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What Ho again, Plum lovers.
It has been an especially glorious summer, right out of the pages of Blandings, and I’ve taken the opportunity to whiz about the countryside, capturing the atmosphere of Wodehouse’s England. I’ve visited Plum’s Emsworth in Hampshire and explored Bertie Wooster’s London (in one of the last tours given by Wodehouse expert, Norman Murphy). I also visited towns where Wodehouse’s parents lived, Cheltenham and Bexhill-on-Sea. The latter is affectionately remembered by Goons Show fans as the home of The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler.
I’ll have more to share over the coming winter as I knuckle down to writing about these adventures, but I could not let this particular week flit by without mentioning two important milestones. First, Monday the 15th of October marked the 132nd anniversary of Plum’s birth. It was lovely to see the tributes flow in via the various Wodehouse fan pages and societies.
Happy Birthday, Plum!
Fittingly, Plum’s birthday week will close with a special event on the Wodehouse-lovers’ calendar: The U.S. Wodehouse Society’s Chicago convention. I am disappointed to be missing this event and the opportunity to meet some of the friends I’ve made through Wodehouse online. I understand the Chicago gang have gone to great effort and I’m sure the event will be a terrific success. Indeed, they are no doubt browsing and sluicing as I write.
The Wodehouse novel I most associate with Chicago is Piccadilly Jim (1917), in which the former actor Bingley Crocker reprises his role of Chicago Ed:
Jimmy did not speak for a moment.
“Did you ever play a kidnapper, Dad?” he asked at length.
“Sure. I was Chicago Ed in a crook play called ‘This Way out’. Why, surely you saw me in that? I got some good notices.”
“Of course. I knew I’d seen you play that sort of part some time. You came on during the dark scene and –”
“Switched on the lights and –”
“Covered the bunch with your gun while they were still blinking! You were great in that part, Dad.”
“It was a good part,” said Mr Crocker modestly. “It had fat. I’d liked to have got a chance to play a kidnapper again. There’s a lot of pep to kidnappers.”
Piccadilly Jim (1917)
Bingley Crocker’s wish comes true. Here’s hoping yours do too.
Two men were sitting in the bar-parlour of the Anglers’ Rest as I entered it; and one of them, I gathered from his low, excited voice and wide gestures, was telling the other a story. I could hear nothing but an occasional ‘Biggest I ever saw in my life!’ and ‘Fully as large as that!’ but in such a place it was not difficult to imagine the rest; and when the second man, catching my eye, winked at me with a sort of humorous misery, I smiled sympathetically back at him.
The action had the effect of establishing a bond between us; and when the story-teller finished his tale and left, he came over to my table as if answering a formal invitation.
The Truth About George (1927)
This simple introduction from Meet Mr Mulliner has been on my mind lately, because it captures a little piece of Wodehouse’s England that I’m pleased to find alive and well in 2013.
Since last writing, I have moved to the south of England. One of the delights of this experience has been getting the know the locals in our pleasant town on the banks of the Thames. And what better way to meet true locals of great character and charm than to frequent the local public houses? There are a great many pubs here, several of which are delightfully reminiscent of Mr Mulliner‘s Anglers’ Rest.
For the newcomer, entering a village pub is much like the narrator’s experience above. There is a certain well-mannered English reserve that holds most people back from being too intrusive or inquisitive of strangers. But this is easily overcome with a genial disposish, an encouraging smile, and a few comments about the weather. Consequently, I’ve enjoyed some delightful conversations with a host of marvellously eccentric people – many of whom would be quite at home in the pages of Wodehouse.
I have reblogged a few Wodehouse pieces in Plumtopia, which I like to think of as a little haven for like-minded readers. This week’s piece is an appetite-whetting encouragement to new readers from Zanyzigzag.
It’s also a great read for affirmed Plum lovers. Zanyzigzag’s piece has special significance for me as I prepare to leave for England in less than a fortnight. The seeds of this journey, and years of thinking and planning, have been strongly influenced by my love of Wodehouse. I especially loved hearing about Norman Murphy’s Wodehouse Walk, which is on my list of top 10 things to do when I arrive.
I have been criticised for expecting to find England as Wodehouse knew it. This is a ridiculous suggestion, although I’m secretly hoping the Shropshire Agricultural Show will offer a hint of Plumtopia. What I do expect England to offer – that is deplorably lacking in my own country – is the capacity to appreciate, share and celebrate Wodehouse together. This piece affirms my belief that I am right.
There is not a single Wodehouse Society in Australia. I’ve tried on several occasions to start one, but it’s hard to conduct a society on one’s own. And I can not recall a single Australian thinker or entertainer mentioning P.G. Wodehouse in any capacity. Our thinkers are too anxious to appear serious, our comedians too inclined toward the witless. Wodehouse’s champions are elsewhere in the world, and I must look for like-minds there.
My grateful thanks to Zanyzigzag for permission to reblog this excellent piece. Perhaps we shall meet one day in Plumtopia.
