Posts Tagged ‘Netherlands’

Peter Nieuwenhuizen, president of the Dutch Wodehouse Society, gave an original and delightful talk at the 17th US Wodehouse Society (October 19, 2013) convention of The Wodehouse Society in Chicago. Here is a reworked version of the same, reported first in Plum Lines. Fans of Plum will enjoy his scholarly study of the evolution of the heroic Sir Philip Sidney’s famous battlefield quotation in Plum’s works.

Portrait of Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86) c.1620 (oil on panel) by Decritz, John the Younger (1600-1657)

A longtime ago, in 1586, Sir Walter Raleigh sailed to the east coast of America to start a settlement in North Carolina. He did this for Queen Elizabeth I of England. The United States was not yet a twinkle in anyone’s eye.

In the same year in The Netherlands, my ancestors had to deal with the Spanish conquerors. During this strife, a noble British knight, Sir Philip Sidney, fought alongside the Dutch soldiers and died at the age of 31 from wounds suffered in a battle. Poet, husband, and nobleman, athletic and courageous, he dedicated his life abroad to his queen, country, and church.

Much later, another knight, Sir P.G. Wodehouse, was touched by this small piece of history and wrote about it in his novels—not once, not twice, but twenty times. So it must be important, but why? Let us explore this little historic jewel.

Philip Sidney was born in 1554, in the reign of Mary Tudor. He was named after Mary’s husband, the Spanish king Philip II.

Philip Sidney grew up at Penhurst Place, a magnificent estate in Kent. He was well-educated, becoming a pupil at the Shrewsbury School at the age of ten. As a boy of twelve, at the side of his uncle Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, he witnessed the festive procession of Queen Elizabeth in Oxford. At the age of fourteen he started studying at Oxford, and four years later he made a grand tour on the continent and visited Paris, where he met Lodewijk (Louis) of Nassau, the brother of the Dutch governor, and, later, William of Orange, the founder of The Netherlands. Philip Sidney went on to visit Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Antwerp before he returned to England. He had traveled for three years and returned wiser, a man of the world.

In England he stayed at the court of Elizabeth and studied music and poetry, wrote sonnets, learned to fight, took part in tournaments, and developed into a noble knight, a gentleman pur sang, as our French friends would say.

After those two years at court, though only 23 years old, he became a diplomat for England. He first served in Germany and later in The Netherlands, where he witnessed the baptism of Elizabeth, the eleventh child of William of Orange.

Back in England he went to live at his sister’s place near Salisbury, where he started to write his famous poetry. He wrote Astrophel and Stella, The Defence of Poesy, and The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia.

(Battle of Zutphen)

By now you’re probably wondering what was going on in The Netherlands and why Philip Sidney was involved. Well, the Dutch were overwhelmed by the Spanish in a war that would last for eighty years. William of Orange was shot dead by Balthasar Gerards in 1584 in Delft. Obviously, the Dutch needed help and appealed to England. Queen Elizabeth sent 5,000 soldiers under the command of Philip’s uncle, Robert Dudley. In return, Elizabeth got some Dutch cities as security, including Den Briel and Flushing (Vlissingen). Philip Sidney became the governor of Flushing and sailed to The Netherlands. In Flushing, he found his soldiers to be underpaid, ill-armed, hungry, and sick. It was not a good start for an ambitious 31-year-old governor.

Maurits of Orange, the son of the murdered William of Orange, welcomed Sidney and his uncle. They made a grand entrance in cities like Delft, The Hague, Amsterdam, and Utrecht.

The Duke of Parma, Alexander Farnese, launched an offensive in 1586 and conquered several cities. It was imperative that Maurits, Dudley, and Sidney take action. They conquered the city of Axel and went on to Zutphen, a strategic city on the river Ijssel that was occupied by the Spanish.

With five hundred soldiers and fifty noblemen (the latter of whom were anxious to witness a real battle – from a distance, of course), they started the Battle of Zutphen on October 2, 1586. At dawn they realized that the Spanish far outnumbered them, and they retreated.

But alas, near the hamlet of Warnsveld, a few miles away, Sir Philip Sidney was mortally wounded. He took a Spanish musketball to his thigh and tumbled to the ground in great pain. One of his servants present at the battlefield – a Jeeves avant la lettre – hurried toward him with a cup or chalice of water. But instead of drinking this water, this life elixir, he handed it to a dying soldier on a stretcher, saying: “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.” He didn’t recover, and three weeks later he died. His body was transported back to England, and he was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

(Memorial at Warnsveld where Sidney was shot)

From this event the legend was born. Sir Philip Sidney became revered as a great warrior, although he had mostly fought at court tournaments. On the artistic side, his sister Mary, the Countess of Pembroke, had his sonnets and other work published, and he gained a successful posthumous literary career. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, statues were erected in his memory. One still stands in England at his old school in Shrewsbury, and another can be found in Zutphen in a park named after him.

