Wodehouse misremembered


Here is an excellent piece putting the record straight in respect of P G Wodehouse’s often misunderstood actions during the last World War. In the minds and heart of his fans, he would always be remembered for the sunlit valleys and sparkling lakes of wisdom, humor and wit he has left behind for us to roam about in and explore to our heart’s content.

Originally posted on Plumtopia: The world of P.G. Wodehouse:

(Bestsellers, by Clive Bloom)

Bestsellers: Popular Fiction Since 1900 (2002) by Clive Bloom

In many respects, Clive Bloom’s ‘Bestsellers’ is an excellent book that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in the history of publishing, reading, and the emergence of ‘the bestseller’ in the twentieth century. Happily for me, Bloom also chooses some of my favourite authors (P.G. Wodehouse, George MacDonald Fraser, John Buchan, Agatha Christie) to illustrate his points.

Bloom tracks the development of ‘the bestseller’ alongside increasing literacy levels in Britain, showing how new literature classifications emerged (high-brow and low-brow) to keep class distinctions alive in literature (previously the lower classes had been illiterate). Bloom exposes ‘literary fiction’ as (arguably) little more than snobbery. ‘Serious literature, made purposefully unfathomable and dire, ensure that it remains the province of an expensively-educated elite. As Bloom says:

No use of literary language can claim, ab initio, an…

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One of the sterling qualities Bertie Wooster possesses is that of breaking any bad news gently to those who are apt to shiver from the base of their toes to the top of their heads upon receiving it. There is a great deal of finesse to his approach. Seldom do we find him rushing abruptly into a conversation which involves the party of the other part finding itself at the receiving end. CodeOfTheWoosters

In ‘The Code of the Woosters’, we find that he uses an ultra-soft approach while trying to convey a disturbing news. This is true not only for a pal like Gussie Fink-Nottle but also for a quirky character like Pop Bassett.

Asking for Pop Bassett’s Niece’s Hand in Marriage

Prodded by the inimitable Jeeves, Stiffy Byng manages to persuade Bertie to break it to Pop Bassett that he proposes to get married to her. Since this declaration is likely to leave her uncle all-of-a-twitter, the plan is for Stiffy to walk in and declare her love instead for Stinker Pinker. Pop Bassett is then likely to experience overwhelming relief, leading him to view Stiffy’s union with Stinker with a more kindly eye.

Even though a Justice of the Peace who has already stripped Bertie of five quid for having endeavored to steal a policeman’s helmet is viewed as a formidable foe, he does not wish to break the artificial news of his betrothal to Stiffy in an abrupt manner. A few preliminary pour-parlers are very much in order before getting down to the nub.

The conversation between Bertie and Pop Bassett first touches upon the treatment to be meted out to the culprit who has recently pinched Constable Oates’ helmet. Bertie then steers it around to the love life of newts, starfish, under-sea worms and seaweed.

Eventually, an exasperated Pop Bassett is forced to make a confession thus:

“I am afraid, Mr. Wooster, that you will think me dense, but I have not the remotest notion of what you are talking about.”

This paves the way for Bertie to overcome his diffidence and ask for Stiffy’s hand. Here is a juicy description of how Pop Bassett hits the ceiling.

There was no question as to its being value for money. On the cue ‘niece’s hand’, he had come out of his chair like a rocketing pheasant. He now sank back, fanning himself with the pen. He seemed to have aged quite a lot.

When summoned, Stiffy gives an extremely convincing performance. She stares at Pop Bassett. She stares at Bertie. She clapses her hands and perhaps even manages to blush. She then proceeds to declare her plans to marry Harold Pinker instead, making hope dawn once again in her uncle’s bosom. Understandably, he needs little persuasion to accord his approval for the two to get united in matrimony.

Avoiding the Surgeon’s Knife with Gussie

Earlier in the narrative, we find Bertie treating Gussie with a similar kid-glove treatment. Gussie has made some juicy comments about Sir Watkyn Bassett and Roderick Spode in a notebook, which he has managed to let it fall in the hands of Stiffy Byng. A scheme to make her part with the same while being charmed by Bertie has flopped miserably.

The onus of passing on this dreadful news to Gussie obviously falls on Bertie, who decides to avoid the surgeon’s knife. He shrinks from the mournful task of administering a very substantial sock on the jaw to an old friend.

While Jeeves is ordered to bring in a bottle of brandy, Gussie is first made to sit comfortably in an armchair. A desultory conversation about the weather and the crops follows. Further prattling on part of Bertie leads to a dialogue of this nature:

“Bertie, I believe you’re pie-eyed.”
“Not at all.”
“Then what are you babbling like this for?”
….”You don’t mean she hasn’t got it?”
“That is precisely the nub or crux. She has, and she is going to give it to Pop Bassett.”