I’m dashing off this quick note to apologise for the lack of Plumtopian delights of late as I’m now preparing the family Plum for our relocation to England. I look forward to exploring Wodehouse country and returning here to share my exploits and reminiscences.
In the meantime, I’m hoping to re-blog interesting Wodehouse articles and pages. Please feel free to send me suggestions, and if you’d like to be a guest blogger in Plumtopia, I’d love to have you also.
Frothing madly about the gills now.
What ho, everybody!
If indeed there is an everybody.
Of course I know there is an everybody, but I can’t help feeling that you have better things to be doing – mouths to feed, bills to pay, toenails to clip etc. You don’t? Well, you know best of course ….
A great inertia has come over me of late, as I’ve been focused on ‘real life’ issues rather than writing. I know some people write about their lives online, but that was never the purpose of ‘Plumtopia’. However, I am renewing Plumtopia for the year with some personal reflections.
A few years ago I described myself as
“…an ordinary sort of chapette, looking for an idyllic, peaceful rural life, living simply, growing vegetables and keeping pigs and hens. In the afternoon, I might sit in the dappled shade of a tree, reading Whiffle on the Care of the Pig.”
Having since attempted to live a ‘simpler life’, I’ve learned that it’s not so simple after all. Whether by nature or (lack of) nurture, I am an utterly impractical being. Simple tools – no obstacle to Palaeolithic man – are a complete mystery to me. In a civilised society, this problem would be resolved by getting ‘a little man’ in to do the practical work. But we live in complicated times, where even simple household maintenance is accessed via a 1800 number.
So I have been mulling over the dream and revising it accordingly.
Village, City or Suburb?
I have lived in some very remote places, and loved the landscape, but I’m too social to seek permanent isolation.
City life can be fair or foul, but much depends on the city. Pollution, noise, traffic, commuting, high-rise, poverty, homelessness, anti-social behaviour and violent crime etc.etc. are present to some degree in all of them. Cities are too big to operate as caring, connected communities, so people who are vulnerable – in one way or another – struggle to survive. I’ve been lucky, having lived close to the CBD in cities that are reasonably clean and safe – and I have generally found inner city life agreeable.
I can not abide suburbs. Even as a child they depressed me. P.G. Wodehouse was a great lover of suburbs and painted an idyllic picture of suburban life in ‘Valley Fields’, but the suburbs of Wodehouse’s acquaintance were in a different time and class from the barren, charmless developments assaulting the Australian landscape in the 1970s of my childhood, which have sadly continued, unrelenting, ever since.
Charmless really is the word.
I think a Village is the ideal sized community, but it doesn’t follow that every village is ideal. Some are frankly disturbing. But I’m quite keen to try village life, and the best place to do this is in Europe.
Next stop, England?
There are all sorts of reasons for not moving to England. I know, because people list them everytime I mention the idea. The first time I visited Europe my Grandmother advised against it.
“They crap in the streets,” she told me.
I didn’t believe her at the time, but I’ve since seen some episodes of Ladette to Lady and I believe she may be right.
I’m not expecting to find Wodehouse’s idyllic fictional world, or even ‘a better life’. I know the UK faces some tough social and economic issues, and that I’ll be giving up a lifestyle that many people would find enviable. But after years immersed in reading, viewing and listening to all manner of things British, it really is time experience the life, culture and history of Britain for myself. It was (and still is) home to countless generations of my family, and my holidays there are never long enough, or frequent enough.
There are advantages that I’m really excited about: access to the British Museum, reading room, thousands of historic sites, and proximity to the rest of Europe. More than enough to feed my mind for a hundred lifetimes. I haven’t even touched on the music, arts and cultural menu. Best of all, I can share these experiences and opportunities with my family.
Living in England won’t be like a holiday. Like most people, I’ll be working, parenting, and worrying about everyday things – money, drains, dentists. The challenges of life are portable, but fortunately, so are the works of P.G. Wodehouse.
I’m absolutely terrified – and excited!
Plumtopia as a state of mind
There is a certain school of thought that argues that “I” am the problem. That Plumtopia is a state of mind which can only be achieved by changing my thinking to adopt a more positive approach to living, enjoying life, and the things we have. I accept the truths in this advice.
I reject the suggestion that often follows: that I would be just as dissatisfied somewhere else, surrounded by different people, because I can’t escape the real problem, which is apparently ‘myself’.
The whole argument is based on the premise that I have a problem, but I’m not sure I do. I’m not content, but I am not looking for contentment. Nor do I expect to find it by changing my address. Contentment isn’t for everyone. The things that drive me are an insatiable appetite for knowledge about the world and its history. My wanderlust can become a burden, and four years without much traveling has me a near wreck. But that ‘problem’ is easily solved.
The fact that some people are happily settled in one place, admiring dew drops and giving thanks for their daily organic spelt, does not make it right for me.
Positivity is portable too, surely.