Somewhere along the line, that other writer and later a knight, Sir P.G. Wodehouse, heard this beautiful story about Sir Philip Sidney. According to Norman Murphy’s Wodehouse Handbook, one of Plum’s cousins attended the Shrewsbury school where a statue of Sidney stood on the playground, and Shrewsbury was the model for Wrykyn in The White Feather.

Wodehouse was so impressed by this legend, this noble deed of Sir Philip Sidney, that he used variations of the famous phrase “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine” in various forms twenty times in his novels and stories.

The very first reference that we have found is a peculiar one. For the June 1915 Strand magazine, Wodehouse wrote the story “Black for Luck,” in which a black cat is a central character. Both James Renshaw Boyd and Elizabeth Herrold considered the stray cat as their own, and it was a good luck charm for both of them. Elizabeth finally gave up the cat for the sake of James, the playwright: “In any case, it would be like Sir Philip Sidney and the wounded soldier—’your need is greater than mine.’ Think of all the people who are dependent on your play being a success!”

A cat replaced the cup of water. Oddly, when this story was published in The Man with Two Left Feet in 1917, the sentence was altered to: “Never mind about me.” Alas, no reference to Sir Philip and his heroic deed.

In 1920, Wodehouse used the Sidney legend again in the novel Jill the Reckless (U.K.), aka The Little Warrior (U.S.). Freddie Rooke is going to meet his friend Algy Martyn in the Drones Club, but, not being a member, he can’t receive a snifter:

There he sat, surrounded by happy, laughing young men, each grasping a glass of the good old mixture-as-before, absolutely unable to connect. Some of them, casual acquaintances, had nodded to him, waved, and gone on lowering the juice – a spectacle which made Freddie feel much as the wounded soldier would have felt if Sir Philip Sidney, instead of offering him the cup of water, had placed it to his own lips and drained it with a careless “Cheerio!”

This is a wonderful reference but in fact the opposite of what happened on the battleground. Wodehouse used the reverse to emphasize the fierce desire for something and not getting it.

Later in the canon, the soldier of legend transforms into “a stretcher case,“ but the supply of a drink remains. In Ring for Jeeves, Jeeves comes to the rescue:

Jill collapsed into a chair…. Jeeves was a kindly man, and not only a kindly man but a man who could open a bottle of champagne as quick as a flash. It was in something of the Spirit of the Sir Philip Sidney who gave the water to the stretcher case that he now whisked the cork from the bottle he was carrying. Jill’s need, he felt, was greater than Bill’s.

“Permit me, miss.”

Jill drank gratefully.

A year later, Jeeves did it again. In Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, Aunt Dahlia is talking to her nephew Bertie. Dahlia longs for a cocktail and, of course, some advice from Jeeves. At the start of this excerpt, Bertie gives Dahlia hope:

“He should be with us at any moment now. He stepped out to get me a tankard of the old familiar juice.”

Her eyes gleamed with a strange light.

“Bags I first go at it!”

I patted her hand.

“Of course”, I said, “of course. You may take that as read. You don’t find Bertram Wooster hogging the drink supply when a suffering aunt is at his side with her tongue hanging out. Your need is greater than mine, as whoever-it-was said to the stretcher case. Ah!”

Jeeves had come in bearing the elixir, not a split second before we were ready for it. I took the beaker from him and offered it to the aged relative with a courteous gesture. With a brief “Mud in your eye” she drank deeply.

Over time, Wodehouse changed the water not just to other beverages but also to objects or actions. The third chronological reference to the legend was in 1921, and here the drink was transformed into a kiss. Wodehouse wrote in Indiscretions of Archie:

He kissed her fondly.

“By love!” he exclaimed. “You really are, you know! This is the biggest thing since jolly old Sir Philip What’s-his-name gave the drink of water to the poor blighter whose need was greater than his, if you recall the incident. I had to sweat it up at school, I remember. Sir Philip, poor old bean, had a most ghastly thirst on, and he was just going to have one on the house, so to speak, when… but it’s all in the history books. This is the sort of thing Boy Scouts do!”

And only two years later, the cup of water became an umbrella. In Leave It to Psmith, Psmith borrows Walderwick’s umbrella without permission for the rescue of Eve Halliday in the rain. Psmith then praises Walderwick for his sacrifice: “You are now entitled to rank with Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh!”

