Quotations from P G Wodehouse are copyright of, and reprinted by permission of, the Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate © 2017 The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

The PG Wodehouse Society (UK)

by Jen Scheppers

Note: Another version of this report may also be found on Jen’s blog, Plumtopia: The World of P.G. Wodehouse (click here to view).

Psmith in Pseattle: Our Little Paradise

Over the weekend of October 29–November 1, in Seattle, Washington, I attended an excellent binge at The Wodehouse Society’s (TWS) 18th convention, Psmith in Pseattle. It was my first TWS convention, and even more psensational than anticipated. So, climb upon my knee, Sonny Boy, and I’ll tell you about it.


Introductions


As a TWS first-timer, I entered the lobby of the impressive Fairmont Olympic Hotel under a cloud — not one of Seattle’s famous v-shaped depressions, but a personal one. Having lived almost exclusively behind a keyboard for the last few years, my people skills are not what they once were. Nor are my trousers, which are let out far more often than I am. So it’s fair to say I was not at my confident best, and beginning to wish I’d stayed under my little rock in Somerset, UK. Added to this, I had recklessly agreed to appear as a speaker and was feeling a strong affinity with Bertie Wooster ahead of his infamous talk at Miss Tomlinson’s school for girls.


“Girls,” said Miss Tomlinson, “some of you have already met Mr Wooster — Mr Bertram Wooster, and you all, I hope, know him by reputation.” Here, I regret to say, Mr Wooster gave a hideous, gurgling laugh and, catching Miss Tomlinson’s eye, turned bright scarlet.

in ‘Bertie Changes his Mind’


All that began to change, very quickly. As I traipsed across the lobby, I spied the familiar, well-groomed head of TWS president Karen Shotting rising on the escalator. Recognising her from her photograph, and forgetting that we had never met, I buzzed over to say ‘What Ho’ like a long lost friend. A short while later, I was on back-slapping terms with a substantial gang of Wodehouse experts and enthusiasts, including Tom Smith, Barbara (the Dream Rabbit) Combs, Elliott Milstein, Bob Rains (soon to be TWS president), Ken Clevenger, and Tony and Elaine Ring. The name Tony Ring is familiar to most Wodehouse enthusiasts and I’d been daunted by the prospect of meeting him, but his effervescent personality put me immediately at ease, and the sparkle in his eye told me that this shindig was going to be fun.


The following morning, I encountered Elin Woodger Murphy (Wooster Sauce editor and all-around good egg) sploshing about in the hotel pool. Having already provided me with guidance and support from afar, Elin took me under her wing and, with the fabulous Jean Tilson, we forked our way through some very decent breakfasts at Seattle’s Pike Place market. Later, in the lobby of the Fairmont Olympic, I got to meet online friends for the first time — like Vikas Sonak, and David and Katy McGrann — and make new ones, like Katherine Jordan, Eileen Jones and Ninad Wagle (Alpine Joe). From my strategic position by the bar, I was also well-placed to spot debonair newcomers sporting chrysanthemums their in buttonholes (enter John Dawson).


Wodehouse in Song


The formalities began on Friday evening with soprano Maria Jette and pianist Dan Chouinard, who performed songs from Wodehouse’s Broadway career and songs mentioned in his work, like ‘My Hero’ and ‘The Yeoman’s Wedding Song’.


A minion came on the stage carrying a table. On this table he placed a framed photograph, and I knew that we were for it. Show Bertram Wooster a table and a framed photograph, and you don’t have to tell him what the upshot is going to be. Muriel Kegley-Bassington stood revealed as a ‘My Hero’ from The Chocolate Soldier addict.

I thought the boys behind the back row behaved with extraordinary dignity and restraint, and their suavity gave me the first faint hope I had had that when my turn came to face the firing squad I might be spared the excesses which I had been anticipating. I would rank ‘My Hero’ next after ‘The Yeoman’s Wedding Song’ as a standee rouser ...

in The Mating Season


Maria sparkles on the stage like a Wodehouse heroine leaping from the page, and it was a great privilege to hear these songs performed by musicians of such calibre. If you missed out, Maria and Dan’s two CDs of Wodehouse music are available online (click here for more information). Mixing it with the professionals, an enthusiastic Tom Smith (one of our Pseattle hosts) and his associate ‘Percy Pilbeam’ treated us to a rendition of ‘Sonny Boy’. No CD recording of this memorable performance has yet been released.


Riveting Talks


The joy continued on Saturday with riveting talks. Each talk was worthy of further discussion, and I took plenty of notes, but for now you’ll have to be content with a summary.


