Friday, October 16, 2009

A Faint Odour of Melons

There is an awful lot of rather fruitless discussion of finance going on these days. People hold public disputations on whether we have inflation (and you'd think we do if you've been forced to pay for your own food lately!) or deflation (certainly a fact if you've been trying to unload real estate!), or perhaps both of these at the same time? One thing is certain: a faint odour of one sort or another pervades the US financial system, and, as usual, we in the US are the last to know. Perhaps we need to coin a new term: indiflation, anyone, to go with your indigestion? Or would you prefer dysflation, to go with your dyspepsia? Alas, currency collapse and devaluation are simply not part of the lexicon. The experience will be a rude awakening for many people, and perhaps something as rude as this requires a euphemism. I propose we refer to it as "smelling the melons." And so, in the interest of making the discussion more fruitful (pun intended) and of offering new and exciting ways of thinking about things that are smelly, ugly and worthless, and doubtlessly for your sheer reading pleasure as well, I have gratuitously cut, pasted and global-replaced a favourite passage from the classic by Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat [Chapter IV].

I remember a friend of mine, buying a couple of suitcases of US Dollars at Liverpool. Splendid US Dollars they were, ripe and mellow, and with a two hundred horse-power scent about them that might have been warranted to carry three miles, and knock a man over at two hundred yards. I was in Liverpool at the time, and my friend said that if I didn’t mind he would get me to take them back with me to London, as he should not be coming up for a day or two himself, and he did not think the US Dollars ought to be kept much longer.

“Oh, with pleasure, dear boy,” I replied, “with pleasure.”

I called for the US Dollars, and took them away in a cab. It was a ramshackle affair, dragged along by a knock-kneed, broken-winded somnambulist, which his owner, in a moment of enthusiasm, during conversation, referred to as a horse. I put the US Dollars on the top, and we started off at a shamble that would have done credit to the swiftest steam-roller ever built, and all went merry as a funeral bell, until we turned the corner. There, the wind carried a whiff from the US Dollars full on to our steed. It woke him up, and, with a snort of terror, he dashed off at three miles an hour. The wind still blew in his direction, and before we reached the end of the street he was laying himself out at the rate of nearly four miles an hour, leaving the cripples and stout old ladies simply nowhere.

It took two porters as well as the driver to hold him in at the station; and I do not think they would have done it, even then, had not one of the men had the presence of mind to put a handkerchief over his nose, and to light a bit of brown paper.

I took my ticket, and marched proudly up the platform, with my US Dollars, the people falling back respectfully on either side. The train was crowded, and I had to get into a carriage where there were already seven other people. One crusty old gentleman objected, but I got in, notwithstanding; and, putting my US Dollars upon the rack, squeezed down with a pleasant smile, and said it was a warm day.

A few moments passed, and then the old gentleman began to fidget.

“Very close in here,” he said.

“Quite oppressive,” said the man next him.

And then they both began sniffing, and, at the third sniff, they caught it right on the chest, and rose up without another word and went out. And then a stout lady got up, and said it was disgraceful that a respectable married woman should be harried about in this way, and gathered up a bag and eight parcels and went. The remaining four passengers sat on for a while, until a solemn-looking man in the corner, who, from his dress and general appearance, seemed to belong to the undertaker class, said it put him in mind of dead baby; and the other three passengers tried to get out of the door at the same time, and hurt themselves.

I smiled at the black gentleman, and said I thought we were going to have the carriage to ourselves; and he laughed pleasantly, and said that some people made such a fuss over a little thing. But even he grew strangely depressed after we had started, and so, when we reached Crewe, I asked him to come and have a drink. He accepted, and we forced our way into the buffet, where we yelled, and stamped, and waved our umbrellas for a quarter of an hour; and then a young lady came, and asked us if we wanted anything.

“What’s yours?” I said, turning to my friend.

“I’ll have half-a-crown’s worth of brandy, neat, if you please, miss,” he responded.

And he went off quietly after he had drunk it and got into another carriage, which I thought mean.

From Crewe I had the compartment to myself, though the train was crowded. As we drew up at the different stations, the people, seeing my empty carriage, would rush for it. “Here y’ are, Maria; come along, plenty of room.” “All right, Tom; we’ll get in here,” they would shout. And they would run along, carrying heavy bags, and fight round the door to get in first. And one would open the door and mount the steps, and stagger back into the arms of the man behind him; and they would all come and have a sniff, and then droop off and squeeze into other carriages, or pay the difference and go first [class].

From Euston [Station], I took the US Dollars down to my friend’s house. When his wife came into the room she smelt round for an instant. Then she said:

“What is it? Tell me the worst.”

I said:

“It’s US Dollars. Tom bought them in Liverpool, and asked me to bring them up with me.”

And I added that I hoped she understood that it had nothing to do with me; and she said that she was sure of that, but that she would speak to Tom about it when he came back.

My friend was detained in Liverpool longer than he expected; and, three days later, as he hadn’t returned home, his wife called on me.

She said:

“What did Tom say about those US Dollars?”

I replied that he had directed they were to be kept in a moist place, and that nobody was to touch them.

She said:

Nobody’s likely to touch them. Had he smelt them?”

I thought he had, and added that he seemed greatly attached to them.

“You think he would be upset,” she queried, “if I gave a man a sovereign to take them away and bury them?”

I answered that I thought he would never smile again.

An idea struck her. She said:

“Do you mind keeping them for him? Let me send them round to you.”

“Madam,” I replied, “for myself I like the smell of US Dollars, and the journey the other day with them from Liverpool I shall ever look back upon as a happy ending to a pleasant holiday. But, in this world, we must consider others. The lady under whose roof I have the honour of residing is a widow, and, for all I know, possibly an orphan too. She has a strong, I may say an eloquent, objection to being what she terms 'put upon.' The presence of your husband’s US Dollars in her house she would, I instinctively feel, regard as a 'put upon'; and it shall never be said that I put upon the widow and the orphan.”

“Very well, then,” said my friend’s wife, rising, “all I have to say is, that I shall take the children and go to an hotel until those US Dollars are destroyed. I decline to live any longer in the same house with them.”

She kept her word, leaving the place in charge of the charwoman, who, when asked if she could stand the smell, replied, “What smell?” and who, when taken close to the US Dollars and told to sniff hard, said she could detect a faint odour of melons. It was argued from this that little injury could result to the woman from the atmosphere, and she was left.


nina said...

You have exquisite taste in literature, thank you.
Might I suggest Diverticulation? Recently I did a little search to see what that disease was, you know how terms are tossed about, and discovered it was a malodorous affliction concerning pockets.

knutty knitter said...

Love that! US dollars instead of cheese :) I just gave a copy of that to my eldest son who loved it - especially the packing of the butter. My favourite was the tin of pineapple.

I have $4 one dollar notes given to me by a tourist - perhaps I should frame them for posterity. After fumigation of course.

viv in nz

Degringolade said...

Bravo, stout lad.

The difficult part for us yanks will be to carry on with the same sense of style and dignity as our British cousins when they lost their empire.

Thank you for showing us a sterling example to emulate.


Anonymous said...

I find the whole subject leaves me with a bout of melon colic.


Lee said...


"...melon colic"


Peddler on the Hoof said...

dementedly hilarious, thank you!