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The Existentialist Greyhound, or Jean-Paul Sartre goes to the White City (and loses all his money)
by Tim Lebon (with apologies to P.G. Wodehouse)
It was one of those Saturdays between the Boat Race and the Lords’ Test when Yours Truly was at something of a loose end. Out of the b., my old pal Pongo Twistleton rang me to say that he and his Uncle Fred were going to the dog races that night – would we care to join them? The sporting blood of the Woosters never being in doubt, I just had to persuade Jeeves and two French chums of his who were down for the weekend. They were fine, cheery fellows, game for anything, so off we all toddled to the jolly old White City.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever met Pongo’s Uncle Fred? You’d probably remember him if you had. You see, he’s always trying to bring a little joy into every life, and doesn’t mind how he does it. It was through his sterling efforts that we all got into the dog races for nothing. Personally I would have been happy to fork out sixpence rather than go through the trauma of impersonating a French diplomat – but as Pongo will tell you, Uncle Fred has his little ways.
At first we were like a trio of David and Jonathans. Conversation flowed as smoothly as the G & T’s. But after the first race Albert ‘The Cat’ Camus started laughing like a deranged hyena.
“Now I know for sure this whole country is mad! I always wondered, with your ridiculous pinnedstripe suits, fox-taunting and inedible chips and fish. But now I see even the animals in this country are crazy. They continue to chase the hare week after week, even though they never catch it. And the hare isn’t even real!”
His compatriot, Jean-Paul ‘George and Ringo’ Sartre joined in the assault.
“You are right, Albert, it is absurd! The greyhounds, they follow each other like sheep and are all in bad faith. A dog’s authentic response would be to make no exit from the starting trap. That would be its road to freedom.”
“Road to the great dog track in the sky, more like!”, I interrupted. We Woosters can get quite stirred when the old Mother C’s honour is at stake. “I mean, aren’t we all a bit sheep-like at times? You ought to have seen me the morning after the Boat Race.”
As usual, the sharp intellect of young Bertram stopped them in their tracks.
“Mon Dieu, you have a point.” shouted Sartre excitedly. “Think, Albert – aren’t people like those poor greyhounds? Don’t we all seek things like happiness and meaning which we never attain? And don’t we still keep trying for them, over and over again? Perhaps if we did get them we would realise that they are not worth having anyway. That dog race we just saw is a metaphor for the human condition. Only we, unlike the dogs, have the capacity to realise this and change.”
After that there was no stopping them, all night. I didn’t catch much of the rest, but I think a myth about a cissy who had a mauve somethingor- other was pretty crucial. Time passed and Dame Fortune continued to give us a wide berth. Jeeves, who as a rule is such a marvel with the old form book, was no bally use at all – he was much more interested in talking with the French coves.
“I think, sir, we may have witnessed tonight some developments in the field of philosophy which will not go unnoticed – no less than the birth of Existentialism. I wager that in ten years time the names of Sartre, Camus and Jeeves will be found in every philosophy text book”, he remarked.
“The only wager I’m interested in is one on the last race. Now tell me Jeeves – who’s going to win it?”
“I will endeavour to discover the solution to your conundrum, sir”, he replied, and shimmered off.
Meanwhile Uncle Fred was telling anyone who would listen that he had a hot tip for the favourite, ‘Freddie’s Superman’. We were all persuaded to put our hard-earned on it, though Camus had wanted to bet the outsider.
Just in the nick of time I managed to find Jeeves.
“Put this on Freddie’s Superman”, I shouted, giving him what had been going to be next year’s subscription to the Drones.
“Very good, sir, if that is sir’s wish.”
Well, blow me but Freddie’s Superman ran as if it was my Aunt Agatha, whilst the winner, Mill’s Pleasure, ran as if it had Aunt Agatha in hot pursuit.
A few moments later, to my great surprise and delight, Jeeves handed me a large bundle of notes, as welcome and juicy as one of Anatole’s steaks
“I thought I told you to bet Freddie’s Superman?”
“Yes, sir, you did. However I had the good fortune to meet the butler of Lord Bentham, the winning owner, before making your investment. It was suggested that a wager on his greyhound would result in a most felicitous outcome and I considered it only prudent to follow his recommendation.”
I was beaming inwardly all the way home. I kept asking everyone to confirm my feeling that everything was indeed for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Unfortunately this seemed to make Camus and Sartre even more miserable. Sartre complained of nausea, Camus spoke of suicide. According to Jeeves they never, ever recovered their previous bonhomie. And all because of one of Uncle Fred’s lousy tips. Funny old world, eh what?
© T.Lebon 1994
Tim Lebon studied philosophy in Oxford and London, is working in computing and is training to be an existential psychotherapist, whatever that is.