The Perfect Jeeves

  • Gerry05  My flat mate, Gerry Jackson, was determined we should advertise for a new cook. Dismayed by the fact that our electric bills kept mounting, despite all our efforts to reduce consumption, he had returned home unexpectedly one morning to find our premises occupied by a mobile laundry.
  • Gerry04  In the driveway was parked a truck that had clearly delivered the batteries of washing machines and electric dryers humming away in the covered area between the kitchen and the servants’ quarters. Baskets of laundered and unlaundered garments were distributed among these machines.
  • Chiu023  Urgently summoned, I drove home myself. In the kitchen, women were bent over ironing boards, their irons connected by a labyrinth of cables to the same feeder panels that fed the laundering equipment. All of these were plugged into our dangerously burdened power mains. To avoid the expiration of overloaded fuses, special heavy-duty substitutes had been set into the switchboard.
  • Chiu022  We were aghast. Silence fell as, one by one, the machines rattled to a standstill. Our grinning amah Katijah, hair disarrayed, pointed to the fact that our freshly laundered shirts had been given pride of place at the top of the considerable pile of other people’s garments.
  • Gerry01  Gerry said we needed to place an ad in the Malay Mail, which should be relatively easy since it was the paper we both worked for. We interviewed many respondents, of whom one stood out from the rest by virtue of his many glowing testimonials, including 'The Perfect Jeeves',  clearly referring to P.G. Wodehouse's memorably efficient but fictional butler.
  • Khairuddin  Khairuddin was slim and – according to his papers – of greater age than he looked. He was married with two children, yet aside from his voluptuously fluttering eyelashes, there was much else about him that was unmistakably “camp”. He had a way of looking, simultaneously, both innocent and knowing, wide-eyed and worldly-wise, with a slight sardonic downturn to one corner of his dimpled mouth that warned against trying to put anything over on him. He professed to speak only Malay but clearly understood a great deal more.
  • Burgesstft  We were not especially surprised to learn that he had been the inspiration for one of the principal characters in Anthony Burgess's novel 'Time for a Tiger'. He had worked for Burgess when the latter was teaching at the Malay College in Kuala Kangsar, Perak. There Khairuddin is portrayed as Ibrahim bin Mohamed Salleh, a married but gay cook, pursued by the wife he has fled from after being forced to marry her by his family.
  • Din06  His were eyes that loved to see themselves reflected in mirrors, and bore the faintest trace of saddened disappointment at not discovering a comparable beauty elsewhere. Because we couldn’t get the pronunciation right, we were instructed to call him “Din”. He, in turn, would call us “Mister Gerry” and “Mister Peter”.
  • Din01  He set about his duties with a zeal we had never previously encountered in anyone, but it was soon made clear to us that this was going to be HIS house, and that the presence in it of “Mister Gerry” and “Mister Peter” was going to be tolerated only with the greatest reluctance.
  • Chiu Yoke004  Having already adjusted to the presence, next door, of a neighbour who kept losing his brass nameplate to souvenir-hunting British servicemen because it identified him as Dr. Kok Too Fatt, we felt we could accommodate these eccentricities too, given that the end result really was fulfilling the promise contained in all those glowing testimonials.
  • Chiu Yoke009  Din lived with his family in a distant kampong off Circular Road, cycling to work early each morning, with his immaculately creased trousers fastidiously tucked into his polished bicycle clips, arriving always in time to serve us breakfast. We would be awakened by gasps of despair from the living room as he surveyed the latest incriminating evidence of our occupation. With a string of oaths, of which the most oft-repeated was “Babi chilaka!”, he would be off to the kitchen to noisily submit himself to the torture of preparing the bacon and eggs.
  • Din03  Gerry insisted on his bacon in the morning, and would brook no allowance for religious scruples or any other objection to its presence on the menu. Furthermore Gerry expected his bacon to be done to a crisp, which meant that Din would have to toil longer over the preparation of this vilely despised and supremely un-Islamic substance. Observing how he set about the task, I saw this as the nearest one could come to cooking by remote control.
  • Bakar & Din  He had contrived to arm himself with a cooking fork and spatula with prodigiously elongated handles, akin to the length of the cue rests one employed for very difficult shots across billiard tables. These he gingerly manoeuvered to access the packets of bacon from the refrigerator, undo their wrappings, manipulate the strips into the pan and turn them until they were of the right consistency. All of this was accompanied by a torrent of colourful epithets, in which Gerry loomed large as “Momok Gedempong” (a very fat ghost).