I had expected him to take it fairly substantially, and he did. His eyes, like stars, started from their spheres and he leaped from the chair, spilling the contents of the glass and causing the room to niff like the saloon bar of a pub on a Saturday night.

A pat on Gussie’s shoulder starts calming him down. A reference to Archimedes who was apparently killed by a soldier and passed out smiling then follows. Eventually, Reason returns to its throne and a meaningful dialogue takes place between the two.

These are but two specimens of the extent to which Bertie Wooster would go to break some bad news gently to those in his circles.

When the milk of human kindness is sloshing about within us, we try to be gentle while conveying a piece of negative news, whether to a friend or to a foe. This is an invaluable social skill which many of us can imbibe from Bertie Wooster.

(Part 1: Decodifying the Code of the Woosters)

Aunt Dahlia and Uncle Tom cordially invite you to join them for a grand celebration on the occasion of the 133rd Birth Anniversary of Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.

Guest of Honor: The Empress of Blandings

Special Invitees: Lord Emsworth, Uncle Fred, Ukridge, Mr Mulliner, Mike and Psmith


Le Programme

Madeline Bassett: A talk on Astronomy and Love Signs
Gussie Fink-Nottle: Presentation – Effect of the Moon’s phases on the Love Life of Newts
Stephanie Byng: Chants ‘Hey Nonny Nonny’ to the accompaniment of a piano
Bertie Wooster: Shares the Challenges in abiding by The Code of the Woosters
Sally: Demolishes some Modern Feminism myths
Roderick Spode: Talks on Design and Marketing Lessons from ‘Eulalie’


Le Diner

Caviar Frais
Consommé aux Pommes d’Amour
Sylphides a la crème d’Ecrevisses
Mignonette de poulet petit Duc
Points d’asperges a la Mistinguette
Supreme de fois gras au champagne
Neige aux Perles des Alpes
Timbale de ris de veau Toulousaine
Salade d’endive et de celeri
Le Plum Pudding
Nomais de la Mediterranee au Fenouil
Selle d’Agneau aux laitues a la Grecque
L’Etoile au Berger
Benedictins Blancs
Bombe Nero


Venue: Brinkley Court

Date: October 15, 2014

Starting: 1630 hrs GMT

Code of Conduct:
1. Enquiries regarding Anatole’s recipes shall be frowned upon.
2. Pets are better left home. Throughout the proceedings, Bartholomew would be restrained, but with love and affection.
3. Those exceeding the time limit of 10 minutes for their speeches or performance shall be henceforth banned from visiting Brinkley Court.
4. Casual remarks regarding taxation blues of Uncle Tom shall be wholly unwelcome.
5. Positive comments regarding ‘Milady’s Boudoir’ shall be gratefully acknowledged.

RSVP: Jeeves

[A Note of Gratitude: Aunt Dahlia and Uncle Tom wish to place on record their sincere appreciation of the timely reminder received from http://honoriaplum.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/happy-birthday-plum. This alone enabled them to plan the gala event.]


Here are some delightful tips to celebrate Plum’s upcoming birthday!

Originally posted on Plumtopia: The world of P.G. Wodehouse:

Wodehouse's birthplace, 59 Epsom Rd Guildford

Wodehouse’s birthplace, 59 Epsom Rd Guildford

‘P. G. Wodehouse was born on 15 October 1881, at 1 Vale Place, Epsom Road Guildford  in Guildford’ begins Frances Donaldson in her 1982 Authorized Biography, summing the matter up rather neatly. The house in Surrey was not the Wodehouse’s home; the family lived in Hong Kong, where P.G.’s father Henry Wodehouse was a magistrate in the Colonial Civil Service. His mother Eleanor was visiting England, staying with her sister in the neighbouring village of Bramley. Eleanor was visiting friends in Epsom Road when out popped the infant Plum (see*). Nonetheless, the house is remembered with a blue plaque over the door. You can read about my visit there in ‘The Wodehouse Trail: Birth’.

To commemorate P.G. Wodehouse’s birthday, tomorrow I will be picking up the trail with a visit to his first home, and I look forward to sharing that adventure…

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A Pale Blue Glow


For those who are interested in matters astronomical, here is an excellent piece which amazes, educates and entertains!

Originally posted on Write Science:

by Shane L. Larson

One of the great things about being a scientist is I’m exposed to amazing and awesome things. Every. Single. Day. Sometimes I am astonished by Nature itself, and other days I am amazed by our ingenuity and abilities as we come of age in the Cosmos. Today was one of those days.

