As a child, growing up in leafy if somewhat reserved Surrey in the 1960s – think Downton Abbey without the money or titles in so far as rules of behaviour were concerned – I was often challenged by cutlery, the correct usage thereof. You’d think, once you’d mastered the motor skills needed to (a) scoop with a spoon (b) cut with a knife and (c) spear with a fork by the time you’re, what? Two, three? You’d think that was it done and dusted, let’s learn something else.
Oh no, there were rules, codes of behaviour. Let’s start with the knife. The knife was held in the right hand, the fork in the left. Always. None of this cut with the knife, lay the knife down and spear with the fork, all using one hand. Far too New World for my mother. And, in holding the knife, you held it thus…
‘It’s not a pen, Geoffrey…’
The fork, of course was not for scooping; therefore you only used the back and, if you needed to hold something down, the prongs. You didn’t spear and eat, any more that you scooped and ate. Consequently, I never ate a pea that hadn’t been squished on the back of the fork until I left home at 18.
You would imagine the spoon was simple and, so long as you used a fork to ensure some reluctant piece of pudding made its way into the bowl, rather than the expedient use of a finger to corral it, you’d be right… until you encountered soup. Then for reasons that can only have been to puzzle and discombobulate the uninitiated, you no longer drew the spoon and the soup towards you; nope, you collected the soup by pushing it away from you. And if that wasn’t enough for one day, class, then don’t let me see you turning the soup spoon round and pushing it, endways into you mouth. No, soup was eaten from the side of the spoon, often necessitating a rather unpleasant slurping sound, which it seemed was preferable to pointing the spoon in the wrong direction.
As for never cutting a bread roll (you always break it even if you bestipple your neighbours in crumbs by so doing), the correct way to use a fish knife and fork (of course you must only use a fish knife and fork for fish) to fillet say a dover sole or similar, well, that’s PhD level etiquette right there.
I mention these terrors that stay with me to this day – my delightful wife holds her knife all wrong and I can recall worrying that my mother might think her somewhat outré for her louche habits when I first took her home, such was my indoctrination – because I had a distinct deja vu moment when listening to the otherwise delightful Ben Schott’s new book, Jeeves and The Leap Of Faith. This is Scott’s second take on the classic Bertie Wooster and Jeeves tales originated by the master story teller PG Woodhouse and as a lover of Woodhouse I came to his first book a little nervously. I shouldn’t have worried; he is a master in his own right and if you’ve ever enjoyed the originals I certainly recommend you try Schott’s take.
However… you could feel a ‘but’ coming, couldn’t you, like an unmedicated Aunt. In the same way that, if reading a book, little things like typos or continuity faux pas grind ones gears, when listening to an audio book the narrator’s voice must be correct for the nature of the book. In this case the voice was pitch perfect and the delivery of Jeeves’ lines delightful. Then…
Then Bertie visits Cambridge in disguise – he’s an Oxford man so a fish out of water – and he stays at Gonville and Caius college. The first time the college’s name was spoken it was by a Scottish Lord, informing Bertie of his mission (I’ll let you read or listen to find out what that’s all about). He mispronounces Caius so it is enunciated as it is written, phonetically ‘kai-us’ rather that the utterly ludicrous and pretentious way you are meant to say it as ‘keys’. I awaited the joke, Bertie pointing out the error but no. This went on, and on… In fact later in the book the author does make a joke around that mispronunciation and it is totally splattered by the narrator.
I was probably in my 20s before I realised this error. I was made to feel foolish for my ignorance, though how on earth one is meant to know, by instinct how to mispronounce so many names has yet to be explained. So many place names are similarly chewed up and spat out in order to confuse. Everyone falls foul of this and one needs to be sympathetic.
Why should the narrator know what’s right and what’s not (he also mangled Magdalene College too, but passing on) if he’s not been told? No reason at all. And yet… it took away a chunk of my enjoyment of the book, which, as I say is a fine piece of work.
I am a victim of the snobbery, inculcated in me as a youngster and however fair-minded and liberal I like to think I am, there are some things that it is bloody hard to shake off. Does that make me a snob (I fear so) or just someone who wants to try and maintain standards (as mum would have seen it).
I’m none too sure; all I can say is I hope they correct it, simply to pacify the likes of me.