After a cat, cocktail, kiss, and umbrella, Wodehouse took the reference even further: the noble act becomes money. In 1925’s Sam the Sudden, Sam Shotter rents a cottage in Valley Fields and “borrows” the rent money, without permission, from his friend Braddock. He slips a note in Braddock’s wallet:

Dear Bradder: You will doubtless be surprised to learn that I have borrowed your money. I will return it in God’s good time. Meanwhile, as Sir Philip Sidney said to the wounded soldier, my need is greater than yours.

Trusting this finds you in the pink.

Yrs. Obedtly,

S. Shotter.

Wodehouse completely reverses the myth: it is the opposite of what Sir Philip Sidney said. This adds more comic effect for the readers who know the real legend.

(The statue of Sir Philip Sidney that stands on the lovely grounds of Sidney Park in Zutphen, The Netherlands)

After this joke, Wodehouse does not refer to the legend for seven years. In 1932, it surfaces again in Hot Water. Packy Franklyn tries to impress his fiancée Lady Beatrice Bracken by cutting the hair of Senator Opal: “To go and hack at this old buster’s thatch would be to perform a kindly and altruistic act, very much the same sort of thing for which Sir Philip Sidney and the Boy Scouts are so highly thought of.”

The smuggling of a pearl necklace by Reggie Tennyson is a relief for motion-picture magnate Ivor Llewellyn, in return for a movie contract. In 1935’s The Luck of the Bodkins, Mr. Llewellyn is grateful:

There was nothing in the look which Mr. Llewellyn was directing at Reggie now to awaken the critical spirit in the latter. It was entirely free from that pop-eyed dislike which the young man had found so offensive in the early stages of this conference. It was, indeed, very much the sort of look the wounded soldier must have directed at Sir Philip Sidney.

In 1936 in Laughing Gas, Joey Cooley, inhabited by the narrator’s spirit and personality, says:

“Prunes! … Hi! Give me a lick!” I cried, in a voice vibrant with emotion.

He passed it over without hesitation. If he had been Sir Philip Sidney with the wounded soldier, he couldn’t have been nippier.

The issue of morals is also seen through the lens of the Sidney legend. As we all know, Bertie Wooster is a fine lad, but sometimes morally unsound. In The Mating Season, Bertie remembers the lessons of his youth:

When I was a piefaced lad of some twelve summers, doing my stretch at Malvern House, Bramley-on-Sea, the private school conducted by the Rev. Aubrey Upjohn, I remember hearing the Rev. Aubrey give the late Sir Philip Sidney a big build-up because, when wounded at the battle of somewhere and offered a quick one by a companion in arms, he told the chap who was setting them up to leave him out of that round and slip his spot to a nearby stretcher-case, whose need was greater than his. This spirit of selfless sacrifice, said the Rev. Aubrey, was what he would like to see in you boys—particularly you, Wooster, and how many times have I told you not to gape at me in that half-witted way? Close your mouth, boy, and sit up.

So, for objects and actions, drinks and water, and a moral compass, the Sir Philip legend is useful for almost everything.

When Gussie in Right Ho, Jeeves refuses to distribute prizes, he says that “the square, generous thing to do was to step aside and let you take it on, so I did so. I felt that your need was greater than mine.”

But now we stumble upon a problem. The reference to Sir Philip Sidney has disappeared, as have the cup of water and the wounded soldier aka the stretcher case. Wodehouse does this several times, as if to say that by now everybody is familiar with the legend in his works over the past years. Examples of this abridged version of the legend follow:

Laughing Gas: “The goldfish were looking up expectantly, obviously hoping for their cut, but my need [for a breakfast leftover] was greater than theirs.” (Another reversal of the legend.)

Uncle Fred in the Springtime: Lord Ickenham says to Pongo, in reference to money for Polly Pott for the onion soup bar, “All I can say by way of apology is that her need is greater than yours.”

Quick Service: Joss Weatherby, the artist, after having his money embezzled, says that “the lawyer who had charge of it [was] getting the feeling one day that his need was greater than mine.”

Barmy in Wonderland: referring to a frog in the hotel bathroom: “but that your need was greater than his. I thought it showed a nice spirit in the lad.”

Sir Philip is still remembered by the Dutch. A beautiful statue stands in Sidney Park in Zutphen and bears this inscription in Dutch: “Nobleman, Poet, Statesman, Fighter for our Freedom. Sir Philip gave his life for The Netherlands.” In Warnsveld, where Sidney was shot, there is a small marker with the famous words engraved: “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.” And at the Gunpowder Tower in Zutphen there is this plaque, installed by the Dutch P. G. Wodehouse Society:

This is our way to show respect for two great knights and literary heroes, Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.


