Archive for October, 2014

The character of Bertie Wooster is a study in contrasts. He has a dreamy sweetness about him. He is soft and chivalrous. He has a generous soul. He declines all proposals of marriage in a very polished manner. He never bandies about a woman’s name. Code of the Woosters Cover 1

But very often he also displays a unique strength of character. He can also speak his mind. If there is a fruity scheme which might result in the Code of the Woosters getting compromised, he is not game.

The delicately nurtured invariably corner Bertie and persuade him to do something truly goofy and get him into a jam. Gwladys puts her boyfriend with a broken leg in his flat. Pauline Stoker invades his rural cottage at the dead of night in a bathing suit. Florence Craye, Pauline Stoker, Roberta Wickham, Vanessa Cook, Nobby and Stiffy Byng are some other characters which immediately spring to one’s mind.

Not to be left behind, his rough and tough aunts also come up with demands which put the hapless Bertie in a fix. But unlike other members of the opposite sex, they also stand up and protect him when they notice a threat to the Wooster clan.

In The Code of the Woosters, both Aunt Dahlia and Stiffy exhort him to pinch a silver cow-creamer. He does not fall prey to their machinations. His views on the opposite sex in general and on aunts in particular reveal to us the underlying code of conduct he normally follows.

When the Delicately nurtured Lie

When girlfriends and wives give the men in their lives a build-up, they often end up overdoing it. They never know when to stop while doing so. But do they lie in the process?

I remember Mrs Bingo Little once telling me, shortly after their marriage, that Bingo said poetic things to her about sunsets – his best friends being perfectly well aware, of course, that the old egg never noticed a sunset in his life and that, if he did by a fluke ever happen to do so, the only thing he would say about it would be that it reminded him of a slice of roast beef, cooked just right.

However, you can’t call a girl a liar; so, as I say, I said: ‘Well, well!’

Being a Preux Chevalier

Bertie has perfected the art of retaining his bachelorhood. This is how he explains his reasons for not willing to take a saunter down the aisle with Madeline.

‘I should feel just the same about marrying many of the world’s noblest women. There are certain females whom one respects, admires, reveres, but only from a distance. If they show any signs of attempting to come closer, one is prepared to fight them off with a blackjack. It is to this group that your cousin Madeline belongs. A charming girl, and the ideal mate for Augustus Fink-Nottle, but ants in the pants to Bertram.’

Being a Shrewd but Level-headed Pig

It is understandable that parents do not normally approve of their daughters marrying curates. Same goes for uncles who are concerned about their nieces. Since Stiffy would like to get married to a curate – Stinker Pinker – she must find a way to sell him to her uncle, Pop Bassett. Bertie’s services are requisitioned. However, Bertie has no intentions of becoming a part of any of her loathsome schemes.

I told myself that I must be firm. But I could not but remember Roberta Wickham and the hot-water bottle. A man thinks he is chilled steel – or adamant, if you prefer the expression – and suddenly the mists clear away and he finds that he has allowed a girl to talk him into something frightful. Samson had the same experience with Delilah.

Plain praise would not work, she feels. Pinker saving a drowning uncle from a boat in the lake is an idea shot down by both of them, simply because there is no lake around. A friend dressing up as a tramp and attacking the uncle, followed by the man in shining armor dashing in and rescuing him, is an idea which is quashed by Bertie. Stiffy then comes up with another terrific idea – that of Bertie stealing Uncle Watkyn’s cow-creamer! Pinker would then secure the object d’art and hand it over to her uncle, thereby earning his gratitude and a vicarage. Bertie refuses to oblige, earning a reprimand from Stiffy.

‘I do mean I won’t do it.’
‘Well, I think you are a pig.’
‘A pig, maybe, but a shrewd, level-headed pig.’

Stiffy then offers a reward to Bertie – return of Gussie’s notebook with juicy comments about Pop Bassett and Roderick Spode. Bertie shudders at the prospect.

The Royal Disapproval

Jeeves and Bertie agree that the modern emancipation of women may not have the royal seal of approval.

‘The whole fact of the matter is that all this modern emancipation of women has resulted in them getting it up their noses and not giving a damn what they do. It was not like this in Queen Victoria’s day. The Prince Consort would have had a word to say about a girl like Stiffy, what?’
‘I can conceive that His Royal Highness might quite possibly not have approved of Miss Byng.’

The effect of a Woman’s Grief

‘But you are going to help us, aren’t you?’
‘I am not.’
‘Well, I do think you might.’
‘I dare say you do, but I won’t.’

