The National Library of Australia has just posted a delightful new article by Ashley Sterne. "Uncle Peter Carves the Turkey" was originally published by the Nepean Times (Penrith NSW) on December 23rd 1922.
Uncle Peter Carves the Turkey
By Ashley Sterne
Do you happen to know a piece entitled "When Father Carves the Duck," which was very popular some years ago?
I can't quite remember whether it was the title of a recitation, a trombone solo, or an opera, but -- be that as it may -- I know that the feats wrought by father on the duck were a mere flea-bite in the ocean compared with the doughty deeds of derring-do which, in the days of my youth, my dear old Uncle Peter used to perform upon the carcass of our Christmas turkey.
Uncle Peter, I must explain was a bachelor, and as he had got the complaint pretty badly it follows that he possessed all a bachelor's primitive notions of carving.
In short, without the help of a carving-chart he couldn't be trusted to carve anything more complicated than a curry or a very quiet and docile haggis.
Uncle's Christmas Present
You will naturally wonder how it came about that Uncle Peter was ever permitted under the Lunacy Laws to carve anything requiring so expert a knowledge of animal dissection as a turkey.
Well, the fact is, the turkey always formed Uncle Peter's Christmas present to us all; and as he invariably dined with.us on Christmas Day, and, moreover, always insisted on carving his own gift, you will readily see that any opposition to his wish would most certainly have resulted in a painful and distressing domestic scene, culminating in Uncle Peter walking out of the house, with the bone of contention (so to speak) under his arm, and a festoon of sausages round his neck.
Let me describe what usually happened.
When the dining-room door opened, and a panting domestic was observed staggering into the room with the most corpulent bird which the turkey mongers of poultry market could produce, Uncle Peter, carving knife and fork in hand, would rise from his chair with all the dignity and impressiveness of some ancient Arch-Druid about to perform a solemn sacrifice.
The dish in front, of him,Uncle Peter would commence the revels by dropping the carving-tools into the gravy and sousing everybody in his immediate vicinity. These he would retrieve with the help of two spoons, the knife-sharpener, and the servant, and absent-mindedly proceed to wipe them all -- not counting the servant -- upon our best damask table-cloth.
Carving-Knife Draws First Blood
Suddenly he would discover that the turkey had been placed on the dish the wrong way round, when, instead of revolving the dish, he would try to twiddle the bird round with the carving tools, and push it off the dish onto the table, where it usually knocked over a vase of flowers or a cruet.
Then he would endeavor to drag it back again by jabbing the fork into it, but as he invariably harpooned it in the part where the stuffing was, and as the stuffing naturally crumbled to pieces under the strain, the first part of the enthralling performance would end by Uncle Peter seizing the turkey by the legs and hauling it back on to the dish by powerful wrist-work.
With a reassuring smile on his face and quite oblivious that he had been doing anything out of the ordinary, Uncle Peter would recommence his self-imposed labour of love with redoubled ardour.
He would drive the fork into the turkey's works with such violence that he couldn't get it out again, and in his efforts to free that implement he would manage once more to heave the unhappy bird from the dish, when, suspended in mid-air like the sword of D--ocles, the fork would come away suddenly, the turkey would execute a spinning nose-dive, crash badly, and then either bounce on to somebody's lap or else roll under the table.
Of course, by this time the turkey had lost something of its first fresh bloom. It resembled a railway accident more nearly than a turkey, but this weird metamorphosis neither deterred nor discouraged Uncle Peter. The missing bird being again restored to his arms, as it were, he would take a long drink and a short rest just to get his second wind, and return to the assault, with all the energy and determination of one who is but "baffled to fight better."
Like a Film Hero
He would begin Act III. by putting a new edge on the carving-knife, and in the process cut himself so badly that the entire family would be frantically rushing about the house looking for cobwebs to stop the bleeding. There were usually plenty upon the turkey by this time, but we never thought of looking there. Meanwhile, Uncle Peter and the servant would be groping about the floor on their hands and knees looking for the top of his thumb.
After a delay of a quarter of an hour spent in bandaging him, Uncle Peter, sternly refusing to let any of the elders relieve him of his job, would once more arise with that look of grim determination on his face such as one usually associates with William Farnum at the moment when he pushes a steam roller over and rescues the frail girl who lies securely gagged and handcuffed in its path.
How precisely he ever managed to do it nobody over quite knew; but after we had all become so faint from fasting that we had attained that condition of acute internal anguish which makes the act of eating about as pleasurable as pulling off a porous plaster, Uncle Peter would have succeeded in rending his victim violently asunder, giving it the appearance of having been thoroughly well blasted with dynamite, and the servant would be handing round the mangled debris.
By this time the turkey and everything else would be stone-cold; the gravy of the consistency of tooth paste, the sausages like bits of non-skid tyres, the stuffing congealed into a curious substance resembling reinforced concrete both in appearance and texture, and the vegetables only fit to be mashed up and given to the rabbits. As for the tablecloth, it looked as if a football match had just been played on it.
Pulpits and Pork-Pies
This all happened many years ago, and upon occasions when, I am afraid, my sense of hunger overcame my sense of humour. In my maturer years, however, I am able fully to appreciate the ripe, rich humour which characterised Uncle Peter's performance. Uncle Peter is still alive and carving -- he will cheerfully undertake to carve anything from a pulpit to a pork-pie -- and if any staid body of individuals -- say, the League of Nations -- wants their Christmas dinner-table enlivened by a thoroughly hilarious "turn," they might do worse (though not much) than invite Uncle Peter to pop along and dismember the turkey.