I was riveted from the moment Elliot Milstein drew his first breath, on the subject of Wodehouse’s opening lines, and listening to Ken Clevenger let himself go on the subject of fish was a long-awaited pleasure. During the luncheon break, I made a Skype call to my family in England to gloat that I’d been educated on the difference between orphreys and chasubles by William Scrivener, who was once a pale young curate. Peter Nieuwenhuizen’s talk on Wodehouse in the comics covered new ground (for me at least). Graphic novels are incredibly popular with young readers, and the potential for introducing them to Wodehouse in this way is very exciting. Tad Boehmer’s talk on researching Wodehouse took us into the world of special collection libraries (I wanted more!), and Elin Woodger’s topic ‘P.G. Wodehouse, Feminist’ was a topic close to my heart (as readers of Plumtopia will know). For anyone still in doubt about Wodehouse’s appeal to women, Elin confirmed that more women had registered for the convention than men.


John Dawson spoke about the exciting Globe Reclamation Project, an international gang of Wodehouse lovers (Dawson, Ananth Kaitharam, Neil Midkiff, Ian Michaud, Arthur Robinson, Raja Srinivasan and Karen Shotting) who have spent the last two years researching, transcribing and evaluating material written during Wodehouse’s time at the Globe newspaper (1901–1909), aided and abetted by Wodehouse experts Norman Murphy and Tony Ring. John spoke passionately about his personal quest to find everything Wodehouse wrote, and the hard-working collaboration that has provided so much ‘new’ material for all Wodehouse readers to enjoy. The product of their labours is available to read — in two handsomely bound volumes: P.G. Wodehouse in the Globe Newspaper Volumes 1 & 2 (purchase details here). This is a non-profit undertaking, with funds raised used for ongoing research (any surplus will be spent making Wodehouse books available in school libraries). A discount is available to Society members (see Wooster Sauce, September 2015).


Closing the day, and well worth the wait, was Wodehouse’s biographer Robert McCrum. As someone who has delved so deeply into Wodehouse’s life, I was moved to hear him speak of Wodehouse’s withdrawal from his painful wartime experiences into the ‘wonderland’ he created. As McCrum put it, ‘Wodehouse was, in fact, happiest in a kind of artistic solitary confinement.’


In my talk on the modern Wodehouse reader, I commented that many of us read Wodehouse to escape the irksome captivity of modern life, just as Evelyn Waugh predicted.


Mr Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.

—Evelyn Waugh


Listening to Robert McCrum, it became clear to me that Wodehouse needed the world he created as much as we do. It was his ‘Plumtopia’. I don’t think I’ve ever felt closer to Wodehouse than I did at that moment.


McCrum has shared his own impressions of Pseattle in this little piece for the Guardian ‘Americans Celebrate PG Wodehouse in Seattle’ (click here).


Tony Ring entertained us between talks with something cryptically listed on the programme as Mr Punch’s Spectral Analyses. These proved to be a selection of ghost stories written by Wodehouse for Punch magazine (1903–1904) — a fitting selection to mark the occasion of Halloween. Here’s a taste:


A groan and a weird phosphorescent gleam at the foot of the bed told that the spectre had arrived, right on the scheduled time as usual. I took no notice. I wished to make the ghost speak first. A ghost hates to have to begin a conversation.

“You might speak to a chap,” said a plaintive voice, at last.

“Ah, you there?” I said. “The family ghost, I presume?”

“The same,” said the Spectre, courteously, seating himself on the bed. “Frightened?”

“Not in the least.”

“Hair not turned white, I suppose?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Then you are the man I have been wanting to meet for the last hundred years. Reasonable; that’s what you are. I tell you, Sir, it hurts a fellow when people gibber at him, as most of your human beings do. Rational conversation becomes impossible.”

“MR PUNCH’S SPECTRAL ANALYSES II — The Ghost with Social Tastes”, Punch, August 12, 1903


A handsomely printed set of these stories was provided to conference goers, but if you missed out you can read them online at Madame Eulalie’s Rare Plums (here).


Rummage and Revels


Imagine for a moment that you are in a shop devoted to Wodehouse. There are books by Wodehouse and books about Wodehouse. There are also sheet music, costumes, cow creamers, pictures, bookmarks, badges, bags and all manner of merchandise. No shop of this kind exists, but for two days in October every two years, the TWS rummage sale comes close to this Plumtopian ideal. Canny convention goers also use it to pick up last-minute bits of costumery for the Saturday evening revels.