  1. Permission of the author to post this article here is gratefully acknowledged. The original article in Plum Lines can be seen here: https://www.academia.edu/8938301/A_Tale_of_Two_Knights_Sir_Philip_Sidney_and_Sir_Pelham_Grenville_Wodehouse
  2. An epitaph of Sir Philip Sidney: “England has his body, for she it fed; Netherlands his blood, in her defence shed; The Heavens have his soul, The Arts have his fame, The soldier his grief, The world his good name.”

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There are indeed instances in one’s life which leave one shaken and stirred. Scales fall from one’s eyes. Like Bertie Wooster, one feels befuddled, bewildered, fazed, flummoxed, and perplexed. The reality of one of the several facets of life gets revealed, much like a mountain making a reappearance once the fog has vanished and the sun has come out in all its glory.   

While travelling in a local train in Switzerland recently, I had a rather unpleasant experience when a gentleman of Swiss origin ridiculed me for being an Indian.

It happened on the 1st of January 2023. The family had boarded a train to Lucerne to enjoy the fireworks display in the evening hours. Few stops before Lucerne, very many people boarded the train. We are used to overcrowding in trains in India, but this was a new experience for me – to see this happening in one of the advanced countries. I was already sitting on one of the few spring-back chairs available.

A gentleman, surely cast in the mould of Roderick Spode, had just come in along with many others. He looked at me sternly and asked me to get up. I got up and enquired if the gentleman wanted to occupy the seat. The gentleman clarified that he had asked me to stand up so that there is more space for others to squeeze in. So far, so good. But then he went on to give me a supercilious look and added rudely that such things happen only in India.

The basic message from the gentleman was right, but the rude and insulting way he said it hurt all of us. The fact that he insulted my country really hit hard. My daughter-in-law and my son intervened to say that he could have discussed this cordially, rather than being abrasive about it. But he went on arguing about it, claiming that he had spent a good deal of time in India and knew about how things worked there. Other passengers nearby kept telling us to avoid listening to his comments.

To give him a benefit of doubt, perhaps he had had a fight with his wife before leaving home that evening. However, a realization also dawned – that beneath a veneer of polite manners and sweet smiles, quite a few people in other countries may carry some deep-seated prejudices against those of Indian origin.

Jeeves would concur with me if I were to say that our psychology is such that when we love something, we somehow feel entitled to criticize it and make fun of it. But when someone else does it, we take offence! We are left twiddling our thumbs. I confess this is what happened to me on the day. I felt deeply embarrassed and wondered what I had done to deserve a treatment of this kind.

I admit I am a bit fluffy headed and forgetful, but by no stretch of imagination can I match the high standards set by Lord Emsworth in that department. I found it very difficult to forget this incident. On the contrary, it made me recollect many earlier instances when I did not have a satisfactory response to some meaningful and thought-provoking questions asked about India by those living abroad.

  • A cabbie in New York asking me as to why the government in the country was against Muslims and Christians.
  • A tourist from Canada who had just returned from India asking why the cab drivers in most parts of the country tended to either overcharge or harass customers. I wonder if she had ever lapped up the book ‘India and the Indians’, written by Lady Malvern who had spent some time in India.  
  • A young lady in Norway enquiring whether it was safe for her to travel to India alone. She quoted frequently reported rape and murder cases in the country she had read about.
  • Another lady in Sweden checking as to why Indians have a practice of shaming the victim in a rape case rather than putting the spotlight on the perpetrator of the crime.
  • A person of German origin asking if our metro cities did not have enough storm drains to ensure that periodic flooding did not take place.
  • A movie enthusiast of French origin enquiring why, despite the presence of a film certification body, people kept calling for boycotts of some movies. She wondered how Indians have become so intolerant, especially when they pride themselves on being an ancient civilization and have really demonstrated how to be a multi-ethnic society.
  • A teenager from Denmark asking why Indian households do not segregate their domestic waste and why the country lacks enough capacity to handle such waste.
  • A person from Denmark who asked me why India was so noisy.
  • A group of businesspersons from Finland wondering why it was far easier to deal with businesses in the west and the south of India than with those in the north of the country. Some of them said they had been cheated by the latter.

What I quote above happen to be snippets of conversations with lay citizens of different countries, spread over the past few years. Those of us who believe we have already acquired the status of a Vishwa Guru – A Global Teacher – and who are swayed by the nationalistic fervour so very fashionable in India these days, may immediately jump to enquire who gave the rights to people in advanced countries to judge India and Indians. They might even suspect and allege a global conspiracy to defame India.