Somewhere about the first or second line of this chunk of dialogue, I had observed her eyes begin to moisten and her lips to tremble, and a pearly one had started to steal down the cheek. The bursting of the dam, of which that pearly one had been the first preliminary trickle, now set in with great severity. With a brief word to the effect that she wished she were dead and that I would look pretty silly when I gazed down at her coffin, knowing that my inhumanity had put her there, she flung herself on the bed and started going oomp.

It was the old uncontrollable sob-stuff which she had pulled earlier in the proceedings, and once more I found myself a bit unmanned. I stood there irresolute, plucking nervously at the cravat. I have already alluded to the effect of a woman’s grief on the Woosters.

When Aunts aren’t Gentlemen

Aunts play a stellar role in Bertie’s life. But their affection often comes with a price tag. An invitation to the dining table at Brinkley Court could get withdrawn in case of any deficiency in service.

‘If I had my life to live again, Jeeves, I would start it as an orphan without any aunts. Don’t they put aunts in Turkey in sacks and drop them in the Bosphorous?’
‘Odalisques, sir, I understand. Not aunts.’
‘Well, why not aunts? Look at the trouble they cause in the world. I tell you, Jeeves, and you may quote me as saying this – behind every poor, innocent, harmless blighter who is going down for the first time in the soup, you will find, if you look carefully enough, the aunt who shoved him into it.’
‘There is much in what you say, sir.’
‘It is no use telling me that there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof. Consider this Dahlia, Jeeves. As sound an egg as ever cursed a foxhound for chasing a rabbit, I have always considered her. And she goes and hands me an assignment like this. Wooster, the pincher of policemen’s helmets, we know. We are familiar with Wooster, the supposed bag-snatcher. But it was left for this aunt to present to the world a Wooster who goes to the houses of retired magistrates and, while eating their bread and salt, swipes their cow-creamers. Faugh!’ I said, for I was a good deal overwrought.
‘Most disturbing, sir.’

Standing Up for the Clan

Aunt Dahlia may be too demanding at times. But when the honor of the Wooster clan is at stake, she does not hesitate to put her foot down. Here are two instances which go on to prove this point.

Stopping Spode in his tracks

‘I must ask you to leave us, madam,’ he said.
‘But I’ve only just come,’ said Aunt Dahlia.
‘I am going to thrash this man within an inch of his life.’
It was quite the wrong tone to take with the aged relative. She has a very clannish spirit and, as I have said, is fond of Bertram. Her brow darkened.
‘You don’t touch a nephew of mine.’
‘I am going to break every bone in his body.’
You aren’t going to do anything of the sort. The idea!….Here, you!’

Getting Bertie dismissed without a Stain on his Character

Butterfield, the butler, has just brought in the missing helmet of Constable Oates on a silver salver. While airing Stiffy’s dog sometime earlier, he has observed Bertie Wooster dropping it from his window. Aunt Dahlia takes the floor, trying to protect Bertie. First, she reasons, the helmet could have been dropped from some other window. Then, she proposes that the butler had himself stolen the helmet and was merely trying to pass on the buck to Bertie. Saintly looking butlers with a furtive eye come in for a sharp criticism.

Overall, Aunt Dahlia injects into the proceedings a very pleasant atmosphere of all-pals-together and hearty let’s-say-no-more-about it. However, Pop Bassett is not inclined to dismiss Bertie without a stain on his character. He sees no reason to revise his earlier resolve to get the perpetrator of the crime to serve a prison sentence.

‘Here, come, I say now, Sir Watkyn, really, dash it,’ she expostulated, always on her toes when the interests of the clan were threatened. ‘You can’t do that sort of thing.’
‘Madam, I both can and will.’

When her repeated pleadings fail, she negotiates a deal with the retired magistrate: he gets Anatole while Bertie gets his release!

The Feudal Spirit

Bertie is profoundly moved when he discovers that Aunt Dahlia is prepared to dispense with the services of Anatole merely to save him from getting bunged into a chokey for a month.

‘You were actually contemplating giving up Anatole for my sake?’ I gasped.
‘Of course.’
‘Of course jolly well not! I would not hear of such a thing.’
‘But you can’t go to prison.’
‘I certainly can, if my going means that that supreme maestro will continue working at the old stand. Don’t dream of meeting old Bassett’s demands.’
‘Bertie! Do you mean this?’
‘I should say so. What’s a mere thirty days in the second division? A bagatelle. I can do it on my head. Let Bassett do his worst. And,’ I added in a softer voice, ‘when my time is up and I come out into the world once more a free man, let Anatole do his best. A month of bread and water or skilly or whatever they feed you in these establishments, will give me a rare appetite. On the night when I emerge, I shall expect a dinner that will live in legend and song.’
‘You shall have it.’