TWS convention banquets are legendary. This one, held in the Spanish Ballroom, was a masked ball in honour of Halloween. I wore a lorgnette. Many people made their own masks at one of the mask-making stations thoughtfully provided by our Pseattle hosts throughout the convention.


I continued to make new friends, including Donna Myers, Tim Richards, and a mysterious stranger calling himself ‘Alpine Joe’. Together we enjoyed excellent browsing and sluicing, after official welcomes from Tom Smith and newly elected president Bob Rains, who gave a moving toast to absent and departed friends.


The costume prizes were awarded after dinner, in a hotly contested competition. Winners included Robin Stemmon and David Alvarez in a pyjama-clad ensemble as Aunt Dahlia and Uncle Tom (after Bertie rings the fire bell). Lynette Poss wore a natty pair of lemon-coloured pyjamas, perfectly accompanied by Diane Madlon-Kay as a flower pot. Allan Devitt attracted attention throughout the evening for his compelling interpretation of the Dog Bartholomew. Camille Cavaluzzo was a standout as a tennis-playing Honoria Glossop. (I once illustrated a blog piece about Honoria Glossop with an image of 1920s tennis player Suzanne Lenglen, who I felt captured something of Honoria’s robust and strenuous spirit. Camille Cavaluzzo did this perfectly.) Other worthy winners included Maria Jette (as Lottie Blossom), Marjanne & Jelle Otten (as Bill Rowcester and Jeeves disguised as Honest Patch Perkins and his assistant), Steve Carter (as a bobby), and Elaine Coppola (best flapper). Tina Garrison won the Best Drink award as the May Queen. The best mask award was won by my scintillating dinner companion and new friend, Anita Avery.


Another masked award winner was my longtime Facebook friend Michael Sheldon. We’d never met in person, but he recognised me from my photograph and introduced himself. I had difficulty placing him at first, and mused sadly that he was clearly one of those fellows who look nothing like their Facebook photo — for all the wrong reasons. He later won the 'Scary Enough to Put a Golfer Off His Stroke' award for his impersonation of Bill Lister (from Full Moon — see left), although he was frequently mistaken for a ‘Monkey Business’ Mulliner.


The prize-giving also included “fiendish fishy quiz” winners — an aptly titled quiz competition on the theme of fish. Susan Diamond won the amateur class honours (with Betty Hooker and Karen Shotting runners up), and Ian Michaud won the expert class (with Elliott Milstein and Neil Midkiff in second and third places, respectively).


Bob Rains then conducted the auction, aided and abetted by the lovely Barbara Combs — a chance for the oofiest members to bid on rare items donated by the Dutch Wodehouse Society, Sir Edward Cazalet and David McGrann. With purses happily lightened, and the coffers of our excellent society bumped up to a goodish degree, Percy Pilbeam returned to the piano once more and played us out — some to bed, others to continue their revels into the wee small hours.


How to Join the Next Binge


The next convention will be in Washington, DC — Capital! Capital! — in October 2017. Dates will be confirmed shortly.


It’s an experience I highly recommend. I was welcomed with great kindness, in spite of my expansive trousers and questionable character because, as Anita Avery put it, ‘We Wodehouse fans look after our own.’ And she’s right. After many years spent searching for Plumtopia, I may not have found a place that feels like home, but I have found my people. As Wodehouse put it:


There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.

in ‘Strychnine in the Soup’

The author, Jen Scheppers (aka Honoria Glossop), with convention organiser Tom Smith (Photo by Elin Woodger Murphy)

Dan Chouinard and Maria Jette thrilled the crowd with their renditions of songs both by Wodehouse and mentioned by Wodehouse in his stories. (Photo by Barbara Saari Combs)

Among the British contingent were (from left) Robert and Hilary Bruce and Tim and Kate Andrew. (Photo by Elin Woodger Murphy)

Members of the Globe Reclamation Project present at the convention were (from left): Tony Ring, Neil Midkiff, Karen Shotting, Ian Michaud, John Dawson, and Ananth Kaitharam. Absent were Raja Srinivasan and Norman Murphy. (Photo by Barbara Saari Combs)

Demonstrating the variety of costumes on display were Masha Lebedev as Vladimir Brusilov, Susan Diamond (just looking posh), and Allan Devitt as the Dog Bartholomew. (Photo by Barbara Saari Combs)

Michael Sheldon won a prize for accurately representing the physiognomy of Bill Lister (Full Moon). (Photo by Ellie Sheldon)

Convention speakers Robert McCrum and Elin Woodger (Photo by Barbara Saari Combs)