It is no one’s case that our First World countries happen to be perfect. Of course, these suffer from many ills. Graffiti in public spaces is a common sight. So are cigarette butts in otherwise pristine public gardens.

But the point here is that if we Indians can ape the west in terms of fashion, social relationships and in so many other ways, why can’t we do something about the kind of courtesy we show to tourists and fellow citizens in public spaces? Why do we need a Prime Minister to tell us to improve our levels of hygiene and keep our public spaces spick and span? Why can’t we respect the law, rather than priding ourselves in breaking it? Why do our political parties depend on criminals to win over the voters? Why do justices of our Supreme Court have to get involved in ensuring that road safety standards improve across the entire country? Why are we worried about elections and inane internal issues when an enemy is gleefully usurping our territory on our borders? The mind boggles.     

We live in a multipolar world where interdependence between countries is an essential fact. Yes, as a country, India remains a work-in-progress. But we have tremendous soft power, whether in terms of our ancient scriptures, rich culture, music, dance, movies and the like. The diverse cuisine we have is popular across all countries. When it comes to frugal engineering, we shine on the global stage. The manpower we offer to the world is unique in many ways.

It is surely not wrong to be proud of our heritage. Nor is it improper to demand respect from others. But to remain blissfully unaware of our weaknesses and to do nothing to address the same will simply go on to ensure that chinks in the Brand India armour continue to fester.

A sister of Bertie Wooster’s lives in India. It follows that he would be gravely concerned about this situation. Perhaps, he may seek Jeeves’ advice on the issue. If so, I wonder if Jeeves would recommend a public relation campaign to improve India’s brand image worldwide. He may also suggest a mass communication drive within the country and ways to make a genuine effort to improve our civic infrastructure. Someone like Rupert Psmith may get one of his rich uncles to buy out a premier media house in a western country.

But the nub of the matter is that we, the Indians, need to indulge in a bout of introspection, and work upon improving our own civic habits and our behaviour towards others. The buck stops at us!

(Illustration courtesy R K Laxman)

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The Guardian Angels who preside over the affairs of yours truly recently enabled a short trip to Netherlands. Other than a wonderful meeting with some fans of P G Wodehouse in Amsterdam, one could also visit Zaanse Schans and Rotterdam.

Of tilting at windmills

Zaanse Schans in Netherlands is best known for its collection of well-preserved historic windmills and houses. Built from 1576 AD onwards, these windmills have been used for multiple purposes. Claude Monet was so impressed that he came up with several paintings depicting these.

From 1961 to 1974 old buildings from all over the Zaanstreek were relocated to the area, so as to preserve this unique architectural heritage and to promote this as a unique open air museum of windmills, old houses and traditional crafts.

While crossing the windswept bridge over the river Zaan, one is captivated by the panoramic view of windmills. One could be excused…

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The Guardian Angels who preside over the affairs of yours truly recently enabled a short trip to Netherlands. Other than a wonderful meeting with some fans of P G Wodehouse in Amsterdam, one could also visit Zaanse Schans and Rotterdam.

Of tilting at windmills

Zaanse Schans in Netherlands is best known for its collection of well-preserved historic windmills and houses. Built from 1576 AD onwards, these windmills have been used for multiple purposes. Claude Monet was so impressed that he came up with several paintings depicting these.

From 1961 to 1974 old buildings from all over the Zaanstreek were relocated to the area, so as to preserve this unique architectural heritage and to promote this as a unique open air museum of windmills, old houses and traditional crafts.

While crossing the windswept bridge over the river Zaan, one is captivated by the panoramic view of windmills. One could be excused to feel like a Don Quixote who is firming up plans to tilt at some of the magnificent wooden giants.

Much before the management concepts of Customer Orientation and Flexible Manufacturing Concepts came into vogue, the entrepreneurs owning the windmills had put these into practice. The mills were producing whatever the market demanded.

Tobacco leaves were chopped and pulverized in the past to produce snuff in as many as 83 windmills in the Zaan region. From 1675, around 20 smaller windmills were used to crush mustard.

Over time, in keeping with the demand pattern, windmills underwent a transformation. For example, one of the mills was originally a paint mill, but went on to be a mustard mill, tobacco grinder and board sawmill. Post 1911, it was converted into a timber factory with biscuit boxes being made for the Verkade brand. From 1961 onwards, the famous Mustard was produced here.

