Friday, May 21, 2010

The Greatness Of Frobisher Wilhelmson

Frobisher P. Wilhelmson III was a great man. A truly great man. In a way he had greatness thrust upon him, but greatness, so thrusting, found Frobisher equal to the task of being great.

His sense of his own greatness was sufficiently measured not to irritate those who found themselves in his company, and a natural curiosity ensured that his interest in other people was charmingly greater than his interest in himself.

Frobisher became great at an early age, by chance, and continued to be great almost entirely against his will. At the age of eight his sister’s governess, a little overcome after an extended private interview with the butler, toppled into the lake in the grounds of Frobisher Hall.* The boy Frobisher, who was passing, dived in, and, with some difficulty, pulled her out. He had not previously known he could swim, and was delighted with the discovery.

His life was an unceasing round of acts of heroism, and triumphs of every kind. When an old lady needed saving from a burning building, when a cat was stuck up a tree, when a supermodel required a safety pin to keep her knickers up seconds before going on the catwalk, when rising tides cut off a group of sunbathers on one of the more treacherous beaches of Bali, there, it always seemed, was Frobisher, quietly, capably, modestly, up to the task.

When a few explanatory notes he had made on a shopping list were spotted by the assistant literary director at the Observer, Urban Minimalist Poetry was born. In the months it took for the craze to die, his notes to the milkman, reminders to himself to pick up the laundry, phone messages taken on behalf of his wife when she was out, corrections of spelling and style idly jotted on flyers from fast food firms, cryptic remarks scribbled on the Radio Times about some programme he was watching, were recovered from the fridge, the bin, and under the hedge, and turned into bestselling volumes, filled out with exegesis from Melvin Bragg and illustrations by a specially discovered Urban Minimalist Artist.

When a friend wanted someone to make up the numbers on a jaunt to South America, it was Frobisher who offered to help out, and when, due to a dodgy GPS device, and an unfortunate misunderstanding between the friend and a local guide, in which one of their number, trying to pay a complement to the beauty of the guide’s wife in a language he had started learning three days before, greatly underestimated the semantic range of the word for ‘attractive’, they all ended up lost in the Andes rather than on the beach as they had intended, it was Frobisher who not only led them to safety, but did so by scaling a legendary peak previously believed to be inaccessible.

A thousand such anecdotes make up the life of Frobisher P. Wilhelmson III, a man who was quite tickled to be great, but would have been just as happy if he had passed anonymously through this world.

After such an unintentionally glorious life, it would have been fitting if he had met his end wrestling with the controls of a doomed passenger aircraft after the pilot had ill-advisedly eaten the fish, or diving into an active volcano in an attempt to rescue a child from the lava, or expiring from exhaustion on a Florida beach having crossed the Atlantic in a rowing-boat.

If this were a story, I would have given him such an end, but the facts are simpler. He tripped over tying his shoelace in the park and struck his head on an ornamental coipu.**

*He was named for an aunt whose branch of the family had built the place long before

**Designed by a committee of schoolchildren for some reason long forgotten

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