‘A Coffee Palace? No Gin?! It’s positively rummy! What ho! Jeeves. Did you hear that?’
‘Yes Sir. Very amusing.’
‘I’d be dashed if we’re related at all. Aunt Alvina runs her own business. That sounds positively unlike the Wooster female. On the contrary, Wooster females are known for not being able to mind their own business at all! And Uncle John? Where does he come in? In fact, when does he come in? All I’ve seen of the man to this point is the portrait enclosed in the invitation we received at the London flat, two months back. Even then, I bally-well had my doubts. A Wooster male with an untrained moustache? Highly unlikely. Yet his had the appearance of a high-spirited, wiry-haired dog running amuck. (Frightening to small children, I should think). A moustache absolutely needs to learn to ‘Stay Put’, not simply take off in all directions.’
‘These misgivings and yet you accepted the invitation, Sir?’
‘Well yes Jeeves, clearly, I jolly well did! I was drawn to the idea of a Spring Racing and Polo Carnival in Melbourne. Surely, you’d agree that was a spiffing affair. And you must admit, ‘Wooster’s Oriental House’ did sound like an exotic Night Club. Naturally, I assumed the horseplay would extend here to Sorrento. I felt sure the jinks would be high. Yet here we are, ‘Family Accommodation’; ‘No Alcoholic Beverages served before Dinner’. Low jinks, methinks Jeeves…if there are indeed to be jinks on any level at all.’
‘For your interest Sir, I contrived to elicit some information aboard the steamer from Melbourne this afternoon. An eccentric gentleman, himself hailing from London, fancied he was familiar with the Wooster peerage. He freely proffered intelligence upon discovering my association to yourself. Insisted I call him ‘Plum’, apparently a contraction of the name ‘Pelham’. As I mentioned, Sir, quite ‘eccentric’. I can, however, assure you, your Aunt Alvina is highly respected as a hotel proprietress, this being the second establishment over which she has presided. Regarding your Uncle John, the gentleman termed him – in his own words – “a real ‘man’s man'”.’
‘You two should have much in common then, Jeeves. Whose man is he?’
‘I’m afraid you misunderstand, Sir. I am a gentleman’s gentleman. Your Uncle John is his own man, yet his pursuits are such that he is considered a model of masculinity to his peers.’
‘So, his ‘pursuits’ don’t include studying Spinoza and completing crosswords in The Times?’
‘I rather think not, Sir. He has, until recently, served as a ranger here in Sorrento. Some years hence he appeared in local News, seizing untethered horses wandering the roads, successfully placing charges against the owner of said equine beasts.
…Forgive the digression Sir, but are you intending on wearing the Sea Captain’s Hat for the duration of the day? I did notice it’s appearance on our journey aboard the steamer and wondered if by now it might have served its purpose?’
‘You admire it, Jeeves? I do cut a dashing figure in it, I daresay.’
‘I noticed it, Sir.’
‘I considered it a playful addition to the day’s attire. In the spirit of our seaside jaunt. A nautical theme, if you will, Jeeves.’
‘Playful indeed. Pray, Sir, take a moment to peruse the questionably palatial surrounds of our Coffee Palace. It does appear several of the smaller personage have likewise embraced your inclination for nautically themed headwear.’
‘Dash it all, Jeeves! Children spoil all Fun! It’s on their account there’s no gin before dinner. One should at least have the option to get sozzled before tea. Confound every one of the little blighters and their blasted little hats!’
‘The short silk robe de chambre, Sir? Autumnal hues, in the chinoiserie style?’
‘My dark orange Chinese brocade smoking jacket. Yes. Lay it out, my good man. Why jolly well not?’
‘You’re absolutely sure, Sir? A bold choice.’
‘Positive Jeeves. Holidaying abroad is absolutely the time for bold dress. Vacation Bertie approves the orange smoking jacket.’
‘I’m not sure I’m at all at ease with this ‘Vacation Bertie’ fellow, Sir?’
‘Well, get used to him Jeeves. He’s gay and he’s bold!’
‘Indeed, Sir. At odds with the London Bertie I’ve come to know then?’
London Bertie is an utter stodge next to Vacation Bertie, Jeeves!’
‘What in God’s name is all this Tommy-rot? Are you being funny?’
‘I can be amusing old chap, but when I am, you won’t need to ask.
…Can you construe his meaning Jeeves?’
‘I believe, Sir, the gentleman thinks you have contrived your appearance with intent to draw an audience to the establishment. As our friends across the Atlantic have recently termed it, he believes you to be a ‘gimmick’.’
‘What ho! Jeeves. I’d been close to deciding Sorrento nightlife a splendid lark after all, when this ‘Tommy-rot’ chap appears and threatens to spoil the whole show.’
‘I believe that is precisely the point, Sir. You have now introduced yourself to a significant portion of the patronage here as ‘Mr Wooster’. The establishment is known as ‘Wooster’s Oriental House’. You are attired, against my better judgment, in a highly decorative jacket of Chinese brocade. Crowds are beginning to form outside in anticipation. A ‘Show’ is indeed what is expected.’
‘Oh Bertie! In Heaven’s name. What are you wearing?’
‘Ah…Aunt Alvina. I’ll be with you directly. I was just having polite words with this man.’
‘I see my husband found you. I do hope John’s not been giving you too much grief.’
‘Uncle John?!…I guess he shaved off the moustache then?
…Dickens, Jeeves. I’m sunk!’
The story blends two of my great joys – P.G Wodehouse and local history.
Wooster’s Oriental House did actually exist in Sorrento! Alvina and John Wooster owned the guesthouse from around 1917 to 1945, Alvina being the hotel’s proprietress. And it seems John may have indeed been a ranger. The opportunity for Bertie Wooster to visit his ‘Aunt and Uncle’ in Sorrento was too good to ignore.