Of aniseed products and cow creamers

Some of the windmills have been making spices. Some of you may know that herbs and spices form an integral part of the Dutch cuisine. Spiced biscuits and sweets are commonly found. Mulled wine, aniseed milk and even some sandwich toppings containing aniseed have these. Traditionally, the birth ritual celebrating the arrival of a newborn baby involved the proud father stirring a cinnamon stick into the kandeel, a liqueur, providing strength and warding off evil spirits.

If Jeeves and Bertie Wooster had ever visited the area, the duo would have been delighted to have had an easy access to aniseed products. Luring back a dog McIntosh would then have been the work of a moment for them, enabling them to avoid a trip across the Atlantic so as to escape the fury of Aunt Agatha.

While in Rotterdam, yours truly was delighted to have had the opportunity of sneering at the cow creamers displayed in one of the stores. Being aware that these were indubitably of modern Dutch origin, one lost no time in registering scorn. The same was the treatment meted out to some distant cousins of the Empress of Blandings on the next shelf. However, all this sneering and scorning did not leave the sales girl on the counter amused.

But the aim of one’s life is never to keep sales girls amused. Rather, it is to outgrow the inane desires to possess material objects and thereby enjoy unalloyed bliss.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/03/08/another-drones-club-meeting-in-amsterdam)






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‘Is Mr. Little in trouble, sir?’

‘Well, you might call it that. He’s in love. For about the fifty-third time. I ask you, Jeeves, as man to man, did you ever see such a chap?’

‘Mr. Little is certainly warm-hearted, sir.’

‘Warm-hearted! I should think he has to wear asbestos vests.’ 

(The Inimitable Jeeves)


If one happens to be an ardent fan of P G Wodehouse pottering about Amsterdam, and gets an opportunity to meet up local members of the P G Wodehouse Society there, one would be wise to wear an asbestos vest before popping up at the gig. One does not necessarily allude to romantic possibilities here, but only to the kind of warmth, sweetness and courtesy which welcomes one at such events.

When yours truly, in the garb of Bingo Little, passed by Amsterdam recently, Psmith, the journalist and cricket historian, lost no time in organizing a small get together. Galahad, the charming President of the Society, took some time off from his linguistic and scholarly pursuits and decided to join in. Pop Glossop, yet another linguist and a communication expert, trooped in, duly braced for the loony festivities.

A lay person could be excused for believing that not much gets discussed at such gigs. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Besides the characters and narratives dished out by Plum, the events which led one to come under the spell of the Wodehouse canon get recounted. Different lenses with which his works can be viewed – social, economic, political, psychological, and the like – get discussed. The relevance of the same in our tension-ridden contemporary times is subjected to a pitiless analysis. The need for new books which try and imitate the Master comes up for a mention. Personal experiences which remind one of some Plummy instances get shared. The work being done by various Wodehouse societies the world over to spread Wodehousitis gets appreciated.

Bingo Little, fresh from his international travels over the past two years, had an intensive discussion with Galahad. Copious notes made by the latter may soon result in an article which could get unleashed on the unsuspecting members of the Society in the June 2019 edition of its journal, Nothing Serious. He also received a treasure trove of books – Dutch translations of some of the Master’s works and a compendium of the wit and wisdom of Wodehouse by Tony Ring – from Galahad and Psmith. Bingo obviously felt honoured and chuffed, especially because after the gig got over, Pop Glossop ensured that Bingo’s return to his temporary abode in the city was comfortable.

Earlier, during a leisurely stroll around the Amstel, Psmith was quick to point out to Bingo Little the various attractions of the city. One of these was a statue of Spinoza, ‘the Prince of Philosophers’, in front of the Amsterdam City Hall by the Zwanenburgwal. As we know, Spinoza is held in high esteem by none other than Jeeves himself.

The duo also passed by the house where Rembrandt had lived for some time. It is common knowledge that there are many reasons for the centuries-old popularity of the renowned artist – the tremendous volume of his output, the range and the quality of his work, and the kind of unique life he lived. But beneath all this is the undercurrent of human psychology that his work represents. Look at any of his subjects, and you can somehow surmise the kind of slings and arrows that Fate might be bestowing upon them at the time of facing the artist’s easel.


The narratives dished out by Plum are not different. The psychology of the individual reigns supreme. Whether one comes across mentally negligible bachelors, intelligent valets, goofy females, maiden aunts, helmet-pinching curates, eccentric bishops, or even senile aristocrats and their nagging sisters, it is their psychology which determines the flow of the goings on. Even those from the animal kingdom get presented to a reader with unique insights into their behavioural patterns.

It stands to reason that Netherlands, which produced creative geniuses of the stature of Spinoza, Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh and many others, has one of the few societies which spread sweetness and light globally by keeping the Wodehouse canon alive and kicking.