Opinion on Bertie’s intellectual capabilities could be divided. But there is no doubt that his heart is in the right place. Even if it turns out to be that of chilled steel, the milk of human kindness sloshing about within makes him yield to pressure from pals and aunts alike. Yet, the core of his heart glows with a dazzling sparkle – that of a diamond called the Code of the Woosters.

(Part 3: Decodifying the Code of the Woosters)

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When it comes to delivering bad news gently, Bertie Wooster is good. His technique involves an adequate amount of foreplay and inane conversation, followed by the news which is likely to leave the other person all-of-a-twitter.Code of the Woosters Cover 2

However, when the situation demands, he can also be tough on the errant person, putting him or her in place. Mind you, he does not offend. He merely follows the Code of the Woosters and plays firm and steady. He does so till the time the object of his derision wilts and relents.

He asserts himself. Much like the ancient Roman gladiators, he also chooses to be aggressive at times, whereupon his agility and nippiness knows no bounds. If he is sarcastic, his nonchalant manner rules supreme. It is another matter that his brand of subtle sarcasm is often lost on a hard-boiled party of the other part.

Here are some instances from ‘The Code of the Woosters’ which demonstrate Bertie’s power to assert himself.

Standing up to Gussie’s Amorous Plans

Gussie’s notebook containing juicy remarks on Pop Bassett and Rederick Spode continues to be in Stiffy’s possession. Gussie comes up with a fruity scheme to retrieve the notebook from her.

‘Well, listen. You could easily engage her in a sort of friendly romp, if you know what I mean, in the course of which it would be simple to…well, something in the nature of a jocular embrace…’
I checked him sharply. There are limits, and we Woosters recognize them.
‘Gussie, are you suggesting that I prod Stiffy’s legs?’
‘Well, I’m not going to.’
‘Why not?’
‘We need not delve into my reasons’, I said, stiffly. ‘Suffice it that the shot is not on the board.’

He gave me a look, a kind of wide-eyed, reproachful look, such as a dying newt might have given him, if he had forgotten to change its water regularly.

Unfortunately, Gussie proceeds with his plans. This prompts Madeline Bassett to scratch their engagement, thereby putting both Gussie and Bertie in a limbo.

Restraining Aunt Dahlia

Saying no to a loving aunt like Dahlia is no mean task. But Bertie is able to stand up to her machinations by placing a pitiless analysis of the situation at hand. Dahlia wants Bertie to pinch the cow-creamer from Pop Bassett’s silver collection. Thanks to the magic of ‘Eulalie’, the obstacle faced from Spode has been neutralized. However, Gussie’s note book with juicy comments about Pop Bassett and Spode continues to be in Stiffy’s possession.

This is how Bertie places his case before his aunt.

‘My dear old faulty reasoner, you miss the gist by a mile. As long as Stiffy retains that book, it cannot be shown to Madeline Bassett. And only by showing it to Madeline Bassett can Gussie prove to her that his motive in pinching Stiffy’s legs was not what she supposed. And only by proving to her that his motive was not what she supposed can he square himself and effect reconciliation. And only if he squares himself and effects reconciliation can I avoid the distasteful necessity of having to marry this bally Bassett myself. No, I repeat. Before doing anything else, I have got to have that book.’

Aunt Dahlia appreciates the logic and eventually ends up pinching the cow-creamer herself!

Reining in a Hippopotamus

By way of self-defense, Gussie Fink-Nottle has just hit Roderick Spode with an oil painting. Unfortunately, rather than using the picture sideways, Gussie has used the flat side of the weapon. This leaves Spode blinking, with the painting around his neck like a ruff. Bertie seizes the opportunity thus:

Give us a lead, make it quite clear to us that the party has warmed up and that from now on anything goes, and we Woosters do not hang back. There was a sheet lying on the bed…and to snatch this up and envelop Spode in it was with me the work of a moment.

Once the ‘Eulalie’ secret has been discovered, Bertie can afford to put Spode in his place firmly. When he finds Spode banging on the door of Gussie’s room, hoping to break his neck, Bertie loses no time in taming him. Note the polished manner in which he does it.

