I'm reconciling myself to the realization that the garden here at Sysiphus Acres will never be completely whipped into shape, but poco a poco bits and pieces of it succumb to my civilizing rod. Pulling weeds from dawn to dusk gives a fella lots of time to think, and quite a bit of today's inner debate took as its theme Resolved: The wrong man in the wrong time.
Later, soaking the humus off in the tub as dinner sent mouthwatering cumin-redolent wisps of joy through the house, I came across a passage in Wodehouse: A Life that sent me into a bit of a reverie. It's 1906, Plum is 23, and has just had his first unqualifiedly successful year as a coming talent in literary London: His first novel, Life Among the Chickens, (the first Ukridge) has been published to good reception, he's contributed lyrics to a hit musical, he has a regular column in The Globe and Strand, his freelance writing has earned him 500 pounds over the last year (a very heady sum for the time), and he's left behind forever the miserable banker's life he'd appeared to be fated for.
Every summer weekend during this opulent decade [1900 - 1910], young men from the City or the imperial civil service, or the newspaper and magazine world of Fleet Street and the Strand, would take the train to some nearby provincial town, Tunbridge Wells, perhaps, or Stevenage. There, they would throw their heavy cricket bags into the horse-drawn carriage awaiting them at the station, then rattle through leafy summer lanes to the ground, change into white flannels, play from midday to sundown.... [Wodehouse's] team, the Actors vs. Authors, included Arthur Conan Doyle.... He also played for the Punch XI, which included the young A. A. Milne, and J. M. Barrie's XI, the Allahakbarries...."Yo, Mephistopheles! You there, buddy? OK, here's the deal, Sparky. I need me a time machine -- yes, I said a time machine -- and I'm willing to put up some serious scratch to get one. Serious scratch. Immortal Soul? No problem, Nick, no problem at all... Where do I sign?
"Plum! It's Arthur! Arthur Conan Doyle!"
"Hallo, Arthur! How positively ripping to hear from you! I read your last 'Brigadier Gerard' in The Strand, absolutely top hole!"
"Why, thank you very much, old cock! Your Life Among the Chickens is very promising stuff, I think that Ukridge fellow could take you places!"
"Thanks, old thing! Just trying to capture the gaslight-and-spats zeitgeist before the whole thing comes to a melancholy end on the reeking battlefield of Passchendaele, you know the thing!"
"Yes, yes, awful, that. Dulce et decorum est, what-what?"
"Yes, exactly, old bean. So -- to what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Well it's about tomorrow's cricket match against the Punch XI at Stevenage: Rudyard Kipling's cried off, the swine, and we're a man short. Do you know anyone who might be able to fill in -- a long off or a short slip would be ideal -- at a moment's notice?
"Why, funny that you mention it, Arthur! Just last night down at the Twig and Berries I ran into an awfully nice chappie, a Yank named Jingo, Neddie Jingo, who positively bubbled over with the feudal spirit. Claims to have written a vast book about one day in the life of a Dublin advert canvasser, and is shopping it round to publishers here. He showed me the manuscript -- it looks a bit ahead of its time, actually. At any rate, he was absolutely gagging to play -- he claims to have played some baseball at school, and says the skills are transferable..."
"Well, a warm body, what?"
"Indeed, Arthur. A warm, as you say, body."
"Excellent. Well, toodle pip, then, Plum."
"Tinkerty-tonk, Arthur. See you tomorrow."
"Indeed, Plum. Unless some anarchist chap decides to hand the mitten to some crowned head of Europe. We'd be in the soup then, and no mistake!"
"Consommé absolutely splashing around the ankles, Arthur! Right -- off I go!"