It does not really matter that the backdrop of his oeuvre is the vanished world of Edwardian England. What matters is that his work continues to educate, engage and entertain all those who decide to take a saunter down the streets of Plumsville, soaking in its brilliant sunshine and savouring low-hanging fruits of pristine humour on the trees lined up on both their sides.

(This article was reproduced in the May 2019 issue of Nothing Serious, the newsletter of the P G Wodehouse Society of Netherlands.)

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https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/03/13/p-g-wodehouse-fans-some-meetings-during -2017)

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Fans of P G Wodehouse can be found all over the world. When they decide to meet up once in a while, bread crumbs get thrown. Different versions of Sonny Boy get rendered. The Gussie Fink Nottle speech at Market Snodsbury School gets recreated.

Characters and situations get discussed gleefully. The milk of human kindness flows unabated. Flowers bloom. Sanity regains its throne in one’s mental framework. God takes some time off his onerous responsibilities and relaxes in heaven. All is well with the world.

During 2017, yours truly was fortunate to have had some such Plummy encounters. The video here recapitulates the same.



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Be it Blandings Castle or Totleigh Towers, summer is eternal and the sun beams benevolently across the books of Mr Wodehouse. And Mr Ashok Bhatia, who has spent much of his 60-odd years curling up in bed with the works of the great humourist, hails from a land where the sun-shine is as eternal, although not quite so benevolent. It is more prone to broil the citizens till they totter on the brink of the loony-bin.

In Amsterdam, however, even as the calendar assured that it was nearing the end of April, the weather was having a cold hearty cackle at the expense of misguided tourists shivering in their light jackets. Thus, the erstwhile management consultant and his wife turned up at Restaurant Szmulewicz wrapped from head to toe under many, many layers of wool, fleece and polyester.

Ashok is done with navigating the highways of the corporate world. He now spends his time with NGOs in the rather diverse and distinct disciplines of Management and Spirituality. That is provided he can tear himself away from his lifelong perusal of the antics of Jeeves, Ukridge, Lord Emsworth and the rest of them. He has recently authored a book himself, which takes a humorous look at the principles of management and, as a corollary, mismanagement. But perhaps he is happiest when adding thoughts and reflections to his blog, which, needless to say, is dominated by PG Wodehouse.

Mrs Bhatia has not really been an avid Wodehouse reader herself. But matrimony comes with associative afflictions. She is not immune to the moments when her husband is spotted variously chuckling, guffawing and, to use a modern illusion, rolling on the floor with laughter. Investigations carried out at these junctures do keep popping up Wodehousean passages as chief suspects. And she excels at that profound quality found in the better or worse halves of devoted readers, without which the very pursuit of reading would be rendered impossible – indulgence. She indulges Ashok as he reads, and tolerates him even as he sometimes reads aloud to her. It was this sterling indulgence that had brought her to Szmulewicz, withstanding the association of not only her husband but three more Wodehouseans.

Josepha Olsthoorn and Wil Brouwers had turned up before one could even say ‘Bring on the Girls’, charming and hospitable, eager to spread sweetness and light. And Arun too had been allowed in the restaurant … although as he entered there had been a distinct sound of a very old sheep clearing its throat in the southern alps, followed by the words, “Long hair, sir, in my opinion, is dangerous.”

Thus glasses were clinked, old Plum was toasted, Empress was remembered, Ukridge was discussed. It grew louder and funnier by the minute, an evening filled with humour and hapjes, Galahad and gezelligheid.

In short, it was a perfect what’s-its-name of the thingummy and the thing-um-a-bob of the what d’you-call-it.

(The aforesaid write-up, whipped up by Arunabha Sengupta, appeared in ‘Nothing Serious‘, the magazine unleashed upon its members by the Dutch Wodehouse Society at regular intervals.

Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and freelance sports journalist based in Amsterdam. He also has a past in the software industry that still gives him the jitters. Apart from being a Wodehousean, he is also a Holmesian and is the author of the pastiche ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes.’

Permission to reproduce this piece, if piece is indeed the word one wants, is gratefully acknowledged.)

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/a-drones-club-meeting-in-amsterdam)

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The intermittent rays of a highly reluctant evening sun were falling on the city of a wind-swept Amsterdam. The Amstel flowed quietly. The Opera House rose from its banks in a majestic manner.

At the Rembrandt Square, a swathe of wide-eyed tourists of various sizes, shapes and ethnicities were busy getting photographed for the sake of posterity. Some liked to be remembered standing just beneath the imposing statue of the famous painter of the country. Others preferred to get clicked with the soldiers surrounding the main statue in the square. Some others fancied being seen in the company of army drummers which formed a part of the ensemble of statues at the square.

