THIS WAS MEANT to be one of those scholarly, constructive articles that Redd Boggs so excels in, but I'm beginning to think that he has discovered some important principle in life that has so far is eluded me. Redd: do you never find that when you want to look up a reference someone has invariably borrowed the book? It's always happening to me ----people are so dishonest. The worst of it is that I never seem to find anything worth quoting in the books I have of theirs.
The one I was looking for this time was Rachel Ferguson's THE BRONTES WENT TO WOOLWORTHS. It was to have been the first link in a long chain of speculation about the ways in which the fan mentality expresses itself in the absence of fandom. As far as I remember--don't bother to correct me if I'm wrong--Rachel Ferguson and her sisters had invented an elaborate private mythology concerning the Brontes, and lived in it themselves a sort of pseudolife in parallel with their mundane existance. I think the Brontes themselves had one which they shared with Branwell, and I know that lots of other people, like Shelley, also had these private worlds of their own. I was going to argue that this was a manifestation of the sensitive fannish mind. To me at any rate the main attraction of fandom is this property it has of being a combined mythology and microcosm--an artificial private world which does actually have a real existence (but not too real), and in which one can enjoy a sort of contemporary reincarnation. (A whole bunch of reincarnations, if you follow Speer's example and split yourself into more than one identity.) At the very least, two lives for the price of one. It could be argued that fandom is not an escapist hobby after all, but almost the reverse--an overflow outlet for the creative imagination. Fandom is a nocturnal emission. ( I put it baldly like that with a view to the remark's immortalisation on a WILD HAIR-type cover.)
However, in the absence of the Ferguson book I'm afraid this article is going to degenerate into personal reminiscence. I only hope I'm right in assuming I can get away with this sort of stuff in FAPA. Certainly I can't think of any other audience likely to be interested in the rise and fall of Sauce Bottle Fandom.
Sauce Bottle Fandom flourished in Belfast about 15 years ago and at one time had as many as four members. We met twice a week in a local cafe, and at first we talked only of the usual things students talk about--art, religion, politics and other dirty jokes--but it wasn't long before we invented Sauce Bottle Fandom. We were all the sort of people who read at meals and if there was nothing else to read we would read the lables on the jars and things on the table. We soon found that we all knew off by heart the lable on a sauce known as " H. P. " Not only did this lable carry a much greater wordage than any marmalade jar, it was of immensely higher literary standard. For one thing, part of it was in French, which gave it an immense distinction in the eyes of us Francophiles. The lable had three sides. The middle one had a picture of the Houses of Parliament at Westminster, a statement that the sauce was made by Garton and Company, and a description of its constituents-- pure malt vinegar and oriental spices. On the lefthand side was the blurb in French--"Cette Sauce de premier choix...." --which we intoned with the solemnity we gave to Baudelaire and Rimbaud. And on the righthand side was a copy of a certificate by two public analysts that they had " regularly taken samples from stock and found the sauce to be in every way pure and wholesome. --signed A. Bostock Hill and William T. Rigby. "
It was those names that got us. There seemed to be a limitless significance in them. A. Bostock Hill was obviously a short stocky type, stolid and unimaginative, but steady as a rock and honest as the day was long. William T. Rigby, on the other hand, was a wayward genius, brilliant and erratic with a streak of the Bohemian artist. In no time at all we had the two characters fitted out with parents, schools, careers, love lives, friends--an entire world. Every detail was filled in with loving care. Finally we had constructed an entire imaginary universe for Hill and Rigby, with a cast of scores which included virtually every proprietary names in British bottling, canning and confectionery industries. Every change in a proprietary label was the outward sign of some vast drama taking place behind the scenes, and the occasion for long and serious speculation by us. We were, for instance, saddened when the H.P. people suddenly substituted typed signatures of Hill and Rigby for the holographic ones we had known from childhood. It could only mean that poor old Hill was failing. No doubt he had for some time been unable actually to take the samples from stock himself, but his loyal friend Rigby, ever the more dashing of the two, had shown him his results and guided his faltering hand in signing the hallowed document. Then in 1938 two things happened. The war broke out, and the certificate disappeared altogether. The latter could mean only one thing, and Sauce Bottle Fandom came to an end.