‘What do you mean by disturbing the house with this abominable uproar? Have you forgotten already what I told you about checking this disposition of yours to run amok like a raging hippopotamus? I should have thought that after what I said you would have spent the remainder of the evening curled up with a good book. But no. I find you renewing your efforts to assault and batter my friends. I must warn you, Spode, that my patience is not inexhaustible.’

Eventually, Spode disappears from the scene, leaving Gussie in the safe company of Bertie.

Putting a bite on Pop Bassett

Pop Bassett, having accused Bertie of stealing his cow-creamer and also pinching Constable Oates’ helmet, has had to eat humble pie. Bertie has a solid alibi as far as the cow-creamer is concerned. Jeeves has managed affairs in such a way as to persuade Spode to confess having stolen the helmet, thereby exonerating Bertie. However, when it comes to uniting two pairs of lovers, namely Madeline and Gussie and Stiffy and Stinker Pinker, Pop Bassett continues to play a spoil sport. But Jeeves has a solution – put a bite on him!

Accordingly, Bertie proceeds to threaten Pop Bassett thus:

‘There is something you wish to say to me, Mr Wooster?’
‘There are about a dozen of things I wish to say to you, Bassett, but the one we will touch on at the moment is this. Are you aware that your headstrong conduct in sticking police officers on to pinch me and locking me in my room has laid you open to an action for – what was it, Jeeves?’
‘Wrongful arrest and defamation of character before witnesses, sir.’
‘That’s the baby. I could soak you for millions. What are you going to do about it?’

Bertie then proceeds to get an OK on both the unions, makes Pop agree on keeping quiet upon discovering that the cow-creamer has popped up in Uncle Tom’s collection and even manages to secure his five quids back – the fine he had to pay in his formal encounter with Pop Bassett much earlier.

Jeeves and the Stiff Upper Lip

Bertie often runs counter to the tastes and wishes of Jeeves. However, when Jeeves has extricated him from a tricky situation, he has the good grace and flexibility to accept defeat and fall in line.

In ‘The Code of the Woosters’, the bone of contention is a Round-The-World cruise. Jeeves is rather keen on it. Bertie is not.

‘Jeeves,’ I said, ’this nuisance must now cease.’
‘Travel is highly educational, sir.’
‘I can’t do with any more education. I was full up years ago. No, Jeeves, I know what’s the matter with you. That old Viking strain of yours has come out again. You yearn for the tang of the salt breezes. You see yourself walking the deck in a yachting cap. Possibly someone has been telling you about the Dancing Girls of Bali. I understand, and I sympathize. But not for me. I refuse to be decanted into any blasted ocean-going liner and lugged off round the world.’
‘Very good, sir.’

However, by the end of the narrative, Totleigh Towers has ceased to disturb Bertie’s peace of mind. The love lives of Gussie-Madeline and Stinker Pinker-Stiffy are progressing smoothly. Uncle Tom has received his cow-creamer back. Anatole continues to be in service at Brinkley Court. Bertie has just escaped being bunged into a chokey without the option for a month. Constable Oates is still on duty, prowling about below the window of his room, braving violent rain.

All this is thanks to Jeeves’ ingenuity. When it comes to being pretty hot in an emergency, Bertie rates him higher than Napoleon. Bertie relents.

‘Perhaps that cruise won’t be so very foul, after all?’
‘Most gentlemen find them enjoyable, sir.’
‘Do they?’
‘Yes, sir. Seeing new faces.’
‘That’s true. I hadn’t thought of that. The faces will be new, won’t they? Thousands and thousands of people, but no Stiffy.’
‘Exactly, sir.’
‘You had better get the tickets tomorrow.’
‘I have already procured them, sir. Good night, sir.’

Many of us can learn the art of saying a ‘no’ from Bertie. He does so without causing an offence. He is firm and polite. He knows how to be assertive. He also knows when to give in and be flexible.

Moreover, he has a unique way of expressing his disagreement and registering a protest. He wins over the situation by using his analytical skills, building up and supporting his case using impeccable logic and pitiless analysis. When backed with a legally sound argument, he can even put a bite on someone like Pop Bassett to bring some sunshine into the lives of his pals, aunts and uncles!

 (Part 2: Decodifying the Code of the Woosters)

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/bertie-wooster-and-the-art-of-breaking-bad-news-gently)

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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.


(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)

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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.]

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


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

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: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/o-my-beloved-when-would-you-depart)

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