Just off the square, located on Bakkerstraat, inside a cosy and warm restaurant by the name of Szmulewicz, the owner, with a stiff upper lip which would have put even the Rev. Aubrey Upjohn to shame, was surveying his patrons of the day with a distinct frown of disapproval. He thought those visiting his place on the day were rather a noisy and boisterous lot. A sprightly and conscientious Miss Mabel was scurrying around, serving customers with alacrity and elan.

Psmith, the efficient coordinator who had organized the Drones Club meeting at the restaurant, was anxiously waiting for his invitees to join him.

Given the address, one could be forgiven to presume that he was expecting the famous detective and his companion, Doctor Watson, to join up. After all, literally translated from Dutch, Bakkerstraat is nothing but Baker Street. Alas, that was not the case, for the street was located not in London but in Amsterdam.

Nor were artists of such fame as Bill Lister, Corky or Gwaldys Pandlebury on his list of those invited to participate in the festivities.

Instead, on his list of invitees were some of the characters etched out with much finesse in the Wodehousean canon. Eve Halliday, the famous librarian from Blandings Castle, was expected. So was Aunt Dahlia from Brinkley Court. Also, joining in were Bingo Little and Rosie M Banks from India. Regrettably, Galahad, the President of the local Wodehouse Society, had already expressed his inability to make it to the meeting due to some harsh sling  and arrow of Fate he was facing at the time.

Within a few minutes of the appointed time, the group had assembled. Introductions had been performed. The couple from India was overjoyed to be meeting some members of the Society, which had seen as many as twenty-seven springs since it came to be formed.

Psmith was quick to inform everyone that due to constraints of space at the restaurant, plans to hold a dart throwing competition had been abandoned. Even though bread crumbs could be ordered, all assembled concurred that any projectile activity involving the same could be deferred to the next meeting, so deliberations could take place in a serene atmosphere, in tune with the decorum of the place. Plans to stand on the table and sing Sonny Boy were also vetoed for the same reason. Orders for tissue restoratives and the exotic fare on the menu were duly placed.

When asked about the whereabouts of the family members of Bertie Wooster’s sister in India, Bingo Little appeared to be clueless. It transpired that Bingo Little had progressed beyond being an editor of Wee Tots and had now become an author in his own right. On her part, Rosie M Banks had grown out of her previous role as an author and ventured instead into the realm of spirituality and meditative practices. Both confirmed that Bingo was still following the tradition of ensuring a regular supply of afternoon tea to his better half, thereby ensuring matrimonial harmony on the domestic turf.

Psmith, a prolific author in his own right, was delighted to present Bingo Little with his latest book, Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes, a delectable tale of the detective unraveling the villainy behind and other events which took place at The Oval during August, 1882. Bingo regretted his inability to reciprocate the gesture, not having on hand his recently launched book, a light-hearted take on the art and science of management.

Aunt Dahlia, geniality personified, was keen to leave the gathering a wee bit early. It appeared that Anatole had planned a lavish spread at home. She feared that her absence at such an important event could make him put in his papers, thereby causing much disruption at Brinkley Court. This, she felt, would be worse than the perilous implications of the impending stand-off between USA and North Korea. The group wished her good luck.

Eve Halliday was elaborate and generous in her praise of her previous employer, Lord Emsworth. She fondly recollected her time at the Blandings Castle, and her invigorating encounters with the Empress of Blandings.

She and Psmith got into an animated discussion over the relative superiority of Plum’s screen plays vis-à-vis his romantic whodunits and other creative endeavours. As expected, the discussion was inconclusive.

The speech of Gussie Fink Nottle, delivered many years back at the Market Snodsbury School, came in for a loving mention. So were the sterling characters of such strong-willed women as Joan Valentine, Sally and Mrs Spottsorth. The conduct of such kids as Thos, Seabury and Edwin came up for discussion. One of the members sympathized with Aunt Agatha for the challenges she faced so very bravely while bringing up Thos.

There was a consensus that many of the problems faced by humanity at present – poverty, treatment meted out to the delicately nurtured, and terror, to name just a few – could be effectively tackled by ensuring that Homo sapiens followed the Code of the Woosters.

The meeting was yet another evidence, if evidence is indeed necessary, of the love for Plum’s works which transcends boundaries and can bring people of diverse origins together.

(Note: Yours truly and his spouse wish to express their heartfelt gratitude for the warm hospitality extended to them by Ms Josepha Olsthoorn, Mr Arunabha Sengupta and Ms Wil Brouwer.)





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