By that time the mythos was really immense. We had not only accounted for every idiosyncrasy in proprietary lables, but had incorporated dozens of other items that had caught our imaginations. Things like an enormous and mysterious unsigned painting of a lady in blue that hung in the attic of my grandmother's old house, several Victorian lithographs of domestic scenes in the downstairs rooms, and a photograph of an unknown Edwardian ancestor whom we christened Wallace Willis. And finally we had integrated the whole thing with another equally massive mythology in a different field, quite incommunicable since it dealt mainly with local placenames and Irish words, and ingenious theories as to what ever happened to the Picts.
Nobody ever got around to writing the whole thing down--it would have been quite a job--and I thought it had perished completely until the other day I found among some old papers a draft I had sketched of the main events in the Hill-Rigby story itself. It started off with a period A. Bostock Hill's childhood, and already one of the two Holy Grails of the saga -- absolutely pure malt vinegar--was making its appearance. As you probably know, vinegar is made from inferior wines, and in the first chapter, based on one of the Victorian lithos, old Squire Hill is staggering home drunk after his nightly debauch.
"'D--n and b---t,' he roared thickly as he reeled up the stairs. Mrs. Hill blanched. ' Shut your ears, children, ' she murmured, clasping her eldest son in her arms. 'Arbuthnot,' she cried, 'tomorrow you embark on the great sea of life. Swear to me by a mother's love that you will to fight this daemon Empire Wine that has since enslaved your father, and that you will remember always our family motto, SPIRIT VINI RECT.' " *
* The pharmaceutical name for vinegar.
In the next chapter Hill goes to boarding school and falls afoul of the school bully, Guy Fletcher (Fletcher's Tomato Ketchup) and his toadies Cyril Urney and Sidney Needler. ( Urney and Needler were makers of chocolate we thought vastly inferior to Cadbury's.) He is rescued by William Terence Rigby, one of the school's blood, and confides in him his dream of transforming his father's curse into a blessing for all mankind. Later at the University, where Rigby is specializing in tropical plants, they meet some of the other characters in the saga--Wallace Willis, Vladimir Potemkin the mad painter, Richard Cadbury and Sidney Garton. They also spend a holiday at Heidelberg, where they meet Gustav Tobler and Heinrich Heinz.* Towards the end of their university life, however, both Hill and Rigby fell in love with Wallace Willis's sister, the mysterious blue lady painted by Potemkin, and Rigby goes out East to forget. Worried by reports that he is gone native, Hill presses on with his monumental work.
"The furore which greeted the publication of 'Pure Malt Vinegar, Its Past' need not be described. The book was at first greeted with derision and obloquoy, but when it was realised that the author had effectively discredited all previous thought on the subject a wave of despair swept the world. Such was the position when Hill produced the second volume-- 'Pure Malt Vinegar, Its Future'. It was the young men who first realized the daring scope of Hill's ideas. Absolutely pure malt vinegar, hitherto thought but a vain dream, was possible. In Paris, Montmartre student opinion rallied to the new leader as a result of some anonymous prose poems and manifestos ....."
Hill can now afford to organize an expedition to search for Rigby. He enlists the aid of old Professor Heinz (" '57 varieties have I made, and I will no more until Rigby is found make.' ") and with Tobler they set out for the Orient. They find Rigby in the heart of the Burmese jungle, " writing feverishly on a bamboo table covered with scientific instruments. The piercing gleam in his eye belies the signs of dissipation on his features ..... 'Your book made a new man of me,' he says, ' and I have begun my researches again. I don't want to raise false hopes, but I think we have an appointment with Sidney Garton ..... and I have one of my prose poems ready for Sydney if he cares to use it. "Cette sauce de premier choix...."
They all return in triumph to England (except old Professor Heinz, who succumbs to malaria with his life's work uncompleted) and Garton produces the ultimate sauce. Not without opposition from Fletcher, Cross and Blackwell, but the saga ends at one of the "quiet dinners Hill gives regularly to his friends. The genial old man sits at the head of the table, with Rigby, frail but indomitable and with still a youthful gleam in his eye, on his right hand and Dr. Otto Heinz, son of the revered Professor, on his left ... The gay conversation rises and falls, stilled only when the butler enters bearing tenderly a priceless cobwebbed bottle of old vintage vinegar."
And to think I might have poured all that energy into fandom instead of a sauce bottle, if I had come across the Belfast SFL in 1935!
* "Ich habe mein Heinz in Heidelberg verloren."
Data entry by Judy Bemis