  • Chiu Yoke19  Despite all the cursing and swearing, and his undisguised distaste for the slovenly behaviour and disgusting habits he was called on to endure at the risk of ruining his beautiful adopted home, we were soon convinced that we couldn’t do without Din. To us he became “Din the Indisputably Indispensable”. We persuaded ourselves that we had indeed found, if not the “perfect Jeeves”, at least one whose imperfections could be safely overlooked in the cause of the overall satisfaction he would provide and the endless Wodehousian entertainment he would furnish.
  • Chiu Yoke25  Most of all, his cooking was of a standard neither of us had experienced outside the best of hotels. Given a free rein to surprise us, he would produce little miracles of perfection, affecting an air of gracious humility as we summoned him from the stove to heap praises on his head. And his willingness to cater to virtually any scale of consumption encouraged us to entertain more frequently than hitherto, if only to show off to our friends this paragon of culinary arts that had so providentially come our way.
  • dining room00  Elevated to the status of “chef du maison”, Din would emerge from the kitchen at the end of each performance to take his bows, casting demure but expressive eyes about the table, acknowledging the applause as just recognition of all the trials to which he must submit in order to wait on the unworthy employers for whom he reserved his last withering glances.
  • Chiu Yoke21  In spite of our increased hospitality, we saw a marked reduction in our food bills because, unlike his predecessors, Din shopped at the outdoor markets in preference to the Cold Storage supermarket. He also arranged for food vendors to call at the door.
  • Bakar16  Arriving with bicycle handlebars and carriers burdened with mountains of produce, these purveyors of fish, fresh meats and vegetables would be reduced to helpless laughter by Din’s tales of domestic tribulation, related with eyes cast over his shoulder in our direction.
  • Chiu Yoke03  I would sometimes catch him unawares as he meticulously dusted the shelves or shone the brassware, standing back to admire the effect on completion of each of these tasks, as if congratulating himself on having arrived at the best of all possible homes, even if encumbered with the worst of all possible tenants.
  • Chiu Yoke10  He would hum Malay melodies as he worked, occasionally breaking into little dance steps as he transported a newly burnished vase back to its pedestal, or arranged some slight but offending list in a picture frame. If he sensed he was watched he would toss his head at me with a wry grin, as if saying “Ah, but you didn’t know, did you, that I was once the star of the Kuala Kangsar joget halls?”
  • Gerry03  Both Gerry and I dabbled in painting, but while I might have perhaps just one or two canvases “on the go”, Gerry would have half a dozen unfinished works, all of them leaning against various items of furniture, awaiting their turn to be hoisted on to the easel and “added to”. His style was eclectic, as liable to be influenced by Gaugin and Monet as by Georges Braque or Paul Klee, possibly even deriving its inspiration from a photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson. He painted fast, as though bent on outstripping any attempt to label or define his idiom.
  • Chiu Yoke011  Our flat was high-ceilinged, its walls starting out with just a few of his works but eventuallly covered in a mosaic of Jacksons, most of them several feet across and unframed, the latest additions often still wet from the last application of oils. When he felt I had produced something particularly good he would graciously remove one of his longer-exposed works to make way for my humble offering to a “gallery” that otherwise remained exclusively devoted to his own.
  • Chiu Yoke002  He was not averse to reminding me that he had given me free rein to paint my murals in the corridors
  • chiu004  and install my experiments with acrylics in my bedroom.
  • living room  On one occasion, while we were entertaining a very mixed group of friends to after-dinner coffee and liqueurs, the wife of a business acquaintance suggested that one of his abstracts needed a certain indefinable something in its top tight-hand corner. Gerry agreed and promptly got out the step-ladder to retrieve the work in question, which he laid flat in the middle of the carpet.
  • Gerry's Dad's painting  Producing brushes and paints, he set to work immediately, totally absorbed until he had added what he thought was the one extra element the composition required. Reduced to stunned silence, the others looked at me with raised eyebrows. I could only shrug. This was fairly typical Jacksonesque behaviour. If a thing needed doing, it needed doing now.
  • artifacts  So I turned to photography instead, attempting modernist arrangements,
  • Chiu Yoke17  still lives with durians, jackfruit, mangosteens, chillies and dead fish
  • cat02  portraits of the cat with bowls and flagons,
  • Bakar02  or of Bakar, the kebun (gardener) together with assorted fruits and vegetables.
  • Din04  Din, of course, found all of this vastly amusing, and simply carried on with the laundry, in a much more economic and satisfactory manner than had ever been achieved by his predecessor Katijah; she of the peripatetic laundry that had brought him here in the first place.