The first picture of the Moon and Earth together in space, taken by Voyager 1.

The first picture of the Moon and Earth together in space, taken by Voyager 1.

This story has its origins long ago. On 5 September 1977 we hucked a 722 kg spacecraft into the sky, named Voyager 1. That was the last time any of us ever saw Voyager 1 with our own eyes. But Voyager has been on a 37-year journey to act as our eyes in the Solar System. On 18 September 1977, barely 13 days after launch, when it was 7.25 million miles from Earth, Voyager sent home the first picture ever

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Mention the name of any sweet and our bodies respond immediately. The saliva glands start operating on all twelve cylinders. The gastric juices gear up to receive the next morsel in keen anticipation, much like an Aberdeen terrier eyeing a slice of fish in his master’s hands.

Sweets contain heavy doses of sugar, a basic source of energy for our bodies. Besides keeping our bodies alive and kicking, sugar also keeps our spirits high. With the rights amount of sugar within us, we walk around with our head held high and with our chins up.

However, consumption of excess sugar is fraught with several risks. If one belongs to the Couch Potato Club, the body eventually registers a protest. Obesity, cardio vascular diseases and other ailments gradually start popping up. Pretty soon, life starts throwing up surprises of an unpleasant kind.

Each year, Indians gobble up around 23 million tons of the pristine white intoxicant. Each region has its own exquisite variety of sweets on offer. Talk of sandes, rasagulla, gulab jamun, jalebi and payasam, and we start drooling with gay abandon. For many Indians, these sweets form an integral part of at least one meal of the day. It comes as no surprise that we have more than 68 million diabetics in our fold. The real number is certainly much higher, given the absence of rural areas on our public health radar.

Think of long-term implications and the mind boggles. Besides ruining personal and family lives, diabetes surely drags down the Indian economy. The imagery of the country being a super power and reaping its demographic dividend simply evaporates. This truly calls for a National Mission which is supported by the public, the corporate world and the government alike.

Other than launching a media campaign exhorting the public to lead more active and healthier lives, the government can push this critical reform through in several ways.

One, we need to ensure availability of healthier food choices to our citizens across all our public spaces. For example, Indian Railways can offer the option of sugar-free diets to its passengers. As of now, even a cup of tea sans sugar is not readily available. Take a saunter down any of our railway stations and you would run into vendors peddling deep-fried stuff. If you are searching for some fruits or milk, you would have to be a Milkha Singh to be able to buy what you need and hop on back to your compartment. Travel by a bus and a similar challenge would await you. Go on a shopping spree and you are left gasping looking for a decent fruit juice joint. IRCTC can surely juggle around its menu and enable the hapless passengers to make a better choice as to the kind of nourishment they need.

Two, bicycles need to be promoted as a means of conveyance in a big way. Entrepreneurs can be encouraged to participate with the government in offering bicycle-on-rent facilities in cities and towns. Leaders and role models can be persuaded to get off their high-end limousines once in a while and campaign for this healthier and smarter way of commuting.

Three, urban planners and city mayors need to be pushed to create parks and dedicated walking spaces in the areas under their control. Cities and towns need to ensure clean and level pavements free of encroachments.

Four, our entrepreneurs simply hate taxes and love exemptions. Our taxation mandarins can surely sweeten the deal by offering tax breaks to those who deal in healthier food products of any kind. This would fire up their zeal to support the proposed National Mission and come up with innovative solutions. Perhaps the time has come to treat sugar at par with liquor and slap a ‘sin tax’ on it. Of course, this is a bitter pill to swallow.

Five, sugarcane can be increasingly diverted to produce bio-fuels. This would also help in curtailing our import bills, thereby improving India’s fiscal health. Countries like Brazil are already doing this.

If steps to control the Diabetes Tsunami are not taken now, the costs of healthcare in India would shoot up exponentially in the decades to come. The so-called demographic ‘asset’ would then become a severe ‘liability’ instead. Our time is running out.

(Related post: http://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/o-my-beloved-when-would-you-depart)


Here is a peep into the future, of the interface between Homo Sapiens and technology. Do you find it exciting or depressing? Read through and decide for yourself.

Originally posted on Longreads Blog:

Nicholas Carr | The Glass Cage: Automation and Us | October 2014 | 15 minutes (3,831 words)

The following is an excerpt from Nicholas Carr‘s new book, The Glass Cage, out today. Our thanks to Carr for sharing this piece with the Longreads community. 

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