough, a succession of wittily drawn scenes that ends, as of course it should, with a wedding and an after-wedding postscript. I was a teeny bit disappointed that Wodehouse abandoned the fate of the chicken farm without a backward glance. But it was Ukridge that held me fast.
Loud, bombastic, dishevelled and full of bonhomie. He comes up with an endless stream of impossible schemes entirely unrooted in reality with, furthermore, an unshakeable belief that his own lack of expertise is much more likely to result in success than anything involving actual knowledge.
Of course he is the prototype for Johnson.
Take the matter of the incubator, which stuck with me because for a good five years one of my main concerns in life was to keep an eye on an incubator. The narrator explains to his love interest how things are going in that department.
"Ukridge looks after it, and I fancy his methods are not the right methods. I don't know if I have got the figures absolutely correct, but Ukridge reasons on these lines. He says you are supposed to keep the temperature up to a hundred and five degrees. I think he said a hundred and five. Then the eggs are supposed to hatch out in a week or so. He argues that you may just as well keep the temperature at seventy-two, and wait a fortnight for your chickens. I am certain there's a fallacy in the system somewhere, because we never seem to get as far as the chickens. But Ukridge says his theory is mathematically sound and he sticks to it."
There's plenty more in the same vein, which it would be tedious to repeat. It was bad enough that my helpless splutterings disturbed The Main Squeeze to the extent that they did. At one point I was very tempted to reread the whole thing, picking out every salient chunk that proves my thesis. In the end, though, neither of them are worth it.
What might well be worth it, on the other hand, is Robert McCrum's Woodhouse: A Life.
The version I read was the first US edition. Woodhouse revised the book in 1921, giving it a slightly different ending. Wodehouse did so, he said, because "... There was some pretty bad work in it...." ↩